Wednesday, June 30, 2010

And I Ain't Talkin' About Vuvuzelas

So, there are two things really bugging me every time I watch the World Cup, and it seems they're not bothering anyone else.

1. There is a little snippet of music that you hear multiple times when watching a game, especially when it's going in and out of commercial, or to or from the announcers or whatever. It is played while the visual on the screen is the FIFA 2010 logo with the drawing of the player doing what I think is called a bicycle kick. I can't decipher the words or identify the language but the syllables sound something like "ih-no-mah-mah-my-eh." I actually wrote to ESPN to ask what it is, and they said, "That's the FIFA theme; contact them." Then I wrote to FIFA and they pointed me in the direction of some entirely different song,"Helele" by Velile & Safri Duo. I listened to that in its entirety on YouTube and heard nothing similar to the snippet played during the games. Please note, I am NOT referring to Shakira's "Waka Waka," the official song of the World Cup, nor K'Naan's "Waving Flag." WHAT IS THAT LITTLE BIT OF MUSIC?! And why can't the people who play it every freakin' day multiple times identify it? I need to write to ESPN again, clearly, and find someone who actually is resourceful to answer my question. Or I just need an ESPN insider to go look at a dang production log and tell me what it is. Please? Thanks.

2. Another thing you hear during every broadcast is a shout-out to the armed forces peeps who are watching from 175 countries around the world. Sometimes they even show a gathering of soldiers in Afghanistan excitedly watching and cheering for a U.S. goal or whatever. So, that's all spectacular and I'm happy for them that they get to watch it. (I know I listened to the Armed Forces Network radio station a ton while I was in Korea for a dose of news and music in English!) Here's the part that bugs me: um, 175 countries? Seriously?! Does it not disturb anyone else that U.S. armed forces have set up shop in 175 COUNTRIES around the globe? I mean for god's sake! And you wonder why people think you are violent imperialists? Sheesh. And I can't believe how nonchalantly it's mentioned, like it's the most natural thing in the world. What?!

These two things are bandied about repeatedly every single broadcast, and all anyone cares to inquire about is vuvuzelas? Really?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

God, Schmod

I am blogging about this for the sole purpose of ranting without doing what I want to do, which is hit reply all to a family email. You might be thinking, "But doesn't your family read your blog?" You'd be surprised. Some of them do. Others are less supportive. I'm not certain my sister has ever read it. Anyway, if they get offended by something I write here, that's just too bad for them because it is my blog for my thoughts, whereas if I emailed it to them, it would be rude of me, you see.

So here's the deal. My grandpa lives alone in Utah. He is 94, very soon to turn 95, and has overall been doing pretty fabulous in these later years, but recently been declining physically and causing us all much concern. All of us in the next two generations send gang emails to one another including when we visit him, reporting on what we did while there in his town (from changing light bulbs to cooking him meals to taking him to a doctor's appointment) and in this past year the conversation about him needing to possibly move out of his house into assisted living has really been stepped up into high gear.

But my grandfather doesn't want to move into a random assisted living apartment, nor does he want to leave his Utah home nestled at the base of the beautiful Wasatch Front mountains, down the street from the cemetery where my grandma's grave is located, just to move to a town in Arizona or California where my mom/sister/uncle/cousins happen to live their lives. I totally understand this. Most of us can. So we have been trying to figure out what he needs in order to stay. Basically, he needs assistance, but he has been resistant to assistance, such as having a nurse or home aide or help with bathing or any of that. Part of it is not wanting to be a burden, part is probably a bit of denial, the usual. Anyway, here's my point.

This past week, a bunch of my family were there and accompanied him to his doctor and were extremely concerned about his physical state, including among other things dehydration and not sleeping enough and weakness and needing assistance. As my uncle and his wife (a professional nurse) worked on the situation, they happened to call (regarding another matter) and speak with one of our many relatives in that Utah town, a cousin's daughter, and it turned out her son-in-law just happened to finish nursing school and could use a job between now and when he is licensed in August. Long story short (way too late!) he has been hired to help as a kind of personal assistant, who can do all the things that will greatly assist my grandpa on a daily basis. And he's part of the extended family, as opposed to a stranger or company-provided nurse, so Grandpa's pleased and we're all greatly relieved and basically it's just a big ol' win-win situation for everybody. So you know what happens now?

The phone call to the cousin's daughter? Was "inspired." (FYI, for those unfamiliar with the Mormon connotation of that word, it doesn't mean "out of nowhere.")
My sister? "Wonders what Grandma thinks of all this." (Yes, been-dead-for-13-years Grandma.)
Those were the first hints. But a midday email today really just laid it out there. "God has answered [Grandpa's] prayers and our prayers by sending someone to help," is the word from my uncle and aunt.

I suspect there are two kinds of people reading this blog. Those who understand exactly why those statements make my skin crawl and those who agree with the statements. On second thought, maybe there's only one kind of people reading my blog and the latter have long since abandoned ship. Who knows? Here's what I know:

We --the 2nd and 3rd generations -- have all been working to problem-solve. Some of us have sacrificed great amounts of time and other things to do so. Some of us (like me!) have sounded like a broken record for nearly two years about doing more to put the word out to our cousins and extended family in that town about what Grandpa needs. I for one am totally stoked that we could tap into things like a cousin's son-in-law who lives two blocks away and just finished nursing school and needs a job for the next couple months. "Call it chance or call it fate," sings Mary-Chapin Carpenter, "either one is cause to celebrate..." But no - it's all because God has answered our prayers. Gaaaaaahhhhhh.

What does that mean, then? If my family had prayed harder last spring, the relative would have finished nursing school sooner? If they had waited to pray, another cousin would finish nursing school instead? (Actually, that part might be true. There are lots of cousins to go around in Utah families.) That Grandpa can somehow "deserve" or "not deserve" help based on how spiritual everyone is about it? That kind of thinking sickens me. Does it also mean that somehow during the past two years we just weren't good enough? I could go on. I'll stop now.

And I will send a shiny happy family email about the new hired assistant cousin, but I will not be joining the chorus of praise for some capricious God who has apparently decided we're worthy of a solution to our problem.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

If you are not laughing out loud, do not type LOL

I don't usually blog about the internet (so meta!) but I think it's high time to comment on the use of "LOL." My basic comment is that you should stop using it if you misuse it. You know who you are. And if you don't, please, allow me to tell you.

First of all, it bothers me that people use "lol" as a synonym for "ha ha" or "I was being funny" (or more accurately "I think this is funny"). Wrong! It stands for "laughing out loud." It began in the early days of internet use to actually convey a message to someone: "What you just said was funny enough to make me laugh out loud, even though my conversation is silent, taking place over a computer network." It was never meant to be used in reference to your own things you are saying - it is about the other guy!

Secondly, it is overused. Third, it is inaccurate. Are people really laughing out loud when they type it? I think not! Fourth, would you do that in a real conversation? Every time you said something (you thought was) funny, would you alert everyone to that fact? Not unless you are really annoying you wouldn't. God, I want people to stop with the "lol."

Monday, June 21, 2010

From the Who Knew?! files...

I just read about an upcoming event in Boston at which a retired colonel will be speaking about the recent attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla. What struck me about the retired colonel was the biography of this speaker. Ready?

"Ann Wright, a retired US Army colonel, spent twenty-nine years in the military and later served as a high-ranking diplomat in the US State Department. In 2001, she helped oversee the opening of the US mission in Afghanistan. In 2003, she resigned her post at the State Department to protest the war in Iraq."

Really. A senior diplomat protesting Dubya's war? In 2003? Someone with decades of military and diplomatic experience sure that what Bush was doing was wrong? And it didn't get much press coverage? Why, I don't believe it.

Wait - you mean she wasn't the only one? There were other people in the U.S. government who strongly protested Dubya Bush, and they didn't get press coverage, either? No!

My point -- in case you are too dense to get it -- is that it was pretty easy to see in 2003 how pathetic the U.S. media were. At some point that year I gave up for a while on all U.S. news sources -- yes, including the New York Times, with all its WMDs talk, and NPR with its self-righteous nonsense about "fighting terrorism." But when it's not 2003, it's sometimes a little harder for us to see just how pathetically the U.S. media supports the government's propaganda and deception, whether about war, Gaza, or oil drilling. But we sure do like to criticize other countries and label them as "not free" and call their news reports propaganda.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Above Europe

Did I mention that I flew over the Alps? I really should have taken a picture when I was flying over the Alps. A-MA-ZING. Basically, when I flew from Istanbul to London after my Habitat Tajikistan journey, there was not a cloud over Europe. Seriously. Not a one. Clearest day ever -- and I had a window seat!

Because of the fancy little computer screen on the aircraft that shows roughly where the plane is on its route, I could see where we were in terms of countries and borders. Then I would bust out my Lonely Planet Europe on a Shoestring map to see more specifically. Oh, the mountains of Bulgaria. Oh, wow, that over there would be Sarajevo. Oh, hello, Slovenia, we'll see you in the World Cup in a few weeks. (Just kidding - I wasn't actually thinking about that at that moment, although it is what reminded me today about my flight over Europe, as I remembered flying over Slovenia.) Oh, here's, I think we're going right over....yup...there they are...OH MY GOD! The mountains! The snow-covered Alps! And they kept going, as we flew over Switzerland and then into France, where farmland resumed until there was water and then, England.

It took a little while to fly over the Alps. I spent the time comparing them to the mountains of Tajikistan that I had also been privileged to see from a window seat when we fled the polio left Dushanbe. The Tajikistan mountains were higher, and pointier. The Alps were rounder, and as we got to the outskirts I could spy a hamlet or two. Slovenia has some of the Alps, you know. Did you know?

So, anyway, yeah. I've been flying over mountains.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Laying Over: British Isles

On my recent trip, I mastered the art of leaving the airport during a layover. My days of roaming an international departures area for hours upon hours have come to an end. It's not that I didn't think of you as a second home, San Salvador Comalapa International. But you know, "home is where the heart is, and my heart had to roam" (sang Travis).

So on the way to Istanbul I had Dublin. My first time in Ireland, and wow! It was, as you may have heard, green. I had read that getting into the Dublin city center could take 45 minutes and probably 45 euros for a cab each way, so I opted to instead see a little town nearer the airport, Malahide. There was Malahide Castle - again, so much green! - and then actual Malahide was a seaside town where I wandered, visited the bookshop, visited the coffee shop, talked to amiable people, observed all the Irish people doing typical 11 a.m. weekday things like chatting at a sidewalk table, pushing the baby in a stroller, playing tennis, and so on. Then I sat by the sea to write postcards.

There was such a great feel to the place. I instantly wanted more of Ireland, from the second my cab pulled away from the airport. (This could be the danger of leaving the airports, I suppose.) It is also interesting to me to be in a place that feels foreign while still being in English. I like comparing it to how it feels to be in places that feel foreign partly because there is a language other than English. The vast majority of my foreign travel has been in countries with languages other than English. Of course, that being said, Ireland is actually totally bilingualed out. I quickly discovered that all signs are in two languages, English and Irish. Turns out Irish is an official language under the Constitution although it is the first language of relatively few people. The Irish names of towns on road signs and the like seem so charming and poetic to us United Statesians, for whatever reason, with our wistful love of Irish things. But I was so amused by this that I had to take a picture when it came to the H1N1 sign in the airport. I love that the word is "fliu."

On my way back from Istanbul, after Habitat, Tajikistan, mud, travels, Turkey, travails, Dushanbe, Garm, epiphanies, etc., I flew through Heathrow. Again - first time in England. Again - only five hours. Plus, I allowed extra time because it was Heathrow, and I am glad I did, since when I came back through security it was 3 p.m. and there were marauding bands of stroller-wielding flying families everywhere, so the lines took about eighty-five minutes. Anyway, the trick to leaving Heathrow quickly is to take the high-speed Heathrow Express train, which gets you to Paddington Station in central London in about fifteen minutes. It's genius! It also costs 18 pounds each way, 32 pounds round-trip. But I had been pretty careful about my budget, and, like I said, I had never seen London.

Well, now I have! I walked and walked and walked. Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square, the London Eye, Houses of Parliament & Big Ben, and there it is - Westminster Abbey! This is when I became sad to not have a whole day or two there, because I would have loved to go inside and see my poets. I consider it a taste of London to whet my appetite.

Around Trafalgar Square there were a gazillion tourists and school groups on field trips, who amused me with their chatter. I was walking down the street behind one group of 10-11-ish-year-olds, and they were babbling with one another("My family's Welsh on both sides. My mom's full Welsh."), jostling, linking arms, when suddenly one of their little friends up ahead came running back saying, "Hey, you know what? That's 10 Downing Street!" and they all were immediately pulled away from whatever they were doing and into this moment at this site. They grabbed their cameras and one child said, "I wonder if David Cameron is there" in that way 'tweens have of saying things to reveal their knowledge which would be really annoying if done by adults.

Then, of course, I rode the Underground, bringing my subway-train-light-rail city tally to twelve. Speaking of Downing Street, remember when we were all led to an insanely criminal war while for some reason England blindly followed George W. Bush as a puppy follows a really twisted, wack-job of a master? Good times.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Newbery Medal Winners

Today I was startled to discover that I have read only ten of the 89 Newbery Medal-winning books. Ten! I am stunned. As a child I read a handful of them - but only a handful, clearly - and a few years ago while working at Borders I decided one of my life reading projects would be to read all of them. To that end, I acquired the first one, The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon (1922), which by the way is definitely one of my absolute favorites of the ten I have read (the other being Louis Sachar's Holes, 1999.) I read a couple more after that, too. And still - only ten?!

Clearly this Newbery-reading project deserves a little more time and attention from me.

How many have you read?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Good Sports

And now for something (completely?) different: USC vs. North Korea

As Brian and I like to remind each other, courtesy of a fabulously hilarious Onion commentary, "Professional sports is very interesting." (You should definitely click on that link to read it after you read this blog entry of mine.) There is certainly a lot of sports excitement swirling around me right now. For one thing, the Chicago Blackhawks just won the Stanley Cup after a decades-long drought. Good for them! I witnessed much joyous revelry just outside our apartment windows on Wednesday night after the Blackhawks' victory. Then, of course, there are the NBA Finals, although I am still a little too devastated by the Phoenix Suns' loss to really get into the whole Amazing-Happening. I really, really thought one-eyed Steve Nash and his team of BFFs were going to do it this year. Crushing! Steve does get to report on the World Cup from his birthplace, South Africa, though.

And that is biggest of all, of course, right now: the World Cup started today! (And I correctly predicted the 1-1 tie between South Africa and Mexico!...on some silly Facebook app that rewards me with nothing.) For those who haven't heard, I even went so far as to invest in the World Cup this time around. Ever since attending a World Cup qualifier while we were in San Pedro Sula, I have deemed myself a new fan of the Honduras national team and I am cheering for them, in addition to the U.S.A. In consultation with Brian, I placed a small wager on Honduras getting out of their group, and we think that has a chance.

I also have what most call a foolhardy bet on North Korea to win it all, because, as I joked, with a mere $10 bet I could pay off my law school loans if I win. In case you aren't aware, that's because North Korea is the longest of shots. Not only are they not a powerhouse, and maybe not even good, but they are in the toughest group, with Brazil, Portugal, and Ivory Coast. (For those not in the loop: yes, the Cote d'Ivoire is good, too. North Korea is totally cursed.)

Here's my point: yes, part of me acknowledges that my North Korea bet is a bit of a sarcastic move. But there is more to it than that. It is also a symbolic statement about the way much of the world - and I daresay many of you - write off North Korea in the geo-political scheme of things. When I first went to (South) Korea (it's one country, people! It should be again!) and read about the extremely limited options for visiting "The North," the general response from people was one of horror: "Why would you want to go there?!" I hate that mentality. I got a fair amount of it about Cuba a decade ago and hated it then, too. First of all, if you've got issues with a country's government, you don't have to hate its citizens. They are just people, too! I was similarly adamantly opposed to any and all threats to boycott the Olympics in Beijing. The best thing you can do is gather dozens of countries together for the Olympic games, in peace and friendly competition. (Or have your Korean students write about it.)

In fact, the minute someone ever says, "Why would you want to go there?" I take it as a sign that I most definitely want to go "there," wherever it is, because people in the world need to travel, and need to meet other people in the world, and should be free to visit any country they want to. ANY country - including Cuba, or Iran, or North Korea.

Travel embargoes may be the dumbest thing I've ever seen passed off as legitimate national policy. The thinking seems to go like this: "We, the U.S.A., are awesome and free. That country there? They are not free. They are bad and terrible and monstrous. Just to prove how awesome and free we are and how not-free they are, we forbid our citizens to go there." Hello?

Because North Korea is such a "pariah" and really, more accurately, such an unknown entity to so many, I will cheer for them even more.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my alma mater USC is having a little trouble in its own sports departments, you may have heard. The institution and some of the athletes - who were decidedly not supposed to be professionals and/or getting paid - committed a bunch of dastardly deeds and are now being punished -- oh, wait. Actually most of the wrongdoers have LEFT THE UNIVERSITY and the punishment is being meted out on some athletes playing there or being recruited to play there now. I know a two-year ban on post-season play sends quite a message, but it doesn't really effectively punish its target. In that sense, it's a lot like some U.S. foreign policy.

Meanwhile, just as things were getting underway in South Africa, tragedy struck. Nelson Mandela's great-granddaughter died in a car accident, now under investigation for possible drunk driving guilt by the chauffeur, on her way back from the big, celebratory, star-studded World Cup kick-off concert. Nelson Mandela himself understandably did not therefore attend the South Africa-Mexico match today. I have been thinking so much about him over the past year, and especially in connection with his nation's sports after seeing Invictus and reading Playing the Enemy. I am so sad for him, and wonder how much tragedy and sorrow one amazing, peaceful, brilliant man has to suffer in his lifetime? He is so much more newsworthy than Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo's egos.

Let's all think about our sanctions and bans and boycotts, and more importantly, let's all come together to watch the world play nicely, in friendly competition. Let's admire the magic of professional sports, where people are pushed to be better than they are. I hope that the guilty Trojan parties can acknowledge that they made mistakes, and then strive to be better. I hope the NCAA can acknowledge its mistakes, too. I hope that North Korean political leaders can acknowledge their mistakes, and most of all I hope the bullying U.S. can be kind enough and open enough and honest enough to acknowledge its many U.S. mistakes and give North Korea a reason to play along, nicely.

I shall cheer for my team U.S.A. - but I shall also cheer for "my" other teams. I like the World Cup. I like the world.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Comforts and Zones

When I was in Tajikistan, there was a lot of talk among my fellow Habitat volunteers about "comfort zones." I suppose the general understanding was that Tajikistan is pretty far out of most people's comfort zones. It wasn't any one person; several people on the trip used that phrase several times. As I reflect on this, I think: why do we hang out in our comfort zones, anyway?

I mean just in general. Who ever said we're entitled to this so-called comfort zone? Whether or not you are salivating to travel the world, as I am, I would also apply this statement to life. Movies, let's say. Or books. Why not read something you wouldn't normally pick up? Why not, for example, start a project where you discover a new author for each letter of the alphabet, or go to the independent/arthouse movie theater to see what's there instead of paying $12 for some entirely predictable slam-bang blockbuster? Why not try that new Ethiopian restaurant? Why not take the bus to work one day a week instead of being petrified to leave your car at home just that once? Et cetera.

The funny thing is, I was more "comfortable" in Tajikistan than you might think. That's another reason why I am fascinated by the phrase "comfort zone." It reflects a mentality of certain things being good/known/familiar, here in one's little corner of the Earth, where you can vegetate your whole life without ever having to live in a different state or even city (those people horrify me) and where you always know what to expect. Boo! Hiss!

Tajikistan is just one example. Although frankly, I dug it there, mudslides included. And by the way? I went hiking, and even rustled up a happy hour. I guess some of us make our own comfort zones, because the comfort zone is obviously mental, not physical. So why does far-flung travel scare people so much? Why are there people who never go on vacation except to visit relatives? Beats me.

But it's funny to me that we are so proud of ourselves when we "step out of our comfort zones." First of all, because of the psychological buzzwordness of it -- we all kind of mentally pat ourselves on the back when we talk about these things in this post-psychobabble era, as if by identifying our comfort zone we have solved something about ourselves. I think we have only just named the problem.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Speaking of redemption and forgiveness...

In other news that the whole world is talking about while U.S. conveniently ignores it, the Israeli attack on the aid flotilla was outrageous and deadly and wrong. Israeli officials could take a lesson from umpire Jim Joyce, who made a huge mistake, took a perfect game away from Galarraga, apologized, and not only made his peace with it but brought a lot of other people to make peace with his blown call as well. I love atonement. It's one of my favorite themes. Israel has so much still to learn about it.

Baggage, Lost

soundtrack to this entry: Indigo Girls, Rarities

Since returning from my Habitat trip I have had two dreams that I was back in Tajikistan trying to leave, but finding it logistically difficult or close to impossible. I'm sure the psychological symbolism of that sounds pretty straightforward. On the other hand, I suspect it's not as much about Tajikistan per se as it is about my wanting to be internationally traveling and doing volunteer and other humanitarian work right now.

In the first dream a few days ago, I was packing my suitcases (yes, plural! so not real life) in my hotel room (also much bigger than in real life) when Ezra, the team leader, showed up with the entire rest of the team, ready to depart for the airport. I had said that I would be ready at 2 o'clock, but it was 2:01 and I was still trying to pack. I promised them I'd be only a few more minutes, so they sat down to wait. I kept trying to hurriedly pack, but I kept finding more and more belongings of mine in the hotel room. I would open the closet and find an entire row of shoes I didn't know were there, etc. As ten minutes went by, then twenty, I was so nervous and the suitcases were full and there was still SO much stuff to pack, and Ezra and everyone were really mad at me. I kept promising them "Just one more minute! Just thirty more seconds!" Then, my sister and an old friend from teenage years through the present day appeared, and I tried to get them to help me by taking some of my stuff and packing it in their bags to take home.

In last night's dream, I was trying to get out of the Dushanbe airport. It was kind of like the real life Dushanbe airport in that it had bizarre layers of security checks by various random workers but it was also bigger, and it was daylight (as opposed to the middle of the night, which is mainly when we hung out at that airport in real life), and after getting my boarding pass torn at the gate, I went back into the airport to do some last thing I wanted to do. Then, I lost my boarding pass stub and was trying to convince them I really had been validated to go on the plane, because now I didn't have time to go through all the shenanigans again.

"If I stay here just a little bit longer,
if I stay here won't you listen to my heart?"

Like I said, I think Tajikistan is a readily available symbol right now. In the second dream, I think the telling part is that the official powers-that-be, if you will, had approved my departure but I was chaotically holding myself back. In the first dream, I think the main point is that everyone else was ready to go and I wasn't, because of all these things from my home life preventing me from just going. I even tried to get some people from back home to just take the things off my hands temporarily by taking responsibility for them, but I couldn't just leave them behind.

I may not have yet made clear on this blog how much the personal theme of my trip became the desire to keep seeing the world right now. It started on my Bosphorus ferry cruise in Istanbul. I happened to meet some bad-ass traveling Texans and I chatted with them for a long time about it. These two fifty-something men had seen a lot of the world and were seeing more of it, departing from Istanbul to drive through Turkey next, then go to Lebanon and Syria, that kind of thing).

"I thank the lord for the people that I have found..."

We got to talking about why I am not still out there right now, since I'm young, unencumbered, and the like. I had no answers. All I could say is that Brian and I signed a lease in Chicago. Chicago because...? It was the nearest major/walkable city to Michigan, and cheaper than New York. And I am working there...? Actually, freelancing, work I can literally do from anywhere with an internet connection. And Brian is working as...? Nope. So we don't go because...? Um - because Brian doesn't want to? It's hard to even say those words out loud. It's hard to type them out loud, too.

rink from that wishing well but it may never quench your thirst..."

Later in the week, in Tajikistan, I talked extensively about this with two new Habitat friends. The three of us had a moment in time where we clicked, and we had late evening chats over a few beers, discussing life and travels. I became friendly with them separately, and they two were close friends separate from me, but at that life moment I was just really tapped into their thoughts on this matter and we all understood one another. Even if I never see those two again, which after all is somewhat likely, they will have contributed something to me just by those couple nights of conversation.

"For a moment, stand real still and you'll feel me movin' on
You go ahead with your plans, you won't be seeing me again,
But you'll feel me in the hand, the hand that holds the plow.
Let me go easy..."

I mentioned to them my conversation with the Texan-traveler-friends met in Istanbul, who had asked me why didn't I just go, then, out into the world, and for whom I had no good answer. I talked about how I lived with Brian and despite my (best?) efforts I have been unable to convince him that we should just go to Japan and teach English for a year and see where the world takes us. I do have sympathy for Brian's position: I remember how it was before I went to Korea, when going to live in Asia seemed like an impossibly big deal, and when it seemed like all the ducks had to be in a row (financially and otherwise) before I could possibly leave the country. But that's simply not true, and the only way you really learn that is by just doing it (as Nike would say - we totally learned about the Roman-god-origins of the swoosh in Istanbul, by the way). I suppose it was inevitable that in these conversations with fellow travelers, as many things were discussed, that someone would gently suggest that one cannot continue to cling to everything and everyone at home forever without disappointing oneself. I suppose I was in some way looking for someone to suggest that.

"For all that we've been through, for all that we've promised,
your wayward direction seems insensible..."

When I came back to Chicago, one of the first items on my re-entry agenda was to watch the next-to-last episode and the series finale episode of Lost, which I had missed while I was halfway around the world. I really enjoyed watching the finale with Brian. A lot of Lost fans didn't love it, but it was perfect for where my head was at. I was really moved by the idea of the Losties creating a space where they could all find one another. Also, I loved how important love was. After the episode ended, Brian and I just lay there in silence processing it for probably fifteen minutes. People in that show are totally torn apart by their lives, their loves, and their journeys, but these things that are most important to them are always going to be with them, and always going to be found, not lost.

"When we get back to Winthrop, a few miles from the airport,
on a plastic chair on a deck where my friends live,
I watch the taking off airplanes, I watch the ocean waves crashing,
I know with all of this movement, something's got to give."

Brian and I had a bunch of plans in place for the week of my re-entry. Sadly, our plans to watch the Suns beat the Lakers didn't pan out, but other gatherings with friends and family did. We went to the housewarming at our friends' new condo. After midnight, when my fatigue was turning me into a pumpkin, I suddenly felt rather detached from the group of friends as we tried to have a sing-along to someone's iPod. Why wasn't I in Central Asia anymore, I suddenly asked myself?

On my flight home from London to Chicago, on which I joyously had a two-seat patch to myself, I had pondered all of these things: plans, travels, life, love, journeys, destinations, and going one's way in the world. I mentally committed to working my way through my Lonely Planet Chicago and "traveling" and discovering my new and still-very-new-to-me city before becoming entirely restless to live somewhere else just yet. I can live with that, until I worry that I am wasting time.

"We talk about time, we talk about tides
under the moon with the deep night coffee black
I hear the dim roar of the last flight out
and for someone there is someone never coming back."

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Just picture it

"A double negative? You mean you have photographs?!" -- Clue

I think it's funny that before I left for Tajikistan so many people said things like "Take lots of pictures!" and now that I'm back, there is much clamoring to see more more more photos.

Allow me to explain. Nilay might think this is about him, as he just recently commented on Facebook that I "need" to post more pictures, but actually I was already thinking about this yesterday. Ezra and Kelly could think some of my thoughts are directed toward them, since I actually commented aloud to them while we were there how I just don't even exist on the same plane as them vis-a-vis the taking of photographs, but this isn't about them either. This is more of a philosophical pondering, if you will.

I mean, I can enjoy looking at pictures as much as the next gal, especially when I need to procrastinate working. I of course agreed with my fellow Habitat Tajikistan volunteers that we'd all share our trip pictures. I am definitely eager to see the pictures people took of the trip of which I was a part, and I am usually at least mildly interested in seeing pictures of trips of which I was not a part. Even if I did find Betty White highly amusing during the Facebook portion of her SNL monologue when she said they used to consider it punishment to have to sit through other people's vacation pictures.

My point is, there's something interesting to me about the way people say it. First of all, sometimes they say, "Don't forget to take lots of pictures!" That amuses me. Does anyone really forget? I sometimes can't be bothered to take pictures, but it's not as if I have somehow forgotten that the option is available. Also, I detect just the slightest hint of entitlement in there to see the pictures. And that's kind of funny, because it's not as if I really owe you anything. I mean, at the end of the day, maybe if you want to see Tajikistan, then you should get yourself on a plane to Tajikistan. No?

But the thing I find super philosophically interesting about it is how people clamor for me to "hurry and post more pictures" when maybe I am perfectly content representing my trip to you in other ways. To wit, this blog. I have proudly declared on more than one occasion that "a thousand words are worth a picture." I was famously the last among my friends to care about whether my cell phone was a camera phone and I'm still planning to be the last to own a digital camera (for now, I usually just use Brian's). I remember a month or so into my time in Korea when I was prolifically blogging all sorts of stories and juicy details and someone back home was like, "But when are you going to post pictures on your blog?"

What if it's "never" - are my travels any less real to you somehow? Maybe I should be offended. Maybe I think less of you if you don't like to read about a trip and you only want visuals.

The fact that I am philosophically amused by this is probably all the more amusing (and philosophical) since my Tajikistan trip was led by a professional photographer. Like for real - his full-time job is as a staff photographer for Habitat for Humanity. So, I was absolutely in the presence of great pictures being taken for much of the time we were there. I totally appreciate that there are talented people out there who take wondrous photographs. I am impressed. But in spite of that -- or perhaps especially because of that -- why the assumption that everyone else should take photographs too? Is it like food? There are great chefs, but the rest of us inevitably have to cook at least a little bit, at least sometimes. Food is just a tad higher on the whole hierarchy of human needs, if I'm not mistaken. I mean, every educated person is expected to be literate enough to write competently, but of course some of us write better than others. I probably wouldn't want to read everyone's written accounts of their travels. But why expect everyone to take photographs?

It's interesting to ponder. If I told people leaving on a trip, "Don't forget to blog about it!" they would look at me quizzically. Especially the ones who don't have blogs. But why is that any more bizarre of a request, really? Maybe I will start saying that to everyone. "Bon voyage! Blog lots!" Then if someone says they don't have a blog I'll be like, "Why not? Blogs are free. Cameras cost money."

I think the real heart of the issue is that despite all of our photo albums, and blogs, and travel narratives sections in bookstores, and the Travel Channel, and the public radio travel show where I myself used to work, and all the Rudy Maxas and Anthony Bourdains out there, despite all of those things it's kind of a self-deception, isn't it, when we look at our friends' pictures of OR when we read their words about Rome, or Machu Picchu, or the Himalaya? It's like denial. We're either telling ourselves that we will get there someday (that's what I tell myself), or we're telling ourselves we're fine if we never get to see those places in person (and that notion is completely antithetical to my being).

I really never thought about it much until this trip. I think the last place I went that intrigued people this much was Cuba, and maybe that's part of it. But for whatever reason, I am totally amused, and I remain totally blase about and thoroughly uncommitted to "taking lots of pictures!"

And, of course, I now have Indigo Girls' "Dead Man's Hill" stuck in my head:

"Don't you write it down
Remember this in your head
Don't take a picture
Remember this in your heart
Don't leave a message
When everything falls apart
Talk to me face to face..."

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Swampy Things

Today I was reading a travel newsletter feature about packing light. It was all about how to go on vacation with only a 16x14x12-inch bag. One of the suggestions was to do a load of laundry while traveling. Obviously this is not new to many of us, but what was funny was their comment on it:

"If you don't have access to water to wash your clothes, you're likely not the kind of traveler that's concerned with having a new outfit for every hour of the day."

I love it! One of the things we talked about a lot on our Tajikistan trip was that to some extent the group of people who would go to Tajikistan in the first place were a self-selected group, already clearly up for at least some degree of adventure. We really did not have to "rough it" that much at all. Our hotel in Garm, though small, did have running water. All of the rooms on the first floor had individual bathrooms; the higher floors have to share bathrooms. This was clearly not a Hilton, or a Holiday Inn, but I for one enjoyed my patio (slab), view of the mountains, and television which got three Tajik channels - two of which showed the same thing, but with different amounts of static.

We even had laundry service. They did a plastic Target bag's worth for ten somonis -- which was around $2.25. The only problem was this whole concept of drying.

When we gave them our dirty clothes we wondered, just curious, how long before we would get them back? "It depends," was the cheerful reply, "on the weather." A-ha! If it's sunny, they'll be back sooner. Well, it was sunny the next day, but when the clothes came back I would not exactly call them dry. More like, let's say, not wet.

It wasn't just the returned laundry though! Other clothes had a way of becoming slightly damp in our little mountain town hotel room, too. I never did figure out if it was better to leave the clothes zipped in my duffel bag or take them out to hang them. Everything in that room was just kind of damp after a while. No big deal.

The bathroom, though, was a slightly bigger deal. Around day three I started calling it "the swamp." The floor just would not dry! We had a kind of small square shower, built in the corner of the bathroom, and there was a rag on the floor that acted as the mat, but it was soaked when we arrived and never did dry during our stay. My roommate bought another towel at the open-air market next to the hotel, which meant that after that we had two soaking wet towel mats. Hang them up, lay them flat, no matter. Also, even though I wiped the tile floor after every shower, it just kept a constant layer of wetness. I suppose all three fixtures in there - shower faucet, sink, and toilet tank - may have leaked. I think it was just part of the swamp ambiance. It did start to get a little gross. By the fourth day I was rolling up my jeans before I went into the bathroom. My roommate was so jealous that I had stolen the free slipper slabs from our hotel in Istanbul! Without those (or flip-flops) one had to wade in a serious layer of wetness just to get in and out of there.

On our last night I started having a little countdown with myself. The last morning when I woke up, my first thought was, "I only have to use that bathroom two more times ever!" Or, you know, until my next trip to the Rasht Valley? After breakfast at our very favorite 'teahouse' down the street and loading the van, I entered and exited my swamp bathroom for the last time. The shower curtain and its rod fell on my head that day, totally unprovoked by me. On my way out of the hotel room the final time, the key got stuck in the lock. Despite the finest efforts of several Habitatters, we had to summon the hotel man who also couldn't jiggle it free. It was like one big-self-destructing hotel room we left in our wake. Luckily we made it out alive. But watch out for Swamp Bathroom II: Return to Garm's Way.