Saturday, September 15, 2007

It's been a while...

It has been a long time since I posted anything of note on my blog. In fact, it has been a while since I have written anything other than academic papers. Today, on the bus, I was inspired to start writing again. Public transportation has a way of doing that.

Recently, I have been working as a reference librarian in a small, private library, just to test it out. I thought that going to library school to become a librarian or archivist would straighten everything out and I would then be on an actual career track. After three semesters, I have discovered that the library/archives field is a vast one with much variety. Needless to say, I still have a lot of thinking to do in regards of where I want to go and what I want do. So I am giving the reference thing a try. While my co-workers are wonderful, I am not so sure I enjoy interacting with the public more than is necessary. Maybe this makes me a curmudgeon - or even a stereotypical, reclusive librarian. Either way, the jury is still out on reference work, but the outlook does not look good.

A friend of mine, with whom I discussed this ambivalence about reference, suggested that working with the public is one way to have good stories to tell at parties. I wrote,"I think I would rather converse with my peers than with the public." "The public gives us the best "work" stories to tell!," she replied This possibly being her only argument in favor of working with the public. Well, today, I realized that my argument against doing reference and working with the public is that I rely on public transportation, so I have more than enough exposure just in getting where I need to go.

This afternoon I rode the bus to and from the downtown branch of the public library. On the way there, while desperately trying to focus on my homework, I listened to a young man expound upon the young, hot mamacita he had just hooked up with - in graphic detail. Now I am no prude, but I am not sure I wanted to know so much about other people's sexual preferences while riding the bus and reading The Tao of Computing. On the way home, a woman with a bloody knee and her man friend choose the seats right across from me. They proceed to have a rather long and loud conversation about buying a headstone for a deceased friend. The man talks about how wonderful the woman was, and how much he loved her - and then the conversation became too quiet to hear with any subtlety. I went back to reading The Tao of Computing, only to be interrupted by the man's boisterous pronouncement of his love affair with Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is his Lord and Savior. In fact, in his mind, and I quote, "Jesus Christ is the THE BOMB." His passion was infectious, and I had to fight the temptation to shout, "Amen! Praise the Lord!" Luckily, his follow up statement brought me back to my senses. What was the follow up, you ask? A snot rocket. Not out the window or into a tissue, but onto the floor - about a foot away from my feet. At that moment, I realized that as long as I ride public transportation, I will not be looking for jobs that deal with that same public. Cynical? Perhaps. But who wants snot on their feet?

Reflections on South Africa

As a senior at Wheaton, I had the pleasure and the challenge to act in a student-directed production of My Children, My Africa by Athol Fugard. To play Isabel Dyson, I had to learn about the history and politics of Apartheid in South Africa, but I also had to viscerally and emotionally connect to the struggles of freedom and the need to oppress. Where did an open-minded though ignorant white girl fit into the picture? My only frames of reference at that time were my favorite novel, The Power of One, National Geographic articles and things learned in the classroom. Drawing on the support of my cast mates, the writings of South African authors and documentaries of the American Civil Rights movement, I was able to develop my character. This March, I had the opportunity to visit the place that has haunted my thoughts for so many years. I went to South Africa.

While I was certainly excited to go to South Africa, I must admit, I was also scared. If you follow the news or read the first pages of a travel guide, you will see that South Africa’s daily murder rate closely matches the rate in Iraq. You will see that South Africa has the largest AIDS population per capita in the world. You will see that the rape rate is on the rise, that visitors should hide their money well inside their clothing and should not use public transportation. So much negativity and fear about South Africa populates the pages and reports that reach Americans.

Of course, South Africa has problems and issues to face, but sometimes it is easy to forget that this post-Apartheid South Africa is only 13 years old. It is an adolescent growing into its shoes--struggling to right the wrongs of the past, meet the challenges of the future and assimilate the many cultures now attempting to live in freedom and equality. In these 13 years, South Africans have been trying to understand their history, make amends and move forward as a new, united nation—the Rainbow Nation.

As I walked down the streets of Cape Town and drove down the red dirt roads of Mpumalanga, I wondered at the beauty of the people and the places. Here I had prepared myself for I don’t know what—the place described by the news, I guess—but then I breathed the air, saw the elephants, watched the people and I experienced something else, something peaceful, something hopeful. Even while visiting Robben Island and the townships, the South Africans teaching us about their past and their present were filled with hope. Sure, they struggle and life is not what it could be, but they also spoke of growth, change and improvement.

In the three weeks I was in South Africa, I visited a number of tough places—places where people have endured great injustice and hardship. The men and women I spoke with have a deep, infectious passion for their country. South Africa, to them, is a work in progress with possibilities of greatness. While teaching their people’s tragedy, these men and women spoke with ardor, wit and humor—making me both laugh and cry. I think that most clearly expresses my feelings about South Africa—it made me laugh and cry, and sometimes, it rendered me speechless.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

more South Africa

We have been very busy these couple of days, visiting the Cape of Good Hope and Robben Island. It is hot here, and I have the flaming red nose to prove it. Must remember to re-apply my sunscreen!

Yesterday, we paid a visit to one of the largest colonies of African penguins in Africa at Boulders Beach. These little, lively creatures hang out on the sand with beachgoers, barely blinking an eye at the children building sand castles nearby. I saw hundreds of penguins—hundreds! With the exception of an egg-stealing seagull, my visit with the penguins was peaceful and uplifting.

Following Boulders Beach, we drove to the meeting of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. The sights were magnificent, the wind strong and the sun bright. I could definitely understand why it is a perilous place for boats. It is certainly an awesome place, in the original sense of the word.

While hiking around the cape, we were accompanied by tons of baboons. They just hang out along the roads and trails, sometimes moving for the cars, other times making the cars move for them—a fair trade. All the signs say,” Baboons are dangerous and attracted by food.” Of course, most of the tourists still eat their chips and sandwiches out in the open anyway. One family experienced the baboon in a very direct way when the baboon stole chips right out of the hand of a two-year-old boy. Wide blue eyes followed the baboon’s fur-less butt as he ran to enjoy his booty. I learned a helpful German phrase which I repeated over and over as baboons passed me by,” Langsam weglaufen”—slowly walk away.

That evening, we saw a stunning sunset from Signal Hill, overlooking all of Cape Town and beyond, and enjoyed an ice cream cone. The sunset inspired a fun evening of wine, champagne and conversation.

Today, we visited Robben Island, the island prison of South Africa’s black, colored, and Asian political prisoners—including Nelson Mandela. The island is full of contradictions and dichotomies. Gorgeous scenery and active wildlife give the island a serene feeling, which is immediately displaced when the barbed wire and small jail cells come into view.

Our tour guides today were passionate teachers and informed us of the many injustices the prisoners endured. One of the guides is a former prisoner of 18 years who chooses to teach foreigners like us about this aspect of South African history. He believes that by teaching others about Robben Island, he is preventing the possibility of such things occurring in the future.

In the one week I have been in South Africa, I have been on two tours of tough places—places whose people have endured great hardships and challenges. The three men whose job it is to lead these tours have a deep, infectious passion for their country. South Africa, to them, is a work in progress with possibilities of greatness. While leading us on these tours and teaching their people’s tragedy, these men speak with ardor, wit and humor—making me both laugh and cry. So far, I think that most clearly expresses my feelings about South Africa—it makes me laugh and cry, and sometimes, it renders me speechless.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

South Africa: Part 3

For some reason, my computer or Blogger does not feel like uploading photos. I will try later today.

Yesterday, I finally met Alex's family. The big moment finally happened--and it went just fine. They are lovely, friendly and excited to practice their English. So far, most of our conversations involve German, broken English and broken German, but it seems to work out for all of us.

Because of wind, we could not go up Table Mountain yesterday so Alex and I showed his family around Cape Town instead. Later on in the day, Alex, his sister, her husband, and I climbed the Lion's Head. The climb was awesome, but similar to New Zealander, the South Africans perception of "easy" is quite different from us Americans. Still, the climb was a bit of a challenge and great workout. When I can post my pcitures, I will--they are worth seeing.

That evening, we all went out for seafood. They don't get much of that in Germany so it was a great treat for them. The prawns here are to die for! Then, for Alex's mom's birthday, we drank champagne and red wine, continuing our dual-language chat.

All in all, a good day. Today, we are heading to the Cape of Good Hope. Hopefully, penguins and dolphins are in the near future!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Cape Town is fascinating. I am still gathering my thoughts about it so I am not going to share too much now, but this place is really amazing. Yesterday, Alex and I walked all over the city, taking in gardens, museums and people. Cape Town is full of people, full of life, full of variety. There are 11 national languages--all of which you can choose from when at the ATM! Walking around, I have seen people of all shapes, sizes and colors. It is a lovely thing to see but sadly, so very foreign to me.
Today, we visited a couple of townships outside of Cape Town. There is a tour company in Cape Town that offer tours to the townships, using its profits to give back to those communities. I have never, ever seen anything like it. Some of you have traveled around the world and have seen what I saw today, but this was my first time. I was moved--still processing it all, so for now, here are my photos from the day.

These tenement type buildings are refered to as hostels. The above hostels are brand new and much more spacious for the families. One family per unit where they actually have a bathroom, and multiple rooms. The below hostels are really stunning. Each unit houses up to SIX famillies. The unit has six rooms (one for each family), a common space used for cooking, sleeping and eating and a washroom. The unit we visited held an unknown number of people, but we do know that one family had ELEVEN members living in ONE room!
The "informal" township is a shanty town. Oddly enough, the shanties are more spacious for the families. There is a large building project happening in the townships where they are razing the shanties to be replaced with small huts, very similar to those built by Habitat for Humanity.

This kindergarten was formed by the funds provided by Grassroutes Tour Company, our guide for the day. These little people were brimming with life and just a joy to be with.

This is Tavern Alley in Langa Township. Our tour guide brought us to a local pub owned by three lovely women. We sat in a circle and tried the local beer made from corn, milk, wheat...or some combination similar.

Sheep heads are serious business in Langa and other townships. Women who own these shops rise early to purchase the heads of sheep. They then spend the day cooking the skulls and selling the meat from the heads.

Okay, so these images are out of order but I just can't stomach fixing them AGAIN. So, I am swallowing my perfectionist tendencies for now.

Anyway, our travels to South Africa were long...let's just put it this way, they fed us four meals while on the plane--dinner, breakfast, lunch and dinner again. Alex slept the whole way, me, not so much. Yesterday was rough, but today is much better. Especially when I can eat breakfast on this cute little terrace each morning. This is the patio of our hotel.

This is the view from our balcony. We can also see Table Mountain from our room. I am sure I will get some good photos of Table Mountain tomorrow when I hike it!

To celebrate our vacation, surviving the flights and Alex's promotion, we ate cheese and crackers and sipped champagne on our balcony last night. Needless to say, I was sound asleep shortly thereafter. Champagne and jet lag are not a good pair...but it was fun nonetheless.

Alex and I visited the South African National Library to see a little exhibit there. While inside, I saw a large card catalog and could not pass it by without taking a photo. The library is stunning! Lots of natural light!

Table Mountain and the the National Gallery of South Africa. Lovely.

Alex decided it would be a good idea to take a photo while sitting in JFK waiting for our flight. Here it is. If only we knew what we were in for!

One would think that this sweet mask is the secret to sleeping on the plane. For my little sleeping beauty, apparently it did the trick. For me, not so much, though the toothbrush and toothpaste they gave us sure came in handy.

Embarking on our final plane. Only two more hours to go and of course, on this plane I fell asleep. Yay two hours of sleep!

Our room at the Fritz Hotel in Cape Town. It is a breezy, bright room. Very Euro, so Alex is right at home and so am I. I think I like this Euro thing.

Alex enjoying our balcony pre-champagne.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Knowledge is power and poverty-inducing

When the new year began, I had every intention of writing on a daily or at least every other day basis--and then life revealed alternative plans. Planning for Africa, starting my Library Science program, continuing at my job, mourning the loss of a friend and thinking about the future of my relationship all at the same time makes a girl just a bit crazy. Sometimes writing helps me deal with the stresses and thoughts that crowd my mind and other times those same stresses and thoughts create a log jam. The thing that jams me up most is money....the saddest but truest thing I have admitted of late.

Starting school on January 29th was a wonderful and horrible thing. I love it! I love the subject of my courses, the professors are cool and my classmates seem lovely. The downside is watching my debt grow by a large amount. When will the bleeding stop? People keep saying I should put it out of my mind and just focus on getting through the program. While I admire, and somewhat worry about, people who can just go into denial about the massive amounts they will owe six months post graduation, I am not one of those people. The weight of it almost drowns me and I feel totally overwhelmed by the fact that I may struggle to make ends meet when I graduate. Shadows of debt will follow me for many, many years because I am not going into a field that pays lots but I am at a school that takes lots. It is so very frustrating to work hard, to be frugal and to still feel behind the eight ball. Will I ever be able to pay my bills without concern? Will I be able to own a house, buy a car or go on vacation (without freaking out)?

I feel whiny because I have so many gifts like shelter, clothing, loved ones, and so many more, but this money thing plagues me. It sits in the back of my mind and in the pit of my stomach weighing me down. Is there a better way? If I go part-time and perhaps got a job at the school for full reimbursement, then I will not graduate for about 4 to 5 years. That would be 4 or 5 years doing work that is not the work I want to do. If I go full-time, I accrue a greater amount of debt but will finish in 2 years allowing me to begin my career much, much sooner. It's a conundrum and I am not the only one trying to figure it out.

So many in my generation struggle financially because these days it takes a graduate degree to get a "good" job, but the cost of education has skyrocketed and the "good" jobs don't really pay well enough to counteract that debt. To some, it may seem that my generation is obsessed with money and, in a way, we are, but not for the reasons it may seem. Many of us are constantly doing math, checking and double checking that if we take job x, we can afford to pay our debts and afford the necessities. Parents of my generation who choose to assist the children are also experiencing a financial drain. They are still financially supporting their 28 year old children, who are working hard but cannot seem to make ends meet, sometimes instead of saving for retirement. Struggle is not a new phenomena, and I don't mean to suggest it is, but this particular struggle between education and cost of living seems more pronounced in the 21st century. Hopefully, Congress will address this issue for future generations, but for mine, I think we are on our own.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Women and wine...

According to The Today Show and NBC, women having ONE glass of wine with their girlfriends in front of their children makes them lushes AND bad mothers. Hmmmm.....What about dad's drinking beer with each other while watching a football game while their kids watch, too? Does that make them bad fathers? And, is it okay for mothers to have a glass of wine at a barbecue when men are around to patrol their consumption?

(For a frame of reference, view this clip: Then read: This is the woman they invited on the show to "interview." She gives her side of the story on her blog.)

Why am I writing about this when I, myself, am not a mother? Because this stuff affects future mothers as much as it does current. It makes future mothers question if motherhood is the right choice for them and not just because we may like to have a drink or two every now and then. By the major news media telling women that we need to be chaste, devoid of pleasure and devoted only to mommy-hood to be a good "woman" (which really means good mother, in their language), it makes women who are spunky, mouthy, feisty and fun loving feel that perhaps they are not cut-out for this role of mother. This NBC article suggests that women who enjoy their other roles in life--such as as wife, lover, friend and socialite which may involve a single, responsible drink--are somehow lesser mothers. I think that is downright scary.

In this country, we seem to enjoy turning healthy drinking or healthy sexuality into something bad. If mothers have a glass of wine or a beer in front of their children, they are showing their children that drinking an alcoholic beverage can be done in moderation with pleasure. I feel the same way about sexuality. We rate movies with passionate love scenes between two people who are "in-love" R and rate movies where people blow each other's heads off with little consequence PG-13. Nice example to set! Kids watch porn--that is just the reality of our times-- and by eliminating any visual examples of healthy sexuality while refusing to talk about healthy sexuality, our kids are left with one example, porn. If we keep telling ourselves that being honest with our kids about our smart drinking habits and healthy sex lives is a bad thing, then where do these kids turn to get their answers? Frankly, I find the answer to that question a lot scarier than having watched my mom have a beer while I played in the sandbox.

Friday, January 19, 2007

I only have a few moments before I catch my bus, train, bus and plane to Pittsburgh for Mike's memorial service. Today has been a flurry of activity, getting things in order before leaving town for the weekend. While I was in the shower after going to the gym, the fire alarm went off...luckily it was just a drill because I was covered in soap and shampoo and it's pretty chilly here. That certainly created a flurry!

Anyway, I think this should be a sad but lovely weekend celebrating the life of a friend. More upon my return.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

South 6 weeks, 2 days and counting

So in six weeks, two days and a few hours, I will be on a plane to South Africa with my lovely German boyfriend for three whole weeks. Once in Cape Town, we will have three days together before his family arrives--and by his family I mean, his mother, father, sister and brother-in-law. This three week jaunt to Africa will be our first meeting as they live in Deutschland and, well, I live stateside. They speak German, and I try and rarely succeed at speaking German.

Okay, so just to state the situation clearly: I am going on my first trip to Africa (one which I can't really afford)-- and my first vacation with my boyfriend--to meet his parents, who speak German, for the first time on a three week vacation. Don't get me wrong, if you heard a little fear or dread in that statement you are hearing correctly, but I am also really excited. Really, I just hasn't hit me yet. Finagling finances, re-learning German (yeah, re-learning--I used to be fluent, and of course, now that I date a German, I am not--go figure), meeting the parents, traveling for three weeks--it feels like a lot.

But then, then I look at the images of Cape Town and Kruger National Park. I look at the penguins, hippopotomi, rhinoceroses, elephants and gazelles and I feel so lucky to have this opportunity. Now is the time to turn off the uber-practical part of my brain and allow myself to daydream about what a great experience this will be, how his parents will love me, the penguins will want to have their photos taken and the beaches will be warm and sunny.

Oh, by the way, did you know that hippopotomi make their own sunscreen? It's true! They just excrete it through their skin and they are good to go. Now if only they could teach this redhead how to do that!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Presidential Race....

Obama has thrown his hat in the ring, heating up the presidential race of 2008. Issues of race, experience, gender and Iraq are already flying through the media. While I am certainly excited to think about a White House without Bush, I find it really hard to think beyond the present. We have issues, big issues, right here, right now. Should we send more troops to Irag, cut funding to troops in Iraq, pull out of Iraq? How are we going to bring health care to the millions without? So many more questions crowd my brain, and each of them affects the present, the here and now, not able to wait for 2008. My bright thought this morning was to set an embargo on the Bush and Cheney family. Why cut funding to the troops, who are performing the duties they were ordered to do, when we could cut funding to the President and his cronies? I think we could save a lot of money if we, say, grounded Air Force One, brought in line cooks from McDonalds to replace the four-star chefs, made them pay out of pocket medical expenses and limited the families to clothing from JC Penneys instead of Armani. Perhaps then, these people would feel the stress and strain of the American public, inciting some urgency within. Perhaps then, the media would cover the issues instead of the intrigue.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Perhaps I have been hormonal, or maybe I am suffering from a tough case of ennui, but recently I have found myself progressively more abhorred by modern day decorum, or lack there of.

Since when did it become cool, or at least acceptable, to spit huge, phlegm filled lugies on sidewalk? People just sniff, hock and spit on the ground on which I am about to step. Quickly, I side step the oozing, white puddle and ask, "Really?"

I get on the train, settle in with my book and sigh, ready to start another day. After the first stop, a nicely dressed man sits diagonally across from me and opens his bag. Does he pull out a book, the newspaper, some headphones? No, he pulls out his floss, unravels a nice long string and goes at it. Slide, slide, pick. Slide, slide, pick--sending tiny bits of foodstuffs, plaque and whatever else settles between his teeth onto the seat in front of him, beside him and who knows where. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, thinking that day was an exception. I was wrong. The following day, he did the same thing. Really? Really....

Monday, January 15, 2007

Book Reviews

After some encouragement from my few readers, I have decided to add a movie and book review component to my blog. Admittedly, I don't see a ton of current flicks, but I do tend to stumble across some wonderful classics that everyone should see. Reading, however, is something I do with great frequency and passion. I should have started this much sooner because I have read some AMAZING stuff in the past eight months or so. For now, I will just write up a little list with brief commentaries for the must reads--too many to catch up on....

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: If you have not read this, or read this when you were a disgruntled adolescent then it is time to read it (again). Sparce, beautiful, and human.

Brave New World by Aldus Huxley: Scary how relevant this book is! It is a gripping read.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas: Dumas really likes to verbiage, but if you are patient, an epic, vivid unfolds.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: Fun and witty.

Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: Both books have a similar style and cause sudden eruptions of laughter. Everything is the cause of my laughing in public blog--really funny and surprisingly touching. Extremely is more intense but still filled with humor.

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy: Wow, beautiful, sigh. McCarthy knows how to bring the reader with him to the setting of the action without being overly descriptive. Somehow, some way, I smelled the smells of the characters, saw the sites, felt the dust without ever feeling overwhelmed by verbiage. Gorgeous writer, and one I hope to read a great deal more.

Zorro: A Novel by Isabel Allende: As always, Allende sweeps the reader into the life of a passionate, energetic character as a friend, a confidante. When you turn last page, it feels just like hanging up the phone after catching up with an old friend, smiling.

The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde by Neal McKenna: An interesting journalistic review of Wilde's love life. The book is an arduous read, but certainly provides some insights into the obsessions, sexuality and demise of Oscar Wilde.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo: The author of Because of Winn Dixie does it again with Despereaux. A lovely children's story about a determined mouse, an envious rat, an aspiring princess and an actual princess, DiCamillo invites the reader in and holds your hand through the ride.
Yesterday, I learned that my friend, Mike, the star of the last post, had died. After two months of fighting, Mike's body realized this was a battle it could not win and joined his already departed spirit. When I heard yesterday, I felt numb and somewhat relieved. Today, I read the memoriam written by his father and did what any philsophical, distressed Western woman would do--cried, ate and cleaned.

As I read Dr. Franz's eulogy, I was overwhelmed with empathy for Mike's parents, brother and fiancee. At that moment, my heart ached for those Mike left behind and for all the things Mike would never do. Dr. Franz chose a lovely Neruda poem to close his eulogy which brought me both comfort and anguish. I could not believe that such a mighty presence had been extinguished, even though I have had two months to prepare. At the same time, I felt comfort in knowing that Mike lived everyday with passion and gusto--he missed little.

Quietly I sat, trying to absorb the enormity of losing Mike and I felt compelled to buy myself something sinful and delicious. Appalled that such a thought would enter my mind while mourning for Mike and his family, I had no choice but to walk to my favorite bakery. Somehow, in my grief, I had determined that I deserved to bend the rules a little and spend money on myself. I comtemplated getting a hot chocolate and large chocolate chip cookie but that felt too extravagent for this somber occasion. Instead, I decided on a small latte and a cherry almond muffin--a choice of only moderate sinfulness. In those moments, my latte and cherry almond muffin soothed my soul, or at least my aching tummy, tasting more wonderful with each bite. But, before I could finish my snacks, I was struck with another compulsion--the need to clean.

Leaving the last quarter of my delicious muffin behind, I began to clean with gusto, with abandon even. I live with four medical students and, in general, we keep our large, old apartment pretty clean. Never have I felt frightened to use the toilet, shower or kitchen counter, but, we are not so good at keeping the dust bunnies at bay. All of my energy went into vaccuuming and mopping the floors. This was not just the cursory vaccuum and mop, where I go around the furnture. Oh no, this involved moving couches, tables, chairs, desks and more. This involved looking under and behind things. Seeing all that dirt both disgusted and thrilled me. This was being totally fascinated and horrified by the sheer disgustingness that accrues while we go about our daily lives. We, who pride ourselves on our cleanliness, who look down on those who don't shower every day or so, or who wear the same clothes a couple days in a row, let dust clumps the size of small rodents build up behind our couches and under our cubbards. We are thrillingly disgusting! All I could do was marvel, and put a little more oomph behind the mop.

Two hours, millions of dust bunnies and an aching back later, I finish my cleaning frenzy. The house smells clean, like Murphy's Oil, and the floors shine. My job is done, but the grieving is only just beginning. Now it is about breathing in, breathing out, putting one foot in front of the other and living in this moment.