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May 12, 2019 - Daily Life, Peace Corps    No Comments

Poverty by Choice

When I worked my last shift at the hospital on June 2, 2018, I didn’t have a sudden feeling of insecurity when I pulled out of the parking lot around 7:30 because I was suddenly unemployed. Even though I knew I was choosing poverty, it didn’t hit me then. That came about a month later when my first disbursement was paid to me… in cash. 47,000 Rwandan Francs (about $50) which was to be enough for two weeks of living with my host family in Rwamagana.

Rwamagana market
A lot of that 47000 RWF was spent at the Rwamagana market on lunch and supplementing breakfast and dinner.

As I pulled out of the parking lot for the last time I mentally calculated how long this last American paycheck would last in Rwanda. Having this money in the bank allowed me mentally prepare myself for the poverty to come It was measured in months, not days like in the USA. The cost of living is significantly less and my expenses are less too, but my income is much, much less as well. My monthly living allowance in Rwanda was nearly equivalent to ONE 8 hour shift at the hospital–without any shift differentials. I knew that by choosing to join the Peace Corps’, I’d be choosing poverty.

Much like in the US, I spend a lot of my Rwandan income on food. But instead of going to restaurants, I’m going to the markets. I’m what I call a ‘Village Vegetarian.’ Meat products are too expensive and too raw to consume. I occasionally buy UHT shelf-stable milk in 500ml bags, but other than that, no dairy. Eggs are pricey (proportionally) 100RWF each, and I walk a lot to avoid paying 500RWF (or more!) for short moto rides. These little relatively small amounts are what we call being ‘nickel and dimed to death’. On their own, it won’t break me, but added up, over time, my monthly Peace Corps income diminishes rapidly.

Market finds… You can’t always get what you want

Just like being in the US, you learn to cut corners.  What is necessary vs what will be nice to have. A nice push broom with a long handle vs a standard Rwandan sweep broom. For example, imagine something breaks. Let’s say a handle on a bucket. Some big and some small.  Back home I would have just gone out and bought one the next day.  But here, it’s not so simple.  If I buy a bucket then I have to cut out something different, likely a more luxurious food item like potato chips or apples. When a hole developed in my favorite skirt because the laundry detergent is really that strong, I had to do without.. Because having one made would cost about 20,000 RWF, and 20,000 RWF is equivalent to my food budget for the week.

This may sound alarming to you, and sometimes it is to me too. Rwanda is in transition from a third world (or subsistence) country to a second-world (or middle-income) country. Village life is still quite cheap. If I never took a moto, walked everywhere I needed to go, only bought the ten items sold in our local market, I could live like a king, but alas, escaping the prying eyes of village life is as much of a necessity to me as apples. Thus, I escape to Huye every chance I get.

And while Huye is not Kigali, it is not cheap. Food costs more. Motos cost more. There’s a swimming pool (two actually), and hotels with decent (read fast) wi-fi that one can hook up to and surf the net to one’s heart’s content as long as you buy Something. And for me that’s usually a Fanta Citron.

A fancy coffee milkshake… while tasty, quite expensive on a Peace Corps’ budget

It is easy for it to be about me every day.  Worrying about what I can and can’t buy.  Worrying if I am eating healthy enough.  It has no importance when I compare myself to my community members.  Because this is a choice for me.  (And I also get care packages containing vital amounts of protein in the forms of American peanut butter and tuna fish). When I took the oath to be a Peace Corps volunteer, I knew that for the duration of my service that I would select to live below a means that I have been accustomed to my entire life.  And that when that time is over, I will walk out of poverty and back into (relative) luxury–real luxury compared to my Rwandan neighbors and co-workers. I won’t have to work hard for that to happen.  I have a furnished house and driveable car waiting for me upon my return. I’m almost certain I can return to the same job I had before I left as soon as I set foot on American soil. I will go back to working in the hospital for 30-40 hours a week and in that amount of time make more than my Rwandan neighbors make in a year. I will still have more than 100 hours of ‘leisure’ time each week. Time where I will not have to do back breaking manual labor such as washing clothes by hand or dig in the the hard Rwanda red clay with hand tools. If I do laundry, it will be in a machine with the accompanying dryer, and if I work in the garden, it will be a choice–a stress reliever–not as a means of survival. I won the citizenship lottery just because I was born where I was born. My neighbors here couldn’t even comprehend the level of freedom I have.

Laundry done by hand

We don’t realize in America that being the 99% (as in the not exorbitantly wealthy 1% of Americans) still puts us in the 1% in comparison to the rest of the world.  We don’t see how a lower-middle class lifestyle is so excessively over the top when you look at how billions of other people are living.  And it is hard for me to wrap my brain around even after living in the midst of the 99% here in my village.  Even with my little Peace Corps living allowance I am in the top 10% in my community.  What I have in my American savings accounts is more than what most people in my village will make in a decade or two.  To them, wealth is having a concrete floor or land for a cow (and a cow).  To us, it’s having 3+ bedrooms and a corresponding number of bathrooms. Wealth is marble or granite countertops and a 2+ car garage. It’s fancy electronics and that extends into the bedroom with the advent of adjustable base beds. Here, even having a mattress signifies wealth, and even though RwandaFoam is a company that boasts of its quality mattresses the fact is it’s still foam flattens out in about six months.  Here, I am wealthy because I can afford a 47,000RWF mattress just for me. I am wealthy because I alone live in a two room house.

chose to join the Peace Corps and move to rural Rwanda, and according to the numerical standards used in the US, live below the poverty line.  Poverty is a choice for me.  I used to feel ambivalent about my ‘friends’ protests and rage about being the 99% in America.   Now I am pissed off by it.  It exposes our lack of exposure to the rest of the world and the conditions they live in.  The real 99%.

What does this mean for you? I don’t know.  I’m not saying everyone should choose poverty. I am not that you should feel guilty or motivated to take drastic action. I am sharing how amazing I think it is that I choose when to be poor and when to stop being poor—relevant to the rest of the world.  What does this mean for me?  It means I won’t ever take my choice for granted.  It means that I won’t waste it.  It means that I will work hard.   Because to me, that is the respectful thing to do after I hop on a plane in a year and thrust myself out of poverty. 

The land of a 1000 hills

Things I Won’t Miss About the Village: Lack of Anonymity

I have lived most of my life in South Carolina [other states include North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee] — a state with roughly 5 million people in it, and just prior to departure, I moved back to the area I grew up in.  The town I currently reside in has approximately 800 people in it, and yet I still have my anonymity.

I blend in mostly due to my race [it’s all either black or white] or my speech [I do have quite the southern accent when I let my guard down]. I’ve been putting purple streaks in my hair for a few years, but it’s so subtle that no one hardly notices until I am in the sun or under a light.  I enjoy my peace and quiet–I have three sets of neighbors within a mile radius and a hay field across the street.  It’s a quiet, somewhat predictable life.

Living in a small town creates lots of privacy, but little anonymity. If you’re not careful, everyone will know your business.  You can’t cry in public or curse at anyone because chances are, you’ll see these people again. Even if you don’t want to.

There’s no clubs for dancing or bars for drinking in my little town, and only two of what we call restaurants. Being seen at one of these becomes fodder for gossip especially if anything untoward happens.

Despite all that, I blended in. Mostly.

I’ve spent the past year living in a village even smaller than my town, speaking a language that I’ll never speak again once I leave the country.  Despite knowing about small town life, it this village, I am the other.  I’m different because of my skin tone, much, much lighter than anyone else’s. I’m different because of my accent–my tendency to speak Spanish not French when I can’t think of a word in Kinyarwanda. I’m different because I’m well traveled–partly due to my American passport.  I’m different because I’m unmarried and childless at an age where most of my village peers are both married and are mothers.   I’m different because I have no real desire ever have kids. I’m different because I have short, soft hair in a shade other than black.

Even among my fellow Peace Corps volunteers, I’m different because I’m a little bit older than most, but not yet at that “I’m retired; I think I’ll go join the Peace Corps stage.”  I’m at an age where friends are having babies left and right. Some are getting divorced and some are getting married. Again.

Any of these would have set me apart. In combination, they ensured I would never be completely able to blend in… never enjoy the anonymity I love. It’s not the first time I’ve been a visible minority, but it was the first time I’d been one for such an extended period [and it gave me newfound respect for people who are “The Other” for their entire lives].

Even before I landed in Rwanda, I suspected that would have to change something, but I don’t think I fully anticipated the degree to which it would. I went from a mostly anonymous local to instant celebrity in a matter of days. It was strange, and I hated it. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to blend in with the crowd, and here I was–on display for everyone to see.  I felt eyes on me all of the time, had to carefully consider every word that dropped from my mouth lest it be heard and reported.

I learned that in Rwanda people will frankly comment on your physical appearance as a matter of course, and for me, that was a constant reminder of my paleness, my size, the strangeness of my straight, short [mostly] brown hair, my lack of makeup, my choice of dress.

To integrate into my community, I had to hide certain parts of myself, especially at first. I had to hide the me that sometimes liked to dye my hair strange colors; and the me that could be a bit brazen. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was always myself, just a different version of myself from before. In my village, I will always be Misha.  Misha never wore anything cut higher than her knees, and most often wore pants… which was chalked up to being American. Every woman wears skirts in the village.  Misha never, not once, drank alcohol, despite being pressed… despite the fact the previous volunteer did often.  Misha always waved, smiled, and greeted appropriately according to the time of day.  Misha never flirted with men. Rejected those who flirted with her, never cursed, and never went out after dark.  

I might be making this sound like playacting, and it was and it wasn’t. We all play roles over the course of our lives. Mine was true to myself and consciously chosen, as I realized that one of the deepest impacts I could potentially make in my community was to be a role model to young people who in some cases needed one desperately. At times it felt exhausting and overwhelming, a weight of watchfulness and potential gossip I shouldered daily.

I am back in the USA for now, most likely for good.  I am back to blending in when I want to , and being notice when I want as well.  It’s one of the odd parts of service that people do not talk about too much–the readjustment period, and to be honest, it hasn’t been that difficult.  I have adjusted quite nicely to flushing toilets, comfortable beds, running, potable water, driving myself around to wherever I need to be.  I’ve adjusted well to having indoor kitty cats again.  I’ve adjusted well to not haggling over every little thing I want to buy.  The grocery store is still a bit intimidating, but in all fairness, it was intimidating before I moved to rural Rwanda.

Even though I walk these streets weekly, there’s still no anonymity when I come to Butare.
Aug 5, 2018 - Daily Life, Peace Corps    1 Comment

Splish splash… I was takin’ a [bucket] bath

Splish, splash, I was takin’ a [bucket] bath
Long about a Saturday night, yeah
A rub dub, just relaxin’ in the tub
Thinkin’ everythin’ was alright
Well, I stepped out the tub
I put my feet on the floor
I wrapped the towel around me and I
Opened the door……………………………
Bobby Darrin
It has been 53 days since I have felt hot water on my naked skin. It will be another two weeks until I’m back in Kigali at the nunnery with the hot water. In these 53 days, I have taken approximately 30 bucket baths of cold water.  I do not enjoy this, but as my host family does not have running water,  asking them to light a fire and boil some water seems a bit too presumptuous, cold water is my only option [Edit: during the  last week at my host family, I found out that they have an electric kettle that they had been keeping from me. It did not endear them to me.  Yes, I asked before hand. No they didn’t just get it.  I only found about about it by waking up earlier than expected. To say I was pissed would be an oversimplification of fact. Also this post is edited now that I am at my house I do things just a little differently than before]  So how exactly does one bathe in a bucket?

Tools Needed:

  • 1 Bucket
  • 1 cup [anywhere from 8-16oz will do], or empty plastic bottle
  • Soap of choice
  • Shampoo of choice
  • Flip-Flops
  • Non-electrical lighting [not necessarily needed if you are bathing in the middle of the day]
  • Towel and washcloth


Taking a long, hot shower [or even a short hot shower] along with relaxing in a hot tub are two of life’s greatest luxuries, in my humble opinion.  As neither are available to me at the present time, I can only dream… dream that one day my back will get clean, the hot water will pulsate and rumble all around me working out any muscular kinks. [To be fair, the hot tub didn’t happen all that often back in America, but it was the fact that it COULD.  In Rwanda, that is but a dream.]

There are currently no such luxuries in  my life. In Rwanda, my life revolves around a bucket. Or more accurately, buckets, but that’s another story for another day, and to say that I am not a morning person would also be a gross understatement of fact. SO. More times than not I do not bathe in the morning, I use those extra few minutes for another cat nap, and everyone’s is a little happier.

I roll out of bed around 6:45am. The roosters have been cockle-doodle-doing since about 4:30a and the cows are moo-ing about who knows what and despite the fact that I sleep with my windows open, and do in fact hear the world coming to life starting about 5a, I roll over, pull the blanket over my eyes, turn the music up just a little bit louder, and drift in and out of consciousness for the next two or so hours.  6:45 is the absolute latest I can arouse myself, find clean[ish] clothes, make my hair look like I, in fact, did not stick my finger in an electric socket, drink 500ml of water and eat a piece of fruit and call it breakfast, brush my teeth, take my vitamins, and get to the health center by 7:00a.  Most of the time, I am the only one present at 7a, but they say work starts at 7 and like the punctual American I am, I’m there at 7 [or at least by 7:15].  Also, notice there’s no time to be messing around with buckets at this time of day, but what I do, is pour water from my jerry-can into my bathing bucket until it is about 1/3-1/2 of the way full, probably using  about 7-10 L of water. I then set this bucket outside in the sun, and let that amazing star perform it’s magic.

It’s rarely what I call hot these days, [and though sometimes I do sweat while going on long walks, it’s usually confined to the back of my head… dry shampoo is a wonderful thing] so cold, straight from the tap water is a no-go; if it’s a choice between cold water on a cool day or being dirty, being dirty may just win out. My day usually ends around 2p so I walk the 50 or so steps from the health center to my house, make lunch/dinner, and if it’s been a sunny day, whooooo-weee…. my bucket now contains lukewarm water, which is more than adequate for me to do the deed. [It’s amazing what we can become accustomed to/ becomes normal]

Step-by-step for bucket bathing

I have tried to make my shower room ‘rural Rwanda luxurious’.   Bucket bathing still sucks but at least with all my tools in the designated spot, and not having to schlep them around from here to there, makes it not suck as much.

 

Step 1:  Get nekkid… except for flip-flops.  No amount of cleaning will make that floor clean.  Wear the flip-flops.

Step 2:  Hang clothes on the nails loving pounded into the concrete

Step 3:  Fill my cup with water.

Step 4:  Take washcloth, wet, take soap and wash face. Use the water in the cup to rinse soapy face. 20% done. [Every.Single.Time I am amazed by the amount of dirt I see in the cup.]

Step 5:  Fill cup again and pour over head.  This part is so much nicer with lukewarm water.

Step 6: Shampoo. Lather. Rinse. Rinse again. 40% done.

Step 7: Using a washcloth [or loofah scrubby thing], soap it up and begin scrubbing.  I usually start at the top and work my way down… over the hills and valleys and peaks and crevices, if you know what I mean. 60% done.

Step 8:  Rinse.  It’s actually not too bad with warm water. I still miss a faucet and actual hot water, but this will suffice. 80% done.

Step 9:  Wash feet. It’s  amazing how much dirt they can attract… even while wearing socks and shoes.

Step 10:  Rinse feet and marvel at the amount of dirt/dry skin you’ve removed. 100% done

Addendum:  Dry self and put on clothes… Bonus points for remembering to bring clean ones.

This process usually takes approximately seven to ten minutes.  If it is a nice sunny day, there is nothing more enjoyable [in Rwanda anyway] than sitting outside, freshly bathed in the sun reading a book while letting the sun dry your hair.  It’s one of the few times I can enjoy bathing, because in rural Rwanda, bathing is no longer fun; it’s just another chore to be done.

Postscript:  I have one of those Amope foot things…It is essentially a battery operated sander for feet.  I use it once a week on clean feet, then slather clean, scrubbed feet in Vaseline. Finally, I put on socks and go to bed.  It’s amazing how much nicer my feet are since I started doing this.

 

 

 

Jun 17, 2018 - Daily Life, Peace Corps    1 Comment

Being Lost

I’ve been trying to finish this post for a few months now. I don’t think I’ve ever struggled so much trying to put in my words how I feel about fear. But I’m going to try, let’s do this…

Does anyone else have an annoying voice in the back of their head that only appears when it wants to cause you doubt, discomfort, or most importantly, fear? Nope, just me then?Fabulous. Hearing voices [just one voice ya’ll, I promise] at an age where things shouldn’t bother me,  and publicly admitting it?

Even better.

You want to climb Mt. Kilaminjaro?

Voice in my head – you definitely can’t. You’re not strong enough and you’ll probably fall off it.

Want to go to the Middle East or visit Stan?

Voice in my head – who do you think you are? You’ll probably be murdered.

Think you’ll be a good Peace Corps Volunteer?

Voice in my head- You’ll be the first to leave

Dream of becoming a nurse practitioner?

Voice in my headyou’re a horrible nurse.  Why do you think someone would choose you to be their healthcare person? Why bother trying? GAH.

Thanks so much, voice in my head. I really appreciate the support.


I don’t really know how this happened, but somehow over the past few years, fear and doubt have crept into my life in a way that I have never experienced before. And you know what? It absolutely sucks.

I used to jump into everything life offered me with complete abandon. Now? not so much.

I’ve hiked trails that are 6 inches wide, climbed really sketchy mountain, and traveled even when I had literally no money to my name, knowing deep down that things always sorted themselves out in the end.And for the most part, they did.  And while I had plenty of terrible travel screw-ups over the years, things always worked out. I have always believed that fate smiles on those who take chances.

But what happens when you start to worry more and take less chances?

Oh crap.

But somewhere down the line, I started to become more afraid of things that never scared me before. Whether it was something physical that I now considered dangerous or going after a dream that seemed too impossible, fear has set up its own little pup tent in the back of my head and made itself at home.

 

Age, I imagine, is a key factor. Isn’t that what people are always saying? You grow more cautious as you grow older? Well, I reckon the journey to becoming fearful doesn’t matter as much as what the hell am I supposed to do now?

Seriously, WHAT?

Do I just warmly embrace my newly found caution and fear, or try and get over it? Or attempt to strike a healthy balance between the two. I like to think I’ve always been a curious person. I always want to see what’s around the corner, want to know why things are the way they are, and am eager to try new things. For the most part.

However, fear has decided to join the party and often now gets in the way of my bigger curiosities. I want to see what’s at the top of that mountain but I’m afraid I can’t get there so I don’t try. Or sometimes I’ll compromise and climb a smaller mountain.

Confession – I’ve become a bit of a wuss. I’m afraid every time I try something new. I find that I really have to force myself now to try new things.

Oh how many times have I beat myself up for not fitting in. For being off beat and goofy. I’ve known that I was a little bit different from an early age. I’ve always skirted the norms of polite society and cultural standards.  It’s even harder adapting to a culture that is not your own.

As I sitting here, reflecting on fear and how it plays a part in life, thoughts such as I’m not smart enough, brave enough, talented enough, experienced enough, skinny enough, young enough, ect. Enough is enough.

What I am is a creative, passionate, loyal, loving, empathetic person. A person intrigued by life, fascinated by philosophies, and curious enough about the world to go explore it. I am so much more than the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, and the size of my ass.

Fear is complicated. Obviously. And even more so when it brings along its friend self-doubt.

Fear will always be there. A healthy amount of fear keeps up from petting the black mamba. It’s not a question of becoming fearless but learning to accept that fear is there, it’s part of your life and it’s not going anywhere, but it should NEVER be in charge or have a say in making creative decisions.

It’s time to be brave, y’all.

At the same, I’d like to think that travel has helped me deal with fear. For example, there are some things that never occur to me could be scary that I do all the time because I’ve gotten so used to them traveling.

The obvious example to this is the fact that I travel the world alone. As a woman.

In fact, I think that’s something that truly surprises people and when I share that little tidbit to folks I meet on the road, I am often met with skepticism and the usual “wow aren’t you afraid?”

But I digress.


Every trip I took taught me something. Every screw up I have had has taught me a lesson. I suppose in a weird way it taught me confidence, not something I have in abundance, that’s for sure. But I am confident with my ability to travel.

I learned to deal with travel fears early on, and now I need to learn to deal with my other fears, mainly the fear that I am not physically capable of doing something I want, like a hard hike or rafting the Nile. But also how to deal with my fear that I won’t be able to go after my big creative dreams.

I think people who travel are inherently brave at heart. You pretty much have to be to step out into the unknown, right?

And if I were truly a wuss, would I have joined the Peace Corps?  Would I have gotten on the plane to Kigali? Would I have left behind everything I know for an extended period of time.  Probably not.

So perhaps, I’m just being hard on myself.

Feb 28, 2016 - Daily Life    No Comments

30ish things I still need to learn to do

Last week, I wrote about things traveling has taught me.  Today, it’s about things I still don’t know how to do despite my 30+ years on the planet.  When did being an adult get so complicated?

  1. How to dance.–Even though my best friend is a dance teacher.
  2. How to cook anything that isn’t tacos.–I mean I can follow a recipe but those people who can whip up amazing dishes with random ingredients in their pantry a la Chopped!–those people have real talent.
  3. How to flirt.  It is shameful the things I don’t know about flirting.
  4. How to say no to something I really don’t want to do.  I have been on a few dates with people only because I couldn’t say NO without making up something or coming across like a bitch.  I have also done things I  wasn’t overly thrilled about doing just because I couldn’t say no.  And I’ve worked way too many extra shifts and done way too many extra projects because I didn’t want to say no.
  5. How to wear make-up.  You’d think that every female alive would know how to apply make-up properly.  I am not even talking about special occasion make-up.  I don’t even know how to do much more than put on lotion.
  6. How to run. Properly. Seriously, who can’t run.  That would be me.  I have never managed to eek out more than 0.25 miles before collapsing in a heap of rubble thinking Who would do this on a regular basis?” And I have managed to trip over a root and break not one, but two bones while running.
  7. How not to take criticism personally.  I try.  I really do, but when someone say to me “That poem sucked.”  or “that photograph is pretty generic” or “this dish is rather bland” what I hear is “You suck. You are generic and bland.”  and then I think no one likes me.
  8. How to sew. Clothes.  Skin I can manage, and I did learn to darn socks when I was a child, but who does that anymore?
  9. How to air-kiss.  I mean what’s the point.  Kissing should involve lips and tongues and attractive men.  Otherwise, what’s the point…just shake hands.  Or hug.  I only wish people in France, Brazil, or basically anywhere not in the USA [or Japan] would come around to my way of thinking.
  10. How to change a diaper.  And I work with kids.  In a hospital.  Where diapers are being changed constantly.  Who knew people at home didn’t actually weigh the diapers to see how much pee it contained.  They just tossed them away.  So cavilier–these people we call parents.
  11. How to use a budget.  I can set one up just fine, and I always have a very good estimate of how much money is in any given account and/or how much I owe. I am just not every good at following a plan.
  12. How to drive a stick shift.  I am ashamed to admit it.  It has held me back in some of my travels.  I have only owned 3 cars in my lifetime and none of those have been stick shifts.
  13. How to manage time well. I often get distracted by things that are much more fun than the task I am currently doing.  Cleaning out the file cabinet–boring.  Reading all the stuff I found stuff in the file cabinet–much more interesting.  Let’s not even get started about all the things I find on the internet at 3am.
  14. How to have meaningful conversations.  I am sarcastic at times. Snarky even.  I make light of serious subjects.  Humour is a defense mechansim and I use it well.  Becuase when the time comes, how do you really bring up serious conversations.  And if you can manage to braoch the topic–how do you have a honest conversation about the serious parts of life.
  15. How to tell people what I want.  Whether in the more personal aspects of life or the more general.  How do you say no, I really don’t want to go to that party with you.  I’d really rather just stay home.

  • 16.  How to ask for help.  I grew up super independent.  No one ever had to check my homework, wake me up for school, or tell me it’s time for bed.  I probably went years without asking anyone for anything.  Now that I am an adult, there are situations that I am in where I really need help.  At work—you can’t save a dying person by yourself.  At home–Christopher and Lucy need someone to look after them when I travel.  In life–maybe just how to do all these things I don’t know how to do.
  • 17.  How to say I love you.  Especially when I really mean it.  I can tell the kitties I love them all day long, but people–especially the ones I am closest too–saying I love you usually causes me to break out into an episode that looks strangely like a heart attack on an EKG.  But to those people–and you know who you are–I love you.  I am glad you are in my life.  There I said it.  Just don’t think this will be a regularly occurring event.
  • 18.  How to tip people?  I mean why is this even necessary.  [and yes, I have worked in the service industry where most of  my income was from tips]  I am not going to tip someone for getting a bag out of the car for me.  Or turning down my sheets [not that this happens often as I don’t usually take taxis or stay in fancy hotels]  But why should I tip someone for doing their job.  No one tips me when I save their life or their child’s life and I’d argue that CPR is one damn important service.  I don’t even get a ‘great job on the rescue breathing’ or ‘those were some awesome chest compression you did’ so I don’t see the rationale behind giving a tip to the person who cuts my hair or cleans my hotel room.
  • 19.  How to break up with someone.  Hasn’t been much of an issue of late because generally the guys break up with me.  And while that sucks.  At least I am not the bad guy.
  • 20.  How to select produce or meat.  Grocery stores present a huge challenge for me.  I usually walk around looking lost.  And I don’t generally buy more than bananas.  It’s the only thing I know I can’t mess up.  Unless I select a plantain by accident.
  • 21.  How to match shoes and purses with my outfit.  Which is possibly the real reason I don’t carry a purse. Or have a wide variety of shoes to choose from.
  • 22.  How to really work my cell phone.  It’s a phone, people. And that is what I use it as.  Occasionally I use it to look up something on the internet or post something to Facebook, but that’s about it.  I don’t tweet, pin, or do much more from my phone other than talk and occasional text.  I know…I sound so OLD.  [I am getting better at this one though]
  • 23.  How to do cool things on the computer.  Ok, so I have a blog.  I am fairly good with a camera, but Photoshop–I have no clue.  Making cool videos–no idea.  I can crank out research papers with the best of them, but figuring out how to present them using SMART technology is beyond me.
  • 24.  How to work an ipod…or any MP3 player.  I am probably the last person in the USA who has never owned a MP3 player.  In fact, I have no apple products of any kind [see #22–what would I do with an iphone].
  • 25.  How to pack a real lunch.  I always end up packing too much or too little.  It’s never just right.  Especially since I work the night shift at a place that has no cafeteria service overnight, I have to bring everything that I might want. [Well, they do still have soup, applesauce, and milk]
  • 26.  How to walk in heels.  Especially the spiky ones.
  • 27.  How to network. I am horrible at this.  I hate talking about myself in general, and I especially hate promoting myself.  But I have taken small steps to work on this.  Baby steps are better than no steps
  • 28.  How to use a fire extinguisher.  Only because I have never had to.  I have to take the yearly competency exam at work.  I know what PASS stands for, but what if I can’t get the pin out?
  • 29.  How to kick someone’s ass when necessary Literally and figuratively–I struggle with this.
  • 30.  How to properly start a fire without matches –and I call myself an adventurer…[shakes head in shame]

Oh how I love cute little tiny kittens…when they are sleeping.

 

Feb 21, 2016 - Daily Life    No Comments

30ish things I have learned from travel

It’s birth-week. I am one of those people who prefer to celebrate the entire month, but especially the week of.   I am hitting the age where people are asking questions such as “Are you ever going to settle down and get married?” [Maybe] “Are you ever going to have kids?” [ NO] “Are you ever going to get a house of your own?” [hopefully sooner rather than later]. I am sure all of these questions are not intended to make me feel bad about my decisions to forgo a conventional life, but are just out of curiosity.   At least, that is how I choose interpret it.  So in honor of my 30-ish years on the planet, here are 30 ish things I have learned from traveling.

1. The world is big, and I will never see it all.

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Mountains, hiking, clouds, history, photography…these are just a few of the things I’ve encountered while exploring the world.

With each new country I visit, I become acutely aware of how many there are left for me to see. The world is a big, amazing place, and I will likely never run out of places that I want to explore.

2. Solo travel is not that scary

I am an introvert.  It takes me awhile to get to know people.  I don’t always talk to strangers. I don’t like to make plans. I used to think that solo travel wasn’t for me. I didn’t think I could enjoy it. I didn’t  think I could handle it, to be honest. But I underestimated myself. I am a different person when I travel.  Still somewhat quiet, but being alone makes it easier for other people to approach me.  And I DO talk to strangers, and I can make friends.  Now, it’s hard to imagine traveling any way other than on my own.

3.   It’s OK to not love a place

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New York City comes to mind.  Yes, it has everything.  Yes, it is the center of American culture.  Yes, it has amazing museums, history, architecture, Broadway, ect, ect.  It was interesting.  It was enlightening, but I didn’t love it. I think it was just too much.  Of everything.  I am glad I went.  And I don’t think I’ll ever go back on my own. And that’s OK.

4.   Technology has changed the way we travel

My first trip aboard was in 1997.  When I learned I was to be in England all summer, I went to the local [English] library, researched day trips, and weekend trips.  I went to the train station and got a copy of the timetables from Stafford.  I wrote letters and sent postcards and used the phone infrequently because international rates were so expensive.  I used a lot of film. Now, I can do most of my research from home on the internet.  I take photos on my digital camera and upload them to my website wherever I have a wireless connection.  I travel with a Kindle and a digital camera.  I use my Kindle to read tons of books, my cell phone to Skype people at home, and Facebook is an amazing way to keep in touch with new acquaintances and old friends.

5.  The world is not as scary as the media would lead you to believe

I no longer watch the news  on a regular  basis because if I did, I’d never leave my front yard, but if you’re like most people and get your opinion of the world from the news and movies, you probably view it as a dark, dangerous, and scary place. A place where terrorism is widespread, people kidnap tourists for ransom, and the likelihood of being robbed, maimed, or otherwise harmed is alarmingly high. The reality, of course, is that the world is not actually scary at all, so long as you keep your wits about you.  At least, no scarier than some places in the USA.

6.  A country’s history is not indicative of its present or future

If that were the case, I would have never visited Colombia.  Or Serbia. Or I may be planning a trip to Mexico.  Certain parts of the world have particularly dark pasts — war, genocide, communism, terrorism… But the truth is, NO country can boast a completely peaceful history. [Especially not USA] Instead of judging a place by its past [and perhaps avoiding it because of that past], it’s better to look at a country as it is right now.  Don’t write a destination off just because of something that happened there 10, 20, 50, or even 100 years ago. By the same token, don’t  automatically choose a destination you loved 10 or 20 years ago without taking into consideration today’s current events. People change.  So do countries. And governments. And policies. [Let’s just say I would be planning a trip to the US if I didn’t live here].

7. I am incredibly lucky to have the passport that I do.

Yes, it was a pain to get my Bolivian visa, and $135 to boot.  Yes, I had to make a trip to the Brazilian consulate in Atlanta to get my Brazilian visa [another $150], but there’s no doubt about it– my American passport is a very valuable thing. With it, I am able to travel virtually anywhere in the world.  Even though I have to have visas for some countries, I realize how lucky I am to have been born in the United States and have all the rights and freedoms associated with my citizenship.

8.  Being an American does not have to be a negative thing

I know some Americans who are ashamed of where they come from — especially when they travel. They say they are from Canada, or wherever.  I have done this once, but only after someone  assumed I was a Spaniard -I didn’t correct him.  Big assault rifles were involved.  People were ‘escorted’ off the bus.  They didn’t get back on.

This one is particularly difficult for me.  I have state pride.  I often readily admit I am from South Carolina, one of the United States, but when I just say USA, a lot of people say California? or New York?  When I say that I am closer to Cartagena than California, people don’t believe me…until I break out a map. But I am getting better.  Most people I’ve encountered around the world love Americans. They don’t necessarily love our government or world policies [and to be fair, I don’t necessarily love our government or world policies], but they love us and are open to learning more about us.

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South Carolina has beautiful mountains with many creeks and waterfalls in addition to a gorgeous coast on the Atlantic Ocean.

9.  You cannot judge a culture that you know nothing about

There is just enough true about stereotypes to make them true.  Having said that, I believe that having an open mind will help you realize that stereotypes never fully represent anyone. You cannot judge a culture if you do not understand it — and basing your understanding on a stereotype does not equal understanding. Before you pass judgment on traditions or beliefs, take some time to get to know the culture you are judging first.

10.  It’s OK to keep returning to a place you love

Even though the world is huge with endless places to discover, I’ve realized that some places will keep pulling you back.   I visit the SC coast at least once a year.  I will probably go back to Argentina and Colombia at some point in the future.  You will leave bits of your heart in different corners of the globe, and those places will call to you periodically. And this is OK. You don’t always have to  go somewhere new to be a “traveler.”

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I’ve been to London 5 times, and plan to return every single time I visit Europe. It is a magical city.

11.  Having an open mind will take you far

It’s OK to have a plan.  It’s better to scrap the plan if something better comes along.  Traveling with an open mind will allow you to have amazing, unforgettable experiences. Forget what you think you know, and life will be much more rewarding.

12.  We are not so different after all

At the end of the day, things like language, skin color, religion, and culture differentiate us much less than we think. No matter where you go in the world, people want the same things:  To be successful. To be happy.To care for their families.   Keep this in mind whenever you start thinking “us” and “them” thoughts. Because, at the end of the day, our dreams and goals are not that different.  Even if we have different definitions of successful and happy.

13.  People back home may never understand

You are the only one who can truly appreciate your travels. When you return home from a trip and have all these amazing memories and experiences buzzing around in your head, chances are your friends and family back home won’t be nearly as interested to hear about your adventures as you’d like them to be.  They won’t care you taught health classes in Spanish with the Caribbean looking over your shoulder.  They make look at the photos–once, but while you were off traversing the world, they were carrying on with their normal lives. [One friend had a baby.  Another got married. And those with kids already–well, those kids weren’t babies when I returned home.]   They may never understand, and I’ve learned that you just have to come to terms with this.

14.  Every destination has something to offer — you just have to find it

I didn’t love New York City.  Or Lima, Peru. Or Santiago, Chile, but I found something in each place that was cool.  In NYC, it was the zoo and Central Park.  In Lima, it was its proximity to the coast, and in Santiago, it was just hanging out in the main square people watching.  Maybe I’m just an overly positive person, but it’s my belief that every place — no matter where — has something interesting to discover about it. I try my best to discover these redeeming qualities about a place wherever I travel, and I think it helps me enjoy the whole travel process more.

15.  When the universe sends you signs, pay attention

Over the past few months, I feel like I’ve been getting a lot of signs from the Universe, pointing me down this path or that one.  And, finally, I’m starting to pay attention. Whether it’s related to travel or not, if Fate or God or the Universe or whatever is sending you signs, you’d better be listening.

16.  You and your excuses are the only things holding you back

People often tell me how they wish they could take a month off to go somewhere.  My answer:  Well go.  Their usual reply:    I can’t.  I’ve got ___________.  Maybe that’s true.  Maybe its just an excuse.  If you want to travel but currently aren’t  it’s probably because you are making excuses. YOU are the only thing truly holding yourself back. You can make time by prioritizing and planning ahead. You can save money by staying in hostels and using deal websites like skyscanner.com. You can manage the responsibility smartly. You can bring children with you. And you can overcome the fear.

17.  My own country is pretty special

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Acadia National Parke, Maine

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Zion National Park, Utah

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I love traveling abroad.  It has a certain amount of glamour associated with it, but over the few last years I have traveled to Washington, DC and New York City, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Seattle.  The entire USA has so much to see from the Grand Canyon to Florida Keys to Crater Lake to barrier islands. I could never leave the USA and still see something amazing on every trip I take.

18.  Being nervous is natural

Being nervous is natural when it comes to traveling. I’m not any braver than you are. There have been several times when I’ve seriously considered canceling a trip or an activity at the last minute because I was scared.  [OK, I actually did cancel a couple things]  Scared of the unknown because travel is full of unknowns. It’s pushing through this fear and nervousness that really make you brave.

19. You really can make lifelong friends while traveling

Yes, it’s true that traveling long-term often means having to say a lot of goodbyes. Frequently. But it also allows you to meet a ton of amazing people who love traveling just as much as you do. Occasionally, you’ll form bonds so strong that things like distance and time won’t matter. With technology today, maintaining international friendships is easy. And having friends all over the world is never a bad thing.

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We were neighbours in Peru; then I vistied her in San Francisco and Seattle.

20.  Getting lost can sometimes be a blessing in disguise

I get lost all the time–even in my own hometown.  Sometimes, though, losing the map and just allowing yourself to get lost can be a great thing. As long as you don’t find yourself lost in a bad neighborhood or otherwise dangerous situation, being lost can help you discover a place in a unique way that you just can’t do by following a map or a guidebook’s suggestions. You’ll stumble across tucked-away restaurants, funny street art, and scenes most people probably don’t see. You may even get to talk to some locals about non-travel stuff!

21.  Being able to read a map is crucial

Despite smartphones and Google Maps and all that, being able to read an old-fashioned paper map is still a great skill to have. Why?  What if you end up somewhere without internet access!  Or travel without a smartphone.  [I never take my smart phone out of the country]

22.  Hostels are a great invention

I love hostels.  I love that I can have a room without having to pay for the entire room.   As a solo traveler, I loathe paying for an entire hotel room that charges the same price for one as it does for two or four people. They are affordable, usually centrally located, and allow you to easily meet other travelers wherever you are. Sometimes they are really nice, too.

23.  A travel style can change

Just as there’s no one travel style that works for everyone, there may not even be one travel style that works for you all the time. As you grow and age and gain travel experience, your style may well change. And there’s nothing wrong with that. A backpacker can stay in a 4-star hotel, just as a comfort-seeking traveler can rough it in the bush.

24.  Don’t compare your travel style to anyone else’s

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that they know the “right” way to travel. There’s only the way that works for YOU. Whether you’re a budget backpacker or a luxury seeker, just travel the way that you want to and ignore everyone else. In the end, you will be a much happier traveler.

25.  No one cares about my eating/drinking habits

I’ve never been a very adventurous eater, and I don’t drink alcohol [anymore]. I always figured people would judge me for this. But I’ve learned over the past few years that trying weird new foods can be fun.  And I’ve learned that most people accept that.

26.   Travel gives you wisdom.  On so many levels.  Culturally, socially, historically.  I can’t think of an area where travel hasn’t helped me in some way.

27.  You will learn patience when you travel

You have to.  I am a fairly patient person to begin with, but traveling and especially taking public transportation in out of the way locations you have to be patient.

28.   Say ‘yes’ even when you want to say ‘no’

I have said ‘yes’ to lots of things while traveling that I wouldn’t have agreed to at home…  Saying ‘yes’ to a date with a matador.  ‘Yes, please’…Signing a lease on an apartment in a foreign country. ‘Yes’ twice–actually…Spending the night in a stranger’s house ‘Ummm, yes’ [not without hesitation]…Eating strange foods ‘yes…um ok’.  It is easy to say no, especially when you are out of your comfort zone.  Say yes.  As long as you don’t die, it will at minimum be a learning experience.

29.  People are generally good and it’s OK to talk to strangers

You don’t always have to be on the go in order to meet people.  I love nothing more to park myself on a bench/cafe/ect. and just people-watch.  Sometimes I even talk to them [gasp!]  If you’re like me, you probably grew up listening to the “don’t talk to strangers” mantra and watching videos in elementary school about ‘Stranger Danger’ . But perhaps we should rethink that golden rule. I am living proof that talking to locals and fellow travelers when you travel can only enhance the experience.

30.  We don’t need as much as we think we do

Packing seems to be a major headache for a lot of people.  I pack basically the same whether I am traveling for one week or six months.  You don’t need all that stuff you think you need, and technology comes in smaller and faster packages every day.

 

31.  It takes time to transition to new things

In my first weeks traveling in South America, I felt lonely and unsure of how I would continue to live this new life for so long. Then I transitioned to my new life and the new rhythm of it all and it was okay. I realized that I needed ‘transition’ time every time I changed cities and said goodbye to new friends or even hotel rooms.  I would get to my new destination and would feel a bit uncomfortable and a little bit lonely.  But I knew if I gave myself a day or two, those feelings would go away and I would have new reasons to enjoy where I was and often times, I found I liked it even better than the last place.  This is one of the reasons why SLOW travel is better than flying through an area just to say you’ve seen it.

32.  It’s OK to ask for help

Several times I have been forced to ask for help.  I hate it every. single. time.  I hate having to ask people to watch my cat or check the mail.  I hate having to ask for directions in a new place.  I hate having to ask where the nearest store is, but you know what?  Most people are happy to help.

33.  It’s not always about the money

Traveling is almost always more expensive than staying home, but there are ways to make it more affordable.  Once I showed up in a resort town on New Year’s Day night without a reservation or a place to stay.  I went to hotel after hotel.  It started to snow.  I was getting very depressed. And cold. And hungry.  I finally found a place that had one room left for 200 Euros.  I didn’t want to spend that much money, but I took it.  It was the best 200 euros I could have spent at that moment.  A hot shower and a warm bed did much more than take the chill off;  it rejuvenated my soul.  And I was much more able to enjoy the rest of my trip.

34.  Travel will change you in ways you can’t imagine

There are the things you can think of–such as making you a more educated world citizen, having stories to tell at any occasion, and realizing that people are people no matter where you are.  Sometimes, when the timing is right, when the events line up in just the right way, you can recognize the moment that the change happens. Sometimes it can be profound – you can find a life’s purpose.  For me, it was running my very own health clinic in Peru.  This one volunteer project has changed the course of my life.   Sometimes it’s small, like discovering you like gelato or pretzels or ceviche.  Sometimes, it is just remembering who you wanted to be instead of who you are today. These changes, big or small, alter us as individuals if we let them. And the really cool thing is that it can become contagious.

Wandering– without being lost– Laguna Miscanti, Atacama Desert, Chile 2010

Nov 30, 2014 - Daily Life    No Comments

Wearing red lipstick

Is there anything more classically feminine than wearing red lipstick?

I think not.  There are even articles written about why you should date women who wear red lipstick.

I do not own said product considering I look more like Bozo the Clown than Marilyn Monroe when I wear red lipstick.  However, I am not completely immune to its purposes…sexiness, feminine-ness, boldness…the list goes on.

I was taking care of a patient recently who while admitted for pneumonia, also had stage 4 breast cancer that had metastasized to the spinal cord.  The patient in question had had a previous bilateral mastectomy some few years ago so while that was not a current issue, it was a contributing factor to her condition and mental state…which is to say was not good.  And I know I can’t fix everybody.  Hell, I don’t think I can fix anybody, but I try–even if in most cases it’s to motivate you to move your ass (a nurturing, placating nurse I am not).

I do have a point, I promise.

Whenever I’m feeling out of sorts, I head to my local bookstore, and just start randomly reading any book that catches my eye. With that patient fresh in my mind, I recently read an excerpt from a book called something like “Why I wore lipstick to my mastectomy surgery.” If that one chapter was so incredibly profound, I can only imagine what the the rest of the book is like. I probably should have bought it, but truthfully, I was looking for something a little more ‘uplifting’ to take on my upcoming vacation.  I get it.  A woman was about to lose a part of herself that biologically makes here a ‘woman’… that society says ‘this is what a woman looks like.’ So she wears red lipstick to her surgery…Red lipstick–another of society’s ways of defining what is sexy…what is womanly. How she used that color to make herself more than another cancer patient having surgery. How she used it to leave her mark– more than just an exacted pound of flesh– on the operating table. And there is something empowering about red lipstick, isn’t there? A bold, fearless statement.

I am not a lipstick person.  Or if truth be told, not really a make-up person.  And though at times, usually when I’m having an ‘off’ few days, an image adjustment has been cathartic for my Self…if only in receiving comments from people ‘you look nice today’ or getting looks from attractive men that usually don’t noticed my dressed down self; recently it has been more than my Self that needed a lift…my spirit is probably more accurate.

 

Usually, I lift my sagging spirit by traveling or doing something different.  Or being creative.  But right now I am in a box.  School is limiting my free time and free funds.  My living space is tiny and doesn’t afford the opportunity to be overly creative. I am still learning how to be good a my job.  I am still learning how to adjust to the demands of my new life.  Sometimes I don’t think I’m doing any of it well.  Sometimes I feel like I am constantly being watched. Like a person in a box. Forced to walk a straight line… a path that holds no mystery. No character.  No soul.

And then I look back. On what I have accomplished. On where I’ve been.  On where I’ve come from. On the goals I still have for my life.  And then I say “Oh, yea there she is…that merry wanderluster…that nature girl…that person who has saved lives…that person who loves animals…that person who creates things.  There she is…

“And then I say–This is who I am.” And I felt the smug satisfaction of, so there.”

So… there.

Fitz Roy and lake

Fitz Roy and lake

Mar 14, 2010 - Daily Life    No Comments

My favorite mistake*

*My favorite mistake, a song by Sheryl Crowe–one of my all-time favorite songs*

A few weeks ago, I drove down to Wilmington to check out the city to see if it is somewhere I might like to live one day, while trying to decide if I should visit my favorite mistake who was in Myrtle Beach for a work conference.  There is just something about the coast in late fall when the beaches are deserted. Restaurants are closed. Prices are much cheaper.  It’s still warm enough that a walk on the beach seems like a good idea.  Until that breeze blows in off the ocean.  Then you know that it is definitely NOT SUMMER any more.

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It’s *a little* less crowded in November than say July.

I didn’t go back to South Carolina for Thanksgiving. I don’t really regret that decision, but it certainly did not make me the popular kid. Being the new kid in town means I work all the holidays people really want off work for. Being an only child means having no siblings to celebrate or commensurate with… also no siblings means there’s no one to give me nieces or nephews to play with.  With my father having recently departed this world, it would not have been the most joyous occasion anyway.

Anyway… and perhaps against my better judgement, I decided to soldier on to Myrtle Beach, where I did in fact meet my favorite mistake.  It’s been a hell of a three months. Loneliness + being overwhelmed both on a personal level and tragedy level, sometimes my head hurts from all the knowledge and skills being crammed in it on a seemingly daily basis.  Sometimes it’s nice to be with people who really know you, people willing to hold you when you need to be held, and kiss you when you need to be kissed.  I miss my life in South Carolina; I miss the people in that life.  I needed to leave, no doubt. I needed to not be around my family. I needed to not be around those two lying bastards I dated this year (one dated back to 2003). I needed to not be working at Hillcrest or GMH or the Children’s hospital.  Too many recent bad memories. I needed a fresh start, but by God, it’s hard.  It’s so hard to move as  a 20-something year old introvert who would rather hibernate than go out and meet people. It’s so hard to meet people in a city when you are trying to avoid the bars.  It’s so hard to meet people when you work the night shift. I don’t want to date my favorite mistake again, especially since we now live in different states, but my God, it was so good to be with him again.

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The incredible blue-ness of the water that you just don’t see during the summer

We did beach-y things like walk hand in hand on the beach with me stopping every 5 minutes to snap artsy photos. We had dinner at a local Italian restaurant. While he was in conferences I managed to leave the hotel and visit the state park. It’s so much more peaceful here than in the busy season.

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And we had long meaningful talks where I implored the universe to ‘show me a sign’. Give me some sort of direction of what I should be doing. Should I forget South Carolina and all the people there and make a new start in Durham, or should I learn as much as possible in Durham, but still make my life in SC. In with the new, and out with the old, or keep the old and make new? Please universe, show me a sign.

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And then this happened…

Clearly it was the universe talking…

Now if I only knew what the hell it means…