Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Food Blog

Last night Seth and I finished watching "Julie & Julia" - which was fabulous - and I looked online for roast duck recipes. The number of food blogs available made me think, unfortunately not for the first time, "Hey, I could write a food blog! I eat; I cook; I take pictures; it would be cool!"

Then I had the realistic thought: "Who gives a fuck what I eat? I already ask people to read about my life and now I want them to know about my diet, as well? Oh, how vain I can be."

There is also the sad fact that I rarely cook in Uganda so my posts would read something like, "I bought a pineapple and ate it for dinner." Fascinating.

However, if you are curious please rest assured that I am not losing any weight, so I am eating in food in some combination of delicious; bad for you; and copious quantities.

And fruit. I also eat fruit.

Now you know. And know I have to run to the kitchen because I hear the sounds of my chicken stock boiling over.

It smells delicious.

It's Beginning to Feel A Lot like Christmas

Last year the holiday was an extrememly odd time for me: first Christmas without both parents; first away from family; first in a Muslim country. The lack of ubiquitous seasonal decorations and music coupled with my continuing grief left me, for the first time, not caring at all about the holiday despite it also being the first Christmas with Seth. We did have our little tree, which I took great care and tenderness to decorate, but neither it nor gifts could diminsh my apathetic attitude. I wondered if it would continue from then on, making me yet another person who dislikes Christmas because of the conflicting and troubling emotions it brings.

Fortunately, that hasn't happened. "It never gets easier, just different"; so true. Besides, what sort of lasting tribute would it be the my mother, the human embodiment of Christmas spirit, if I were to hate the holiday season because of her absence? Or my father, who, despite always grumbling about the excessive decorations in the house, smiled whenever he looked at the lit tree and played Christmas music all day long.

And so this year my spirit has returned, remembering and mourning those who are gone but grateful and happy for my life as it is now. Seth, being the wonderful man he is, bought a larger tree for the apartment and helped decorate it, even gathering an old sheet to act as the skirt. Plus, we are hosting a Christmas Eve dinner; how festive is that?

To those in the States, and elsewhere, I wish you a very Merry Christmas.

And offer some holiday lights, courtesy of the Kuwait oil fields.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Attack of the Fifty-Foot Grasshopper! Or, How To Deal with Bugs

Or at least 50 million. Two nights I woke up at one point in the night having to pee (considering the 3 liters of water I drink per day, a fairly common occurrence.) I heard a loud, penetrating hum and, remembering the short circuit in our building earlier in the day, thought something was up with the electricity again. Oh, was I wrong.

The walls outside my room were covered with these little fellows, grasshoppers climbing and flying around. I ran the gauntlet to what I imagined was the relative safety of the toilet, only to find more on the door and even a couple waving at me from the toilet. A terrifying experience for one half-asleep. I re-tucked my net extra tight.

In the morning, while appreciating my mosquito net for keeping out spiders and now grasshoppers, I realized this meant fried grasshoppers would now be available; sure enough, people were out early in the morning, harvesting the bugs from buildings; trees; grass; and the sky was full of birds - crows and sparrows, mainly - gluttonously flying around.

How to fry grasshoppers? It's amazing in it's simplicity:

1. Collect
When the sound of grasshoppers' (let's call them Jiminys) wings rubbing together makes someone think there is a major electrical malfunction, this only takes a few minutes.

2. Clean

As in, remove legs and wings, even as you watch the Jiminys reach for your fingers with their remaining legs - or stumps - and turn their heads left and right, trying to bite you with their pincers. It would be sad, but only if you mistook their behavior for actual intelligence and not the simply life-saving instinct it truly is. Remember: they're just bugs.

It is still creepy, though.

3. Fry

Just dry pan-fry.

Jiminys are so greasy they cook in their own fat; 100% protein my ass.

4. Eat

See? Eating already. Maybe we should consider this for the next locust swarm. We still have 14 years or so to come up with some recipes, right?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Another post, another failure at a catchy title

What's that in the picture? A cake? A strawberry cake? Who the hell cares about a stupid strawberry cake, you may be wondering? I do. That's right, because that cake was baked in a charcoal oven, like this one.

How many cakes have you baked in a charcoal oven? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Seth arrives in Kigali next week, which means the week after that I leave for a month-long vacation. I suppose some would say that 4 (actually 5) weeks off from work is a bit much considering I have been at the job for three months - well, no, I don't know many people who would complain like that but I know they exist. This school term has been exhausting and educative, leaving me with many ideas to use when crafting workshop plans for next year. I have also made some personal revelations:

1) I will never get used to African time. In fact, it takes a lot of deep breathing for me to even be patient with African time. However, I do enjoy it when I use it as my excuse, though locals never do. How come I am supposed to accept their being late but they don't accept mine?

2) I can't stomach black instant coffee. When I first came I was drinking my coffee - the fine, dust-like powder it is - almost straight, with an occasional spoon of purloined sugar from the kitchen, simply because I didn't want to spend money on my own sugar. I know - how cheap can you be? At this point I drink my coffee with sugar, Nido and cocoa powder and if one is missing I suffer pitiably. Yes, life in central African is that hard.

3) I know more about teaching than I realized. I had guessed for some time that, having been in school for so long something had to have rubbed off on me, and it seems it did. More than pedagogical knowledge, however, I also enjoy teaching. This doesn't mean that I never wish I could smack a couple of those punk-ass P5 students across the face, just that I should consider the education field more seriously in the future.

4) Aubergines (to distinguish them form the nasty, bitter green eggplants also found here) have become a favorite of mine; I used to fling these bulbs os nastiness to the floor in disgust. Seriously, who thought that such a spongy, ugly little thing could be tasty? Not me - until now; I've eaten the things 5 times in the past two weeks.

5) This has occurred to me before but has recently become a stark realization: the desperate need for evaluative research into education programs here in Africa. How much of an impact has Smiles had on the live of children here - other than swimming skills, which are easily observed? How many years will a viable program need to be in place before it has any effect, if it has any effect? Is this the right way to go about spreading education? Those typical questions of, "What's the point?" smacking me straight in the face. It's relevant, though: Smiles has been working with Bufuka Primary School since 2004, which means the majority of P7 students had experienced Smiles workshops for 5 years - yet half of them can't understand English. What was achieved?

6) It is hard being away from Seth. Yes, we both knew it would be difficult but had no idea - no fucking idea - just how hard it would be. I hadn't realized the essentiality of that man in my life but it's there, deep and strong. Serendipity struck strong that day in the airport.

7) Finally - I hate foam mattresses. But charcoal ovens? Bring it.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Do you sporcle? 50% geography, 50% spelling, 100% fun!

Because you should. One of my current volunteers, Mike, introduced me to this awesomeness a couple of weeks ago. You, too, can waste time yet exercise your mind with such amazing quizzes as "Name All Island Nations" or "Variants of the Name 'John' Around the World." Of course there are more, such thought-provoking, some ridiculously stupid, others which leave in the terrifying grips of "Damn it, I can feel the answer!" - like me, above. Like when you spend 5 minutes trying to remember the names of the two crotchety old men from the Muppets, only to remember them and then have that knowledge melt away with sleep. Oh, but wait, then it pops in again.

Why go out when you can spend several hours on quizzes? And don't think this is just a one-person deal. There have been 4 of use crowded around a computer at a time, trying to remember everything mentioned in Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire". Can you imagine, Foxy by Nature, how awesome game nights would be with dueling groups going at quizzes?

Oh, and there are plenty of sports-related quizzes for those of you so inclin
ed, like the Pittsburgher already mentioned.

Try it out. Try it with a friend. Why waste time of Facebook quizzes that tell you if you are, really, a potato, when you can try and guess, in four minutes, all the countries in the world that are spelled with alternating consonants and vowels (like Canada)?

That's what I thought. www.sporcle.com

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Did you know people in other parts of the world don't eat peanut butter & jelly sandwiches?

It's true - many have never even considered putting the two together. Can you believe it? I couldn't when confronted with this astounding truth. I mean, I know PB&J is pretty standard American fare but come on: never imagined the two together? To never have heard of such deliciousness? I mean, England and Australia, even. Amazing.

So I went from two posts in one week to no posts for over a month - score! Now we have broadband where I am living and live is sweet. The job is going well though has become insanely busy: I didn't have a day off for over two weeks and after a mini-break to Kampala for a haircut and pedicure, probably won't have any until sometime late November. Fair enough, though - I will be away for a month in December so might as well work now. What would I do otherwise, anyway? Well, I could travel to a few nearby l
ocations, but I find it's best to just stay busy. No idle hands here.

I am pretty sure I got worms from the fish (or something) I ate over the independence weekend (October 10-11). At least, for several days afterward I had constant runny poop and it felt like someone was stabbing me in the gut every 30 minutes or so. Plus, I took a de-worming tablet and that made the stabbing feeling go away, so it seems like it killed something. Nevertheless, the squishy stomach feeling has yet to go.

I am not taking malaria medication but, since it is often freezing here (well, like 50s or 60s) and I have been bitten all of zero times in Kabale or Bunyonyi, I haven't been worried about it. The quick, humid and fucking hot trip to Kampala and the equator reminded me that sometimes I should worry;
more to the point, the 20 or so bites along my ankles, legs and even up to ass and crotch area have reminded me. Hmmm. Here's hoping!

I thought of Thanksgiving the other day; damn, I love that holiday. And again I will in UG for it. The day of T-giving is also the nursery school graduation, but afterwards I will cook a dinner at the lake. Buy a chicken (or two), slaughter it, drink some potentially bad wine; fuck it, Seth will be here so it will be fun. My sister and I have agreed to photo document our Thanksgivings so that will be fun to compare.

Did this post sound like a teenager's journal entry? Obviously I just trying to let my 5 faithful readers know that, yes, I still think at time; unfortunately the depth of my thoughts vary.

By the way, Ankole cows have fucking huge horns. No, Seth, I don't care that the Texas longhorm has the longest recorded horns - these horns are still f-ing big. This is why I don't near the 3 cows that Smiles owns.

That PB&J thing really gets me, though. I ate three in row just to calm myself down/

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Brief yet Wonderful Visit

From the love of my life, though he didn't wear his Chacos all the time so he did not experience the red feet of Uganda. It was good, had fun, took off too much time from work (which has crashed back into my reality as of this morning) plus Seth bought me a number of things including a large jar of mayo. Yes!
It does excite me. I try to stick to my budget of no-more-than 7,000 shillings/day on food and since that jar o' mayo cost 7750 it is obviously outside my budget. Plus, I also have peanut butter AND jam AND instant soup packets AND a small bottle of gin. Who's livin' the high life now?
Happily his private hire got him to Kabale fast. He landed in Kigali 12pm and I was thinking maybe 4 or 5 hours later he'd show up, but no: he arrived in less than 3. Which meant brief waiting-period for me.

Of course, coming from the barren desert of Kuwait we hit a bar his first night in country.

The following days were spent immersing him in the culture as much as possible. Unfortunately for Seth this included a visit to a local bar to enjoy (?) some local waragi. I think his stomach (and mine) might still be burning.

On a slightly random note: apparently I have a very "American smile," at least according to Sharon, my Israeli volunteer. Meh?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Settling In

I could take the time to write an incredibly detailed account of the happenings in Kabale thus far but considering the town is recovering from it's recent 28-hour power outage I think short and sweet is best!
My life is busy busy, trying to clean up financial chaos left for me by the previous Smiles Manager and having to rethink my workshop concepts because, unlike I was led to believe , even up to P5 students can't speak a complete sentence in English, much less understand it. P5! Luckily it's a slow time with few volunteers so I have time enough to learn and (hopefully) fix everything.
Seth is popping in for 2 days next week and that will be awesome, but until then I just work and jump in the lake when I have time. Plus I've had a cold since getting here - lame!
Enjoy the few photos - will upload more later on.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Betsy McCaughey is full of shit. Yes, this is a rant.

Because AFN aired the Daily Show episode with Betsy McCaughey last night (again) I have decided it's time to throw in my two cents.

McCaughey claims that, according to the bill, doctors are awarded quality points based on consultations with patients concerning living wills and whether or not patients adhere to those consultations. As she reads it, this means that a doctor's score could lower if a patient does not adhere to the wording in their living will - and this is bullshit, because it is almost impossible to quantify. I could make a living will right now and, god willing, not have to use it for another 40 or 50 years - by which time my original doctor will either be dead or no longer practicing medicine. If I decide to go against the will what can Medicare do, retroactively lower my doctor's quality rating?

Rather, the purpose of the bill is to have doctors strongly encourage their patients to make living wills because of the time, money and heartache saved in the future. Their quality points will be based on whether doctors have the conversations; if those conversations include all the required talking points; and if they follow the schedule, having a living will discussion with a patient every 5 years.

Because the bill lists what doctors must discuss, including resuscitation, sustenance, hydration, McCaughey feels - actually, I'm not exactly sure what her problem is here because she never quite details it. Somehow discussing life-sustaining procedures in detail - which is what those elements mentioned above are - gives doctors too much decision-making power in life or death situations. After all, when "most people" are healthy they are all for "pulling the plug", not wanting to exist in a vegetative state and all that, but when the time comes (if a situation occurs where their living will takes effect) they might feel differently and want to change their minds.

Of course, when the time comes the person in the coma is unable to change their mind, hence the reason for the living will. Also, who are these "most people"? Did McCaughey take a survey of people in comas to determine how they felt beforehand? Did she ask five of her colleagues? Could she possibly be making a baseless assumption?

As for the detailed language - ok, let me admit that I am a strong supporter of living wills, even more so of living trusts. After my mom's death took the family by surprise my father had a trust created. It included details, exhaustive details, about finances and medical possibilities such as in a coma but responsive, in a coma but unresponsive, and listed exactly what my father would want done in each situation. For example, if he ended up in an unresponsive state: I do not want artificial means keeping me alive. I want to be provided with food and water sufficient to keep my body performing and medicine, if necessary, to keep my free from pain, until my body naturally expires. So, no ventilators or anything like that, just let me die painlessly and with a bit of dignity. I'm sure it was worded better in the legal document, but you get the idea. Obviously "most people" don't want to imagine anything so horrible happening but the living will is there just in case it does. "Most people" probably also don't realize how many contingencies there can be. A living will, then, provides a sort of death insurance.

But for McCaughey, the living wills clause is disgusting because doctors are (according to her) penalized if patients or their families - and wait, there's the real issue: families. It's not a matter of the patient in the coma changing their mind - they can't; they're in a coma - it's the fact that families will not have any say. It's the son who can't believe his mother wouldn't want to be kept alive at all costs; the husband not wanting to let go of his comatose wife; or the parents selfishly keeping their daughter as a vegetable for 12 years because they refuse to believe she would want anything different. Of course, Terry Schiavo didn't have a living will, only the word of her husband, but even is she did it's possible her parents would have challenged a will court.

A living will allows you to choose either life or death. You can decide that you what to kept alive with all possible means and with any future medical breakthroughs; or you can decide to just peacefully expire, regardless of what others believe should happen. Pro-choice at its finest.

No wonder the fanatic right is foaming at the mouth. Nevermind that Palin and others endorsed living will consultations while they are in the local/ state spotlight - they were just looking out for their constituents. But to support anything seemingly pro-choice on a national level - a clause that allows an individual to make decisions about their bodies - now that's just disgusting.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Whether the Weather: Dry Heat vs. Humidity

With Ramadan right around the corner and the wind making a Mary Poppins-esque turn, the weather here has changed from a heat blown up from the depths of hell to a more tropical humid nightmare. While I could take the time to figure out how it can be 110F with 80% humidity in the desert without anyone of those elements canceling the other two out, I am instead reminded of something my father told me on my first trip to Vegas. It was the beginning of August and, as you might expect, it was insanely hot. This was also my first experience in a desert, or dry, environment of any sort and having grown up accustomed to suffocating humidity, the heat of Vegas was having its effect, leaving me constantly dehydrated (I hardly drank any alcohol because I was always so desperate for water) and, well, hot. When I mentioned this to my dad during a phone call home he told me that I couldn't be having a problem because, after all, the weather in Vegas was "only a dry heat." At the time I found it odd that my father, over in Maryland, could be telling me, the one in Nevada, that the I couldn't possibly be noticing the heat because it was "dry" - and I still find that notion incredibly absurd.

Yes, humidity can be miserable; a brief visit to the Southeast USA during summer will assure you of that fact. You step outside and almost instantly become damp not because of sweat, but because of the moisture in the air. If you buy cotton candy at a baseball game there's a good chance it will start to melt before you can eat it. Air conditioning fights in vain against the onslaught, always leaving you with a feeling of being slightly moist despite the 75F temperature inside. And of course, the heat doesn't dissipate at night but instead hangs there, suffocating, oppressive. I have a friend whose vegetables rotted on the vine one summer the humidity was so bad. There's no question it's hot because you can feel it, sticking to you.

The addage for dry heat, on the other hand, is that you don't feel it; apparently without moisture guiding your senses your body will be oblivious to the furnace you're standing in. This is absolute bullshit. The hint is in the title: DRY HEAT. Have you ever opened an oven door and, as the blast of hot air washes over your face, thought to yourself, "Man, I wish I knew if the oven was ready because I can't feel a thing"? Did you know that it's difficult to breathe in 125F weather because the air is, literally, burning your lungs? The same effect happens to your eyeballs when the windblows. When I first moved to LA, also during that first Vegas trip, I would get spontaneous nosebleeds because my sinuses were so dry. Or ask my husband the joys of working in the Kuwait desert where it easily reaches 134F and tools cannot be left outside because touching them, even while wearing gloves, will seriously burn your hand. Because it's fucking hot.

Yes, I know that the body's natural cooling system works better in dry heat because the sweat can actually evaporate, but when the heat gets over, say, 105F then your cooling mechanisms go into overdrive. This leads to faster dehydration and delirium caused by said dehydration. During the summer in the SF Valley the temperature would reach 104F in the shade, which offered no respite from the heat but merely safeguarded you from getting a sunburn. Oh, and the fact that dry weather leaves you feeling like a raisin and looking like a piece of chalk you're so ashy. There have been days I've drunk over a gallon of water and still felt thirsty and sluggish.

I performed a quick online search of "dry heat vs humidity" and found several forums related to people moving from one type of weather to the other and it seems the majority are overwhelmingly in favor of dry heat. After all, you can sit outside without becoming drenched in sweat after only 5 minutes! Though considering the pro-dry heaters tend to refer to coastal SoCal in their defense I think what they are actually enjoying is a Mediterranean climate. And I admit, when it's 90F and dry the heat is actually manageable and even be pleasant. It certainly feels hot, but it's not too bad. However, I can assure you that these same dry heat proponents have never experienced heat above 115F or even 110F. These increments may seem small but trust me, you feel every degree as it increases. 120F feels different than 115 and waaaay worse than 100, so much so that I cheered the arrival of humid weather.

Seth and I went for a walk yesterday around 6:30pm, about the same time I would normally go out because it's actually cooler then than at 5am. Though we were quickly covered in a combination of sweat and air moisture we both felt content because we could breathe easily, our blood didn't feel as though it was boiling and the air didn't smell like burning. It was nice. It was a relief. So the next time you hear the phrase "but it's a dry heat" please smile and do everyone a favor: punch them in the face.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dubai Adventures - A Digression

I had high expectations for my Dubai blogs: regaling readers with detailed and comic descriptions of that little trip; revisiting the difficulty of maintaining an alcoholic buzz all day in 115 degree heat coupled with 85% humidity (difficult) ; 90-minute Thai massage (heavenly) ; snow park (not worth it); playing Spot the Prostitute in bars (easy). But the other night I had a bit of an epiphany that completely derailed my plans; let me explain.
On our last full day, while we were enjoying one of t
he pools and its swim-up bar, I asked Seth to take a couple of pictures of me.

I was disappointed. "No one's going to know where these were taken."
"Well, yeah - no one's going to know where any of these pictures were taken."

And he's right - unless we were to take pictures standing in front of the Burj al Arab no one would have any idea of where we were. We could be taking pictures at the Mall of America for the lack of significant landmarks available. But then, I don't suppose people go to Dubai expecting to experience authentic Middle Eastern life but rather to enjoy visiting an exotic place while being sheltered from contact with any "local" life. Our first morning I was amazed to discover that we didn't even have to leave our resort if we didn't want to: it had 6 pools, 5 restaurants ranging from casual to fine dining, plenty of bars, a spa; all that was missing was that quintessential piece of Middle Eastern life: the mall
. We did leave - to visit the Mall of the Emirates and another resort - but not without the realization that while Disneyfication may have forever changed the American landscape, what are resorts doing to the rest of the world? And why bore people detailing our experiences when I could replace the word "Dubai" with "Vegas" with similar results?

On a fun note: our last night in Dubai Seth and I decided to head away from the beach and its 5-star selections to see what other bars were available. Our taxi driver took us to some hotel, where the prostitutes were much easier to spot, and we approaced the Platinum club. There were two bouncers standing outside and one was arguing with a man about being "on the list" or something and the man was subsequently turned away. Only slightly deterred we approached.
"Is your name on the list?"
"Uhh, no."
And with that the bouncer opened the door and gestured for us to enter, which begs the question: what the hell would have happened had our names been on the list?

Along with shopping malls, massive construction is another common sight in Dubai.

Feel free to play in dirty, man-made snow (well, pay first, then feel free.)


Monday, July 27, 2009

The Continuing Adventures of the International Super Couple, Part One

And so Seth and I decided on a quick trip to Dubai. Cheap tickets - though not so cheap once the 50KD, or $174, in taxes and fees was tagged on - purchased and carry-ons packed, we arrived at the airport ready and excited to get away from Kuwait for a bit. A bit: only two full days, but sometimes that's all you need. Sometimes it's all you can get.
Our flight was through Jazeera Air, based out of Kuwait, so no booze on the flight - no free water, either. I guess that what's you get when your tickets only cost $40 (before fees.) No worries. The plane landed at 1am Dubai time and before we even get to customs there, on our right, was a duty-free liquor store. We instantly headed inside, Seth becoming distracted by the Corona display, while I bee-lined it for the wine. Delicious.
Though so many choices! I first found the French selections, but something about French wine bothers me, makes me feel ignorant about my choice of beverage. Two-buck Chuck might be even lower than table wine but at least the bottle has the decency not to mention that. Plus, none of the French had screw-tops, so I moved away from those haughty bastards. I found two nice, decently-priced bottles of red, figuring that would be enough. Seth came by: "Do you think we should get another? We're here for two days and don't where other stores are. We should get another."
"Really? Ok."
"I want to choose." He began scanning countries, looking over bottles, finding one that looked good - "No - no screw-top" - so back it went. He admitted he didn't know what he was looking for and I was becoming impatient. The time was pushing past 1:30, we still had a 35-minute ride to the resort, still had to go through customs, so I made a decision: "Just grab the fucking Pinot Noir!"
And again we were off, finally leaving the airport to head to our resort. We discovered that the exit from Dubai International is replete with water misters which, considering the smothering humidity and heat in the country, served to create a miserable bog-like experience as we walked through. I would put that down as one of the worst ideas ever. Eh, fuck it - in the taxi we were handed cool towels to wash our faces and hands, as well as bottles of water, so we were satisfied. Driving along the highway to the beach, I noticed first how nice the roads were compared to Kuwait: large overpasses, clover-leaf designs, exit signs appearing before the exit (as opposed to 100 meters into the turn of the exit), no sand clogging the shoulders. Seth pointed out one hotel with pyramid-like structures, saying it look like the Luxor in Vegas. And he had a point - at first glance Dubai did seem like Vegas in the "how many ostentatious buildings can fit inside 30-square miles? (253)" sort of way - but only at first. Dubai had something else, something Vegas only pretends to have -
wealth, massive wealth permeating the air. It was daunting.
Check-in and up to the room. I was pleasantly surprised by the robes and slippers provided for us; I was out of my clothes and into a robe before Seth could even drop his bag. He inspected the mini bar while I got down to important business - opening the wine. Two glasses each of Pinot Noir were in our bellies within 15 minutes.

It was delicious. I love wine and tasting it again was like rediscovering sex after a dry spell: you want as much as you can get in as little time as possible.
The wine hit our bellies hard and by our third and final glass we could feel sleep approaching.

Our drinking slowed and we went to lie in bed. I had one large gulp of wine remaining. "Seth, drink this for me - I don't think I can."
"Man up, you're just going to go to sleep after you drink it."
He was right.
So I did.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

CSI and Inconsistent Realities

I love sci-fi; I do. I consider myself to be a sci-fi dork, though not as much as I used to be. Because of this dorkdom I am willing to deeply suspend my disbelief. There might be no sound in space, but all six Star Wars movies would never lead you to believe that. The Federation of Planets consists of hundreds of planets and species yet still heavily depends on Earth's history and its philosophical teachings - including the notion of human rights- and this is generally accepted by all members (with the possible exception of Klingons. Haha, see, still a dork!) If you take time to think about those facts could spoil your viewing pleasure but the themes are consistent throughout the movies and tv series so they are easy to accept. Again, I am extremely willing to suspend disbelief - but only as long as the movie or play or even book is consistent with the reality they are creating. (Foxy by Nature agrees; ask her about Terminator if you want her opinion on the matter.)

Last night Iwas watching CSI: NY. I'm not sure if I necessarily like any of the CSI shows but I have a problems with series that you have follow each week or you lose track of what's going on, so CSI satisfies my inability to focus. Anyway, last night someone found a skeleton, with a real skull!, on a tourist bus and the team began to investigate. Apparently the skull has heavy traces of diesel exhaust embedded in the bone tissue and the individual had died at least ten years ago. ( Those guys and gals are amazing with their deductions.) This took them to a huge bus station where they found the guy who created the tourist trick (he didn't kill anyone, just wanted to scare some tourists!) and after some searching found the remaining skeleton and the dead person's belongings (backpack, pocketknife) in some dark, deep partially-hidden room-like thing. Luckily, everything was intact.

Wait a minute - you mean at least one person had found this skeleton - they took the skull, after all - yet didn't even look through the backpack or steal the knife? In New York City? Okay, okay, whatever - back to the lab.

In his jeans they found a dirty, indecipherable piece of paper, but in the the backpack they found a book (Big City, Bright Lights) and a sketch book filled with myriad drawings of New York City, all perfectly clean and easy-to-read.

Wait a minute - this dude's skeleton had ten-years' worth of diesel embedded in bone tissue and a piece of paper in his pocket was filthy with all text wiped away to the point of incomprehension, but the canvas of his backpack somehow shielded two books from the polluting effects of diesel exhaust? Maybe that's why no one ever ruffled through it - the bag was impervious to all kinds of filth. But, okay, whatever.

Because the dead boy (they figured out sex and possible age - 17 - from the skeleton) was a John Doe, one of the scientists took the skull and, using clay and paint, reconstructed what his face might have looked like - just like they did on Reading Rainbow with mummies! Amazingly, the reconstruction looked exactly like the actor playing the dead boy but still left me with some questions: how would she know to give him thick, full lips with a pronounced cupid's bow on the top lip? How did she know he wasn't fat? Why would she give him wavy shoulder-length hair swept back from his forehead? None of her Caucasian male counterparts have hair like that, so what was her inspiration?

Oh, whatever - this didn't bring any leads so I guess it's fine. But then a break: they finally, somehow, figure out that piece of paper from his jeans is a pawn ticket for a watch. They go to the shop - someone just picked it up, after fourteen years! It must be the person who killed the John Doe! On to inspecting the surveillance - oh no, he's hiding his face from camera! Wait, something in the shopkeeper's glasses - enhance it!

I shouted: "If they get a picture from the glasses I am never watching CSI again!" Seth was unimpressed.

Luckily for CSI they didn't, but the suspect touched something so they found him, blah, blah, blah - which brings us to my biggest beef with this show: when confronted with the evidence all suspects spontaneously admit to their crimes. Never mind the fact that these lab rats aren't detectives and much of their physical evidence is circumstantial (I also watch Law & Order), suspects just feel a need to admit to everything before they are handcuffed and carted away to jail. God forbid they should have a lawyer present or decide to wait for a trial verdict.

Wait a minute - why are the lab rats going around and questioning suspects? Why are they in the interviewing room? Why aren't they just processing evidence and giving their findings to detectives? Why do suspects say anything even though the CSI people sometimes admit, "No, we're not detectives; we're with the crime lab"? Why don't suspects then shut the door in their face? It seems none of the suspects are ever read their Miranda rights; does that mean every criminal the CSI people think they catch are actually released because their confessions weren't legally obtained? Why is the Vegas lab so goddamned dark?

Ah, okay, okay - whatever.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Genocide: Misuse and Misinformation

On Saturday Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused the Han Chinese - the dominant ethnic group in China - of committing genocide against Uighurs, an ethnic minority predominately found in China's Xinjiang region. The New York Times reported on additional violence in the region, describing how the "ethnic tensions" were leading to "bloodletting" and "massacres." The Times has not concurred on Turkey's assessment on the situation in Xinjiang - it is too early to make such claims, too much room for criticism - but the subtext of that article was screaming: genocide, genocide, genocide.

This is interesting. On one hand there is the irony of Turkey accusing another nation of genocide considering the Turkish government's inability to admit to its own violent history. There is also the fact that the majority of the victims - 137 out of 184 confirmed deaths - are Han Chinese, the alleged perpetrators, and the Uighurs, the alleged victims, initiated the violent attacks. Can the Uighurs still be victims of genocide if they are not the victims of attacks? There are some genocide scholars - typically, but not always, Holocaust scholars - who believe the victim group is unable to defend itself against genocidal attacks, physical or otherwise and that inability to defend is what makes them victims. Others contend it is the perpetrators perception of the group as "enemy" as essential to determining victim groups. There are other theories as well, yet none consider the possibility of a victim group proactively attacking perpetrators before any attempt at genocide has been made, most likely because that group would be an aggressor.

There is the possibility that Erdogan is referring to the continued discrimination and joblessness among Uighurs in the region, realities no doubt exacerbated by the current recession and the influx of Mandarin-speaking Han Chinese into the region. Possible, but unlikely: this discrimination has occurred for decades and has turned violent one more than one occasion (the 1990s were particularly bloody.) Rather, it seems more like a political ploy for Turkey (though for what reason remains to be seen) and another dig at the ineffectiveness of the United Nations. After all, if the UN can't succeed in upholding its founding principle - the prevention of genocide - then of what use is it?

This is not the first time that spontaneous outbursts of civil unrest have been erroneously identified as genocide. Recently genocide has become a bit of a buzzword, thanks to the success of Save Darfur in bringing it to the forefront of media attention and overly simplistic (and erroneous) movies such
Hotel Rwanda pushing the concept into the spotlight of pop culture. In the process understanding of what genocide is has been watered-down to any display of "ethnic violence," whether in Kenya, Zimbabwe or China. However, as the international community is largely unwilling to infringe upon a nation's sovereignty, all the accusations succeed in doing is creating hype and furthering the confusion surrounding the concept of genocide.

Tension between Uighurs in Xinjiang and the Chinese government is not new: Uighurs have been attempting to break away from China and create a separate nation since at least the 1940s. They have legitimate grievances concerning job discrimination and other forms of abuse. Yet China also has a legitimate right to step in and prevent secession attempts within its borders. The nation-state has been a recognized political body for over three hundred and fifty years; by accepting that principle we accept a state's right to remain intact. On the other hand, secession is rarely calm and bloodless and while the Chinese government and its armed forces are obligated to follow international humanitarian law, I can't imagine anyone being surprised if China breaks that obligation while thwarting the attempts of a break-away region. And even if there was a massive outcry against China, who has the power to do anything about it? The country would veto any UN action against it and since China owns so much of the US's debt, I doubt we would threaten any aggression.

But claiming genocide where no genocide exists - human rights abuses maybe, but no intent to completely destroy the Uighurs physically and culturally - only belittles actual instances of the crime. Mass confusion already exists concerning genocide, as well as frustration over a mounting inability to prevent it from happening; false accusations only make efforts at education more difficult and futile. Mainstream media and pop culture add to the problem by recycling misinformation, being either unable or unwilling to research the truth.

The more the term "genocide" is used indiscriminately to describe any episode of ethnic or mass violence or social unrest, the more numb the population grows to its meaning. Genocide is the intent to destroy a group - be it ethnic, racial, religous or national - completely, all physical and cultural evidence annihilated. It is the most heinous act that can be afflicted upon a humanity. If we become apathetic towards genocide then what humanity will we have left?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Shifting Focus - A Caveat

I have been trying to finish a post on pop culture and genocide for almost a month now and constantly find myself struggling to form thoughts into coherent sentences. It is time, then, to move away from that for bit and focus on what I've been avoiding: thoughts of my parents. As the end of July brings the 2-year anniversary of my mother's death - and my father's, in a way, though of course that wouldn't happen for another 6 months - it seems only appropriate to spend a little time writing about them. I suppose the underlying theme is death, though not in the teenage macabre sense: what's running through my head as I attempt to sleep is more nostalgia than anything else. In order to calm those thoughts and fall asleep before 2am I will share them with you.

I am terrified of forgetting the sound of my parents' voices. Their smell is already fading from my memory in that I cannot close my eyes and just breath in, smelling them as though they were near; I need a physical reminder, like the Vicks Vapo-Rub Mom would put under her nose before bed to counteract the effects of 40 years of cigarettes or one of Seth's undershirts after a long day of work - the scent of man and labor. There are others: Clinique Happy, Mom's favorite perfume, or menthol cigarettes; black coffee for Dad. Yet memory without prompt is difficult. I concentrate so hard to remember the faintest whiff of something but am unsure if the scent that comes through is real or just a fabrication sunconsciously created to avoid falling into panic. I wonder if that's just how the olfactory sense is or have I failed somehow?

I won't allow their voices to fade away. Yelling, laughing, even heartbreaking sadness released as a whisper - I give myself time, if not every day, then every other to close my eyes and focus on those sounds.

On a different note: I have been waking up with the distinct feeling that I am lying in my parents' bed. This only happens when I move to the right side after Seth goes to work and exists briefly in those moments between sleep and waking. Maybe it's the firmness of our bed that mimics the rock my parents slept on or the whiteness of the walls, looking just as unfinished as the plaster in their room. Maybe the nightstand so close to my head replete with a small lamp, watch and digital alarm clock, numbers glowing red through the night. My mother set the alarm for every day my father worked, even after they slept in separate rooms on account of their snoring. He'd ask her each night if she had done so and sometimes would sit on the bed and watch as she did. There was no hint of condescension or dominance in this action; my father's eyes spoke gratefulness and thanks as he watched her perform that simple display of affection.

Whatever it is, I believe I will open my eyes and be in that bedroom again with cool cotton sheets pressed against my cheek. And sometimes, in the far back of my mind, I can even smell it. I can't focus on the scent or it will disappear, but it's there, latent and fulfilling. Maybe I haven't failed, after all.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Shout-out from K-Dub!

I have several thoughtful and perhaps thought-provoking posts I am working on, but it seems every time I try to think of two thoughtful sentences in a row my brain crashes. Instead of leaving you weeping in your beds, missing my pointless rambling and desperately wondering when my next post will be (all five of you who read this) I decided to give a quick update on life here in the K-Dub. Happily, this includes photos.

Views of the Persian/ Arabian Gulf are beautiful, if monotonous. I like to gaze upon it and think, "I could go in that direction and completely lose personal rights; maybe skirt across the Gulf that way and find myself in an un-winnable war; or just go northeast and personally witness a growing revolution. Madness!"

Some days I just know I won't be running or going outside. Seth calls this "dusty."

Or a sandstorm blows in and if you happen to go outside sand will instantly coat your nostrils and mouth. They can last several days.

But rest assured that if your need for some new ink is insatiable, tattoo artists make housecalls.

When I buy my chickens I normally request that they be chopped into quarters or smaller, easy-to-eat sections so that I don't have to bother with it once I get home. A couple a days ago my guy also included the feet. I have seen Tony Bourdain eat chicken feet while visiting South Korea, but as Seth had no inclination to experiment I decided against the trouble of figuring out how to de-bone those suckers. On a different, yet similar, note: in that same episode I also saw Bourdain eat chicken anuses, but I think I would just feel inappropriate, like I owed the chicken dinner or something.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I've Been Missin' You

Since people often want to know what I miss when I am away from home (I assume they mean the States) I figured a handy blog would best explain my nostalgia. Considering I had a dream last night in which I thought of writing a blog like this before I realized I was no longer in Kuwait but actually back in the US I'd say the timing is spot on.
To be clear: I don't consider "fr
iends and family" as a valid answer for "what do you miss?" because those, to me, are a given. If I could take my closest friends, and perhaps a few family members, and bring them all together here (by here meaning "not Kuwait") I totally would. However, my nostalgia operates somehow along the guidelines of reality, so here it goes:

1. Wine - Not even beer or liquor, but just the ability to go down to the store, pick up a bottle and enjoy a glass or two at night - or 10am; whatever, I don't work - and perhaps find myself surprised at the little gem I discovered for only $5, rather than going to the store for sparkling grape juice, yeast and sugar and a week later expressing surprise at the malodorous vinegar I just c

2. American Washers - And dryers, just to be even. I don't know what miniature race washers here were invented for, but I would like something with the capacity to handle cloth
ing of an average-sized human adult. Think I am exaggerating? The first picture is an example of a typical outfit for the Sergeant: jeans, t-shirt, underwear, undershirt, socks. Please note the items crammed into the washer with space remaining for perhaps another t-shirt.

Plus the fact tha
t the setting for "cotton" takes 2 hours to complete. Seriously:

I either wash everything on "delicate' (53 minutes) or handwash. I saw these same miniscule machines in England; what the hell, people?

Lettuce - You may know I love salads, not because I am forever watching my weight (though I do) but because I love the myriad flavor combinations possible with them. I am under no delusions that lettuce topped with fried chicken breast, corn, beans, cheese, tortilla strips and ranch dressing is healthy - shit just tastes real good. However, iceberg lettuce costs about $6/ head, so I don't venture down that path ofextravagance. White cabbage is also expensive (!) topping out at around $8/ kilo. Pita bread, on the other hand, costs about 20 cents for a package of 6.

Recycling - I would say I have been "environmentally aware" since I was 8 or so - around the time I received my first issue of Ranger Rick. While I am currently nowhere near as involved as I once was, I like to at least recycle because to me it is an extremely visual way to reduce impact. Yet there is no recycling here. I drink 3 liters of bottled water a day (because it's better to drink than the desalinated water from the tap.) What am I supposed to do with all those? How do I reuse that many bottles each week!?

On the plus side, I do enjoy being able to simply switch my electrical outlets "on" or "off". If this was widely available in the States we wouldn't have to worry about all that unplugging nonsense: just turn off the outlet.


PS - I apologize for the wonky font settings. Apparently Blogger.com continues to befuddle me!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Can Money Buy Happiness?

Currently I find myself in a bit of a quandary. Yesterday I was offered a part-time job teaching English at a language institute. The pay is 6KD/ hour (roughly $21) for a minimum of 3 hours/ day, 3 days/ week, but possibly more. I would interact with Kuwaitis on a more personal level and become acquainted with the country apart from the depressed grumblings of many of the American contractors here, plus would have something a bit substantial to put on my resume. The downside? Roundtrip taxi fare to the institute is 6KD, so there goes one hour of pay already, making my monthly pull only about $1000 - not amazing, though much more than the $0 I currently bring in. Also the hours during summer would be during the day but after summer would switch to evenings - heavily cutting into the little time Seth and I have together.

Another problem? Seth informed 3 days ago that there is potentially a job for me (finally) at his company. Having heard this for the past 5 months I did not get too excited, but was reminded that if I take a job there I would make much more money; have free access to gyms and libraries; cheaper access to Arabic classes; and our schedules would better match. Of course, it would also include having to deal with those same grumbling contractors on a daily basis, but whatever.

The actual quandary? If I take a job with the langua
ge institute they will take care of my work visa and provide me the necessary training. What if I actually get some job at Seth's company in the following weeks? Is it difficult to switch from one work visa to another? Will only my guilt keep me down? Maybe I could work during the summer but then quit when fall comes. I wonder what they would dock from my pay - shit, I need to find out what their employment contract looks like.

Honestly, I would like to start working again but I think the fact I haven't had a paying job since last July has left me frightened of revisiting the responsibility. And, of course, the fact I don't enjoy tea
ching English.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hello, I'd like to apply for the position of "idiot" - thank you.

I'm just going to come out and say it: my interviewing skills are awesome. If I have a chance at an interview, I will get the job. This is not conceit on my part, just confidence in my abilities, which include talking about myself.

I may have to adjust that opinion, though.

Yesterday I received a call from one of the schools I had given my CV - the India International School of Kuwait - requesting an interview. Of course, I said; awesome, I thought. I head down there today, dressed in my special occasion Ugandan dress and with game face. At reception I am given a simple form to fill out and am instructed to write an essay, 150 words or less, on the role of a teacher in a child's life.


Luckily, I had recently watched a Star Trek episode with relevant quotes from Spock, so I wrote about giving knowledge with discipline, along with the typical mentoring ideas and encouraging a child's mind to grow.

I was grasping.

I was also one of four others being interviewed (that day) and, while not trying to make assumptions based upon racial profiling, but I am pretty sure I was the only non-Indian there. No matter.

After waiting for an hour in the un-air-conditioned school building (I didn't cross my legs because of the sweat that would build up between them; attractive) where I was the sole target of the flies buzzing around, I was brought into a room before a panel of 5 administrators or teachers or something. No worries: I have interviewed with panels before and they only allow me to talk about myself even more. Except today I sat down and my brain went on a smoke break. And all 5 began speaking at once.

"Tell us about yourself."
"Why are you here?"
"You only have a visitor's visa; it's very difficult to get a job with that."

Me - "Oh no! I just have to leave the country and come back to get a work visa.
Or that's what I've been told."

"Where are your strengths?"
"What subjects would you like to teach?"
"You studied what, American history?"

I began my elevator speech, warming up a little to segue into reasons for being here, but they were having none of that. "No, German and African. I would like to teach either English or math. I arrived three weeks ag-"

"You can teach maths?"
"Pick any subject, then go to that blackboard and explain it to us."

Quick thinking, quick thinking. I actually hate teaching English - a positive attribute for someone who might be getting a job doing just that - and had no idea what to do for history, so math it was. "Uhh, ok. I, um, I'll choose basic algebra, because I find it easy to explain."

So I did a simple substitution problem: x +5 = 13. It is easy, so explaining it wouldn't take long anyway, but as I was finished in less than 40 seconds, I figure I was probably talking faster than a category 5 hurricane.

And then more questions:
"What is the purpose of algebra?"
"What are the different types of math?"
"How does algebra help with geometry?"

Me - "What is the purpose of algebra? Ahhh, that takes me back. Well . . . as you go to higher maths, such as geometry and calculus, all the formulas in those are based on algebra equations." (The intelligent response would be: Algebra is the foundation of all higher maths; algebraic equations.)

"Have you ever been to India? What do you know about India?"

For some reason all I could of were the tensions between India and Pakistan, so I repeated to myself, Don't mention Pakistan, don't mention Pakistan. "Uh, no. I, um, know you just had elections . . . India is a very popula . . ."

"What area would you visit?"

"Mmm . . . Mumbai? I have a friend who went and she spoke very highly of it."

"All right, if you are selected for the next round of interviews we will call."

As I stumbled into the hallway my brain decided to return and gave me this bashing:

Why did you spend so much time talking about history and then go explain math? Why not focus more on your math skills? You know more about India than that: what about India's role in East Africa? Punjab massacre, colonization, and on and on. Nice job on the role of algebra. "Hello, I want to teach this subject but I'm not really sure of its purpose." Dummy.

I think that job is a "no". Oh well, I still know how to balance my checkbook.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Back to the Daily Grind - and Chickens

Which entails a good deal of cleaning and dinner preparation, maybe a few hours on the internet reading the news or trying to figure out how expats get jobs. I think I have one teaching English, at least part-time, so that's a start - except the hours are in the evening, after the (adult) students leave work. The problem? The only time Seth and I have together are 30 minutes in the morning; a few hours at night; and his one day off each week. Taking a job where the full-time hours are 3:30-9pm would severely limit our time together and as one of the motivating factors for moving here was actually being able to touch one another, that could be a problem. Again, though, I'm at just starting part-time (though I don't know exactly when I start) so we'll see how it goes.

My first few days here I didn't venture into the meat market simply because I didn't know the fair price for a chicken (and because Seth doesn't like mutton, the other protein widely available), but once I found out I was all over it. I normally go to the same stall because the birds there are a decent size and the vendors are nice enough. You can also buy fresh eggs. How awesome is that? Many expats - especially Americans - don't buy food from the meat or fish market because they assume its unsanitary (what with everything in the open and all), but the markets are all halal and inspectors come around regularly to make sure the area is clean and up to par; plus, the building is air conditioned, so its not as though butchered meat is just hanging around in 115F heat. I think Westerners are put off by actually seeing a live animal, then having a chicken carcass handed to them a few minutes later. Buying disembodied chicken breasts adds a significant amount of space between you and the animal you are eating while also removing much of the work involved in cleaning the damn thing, but obviously detracts from the freshness of the meat.

Come on, though: a 2kg chicken and 30 eggs for a little over 2KD - that's less than $8! Why would anyone pass that up?

Plus this time the butcher included all the innards, including that deceptively delicious little nugget known as the gizzard which, thanks to Robert, aka The Goat Guy, aka The Chicken Guy, I know how to clean properly.
So as long as I remember that those eggs probably aren't pasteurized then it's all good, right? Yum.