Thanks for stopping by! I have just embarked on my newest adventure here in New York City, and I am excited to share my experiences.
It is time for us to embrace life!
Tonight my sister leaves for Israel. She will be flying into Tel Aviv and then trekking over to Jaffa to start a 5 week program with UCLA. (http://www.nelc.ucla.edu/jaffa/site.html) When I tell people that my kid sister is going on an archaeological dig in Israel for over a month, usually I am faced with wide eyes, exclamations of awe, and tinges of fear or jealousy sprinkled in the commentary. While Indiana Jones might be a stretch, she will be digging and working with stuff from 1400-1200 B.C., which is pretty awesome. She will be thrown into a foreign environment, staying with a band of students from various cities, laboring in the heat, and learning in an environment so very far from her home. She has a stack of massively heavy textbooks stashed in her luggage, in addition to the studying she has already completed in advance. She is going to rock it.
Basically I am brimming with pride for my kid sister who is following a dream and barreling through her limitations. This is not an easy adventure, and no doubt she will be faced with surprises each week and unforeseen challenges that inevitably occur when you are on your own in a completely different environment. For those of us that know her, we can see the strength she has been building and accumulating. She is one smartypants that will no doubt succeed, but I still sometimes look at her as my shy little sister who needs assistance talking to strangers. So proud of the little baby.
Sitting in a coffee shop, snow on the streets outside the window and glasses fogging up. Seriously, my glasses keep fogging up. I presume it means I wear them too flush against my face, but I like it this way, less times during the day of me pushing them back off the tip of my nose. And it is cold outside, but colder than that, and I think about the girl I met yesterday who asked me if I missed California. The girl who confessed that she hated it here, loathed living in New York, but was sticking it out a little longer because of her boyfriend. They had tried living together in LA, but he hated it, so he dragged her back to New York, and now look where they were. She wanted me to agree, to laud the warmth of the west coast and shake my head at the cold of the east coast (the wind, the stares, the lack of “hello’s” from strangers in line) but I didn’t. How could I tell her about my friends and my book club and my work and my writing and my bike rides without sounding like a braggart? Like her year and a half of giving it a go just couldn’t compare to my success in fitting in. I thought about inviting her out but then saw the futility in my gesture because it was obvious to both of us she was going to move back to the land of sunshine. And the sun is shining here, right now, I can see it over my misty glasses and the fogged up window and it is almost possible to forget the chill that awaits because that hopeful sun is shining so brightly.
(P.S. The photo is one I took in Australia. I am dreaming of those sunny days on the water.)
During our tour, we camped one night at the East African Mission Orphanage. This was a new route for the Africa Travel Company and our group was trying it out to see if it was something that they would permanently add to their tour schedule.
The EAMO is located on a big plot of land and has large, open stone buildings that serve as classrooms and also contain dorm rooms filled with bunk beds on either side. I am guessing there were almost 200 kids there, and we joined them for dinner on a Wednesday night. After grabbing a bowl of soup and a few pieces of chapati, Vanessa and I made our way to the table of boys that had scooted over to make room and frantically cried out to grab our attention. We sat with a group of 12 year olds, though you wouldn't know it by looking at them for they were all quite petite. Their English was superb and their manners were sweet. It turns out that they often get visitors (there is another tour group that makes regular stops to the site) but it was clear that they were happy and appreciative, nonetheless.
When a motorcycle came pulling up outside, the kids all raced out in excitement. When I asked my new friend Daniel about the older Aussie couple that had pulled their bike right up to the door, he announced, “It's Mom and Dad!!”. Ralph and May, the couple that had started EAMO so many years ago, was his Mom and Dad, along with everyone else's. They all called them that and they all clearly adored them; it was touching.
To learn more, visit their website at: http://www.eastafricanmission.org/
Part of the reason we joined the tour that we did was because we were gung ho about seeing the Mountain Gorillas. I had never met anyone personally who has done the trek, but I've heard about it through clients and we read about it and were intrigued. We even re-watched the movie “Gorillas in the Mist” (with a few parts that we had to fast forward through) in December to help prepare us. (Sidenote: Despite a few graphic and intense scenes, the movie is worth watching and holy cow was Diane Fossey a pioneer!)
A serious highlight of our trip was the day we went to the Little Angels Orphanage in Lake Bunyoni. Duncan, a 25 year old local, had started the orphanage after growing up in an orphanage himself. The interesting thing about this school/center is that many of the kids are not orphans in the technical sense, but they often have parents who just simply cannot afford to feed or clothe or take care of them. They are fed at Little Angels, and they are schooled by young teachers. A group of us hiked over from our Lake Bunyoni campsite so we could observe and assist with the kids. As a visitor, I was called upon to teach the class something. Of course we were all embarrassed (though there were a few teachers in our group who melded in a bit more naturally) but what could we do? I dragged Hunya up with me so we could play “Simon Says” (which is kind of tricky when the kids don't speak English very well) and the “Itsy Bitsy Spider”. At the end of our “lesson”, all of the kids in unison recited, “Teacher, Teacher, you are so good and precious.” I cannot tell you enough how touching this was, and they even said it to each student who got a correct answer. Come on!!
For lunch all of the classrooms piled out onto the grass next to the lake and ate together. Lunch consisted of a plastic cup of watery porridge, a slice of bread, a banana, and a bag of orange “drink”. I would estimate that there were about 60 kids present. After lunch, the teachers would yell out questions (What is the definition of a domesticated animal? What are some examples of wild animals? How do you spell “eleven”?) and a student would stand up and answer out loud and as a reward would receive an extra slice of bread or a banana. This one kid, Jared, stood up more than once when he clearly did not know the answer!! Either he was overly confident in himself, or he just wanted the half slice of bread he would get for at least attempting an answer. Too cute.
On Friday, June 28th, my sister Vanessa and I landed in Nairobi. We slept underneath mosquito nets our first night, and little did we know it would be our one full night's sleep for weeks. (All that flying and travel time wiped us out!) Earlier in the day we had an extra bonus trip when our flight landed ahead of schedule at our layover location in Amsterdam. Our connecting flight was delayed so we ended up with a few extra hours to kill and we took full advantage and raced downtown to Amsterdam proper. It was my second time to that beautiful city and Vanessa's first time, and we wandered the streets before its citizens were awake, peering down alleys, glancing in shop windows, and breathing in the breeze off the canals. We topped off our unexpected excursion with a fresh Dutch pancake brekkie (obviously) before returning to the airport.
We met the group we were traveling with on Saturday night. Africa Travel Company is the name of the tour company and this was my very first time traveling with any sort of group and pre-set itinerary. I am aware that people often travel this way, but it was a totally foreign experience for me. Also, we traveled in an Overland truck, which means we all piled into a behemoth vehicle with 28 seats, monster tires, and a whole cabin below our elevated seats that stored our tents and luggage and cooking utensils, chairs, etc. The cool thing about going this route is that by camping every night (and bringing our own tents and food, etc.) we were able to keep the cost down while maximizing the miles covered. The not so cool thing about this method is the CRAZY long days bouncing and jouncing in a massive truck crammed in next to strangers.
Shirley Manson is a rockstar. On Friday night, three of my friends joined me for the Garbage concert at Terminal Five in New York City. The concert hall was chock full of fans, most of them longterm fans such as myself, and the energy was a palpable buzz that pushed and shoved its way through the crowd. The two hour show was frenetic, and our voices were hoarse, and aside from a few drunken idiots who didn't listen to their bodies yelling “no more”, there were grins abounding. The night was a perfect alliance of music, best friends, nostalgia, dancing, singing, joy, and New York City.
And I walked out of the venue declaring my love for this band that has made me sing and dance for almost twenty years. Twenty years! The thing is, my love extends beyond the musical talent of this raucous band, beyond my adoration of frontwoman Shirley Manson, beyond the songs that make me pop. I love Garbage for all of those reasons, but I love them because they are humble, grateful, open and genuine. How many concerts have you been to where the band thanks the fans? Sure, most bands throw out a thank you, especially when they are young and new to the scene. But Shirley? She thanked the fans multiple times, and it wasn't a quick “thank you”; it was a speech from the bottom of her heart expressing the gratitude that she and the band have felt at the warm, welcome homecoming they received after their seven year hiatus. She made reference to the tweets and the Facebook shout outs the fans have posted. She smiled and the honesty flowed from her and it made my heart fill up. Throughout the show she made reference to how blessed the band feels, and this in turn reminded me how blessed I felt to be a part of this group of people, these odd balls, these punks, these men and women who have followed a band for two decades and who beamed, like me, when Shirley Manson doled out the gratitude.
When I was younger and I thought about being a writer, I envisioned myself at my desk, with the sun streaming just so through my tall glass of orange juice, and a tree branch occasionally brushing against the window in a melodic fashion. I did not see myself as someone who needed a muse, wanted a muse, relied on a muse to inspire the flow of words. I would be my own muse, gosh darn it!, and I was proud of this plan. When I was younger, I dreamt of writing a novel that would grace the shelf of the local used bookstore, with a little sign proclaiming “Local girl makes it! Read her book!” or some such message. And maybe I would wear vintage hats, and hold salons like a blonde Dorothy Parker (though our physical appearance is so different, I am afraid our acerbity is not).
Twenty years later I am in a crowded coffee shop with bagel crumbs on my lips and I wear my hoodie to drown out the clacking and chattering and consumption around me. And I think about my retired muse. I remember confessing that I always saw myself as an independent writer (woman) who didn't need someone else (a partner) to inspire creation. I told her that it was a surprise to me that I found myself suddenly writing more after a weekend with her, that I found stories and words less reclusive when I would think about our relationship or our future. I sent her links to the Laura Marling videos, singing the word “muse” over and over. I gave her the title, capital M and all, and I was proud to disperse such a grand label. I typed away on my vintage typewriter, poetry (original) and poems (ee cummings and such) smudging away when I should have been writing my screenplay. I couldn't help it... I had a Muse!
This is what volunteering at an LGBT youth shelter program looks like:
Dishes. Not as many as you'd imagine, but always dishes. Incoming residents, graduating residents, booted residents, and recurring residents. I've made friends. I am respected and maybe sometimes liked. French fries, sometimes fried and sometimes baked, depending on the staff member on duty. Always extra salty when I'm in charge. Reality television, OMG reality television. Sometimes music videos on MTV, but mostly we watch shameless America embarrassing themselves on camera. Chatting, superficially usually, cleaning, cooking, re-stocking, and chatting some more. There is a mix of gay and lesbian and transgender, but we don't talk too much about it. And I arrive with a smile and leave with a smile, wondering on the bike ride home (always wondering) how it is that I ended up being born where I was when I was in my home with my parents my upbringing my church my life.