Thursday, August 28, 2008

I Say "Tomato" You Say... "Pumpkin"?

If British English is the Bentley of the English language, American is the Mustang Coupe, and Nigerian is the Pinto.

I am amazed that there are young people here who cannot speak the language of their tribes, what they call "their language."  They are left only with this strange, broken-down English.  The other day, I sat in a room with several people and couldn't understand anything.  The only reason I knew they were speaking English was that one of the girls involved in the conversation doesn't speak any other languages.

Sometimes I want to correct people when speaking or when I see something written.  But I don't.  On the one hand, it may not be wrong, just different.  It would be like telling a Brit to say "sweater" instead of "jumper" or "french fries" instead of "chips."  (I am sure Katrina could give plenty of Australian examples as well.)  And British terminology like this accounts for some of the trouble I have with Nigerian English.

Biscuit, not cookie

Trousers, not pants

Sweets, not candy

Mad, not crazy

On the other hand, words are used wrongly or have assumed entirely new meanings.  Grammar rules are paid as much mind as a midget ref at an NBA game.  Half the time nobody sees, and the other half they don't care.  A few examples:

  • Grapefruit is called grape, differentiated by grapes only by the s.
  • The part of a dress or shirt that covers the shoulder and arm is called a "hand".  I should ask someone what a "sleeve" is.
  • From the church bulletin, "The soul of man is the centre of its activity, so your activities will become limited, your spread will be restricted except you satisfy your soul with certify, qualitative, adequate, sufficient knowledge."
  • An advertisement for Odade Publishers, the Nigerian LexisNexis partner, found in the program for the NBA conference discusses what you can do with their product in the following way: With LexisNexis Analytics, you would access distilled information from the "invisible web".  You would monitor media in 9 different languages.  You would quickly spot patterns, draw conclusions and gain strategic advantage over competitors and opponents.  My favorite part is actually in the next point about why you should get Odade LexisNexis,  After saying a brief bit about the training sessions the company has done, the advertisement says, "We would do more!"  You would, would you?  But what?  Why don't you?

I came across an article about a year ago that actually discussed this issue.  Nigerian English is so different from Standard English (however you define that) that it is hurting Nigeria economically.  Nigerians encounter problems trying to do business outside their country, or trying to attract developers to Nigeria, because their English not only makes communication difficult, it makes them sound less smart than they really are.

Because it's not just terminology, but the grammatical structures that are different from other forms of English, the Nigerian version isn't looked at as much as another dialect as it is as wrong.  Australian, British and American English are all different.  A speaker of one might have a bit of difficulty understanding the speaker of another due to some different terminology, but the grammatical structures of the sentences will still be the same.  It might be like an elderly person trying to talk to someone using new slang.  But the way some people talk in Nigeria, it's more like a high-class, very cultured old woman trying to talk to someone speaking Ebonics (which has it's own grammar rules).

Of course, there is also pidgin English spoken around here, which they just call Pidgin.  This doesn't bother me as much.  Perhaps because people don't usually think they are speaking proper English, and because it's very interesting to see elements of native languages in various pidgins.  It's harder for me to understand the pidgin here than it was in Zambia, because I don't know anything about the local languages. 

In Zambia, I understood the Bantu grammatical structure, so I could not only figure out what people meant, but usually figure out why they said what they said.  Once, when I was carrying Nchimunya across the compound, Ba Lenix said to me, "Ah, Ba Nchimunya, you are having a baby."  This made me laugh very hard and exclaim "oh no!  I'm not having a baby!"  But I understood he meant I was holding the baby.  In Tonga, the sentence would have been "Ba Nchimunya, mulajisi mwana."  Jisi is to have, and since I was holding Nchimunya, I had him at that moment.  The la in the middle of the word represents the present tense, so words with it are usually translated in the is/are -ing form.   Because I understood this, I was able to tell Ba Lenix that his translation was technically correct, but that the saying "having a baby" has a specific connotation in English that basically means "pregnant."

I'm trying to learn a bit about the local languages of Nigeria.  Hopefully, then I'll have an easier time both with Pidgin, and with their version of English.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It's a Black and White World

Nigerian lawyers wear black suits with white shirts.  Not necessarily in their offices, but always to court, and usually to public functions for their profession.   This attire is nothing new to them.  University students in Nigeria wear black and white to class every day.  By law school, this uniform has shifted to the black suit and white shirt.  (For my fellow law students, can you imagine dressing like it's OCI every day for a year!?  That sounds worse than firm wear.)

This week is the Annual Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) sea of black and whiteConference.  Every attorney from across the country that can get here is here.  Several thousand black and white clad people everywhere you turn.  The International Conference Center looks like it has been over-run by giant penguins.

The program said the Conference began at 9am.  We arrived a bit before 10.  People were everywhere across the grounds.  I hadn't seen so many people in one place since Church on Sunday and thought perhaps the conference hadn't started yet.  We headed towards the building, stopping to greet people, shooing away photographers, and looking for others from our office.

The International Conference Center is very large.  In the grand foyer, large windows reach towards the sky.  The polished marble floor reflects light coming from the chandelier-like lights high above.  Stairs at each end lead to a balcony containing a concession stand and entrances to the upper level viewing area of the hall.  High-backed, cushy looking stadium seating fills the upper level.  Down below is open to allow customizing the area.

On this particular day, both the foyer and the hall were overflowing with people, chairs, signs, and banners.  korrect chair stencil croppedPlastic lawn korrect chairchairs filled the center of the foyer.  Many of the chairs had "Korrect" stenciled across the back.  One chair actually had the stencil taped on it.    Some people sitting in the chairs were watching video on three large screens at the front of the room.  Others were talking on their phones or to their neighbors, or walking between the screens and the projectors.  More people moved about the room, talking to friends, looking at displays, trying to get somewhere else.  It was too noisy to hear what the person on the main screen was saying.  I thought the screens were showing a video tape of a prior year or something and that the conference still hadn't begun.

I wandered around the periphery of the room with the two attorneys with whom I came, looking at the various display booths.  Most of the booths were publishers for legal texts or providers of legal services, one sold food, another cell phones.  Signs for LexisNexis were everywhere.  Not only did they have a booth, they were a sponsor of the conference.  I didn't see any Westlaw, but Thomson and MathewBender were represented.

We decided to head upstairs and into the hall.  There were as many people coming down the stairs as going up, and often some people would stop to chat with those going the opposite direction.  Across the balcony, people sat at tables or stood along the walls mingling.

The conference had started, it had been going on this entire time.  I learned this when we entered the hall.  Far down below, across the room, the President Forum of Federations was giving part of the keynote address.  He was the 4th speaker on the program, and one of several people to be part of the keynote address.  We stood at the back of the room for a bit, then decided to sit on the stairs, crowded in with others who had chosen to do the same.

Down below were rows and rows of chairs.  The first half of the room had cushioned fold-up chairs.  In the back of the room, the rows consisted of the same plastic lawn chairs as in the foyer.  Both below and above there were empty seats.  One here, another there, all spread out and in the middle of different rows.  I was surprised that people did not climb past others or move down to fill in every seat.  People sitting on steps, so close they were nearly on top of each other; that seemed like Africa.  People leaving empty chairs between themselves and their neighbors, and no one trying to get to those seats; that did not seem like Africa.

We stayed for awhile - what I could hear of the speaker was very interesting.  He was discussing Federalism in Nigeria and concerns about the Federal government taking away State power.  One of his examples was federal hotel licensing.  This hurts tourism and development, because it creates confusion for investors who then have to deal with two separate levels of government when building hotels.  More confusion equals less finished developments.  It all sounded very interesting, and I wish I could have heard more.  But, people were talking all around us, to their friends and on their phones; others were constantly moving up and down the stairs.

We decided to leave the conference.  It was, as the attorneys said, "rowdy."  One of the attorneys, Dr. Y., decided to show me a bit of Abuja.  We went to her place in an area called Gaines Village.  There's security gates just to enter the giant "village."  Inside, almost everything you need.  There's restaurants, a bank, a fire station, and tons of little circular shops made out of mud bricks with thatched roofs.  The shops reminded me of Cheelo.  I don't know if there are any houses in the village, we only saw some of the apartment buildings.  It all looked very nice and very fun.

Next stop, a real adventure - the post office to buy stamps.  We returned to the center of town where the other attorney knew of a post office.  It was inside a large building.  We entered the compound and were directed towards an unfinished parking garage.  Then we were directed into the unfinished parking garage.  As we climbed ramp after ramp, driving past filled stall after filled, we could see workers adding cement to the walls, polishing parts, molding around the wooden support beams.  The garage was overfull, cars had parked in the traffic lanes, behind and perpendicular to the cars in stalls.  We squeezed past these cars, swerved around piles of rocks and continued climbing ramps.  Finally, one ramp short of the roof, Dr. Y gave up and pulled in behind other cars in a parking lane.  We hoped not to be gone to long.  Then we had to find our way out.

We walked to a corner of the garage with three doors.  We each tried a door.  Each door was locked.  The next corner, behind a dusty school desk, stairs!  We headed down, and down, and down.  Finally reaching the ground level, we had to weave between cars and around steel drums to avoid the cement workers.  Dust and debris were everywhere.  We were so relived to finally reach sunlight outside!  Then, we just had to get the stamps, climb back up the stairs, and wind our way down out of the garage.  After all that, anyone who receives a letter from me should feel really special.

The rest of the day was still fun, but nothing quite as adventurous as before lunch.  My first day of work!  It was very exciting, despite involving no work. 

Back to Africa

I can hardly believe that I am really here, back in Africa.  And what seems more amazing is that I am in Nigeria!  Nigeria!  A place people have heard of, and as is true for most of the continent, usually not for anything good.  It's all so very strange, being here.

As I expected, I am a bit homesick for Zambia.  This place is unlike anywhere I've ever been before, but bares enough resemblance to several places I know as to make me homesick for all of them at once.  And although I knew I would feel this way, at least in the beginning, it seemed impossible to really prepare for.  I just have to keep reminding myself, "I'm in Nigeria; I'm in Nigeria."  But that fact is still so amazing to me!
Perhaps the biggest surprise here is how expensive everything is.  The exchange rate right now is about 100 naira to 1 dollar.  This should make things easy.  I ought to be able to just put a . into prices to read them.  If the signs says "350,"  I should think "$3.50."  But it doesn't happen like that.  You see, the prices look just like they did in Zambia, but the actual cost is hugely different.

For example, a box of corn flakes here is #11000 and in Zambia was K11000.  I wouldn't buy them in Zambia because K11000 had the buying power of $11, although it was really was worth about $2.50.  Here however, the cornflakes actually cost $11!

Since the prices look familiar to me, I find myself not thinking in conversions but automatically deciding if something is a good price or not.  We got ice cream today from a little vendor for 300.  I thought, "wow, 300 is a really good price for ice cream," because it would have been in Zambia.  However, $3 is not a good price for ice cream.  (There's a reason I don't do Ben & Jerry's or any of those other fancy schmancy places.  I'll take my very yummy well-priced Leon's, thank you very much.)  The money stuff will just take some getting used to... a long with several other things.

Good news!  Good news!  Since writing the above,  I have learned that the store I was taken to is the most expensive store in the city.  It is not good that she took me there.  It is good that things shouldn't cost that much anywhere else!  Now, why anyone would take someone to the most expensive store is beyond me, but oh well.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Rain, Rain, Go Away

It has been raining all weekend, and I am bored out of my mind.  I read some legal articles.  I read some of Pride and Prejudice.  I wrote about church.  I ate.  I napped.  And I'm bored. 

It reminds me of when it would rain in Zambia.  How bored I would be!  (When I wasn't running around putting buckets under the leaks in the roof.)  The clouds made it too dark to sew, and the sun made it too light for candles to do any good.  Reading was hard, but possible.  The Bamaama's would stay in the kitchen hut, and the children would play in their hut.  For awhile I'd watch the rain drip off the ends of the thatch, plop into a big muddy puddle below, and run down the hill towards the river that only flowed when it rained.  Here, there isn't even that pleasure.

I started to think, what do I do in the States when it rains.  Then I realized, I am always too busy to be bored by rain.  Too much to do for it to matter that it's raining.  The only time I have such leisure is when I'm home with my family.  And were Katrina and I to be stuck at home in the rain, I am sure the whole house would be turned into a maze of forts and castles.  There'd be monsters in the living room, or trampoline's upstairs.  Mommy would come home and be mad at the mess we made, but unable to hide her amusement at our ability to have fun.

But here, there is no one to play with.  Kevwe just watches Sex and the City non-stop.  And I am left to my own amusements.  Well, soon enough I'll have plenty to do!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

"And the Devils that have Cheated You Will Not Cheat You Anymore"

Today we went to church.  I think.  When we arrived, I wasn't really sure if we were at church, the zoo, or a carnival.

Loud speakers blared the in-progress service across the gigantic parking lot.  Despite the recent rain, passing motorbikes kicked up puffs of red dirt.  A trail of cars maneuvered over ruts and around puddles, past rows of already parked cars.  A pack of goats sat together on a high mound in the middle of the lot.  Gleaming Beemers and Mercedes, polished Hondas and Toyotas, rows and rows of Peugots sat parked in the muddy dirt lot.  We exited our taxi and joined the swarm of people on foot heading across the paved street.

Just opposite the church grounds, ladies sat with tables piled high, selling little bottles of cooking oil.  Being used to seeing people selling cooking oil on the side of the road, I only thought it odd that the bottles were so small.  Little did I know, I would soon find out why.

The expansive church compound  seemed like a maze as we wove around people, under passageways and through buildings.  We passed through a large concrete structure with partial walls and a metal roof, like a gigantic park shelter.  The overflow area.  Rows of benches filled with people, their attention mostly on the flat screen television high on the far wall.  Other people moved in every direction, and we continued to push our way through the shelter.

On the other side, more buildings, and long lines of people.  Contained by ropes and church assistants linked together to form human fences, crowds of people winding around corners, up and down stairs, waiting to enter the church, or a rock concert.

The first service ended.  The ushers opened the doors and the throng of people burst through.  Running to find seats, skirting around chairs, dodging under others, everyone rushed into the building.  Swept along with the giant tidal wave of people, we entered the church.

The room was very large, like my high school gymnasium.  The high, slightly arching, ceiling had those familiar square foam ceiling panels.  Rows and rows of white plastic lawn chairs filled the rectangular room, now a see of colorful fabric and bobbing heads.  On each end, the chairs faced center; in the middle, the chairs faced front: a raised platform, a glass pulpit, and a bright orange microphone.  The choir looked to take up half the front area.  In every corner of the room, all over the compound and every building, in the parking lot, everywhere, gigantic speakers blaring the good news.  When the choir began, I rather wished there were not so many speakers.  One lady, quite near the microphone, preferred  yelling to singing, and unfortunately, out of tune.

Today was the second week of the seven weeks of harvest.  This week, the church was harvesting children.  (Next week is jobs.)  At first I didn't realize that this was the special topic of the day.  People from the congregation got up to give testimony.  Every single testimony was about being married for 5, 6, 9 years without having a child and then praying, etc. and having children.  I thought, "what is in the water that so many people in this church have fertility problems?"   And as the stories were told, I began to wonder which was the bigger influence in this version of Christianity, the Old Testament, or the original tribal religions of Nigeria.  One man's story may give an example:

The man and his wife had been married nine years and had yet to conceive.  They both very dearly wanted children.  His in-laws were threatening his wife, telling her she could never have children with this man and that she should leave her husband. 

He came to the church and heard testimonies of people who had also been barren for nine years but had children.  The pastor said to pick names for the children.  So the man picked four names.  He went home and built a house for each name.  He went to a place called Shiloh (I have no idea what this is, but it was mentioned often) to pray and leave offerings.  From there he took some dirt and rocks and used them in the houses he was building.

His wife was soon to travel to America.  Before she left, she became ill and went to two different hospitals.  At both places, she was told she was sick and had a disease.  She went to the States, and again became ill there.  Her brother-in-law took her to a hospital.  The doctors there told her, you are not sick, you are pregnant.  The husband flew immediately to the States.  He and his wife now have two sons and two daughters; the wife had quadruplets.

After the testimonies, the service proceeded with songs and prayers, all of which were exceedingly lively.  People danced, threw up their hands, talked to themselves, shouted and cheered.  At the end of every prayer or song, the preacher said, "let's give a hand to Jesus," and the congregation clapped and roared.

Everyone seemed eager to give to Jesus, whether a hand or a bill.  When time for the offering came, the massive crowd stood and waived white envelopes in the air.  The ushers passed around wastepaper baskets, which were soon filled, and emptied them into large plastic garbage cans.  The congregation listened attentively as the preacher began speaking.

The main preaching portion of the service was based on Deuteronomy 28:4, which names fruitfulness of the body and of the livestock as blessings from God for obedience.   The pastor talked of how this book is part of the covenant with God.  And as a covenant, it is a legal agreement, like a land use deal.  The agreement is: we serve, and God blesses.  Therefore, he said, we have a right to blessings by this legal (pronounced "lay-gal")  agreement.  We should plead our cause (pronounced "course") before God and say "look what I have done, and how I have served you.  Now, give me the blessings I deserve."

I do not want to judge anyone else's religion, but I simply can not agree with this view of our relationship with God.  I felt very uncomfortable sitting, listening to the prayers for prosperity, wealth and success.  They sounded selfish and hollow to me.  Sentences like "all the devils that are trying to stop you, I curse them in the name of Jesus," made me uneasy.  Can you curse in the Lord's name?  Isn't that like taking the Lord's name in vain?  I felt so confused.

The service continued, and the preacher announced it was time for the anointing.  From pockets, purses and bags, appeared those little bottles of cooking oil I saw being sold outside.  Kevwe grabbed my hand and poured some oil into it.  I had no idea what was going on.  Everyone stood with their palm up, and then the preacher instructed, "place your hand on top of your head."  What?!  I was glad for the weave, no matter how much it itches in this humid heat.  Pure oil is the last thing I should put on my hair!  Plus, I didn't really see how it made sense to anoint one's self.   Guess it's one of those things I just don't understand.

As a welcome to all first comers, the preacher had us stand while he said a prayer and the ushers handed out welcome packets.  When they handed me the cassette tape, I thought, "now what I am supposed to do with this?"  There was also a booklet filled with information about the church and more testimonies.  To close the service, the preacher highlighted two books from the Books of the Month list in our bulletin, both on special in the bookstore.  "This one is by our Bishop.  And this one is by my wife."

When the service was over, we had to sit and wait a bit.  The baby in our party was hungry and so her mother was feeding her, right there, in the middle of the big hall.  By the time we were ready to get out, the next hoard of people was already running for the chairs.  Pushing and shoving against the flow of traffic, we made it to the side door.  "Come on, come on, come on, hustle, hustle, hustle," the ushers urged as we headed down the stairs.  Having to wait for the other children in our party to exit from their service, we took seats in a different outdoor overflow section and watched the beginning of the next service on the flat-screen monitor above.

After what seemed like ages, the toddlers appeared, and we all headed towards the parking lot.  Vendors lined the roadway, canvassed the crowd, poked their heads in car windows.  Selling everything from food and beverages, to socks and windshield wipers.  Oranges, yogurt drinks and gala sticks (hot dogs wrapped in dough) piled into the small car, along with the 3 children and 5 adults.

One of the boys, Miles, almost 3 years old, sat by me in the car.  He noticed my tattoo.  "They have drawn on you.  They have marked me, too.  Yours is blue.  Mine is red."  He showed me his left pinky finger.  It had a thick red line down the nail and some redish tint under the nail.  "Did you do that?"  I asked him.  "No.  They did it to me."  This caught his father's attention. 

"What did they do to you?"  "This."  Miles shoved his finger into the front seat, his father turned back to look.  He was obviously disturbed and started asking Miles questions.  "Did they give you a shot?"  "No."  "Did they prick you with something?"  "No."  "Did they put something in your mouth?"  "Yes.  They put something in my mouth like this."  He opened his mouth wide.  "It was bitter."  Miles's mother and father started talking to each other.   Miles had been given a polio immunization, without the knowledge of either of his parents.  They were not pleased, but they didn't head back to the church.

Leaving church took almost as long as the service.  Cars were double-parked, triple-parked, or worse.  It looked like a junkyard the way everything was crammed in.  We waited in the hot car, everyone dripping sweat.  Slowly, inches at a time, as other cars moved, Miles's dad nudged his way through the mess.  Balancing the baby on his lap, switching gears with the stick shift and maneuvering the car, I know not how.

Yet, we made it home safely.  Next week, I hope Kevwe's sister Kess is home.  I might like her Catholic church better.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Flat 007

It's a shame, most of these entries are going to have to be posted at the same time.  Ah, but such is the life without constant internet access.  I will do my best to date things appropriately, so that my readers may easily follow what is happening.  I apologize for the sporadic-ness of my updates.

I have been here a few days now, but feel I have seen too little to form any opinions on anything of substance.  Mostly, Ive just been at the flat with one of the girls with whom I'm staying.  It's a nice place, with a large parlor, 2 bedrooms, a little dining area, kitchen and bathroom.  The front flat 007two rooms, living room and the bedroom I'm using, have higher floors than the rest of the house.  Every room but the kitchen and bathroom has a ceiling fan, and the bedrooms have air conditioners.  There's a closed in porch out front they call the corridor.  My laundry is hanging out there now, because it is raining.  (Though I fail to see how anything can ever dry in this humidity.)

floor plan

The girls are both very nice.  They work here in Abuja. One of them works for a company developing bio-diesels.  Her job entails a lot of traveling around Nigeria, and possibly overseas.

As I spend more time in Nigeria, I hope to have more interesting things to write about.  Beware, future posts might be quite long - though this will be nothing unfamiliar to those who received letters from me while I was in Zambia or Italy.   Enjoy!

Friday, August 22, 2008

And We're Here!

Daddy Bunny and I have successfully arrived at our final destination!  Woo hoo!


At first, I think "wow, that really looks like an adventure."  Then I think about if Katrina made a map of her travels, and mine looks like piddly-squat.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Johnny Over the Ocean

The long journey is almost over. Only one more leg to go. I've been traveling for over a week now, with a few stops to barely catch my breath. Hope I have a chance to recuperate before I start work on Monday. Somehow, I doubt it.

7th day

But what fun!

Monday, August 18, 2008

And I'm Proud to Be a...

Still hanging out in Nashville for another day before continuing my travels. The craziness of the Bay seems far behind me. What a different world!

As I traveled across the country, the scenery changed, the people changed, the music changed, the cars changed, and values changed. In San Francisco, the City Attorney's Office was getting ready to defend the City's gun ban against the NRA's new lawsuit. In Wyoming, a senate candidate promised to protect the 2nd amendment rights of Wyoming's fiercely independent citizens. Wal-Marts, instead of billboards proclaiming Wal-Mart to be the devil, popped up along the highway. Bumpers on cars became visible. Diversity on the road increased, more American made cars, less European ones. I can't tell you the last time I saw a Prius or Volvo, but I'd bet it was still in California.

The diversity of this country really is amazing. How different people, look, dress, act. What they think, believe and dream about. The importance of families, careers, each other, self. Backgrounds, upbringings, futures. Flat corn fields, rolling hills, steep mountains, lakes and rivers, deserts and salt plains. It's all beautiful.

Both the variety in land and people gives American's a unique opportunity. If we don't like where we live, we can move. Yes, I know it's not always easy to just pick up and move. Yet, it is possible, and easier to move within one's own country than to a foreign one. No matter where someone chooses to go or stay, the most important thing is that they can be proud of where they live and who they are. That's the one consistent piece between all the places and people. That's how to find happiness.

I am very proud to identify as a Milwaukeean. And I can be proud to live in the South. But I've learned there are some places I could not be proud to call home. This is a good thing. It means I'm starting to understand myself, and how I can build a happy and fulfilling life.

The Life of a Player

No, no, not that kind. The good kind.

Katrina and I had so much fun at home. We helped Mommy with the laundry, watched the real Olympics, and had our own backyard Olympics!

While Nastia Lukin was winning the gold in the gymnasticDSCI0382 all-around competition, Katrina was claiming golds of her own on the monkey bars. We both traded back in forth with first and second place in the monkey bar endurance trials, different swing styles. When we were younger, this event would have been a monkey bar race. Now it's just a competition to see who can get further across the monkey bars before falling off!

We also did a flip competition on the monkey bars. Katrina ran me stuck on monkey bars cropped away with the gold, being the only competitor to do a decent flip and land on her feet. Daddy Bunny took silver. He had a good flip but landed sitting down. I got stuck on top of the monkey bars. Dangling off the edge with only my stomach supporting my weight, Katrina kept making me laugh. My shirt slid up and my bare skin stuck to the metal bar. I couldn't slide in either direction. I just hung there in pain, trying not to laugh. Finally, I pushed myself up and backwards, tumbled to the ground arms flailing, and laid there in a heap. This got me last place, a bronze medal.

I took badminton. We only played two sets in the match, because I won both. To be fair though, the games were close. Our Badmintonbadminton games were a little odd. One side of the court was smaller than the other, but it had a large tree in it. We figured this evened out the advantages/disadvantages. The bigger side had some bushes cutting into it and a table with our cheese and chips on it. All the rackets are a bit cock-eyed, and the birdie looked like it had been turned inside out a few times. But, we still had lots of fun playing!

We had an indoor sport too: the flying-monkey-put. Katrina got this great flying monkey as a good-luck gift at AYOP. What better thing to do with an elastic, howling, sling-shot monkey, than see who can sling it furthest across the dining room?

Mommy tried this sport with us, but she didn't do very well. I think I had a distinct advantage on the other competitors, having the longest arms. I could pull the monkey back further, and with our feet at the starting line, I could reach out more in front of me to give the monkey a better starting position.

flip comp medal ceremony cropped

And of course, every Olympics needs medal ceremonies! Here's a picture of the ceremony from the flip competition. As you can see, I am on the lowest "step".

Aside from the Olympics, Katrina and I also washed my car. The whole family went out to dinner. I visited Daddy at the office and Mommy at the bank with Katrina. I signed my will and gave Mommy all the information she needed to handle my accounts. Very productive day and a half.

Overall, it was a great visit home, and Katrina and I had tons of fun just hanging around.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Oh I Went Down South for to See My...

It's been such one of those days, I'm just posting the map and going to bed. Though I have plenty to say as soon as I have the chance!

day 5

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Arrival #1

I crossed the Mississippi river from Dubuque, and there it was. The giant wooden sign, shaped like heaven itself, "Welcome to Wisconsin." It's always the same. Whether I'm landing at the airport after a year and a half away, or crossing the border in a car after a month, entering Wisconsin always makes me cry a bit. I'm just so happy to be back. And today was no different.

Although Tuesday had the most grueling driving, and Wednesday the most desire to just get where I was going, Thursday was the hardest drive. It was also the shortest. But as soon as I left Katie's in Marian, things were familiar. Places we'd gone on vacation, familiar highway names and numbers, the Dells, Madison, exits to my ballet class, to one job, to my college, to another job, the stadium, the bridge I painted on my hut wall in Africa. Everything I saw made me feel so close, yet I wasn't there yet.

The traffic on I-94 at the Milwaukee county line was stop and go due to construction. I could have taken I-894, but it's not the same. I've always used 794. I love the Hoan! When we were little, we used to beg Daddy to "take the stinky bridge" instead of I-94 home. We called it that because the sewage treatment plant is right next to it. But the view of the lake and downtown is absolutely stunning from that bridge. It's worth the occasional bad smell.

My drive across the country so far has been a really neat experience. The contrasts I have seen astound me, but I'll save the full blown analysis for the end of my driving trip. Wisconsin was just a lay-over.

Day 3

Another Long Day

Today's driving took longer than desired, and losing an hour didn't help. A few turn-arounds and a bit of confusing directions, but at least there weren't anymore drug searches. Two days of grueling driving - definitely worth it. I arrived at Katie's house in Eastern Iowa at 8:30 at night. Tired, but ecstatic to see her again. It's been about a year. Nothing like your childhood best friend to put a smile on your face. (Although I might have smiled harder when she arrived in Zambia with my Mommy and Grandma.)

We had a great dinner, watched the olympics, and did plenty of catching up. She's all grown up now. Has a great job, owns a house (her second) and a car, has her own doggy, and two nieces! It's amazing. Someday, maybe I'll be grown up, too.

Arriving in Iowa after spending several months in California, I felt like I was coming to America after visiting a foreign country. Everything was different and familiar. The houses had green grass and big yards; the streets were wide with ample parking. Driveways were visible and wide enough for two or three cars. There was a Walmart nearby and the local grocery store had aisles large enough to fit two shopping carts next to each other. I couldn't tell you the last time I saw a Prius, but I'd guess it was before I hit Utah. Finally, somewhere I belong. And soon.... home.

day 2

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Why Yes Officer, I Always Carry a Key of Coke with Me

Just outside Salt Lake City, late afternoon. Those ominous flashing lights. I hate being pulled over. "Ma'am, the speed limit is 65; you were going 71." Yes officer, and the speed limit was 75 right before where you were sitting, cars don't drop 10 miles an hour instantly. Who gets pulled over for going six over the speed limit anyway?! I'd bet my tuition that if anyone reading this hasn't gone 6 over, they don't drive.

Luckily, I had seen instructions on how to act with police. Be polite, answer "small talk" questions while he runs all the info. He went to his car to check on what he ran and then returned empty handed to my window.

I don't know if it was my car (I drive a 95 Buick), my hair and stunna shades (also had on my bandanna so I basically looked like I did when leaving Texas), or the fact that I was coming from the Yay, but the officer had some pretty strange questions....

"Do you normally carry large amount of cash?" - good thing I wasn't able to get any naira in San Francisco, Oh not normally, I just happen to have several thousand dollars in foreign currency in a bag. "No."

"Do you have any marijuana in the car?" And of course, since I said no to that, the next logical question is, "how about cocaine?"

That's when I just started laughing at him. He paused as if waiting for me to invite him to search my car. No thanks. He seemed quasi-satisfied, went to his car, took the papers off his dashboard and came right back with them. (i.e. everything was finished being run before, he had only come back to ask about the drugs.) He gave me a nice warning for "speeding" and handed back all my documents. Then he started a new exchange.

"Would you mind popping the trunk for me?" My trunk doesn't pop. "Do you have a reason you want to look in my trunk?"

"I'm asking." I did not appreciate this further intrusion but also knew I had nothing he wanted. I made clear I knew I didn't have to let him see the trunk, but would do so only because there was nothing in it (for him - it was packed chock full of boxes, bags and hangers).

He opened the trunk briefly, returned the keys and sent me on my way. I spent the next 15 minutes before finding a gas station worrying that he planted something in the trukn for the next Utah cop to pull me over and find. He didn't, at least nothing I found yet. My friend who will soon be a (fabulous) DA said I handled everything right. That's good.

I've been pulled over before, though it has been years. No one has ever asked for my registration or insurance. He did. No one has ever asked if I had drugs in my car. And certainly, no one has ever asked to look in the trunk. What's up Utah?

Wyoming also proved to be an adventure. I stopped in Rowling about 9:30 local time. Having been on the road since 5:30 in the morning, I just wanted some good sleep. Tuesday night, middle of Wyoming, all the hotels in the city were full. (Yet, somehow they still had lots of empty parking spaces out front. Guess I'm used to Bay Area parking now.) Frustrated, tired and sad, I drove on - next town: Laramie 100 miles.

About 50 miles down the highway, I saw a sign, "Lodging Elk Mtn. Lodge." Splendid! I took the exit and followed the road 3 miles to Elk Mountain: Population 129. I am not even kidding. I found the library, the town hall, the fire station and the church. They were all next to and across from each other on the town's one street. I did not see the Elk Mtn. Lodge. Back to the freeway....

Follow my travels here throughout the next week:

day 1

Monday, August 11, 2008

How Not to Spend $3

soulja-boy So a few weeks ago I bought the Soulja Boy Tellem album. Before you stop being my friend, consider my thought process. It was something like this:

Wow! This cd is only three dollars! I like "Crank That" cuz I think "superman dat hoe" is hilarious. And it's produced by Mr. Collipark; I like him.

As you can see, my excitement over this $3 cd made me a little careless in my thinking process. I should have followed my thoughts with:

Why is this fairly recent platinum selling cd only $3? Maybe too many people bought it and hated it. Why do I think I like Mr. Collipark? Oh wait, it was because I liked Ms. New Booty. I bought the Bubba Sparxxx album because of that, and it was crap.

Had I thought about these things, I probably would not have wasted my three dollars. Instead, I bought the album, took it home, and attempted to listen to it. I couldn't even make it through the whole album! This is by far the worst cd I have ever bought, and that's saying a lot. The first cd I ever purchased was "The Village People's Greatest Hits." I have the entire Spice Girl catalog, including "Forever," done after Ginger left. Listening to one track off Soulja Boy Tellem is more torture than listening to my entire circus wagon plays marching music cd. Yes, it really is that bad. Wesley Willis is better than this guy!

Buying this album taught me one very important thing: Ice T is right.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

And It All Comes Tumbling Down

Friendships are strange.  They can be super good, and then suddenly, one little thing can send everything spiraling down hill.

I guess there's lots of reasons friendships end: moving away, huge blowups, siding with other friends, just losing touch, growing apart... just to name a few of the ways I've lost some friends.  But the really, really sucky way to lose a friend is over something stupid.  You know, those little things that, in retrospective or to a third person, seem super trivial and silly.  But somehow, to you and your (former?) friend, are the most important things in the world.

I usually like to consider myself a good friend.  I think I go the extra mile to be there for my friends, make efforts to see them, to support them, to stay in touch.   But I've been fooling myself.  I'm not a good friend;  I'm not even sure I'm an ok friend.   Sometimes, I feel like I'm putting forth more efffriends foreverort than others, sometimes I know I'm not.  Not responding to a friend's email for weeks just because I don't feel like dealing with a rocky patch in our friendship is not being a good friend.  Not recognizing a friend's buttons is also not being a good friend.

I don't mean buttons like on your clothes or that say "Vote for Gracie."  I mean the buttons we all have; the little things that can really irk us and push us over the edge.  Like for me, messing with Daddy Bunny.  To you, he may be just a stuffed pile of scraps, but to me, he's a lot more.  Messing with him just isn't tolerated.

Everyone has these sorts of buttons.  If I was a good friend, I would recognize them and not push them.  But alas, I am not what I hoped to be.  And how do you - well, I, fix this?  These buttons usually get pushed inadvertently, or as part of an escalating scenario:

You do something I don't like.  I ask you to stop.  You don't, so I do something you don't like.  You get mad.  I think it's ridiculous for you to be mad when you did something I didn't like.  You think it's ridiculous for me to be mad when I did something you didn't like.  And now we're at a standoff.  You're mad, and I can't even say what I am.  Angry? No.  Hurt?  A bit.  Bewildered and frustrated?

Unfortunately, when I'm frustrated, I cry.  Frustrated at physically not being able to do something, tears.  Frustrated at something not working, tears.  Frustrated at you, at me, at the world, tears.  And to some of my friends, that just makes everything ten times worse.

But what do you do when buttons have been pushed, and what was a little thing is now a great big messy ending?  It sucks.  I'd like to keep the few friends I have, especially the ones to whom I am really close.  ...Excuse me, I have an email to respond to, and some sleep to get.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

At Least it's Not the Bears

But, Favre, what the hell are you doing?! I'm sorry for the batty language Mommy, but this situation warrants cussing.

How could you? You changed your mind, we offered you a reasonable chance. I mean, we can't just let Rogers sit there and grow old. And you chose to retire. Retirement! Doesn't anyone learn anything from Jordan or Jay-Z? I don't mean to say you can't play anymore; I'm sure you still have a lot of oomf left. But leaving?! Don't they teach you anything about loyalty in the South?

It was said on an episode of Mathnet, slavery was outlawed 150 years ago, except in professional sports. How's it feel to have an owner? Does it even bother you? He called you a "product" for goodness sake! A product! And have fun sharing your stadium. At least it's named for a team and not some company, but then, it's not even your team's name!

You'll see soon, how good you had it. And you'll miss Lambeau. Nothing compares to the frozen tundra. And nobody, absolutely nobody can compare to Packers fans. We don't know the meaning of "fair-weather fan." No sir-ee Bob. Do the NY fans paint their houses and their cars, um, whatever NY's colors are? (See there, I don't even know the colors. Everyone knows Green Bay's colors.) Or get special little jersey's for their dogs? "Dress up" for Thanksgiving by donning every bit of team color they own? Wear cheese on their heads? Know any other pastors end church services early so people can get home in time for noon games? Where people plan funerals around games?

Well, as long as NY doesn't make it to the Superbowl, we won't have to worry about rooting against you. I'll console myself with that for now.

And now... a few pictures from Thanksgiving:

Wendy in snow The fan. You can't see it in this pic because of the Packer ear warmer, but she also has on cheesehead earrings.

Mommy and Auntie Gail with the Turkey

Tara and babies in basement

packer sisters

even the cheese

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

"Car" Camping

So there's this thing they do out here called "car camping." Back home, we just call it "camping." It's where you camp close enough to walk to your car. Apparently "real" camping involves a lot of walking and dried food.

Anyway, last weekend, I got to go car camping with my good friend and some of his friends. I was a little nervous at first, because I recall often saying in Zambia, "I don't like camping." My reason was that I hated how nothing had a place and you sort of just lived out of a pile thrown in a bag for a few days. Luckily, the guy organizing the camping knew what he was doing, and the campsite had a little non-animal-proof cabinet. Things had a place! Yay!

I had no idea how badly I needed that little excursion, how much I would like it, or how sad I would be to leave. I haven't been out in the dark, far from electricity since I left Zambia. It was wonderful. I knew when I left Cheelo, I would miss the peaceful nights and the evenings around the campfire. In two years, I had already forgotten how wonderful those times were. The first night at the campsite, I sat outside alone under the stars, soft tears rolling down my cheeks. In my mind Mazoka and Chipo chased each other laughing. Ba Feya's voice seemed to float in on the wind. As the flames of the fire crackled, I could almost see Ba Lenix's tired, red eyes peering from the darkness. Almost, almost there, yet still thousands of miles away....

We all went to the boardwalk and beach at Santa Cruz on Saturday. That was a lot of fun, especially the rides, and the guy on the corner playing polka on an accordion! Unfortunately, we didn't really get the best part of camping, the sitting around the fire cooking, eating, telling stories, enjoying the night sky. For some reason, the rest of the people kept eating at restaurants. What the vampire?

Saturday night, when everyone else went to get Thai or something, my friend and I made a fire. Neither of us had actually ever built a wood fire from scratch before, but we did it! We had a beautiful blazing hot fire. He knew how to stack the wood and stuff, and I just kept trying things I had seen my family do to start our fires in Zambia. It worked really well, especially the blowing on a hot branch to make flames. I roasted a cob of corn in the fire, just like in Zambia. Then we had to dump water on it and put it out, because my friend wanted to leave. People running off to restaurants + camping do not equal fun.

Even with leaving early, and no big campfire night, it was still a lot of fun. Now I'm really itching to go again. I'm leaving for Africa in a few weeks, but I doubt there'll be any fires or electricity-free nights this time. Capital city, no village. :( Oh well, at least I found a little bit of that peace again.

Monday, August 4, 2008

If I Could Build My World

If I could build the perfect place, drawing from the different places I've lived (or visited), it would look like this:

The weather of Wisconsin, but on the season time-line of Nashville. I love snow, and summer's twice as nice when you look forward to it. The air conditioning use of the Bay or Zambia. (i.e. none.) Milwaukee's rainfall amount, but with the pounding wonderful thunderstorms like Nashville and Monze. Lake Michigan near by. Vanderbilt's trees and gangsta squirrels.

Big stores close by, not only in the ghetto, with plenty of parking, like the Midwest or South. And, with whole aisles just for cheese, like in Wisconsin. Restaurant diversity of Milwaukee with a Bay Area amount of vegetarian food. Really good State, i.e. cheap, schools from California, including the amazing community college program they have.

Southern or Zambian religion and faith, the kind you don't have to hide. Zambia's welcome-ness. The Green Bay Packers and all the wonderful fans. People who know how to play Sheepshead and how to polka. (They'd come from Wisconsin.) Zambia's television channels. Milwaukee's amount of bowling alleys, with Nashville's prices and no smoking rules. Zambia's nightclubs. They never close and people are always dancing.

The public transportation system of the Bay, with the frequency of Lusaka. Streets the size of Cudahy's. The ability to walk anywhere (like Zambia or the Bay) but not the need to; ample parking like Cudahy. People that walk as fast as in New York. Etiquette and fashion of the South. Hairstyles of the North. (I hate only being able to see one eye when I'm talking to someone. Unless, of course, they only have one, like Mazoka.)

The average height of Milwaukee, but the average width of the Bay. And the diversity that would result if you mixed all these people together (after stretching them or squishing them to fit the height and width requirements).