Monday, September 29, 2008


I got shocked from an electric socket last night. The real surprise is that it’s taken this long. Like in The Gambia, Uganda uses those ridiculous British plugs, where half the time you have to shove a pen into the socket at the same time as the plug to get it to fit. So it’s not a surprise that I got shocked. But still. Ouch. Good news is, we’ve got our electricity back!

Last night was Saturday night. After a day spent in the office (there is so. Much. Work. To be done), I came home and sat in the gloaming with our night guard, Akello Kevin. The sky above us was deep purple and the grass was cool beneath our legs. Akello and I went through my Primary School Acholi Reader, she telling the pronunciation of the words and me echoing her and practicing.

This morning, there isn’t a cloud in the sky today. It’s gorgeous. But I wish it would rain. I want to bathe.

Janet came by with her darling, darling baby Julian (whom I call my nephew) at 8 a.m. and we went to Catholic mass. It was really fantastic. I’m not religious, but I was raised Catholic, so I know all the correct chants, songs, prayers, and responses. They’re the same here as they are in the rest of the world. The incense smells the same. The Bible verses are the same. Today’s gospel was about how actions are more important than words. Today’s homily was about humility. The priest talked about the lack of humility of African leaders like Robert Mugabe who don’t step down when they should. He spoke a little about the war. Julian was such a good baby through out the whole mass, giggling and cooing sometimes, but never crying.

The women in church were wearing their Sunday Best, which often meant African fabrics sewn in African patterns. Usually people here wear Western clothes. There isn’t much visible “culture”. People don’t dance. They don’t play music. They don’t perform plays. They cart their WFP donations for kilometers back to their homes; they sit around; they drink. They worry about how to feed their children tomorrow; they don’t sing. They stumble; of all communities in the entire world, Northern Uganda has the highest proportion per capita of alcohol drunk each year. It was lovely to see people in bright African clothes in church, even if they were praying beneath the giant statue of a crucified (white) Jesus. (That was weird for me: to be the only Caucasian in the packed church other than the statue dripping fake blood from its hands and feet). Before church, admiring the clothes, I asked Janet if the reason people don’t dance traditional dances in Kitgum anymore is because of the war. “Of course,” she said, as if it was the most obvious thing ever, which I guess it is. She told me about the traditional dances that she could remember attending as a very young child. Janet is two weeks younger than me. We were barely five years old when the war began.

There are other signs that this is a war-affected society, besides the dearth of culture. There are the children who have found landmines and have lost limbs; but there aren’t many, at least not in town. In town, most of the signs of war are beneath the surface, but like with icebergs (shout out to SITers!), beneath the surface is the largest part. If you see someone who is injured, you don’t help him here. This has happened more than once that I’ve seen. My friend Kristen got thrown from a buda-buda (a motorcycle taxi) and was by the side of the road sobbing – no one stopped to help. That would never have happened anywhere else I’ve ever been (or anywhere else that she’d ever been, which made her cry harder). The security guard at another friend’s office fell and sliced his head opened – no one could be bothered to drive him to the hospital. It’s not that people here aren’t kind; they are sweet, and empathetic. I would diagnose these instances as symptoms of a war-traumatized society. When everyone around you knows children who have been kidnapped and forced to kill, when everybody has lost friends and family to these child warriors, you’re used to blood and sobbing. It fazes you less, and you are able to go on your way, to try and find food to feed your children for another day, without helping the injured on the roadside.

Other items of note:
➢ My friend Patricia has promised to take me to a Mato Oput ceremony. Oh my God. I can’t wait.
➢ I miss searching for sand dollars on the beach, like I did in 2007 in The Gambia, for hours and hours each week.
➢ The kids on my street ran at me calling “Rock-el-ay, Rockelay” last night! Only three or four called me “Muzungo” or “Mwono”! Victory!

Friday, September 26, 2008


My new Acholi words:

....Ngea Rock-el-ay, pey "Mwuna"!

Which means:

....My name is Rachel, not "Hey, White Person"!

I've been saying it to the children in the nearby streets all morning. (They spend all day every day hunting me down and shouting "Mwuna! Mwunabye!") About four (or so) of the children have since said my name (and I've given them big kisses). I will prevail! They will ALL know my name! Eventually!



Not much new has been going on! We lost power through the whole town again, and we haven’t had access to the inter-web in over 48 hours (I’m writing this off-line). We’ve still got no water. But life is lovely.

No water? I don’t have to wait in line at the well for hours; our day security guard does it for us. He fills up our jerry-cans and bikes the heavy load home. No power? I bat my eyes at my bosses and they turn on the generator at work; I charge my laptop and can use it in the evenings at home, by the light of my oil lantern. No internet? Oh please. 95% of the world isn’t addicted to their e-mail like I am.

Look at the way the lighting jags across the entire sky! Hear the thunder rolling off of the mountains of South Sudan! See the rainbow arc through the clouds as the earth prepares for the storm! Life is lovely.

J showed me a new shortcut home last night (from the office to our compound), which he discovered a while ago. (I’d been wondering how J often left for work after me yet arrived at work before me!) It was a great path, through backfields and dirt roads. I got to greet many new toddlers and children.

As we drove past an IDP camp two days ago, Patricia told us a story. There were chronic fires in a couple of the camps several years ago, all beginning on the thatch roofs of the same few people. These people were accused as arsonists and persecuted as witches until the common denominator between them all was discovered: they were all near-sighted. When their eyes got tired, they would lay their glasses on the roofs of their huts, where things are often put to rest. Unfortunately, these lenses would magnify the sunlight into a super-hot pinprick on the dried-grass roofs. In the close proximity of life in the camps, a fire on one roof means a fire on many. Thus, people were sensitized to not rest their reading glasses on roofs anymore, and the persecution, as well as the fires, stopped.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Yesterday was our pre-test of questions. I can talk more about it, but a lot was in Acholi so I am only now getting the complete translations from my lovely & committed teammates. But one thing happened that horrifies me and that can never, never, never happen again, which is that I, as the token white member of the group, was also the one who passed out the candies that we gave to the children as a "Thank you for sitting still in this heat and speaking your mind; it was nice to meet you" treat.

First of all, from now on we will give out soap. I'm the one who chose the candies and apparently I chose all wrong, haha; everyone laughed at me for my choice, my teammates AND the participants.

Secondly -- and this is the real problem with what happened -- I can never, never, never be the only one passing things out. It makes my skin crawl to think of that in light of the historical truths and memories in this section of the world. Me, the visiting white girl, handing out candies to the Africans in the IDP camp. Oh my god. Oh my god.

I talked to my team about that and they of course were sweet and calming and said that I shouldn't blame myself, it just happened like that, we were disorganized is all; also, moreover, it was the pre-test! So we were SUPPOSED to make mistakes, and to see them, recognize them, and change our behaviors accordingly.


As I was walking to market last night to buy a bottle of wine, an Acholi woman walking the other way along the path greeted me by saying "How are you, my daughter?" She was gone as quickly as she came, barely before I could choke out my response, which was "Thank you". I could have cried for love of her, for her kindness.


J (whom I have appreciated much in the last two days) went to a briefing this morning and reports back a rumor that the LRA is traveling back in this direction. WTF. The last news I heard was that Kony is killing people in Sudan and abducting children in the DRC, where he is also, "they" say, elbow-deep in diamond mines. Why would he come back here? He (and others) have decimated this society. What more does he want from here? Really. What more can he gain?

He keeps dragging out the peace talks in a farcical manner, getting more food aid and health aid for each and every week he stalls. Eventually, he'll sign the document; and what will that mean? When he breaks the peace treaty, what will happen to him? He'll get in trouble with the ICC? Oh, wait.... (Been there, done that.)

I guess -- though -- to be positive -- that the continued hope of the peace talks might be that, in a show of good faith, maybe Kony will release some abducted children and child-brides.

Why don't they just kill him? Oh. Right. Military industrialism. And power gained through war.

Monday, September 22, 2008


How foolish, to worry so much about what I’m going to wear. Of course, I was visiting people who never have that luxury, who are wearing Goodwill rejects full of holes, because the economics of the world are so screwed up.

It was fun, though. Everyone was super-welcoming and kind and I got to play with tons of beautiful babies. It was crowded there. I met formerly abducted youths who’d been forced to serve as child-soldiers.

Tonight it rained. When it thunders here, you can watch the licks of lightening from their nativity in the clouds to their touchdown on the earth, because the sky is so large and the horizon so deep.


My favorite new ritual is making tea for Akello Kevin, our night guard. I brew it for her every night, dark and hot, boiling the water first so it’s okay to drink. She likes about four tablespoons of sugar it in. Then I decide on what snack she may want. Some evenings I make her bread with heavily spread peanut butter. One night I gave her potato chips. Tonight I gave her two oranges; one orange was whole in the center of the plate, and the other orange I cut into eighths and lay around the edges. The entire result looked like an orange sunshine! It’s so much fun to have somebody to make tea for.

In return, Akello tirelessly tells me the names of things in Acholi Luo. I love her. She paces our compound all night with a big rifle. She would never, never let anything happen to us. I feel completely safe in her hands.

I’m worrying about what I should wear tomorrow. In Senegal, I was told that one doesn’t wear clothes to express oneself; one wears clothes to express one’s respect (or lack thereof) for the company one is in. So I think I should attempt to dress myself well tomorrow, since it will be my first day ever at an IDP camp and I want to show respect. I think I’ll wear my old, but lovely, aqua-green long skirt with black patterned flowers and small gold sequins around the bottom. And maybe a polo shirt. Maybe I’ll wear my old Tostan-The Gambia polo shirt, to give me courage! Or a nice, light blouse.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


As of tonight, I will have been in Uganda for ten days, and there are 89 days till I go home. It's such a short, short, short time that I have here! It's crazy...

We no longer have an indoor toilet. Because we haven’t had running water in five days or so, we can’t use the indoor toilet anymore. There’s a concrete hole in the backyard, though, that we can share. We have to go collect our water from the “Bore Hole” which I assume is a community-wide well? I’m not sure; I’ve never been there. Kristen and I are going to go there today, though, because we’re completely out of water. Once we get water, we’ll be able to shower and wash the dishes and wash some of our clothes, maybe. And we can boil some of it to drink, too. But we still won’t be able to use the indoor toilet, because that just takes too much water. When I stayed at my friend Ava’s house in a village in Eastern Gambia, we didn’t even have a concrete hole. That was rough. The concrete hole is fine.

Oh dear. The local bore hole is "broken" (I'm not sure how?) but luckily it poured this afternoon, so we put basins outside and now have plenty of water! Yay!

19-sep-08 part 2

Oh my. We had a pre-pre-test of our research questions today with two groups of local children. Upon meeting them, J freaked out. “They have nothing,” he said. He convinced [the group] to give them 2,000 shillings each (1.50 USD) as an allowance. Of course, [the group] hadn’t planned for this, but they were sort of bullied into it. Anyway, the children were told about the money before everyone was consulted, and so A had to pulled me aside and borrow money, because there wasn’t enough in petty-cash. Do the children now think we called them to come, not so that we could listen to their ideas, opinions, and experiences, but because we felt sorry for them and wanted to give them $1.50? What happens the next time these kids come to the NGO for counseling, or games, or another research team – and there’s no money?

When I first moved to Senegal, I would carry candies around to give to the child-beggars on the street. But I don’t do that anymore. I don’t want to add anymore to any power imbalance. Now I shake the hand of any child who comes up to me, and if s/he seems to need more attention I’ll give her a kiss on her hand or her head. I’ll practice my Acholi and let her practice her English. I’ll wipe her nose if it’s snotty. If I’m walking down the street and a child says “Buy me a candy!” I’ll stop and say, “No, no, you buy me a candy!” and then we’ll laugh, and shake hands, and move on. This is why, this is what I think: Laughter’s better than candy. I try to stop and talk to any child who stops to talk to me. Because I want children to think that they are worth talking to and listening to. So they grow up confident and strong. I don’t want to toss a few coins at them (degrading, dehumanizing) and pretend that that’s enough.

On Monday afternoon we’re going to an IDP camp.

Friday, September 19, 2008


My Northern Ugandan bosses and colleagues here are so wonderful. I have great respect for them. They are smart and committed and I want to gather them together and give them flowers and big hugs and stuff like that. I appreciate them so much. They save our project on a day-to-day basis by telling us, not only about correct cultural etiquette, but also their own ideas as to what our research should be based around. They are all, all, all brilliant. How were we so lucky to find them?

I don’t feel well at all today. Not for any parasitic reasons (knock on wood) but because I’m female and the moon has run its 28-day course. Headache! Inability to concentrate! Tiredness! Oooh.


 Q: Eee-chee-oh!
 A: Aaa-chee-oh, ma bear!
That means Good Morning in Acholi. Or, really, it means: “So you have woken up?” “Yes, I woke up well!” I said it to everybody on my walk to work this morning. Most people laughed at me. Or, as I prefer to think, laughed WITH me. Either way, it’s fun to make people laugh. It was so misty this morning that it was almost raining.

We have power back! Kristen says that if we have power, water can’t be far behind! Last night I went out with Kristen (Bostonian housemate) and Oscar (Kenyan housemate) and ate Acholi bread with sugar and avocado (no, that’s not normal here, either). It was delicious. We met two Ugandan friends, Bill and Jeff, and had fun running around Kitgum Town Council at night! And then Jeff started hitting on me, which I hate. Because I don’t need a boyfriend, I need friends. As of last night, I had been in Uganda exactly one week. As of tonight, I will have been in Kitgum for one week. It is friends that I need to be cultivating now, not make-out partners. Stupid sexist men. So after Jeff started hitting on me, I had Oscar call one of his buddies who is a Buda-Buda driver (a bike or motorcycle taxi driver). I took the Buda-Buda home, balancing side-saddle on the back of the motorcycle, bouncing down the bumpy dirt roads, beneath a huge orange moon.

Now I am thinking about writing a series of individual case studies on at-risk children for my thesis? One of my colleagues, P, says she thinks that would be valuable to the children. But what I really want to do is, I really want to write about military industrialism. But.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Okay, um, J is like, having a breakdown. I’m not sure what to do about it. He’s not eating, his voice is rough like with tears, and he keeps saying that he’s not sure he can live without running water.
Difficulties are relative. There are things that I have trouble with that other people have no trouble what-so-ever with. And so I’m trying not to judge him too harshly for this. But my god, we are living in such comparative luxury! We have space! Our own beds! Our own bedrooms! A kitchen with a gas burner! (Eventually, we will have a STOVE.) Mosquito nets. Security guards. People who are looking out for us. I feel really safe and secure here. I wish I could somehow pass some of my feeling of safety onto him.

16 Sep 08

Right now I’m in the office waiting for the others to arrive. There’s been a whirl of activity. We’ve moved into our new house. I love my room. There isn’t any electricity or water in town. I still don’t have a phone. I’m going to run out of computer battery soon, and I’m going to have to beg the office to turn on the generator. I hope there’s enough fuel. There is another American girl living in our house, one Kenyan man, one Ugandan man, J, and me. The other American girl is 33 years old and was living in Kenya this winter when the riots broke out. She heard machine gun fire each night as she fell asleep, but she didn’t want to leave, even though she could have been evacuated to Tanzania on a special plane for those holding American passports. So she didn’t leave. She talked to me a lot last night; I think I’m the first Westerner she’s seen in a while. Somebody’s looking for Nescafe for our kitchen. I need my Nescafe. Some things are really frustrating here.

Our team had a great day today, and got so much accomplished.

It’s raining now, and cold. I put a basin outside to catch up the water in (so I can wash my hair later), and took a hot tea to Kevin, our (female) night security guard. She walks around our compound with a big shotgun. I like her. She’s cool.

I thought of two things I would like to write my graduate thesis on. One is [redacted], but my Ugandan friends say that I cannot write about that because [redacted]. The other is the Karamojong conflict. Ho-hum, we shall see.

Even Later

In some ways it can be a problem living with other people! I spent all night talking about everything with my Kenyan housemate and my Bostonian housemate. They are so interesting. Now there is no more time to get work accomplished tonight, though!

J showered with STORE-BOUGHT DRINKING WATER today. SERIOUSLY. He stood outside and poured it over himself and scrubbed. Because he didn’t know how else to bathe. Oh my god. He’s having a REALLY hard time adjusting to the inconveniences of life here. He barely ate all day, and once he decided to cook his own food, he was too afraid to enter into the vegetable market to buy onions. It was muddy and crowded. He was also afraid to eat bananas that he bought off of the street, because “Sometimes fruits are unsafe”. He asked me if he should wash them before he ate them. BANANAS. Bananas, which you peel yourself! Oh my god. The poor kid. I wish I knew how to help him adjust. We aren’t telling him some things; like, that last year at this time, both the electricity and the water stayed off in Kitgum Town Council for a month; and, that fuel for our stove may take months to get here, because Kampala is not shipping gas to the North (no reason, just because). (Oh, yeah, Kampala REALLY cares about the North.)


I am just. One. Big. Itchy. Mosquito bite.

I went for a wander-around-town today, got totally lost, got myself shoes (handmade, just for me, from recycled tires), got caught in the pouring rain, and had an all-around lovely time.

It started to rain just as I left the Internet café to look for the Kitgum Youth Center. I kept looking. But then it started to pour. I ran underneath a nearby awning. The two men & one woman there were very welcoming and gave me a chair to sit on. I think it was the porch to a pharmacy; the people were clearly educated, and through the window of the building, I saw a man staring into a microscope.

The woman saw my new shoes and laughed. She told a story – once, she was on a bus, and armed bandits stopped the bus and – took the tires. They just wanted the tires, which were new, to make shoes. The woman said: “It’s better to drive around with dirty tires, so the bandits don’t take them! Never clean your tires!” There was a pause. The woman stopped laughing. She shook her head. “I admire their solidarity,” she mused. I didn’t ask, and I still have no idea who she was talking about. The bandits? The shoemakers? The bus drivers?

Kitgum is spectacularly beautiful, even in the pouring rain.

J and I are affable again. It happened the way it always happens with us, by which I mean, nothing happened. I came home today after making friends and having adventures, and J & I talked about how beautiful the sunset was. That’s all.

J, my friend. How difficult we can make our lives.

The power is out and the generator isn’t running. It’s wicked dark in here. All I’ve got is the glow of the computer screen. I KNEW I should have bought myself that oil lamp the other day. I knew it, I knew it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


This morning I made myself two Nescafe espressos with Lido in my Steripen water bottle. They were delicious! I had a granola bar for breakfast. I need to start rationing them or I’ll run out of them in a week. Tomorrow, I think we get to move out of the motel into our new home, so we’ll get a little gas cooker and I can make myself food.

I'm indulging myself, by coming here to the internet cafe for the 2nd time in two days, and by buying myself 5 liters of bottled water instead of sterilizing my own. But it's only my 3rd day in Kitgum! Starting next week, no more pampering of myself. I'll have my own room in my own home and will get seriously to work!

13-Sep-08 continued


Okay. I’ve calmed down a bit about the “J” issue. Partly, because today was a really great day. Our professor who is guiding our research is really smart and so knowledgeable. The other students seem okay. I’m excited to get to know them better.

And this is why I think J is making those comments about women and distancing himself from me: (And this is just what I think. I may not be right. I don’t know. But--) I think he’s having a hard time finding his place here, too. He was mistaken for a black American man by one of our colleagues and I think that really upset him. He’s trying to make sure he’s defined in peoples' minds as an African man and not as an American, like me. So he’s trying to distance himself from me. That’s what I think is going on. But what do I know?

I’m sure I’m not showing the best side of myself, either, because I’m shy & nervous about rediscovering a sense of equilibrium and I really want people to like & respect me and not hurt me.

It wasn’t nice of me to stomp into my room two nights ago, and it wasn’t nice of J to leave without me in the morning, so maybe we’re even.


Stupid idiot J didn’t knock on my door this morning before he left for the office. Which is really crazy. Because it’s only our 2nd day here. And the office is far away; like, a half-an-hour walk at least. So he walked there all alone. And left me here all alone. When I woke up, I looked for him. And then I asked the “front desk” (it’s not really a front desk, but it’s the same idea). When I finally got to the office, everyone was really worried that I’d gotten lost. So I felt like an idiot. J was already there and didn’t even glance up. Well. So much for him “having my back”. He doesn’t. Which is a shame.


When I woke up this morning, I didn’t know where I was. Or what country I was in. The USA? France? The Gambia? Uganda?

The water from my hotel has little things floating in it. Well, I mean, I assume they were floating in it last night when I drank it. This morning, they’d settled to the bottom. Ugh. At least I know that none of the little specks had DNA. I killed all that with UV rays last night.

The view from our hotel – on the top of a hill – is beautiful. Green, rolling hills. J says it reminds him of Vermont! It’s so lovely here. Wide blue skies. Fluffy marshmallow clouds. It’s hard to imagine war.

At the office, I felt like the new kid during my first day at a strange school. I had toast with butter and sugar for breakfast, bread sprinkled with sugar for mid-morning snack, Acholi bread (which is delish, like na’an) with sugar for lunch, and semi-sweet French chocolate, a granola bar, and multi-vitamin Emergen-C drink for dinner. Also, a banana.

I didn’t pull down my mosquito net last night because of the heat. I got bit half to death.

J’s chosen way of bonding with our new male colleagues is by making terrible masochistic-pig jokes. I’d copy some of them down here, but it makes my want to puke. It made me stomp into my motel room tonight without saying “Good Night” to him.

11-Sep-08 (I forgot all day that it was 9/11)

Kampala, Uganda. 7 a.m. Driving to Kitgum.

It’s way hillier here than in The Gambia. (It’s like Pennsylvania!) There’s the same plastic Chinese import crap everywhere. There are way more guns everywhere, and more people dressed in “Western” clothes. Cows have ridiculously long horns! Like, three feet long! Babies are everywhere. People drive on the left side of the road! It’s lush and verdant. The bananas that I had for breakfast were small and really sweet and delicious.

When we crossed the Nile, the border into the North, T (who’s driving us) said that, “Before, you needed an escort to drive past here – but it’s over a year now that it’s safe”. He says that the rebels got a lot of their funding from The Sudan and Somalia, and that the rebels used to be everywhere.

It’s illegal to photograph the bridge across The Nile. Used to be, this was because of safety issues, so that the rebels couldn’t blow it up or something. Now, it’s still illegal, but there’s no sign up. So the cops wait till the tourists stop and photograph the bridge, and then they get bribes. Government soldiers benefited from the war, too. From the allocation of funds.

We passed one village where the whole population seemed to be waiting out on the street, and a “Wildlife Authority” truck was parked nearby. T said that their may have been a lion spotted or something.

T says that “Culturally, in the North, the girls and women do all the work and the men just sit around and drink”. J’s response to that: “I should move here, then!”

My new Acholi words:
· Co-pang-oh: How are you?
· Co-pay: I’m okay!

I keep spying all these little faces through the windows of this van. Are they “children” or are they “War-Affected Children”?

We’ve passed a few IDP camps. I’ve used my first pit latrine of the trip. It’s funny how words like “Claustrophobia” pop into my head here with the same frequency as words like “Savannah” and “Vista”. There’s no in between, though.

10-Sep-08 continued

Later in the Flight

We’ve crossed through Italian and Libyan airspace and are now over The Sudan. I can see the sun setting over the Darfur Mountains. They (KLM) brought us coffee with Bailey’s in it, and ice-cream. I’ve watched Iron Man and episodes of 30 Rock on our personal TVs. And I’m in the back of the bus! Oh my god, KLM rocks, man.

Alright, and now we’ve made it into Ugandan airspace. The pilot (Captain Bleak) made an announcement to say that it’s illegal to take photos of the Entebbe airport, which is sad, because one of my rituals upon landing is to take that first step out onto the tarmac, breath in the new-country air, and take a photos of the “Welcome to Where-ever” sign. 19 minutes remaining in our flight time. I hope that somebody will be there to recognize and greet me at the airport.

Landed. First step off airplane. Air smells heavenly, heavily of incense.


Seeing all the perfumes around the duty free shops made me nostalgic for University and my days of wearing Stila Crème Blossom and Chanel Chance. Mosquitoes love flowery scents. Instead of shopping, I entertained myself around CDG by collecting fashion magazines that other travelers had left behind. I can give them to whatever tailors I may befriend in Kitgum.
It was nice to hear all the American accents around CDG. I don’t know when the next time I’ll hear American accents will be. Siiiiiiigh. (I’m nervous.)

KLM names its airplanes after famous authors. The one that transported me from Paris to Amsterdam was named Ernest Hemingway. I’m on the airplane to Entebbe now. It’s an AirBus 330. I didn’t see its name. It began boarding in Amsterdam at 9:55 a.m. My flight from CDG didn’t land until 10:15 a.m. It was a race to get here. But! Now I don’t have a seat mate! Life is good.

Wheee! I just realized that there are exactly 10 months until my 28th birthday!

Huh. The pilot says that we have a “slight technical problem”. He says that we must start one of the engines while we are still at the gate. To make sure that it works. Humph. Maybe the missionaries on this flight (there’s a few – I hear them talking) will pray it all better.

The pilot’s just told us that the flight time will be approximately 7 hours and 40 minutes. I suppose that means that the engine started okay?

Whoops! I spoke too soon. The first test run of the engine was “unsatisfactory”, says the pilot. But “the idea is that the problem will settle itself if we have a second test run”. Um… hmm. Uh-oh. The pilot’s gonna get back to us about it. Oh. By the way. The pilot’s name is “Captain Bleak”. No joke.

Apparently the engine was (and this is a direct quote from a flight attendant) “dripping oil or something”. But. Apparently we’re leaving now, anyway. So saith Captain Bleak.


Elizabeth says they slaughtered over 200 chickens (and 22 rabbits) this morning.
This is what I said to that: “You’re telling me that there are now over 200 lost little chicken souls scampering around our feet?”
This is what Elizabeth responded: “That must be why it’s raining.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Excerpts from My Diary & E-mails, Pissy-Poville, France

9 Settembre 2008

I smell like blood from the slaughter house.

I took all of these beautiful photos of the slaughter this morning, but I don't think I should put them online for all my friends to see. It might destory my image as an 'innocente' just a little bit. They're pretty gruesome. But they're gorgeous, too.

I spent a while speaking to some clients (in French!) while they waited for their chickens to be killed and their bunnies cleaned. They avowed their support of Obama and then asked me if I was married. Then, with a wrinkle of their noses, they cautioned me against [redacted].

Monday, September 8, 2008

Excerpts from My Diary & E-mails, Pissy-Poville, France

8 September

My nerves are fraying.

I'm afraid of:
  • Hepititis
  • Landmines
  • Kids with guns
  • Joseph Kony
  • Etc.
My baby cousins have about a dozen toy guns.

"Pew! Pew pew!" they say.

Why is war such a tempting game? But that's a naive question to which I know the answer. Power. And feeling alive in the face of death. And feeling like a controller of death. And other reasons that I don't know.

I stole a stubbed-out cigarette from G's ashtray. It's got remnants of her lipstick and, I assume, caught in the filter, her spit & DNA. I did this because [redacted].

G's so impressive. She's raised four lovely, strong boys; she runs the whole, huge farm.

Earlier, perhaps intuiting the slight fraying of my nerves, Elizabeth offered me the hacked-off foot of a rabbit for good luck.

"Oh," I said. "No, thank you."

There are a bunch of bunnies in tiny crates behind the slaughter house awaiting their innevitable demise. Their fur is soft. I toyed with the idea of letting them free ("Run, little bunnies! Scatter & prosper!") and I thought of the book WATERSHIP DOWN. But of course I won't.

We had a really fun dinner tonight. Before dinner, Nico took me out to drive the tracteur. So cool! He's amazing at manouvering that thing. It's crazy that I'm legally allowed to drive cars and he's not.

We all teased and played at dinner. The boys grabbed my eau chaud and stuck ice-cubes into it. We chatted and laughed and it was lovely. I love them so much my heart hurts. I love them!

Giz is outside right now chosing which chickens will live & which will die in the morning slaughter.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Excerpts from My Diary & E-mails, Pissy-Poville, France

7th September 2008

As I've said before, my cousin, in what is (to me) an astonishing act of [redacted]; and so I must remember to [redacted]. [Okay -- I know it may be strange for me to include segments from these redacted sections of my diary, but here is why I'm doing it: They're my secrets, my hidden cards, my laundry, so I'm not going to expose them -- BUT aren't everybody's secrets more or less the same? Where ever I've redacted one of my secrets, you should be able to fill in your own hidden thoughts and/or memories and keep reading smoothly.]

We're heading to a farm festival today. Racing harvesters! & mud! & tractors!

The harvester race was awesome. Harvesters are the size of small houses. They are bigger than West African huts. It was HILARIOUS to see them race. (Although all the smog i saw produced today probably sped up global warming by a good decade or so.)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Excerpts from My Diary & E-mails, Pissy-Poville, France

6th -- Pissy-Poville/Rouen

Edouard & Jean cuddled up together watching Saturday morning Tom&Jerry --

I met my old friend Gwen in Rouen today for lunch. Gwen's mum lives in Portugal now & she & Gwen are road-tripping it up to the Netherlands to buy special fertilizers and seeds for her organic gardens, so they stopped off to see me. What perfect timing!

I hadn't seen Gwen in 2 years. She was in London when I was in The Gambia, in Liberia when I was in Vermont, & she's been in Portugal this summer since I've been in DC. We had a great time catching up, discussing West Africa as experienced by white girls, talking American politics and world economics. (We didn't quite have time to make it to the subject of boys, which is a pity!) We laughed about old times in DC. Some of my most relaxing memories are from when Gwen & I inhabited our old 'flat' (as Gwen says) at 5th & U NW. I'd come home from work as she was preparing for work, and we'd drink wine and watch Ali G or play Katamari on her PlayStation.

Gwen worked as a bouncer some nights at the Velvet Lounge. I'd join her for a few hours some nights to keep her comfortable &, just to mess with her, would show up wearing frilly pink skirts and lacy shirts. It's fun to be a bouncer in pink.

I got charged 51€ for something that in the States would have been $15. Merde. & I froze up and just paid it without question or protest. I can blame it on my nerves surrounding my upcoming voyqge, but I need to get tougher. And fast.

I'm sitting at a cafe now & they've just brought me a decaf cap absolutely COVERED in whipped creme.... I'm exhasted. Gwen, Gwen's mum, and I downed a bottle of wine at lunch (as well as a pizza each!)

Here in Rouen, the streets are cobbled and crowded. The houses are wooden & worn, with flower boxes at every window. The cathedrals are grand; one is still covered in pock-marks from WWII shelling.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Excerpts from My Diary & E-mails, Pissy-Poville, France

5th September 2008

Spent last night hanging out with the little ones. Well -- Lulu's 16, but -- he'll always be 'little' to me, just as I am, I suppose, 'little' to Giz. Lucien's a cutie. Very sweet, very grown up, he cooked dinner for his small brothers and got them into bed.

Lulu & I discussed [redacted]. It was the first time he's been old enough to talk about that family drama with me. It was nice.

The boys climb all over me. Nico showed a special interest in all of my beaded Gambian bracelets, which made me really nervous, because [redacted]. It made it into a kind of a dance. He kept counting them (the bracelets) in French, and up to 10 in English.

I stayed awake way too long last night reading THE USES OF ENCHANTMENT. It's a hardback, and I'm trying to leave as many of those behind as I can. I've already unloaded many books, while still in DC. I couldn't even make it one block from my home towards the metro with them. When I stopped at the first cross-walk, my bags full of books didn't stop with me. They kept going. I ended up doing a front flip onto one of my suitcases. People stopped to help me. I burst into tears and hailed a cab.

[Long redacted section]. In conclusion, there are ways of making things invisible if you just don't acknowledge them. But it doesn't work forever. Look at Elizabeth's mother, my aunt Connie, and her cough.

Ha!!! I probably embarrised poor shy Lulu tonight photographing him as he played field hockey on the men's team of Rouen. But I don't apoligize. He's really good. And he's my little cousin. He's cute.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Excerpts from My Diary & E-mails, Pissy-Poville, France

Dunno what the date is -- the 4th? September? I guess? At Pissy-Poville.

I slept 15 hrs last night & I'm still tired. If there was a sleeping event in the Olympics, I'd take gold. I slept on the airplanes. I even slept on the train to Rouen. It's just total chance that I woke up as we were pulling into the station.

"Ou est?" I asked.

Lucky I asked.

I finished the book THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie. It was great.

The boys are at school and Elizabeth and Arnold are looking to buy a new chicken de-featherer in Central France, so I'm alone on the farm today!

Drove Giz's car to Carrefor on the way to pick up les garçons from ecole. Had forgotten a bit how to drive a stick shift, but muscle memory returned quick enough.

Carrefor inside a big mall. Entered Sephora. Sephora calms me. Is the same the world over and is more pleasant than McDonald's.

I seem to be way shyer about speaking French than I've EVER been before. I bought myself socks and stud earrings (2 things I forgot to pack) & a sweater (it's COLD here!!!) & when I asked the cashier "Quel heur et il?" my knees went weak. I had to repeat myself a second time so that she could hear me.

That said, since everybody was out this afternoon, I did have to sell some chickens tout seule, & I had a long chat with the buyer in French about the merits of Obama in the upcoming US elections.... (Then he offered to sleep with me. SIGH.)

(At least it was all in French.)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Excerpts from My Diary & E-mails, Pissy-Poville, France

3rd. 6 am -ish. (Paris time.)

Slept most of the way. Landed at CDG. Sun still not up.

9:30 am. Gare St. Lazare.

Missed my train to Rouen. By about 2 seconds. Litterally. I watched it...--

Sitting on bags on station floor. Drenched in sweat and freezing cold. Contemplating Judeo-Christian theory of body/soul seperation. My body does not feel very seperated from my soul at the moment. All I feel like is jello, a tired, tired mass of jello.

To Pissy-Poville. With the cousins and the chickens.

Hung out in the slaughter house. Got a lesson in chicken anatomy from Giz as we verbally dissected familial dramas. Helped Jean feed the chicks. Chirp chirp.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Excerpts from My Diary & E-mails, Pissy-Poville, France

2nd September 2008

The taxi driver who drove me to the airport asked me how long i'd been in DC.

"3 months," i said.
"so where's your home, then?" he said.
"...," I said. "DC, I guess."

My taxi driver also [redacted].

Late Afternoon, Minneapolis Airport

I had a caramel apple with chopped pecans & a small bag of cheez-its for dinner.

Mmm... yum.

This is what annoys me: People who stand still on moving walkways & on escalators.

This is what I read on my flight to the twin cities: BORN STANDING UP by Steve Martin. It was great.

On the Flight to France

The fat-free airplane brownie they gave me tasted like cigarettes.

My flight route is so funny. DC-Minniapolis-Paris-Amsterdam-Kampala. Zig-zag. Zig-zag. Zig-zagging across the ocean!

I don't suppose they sell [redacted] in the Amsterdam airport, do they?