Monday, December 20, 2010

Some Reflecting

After two vodka tonics, and a most delicious Bloody Mary, I touched my flip flopped feet back down into New York's 30 degree weather, nearly freezing my newly painted toes off. Was told I looked like a Spanish girl by a JFK security man, and didn't know what to think of it, but told him thank you, and happy holidays. After a comedy of errors with the Amarula I brought back duty-but-certainly-not-trouble-free for my parents, a doll at Delta made my very day. After a ridiculous missed flight, rescheduling of a flight, chipping nails, checking and re-checking of baggage, I finally got back on my LA bound plane. I'm glad to know that my general good sense of humor remained with me throughout the whole ordeal.

At the risk of sounding self indulgent, and narcissistic, (but really who are we kidding, this is a blog), I am learning to be in love with myself, and the journey. Which is to say, the territory (such as airport security, and diarrhea) that comes with. On the way back, I heard for the first time Oscar Peterson's rendition of If I Were a Bell. It is an exuberant, stomach fluttering song about falling in love. And love, I think, is what makes you do crazy things, amazing things, like time traveling, hurtling through air, the underground, the parking lots we call freeways in Los Angeles.

And goodbyes? Weren't too hard, really, since I said see-you-soons.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Africa Part 13

Remember when I said I had few qualms about trying food that is local and might put me at risk for... nausea and vomiting? First day in Assin Kruwa, I was hungry. The caution that I threw to the wind, should have been put right back in my pocket. Ate a little something called grasscutter, a large rodent also called a "cane rat" with some fufu. Foul. The closest thing to rotted flesh I have ever tasted. The next day, I wished I didn't. Arjun blames Togo, but I think it was more along the lines of a shigella, or salmonella. Either way, I am going to term it "Ghana-rea" :)

We walked to about 6 churches to tell folks about the Village Bicycle Project, where we target women to teach them how to ride bikes. Worship is such an interesting thing-- some do it with dance, some murmur, some shout. Interestingly at Disco Jesus Church (I know), they didn't show weekly screenings of Saturday Night Fever. Anyway. Back to the bikes. Yes. I helped to teach them. With a shitty bike to learn on, and a considerable language barrier, (even though one day, all the kids of the village huddled around me to teach me Twi), it was quite a challenge, but seeing progress was definitely worth the flailing and gesturing, but mostly the histrionics from wanting to communicate SO badly.
I got to know the latrine pretty well. After my 4-5 days of expelling matter from my body, I wasted no time in replenishing. I had this disgusting oral rehydration solution, (like Gatorade, only disgusting), but also this delicious corn porridge. Creamy, savory, and a-maize-ing! Hahah!! The tomatoes are of a strange shape here, but also delicious. And on the drinking: Guinness here is a special "foreign extra" brew. A little more bitter, and more sour, even. Not so sure that I like it. But Alvaro, I like. This is a mindblowing passionfruit soda, about which I am QUITE passionate. Other beers, tend all to be one syllabled. Club. Star. Stone. Lamp. (Actually not Lamp, but thought that was funny).
Cape Coast found me feeling guilty, but marveling at the beauty unseen by those enslaved. Saw both the Elmina and Cape Coast slave castles, and have a lot of feelings on that still undeveloped but brewing. Will pour it out, at some point.
My last days in Africa were spent in Accra, with friends old and new. Friends that I had met in college, on planes, and through other friends. Fun-derful. What do I remember? The most amazing breakfast, of plaintains, jollof rice, fried chicken and salad. The DuBois Center. Getting my hair braided, and loving the company so much I got my fingers and toenails painted too. (electric blue and blood orange, respectively). Gorgeous batiks, and smiles even more beautiful.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Africa Part 12

On Thanksgiving during the day, I was in Accra, sorely missing the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. It is the first year of volunteering at that gig that I've missed in 12 years, and what a lot of thanks giving. It seemed fitting that on that day in Ghana, I worked on my personal statement for school. At night, I joined Arjun and his Peace Corps squad, renamed ourselves Team Latrine (potty mouths that we are), and managed to snag 3rd place in trivia night. (Even across an ocean, I am still a fiend for bar quizzes). That the win-two-pitchers-of-beer round was "Name that musical" found me nothing but helpful. We won that beer. Learned a lot that I otherwise would have been clueless about as well: what USB stands for, and what "the ashes" are in terms of cricket. Trivia night might be well said to be the equivalent of speed dating in knowledge. I'll think about that more and develop it at some point.

Day after, we walked to Togo. The Ghanaian border town Aflao is so close to the Togolese border, and a three hour tro-tro ride from Accra. Crossed over with considerable ease, and was happy to see the ocean again. West Africa. Is. Sweltering. Not speaking Francais in a Francophone type country was a bit of a toughie, but 1) this presents a new goal to aspire to, and 2) we'll see how good my theatrics can get. The Grande Marche was quite a sight to see, a flooding of wares and food items. I tend to throw caution to the wind for better or worse when it comes to food. What's a little diarrhea and vomiting, really? Had fried cheese cubes, and baguette, grapefruit juice type shenanigans and a darned good time in Lome.

A bit on transportation: In Ghana, there is something called the "tro-tro". Van bus type vehicles which are usually beyond the point of repair, they are the primary form of transportation for those sans their own car. i.e., most people. Depending on where they're going the "mate" or person who rallies people into their tro, flashes a gang sign of a hand symbol. They seem to all have the same voice. Usually 20 seatered (I think) there's a clown-car-effect where you really always have quite a few more than that. I think there's something kind of nice about it, despite the heat, and sweat, and what not, that for a portion of life, you are with complete strangers who are going the same direction. And that's something in common, so maybe you aren't such strangers after all. In Togo, the main mode of transportation are moto-taxis. And what I've learned about transportation in West Africa is that if it will go wrong, if it can. It did. But not that badly. Morale was high as we began the journey to Togoville, toward Aneho. Not as high when we realized we actually were supposed to be in Agbodrafo, 10km earlier. Just great. But adventuring we went! After a leg of those 10km on the back of a mototaxi with one of the most humorless men Id ever met, his bike broke, and while he was off fixing it, I became the third person on the moto with Arjun and his driver. Fantastic. So after being ripped off repeatedly (once again, the French language thing, but also the looking Chinese thing), we proceeded to yet another form of transportation. Pirogue. Which is a canoe. And ours, ferried by Antoine, our Charon of Lake Togo, slowly leaked water. :) Yup.

We left Togo after one last night dancing in Lome, at numerous dance club type places. My first time being pulled over in West Africa transpired as we were happily gallivanting that night, as well. Grazing in the gravel down Rue de 13 Janvier, I was indulging in the Celine Dion/Barbra Streisand ballad Tell Him, until we were stopped by the po. It had NOTHING to do with my singing, and everything to do with the fact that these officers were drunk and wanted some bribe money. 40 minutes and some freakin CFA later, we were back on our way. Inebriated, armed people with a frighteningly enlarged sense of entitlement are extremely troubling to me. But on with the dance, says Lord Byron, and we did go on.

Back on the Ghana side, I met a man who spoke amazing Mandarin, and was better traveled in China than I was. It was wonderful to hear the language. Apparently there are quite a few Chinese folks in Ghana. There are grocery stores, and restaurants, and my beloved fried dace with black beans, which I havent been able to find in America! Overjoyed. And off to Cape Coast we went.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Africa Part 11

Taught poetry at Thusanang Trust as a continuing education program for preschool teachers. The unit was on communication, and I hope I communicated the emotional reservoirs that are poems, and poets and people. We read Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden, and if I had my way I would have assigned them poems to write about their parents as well, following our discussions. How beautiful that morning was, wondrous and humming with life.

How fast its been, 3 months that sprinted by. I had one last Sundowners with a Franschhoek merlot up in the clouds on my flight. Parting and its sweet sorrow made my heart heavy, especially when Tani, the lady who runs the little goodies shop across from Bjatladi Youth Center, pressed into my hands a little cake. "For the road." So I meet to part, and part to meet, and am reminded of that Kerouac quote: "But no matter, the road is life"
Life life life. I seem to have used the word quite a bit in all these postings, but most obviously in this one. Recently as I was about to leave, I felt the appropriateness of S&G-funk's line, "I'm empty and aching and I dont know why"-- But I think now I do. It could be that with the end of this time in SA, I felt that I couldn't change these kids' lives, but they have changed mine more than they may know. What I have done I suppose is change their days, challenged them with anatomy lessons and dance: a departure from doing nothing. And a day qualifies as life, I suppose. For this I feel a little..."remorseful" isnt the right word. "Bad" is too elementary. "Guilty"? Maybe. But really, what I am is grateful.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Africa Part 10

This weekend, I slept under Orion's belt, sword, and other belongings, twinkling in the pitch. Waking up in the middle of the night was wondrous--I had always known intellectually that the stars moved, but 3 hours later, discovering that really they had, was an awakening. If nothing else, being in South Africa has fired up a desire to camp and hike, and invite myself outdoors much more. Hiked up Blouberg Mountain today, and I must say the experience has been trying and triumphant, exhausting and exonerating. Probably obvious is the former word in each set, but freeing in the sense that I had never spent a night outside like this before, and that I helped welcome the sun with salutations at dawn. The gushes of wind atop the rock were strong enough to lift the hair off my shoulders and back-- making me feel lighter.

I can't imagine not writing in journals, blogs, on napkins and receipts. Looking for ways to aptly describe the shades of green and terra cotta on this mountain--depending on time of day-- is a mental challenge that engages me as much as hiking, and rock climbing. The latter-- almost like a dance, negotiation and placement of weight, speed.. I'll definitely do it more when I'm back. The day long hike on our 2nd day on the mountain ended with a breath-arresting sunset, but before then a view that practically went into Zimbabwe. And what else do I remember?
-butterflies like white confetti on and about the cliffs.
-the mindfulness of hiking
-seeing from the top villages where it was cloudy that day, and villages where it was not, so high up that the clouds seemed attainable. Where does the sky begin? Meaning, how high up is considered sky? I think we were there.

Sometimes during these hikes I would wonder where all the balance I garnered from tango went. I am not a fast, nor graceful hiker, but I enjoyed it. Even falling flat on my backside was strangely comforting to me, in tat I didnt care how good I was supposed to look. It was freeing even, to be able to just slip and sit on the ground, like a child.

I think really what I love about hiking and camping, is that the whole time is a big grand opportunity to take care of those around you, in different ways, or the best way you know how to. Some of us cooked, and cleaned, others made tea, and campfires. Sometimes it's really just waiting for someone on the trail, or lighting their way during a night walk. It is just so human.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Africa Part 9

On the weekend in Joburg:

Stop #1? Apartheid Museum. These were a pretty emotional 3 hours for me, faced with footage, and photography, interviews, and posters. Coming out of the building was almost cathartic, walking on into the light of the afternoon. Although apartheid in many ways is still operating. Lots to think about, to be sure.

Stop #2 Lebo's Soweto Backpackers. A beach themed rastafarian type joint (those seem to happen to me a lot these days), it was a great place for pool and foosball in the evening. Before then, I had a short soccer stint with some 10 year olds at the field across from us.

Stop #3 We certainly painted the town-ship that night, stepping out to a dance club called Ozone. Danced right onstage after a girl pulled me up with her. I had no time to protest and so I didn't-- Reacted with the music and came down shaking after shaking everything I had. I am glad I got over myself and just enjoyed. Dance emancipates, man. 4 hours of it, especially. I felt thoroughly freed, albeit exhausted, climbing into bed that morning.

The next day, we went on our Soweto bike tour: four hours examining landmarks of such a politically charged area proved incredibly insightful and moving, literally and figuratively. I used to cycle with my dad on weekends for hours on end-- and it was wonderful getting my bike legs back. We went through Orlando West, and East, Meadowlands, saw the homes of Winnie Mandela, Nelson of that same last name, and Desmond Tutu, tasted sorghum beer from a surly looking shebeen, and had snacks that I won't easily forget. Chewed on some cow cheek, which other bikers found unsettling, but was of little issue for me since a year ago in China, I ate cow eyeball.

My 24 hours in Soweto felt so amazing and alive--I hope I get to come back at some point for some reason. Maybe I'll make a reason.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Africa Part 8

Up and down Cape Town: Highlights 10-9 to 10-16

-Within an hour of arriving in CT, I felt more irie, heard more shouts of "Ja!" and "RASTAFARI!!" than in all of my life combined. First amazing experience of the trip? A reggae cd release party in Khayelitsha, the largest township in the Western Cape area. Since we were operating not only on African time, but also musician time, and stoner time, (the whole place was overwhelmingly and quite tastily cannabis-ed), the projected start time was more of a joke than anything. So there we were, in Peter Tosh Hall (how apt) with a dirt floor, red, yellow, green, and a roof that was more of an idea than a protective covering, jamming it. By the end I was delirious. (The end was around 3AM), and could not wait for the rest of the week to unfold, telling myself it was anything like this, I'd be thrilled beyond words.

-CT reminds me of a number of cities have I loved. The V&A Waterfront likened itself to Long Beach, the area surrounding Observatory was quite like Brooklyn, and San Francisco for the hills, houses, and weather. Although I've never been to Chicago-- the wind.. enough said.

-Finally, I got my milonga. After weeks and weeks of teaching tango in the schools, I finally found myself in a dimly lit hall with DiSarli playing. You learn quite a large deal about people from dancing with them: their sense of rhythm, how they listen to your momentum, weight, and the music. I felt sanity crawling back into my body. So far, every time I've tried to dance in a foreign country (all two times now) it rained. Shame. But I went on, on both occasions. Milongas here are from R20-R30, which means roughly between just under $3 to a little over $4. A much less obsession to have than in LA. But then again, both are cheaper than cocaine, so I should consider myslf lucky and thrifty.

-Wine tasting for the first time! Stellenbosch is a charming place, that which reminds me a bit of Santa Barbara, (the State Street portion), and I learned so so much about the poetry of reds, whites, roses.

-Kalk Bay and Simon's Town were some kind of beautiful- seeing the ocean after so long was invigorating to say the least. And the penguins!!

-Raced the sun in order to watch it rise as we schlepped up Table Mountain-- Shame however, that our moves were a little slow. Still, it greeted us as we sprinted through Kirstenbosch early in the morning. Went up Nursery Ravine trail, and down Skeleton Gorge, clambering through rain soaked terrain. Dangerous? Maybe. Fun? Absolutely. Breathtaking was the view from the top, where I could see Robben Island, and about seven shades of blue in the sea. Thereafter, time on the beach. Sand here is white, and gorgeous.

-Since some of my favorite places are museums, I made it a point to visit a couple. Spent the morning in the District 6 Museum, a place of immense healing and affirmation for the folks who were forcibly removed to crappy areas of the cape, (read: ghetto) and I found it beautiful to see the interviews, photos. The South African National Gallery was also gorgeous, with its sculpture, photography, paintings.

-Robben Island was amazing. And sobering. And inspiring.

I think I ought to have more to say, and I do, but this game of blog-catch up is over. For this entry, at least. Pictures will come... eventually, if you behave!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Africa Part 7

In the quiet and hopeful mornings, I am writing a good deal, and polishing off books even more readily than strips of biltong. They present a grand opportunity to study humanity through other sets of eyes, and so I snatch it. I’ve finished the latest of Amy Tan’s novels, started into a Nigerian writer’s work, and shamelessly cried toward the end of A Lesson Before Dying. I’m turning into a recluse, so it seems. But it’s so easy to just curl up. The library here is actually really well stocked, and I’ve been voracious.Yummy.

In other yummy and exciting discoveries, there is a mulberry tree in our yard!! In the event that I’m feeling highly ambitious, I would try to make jam! But the more likely scenario is that I’ll pick them and pop them into my mouth. Fruit trees are wonderful.

I am already thinking of the next time I will come see Africa, perhaps to the east.

Here and everywhere else, people ask me, “How is Nanci?” I find that question at once refreshing and daunting to start to answer. I am having new adventures, plentiful everyday. I am seeing myself better, and clearer. I am singing and skipping in my heart, because of the energy and love that I am active participant in, and a witness of, and for that I feel exquisitely light.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Africa Part 6

Last Tuesday, my whole world was shaken when I saw a pig slaughtered. The part where the entrails and organs were being removed, blood washed, and even the head cut off were incredible. I had never seen the process before, and wondered how my vegetarian friends would fare at witnessing the thing. After, I was told that there’d be another one killed. And that was horrifying. Seeing the pig dragged out of the pen, shrieking and fighting—provoked tears and me running away like a little girl.

Two days after, I spent the whole day making sausage. (Yes, out of those very pigs). The whole process is a lot like chess in some manner: success comes from anticipating the next step. We, the A Team (Sylvia and myself) made about 40 in two hours. The glass of suds (beer) after that was one of the most satisfying drinks I’d ever had. Also- I milked cows for a bit, and hadn’t realized how tough it is. You have to squeeze a lot harder than I had initially conceived of. My hands and forearms were pretty darned sore that day.

Sunday was the last day of the Magoebaskloof/Haenertsburg Spring Festival, and the four of us instead went to see THE BIGGEST BAOBAB TREE OF THE WORLD. And that was just it. Gigantic? Yes. Terribly interesting? No. Maybe I was in a foul-ish mood, and not one for sight-seeing but it was about two oohs and an ah. Only. And not even the bar inside the tree could cheer me up. But the day before at the fair, I witnessed the sausages I so painstakingly produced. And that was quite a sight to see.

You might be wondering what the heck I’ve been doing “work” wise. Aside from the farm, I have been teaching dance, and choir, as well as learning dances and songs with kids aged 4 to 19. Interestingly, they picked up merengue very quickly because the footwork is basically a dance called “nguazi” Salsa and tango are a little new, but we have fun regardless. Plus, everyone loves some good freestyle booty-shaking. But as old habits die hard, I have been trying to start up a volunteering initiative at a clinic that is located up a big old hill from one of our after school sites. Coupled with me-designed curriculum about anatomy, and physiology, my plan is for the secondary school aged students to go volunteer a few hours per week and in such a way build confidence toward a career in healthcare. Presently, there seem to be very few opportunities for some people to get this type of exposure, limited as it may seem. This way, the clinic’s staff shortage would be somewhat resolved, and these girls would be able to learn accountability, and responsibility, and lots of other –ilities. In my wildest dreams, this program would be sustainable for years, and we’d get to do quarterly field trips to hospitals in Limpopo to observe surgeries, or shadow physicians. I’d like to find funds to get them sphygmomanometers and steths to check their families’ and neighbors blood pressures.But even if that doesn’t happen, I hope that it starts a dialogue between these young women and themselves, as well as their communities about healthcare and wellness. Today we had our first lesson on the heart. We took pulses, and talked about how valves are like doors, that close tight so wind (it was blustery today!), or blood, can’t come into a room (atrium! ventricle!). Shame that I hadn’t taken the pig heart from a week ago to really have a little dissection. That would have really been full circulation! (hah!! Get it?! Circulatory system!! My nerdatory comments are charming, I’m sure.)And, I had them listen to their own hearts with the stethoscope I brought, that of which I had been given some…8(?) years ago at Westminster Free Clinic when I started volunteering there. Sentimental. Nostalgic. Cheesy.But absolutely wonderful.

Another bit on hearts: I have been (unbelievable, I know), running! I started a week ago and am trying to go 2-3 times a week. I have never really liked the activity with great passion, but Jenna goes pretty much every day and is a constant nagging reminder (with really muscular legs) to me that it’d be a good idea to be cardiovascular-ly healthy. And Im glad for such a beautiful place to run. I usually go in the afternoons before the darkness sets in like an obsidian blanket. And it truly is breathtaking, to see Venus, and the moon, and stars like I’d never before encountered.
I would give you a poem, but I struggle for words the way the setting sun fights to keep its throne between 5:45 and 6:30 PM, urgent and desperate. But I rest assured that they’ll come and find me to play, the way the afternoon rays always discover my shoulders in the warmest of ways. And I will post that up too.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Africa Part 5

We went to Kruger National Park over last weekend, and I must say, the experience was like none other. In many ways, witnessing nature so majestic and wordless but full of communication and connection was extremely close to prayer for me. Going into the park, I felt compelled to be silent, as if I were entering a church, or some beautifully sacred place. And holy was watching giraffes eat, graceful and charming, seeing zebras and kudu springing across the plain, and baby elephants drinking at the watering hole. I was stunned by how miraculous this earth is. At our campsite the first night, about 10-20 meters away, we first heard an awful horrendous sound. After getting closer, we realized that it was two hyena fighting over an impala. Saw the blood and sinews, heard the ripping of flesh, grinding and cracking of bone between jaws: I was absolutely amazed by it, and endlessly grateful for the fence.

At the farm, a school tour came through while I was helping out. Instead of paying too much attention to the cheese making process and cow lessons, I became an attraction to the 7-9 year olds. After the kids touched my skin and touched my hair, a little girl shyly told me it was “very nice”. And I bet I was the first Asian person some of them had ever seen.

It always upsets me how slow I am to offer rejoinders. And by “offer”, I mean “throw into one’s face”. I feel like my mind is fast, but my tongue isn’t as cutting sometimes as I’d like it to be. I think too much, perhaps, and don’t act enough.On Sunday at the campsite, as we were about to leave, a man asked me, “You’re from China yes?” I told him my family is, and I couldn’t quite decipher his tone when he told me that “You speak pretty good English, for a Chinaman”. I didn’t want to assume he was a racist, and instead, just gathered that he was an ignorant fool. Had I been in a sharper place, I would have told him many other things. But all I mustered was that I grew up in the states. To which he said, “I was in China once and they can’t speak English at all”.The comment was utterly absurd, unless his blinding sense of entitlement marred his common sense and tact. And what kills me is that there are so many retorts that I wanted to utter, but didn’t because he was in front of his children and mother. I regret not explaining carefully to him in private how inappropriate he was.

Yes, I might have not mentioned this before, but in the mornings before we head out to the schools, I have been working on an organic dairy farm. We start at 7 AM and go for four hours, have lunch and then go do our work at the primary and secondary after school initiatives that the Bjatladi Youth Center has done up. One of my favorite jobs was peeling horseradish, for to pickle and jar up. (This coming week is the Spring Festival in Haenertsburg, and there’s a lot to be done). There was something really quite meditative about it, and satisfying. Much like splitting wood, and taking inventory of homemade jams. Farm work is very self directed, and has a certain rhythm to it that pleases me. When one job is done, there’s another, and there’s quite a lot to show for it. Although one of my favorite jobs was peeling the horseradish, mincing the stuff was another matter. Tearful. Lachrymose. Fumes in my eyes and nose builds character, to be sure.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Africa Part 4

A few days ago, I went to my first South African birthday party. A 21st birthday party, for that matter. (Although they were able to legally drink at 18, and probably no one enforces it earlier). But I digress. Anyhow, apparently here, themed parties are really quite popular—last month there was a circus theme and this time it was Cuban. So basically, cigars, and red stars. Woe was mine, there was no salsa/rueda, but there certainly was dancing. To music that surprised me. The ever-popular-with-SouthAfrican-youth-house type music was blasting, (not surprising) but I was more than thrilled (girlishly shriekingly so) when I heard Earth Wind and Fire and some funky James Brown.

At dinner before, the jukebox was also churning out tunes so very American- though I’m not sure that anyone there could locateSweet Home Alabama on a map. Apparently (correct me if I’m mistaken), during apartheid, most of the music coming out into the country was indeed from the US I’d like to do some more reading on that!

Weather in South Africa is, erratic. In other GRE-type words: capricious, mercurial, desultory. Yesterday I did some by-hand laundry (which was pretty meditative with Otros Aires playing) it was warm enough to dry my clothes in a few hours. This morning? Pretty dismal looking. I think it’ll end up getting pretty warm though, so I’ll take the gloom.

On the warm days, we scavenge around for wood to burn, because usually the cold days are also wet. And wet branches suck for flames. I’ve become quite adept at starting fires a roaring, (practically a girl scout). On Sunday, in order to save up for the cold drizzlies, took an axe to and had my way with some tree. . It was cathartic, to throw your body weight into chopping and hacking the pulp out of something. I’ve got the blisters to show for it too.

This weekend, a group of us went a gallivanting around to a dam between Pietersburg, Tzaneen and Haenertsburg. On the way back, I stood in the back of the bakkie (or in American English—the bed of the truck) and bumped around up and down, whipping through the trails. It was freeing, really. We all had sundowners and thereafter, it was more freezing than freeing. But for a while, we sat and ate near a beautiful brook, and I could have stayed there for hours. It was one of those places that you wanted to file mental pictures of into a slideshow to click through in your head when days don’t feel so beautiful, as hard evidence that they absolutely are.

Oh! In other news, we got a shower! I think that if I had to, I would be able to bathe however the facilities allowed for, but I was absolutely ecstatic- that first shower session was just a few shades short of a religious experience.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Africa Part 3

Things I miss:
-Washing machines. I have been doing laundry by hand, and although it is fine for little things, (like shirts, and items smaller than that) I dread the day I have to do my bedsheets.
-Ethnic food. I hope I remember how to use chopsticks when I return! I should have brought some with me. (Eh, who am I kidding? Thanks, basal ganglia) I hear that there is a great Indian restaurant quite a few km away though. Indian folks are the most pervasive type of “Asian” there is in this country, and more along the coastal cities like Durban. I am currently reading my newest find from the library, by Farida Karodia, and my eye was caught by the term “Asian in South Africa. Turns out, she meant a south Asian family. Hm! Either way, I’m jonesin’ for some saag paneer.
-a shower that works. Our system at the house is basically taking a hose that has two ends for each spout, hot and cold, mixing them and combining them into one stream. Works pretty well until one end slips off (usually the hot) and is a pain to affix back on. TIA, I suppose.
-tango. Tango tango tango tango. I’m listening to some Alfredo De Angelis, and am missing the delicious valses, and have only memories of dream like volcadas.

Curiouser and curiouser!

Something I wanted to mention: In the airports of both Accra and Johannesburg I saw booths which provided the service of shrink-wrapping your bag. I had never seen such a thing, and wasn’t quite sure why someone would want to saran- up their luggage: it’d be a huge pain to undo. Then, after seeing more than a few signs warning about being an unwitting drug trafficker, (because people would slip cocaine into your bag when you weren’t looking, of course), I realized the reason was not to keep your luggage from getting wet. Of course it could also be to protect it from opening, or being opened, but I think my explanation is more Hollywood-movie.

Here in South Africathere ain’t no such thing as “unlimited” plans for cell phones or internet. Or at least, I sure am not privy to them. You pay for air time/texts and/or megabytes of information exchanged on the interweb. A bit of a pain, but also keeps certain people (or a certain person you might know well)from spending inordinate amounts of time blabbering away, or watching Youtube videos of Rosemary Clooney sing “Botch-a-me”. Over. And over.

South African lesson: After a haircut and getting some fringe I strapped on my takkies and walked to my buckie (bakkie?)to drive over to the forest for foofysliding.

In order: bangs, tennis shoes, truck, ziplining. Although I have to say that I find the accent quite charming.It’s something ineffably pleasant to me.

Drove the 10km home today for the first time! Stick shift, and South African style. No sweat. Actually who am I kidding. I was sweating bullets. The car didn’t stall, but I was pretty darned nervous the whole time. It’ll take a bit more practice before I can drive the crazy ass 9 seater Sesfikile to sites, but little by little!

It might be the case that I get to sing in a benefit concert for the Bjatladi Youth Center here in Haenertsburg! I haven’t sung in a capacity where people paid to hear it in years, but I’d be thrilled to. More of that later.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Africa Part 2

The house we live in is charming, a two bedroom flat in the middle of nowhere. In the morning, as it was when we were kids and had sleepovers, I am usually the first one awake. There is a sweet little loft, bare, and so still that you are forced to sit with your thoughts being the only company present.

Of course, what you care about is what I’ve been eating: a delicious, stick to your ribs type carbohydrate food called “mealy meal”. It is reminiscent of grits, (which already means it’s a hit with me!) but thicker, and with the fluffy quality of mashed potatoes. Heart chicken stew, butternut squash mashed up—it’s almost like a Thanksgiving meal. Other meals are generally pretty Westernized: basic staples are quite inexpensive. The conversion is I believe 7.2 Rand to 1 USD. Pretty favorable, so long as I don’t try to purchase electronics, and what not.

BUT. Yesterday at a Sundowner, I had BILTONG! First, I should explain that a Sundowner is basically drinking and snacking and enjoying the sun going down. Easy enough. Wonderful enough, is more like it! Happy hour! And ours was spent with the boys of a family whose farm we had toured earlier that day, and played some soccer while there was still light, as the cows looked on. Biltong is a cured, salted meat, usually beef, or venison, though I believe the process can be done to ostrich too. (Which I’m very curious about). It was tasty beyond measure, and I think I quite prefer it to beef jerky. I suppose that in the analogy form which I am so fond of:

Beef Jerky:Well Done::Biltong: Medium Rare/Rare. Makes sense? You’ll just have to try it.

I had mentioned a farm, and didn’t want to forget to tell how delicious the cheese made there is. Even more impressive is that they do it without any electricity. Stunning. I wish you could taste it. Complete with a veritable ark of farm animals, acres of gorgeous greens, and a monkey rope (“swing”), it seemed like something straight out of a storybook, or a dream of what you wish your childhood had been like. When a baby lamb came up to me, I began to feel extremely guilty of the lamb kabob joint that I had made a point to visit at least once a month in LA.

Actually I realize what you really care about is what I’ve been drinking. And I’ll tell you. The tap water comes from Ebenezer Dam and Letaba. Other than that one place in China, this is the most delicious water I’ve tasted. As for the other more alcoholic beverages, I was able to taste some at my birthday party held at the local bar/restaurant. The “Pot and Plow” had me enjoying some Windhoek lager (which mixed with Sprite is actually quite tasty too, a “shandy”), Black Label—a beer that is darker, and more reminiscent of a pale-ish ale, and Amarula. Amarula is the South African, creamier version of Bailey’s. With that, and a few rounds of pool at the Pot n Plow (neighborhood bar) I celebrated turning 23!

As for Haenertsberg itself? The place is gorgeous, like Ojai and the bluffs of the Santa Monica mountains, a tiny 5 block town tucked sweetly inside. Secretly, even. But this is a stark contrast to where we’ll be working. The office for the Bjatladi Youth Center, where I will very likely be spending a lot of my time is located there. At a welcome dinner, a few nights prior, I had met the directors and think that I really could be teaching dance there! I will also be learning dance there, I’m sure. I tried my hand at the marimba too, that day, and had a blast. What a thrilling instrument!

Oh, and Thobela! (Which means “hello” in Sepedi). I have been trying to pick up bits and pieces of the language which may be helpful to me as most of the people in our centers speak it.

Internet is available, but not every day. I think that there is a certain joy in solitude, and being away from the wide world. Another certain joy? Learning to drive stick shift. Not just any old manual transmission, but on the right side of the car, on the left side of the street. It is: unbelievably fun. I think that my entire perception of driving has now changed. Brilliant.

Hopefully by next post, I will tell you about some of the words we use, and words the South Africans use. But for now, Shalang Habutsi! (Which, in Sepedi, means, “stay well”, or “goodbye”)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Africa Part 1

*First, I want to tell you there are no pictures on this entry. So... sorry. I wasn't so sure if I was allowed to take pictures of certain things and didn't want to offend anyone in Accra. But on my second leg of the trip there, it'll be okay, as I checked with a local.

I am writing this before Im even writing in my journal, so this is the raw, and uncut version. I'll possibly have more to say, but email me and tell me what you think too! This blog was meant for our exchange, and I can't wait to hear/read your reactions. It's probably less well written than I'd like, but I have reliable internet right now. So:

From LAX:
I have decided that I like train stations much better than airports, generally. There is an unbelievably pervasive energy of stress here and of people making concerted efforts to be strangers. At least in Los Angeles it is. The farewell with my parents was much less tearful than I had imagined, but still the tugging in the throat. My mother told me that years ago her own mother was put in the same position, letting an only daughter go away, but she (my mom) was too excited to feel the stings of pain. I felt them.

My flight first stopped at JFK, and I was happy to have a too-short hour of laying over in New York. I was pleased to find that my seat companion for the international flight was impressively well traveled and extremely knowledgeable on South Africa as well as West. Needless to say, questions were asked, answered, and notes were taken, as per my personality. Also fitting was my viewing of Invictus on the 10 hour flight into Accra. Landed at 7:30, and realized I had the whole day to spend, as my flight to Johannesburg was at 11PM. Well planned on my part, I know. So I made acquaintance and then was thrown into travelers friendship with Jean-Paul, who had been sitting behind me the whole time. He's doing a project in Cape Coast for a few months, and we bonded over not knowing much. Off we went to Osu, a cultural, restaurant filled nightlife type district. We went during the day. On a Monday,to boot, so it wasn't as bustling. But JP and I walked around anyway, and had some interesting observations, to be sure. Apparently it's the "London's West End" of Ghana, but it seemed to me sort of like Wang Fujing in Beijing, or the Santa Monica 3rd St Promenade.

Some notes:

I have never been in situations where I was the only Asian individual. But for my hours in Ghana, I became quite aware of how different I looked. Lots of stares, handshakes, and bemused "hi"s from beautiful children with gigantic brown eyes. In addition, Ive been honked at more in 4 hours than I have in my entire life. And it was because of my appearance, but as someone who needed a ride in a cab. Taxi drivers tap their horns, such that I nearly had a crick in my neck shaking my head no. Thoughts on intention: I have only used my horn once in my life, to avoid being steamrollered by a driver of a trailer careening into my lane on the 101S. I've always been afraid to seem "mean" or "a jerk". The horn here is used much more liberally, in a less malicious fashion. Interesting that the supply and demand changed so dramatically. This would be unheard of in NY.

Baby goats!! Chickens!! Running rampant!! (Nothing like Pamplona, but surprising. And adorable).

In Ghana, and as I understand it, Senegal, hissing at someone is a way to get someone's attention, and it works like magic. Too bad that in America, hissing at a woman is a prime way to get slapped. Hard. In other "greeting" type is a fingersnap after a handshake. I can show you when I get back. But it's quite a lot of fun.

Obituary posters are everywhere in Osu. They're around the size 12" by 14" and usually in color, with a picture of the deceased, the age at which they passed away, and lists of the names of family members. This usually takes the most space: I saw that one woman who had died at 92 had 30 grandchildren. My goodness. One man who had died at 35 had on his obituary, "WHAT A SHOCK" and it is quite so. They were usually euphemistic words and brief elegies, always ending with an open invitation to the funeral. We walked by one that day. No matter where you are, no matter what the mourning rituals may be, the grief is ever present.

Diet Coke in Africa and in China, is referred to as "Coke Light". Maybe it's because the concept of dieting is very different in the American mind, different to the point of being foreign. I had a talk with a woman on my Accra to J-burg and noticed that the cans of soda, and portions of food items are noticeably smaller. *sigh* She was absolutely stunned at the situation of obesity in America, and I couldn't blame her. I said these things to her as I was polishing off the most delicious plane food I'd ever had, that South African Air put down before me, ironically. And the Guinness here, has more hops. I can't wait to come back to Ghana in the end of November!

I spent my birthday with strangers who quickly became friends, and I think it's nice to spend one "alone". I'll ponder about it more and tell you why I think so.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Boarding for the Motherland.

In one week, I will have been in Africa for four days, on site in South Africa for two. I have three days to pack, for 15 weeks. Will be back on the 14th of December.

Numbers aside, I am a little nervous. I've never been away from my parents, or some semblance of a home-base for so long, but it will be an adventure, to be sure. I think the trick is to create home wherever I am. Let's try that.

Internet might be limited, but I plan on doing as much blogging as I possibly can. So stay in tune.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gee Are EE.

A few hours before my test, I am blogging. Maybe it is a subconscious way of preparing for the analytical writing section, to ensure that my fingers are connected to my arms, to my brain by way of fasciculi, nerves, tracts, and whatnot. Could be that I'm a little jittery.

I'm jittery. But I know that last night, at clinic, I felt calmer than I've been in a while. Seeing what has been created: a medical home for folks to go, feel safe, and address their concerns. The idea of a home to me, lowers my blood pressure, that's for sure. And it helps to go remember the reason why I put myself through more math than I've cared to do in years, spouting essays about seemingly unimportant issues, and completing sentences with words I wouldn't have used anyway. (Though my adoration for analogies has never left me).

Funny that every "big thing" we come to is the biggest and most insurmountable, seeming, until the next. And so I'm off to this one. Rilke reminds me that I ought to "Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart, and learn to love the questions themselves". I think I can do that. Especially the math ones.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Excuses, excuses.

I remember the word "hiatus" well, from studying for the SAT whilst in high school. My mnemonic for it? "Hi Atus!" Atus was a hick with a big old gap between his two front teeth. A gargantuan gap between January 22nd and August 2nd, certainly qualifies itself for this space between updates. I am a horrible blogger, but as one of my San Francisco tango buddies always assures me, "Baby, I can change!"

Although I have been more than assiduous at writing in my paper journal. After filling up the last one yesterday, I began a new notebook August 1st. It is my 11th, I discovered, after unearthing tomes from as early as 6th grade. It was a kick to note how my handwriting changed, my syntax, my tone.

But my love for cursive handwriting does not wane.

Friday, January 22, 2010

In Great Neck, New York, they call it a "pussycat"

Yes, this does mean that Vagina Monologues season is upon us! Last night we did our second night of auditions, and having so many talented incredibly vocal women for to cast is a thrill. The hallway of Kerckhoff heard smatterings of utterings of words and sounds that I can imagine it doesn't usually hear until this time of year. I like to think that we shocked some people, and intrigued others. The show is slated for April, and I hope the turnout is magnificent. Exciting to meet so many people, and establish a new vulvar vocabulary! Cant wait until cast is set and the rehearsals are running!!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A whole new...continent or something Day 2

Sleep came to me that night like a good idea, even though the Ikea beds were something dreadful. Amsterdam becomes light at around 9:30, and by then I had already managed an egregious error in calculations. I wasn't quite satisfied with the heat level of my curling iron, and having conveniently forgotten that the voltage is quite different, I managed to finally realize the inconsistency when I smelled something burning quite close to my face. Something that smelled quite like hair. I'd heard stories of hair appliances being finicky etc with travel, but it was never an issue for me. (Then again, I never really brought my own with me). So it was a tragically hilarious start to the day. Even more hilarious was the fact that there is no way to open a window at the Holiday Inn Schiphol. Hm. Well. At least I was leaving for the whole day! (And, at least I started curling my hair with a section low and close to the nape of my neck, such that it wasn't quite visible, my misadventure).

I got to Centraal Station and was almost sorry to say goodbye to the gentle lull of the train, but was glad to get out and see the station itself. Pretty gorgeous. My first order of business was to buy a ticket to the canal tour, which was well worth 16 Euro. I dont think I could have seen the charm of the city any better than from the water, and alongside the swa
Architecture in Amsterdam is incredibly interesting, with so much personality afforded to each building. Each has facades and moldings such that before some certain year, they didn't even have numbers for addresses-- you knew where you were going just by identifying the decorations on the brick, or wood, or whatnot, which gave indication to who lived there: their occupation, religious affiliation, etc. And each has a lovely little beam coming out from the highest point such that pulleys could be utilized in case elevators weren't working, or weren't quite existent. Very adorable. Very charming.

Frantic tourism is no fun, especially when one has to sprint through such marvels as the Van Gogh museum. I didn't even go into the Rijk due to lack of time. But the former was gorgeous. I had no idea that Van Gogh was such an avid reader and writer-- seeing his thoughts on Uncle Tom's Cabin and witnessing the wonder that were his letters to brother Theo (usually set with the most impressive pen and inks) was marvelous!
Afterward I traipsed to the Heineken Experience, where the original brewery was located on some Straat or another. :) (Much of Dutch is quite manageable, if you use your imagination.) I zipped through this one too but was not nearly as heartbroken about it as not being able to spend a whole day at the Rijk and Van Gogh. During the tour, I realized that I know more about beer than I thought I did, as I answered all the questions that the tour guides asked. Hm. Is now when I admit to having a problem of some sort? Nah. Just intellectual vitality and exceptional curiosity. (By the way-- the green bottles are termed "WOBO". Google that one. You can use the empty bottles as bricks for a wall-- as seen in the picture below)

As part of the tour, they give you 2 pints of beer. Delish. But seeing as how I was on a time crunch, I had time only to down those two pints, and make a run for the train station
. There's more to be reported, but it's stuff that I'll relay over the phone. Call and ask.

A whole new...continent or something

An overdue account of my whirlwind trip to Amsterdam:

Day one...ish. (With time change, it coalesced into one very long day)

I had never seen the clouds cast shadows on the crepe-papery Pacific, but it's an
image I won't soon forget. I have no picture but the one in my mind, as the nice people on Continental hadn't yet proclaimed kosher the use of electronics. I wonder how many people really heed those warnings anyhow. I got really quite lucky this flight around, because I ended up sitting next to a hilarious girl from Texas. We tussled around and completed a whole crossword puzzle, which is quite a feat. Between the two of us, and a few drinks, it was done before we got halfway across the Atlantic. I was thrilled.

I also managed to sleep a couple of hours on the flight, and consider it quite a feat, because of cramped quarters, tight jeans, and my excitement for a new city, country, and continent.

My first glimpses of Europe were green and grey, of fields, and sky. Came into light showers, and the most holidayish airport I had ever seen, complete with Santa Clauses and Christmas cows. Yup. And I think I was satisfied to see that Europe was not the glitz and glamour that I had associated with it. My Europe was a bit chilly, cool enough to make you remember that you in fact, are alive. Sensory nerves ignited. Euros are an interesting currency to hold in your hand. They are shorter and fatter than American dollar bills-- looks like play money, but is worth quite a sum more than our bucks, buck.

I think what Im most excited about are the canal tours, and the museu
ms. More than whores and weed... but I think I will try to frequent the Heineken museum/factory. Indubitably!! Yet it seems that what I really should spring for is some peanut butter-- chatted with a girl about it, and apparently its something to behold. Or be-taste. :)

After checking in and dancing around the Ikea page of a room for a while, I did what any weary traveler would do: I took a nap. Dangerous liasons I made with that pillow-- I almost didnt wake up until it was too late. Dinner was at an Indonesian restaurant. Interesting to see immigration patterns in different countries. In Amsterdam it's mostly from North Africa, etc. Very few Asian people. I think I saw one other one. (Excluding at the conference, enter-Asian-scientist-joke-here).

Funny how academia feels a bit like high school, where friends like Biff and Billy, Ph.D. invite their friends Smitty and Archie to these conferences, mess around, get drunk, and pontificate about the funding they're getting etc etc etc. Pretty soon, you have Delta Sigma Nu Class of 1973 at the continental breakfast table. Or worse, drunk at the hotel bar. This of course, is me after too many hours of flying, and how impressed I am with the social abilities of most basic scientists.

Schmoozing is a sport. You have to be agile, and have endurance enough to smile, nod, be attentive, and seem like you are thrilled to be there when you really quite.. arent. In the vein of happy discoveries, I have discovered that I quite like port.

Friday, January 1, 2010

And another thing:

This is the year that I stop getting in my way.