Monday, December 25, 2006
After two years at Refugees International, I was thrilled to be honored with May’s “Glamour Hero of the Month” in Glamour magazine. While it felt quite strange to be in the same category with the president of Chile and other genuine heroines, it was an honor – and helped revitalize me to remember what is important to me in my career. Awards! No, kidding – trying to represent and help the women in developing countries who have suffered amazing violence yet continue to show resilience and courage in the face of it all. I traveled to south Sudan this year and stayed on the banks of the Nile and met the Dinka people which was amazing – its like seeing the Nile as it was a millennia ago. However, it was my tenth mission and I was exhausted from dealing with collapsing tents and sleeping on the ground. After much deliberation – I realized I actually needed a vacation, I hadn’t had a proper vacation since starting at Refugees International. I needed a real relaxing vacation – not a run into a country and do as much as I could in four days vacation like I normally take.
I spent a week at the beach in South Carolina with my dad and sister and really unwound at Surfside beach, reliving my childhood – skeet ball at the arcade, minature golf in Myrtle Beach, and tomato sandwiches after sitting in the sun all day. I then went to Chicago to visit my friends Jamie Kelley, who I met back in Guatemala in 1999. Beer, Mexican food, and non-stop movie watching (including the Xmen) helped make me a little more normal. I then went to Mexico for the first time. It was wonderful! I traveled to Mexico City where new friends Bridget and Alberto put me up and showed me the amazingly vibrant city right during the pre-election festivities. I then traveled up into the mountains to a little artist’s/retiree community called San Miguel Allende – it was very relaxing. I alternated between sleeping in a hammock all day and reading in the plaza. I also went horseback riding and took a painting class. Heaven! After 10 days of much needed down time, I picked up the pace and headed down to Oaxaca to explore the indigenous culture there. There is a huge political protest still going on there over the treatment of teachers by the local governor of this very poor state. However, it was still quite interesting. I also tried the famous mole but was underwhelmed. I think I need to try it again because its supposed to be one of the most amazing dishes in the world.
After returning to work, rested and relaxed, I was immediately sent off to Beirut, Lebanon in the middle of the 1 month war between Hezbollah and Israel. It was a humbling experience to be in the middle of this war zone. While I was staying in the Christian area of Beirut that was unlikely to be bombed, I could hear and feel the nerve-wracking bombs at night and we did spend a lot of time in the targeted areas of South Beirut and the Beqaa valley. It was my first time in the Middle East and it was eye-opening and quite different than my experiences in Africa. My colleague, Kristele and I interviewed refugees living in parking garages under modern malls and conducted meetings in posh ice cream parlours. I met some wonderful Lebanese while there and will never listen to the constant news about the troubles in the Middle East in the same way again.
After a few months back in DC where my fat Siamese cat Simon dominated my time by insisting on sitting on my lap and snoozing all the time, it was time to head back into the field again. This time I traveled to Northern Uganda – where a 20 year civil war was possibly drawing to a close. I returned to south Sudan with my colleague Kavita and we spent a fruitless Thanksgiving chasing around the Lord’s Resistance Army negotiating team to try to interview them. We ended in Nairobi where I finished my schooling in Indian culture. Yes, Indian culture. Between the vibrant delicious Indian restaurants, the books on Indian politics I was reading, and the lessons on cricket I was receiving form Kavita – it was hard to remember I was in Africa sometimes. My trip in Nairobi culminated with a trip to the film Dhoom 2 where I learned all about the art of the Bollywood film. I then treated myself to a safari in the Serengeti to Masai Mara for two days. Believe it or not, it’s the first time I’ve seen the wildlife that Africa is so famous for (apart from watching a monkey run for its life in Sudan once). It was lovely – the animals are so amazing and beautiful. In my first game drive, I saw cheetahs, zebras, antelope, gazelles, rhinos, elephants, giraffes, wildebeest, vultures, and lions. The next morning, I was treated to a champagne breakfast on the banks of river filled with crocodiles and hippos! And the day was topped off by the pilot of the little 10 seater plane allowing me to take the co-pilot seat and fly back to Nairobi. Fabulous!
I returned to DC after a brief sojourn with old friends in Amsterdam for a few days. And a job interview with Doctors without Borders/Medecins sans Frontiers (www.msf.org ), an independent humanitarian medical aid organization that I really admire. After another weeks vacation in Playa del Carmen, Mexico (I could get used to all these vacations) where I went to celebrate my friend Bernice’s birthday, I returned home to some good and bad news. My father had slipped and fractured his pelvis and was hospitalized in Sumter, South Carolina. And I’ve been offered the job of Humanitarian Affairs Specialist with MSF in Amsterdam. The move to MSF would be amazing as would moving to Amsterdam. I would be able to really focus on gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS work with one of the pre-eminent medical organizations in the world. They are always the first organization into the conflict area and provide care and assistance to millions of desperate people world-wide. This would be an amazing opportunity to help them finetune their work for women survivors of rape and violence as well as advance their work on sexual exploitation and abuse and stigmatization of people infected with HIV/AIDS. Plus Washington DC is transient city with friends moving back and forth. I think its my turn to move out for a while.
I’m currently in Sumter where I am hanging out with my father in his hospital room and mulling over the job offer. Luckily, my fathers injury will only require rest and physical therapy – no surgery. He likes his therapists and seems to be back to his funny, cranky self again. Alyson and I brought over a fresh-baked batch of his favorite “Old Fashioned Rocks” cookies and his Christmas presents to his room this morning. We hope he’ll be out of the hospital soon – probably by New Years Eve – and I’ll stay in Sumter a little while longer and help him adjust to being back at home.
Well that was 2006 – it was a year of ups and downs – but on the balance, a very positive year. I look forward to more challenges and travels in the new year. As always, staying in touch with my friends is one of the things that keeps me going. I love hearing from you all and hope I’ll see more of you in the new year.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
If you remember my previous descriptions of Juba, you'll be amazed to know that in the past 8 months - a lot of things have changed. No, there still aren't roads, the soldiers still haven't been disarmed, the refugees and internally displaced people are still on their own to try to make things work. BUT - there is an ongoing peace process being hosted by the Government of South Sudan (Riek Machar - better known as Mr. Emma's War to some) who is trying to get the Lord's Resistance Army and the Ugandan People's Defense forces to sit down and stop terrorizing people in Uganda and south Sudan. And there are now MANY MANY restaurants and tented camps to chase down potential interviewees in Sudan. The development economy strikes again - gotta feed and get those humanitarian workers drunk!
Much to my chagrin, we only learned that the peace talks had gone into recess the evening before we left for Juba. We had to go anyway because we had spent two whole days plus several hours trying to make it work - get the South Sudan visa, get a place to stay, get a ride to the airport, get the name of the guy in charge. All of that would have been for naught and we had made a promise to our boss that we would do our best.
So we arrived in South Sudan with heavy hearts and visions of the previous visits collapsing tents, mudslides, and strandings vivid in our mind. My friend Melissa, that I met last time, picked us up from the airport and drove us back to the OCHA compound. So far so good - everyhting looked the same except that there were a lot of road construction vehicles around. Got to the OCHA compound and everyone was the same! I saw all the same people. Drove to Mango camp - slightly different but still very familiar. Next day - our car never showed up to pick us up. Same as last time! Went to the OCHA compound and sat around trying to make appointments - same as last time!
So what's different? Well - after wandering around and being told that everyone we had come there to see had gone to Kampala for the weekend (where we had been), we randomly ran into a man looking for directions to UNICEF on thanksgiving day. We gave him a lift over there and when we got there, we asked him what he was doing there. He said - "I'm part of the LRA peace delegation!" Exactly the people we had come to see. We hurriedly made an appointment to meet him back at 5pm at their camp "Juba Bridge".
Kavita and I arrived early to our appoinment and all fo the LRA delegates got up out of their sleep to come sit in plastic chairs near the river Nile to talk to us. Ugandans, particularly Acholi Ugandans, tend to be very soft spoken. Sudan is a loud place. As the first man began to speak, someone walked over to the large television that was perched in a tree (so if you didn't want to gaze at the Nile, you could watch satellite television in front of the nile instead) and switched it on. The familiar opening notes to the intro from "Six Feet Under" banged out. Behind me, a construction worker began to weld something. The flies made a beeline for my eyes and we began the familiar greetings and courtesies for our interview.
Two hours later, we were still talking and trying to get them to admit that the International criminal court wasn't pursuing Joseph Kony (famed abductor of children and mutilator of victims) fo no reason. They insisted over and over again that he was a freedom fighter. What about the children who were abducted from schools and forced to kill their class mates? What about the mutilations of people and the accusations of cannibalism? What about Kony's 'rule by the ten commandments' and previously apolitical stance? All of those abuses? Commited by the UPDF. All those children we interviewed? Brainwashed by the UPDF. But the sad thing was, these guys were the intellectuals, the prized sons of the Acholi people who had been exiled from their land and sent away to the US, to Nairobi, to the UK to make money and send it home to help their brothers and sisters. "We're the ones that pay the school fees." they told us. And they were intelligent. They were well spoken and proud. But I think they made a deal with the devil to represent him while they try to bring peace to Acholiland to let their brothers and sisters leave the horrible displacement camps and go home in peace. I don't think they believed what they were saying to us about Kony. I think they are just desperate for peace.
Kavita and I went back to our little tented camp on the banks of the river Nile - just a few blocks up and sat down to analyze our Thanksgiving. Peace seems possible but noone knows what will happen. The ICC indictments are a stumbling block. I was dying to ask the LRA delegation that why, if Kony was so innocent, he was afraid to face trial in the Hague? If he loved his people so much, wouldn't that be a small price to pay to bring them peace? But we had listened to every conspiracy theory under the sun from them. We had heard all about the agricultural land grab going on (not that I don't believe it) and our throats were parched from the dusty night in Sudan and we didn't feel like we were making any progress. So instead, we went back to Mango camp. Sat under the mango trees looking at the Nile work its way up to Khartoum, and toasted to peace in Uganda and Sudan with a cold Bell lager.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
I’ve returned to the same tented camp as I stayed in before, “the Mango camp”. However, its 8 months later and things have changed.
I’ve got my own tent here – which is nice – and they also have internet connections now so I was able to Skype/chat my fellow advocate Sean in Brussels and Camilla in the US simultaneously. The line of army green tents (1-10) is still the same but for privacy reasons, I guess, they have put these ugly rattan screens in front of the ‘porch area’ on the front. They look ramshackle and like they are about to collapse in front of the tent. There are also a lot of bugs in my tent and the front flap won’t zip up correctly. As some of you may know, I do not like bugs. I’m afraid to kill them and I don’t want them to jump on me. I’d rather handle a lizard, a snake, and a mouse than some bugs. There are some HUMONGOUS grasshoppers in here. When I pulled down the mosquito net over my cot, one was inside! Yikes – I scooped him off the bed but I don’t know where he is now. Hopefully not in my suitcase amongst my underwear, waiting to jump out on me tomorrow morning. I also have a ‘head lamp’ style flashlight. It attaches to the top of my head on an elastic band like a coal miners lamp. I used it to go into the bathroom this evening and since it was the only light there, all the bugs swarmed in front of my eyes and face. Not ideal.
There’s been other changes too. Where in April, they had small wooden tables and chairs arrayed under the mango trees along the bank of the Nile, now they have white plastic tables and chairs under tents with electric lights and fans in them. Helps with the heat but the ambience is not the same. There’s a separate bar from the dining table and they play cheesy 80s music. There are a lot of white railings put up along the Nile bank and ‘car port’ type covers guiding the entrance. I liked it better when it seemed super rustic but I suppose that is the nostalgia talking. It’s easy to remember the mango trees and the moonlight and the nile and to forget the rivulets of sweat streaming down my back and the sticky heat.
A friend of mine in Uganda asked me if I would like to take a position there in her UN agency yesterday. While I’m tempted, I’m not sure if that is what I want to do. And I’m a lot not sure if I want to move to Africa. Today in the Kampala/Entebbe airport was a perfect example of why. We got to the “Royal Daisy Air” check in counter 2 hours in advance of our 1 hour flight, as requested. There was one person in front of us. So we lined up behind him. The sullen Ugandan woman at the counter next to “Royal Daisy Air” said something so softly, I could not hear her. I walked closer to hear what she said and she said “you have to stand in that line” (which was where I was before I walked over to hear what she had to say). Then we got to the front and handed over our passports, tickets, and South Sudan passes (a special type of Visa that the Southern Sudanese issue in lieu of the Northern Sudan’s visa). They wanted to charge us extra for our baggage weight (which was 15 pounds over the 30 pound limit for two people) – but instead of just telling us that, they made a whole song and dance about how we knew that there was a weight limit and pointed to a small box on the airplane ticket which we could not read which was supposed to have told us that. We got into a discussion about how noone had told us that and we couldn’t leave anything behind. Finally it became clear that we could just pay $20 and it would all be fine. Then they wanted to reject the $20 bill we gave them to pay for the overage because it wasn’t printed after 2004. Supposedly there was a huge counterfeiting scheme that took place with pre-2004 US bills so noone will take them anymore. But not actually – they will take them but for a lower exchange rate. Does that make sense? Not at all. So as to make sure we could move around southern Sudan, we had to pay $50 to exchange our 1996 and 2001 US currency $100 bills for 2004 US currency $100 bills. Nothing is simple here. NOTHING! And this is the most advanced country in Africa after South Africa! What in the hell would it be like to live in South Sudan?
In Uganda– there are paved roads and newspapers and radio stations and taxis and high rises. In southern Sudan, there are unpaved rutted flooded clay paths and you have to use satellite phones and our taxi forgot to pick us up from our meeting tonight so we had to hitch a ride from some Canadian guy. Oh – and I also wanted to tell you my favorite Ugandan news story from the paper this morning. It appears that there was a Canadian fellow with the last name of Hornsleth who moved to Uganda. He wanted to help Ugandans so he started buying pigs and would distribute them to poor Ugandans but only if they changed their name to Hornsleth. Now there are about 1000 people with that last name. And last week, many of them applied for visas to go to Canada and meet this guy (who was thrown out of the country, I think). So the government doesn’t want to give them visas because they all changed their names. So none with the last name of Hornsleth is now allowed to get a visa. Hurray for Africa!
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Imagine our joy and surprise to find that GOAL, an Irish NGO working on water and sanitation here has a guest house. While there is no running water, there are abundant jerry cans filled with water and electricity for three hours a day. Today, I got to take a bucket bath with a giant spider in a concrete stall lit with a kerosene lamp. But I was thrilled that I could get water and wash the dust off of me.
But the most amazing thing is that there is a restaurant in town and internet access! In our room even! The 21st century is an amazing thing. The reason the restaurant is so exciting is that I just spent three days in Kitgum where there was only one place to eat in town - and it was terrible. The BOMAH hotel has the worst service I've ever seen in my life. You must literally chase the waiters around the courtyard that is littered with abandoned plastic water bottles to get them to take your order. And you should do this several times as they forget to put it in. And all they served was beef stew on rice. There don't appear to be any vegetables in Kitgum so the beef stew as gristly hard to chew beef floating in a greasy gravy. Luckily in Uganda, they have abundant bottles of chili garlic sauce on all the tables so you can also flavor your rice with that.
The restaurant in Pader though is my favorite thing here. It is run by young child mothers who have been released from the Lord’s Resistance Army. Many of them arrive from the bush, malnourished and pregnant with small children and they are very young themselves. It is difficult for them to go to school and many of them face stigmatization and rejection by their families. Another mouth or three to feed puts a strain on families in these overcrowded camps.
This amazing woman, Alice Acca, runs a group called CCF: Christian Counseling Fellowship, that has a reintegration center where the young mothers as well as other returning LRA abductees can stay for a few weeks while they get used to being free. They provide counseling, safety, and a secure environment for the young mothers as well as counseling their families and the community that they will be reintegrating into. In addition to these services, Alice is also launching vocational training and sells the bead necklaces that the girls make. I will be returning with some examples. But one of the most innovative ideas is the bakery and small restaurant that these girls run. The food there is delicious and its clean and neat. The residents of Pader are happy to have a bakery. It’s small steps like these that may help these girls and their children start a new life.
And they make a delicious vegetable dish that is basically spinach in a peanut sauce. So I can now check email and eat vegetables and hopefully help out some of these young child mothers at the same time. Life is good in pader.
Friday, November 10, 2006
I went out to the most beautiful place today –a site where some Acholi were rebuilding their village. Since the peace talks between the LRA and the government of Uganda, there has been a virtual peace in Gulu – the heart of Acholi land in Uganda. The roads are full of people moving between the ‘mother camps’ where they were forcibly interned by the government of Uganda and areas that are quite close to the people’s areas of origin but have not been formally declared accessible by the government of Uganda.
The weather here is perfect- today we had a clear blue sky with fluffy white clouds, seventy degree weather without humidity, a fresh breeze blowing through the trees and grasses bringing the faint smell of wood smoke to our noses, and the faint sound of a goat crying and the sound of birds and insects in the trees.
When we got to the site, on our left was a new Ugandan army deployment where soldiers dug ditches and women washed clothes. A soldier was dancing to the sounds of a radio as we pulled up to the road block (a stick placed across the way with the words STOP written in white chalk next to it). I was a little nervous about them because we’ve heard terrible stories about the way they’ve treated the Acholis. From the road we could see the outlines of a few huts but as we got closer, we noticed that there were many men building bricks, hoeing the ground, and working to clear some of the tall grass around the area. After the customary greetings to the elders of the site, we pulled up some wooden benches to interview the men. “We are happy to be here, the men told us. “Before we came here, before the peace, we were in the ‘mother camps.” The mother camps are the immense government-controlled camps where the displaced Acholis live. While the conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army here has lasted for over 20 years, it wasn’t until about 1996 when the government of Uganda mandated that the bulk of the population had to move into these camps where they could be ‘protected’ by the UPDF(Ugandan Army). In order to ‘protect’ the population from the LRA, the UPDF enforced a very strict curfew, beating or killing anyone found outside the camps for suspected collaboration with the LRA. Ironically, the decision to put everyone in one location, allowed the LRA to attack the population with ease. Many times the camps would be attacked at night and children abducted to be used as child soldiers and huts which were built on top of each other were burned down.
“We are very free here.” They told us.” More so than in the mother camps. We can move around and work our land. We feel safe because the army is here but we have not seen any rebels for a long time. We want a better life for ourselves, we have suffered for over 20 years.” Because the place was so beautiful and the people so humble and sweet, I was almost moved to tears. Later on, as we drove back, we came upon a traffic jam in downtown Gulu. Our driver told us “It is the women with the peace march!”. As we got closer, we could hear the music blaring and the beating of the drums. Everyone was turned out on both sides of the road and we maneuvered to get a good view. Soon the women came into view – some wearing UNIFEM tee shirts, many with small babies tied to their backs, some in colorful green dresses. In the front were the older ladies dressed in their finery. They strutted and danced and chanted. Many were carrying banners that said “No peace without women.” They were marching to Juba Sudan to protest the fact that there are very few women involved in the peace talks. When they saw me taking photos, they began to cheer and clap. “We want peace now. Now is the time for peace. No peace without women.” As they went by me, I applauded them – I felt a bit the fool but I was so happy that they were out there doing this. It’s such a joyous time to be in a return. I felt that way in South Sudan when I saw the trucks frull of Sudanese pull into Aweil Town. I felt that way when we got caught in a traffic jam full of old Mercedes and buses as the Lebanese poured back into the south. And I feel that way now. It reminds you of just how much these people have suffered.
Tomorrow we are off to Kitgum, which is closer to the Sudan border and therefore less developed. I feel like I’m leaving a little piece of paradise behind.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Michelle, my colleague who knows Uganda the best, had told us the best place to stay with this hotel called the Mosa Court Hotel. I immediately needed to know if they had internet (as you know I'm addicted to writing to you people) and was told that they had in the room internet. The rooms were pretty bare - but that's not a problem - as long as the linens are fairly clean and the toilet flushes, then we're talking luxury. I was suprised that we were paying about $100 a night for this place but the 'development' economy is always expensive. Well - we didn't arrive til 1:30am the first night and our first meeting was at 8am so I expected to be tired. However, it turns out we checked into the LAND WHERE NOONE IS ALLOWED TO SLEEP.
Let's start with the fact that the drunk night guard just loitered around my door all night - shuffling back and forth, occasionally leaning on my door, sometimes shouting at people - so I didn't really fall deeply asleep. They also put me next to the restaurant so at 5am when the waiters started clinking and singing and chatting as they set up. So I basically got about 3 hours of sleep the first night. That's okay- I thought - I'll go to bed early on Friday night and sleep in on Saturday. Well, there was more shuffling and the like the next night but I turned on the a/c to provide ambient noise. At 7:30am the next morning the maid just burst into my door. There was no 'do not distrub' sign and no chain on the door. I got up to take a shower and the water pressure was barely strong enough to rinse the conditioner from my hair. When I returned at 4:30 after meetings all day, they left the patio doors to my room wide open after cleaning the room. Luckily I had taken all my electronics with me but I was on the ground floor next to the patio so anyone could have walked in. The screens were wide open and so all the mosquitos came streaming in. Kavita kept getting phone calls at midnight and also had two people taking a smoke break outside her bedroom door, so we were exhausted.
Yesterday, we came over to the Sheraton to use the wireless internet in the lobby and to have a meeting(because of course the internet and the electricity were not working at our hotel) but then found out the rates were almost the same when I lied and said we were with the UN. Today we checked in to the bliss of the Sheraton for only $120 a night. I have the day off but will spend it typing up notes and preparing to head to the North. The flight we intended to take is sold out so we will have to drive up north. I actually like that because I get to see more of the country - but it also means fording a river and dealing with a LRA road block so we'll have to get on the road early. Also, everyone and their brother is in the North right now because there is a lot of excitement over the potential peace agreement so we're not sure if we have a hotel to sleep in when we arrive in Kitgum. We certainly won't have access to the nice ones since the real UN will be staying there. So I will revel in the luxury of the Sheraton for two nights and steel myself for the border with Sudan. It still looks like we'll be going to Juba - land of collapsing tents and sweltering swamps so I had better get my luxury where I can.
Ta Ta for Now!
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
I'm getting sick of DC. I love my apartment and friends but there is nothing to tempt me out of my little hidey hole. When I was in Park Slope this weekend, everything was exciting and cool. I loved the bar that i went to with Kevin and Brian - Slavic Soul! A band that plays Musette Accordion music from 30s France! A million different cute restaurants! I don't even walk up 18th Street anymore. I have tried to shake it up by going to Rumba cafe and Bossa but I don't really have anyone to go with. We're all in a rut. This whole damn city is in a rut. I blame it on the Republicans. Under the Democrats, I'm sure we had more exciting bars.
I am headed to South Carolina this weekend which should be fun and relaxing. It will also be bittersweet- Mr. McElveen, my neighbor from when i was growing up just died this past week. He was 93. His wife has Alzheimers now. They were married for 69 years. Noone in this generation will ever be married for that long.
My neighborhood, Warren Court, was notable in the fact that when my family moved there in 1975, we were the youngest family on the block. Everyone was in their 60s with grandchildren. I grew up on a block of maiden aunts and divorced southern women and was watched over by grey haired women who drove cadillacs and wore driving gloves. I would buy their cut glass vases and old church hats at yard sales. They would call my mother when my sister and I would pick the flowers out of their gardens.
Mr. McElveen always had the most beautiful garden. He grew lovely azaleas, wonderful chrysanthemums, delicious tomatos, and sweet pecans. I remember being a young girl and sitting in his garden and smelling the pungent Chrysanthemum smell mixed with the sweet sweet smell of Magnolia seeds ripening in the autumn sun. The McElveens also spurred my parents to get me baptized. They scared Mom and Dad to death by taking us to Crosswell Baptist church on Sundays so my mom and dad sent us off to the Episcopal and Catholic churches so we wouldn't become Southern Baptists. The McElveens were old timey Southern. Mrs. McElveen would call people "colored" and "nigras" but she would also make divinity and fudge and cookies for Christmas every year and deliver them to everyone's house. She was traumatized when the first black family moved into our neighborhood but sure enough, they got the cookies at Christmas time and the polite standing in the yard complaining about the mosquitos conversation in the summer. When Joey,their grandson, got a Springer Spaniel (very popular for hunting in South Carolina), Mr. McElveen had to walk it - and that dog would pull him down the street. However, he always dressed in his shirt and tie and hat to walk around the block.
Here's to you, Mr. McElveen. I hope you found a lovely plot for gardening and that the tomatos are just as sweet as they were on 6 Warren Court.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
After a month in Lebanon, DC feels boring and pointless. Going into a week's worth of planning meetings to discuss the future of RI seems futile. Today we learned that the world as we know it will end in about 10 years because of global warming and that conflict will erupt all over the globe. I want to talk about my experiences in Lebanon but not at a cocktail party. I don't want to bore my friends. I don't want them to worry about me. I don't want to get into a substantive discussion with my colleagues because I don't want to offend them. And above all, I'm tired of trying to defend my own nascent beliefs and ideas which, after all, were formed through my direct experiences, rather than through just reading about the region. Can't I just have that?
I miss Nadim, the driver, whom I know I will probably never see again. I miss the camraderie of the journalists and human rights observors: Nir, Hannah, Layla, Francoise-Xavier, and Nadim at dinner parties - we were all joined in the same mission. I miss Natalie, Georges, and Serge - I want to talk about music with Serge and men with Nathalie and receive historical lectures from Georges. I even miss duplicitous, unreliable Khalid. I miss the feeling of being awake and aware and engaged and that I might actually be accomplishing something.
Right now, as I look at the grey skies through my windows, I miss the view from the Sofitel. Every morning, I woke up and looked at the Mediterranean. It wasn't a grand seaview... just a sliver of blue in the distance between some apartment buildings. But somehow, seeing the sea every morning made me optimistic.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Our 'last supper' in Beirut was strangely anti-climatic. We were all so tired and worn down. It hadn't been so obvious durint our birthday parties but it just felt harder at this dinner. Maybe because there were more of us. Maybe because it was three weeks later. It just felt like we were all drained and exhausted. I think many of us had just seen too much or were at the edge of burnout. the usually lively political discussions were not as carefree. We ate too much and barely drank any wine. Everyone wanted to go home early. No Malcolm Lowry's were consumed.
SO I got home, had indigestion from trying to out eat Nir with the hummous. Fell asleep and woke up at 2:30 am where I then sat and watched the sun slowly come up over Lebanon before i left. I felt very sad. I felt like I made intense attachments in that short period of time. Maybe it was due to the fact that I was fully engaged in this misison , unlike others where I was teetering on burnout myself. I'm feeling obsessed with the injustices in this part of the world. I"m reading Robert Fisk's "Pity the Nation" and I'm so angry - at Israel, at the Palestinians, at the many different factions of Lebanon. Its' probably good that I didn't read it before I came. I had almost a naive, innocent appreciation of everyone.
Now, I feel rather helpless and hopeless. How does one act as a humanitarian in such a context? I push forward my pathetic points about what the international community should be doing, knowing now, that its just the latest installment of a long, bloody, pathetic history.
Okay. That's it. Happy One year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Listen to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Listen to Tom Waits. Listen to the Dirty Dozen Brass Band - Sidney Bechet. Remember the people and the beauty of the music, and mourn the passing of this beautiful, dirty, awful, American city.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
I deleted a post about my last day in Beirut because I wrote about the people I met in Lebanon and used their names and got an email saying that thye were worried that someone might read it. Hmm. Since none of y'all ever leave comments (except for you Colin, Heidi, and Kevin - REPRESENT!), I didn't think anyone read this thing. So drop me a line, yo. I'll try to recreate the last day in Lebanon post but since it was written at 5am as the sun rose and I was so tired and sad, I don't know if I can.
But I've been reading Robert Fisk's book "Pity the Nation" and that may put me back in the right frame of mind. I'm listening to the awesome Cd that Serge made adn Natto gave me. "Different for Girls" - an old Joe Jackson cover. And some Steely Dan "Dirty Work". Gotta put myself in that early 80s, black leather jacket, frame of mind and get out there. I find myself craving to talk to someoen about this experience in Lebanon but I'm all alone here. When I get back to the US, I feel shy about talking about what I saw and felt. I don't know why. Maybe the experience of being surrounded by my normality makes it seem further and further away.
Anyhoo.... 1/3 of a glass of wine to go. And a bar with photos of Marlon Brando in it to explore. To bring a book or not to bring a book?
Sunday, August 27, 2006
The flight over was uneventful. Royal Jordanian is a so-so airline. The food was nondescript. For some reason, the 45 minute flight from Beirut to Amman was a more modern and larger airplane than the 4 1/2 hour flight to Geneva. Oh well. American chains are thriving in Jordan, I'm proud to report. Cinnabon! Starbucks! Dunkin' Donuts! Our American servicemen are eatin' 'em up! Yummy!
Okay... now I"m going ot upload photos and download music to screw these crooks further. I shudder to think how much our dinner will be!!!
Friday, August 25, 2006
Sunday, August 20, 2006
DAD: Dear Sarah, Passing this on, I received it from Marty this morning. Love, Dad
ME: For some reason, it didn't come through. Was it a picture?
DAD: It was a couple of paragraphs about the good work some are doing in Lebanon. I am sorry you could not get it, but whatever? Lazy day, did not have breakfast (?) until noon and only had microwave panckes and sausage that you only cook for 5 or 6 minutes. Not gourmet, but edible, and easy to fix on those mornings that you do not want to get dressed and go out to eat, nor do you want to go to much bother and clean up. Lovely weather today, but may only go out to buy a small plant. Love, Dad
ME: How did you like my UN diatribe? (I responded to some email that he forwarded me from his Republican, retired military friends about how all the Arab countries vote against the US at the UN and that proves that the UN is arab supporters (??!!))
DAD: Dear Sarah, I think that diatribe is exactly the right work to describe for that email. While I think that when the UN was set up it was a noble effort. It has now gone completely astray, and is useless. Besides their diplomatic privelege, high pay, to say nothing of their corruption, it has turned into a paradise for third world countries. You must remember that most people here and I suppose elsewhere, know practically nothing about the organization of the UN. In fact, I doubt if young Americans even know where it is located. Love, Dad
ME: I agree with you about the UN. In fact, I think I'm about to be put on their personna non grata list after this trip. It's ridiculous that they are even in Lebanon. They are staying at a $300 a night hotel, they don't ever leave it. They have meetings with each other and in the meantime, Hezbollah is rebuilidng the country with huge chunks of cash from Iran. The people see the international community and the government of Lebanon doing nothing and Hezbollah supplying everything for them - they are all so brainwashed - no wonder they support Hezbollah. They are the only ones who DO anything in this country. Where is all the money from the UN going??? Hotel bills and restaurant bills. While I dislike them immensely, I refuse to allow the crazy Republican rhetoric be the reason why I dislike them. I dislike them for the reasons that you just wrote - which is something I see with my own eyes almost every day, not because its a forum where other countries can express their disgust at the US. That's the only good thing that happens at the UN. Did you get any feedback from that email? I only cc'd everyone because I want to give you guys something to talk about besides the local gossip. I went to the beach today and it was really nice until the Israeli drone flew overhead. I'm still scared after Baalbek that the stupid Hezbollahs will respond. And I'm outraged that Israel broke the ceasefire so blatantly.
DAD: Good Heavens!!! You agree with me!
Thanks UN for uniting generations across the oceans!
Friday, August 18, 2006
I’m still in Lebanon. Beirutis a cool city. I'm learning how to curse in Arabic... Our driver is insane (Nadim) and he curses rather fluently according to Kristele so I've asked him to teach me.
Today's adventure was being threatened by Hezbollah. We went to Baalbek (home of a gorgeous Roman temple to Jupiter) and when we were interviewing the Hezbollah relief movement, our driver ratted me out as an American. He was trying to be helpful but it made it all kind of scary and tense. I told him if he was annoyed with me, he could tell me - there was no need to have me kidnapped.
It's very insulting there - the men won't touch us because we're women so no hand shaking and they just radiated hostility throughout the entire interview. They made a big show of writing down our 'identificiation' cards. Well my identification card is some mocked up thing that they made me at RI. My "number" is my phone extension. Copy that down, jerks, see if I care.
Oh yeah, and I conducted an interview with the mayor of a town sitting over an un-detonated cluster bomb. They told us after the interview and then took us down to take a picture of it. Ha ha! What fun! The mayor just laughed and laughed and laughed. I was too nervous to go stand in the hole with it to photograph it. However, that's just stupid because I'd be as dead standing 30 feet away on the street as I would have been standing right over it.
Adventures in post-conflict
Thursday, August 17, 2006
This woman shows us the view from her kitchen door on the fifth floor that used to open onto a balcony; it now opens onto a pile of rubble from the building next door. Dust, broken glass, and noxious fumes fill their apartment. “I was here during the bombings – I hid in the bathroom and shook. I was terrified. Finally I fled and I am glad since they bombed the building next door the next day. There was a man who owned four shops in that building and now they are all gone” she told RI.
Many of the buildings had huge holes blown into the walls – either as a result of the bomb blast or from flammable tanks of gas stored on their balconies that ignited when the buildings next door were hit. While it is the dry season in Lebanon, they worry about the coming rains and about the fumes coming into their houses. As people return home to clean up their apartments, they are relying on generators for electricity and bringing in water by hand as many of the reservoirs were destroyed by the bombing
Mohammed, a businessman who owns a factory in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, showed us his apartment in a building adjacent to one destroyed by the bombing. “We were living in a hotel in the Hamra part of town,” he tells RI, “but we are running out of money. We may come back here to sleep tonight with my mother and my four children.” While they are cleaning up the piles of broken glass from the explosions, there is also a thick layer of dust and ash covering everything. “I think there may still be people who were in that building,” his wife tells us, “There are terrible smells that come in here.”
Many people are reluctant to leave their apartments since they have no other place to go. While the Hezbollah political party has offered them help in rebuilding, there are fears that the poor – who do not have the means to rebuild and wait to be reimbursed will take the chance to live in structurally unsound places while waiting to be assisted. There are also concerns about who will assist the people who are not living in Hezbollah areas. Hezbollah has said that they will assist them but to date there is little word from the government of Lebanon on plans to assist people and the population has little confidence in the government.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
And...all the IDPs are headed home! We drove around in the mountains today in an area called Chouf where there had been about 120,000 people living with
families and in schools and we couldn't find any of them! Every school we went to was empty.
The roads, however, were crowded with tons of people in cars (that ranged from swanky new Mercedes Benz to beat up old cars without windshields) all with matresses that they were given in the IDP shelters strapped to the top. We were swimming upstream trying to get back into Beirut. It took us 1 hour to go a
mile. Since the major highway was bombed, everyone has to go on the old 2 lane highway and it was packed. Humanitarian aide convoys, Government of Lebanon Army convoys, and the press battled it out with the IDPs to get to Sidon, Tyre, and the South. It reminded me of trying to drive from Conway to Myrtle Beach in the summer time.
Everyone was excited and happy and they all had Hezbollah flags on their cars and posters of Nasrallah (or Hassan as we have taken to calling him) taped to the hoods of their cars. We saw lots of V for victory signs (although the latest joke says that the V means "There are two buildings left in Dahiyeh!)
Anyway, tomorrow we will assess the security situation, give the mine clearers time to get all the unexploded cluster bombs that the Israelis dropped out of the road and head down South to see what the situation is like in a few days.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Friday, August 11, 2006
Word just in that the Security Council has finally got a ceasefire resolution in front of it that all people can live with. Maybe tomorrow morning we will wake up and hear that the bombing will stop. I hope so.
We drove to a fairly safe place in the Beqaa valley today over the mountains. It was eerie. Noone was on the road and the few people that were (mostly truckers toting watermelons to the cities) were hauling ass. Now, Lebanese drive like maniacs anyway but the empty empty roads, the occasional bombed out truck, and the silence was a little unnerving.
We went to a school and interviewed a woman who had been displaced four times. From her village in the South where she was staying with her mother and three kids for the summer, to Tyre where the bombing scared them away, to Dahiyeh - the Southern suburbs where the bombs hit this morning (and everyday) and finally yesterday, she came to this school. They have absolutely nothing.
We also released our first bulletin on the issue today - should be up on RI's website. There's also a photo of a bombed out truck that I took on the highway today.
I hope that when I wake up tomorrow morning, I will hear that there is peace and we can head to the South to see if we can reach the people who have been trapped down there.
Today we went down into the Beqaa valley. Lebanon is truly lovely but its eerie to travel over the highway passing brave truck drivers toting watermelons with big white flags tied to their trucks to alert Israeli planes that they are benign.
We interviewed a woman who had been displaced four times. She was originally from the southern suburbs of Beirut but had gone down to live with her mother in the south for the summer to get out of the city with her three children. On the second day of the war, her house was hit and her mother and brother killed. "It was a miracle that we survived," she told us. She and her sons fled to Tyre (also known here as Sur). When that city was bombed, her husband came to get her and brought her to Dahiyeh - the suburbs that have been targeted repeatedly. There, they stayed with her sister until the night before last when they coldn't take the bombing and near misses anymore. THey came to Zahle, a town in the Beqaa valley where they are now living with 100 other people in a secondary school.
"There's only three toilets here and you have to wait three hours for the bathroom," she said "but we have everything we need. They have brought us food, water, and soap. They took our clothing sizes and will bring us some clothes tomorrow, they said." "I just want to go back to what life was like before the war," she said.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
The article, Watching Beirut Die, by Anthony Bourdain - the chef at Les Halles in NYC.
Beirut Live, created by the editor of Time Out Beirut
Kerblog, a fabulous cartoonist and friend of Kristele's cousin.
Siege of Lebanon, I like Jim Quilty's posts.
Electronic Lebanon Diaries or the electronic intifada
Natto, a painter who specializes in trompe l'oeil interior designs, ordered her favorite cocktail - the Malcolm Lowry. I was thrilled! How often do you go to a bar where they have cocktails named after authors, let alone authors of my current favorite book "Under the Volcano"? What a perfect metaphor for drinking in Beirut during the war. Under the Volcano is a hallucenigenic last 24 hours of an alcoholic expat British diplomat drinking himself to death during the Day of the Dead in Mexico. Natto and I had a lovely conversation about art in Mexico and the muse of alcohol. After a few more glasses of wine, I found myself offering to marry Kristele's cousin so he could get out of the country. Unsuprisingly, my US passport holds little appeal right now.
Last night, there were no loud bombs. The only noise I heard was my upstairs neighbor listening to some rowdy movie loudly. I ratted him out to the hotel management and collapsed asleep for the evening. Sunday - we are taking as half days... only 6 hours of work!
Thursday, August 03, 2006
One always hears about the 'world weary' cynicism of the Lebanese who have weathered these wars before. Boy they were telling some dark dark jokes tonight. Such as:
This famous Shia Muslim singer from Beirut (I can't remember her name, think Madonna) who went to the border and had sex with an Israeli soldier. She got pregnant and the head of Hezbollah said - HEY what do you think you are doing? She said "Making a hostage"!
Did you hear the real estate prices in (the part of town behind the suburbs bombed by the Israelis) has risen? They all have a sea view now.
Everyone was discussing the bombing that is supposed to start tonight. The Israeli Army sends text messages and voice mails to the areas they are planning to bomb warning everyone to leave. This freaks people out. It's almost like a form of psychological warfare. Leaflets were also dropped in the south of Beirut. I'm a little nervous about tonight but we have a plan in case things get bad. Her friends live very close so we can also go and hunker down there. They have all taken up playing poker - Texas Hold'em.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
In order to allay any possible anti-UN or US sentiment, Kristele, my Lebanese colleague, made me wear a head scarf (I work my blue bandana) and sunglasses and take off my earrings and wear a long sleeve blouse to cross the border. She did not follow these precautions so I looked like a schlub and she>looked glamourous. Sigh.
There was also a candlelight vigil in Damascus last night near the restaurant we were in but noone looked at me twice. I almost feel that I should play the role of 'good American' and explain to people that not everyone in the US supports the bombing and some of us are trying to help. While all of the Syrians I have met have been incredibly hospitable and kind, the anti-Israel rhetoric is starting to get to me. I understand the rage and I feel it too as Israeli spokespersons come on CNN and mouth platitudes. Meanwhile the almost 600 dead in Lebanon vs the about 20 dead in Israel show the real story. It's a bloodbath and disproportionate.
There's also a lot of anti US talk but since I feel the same way as everyone else here does about Condi and Bush, it is not difficult to hear. They listen to my explanations about why Americans voted for Bush with respect. I hate what the Israelis are doing. I believe its a war crime and I cringe when I hear their explanations and apologies on the news but I still see them as a legitimate country with a legitimate right to exist. That's controversial over here. Like many Americans, I've mostly ignored the middle east crisis because it is too difficult to resolve or understand.
There are bad guys on both sides and the people who suffer are the innocents. Anyway, we've got wifi in the room, chilled beers in>the mini bar and a pool in the hotel. We are not suffering. We even got a "UN discount" at the hotel which is disgusting since the UN make SO much more than us. They should have to pay more than the rest of the world. I am hoping to head to THE HOTEL in Beirut to find Anderson Cooper tonight.
Monday, July 31, 2006
- Currently, there are over 700,000 displaced people within the borders of Lebanon.
- 1/3 of the 600+ dead are children.
- Humanitarian access has been very difficult due to waning supplies (including fuel), bombed roads, and continued violations of humanitarian corridors.
- About 125,000 are living in schools, parks and other public areas in Beirut that do not offer adequate shelter or hygiene and are short on emergency supplies.
- Because of the destruction of roads and bridges in the south of Lebanon, most humanitarian agencies have been unable to access the tens of thousands of people living in the South and most have been unable to flee out of the area.
- The UN has stated that it is virtually impossible to get much needed food and medical supplies into many of the isolated villages in the South.
Still, we plan our visit into Lebanon tomorrow, hoping that the Israeli promise to stop bombing for 48 hours to investigate the horrific killings in Qana holds true. It's still a pretty slim chance that they will bomb the south but the UN is not taking any chances, asking its people to wear helmets and flak jackets and halting humanitarian convoys. Frankly, it's probably more to protect them against the growing anti-UN sentiment rather than anything else.
In Damascus, the situation is a lot better. It's calm here and there are about 5,000 to 10,000 people crossing every day from Lebanon to Syria. Right now, it is difficult to get accurate numbers but there appear to be about 160,000 Lebanese in Syria. Only about 20,000 of them are not staying with host families. The Government of Syria is doing a good job, in general, and has been generous in addressing the needs of the Lebanese who have arrived in Syria. The Syrian community has really taken charge of the relief effort and have been hosting many Lebanese. The Syrian Red Crescent has been providing services and giving out food, water, medical attention and information to people at the border crossing between Lebanon and Syria and also in the many informal shelters around the city. However, with school starting in about a month, many of the schools have to be cleared out and the government of Syria has begun to move people to other areas. The border crossing on the main route from Beirut to Damascus was bombed by Israel on Monday, which makes transiting for the Lebanese into Syria much more difficult. Vehicles cannot pass the crater in the road so they have to get out and walk around it and then find a taxi on the other side. The taxis are charging these people over $100 a person which is quite steep here.
Today, we drove to theborder crossing point with Lebanon to interview the people there. It took about 45 minutes on a nice smooth highway. It's hard for me toremember that all these countries in the Middle East are small! I'm used to giant Congo, Sudan, etc. where driving from one country to another takes weeks. Anyway, we found 300+ Palestinians who had fled Lebanon living in a grocery store there. They have been denied entry into Syria (probably because the government of Syria doesn't want all the Palestinians living in Lebanon to flee here) and they can't returnto Lebanon because their houses have been bombed to smithereens. They've been living there about 13 days.
On the plus side, the Italian restaurant in the bordercrossing is providing them three meals a day and they are in pretty good shape - the children were flying kites and the parents sat around in the shade talking. However, they are basically stateless, like Tom Hanks' character in that movie the Terminal - condemned to live in this no man's land until someone changes their mind and allows them in somewhere. While they are being taken care of by the Syrian Red Crescent, they are presently not allowed to enter Syria, although many were admitted in at the beginning of the crisis. The United Nations agencies squabble over who is supposed to talk to the government of Syria on behalf of these people.
At another crossing point in the North of Syria, the situation is the same for Palestinians from Irak, who are fleeing both generalized violence and targeted persecution. There were also an estimated 20,000 Iraqi refugees living in Lebanon. Many sought refuge in Syria and were granted 48 hour transit visas. After that time, they face possible deportation back to Irak. So far, however, Syria is calm. We saw a small anti-UN demonstration that postponed our meeting at the UN building at lunchtime but it was over soon. We had a scary event where our clueless driver stopped in front of the US Embassy to ask for directions and we got a gun shoved in our direction, but in general, the Syrians are warm and welcoming - even when they hear I am an American.
Today, I watched tv as they covered the Israeli targeted bombing of Qana where almost 30 children died and 60 died overall. This after the bombing and killing of four unarmed UN military observors who had called several times to insure they wouldnt' be targeted. I've been trying to educate myself about the situation - Today I read Al-Jazeera (anti Israel, obviously), the Jerusalem Post (pro-Israel, obviously) and the NY Times and Washington Post (in general, biased towards Israel but starting to change, it seems). It was shocking in the Post and NYTimes to read the apologists for Israel. It was appalling to read the people in the Jerusalem Post claiming the women and children of South Lebanon brought it on themselves. I am finding myself unable to be unbiased.
However, why the attacks on the UN compounds? Why loot the UN which is primarily a humanitarian organization that is fundamentally weak and unable to solve the problems of the world? Why turn your own anger to innocents who have come to Lebanon and Gaza to help?
While I do think that Hezbollah is probably using civilian positions in some places to cover itself, is the sensless bombing of civilian populations the way to disarm them? By killing 600 civilians? How can we, as people who love life and are opposed to war, possibly support this? Hezbollah is not representative of everyone in Lebanon. The government of Israel, however, is a Western country that supposedly respects human rights. They have rule of law. They claim on CNN that they are appalled and deeply sorrowful about the deaths of the children. Yet they say also that they need 10 more days to 'finish up the job'. They must stop the bombing now. They must! There is simply no other solution to saving Lebanese lives - and when it comes to that - saving Israeli lives as well. No more hiding behind technology and apologizing after killing children. Come out from behind the US technology and end this slaughter.
Sunday, July 23, 2006
While I'm nervous about heading into a war zone, I'm also slightly excited. I've always been interested and wanted to travel to the Middle East. And I considered majoring in Middle Eastern studies in college but went for Soviet Studies instead (better professor). I also feel like I could really be making a real contribution. While South Sudan was satisfying in that we helped UNHCR become a better partner, the idea of a more active role is exciting. I always wanted to be a nurse and used to have dreams of being a doctor in the military (too much MASH and father working a military hospital probably did that).
I hope it works out but I don't want to take too many unneccessary risks. I told my father yesterday about this trip and he took it much better than I thought he would. Today, we decided, no matter what - we're off to Syria. We can always do something there if we get caught. I think it's going to be an awesome mission. To document what we can also watch on CNN at the same time? Outrageous!
Saturday, July 15, 2006
Every day you play with the light of the universe.
Subtle visitor, you arrive in the flower and the water.
You are more than this white head that I hold tightly
as a cluster of fruit, every day, between my hands.
You are like nobody since I love you.
Let me spread you out among yellow garlands.
Who writes your name in letters of smoke among the stars of the south?
Oh let me remember you as you were before you existed.
Suddenly the wind howls and bangs at my shut window.
The sky is a net crammed with shadowy fish.
Here all the winds let go sooner or later, all of them.
The rain takes off her clothes.
The birds go by, fleeing.
The wind. The wind.
I can contend only against the power of men.
The storm whirls dark leaves
and turns loose all the boats that were moored last night to the sky.
You are here. Oh, you do not run away.
You will answer me to the last cry.
Cling to me as though you were frightened.
Even so, at one time a strange shadow ran through your eyes.
Now, now too, little one, you bring me honeysuckle,
and even your breasts smell of it.
While the sad wind goes slaughtering butterflies
I love you, and my happiness bites the plum of your mouth.
How you must have suffered getting accustomed to me,
my savage, solitary soul, my name that sends them all running.
So many times we have seen the morning star burn, kissing our eyes,
and over our heads the gray light unwind in turning fans.
My words rained over you, stroking you.
A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.
I go so far as to think that you own the universe.
I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells,
dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.
to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
First: I went to a cool museum Museo Ampara which juxtaposes Prehispanic art with colonial art in a shocking way. The first sixteen rooms of an old colonial house are dramatically designed and house sculpture and paintings from the different eras before ´conquest´ - as you walk out of a particularly dynamic room of large pieces of stone sculpture from some of the temples, you turn the corner into a faithfully reproduced colonial house with all the art and furniture from the time. The clash of civilizations couldn´t be more apparent. I really really liked this museum. Mexico knows what it is doing when it comes to museums.
Second: In the bus station, someone tried to take my bag. Then the guy who sells tickets for the ´secure´ taxi stand tried to shortchange me. I noticed after I walked away from the stand. I ran back to get my 100 pesos (about 10 bucks) and he tried to pretend he didn´t know what I was talking about. Luckily, when I am angry, I speak pretty good Spanish. Then the cab driver drove like a maniac and almost ran over a nun and a small child. What a change from mellow Oaxaca, slow-paced San Miguel, and even medieval Guanajuato.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
I rode the bus for 12 hours - 6 on the deluxe luxury bus with reclining seats with leg rests so you feel almost as if you are in a recliner, earphones for the movies, and drinks service - and then 5 on the 1st class bus- I was spoiled after the deluxe bus... they played Terminator 3 very loudly while people behind me listened to the radio that they had brought with them. The airconditioner went at full blast as the windows began to fog up. We climbed over the mountains heading south from Mexico City and every 30 minutes, an alarm signifying something would beep incessantly for about 20 minutes. Thanking God that I brought my ear plugs, I did manage to sleep a little (which I needed as the drunk American teenagers in my hotel in Guanajuato were up to 5am giggling with some loud American boy about going out to get tacos...)
I arrived in the rain in Oaxaca and didn´t see much of the city. However, when I woke up, the sun was up. They serve a complimentary breakfast on the roof of the hacienda I was staying at and as I drank coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice, I watched the teenagers at the school next door practice dancing. The big folk festival is coming up next week and the teens (in a mixture of their school uniform and long full floral skirts) were practicing a type of waltz. It was lovely.
I wandered the city down to the Zocalo (town square) where I encountered the teacher´s strike. As it turns out, teachers in Oaxaca (one of the poorest states in Mexico) have been on strike for several months. They are living in tent cities throughout the main square and communist graffiti, populist slogans, and graphic photos are everywhere. In June, the police swept through the crowd and killed some children and teachers to try to drive them out. The union was calm during the elections but i guess the main party (the former party that reigned over Mexico for the past 50 years or so) won in this state and the governor that they all hate (rata! assasino!) won again. I did get to see my favorite sign of all time - Yanqui Go Home.
Last night, I went for a walk, the lovers and old people who normally sit in the zocalo moved down to Santo Domingo - the seat of the Dominicans in Mexico. Oaxaca has a very strong indigenous presence and reminds me of Guatemala to an extent.
I found a very hip bar where good looking young Mexican students were hanging out and went in. I ordered a beer and they put some mix of peanuts in front of me. I was very nervous about eating the peanuts. In Oaxaca, they eat grasshoppers (chapulines) as a delicacy. These were spanish peanuts with the skin on and some of them looked a little suspiscous to me. I picked through them carefully and resisted the temptation to put my glasses on and move the candle closer. I also met a guy named Victor who told me all about his ambitions to be a waiter in Cancun. "There´s no town there and nothing to do if you work, but you make more money than you do here. If I am lucky here, I make about $14 a night." he told me. His English was good and he helped me with my spanish as we talked about the pros and cons of bartending for a living. He invited me to go drinking mescal with his friends that night. however, after my experience at La Cucaracha (and the fact I hadn´t yet organized my lodgings for the next day), I passed.
Instead, I bought some gardenias from a woman selling flowers from a basket on her head and sat in the garden of the church for a while. The temperature was a little cool, with a breeze coming down off the mountains and I watched the clouds drifing in front of the full moon. After a while, I returned to my hotel where I had a beer up on the rooftop garden before heading down to sleep.
Only two more days left on vacation... Tomorrow, on to Puebla and then to the airport...
Monday, July 10, 2006
There is graffiti everywhere and big posters supporting communisim. It´s been a long time since I´ve seen that! Anyway, they are the teachers - camping out to protest the government´s policies about education in Oaxaca state.
There was a violent attack by the police that killed at least two children in June but it appears that the original reason for the strike was for a pay raise. Also, there are signs saying no privatization of the schools. I´ve since done some research on the web and there is a good explanation of what is going on here.
I´m going to wander around and see if I can get one of them to explain to me what is going on. They don´t seem too keen to proselytize to the tourists but perhaps they are tired since it seems to have been going on for over a month. I´m very curious. I must also admit, I love Latin American revolutionary imagery! If only the Africans could get there graffics together, people might get excited about them too (blasphemy, I know).
Sunday, July 09, 2006
Saturday, July 08, 2006
At least while I hobble around Mexico viewing the musuem of the mummies and Diego Rivera´s childhood home, I have something to remember.
Ahhhh, que hombre....
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
I went with a woman named Alix who is at my guesthouse. She is also a blonde. We truly felt like Marilyn Monroe when we entered this god forsaken bar. I swear to god that they were playing "American Woman" when we walked in. We were the only women in there at first and it was like a stampede to come over and talk to us.
I made a terrible discovery. I am too old to enjoy bars like that anymore. Alix is about 10 years younger than me and wanted to buy pot and smoke it in the bathroom with the bartender. I just wanted to go home. Instead I had to talk to: a drunken Indian guy with giant buckteeth who kept stroking my arm and telling me how bonita I was, a Navaho guitarist who was about 60 or so who kept talking to me about love and how terrible it is, a 17 year old American kid who had a fake mexican ID saying he was 29 and named Jose Donohue, another young American kid who told me he was a hustler on the run from the law for very vague reasons, and finally, a cute mexican guy who I met when i walked in on him in the bathroom. He danced with me until his girlfriend came to the bar and slapped him in the face. What a night. I have suffered all morning long - starting with my early morning dissertation on the merits of retiring in Panama over Mexico to the chilaquiles I ate to cure my hangover which promptly came back up again. Its the end of the day and I think I am going to drag my tired old self back to the casa and go to bed early. Sad Sad Sad.
You bring out the Mexican in me by Sandra Cisneros
You bring out the Mexican in me.
The hunkered thick dark spiral.
The core of a heart howl.
The bitter bile.
The tequila lágrimas on Saturday all
through the next weekend Sunday.
You are the one I'd let go the other loves for,
surrender my one-woman house.
Allow you red wine in bed,
even with my vintage lace linens.
You bring out the Dolores del Río in me.
The Mexican spitfire in me.
The raw navajas, glint and passion in me.
The raise Cain and dance with the rooster-footed devil in me.
The spangled sequin in me.
The eagle and serpent in me.
The mariachi trumpets of the blood in me.
The Aztec love of war in me.
The fierce obsidian of the tongue in me.
The berrinchuda, bien-cabrona, in me.
The Pandora's curiosity in me.
The pre-Columbian death and destruction in me.
The rainforest disaster, nuclear threat in me.
The fear of fascists in me.
Yes, you do. Yes, you do.
You bring out the colonizer in me.
The holocaust of desire in me.
The Mexico City '85 earthquake in me.
The Popocatepetl/Ixtaccíhuatl in me.
The tidal wave of recession in me.
The Agustín Lara hopeless romantic in me.
The barbacoa taquitos on Sunday in me.
The cover the mirrors with cloth in me.
Sweet twin. My wicked other,
I am the memory that circles your bed nights,
that tugs you taut as moon tugs ocean.
I claim you all mine,
arrogant as Manifest Destiny.
I want to rattle and rent you in two.
I want to defile you and raise hell.
I want to pull out the kitchen knives,
dull and sharp, and whisk the air with crosses.
Me sacas lo mexicana en mi,
like it or not, honey.
You bring out the Uled-Nayl in me.
The stand-back-white-bitch in me.
The switchblade in the boot in me.
The Acapulco cliff diver in me.
The Flecha Roja mountain disaster in me.
The dengue fever in me.
The ¡Alarma! murderess in me.
I could kill in the name of you and think
it worth it. Brandish a fork and terrorize rivals,
female and male, who loiter and look at you,
languid in your light. Oh,
I am evil. I am the filth goddess Tlazoltéotl.
I am the swallower of sins.
The delicious debauchery. You bring out
the primoridal exquisiteness in me.
The nasty obsession in me.
The corporal and venial sin in me.
The original transgression in me.
Red ocher. Yellow ocher. Indigo. Cochineal.
Piñón. Copal. Sweetgrass. Myrrh.
All you saints, blessed and terrible.
Virgen de Guadalupe, diosa Coatlicue,
I invoke you.
Quiero se tuya. Only yours. Only you.
Quiero amarte. Atarte. Amarrate.
Love the way a Mexican woman loves.
Let me show you. Love the only way I know how.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
there are more retired americans here than mexicans, i think. you can't swing a dead cat here without hitting one. i was just in the internet cafe next to my guesthouse in the non touristy part of town. its a nice cafe with high speed internet and cappucino. i was trying my hardest to ignore the american couple sitting next to me. she was whining and kept talking incessantly about the weather, the town, the cars going by, the article in the magazine she was reading. he was ignoring her except to say annoyed things like I AM TRYING TO DO SOMETHING from time to time. they had the worst new york accents you can imagine. both dressed in white tennis shoes.
just as i got through writing an email, the guy says to me: senorita, will you be long? as i had planned to do some research on which town to go to next, i replied - i might be. then they both said in very aggressive tones: well its a 15 minute time limit and we were waiting for the internet. it was the first time i had been in this cafe and had not noticed the time limit and they had been there when I arrived and had not said a thing about wanting to use the computer. I then said: well let me finish this email and I will close out. Then the man said to me again: you have been on for 30 minutes. I graciously smiled and said - as i said, i will finish this email and let you have it.
JESUS H CHRIST. god save me from americans abroad. normally, i love my country but i cringe when i meet other americans abroad. the loud voices .the stupidity. the clothes. i guess its true what steve naplan said about me: I am not a very good american.
Monday, July 03, 2006
I couldn´t help but wonder: Is that what is going to happen to me? (She said in her best Carrie Bradshaw voice-over voice)
I don´t know why it kind of turns me off while at the same time attracting me. I don´t think I could ever be that laid back. I certainly like frilly earth mama clothes. I like dangly earrings and I like wearing comfortable shoes. I like cats. I like musicians (or at least, I used to). I like funky houses painted in bright colors. So what´s the deal? I guess it sort of screams Old Maid to me. You´ll be alone forever or you´ll have to date a man who wears a long ponytail and a single earring. He´ll call you ´his old lady´. I like my globetrotting life (although I am appreciative of the break) and I like being a city girl. However, I think I need a change. Everyone is fleeing DC like rats off a sinking ship. Maybe its time to re-evaluate and start trotting out my resume. Cape Town? Mexico City? Amsterdam? London? Bangkok? Colombo?
Also getting baby fever with all these cute kids down here. I saw a cartoon that made me laugh yesterday. It said It´s a catch 22. My parents would be horrified if I had a child out of wedlock but I can´t breed in captivity! I think that sums it up.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
I took the bus from Mexico City which was awesome. I will never travel any other way ever again. I arrived late at night and after some hassle trying to get there, I got in around 11pm and went straight to bed. I came out of my bedroom after a sound sleep to go to the shared kitchen and get coffee this morning.
And there was Mr A´s twin brother.
For those of you who don't know Mr. A (aka Duckie) - allow me to describe him. He is a man who once bored my sister and I to death with a detailed hour long description of Julio Iglaisias when we were 10 and 8 years old. So my friend, Robert, started off a long monotonous drone about the layout of the town -telling me three or four different ways I could walk into town. so much detail that i got lost the minute i stepped out the door. then he launched into the history of a ghost town next door in laborious detail. then he talked about the history of the railway in Mexico and the railroad trip he took. Then he told me the different classes of buses in Mexico and all about the bus trip he took from Phoenix to Chihuahua. He´s planning on taking the bus back up to Albuquerque and then the train to Topeka...1 hour and an extremely weak cup of coffee later, I pried myself away and went to take a shower.
Since I got lost, I took a cab into town. It is spectacularly beautiful here but quite the tourist town. So far, I´ve seen Americans outnumbering Mexicans about 10 to 1. But it is election day so we´ll see if it changes during the week. It also appears to be the town of hot pregnant women married to old guys. Well, I¨m off to find a cafe to eat in and figure out what I¨m going to do. I may just return to my guest house - which is lovely-and hang out in the hammock and read for several hours. But first food. Sadly, since its election day - no beer or alcohol but I suppose I can survive that as long as Duckie doesn´t return for part 2.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
The morning yesterday was a blur - the taxi company didn't come when I called them, I work up late, ran around like a crazy person, and then sat, stunned, in National airport at 5am wondering when the vacation would start. I watched "Eight Degrees Below" - a sappy movie about dogs being left behind in Antartica. And, like I did during the preview, cried throughout it. Those sweet noble dogs! I got into Mexico City airport and everything still felt surreal. Then when the taxi pulled out - I started to perk up. I'm in Mexico! I love latin america! the smells, the sounds, the sights, everything reminds me of Guatemala and I love it so. I never have this feeling when I arrive in Africa (but of course, I'm arriving in war zones... ). Anyway, I think I'm going to enjoy my vacation.
Yesterday, I went down to the "Zocalo" - the giant square in front of the Presidential palace - it's the largest in the world, second only to Red Square in Moscow. The buildings hre are beautiful! All colonial Spanish. The Zocalo has the biggest flag of Mexico that I have ever seen. Bigger than the one in Tijuana. They love that flag! I am staying with Bridget Moix, a former colleague. She's a quaker and we used to do peacekeeping work together but I didn't know her very well. Out of the kindness of her heart, she and her husband Alberto, invited me to stay with them in Mexico City. She's currently managing the Quaker guesthouse here but insisted I stay with them. And boy am I glad I did!
Their apartment is absolutely gorgeous and exactly what a house in Mexico city should look like (to me, anyway). It's in a courtyard which two other apartments that their cousins live in share with them and its painted yellow. You come up a flight of stairs that are made out of lovely granite slabs with creamy walls and turn a narrow corner into the apartment - the kitchen is all tiles and plants with a beautiful little garden of cacti and ficus behind a wrought iron wall with glass bricks behind them. That's one wall of the kitchen. There are exposed beams throughout the house and tile and caramel colored wood everywhere. The dining room and living room open up into a small balcony.
Upstairs, they have a bedroom with a swinging window/door (hard to explain) that opens up into a small courtyard. The shower also overlooks the courtyard. Everything is so lovely.
Last night, we went to a 'taqueria' in Condesa where we had pork and pineapple tacos (sounds gross but was delicious)for about 10 cents each. As you finish them, the man puts a new one on your plate freshly made until you tell him to stop. I ate way more than I thought I could handle and had a "Victoria" beer - a little heavier than Corona but not a dark beer like Negro Modelo. Just right! Then we walked through the tree lined streets and got some gelato... I had dulce de leche y queso - basically a cheescake and caramel flavor. DELICOUS!
Right now, I'm drinking coffee on the balcony listening to the birds. Today, I'm going to go see the Diego Rivera murals and possibly the Templa Mayor - the ruins of the giant Aztec temple that they built a cathedral over in downton MC. It's amazing to see the meld of Aztec and Colonialism here - you never really got the feeling in Guatemala of the 'conquest' but here, it is all around. Plus I love the fact that everything is named after the REVOLUTION! Insurgents! Patriotismo!