Sunday, November 21, 2010
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
1. Added stress of now having to show your passport at the border, like Canada thinks it's a different country or something and not the 51st state. It's like sorority rush because you reeeeeally want the border guard to like you, even though HELLO, you're CANADA; it would be your great honor and pleasure to let us in.
2. There are things to eat there that aren't pitchers of beer or street cart hot dogs at 3 am (even though those items still haven't lost their luster). In fact, they have entire other food groups available for consumption, some of which are even on the food pyramid!
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
So here we are, shots stolen straight off some dark corner of the ATT website that I won't even try to explain since it's so far down the rabbithole. This is after three solid weeks of apartment hunting, living on couches, and wearing the same outfit three days in a row (he asked if we had a change of clothes and we could barely contain the church giggles). Thanks, Creepy Starbucks guy who ended up being a total delight to spend an afternoon with, and who then let us make a week's worth of cashola on the spot without even taking our clothes off! Three cheers!
PS. Ashton would actually murder me if he knew I put the "casual glasses in mouth" shot of him on here, let's keep that our little secret, k?
*All photos courtesy of Marc Carter, thanks Marc!
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
We're definitely in a different world than our Wallingfords and Greenlakes of yore. A trip to Starbucks becomes a mini-UN meeting as I am surrounded on all glorious sides by Eritrean women with gorgeous scarves, old black men playing chess and tipping their hats at girls who walk past with espresso, the occasional lost-looking Latino teenager, sweet-faced retired Asian couples with matching sweaters, perky Garfield students with braids and magenta tennis shoes... the faces hold stories, and the lips are more willing to speak them to a stranger.
In the parking lot, inevitably, Omar comes to sell me incense. "It's handmade, home-made, it's only a dollar!" he encourages me, his hands reaching from his pristine alabaster robes to extend an offering of his wares. "I'm allergic, remember, Omar?" (This is only a small white lie. I just despise the scent of incense because it reminds me of middle school, when my theater friends wore too much black eyeliner and listened to grungy music, and I secretly wanted to listen to R&B and throw everyone's blown-glass incense holders out the window) He backs away instantly. "Baby, baby, I would never want to do anything to hurt a woman like you! You are so beautiful." (Flowery prose that leads me to wonder if it's not just incense that Omar lights at home...) "Oh, thank you Omar, I hope business is good today!" I hop into my car to arrange my coffee and my files and my sanity before work, and Omar taps on the hood to call through the windshield, "Because of you, I WILL have a great day."
Our first Saturday in the new dream house, Dower and I abandoned all the moving boxes and went on a walk. It was all I could do to drag my exhausted body through the neighborhood but I was revived by the echoing ululations of what sounded like a party-- a big one-- and we followed the billowing smoke through the sidewalks. As it turns out, Ethiopian churches really do know how to party. A few hundred beautiful people (what is UP with East African bone structure? Could they be any more perfect?!) were chanting, dancing, and celebrating a holiday that was unknown to me (I have since looked it up, and let me just say that Meskel sounds WAY more fun than Labor Day). I was pretty thrilled when I realized we were about three blocks from my new house, and hoped the smoke would sweep its way over our rooftop to impart some of its intrigue on our home too.
But ok, the neighborhood is a little hood. Frank's friend got shot in the middle of someone else's drug deal at Parnell's, the corner store 2 blocks up from us. Our landlord chastises us for not keeping every lock firmly secured on the gate to our yard. Hardly a week goes by without witnessing some dude getting apprehended by the po-po, or hearing some racially charged argument at Subway, but there is nothing boring about living between MLK and Jackson and Rainier. And really, no matter where you live or what you do with the long hours that create a day, is there any substitute for wonder at the world, for seeing new constellations under every leaf and fully expecting beauty and strangeness to leap out from every corner and catch you off guard?
Thursday, October 07, 2010
Some thoughts: what are cupons, and are they as painful as they sound? Will Bobbi be compensated for her trauma? And did the people at the engraving shop even notice?
Friday, September 10, 2010
Monday, September 06, 2010
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
"our days in 'Nam."
Heading home in Mui Ne
Biking along the coast of the South China Sea, sweating against the breeze and finding neighborhoods where no other tourists seemed to have discovered. The adults all gave us sidelong glances, wondering what we were looking for in the small fishing town, but the toddlers and kids burst from excitement and yelled "HELLO! HELLO!" from the sidewalks.
I included this shot because right after I took it, a security guard grabbed my arm and growled at me "NO PHOTO OP HERE." The house behind this wall was really fancy... I wonder what famous person lives here?
Friday, August 27, 2010
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
There's no escaping child labor in Cambodia.* If you're white, you'll get swarmed by men lounging on motorcycles calling out "tuk-tuk, ladyyy?" and kids selling copied books and dime-a-dozen bracelets. They're relentless, because poverty makes people relentless. So many parts of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh were just cacophonies of garbage on stilts; huge teeming masses of people and stray dogs and dirt. There is a 15 km road from Phnom Penh to the Killing Fields, which is a chaotic study in development. As we scooted along in our tuk-tuk, a factory opened its doors for lunchtime and hundreds of face-masked young girls streamed out, having finished their morning stitching or gluing and preparing for an afternoon filled with more of the same. I wondered what they were making in the factory, what expensive items were being created cheaply so people like me can buy them for less. But I was soon distracted by a new olfactory assault, rising above the old fish and urine smells. We were driving over the river, into which was gushing forth a broad stream of aparently untreated sewage. On the shore, a garbage dump, on fire. And wandering amidst all of this, a shirtless 13 year old boy. What an apocalyptic scene this was, unpleasant for eyes and ears and heart. But our tuk-tuk zipped past all of this, leaving the tottering houses and shops on stilts above the river to fend for themselves.
Later, after a long day scrambling up the wats, Amy and I set out with a mission to find margaritas at the Mexican restaurant in Siem Reap and ran into a couple of the same boys twice in a row, each time begging us to buy postcards from them. We chatted with them for a while and learned that Hou, age 14, and Phi, age 16, were a couple of the sweetest kiddos in the country. They had been selling bracelets all day without eating, so we took them to the restaurant with us and taught them the word "happy hour" and how to eat tacos. They had never had Mexican food before and Hou practically bathed in the salsa, he loved it so much. We asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up and Hou said "tuk-tuk driver!" while Phi chose, "teacher, and I want to start an orphanage as well." As we parted ways later, Hou said "thank you so, so much for dinner. Here is how we say it in Cambodia: Akhun, akhun, akhun." Later, they ran after us and pushed the little woven bracelets onto our wrists as a parting gift.
The next night, we saw them again. We had been drinking a bit of Angkor draft at dinner and feeling lighthearted, but that quickly faded as we wandered into a street food alley to buy the boys dinner again. We got swarmed by about a dozen other kids, and two girls holding a naked baby, begging for food and money. Fine, easy enough, we can buy noodles for ten kids and spend less than what we would have spent on a round of beers at home. The baby, though, was another issue. He slept peacefully throughout the turmoil, but his sisters gripped our hands with surprising tenacity and begged us for milk. Eventually they clung neatly to our torsos, all four limbs wrapped tightly around our waists, after they handed the dozing baby (who had long since learned to sleep amidst noise and motion) off to Amy. We had a 20-second span in which we thought, "OH MY GOSH, this is what Angelina Jolie felt like before she stole** Maddox!"
Today she may be a toothless Vietnamese girl, but she's leaving this one-horse town for Hollywood.
This brought us to the last, most disappointing thing we saw in Cambodia. Having made friends with another kid selling books, we bought "Buddhism Explained" from him one night in Phnom Penh. He rushed over to a middle aged man with a money basket on a bike to toss his cash in. Mom beckoned him back over to our table to ask what would happen to that money later. "That man buys my school uniform and pays my tuition and buys me dinner," our new friend insisted. Essentially the guy was a pimp reminiscent of the newspaper barons who were the source of the newsies strike (historical fact courtesy of Christian Bale). Shortly after, as we lingered over dinner, we heard a shouting match and saw another kid, whose block was being infringed upon by our friend and his pimp, trying to regain his book-selling territory. We watched wide-eyed as a grown man and a kid no more than ten fought loudly in the street, which ended with the man hitting the kid and throwing him to the ground. Wiping away furious tears, the kid regained his footing and kept screaming. All this, just so they can sell a few photocopied books for a couple bucks a pop. I am as speechless now as I was at that moment. What can you do, as a foreigner who doesn't speak the language, when you see such a thing happening? There really is no such thing as childhood when people fight as equals for the right to work.
*I've long since left behind the idea that it's terrible to let kids work. In most parts of the world, it's just a fact of life, and something that often provides education for them rather than preventing it. Although it's not ideal to let kids wander the streets at midnight trying to sell postcards, a better question than "how can we stop poor kids from working?" is "how can we make it safe and profitable for poor kids to work in order to attend school?"