Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Non-Dramatic Drama of Post-Hurricane Life

. . . walking through a supermarket when there's no dairy or meat and few fresh vegetables but being ever so grateful that they have bread and power so that you can use your debit card and get cash . . .

. . . realizing your neighbors have all heeded the request to bag and secure debris by the curb (the request you've been typing and sending out all day) but YOU haven't and so you pile all the fallen shingles and limbs you carefully collected on Sunday into a garbage can at 9 p.m. . . .

. . . seeing the man you feared was going to renege on his promise to roof your house on the roof as you come home for lunch and smiling at his broken English explanation that until he has shingles he can't do the work, so yes there is a tarp in case it rains . . .

. . . coming home to the smell of slow cooked chicken and vegetables simmering in the kitchen before the smell of wet carpet pads hits your nostrils as you enter the bedroom and master bath . . .

. . . being grateful for rabbit ears with which to get a local channel, watching more post-hurricane reports than you care to, and then discovering your cable was restored in the wee morning hours . . .

. . . wishing that you got at least one day off to realize what you'd been through . . . like a dummy, I worked on a mailing the days after the storm and then had to be back at work on Monday so reflection moments have been rather limited . . . I want to go to Austin with my buddy or sit by the pool with my teacher friend . . .

. . . feeling guilty about in any way pouting about the above . . .

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Hurricane Ike came on like a (insert metaphor of your choice here):
a) A much anticipated date with a football star who turns out to be cruel and sadistic and leaves the girl in tears and chaos
b) A bloody corporate takeover where no one gets out fairly and the payout has no rhyme or reason
c) A sloppy, drunken blowhard who demands service and attention and then proceeds to trash the place

Frankly, “figurative” has never been my strong suit so I’m going to stop trying to describe what happened and simply report the facts.

Friday night was eerie in its normalcy. We ate. We drank. We told stories. We wondered if what the news was telling us would happen or would be another Rita.
In the early morning hours of Saturday, we knew normal was gone and that the media had it right. Winds, rain, objects rolling over the roof . . . and it went on for hours.

When the sun came up, I had five holes in my roof and water was seeping through the cracks in the foundation in my bedroom.

And I was one of the lucky ones. My friend had power and access to a truck and came to get me. He and his other two house guests/evacuees and I watched the relentless reporting of what little the media knew for hours. We cooked what we collectively had and ate well. We fed those my friend kept inviting into his home.

Sunday we discovered the rains weren’t over and for the first time, tears welled in my eyes. I envisioned the holes in the roof allowing in a deluge of water and the buckets I had placed in the attic filled and overflowing. I saw the ceiling crashing down on my clothes and I conjured up a scenario of my new place (that already felt so much like home) being condemned and me abode-less once again.

My old friend and my new (the ones with the truck) saw the anxiety on my face. They went with me to check the townhome. All was well. We moved clothes out of closets potentially at risk. We cleaned out the rest of the groceries and went home to recuperate before doing the same kinds of things at the couple’s house.

Prior to the hurricane, I did everything officials told me to do except get a full tank of gas. Soon I added to all of my Ike experiences with time spent in a gas line. Houston being the multi cultural city that it is, I found myself the only one with freckles as I compared the musical blasts coming out of the cars inching their way toward the Holy Grail –the pump. Indian, rap, and something-to-salsa-by filled the air. And though I overheard a few off color comments from one skin tone about another, the crowd followed the makeshift rules of the lot and seemed to take well the instructions from the various “traffic cops” clad in jeans and shorts and eating pizza and Cheetos as they waved us on.

I’m one of the few of my friends who have been back at work. I’ve combed through the news alerts and governmental press releases and compiled resources for our district for an email blitz and ready access on the web. We’ve opened the doors to our air conditioned office and invited our constituents in for a bottle of water and few moments of comfort. Few have taken us up on the offer but they have expressed appreciation.

After I read a note from one of our volunteers about how some of her hospice patients probably left this life earlier than they would have and how her patients with dementia are even more disoriented as they are housed on cots in the hallways of unfamiliar hospitals, I decided that a few holes in the roof and a disruption of schedule was nothing to complain about.

It’s simply reality. And there’s no metaphor that sufficiently describes post-Ike reality. Perhaps time and distance will allow me to capture it, until then . . .

Ike came. Ike bruised. But we were not shattered.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Nine Months In . . .

Nine months into this adventure and I have to smile that in many ways I'm back where I started.

I have a home I love. (That's the reason there's been no blogging for a while. I've been moving.) Slightly bigger than where I was and definitely more expensive and yet I feel the "rightness" of this space in every corner, on every art-filled wall.

I have friends that love and support me without question and sometime without reason but they do. (They were terrific in the second-of-two-moves-in-less-than-two-months whirlwind of last week. I did learn that to be truly good to your friends who have been truly good to you, it's best to pay for movers to haul big ass furniture!)

I have work that may not be exactly right for me but pleases me when I do well. AND I'm surrounded by incredibly talented individuals from whom I can learn much and am doing so!

I wonder what will be around the next corner . . .

I'm now back to exercising. I have the Food Network once again and plan on experimenting in my new kitchen (not as fancy as the old apartment but spacious and with seats for whoever wants to assist or chat).

I'm working on being in the kind of relationship that's healthy, if not perfect. And the work has its rewards.

So . . . with the "year of adventure" now more behind than in front of me, am I better for it? ABSOLUTELY! Do I know exactly what it was for and what I've learned? Nope. Still processsing . . .

Stay tuned.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Me to a friend: "My love life is in flux. My home life is in flux. My job life is in flux. I'm all fluxed up."

My friend: "Guess you're a fluxing mess!"

And then we laughed because really, what's to complain about?

With my typical glass-half-full eyes, I can also see in the midst of flux that:

I have a relationship . . . with a good man who may not wind up being the right man for me but is good nonetheless AND with friends who love and support me in flux and out.

I will have another home . . . and this next structure will no doubt be my home for the next few years. Until then I have offers of many couches, spare beds and futons!

I have a job . . . and though it will end when my candidate gets elected (note once more the positive thinking) I am making a reputation as someone who knows how to handle myself in a variety of settings. And Who knows where that will lead?

So, yeah, all fluxed up and still smiling!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Car Talk

I've never been what you would call a car buff. I know that my first car was a 1972 Malibu and I know that only because it rhymes. My second car was gold. I can't tell you much about after that except that for the most part they were non-descript and a majority of them were made by Toyota.

When I turned 40, I decided I would never be able to afford a mid-life crisis car so I got a mid-life crisis bike -- red, with a basket, and only 7 gears.

A couple of years ago (well... 2 in September) I thought, "Why can't I get a car that has no apparent purpose other than fun? Why can't I have my mid-life crisis car?" So lacking a good argument from myself (because single women don't really have to check with that many people ... although my church did tell me to do it but that's another story), I bought a red, 2006 VW convertible.

Why bring this up now?

Because on the fourth of July, my car starred in a parade. We checkerboarded it with magnets proclaiming my candidate's name, tied a couple of yard signs to each door, and placed my candidate on the back to wave and throw candy to the crowd.

I was as proud as a soccer mom watching her 7 year old kick a goalie.

Even bent and slightly bruised that car made me proud. 'Course she already took me cross country last year, so I have memories stored in every nook and side pocket. But cleaned up and processing in all her redness among the red, white, and blue waving and wearing crowd, she was a thing of beauty.

She's bruised because recently I backed into a woman's SUV -- a parked SUV, I might add! One slight flaw in the car is that there's a blind spot. One slight flaw in me is that on occasion, I'm blind.

When I got out to check the damage, I had scraped the SUV bumper badly and was wondering how I was going to find the owner. She then came walking out of a nearby restaurant and acknowledged who she was and noted she'd heard the bang.

I apologized profusely. She said, "Let's just take a look." And then told me the long scrape wasn't from me (which I should have known because, let's see, I'm in a VW!). Then she said, "I don't know that I'll even report it. I have to get that fixed anyway." But she took my information and I apologized a couple more times and then she helped me check out my car.

We discovered it had a cracked tailight and some scrapes. All in all, no big damage.

I was amazed at how nice she was being. She wanted to make sure my lights worked. So I said I was sorry yet again. That's when she said, "Hey, they're just cars."

At that moment, I knew if I had to hit someone that day I picked the right woman. I also knew then that she was correct, they are simply cars.

But after this weekend, I'm ready to have that theory challenged. That car is more than a thing. Some days it's a symbol. Some days it's my statement of independence. Some days it's the talked about entry in the Independence Day Parade. Every day it saves me money on gas.

Sure it squeeks and has two dings in the enormous front windshield. Sure it now has a scarred bumper and is in need of a repair or two.

But like the athlete that shines continually week after week only because someone is taking care of pulled muscles and strained backs and paying attention to his/her every need, that car is also a winner.

And while my next car is probably going to be non-descript and probably practical and probably made by Toyota, I will never forget my red VW convertible circa 2006.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


The festival lacked somewhat. Hard to make a series of "cause booths" festive. Nevertheless they were important, just few.

The crowd was so much younger. And though they wore clothes suggestive of world weariness and contempt for the norm, they still looked as though they'd spent a few hours on their hair.

The parties weren't materializing at the early hours we attended. Perhaps we were just early but we began to surmise that the in-fighting among the organizers and the limited budget was having a trickle down affect on the attenders. Those who had "been there, done that" for years were just not as evident. The young definitely prevailed.

The crew did a great job on our over-the-top-for-a-politician-but-why-not-for-Pride convertible. Those gathered to escort our candidate down the parade route numbered over 20 and the average age wasn't much over that as well. They screamed and portioned out the beads with relish.

I had a good time. I didn't have the best time I've ever had. At the end, I determined why.

I wasn't with the reason for my pride. Sure, I'm thrilled my candidate would rather the government stay out of the bedrooms. But, in many ways, I was working this parade, not experiencing it as I had in years gone by.

And my guys were in the crowd, not by my side. Oh, Roger was there and the best moment of the evening came as we made our way back to the cars. I was taking him to his and trying to maneuver traffic and simply reached for his hand.

"I'm proud to call you friend, my dear," I said. "No, I'm proud to call you family."

And with that we parted.

Others made their way to more parties and the kind of craziness that is usually associated with this parade. I went home and took a hot bath.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Today in the area of town known as the Montrose, thousands will gather to visit, drink, eat and play. Some will learn facts about health and voting. Others will simply party until the nighttime festivities begin -- the Pride Parade.

Our little group of merry campaigners have been preparing for this event for quite a while. Beads were bought. Koozies designed and ordered. Stickers created. Before we roll this evening a convertible will be converted into a parade worth entry with lights, magnets, banners and more.

Last night, I experienced one of those pre-parade moments that I don't seek. Having not felt quite right in the stomach department, I canceled my plans for a night with the Latino GLBT crowd at a fundraiser and stayed at home until mid-evening when I was invited to an impromptu gathering at the Empire Cafe. Three couples laughed about movies and their changing lifestyles (kids, no kids, grown kids, etc.). And then the topic of the parade came up.

"Why would your candidate WANT to be in such a thing?" was the question.

I started to explain that the GLBT crowd were big supporters of her and she of their right for personal choice. I didn't get very far.

"I know we're supposed to love everyone, even the . . . " and then she began to lump my friends in with murderers and criminals and all manner of beings who she considered sinners.

I didn't want to debate. I knew that I was an outsider on this topic with this crowd. I didn't want the topic to come up. And then I chastised myself, "How can you say you'll walk in a Pride Parade and then stay silent?"

So I let it be known. I wasn't just walking because I'm a field director for a campaign. I was walking because I love my friends, because my friends make me proud.

Great ending here would be how with just a few sentences the conversation turned and grace abounded. The conversation didn't. Grace did. But that was simply because we had the grace to stop talking. Neither of us was going to change the other's mind.

Tonight I walk. I throw beads and hand out goodies and smile and wave and take it all in. And while I thought I was ready yesterday afternoon, I guess I needed just a little more prep before Pride could take on its annual meaning for me.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What A Road He's Traveled . . .

My brother-in-law's story is filled with twists and turns and his is not my story to tell but if you ever had the chance to hear it, you would be amazed.

What I can tell you is that I love who he is now and the couple my sister and he have become. When my sister was post-50, they married. She is a pharmacist who is counting the days until early retirement. He was working at a job that did little to stimulate him. He wondered about going back to school. She encouraged him. Now a couple of years down the road, he's teaching at the very school he attended. He's also making the news. Seems that someone from Tennessee putting clear liquid in Mason jars isn't always illegal. In fact, your gas mileage just might increase!

Check it out at (You'll need to scroll down until you see the You Tube screen. Click there.)

He's traveled a few miles and sometimes made wrong turns, but now he's making the trip with energy that's clean ... I'm very proud to call him family.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sweet Scallops Are Just the Right Order

I'd been craving them for days. After work yesterday, I found them on sale. Plump, luscious, perfectly imperfect (because the truest circles are just plain wrong), the scallops were gently wrapped and handed over to me by the salesman who must have seen the appreciation and almost-lust-like look in my eyes. "Great price today!"

Awakened from my awe, I took the package, smiled widely and agreed.

I toured the store gathering other ingredients for the meal that I had been contemplating. At home, I tore into the bags of goodies like a child on her birthday, eager to lay hands on all the askded-for-and-of-course-got goodies.

Soon the cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and zucchini were roasting in the oven with a splash of balsamic, olive oil, and some rosemary for flavor. The couscous wouldn't take long but I wanted extra pine nuts so I toasted them. (Actually I toasted two batches because those suckers burn before you know it.) And in a saute pan, I placed onions and mushrooms. When they were tender, I removed them and crisped up some bacon. And finally in that same pan, I placed the scallops. Minutes later they were pretty much as I intended so I added in some wine, cherry tomatoes and the mushroom mixture.

The meal wasn't perfect -- should have seared the scallops better before focusing on the sauce -- but it was a pleasure.

Growing up in Greenfield and before shipping allowed you to get fresh California grapes and Florida oranges without having someone bring them back from vacation, we didn't see much seafood at Big John's (the grocery chain with the plastic giant holding two bags of products as the iconic statue that towers over the parking lot). If we wanted fish, Daddy and my brothers caught them in the river or a nearby pond. My mother loved shrimp and consequently Red Lobster in the city 45 minutes away. But she didn't like to peel them so we weren't always thrilled when Daddy got his hands on some frozen pink lovelies from Louisiana because it meant we had to remove the carcasses from both ours and hers.

Maybe the scarcity of the sea-bound delectibles (land-locked in Tennessee, remember?) became the allure for me. I don't know. But yesterday afternoon in the citified version of Big John's sans the parking lot guard, I practically giggled at the mere thought of the accessiblity of what I craved. Then as I lovingly cooked what I wanted and for me, I beamed.

Sometimes (and especially after a break up) taking yourself on a date is the best recipe.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Degrees of Normalcy on a Hot Houston Night

"If someone had told me 15 years ago that one warm summer night I'd be walking the dark roads of Houston for exercise while being vastly entertained by a gay man, I would have laughed long and hard," I told my longtime friend from Alabama as I drove home around 10 p.m. last night.

She agreed as we both laughed long and hard. But we weren't laughing at the oddity of the situation as we would have back in the days I lived in that also-warm-state. We laughed because these days, it seems perfectly normal.

Funny how "normal" changes with the years and the accumulation of experiences. Once that particular state of being meant being a married, church-going, 9 to 5 plus editing on the weekends kind of woman. Yesterday my current boss chuckled at the mere thought of me conforming to that role. "You just seem so irreverant for all that," she added shaking her head in disbelief.

But I was irreverant even then. I distinctly remember discussing several movies around the break table at the religious publishing house where I worked and one of my co-workers practically chastised me for watching "all that garbage" and asked why I would. I told her with no hesitation. "Because people like you always ask people like me about stuff like this. And I'm not going to take anyone else's opinion for what I should and should not like."

Guess I'm still living by that philosophy. I'm here to experience life. Sometimes that puts me in the shadows of the Texas Medical Center powerwalking in the dark. Sometimes that means I spend a Sunday afternoon dressed as a clown, face painting on a 100-ft party boat rented out for families who have survived cancer (as I did this past weekend). Sometimes I get to enjoy sitting across the table from a friend who enjoys my passion for sushi and substantive conversation. And sometimes it means carrying out a work-related task with one phone on one ear, my cell on the other and my boss in front of me as we as a staff laughingly wrestle with what should go in an email newsletter.

But always, I marvel. I marvel at the fact that I get to do this. I marvel that I am blessed with the kind of friends who will meet me at the last minute for supper, walk with me because it's time I got some exercise even if I don't seem to have time to do it, and laugh with me at where the road has already and will take me.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Thoughts Collide

I stopped at a red light on the feeder road to 610N this morning. To my right were three kids around 10 or 11 years of age. Each wore a helmet and a towel and were on bicycles, dutifully obeying the traffic laws and waiting for their turn to cross the congested street. They had goggles hanging from their handle bars. And looked cared for and protected.

I had just left morning TV where I saw two disturbing pieces of news. There was a man driving recklessly across the city trying to elude the police. Not 20 minutes earlier, he had been on the very interstate, these kids were about to ride under. The other saddening note was that George Carlin died.

My sister introduced me to Carlin when she told me about but wouldn't divulge the 7 words you cannot say on TV. I was about the age of the lead girl in this makeshift bicycle parade at the time. Later, when I could understand the depth of Carlin's humor I appreciated most that he was an intelligent comic. His word play was an amusement park of fun. I didn't always agree with what he said but I almost always laughed at how he said it.

The three children made me flash back to days in Greenfield when my brothers and I (my sister was older and wouldn't have wanted to be seen with us) would make our way to the city pool. We'd go by foot since it was only a block away. I hoped for a moment that these three would maintain the innocence we possessed in those days -- even if they were already navigating Houston streets. I hoped that they would know to cherish summer days and life.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Who Are You? And another thing . . .

This blog service offers an opportunity to see where folks are reading my blog. Kinda cool. But it doesn't tell me who you are. And that makes me kinda curious. For instance, who do I know in New York that would read this stuff? (If you're not comfortable leaving a comment, email me at

And another thing . . . if you've been reading over the last year . . . should I capture this adventure in a book format or not?

I've got an inquiring mind and I want to know.

Solo Once More

After four questions, I knew he wanted to start something.

Nine months have passed.

After having the same conversation four times, we both knew it was time to end it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


The pandas in China are in jeopardy. A woman from the U.S. traveled there to do what she could for these precious creatures who are now homeless as a result of the devastating earthquake there. When asked why, she responded, "Endangered means we have time. Extinction is forever."

The quote struck me and made me wonder what else is endangered and what is already extinct?

Courtesy on the roadways?
Compassion for those who obviously will never be able to appreciate or express appreciation for what you might do for them?
Belief in the church or faith system you grew up with?
The idea that a middle-aged woman who is beginning to sag but unwilling to nag might actually find a man to appreciate all that she does offer?
Customer service?
Low prices on gas . . . and with the floods in Iowa, anything made with what will be a scarce commodity -- corn?
Me ever finding my way back to a size 6 again?
You fill in the blank ____________________________

Saint and Sanctuary

Someone told me last week they were about to curl up with their favorite author in the room they most enjoyed in their home. I said, "your saint and your sanctuary -- makes sense to me."

Made me consider who my saint is and where sanctuary is these days for me. At least twice of late, I've said aloud how at peace I felt on my couch, in my space, surrounded by my things with nothing truly going on except me reading the paper or watching the news. As for my saint, I don't have a go-to author that soothes and/or scintilates, but this weekend I was reminded that I do hold certain writers/thinkers with heavy loads of respect.

I will miss Tim Russert. I liked his everyman persona. I liked that I could imagine myself seeing him in an airport and actually smiling and thanking him for his succinct, simple approach to explaining politics. I liked that he loved his family, his background, his future. I mourn that his future was not as long as anyone would have thought. November will not be the same without his insight into the election process. I didn't know the man, but I will miss him.

Perhaps he wasn't a saint, but I know I found sanctuary in his explanations of how things work.

Courtesy Foul

I've recently discovered that in some softball leagues, rules exist to hurry the progress along. For instance, when batters approach home plate they already have one ball and one strike. Thus, when they foul and then foul again, they get one more chance for a hit or a ball or otherwise they are out. The last foul allowed is the "courtesy foul."

Last Friday night, I gave the team a courtesy foul. The first experience with them was horrid. I've described that at length already. The second experience I spent simply keeping score and enjoying the non-pressurized role of athletic supporter. I enjoyed the people enough that I even offered my home for a party post-game last Friday.

Then the coach called. Seemed they were once again in need of females and I qualify. I immediately said, "Not if it means I play second. It's right field for me."

He suggested catcher. And that positioning gave us both a home run. I lost the ability to throw the ball exactly where I wanted sometime before the end of the first game and certainly in the second, but I did little to humiliate myself. In fact, I simply walked, ran the bases and stayed out of trouble. As a result of my playing what I called the WB position (warm body) and some excellent play on the part of my teammates we won both games.

The party food was a hit as well!

Makes me wonder what else I need to give a courtesy foul to. How many people have I called out of my life who need one more chance at bat? How many experiences have I written off without digging a little deeper for the fortitude I need to perhaps not succeed but at least redeem a situation?

Speakers are constantly using sports metaphors to explain the ways of the world and humanity. Guess now I see why.

Monday, June 09, 2008

For Adults Only

One of my latest visitors declared my new space "all grown up." Today I had a conversation that wasn't easy but needed to be had and I walked away feeling very much the adult.

Strange isn't? No matter how many lines inch their way around my eyes or how many colors are needed to hold back the gray, I continue to question how I got the mature role.

Aren't I still 16 and secretly scoffing and rolling my eyes? Or at least in my 20s, full of passion and promise? Certainly, I just made it to my 30s when being clueless seemed somehow correct.

No, here I am -- 46 and happy to still be learning what playing house is all about.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

I Took the Long Cut

So when you get directions online and you don't put in the correct address and you don't notice this fact until after you've made the (what-you-know-later-is-the-wrong) turn then you could add 30 more minutes to a trip that was already supposed to be a late arrival but winds up getting you to your hotel room after midnight.

Not that I would know anything about that . . .

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Stuff and Stories

I'm slightly embarrassed by how much I'm loving having my things around me once again.

I don't consider myself that much of materialistic person. Yet here I am . . . making my bed each day and saying a prayer of gratitude that I'm back on a mattress and box springs . . . putzing in the kitchen and smiling because I have just the right dish to present the food on with a certain flair . . . staging rooms (the house is for sale) with items I've collected from trips and remembering the people and places that are connected to the thing.

Guess as long as I have the stories, I won't feel too bad. Can't wait to add more.

Makes Me Wonder What I'm Feeding My Gut

I love me some good writing. Today I was reading Maureen Dowd's editorial on Scott McClellan's new book. She said:

". . . our president is a one-man refutation of Malcom Gladwell's best-seller Blink, about the value of trusting your gut.

"Every gut instinct he had was wildly off the mark and hideously damaging to all concerned.

"It seems that if you trust your gut without ever feeding your gut any facts or news or contrary opinions, if you keep your gut on a steady diet of grandiosity, ignorance, sycophants, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, those snap decisions can be ruinous."

Friday, May 30, 2008

Sect in the City

The children are being returned to their parents.

I'm so confused.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggidy Jig

I'm off the futon and back in my bed!

But thank you Roger for providing that futon for the past three months!

I've got a fridge full of food and friends to share it with.

And thank you Roger for those coupons that cut almost $50 off the bill for stocking my new digs with everything from cleaners to cold drinks.

Two nights ago we moved the first items through the door.

Thank you Stan, Robert, Ken, Becky, Gary, Traci and once again Roger for hauling and Jerry for doing that thing you do so well -- taking my stuff and making it look like it belongs.

For every action there is a reaction.

I moved. I'm sad to leave Roger behind.
I moved. I'm happy to see familiar things displayed in new ways and in a new place.

Home again with the people I love surrounding me.

Ahhhhhh . . .

Monday, May 26, 2008

Home for the Holiday

I was told as a child that my hometown got its name because some railroad men who were traveling through said, "That's some mighty green fields out there."

This weekend Greenfield lived up to its moniker.

The greens were in abundance -- winter wheat, beginnings of new (and for me) unidentifiable crops, trees stocked full of leaves, vines about to break forth with berries, and lawns that serve as more than an outline for the house which sits on the lot (McMansions are prevalent in Houston, but not Greenfield)offered up a smorgasbord of variations on the hue.

AND speaking of smorgasbords . . . my mother was at it again. Though my stepfather has been ill and she's his primary caretaker (you can take the nurse out of the clinic but not the caregiving out of the nurse), she laid down the spreads.

Since she's fallen pretty big time for my current roommate and "adopted" brother Roger, I think she was showing off. Friday night we arrived to ham, kraut with polish sausage, butter beans, turnip greens, Mexican cornbread and a peach cobbler. Saturday we attended the alumni banquet at my school because mom's class was celebrating their 60th and Sunday mom broke out the homemade tamales. Good eats!

I kept accusing Roger of trying to find his way into a non-existent will. He was the consumate Southern boy. He sat on the porch and chatted with them about life in the small town. He greeted every stranger as though they were long lost relatives. And he sweat his way through moving trailers, cleaning outdoor furniture and the first few hours indoors before he discovered they hadn't yet switched the central heat and air to air!

I value each visit home these days. Illness reminds you of the fragility of bodies and time. I relished the moments with my sister as she exercised and we both commented on the country music artists and programming on CMT. (They have a makeover show for mobile homes!) I jumped at the chance to walk with my brother and we exercised both our minds and our bodies as we covered everything from politics to relationships . . . without worrying about how far apart or close together we might be.

I visited the electronics lab that has given my brother-in-law the chance to finally put all the pieces of what's crashed around in his mind for so long together in some amazing ways. The fact that he gets to teach and inspire others is no surprise. I saw my sister-in-law who has been the ever present Karen to Kelly's "womb to tomb" Kelly and Karen package (those are his words, not mine) laugh and be the grandmother she was meant to be. I marveled at my beautiful and intelligent nieces and said the silent prayer of the non-mother that they always realize what they have and live up to the investment their parents have made in their lives. And I saw the difference time maps out on the bodies of old friends and adults I've admired since childhood.

Oh, yes, and we said hello to Daddy and Grandmother. It being Memorial Day and all, a stop by the cemetary on a morning walk seemed appropriate. Plus Roger had never "met" them.

All in all, the fields were ripe unto a harvest of good times. Greenfield indeed.

English Majors Don't Always See How Things Add Up

I've spent the majority of my life trying to "do unto others as I would have them do unto me."

Recently, I realized something about that Golden Rule.

Expectations of a return on that particular investment aren't part of the equation.

For example, I can listen because I would like to be listened to. But the moment I expect the "listen-ee" to become the "listen-er" I've set myself up for disappointment.

To some degree, this realization was the equivalent of learning that 1 + 1 does not always equal 2.

I was never good at math.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

It's May!

I may move into a nice, big townhome for the next five months.

I may get my beloved old apartment back in October.

I may not be the wandering vagabond.

I may miss the borrowed space, beds, futons, couches, closets, storage sheds and attics where I and my things are stored.

But I will definitely remember it all and be grateful.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Not Too Big On Collections

I know people who collect corks from wine bottles emptied at significant events/experiences. I met a woman yesterday who collects bottle caps. My sister used to have an amazing collection of items from the 70s, including several feet of a gum wrapper rope she'd once created. Now she's into all things purple and camels. My brother is into anything Richard Petty has lent his name to. I love the stories behind these eclectic galleries of sorts. But I rarely have the room.

And then there are those folks who collect disease, disasters, and doom. You know them. They can list every bad thing that's happened of late and are on alert for what surely is the black cloud looming around the corner of what is currently Sunshine Street. While some have perfected this perverse Easter egg hunt of rotten fouls, all of us have the tendency. I caught myself last week. I was easily able to tick off a list of why I was so ticked off.

But I've never been much of a collector (though I was accused once of collecting colorful friends). And I realize that I have control over the voice inside my head who stands ready at the white board to list yet another injustice I might have suffered.

I can send the voice packing. Take the eraser and make this week a new week, this day a new day.

Am I saying we ignore patterns? Absolutely not. I believe strongly in identifying and addressing when we "keep doing what we've been doing in order to keep getting what we've been getting." Self-awareness is the first step they say and I'm a believer.

Still correction is a big step away from collection.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bite By Bite

A professional volunteer (such as yours truly) goes to a lot of "events." Fundraisers mostly, these gatherings are in lovely homes, around pools, in galleries. They sometimes support a charity. Sometimes they are related to a cause. Other times it's about a person.

For me, it's about the food.

I've always been about bite-sized bits. Love 'em. Since learning that not all restaurants serve the entres wrapped in paper and their drinks in paper cups with plastic lids, I discovered the meals that could be made out of the appetizer section of the menu. Later in life, I learned I was into what those in Spain call "tapas." Who knew I was so cross cultural while chowing down at Fridays?

So party food hits me square on the palate. Take the napkin and fill it with the array of tiny morsels wrapped in wontons, tidied up with tarts, rolled to perfection, or dipped for your dining pleasure.

I feel therefore it's my duty to report a recent trend.

Two events less than 24 hours apart netted me a bounty of asparagus wrapped in prosciutto.

While keeping you posted on culinary trends might add a few pounds to my ever widening hips, I know an obligation when I see one and I'm ready to take one for the team (as long as it's not softball, see below).

And though I've come a few miles from Greenfield and now wear a cocktail dress and make small talk with the best of them, I must confess a fact. Every time I see that asparagus and realize its cost as well as that of the upscale ham that hugs it so tightly, I can't help but think of Grandmother. She used to pull to the side of the country roads so we could stop and pick the wild asparagus that grew freely there. She'd then come home and add some Campbells Cream of Something and top it with some cheddar and Saltines and voila! we had ourselves some asparagus casserole. The ham was reserved for biscuits the next morning.

Gotta tell you ... might have traveled a few miles but if she were here right now and set one of her kitchen treasures before me, I'd eat every last bite.

Bite-sized bliss comes in many forms.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

I Was Supposed To Be the Bench Warmer

What's the best medicine for feeling ignorant and inept? Why, softball of course!

As I mentioned earlier, I've been on a learning curve that gives the Cyclone a run for its roller coaster money. Yesterday proved to be no exception with a few successes but at the end of the day a nice tidy screw up to heap on the humility pile.

I'm fuming at myself for omitting a critical piece of information that my boss had to track down as I'm driving to Friday night's supposed diversion -- a softball game.

I haven't played softball in 20 years. And when I did, I was there strictly to round out the team so they wouldn't have to forfeit. I know the positions that person plays -- catcher or right field. I have no delusions of grandeur. I breathe, I can squat or stand with no problem, and I like to have fun.

Silly me! Who knew I was joining the Cutthroat League? I do have the satisfaction of knowing that I won the first game for them. If I and another woman (who wanted to be there slightly more than me but that was only because she was married to one of the guys) hadn't been there they wouldn't have been able to get the forfeit from the team that didn't have enough women.

My MIS (man-I'm-seeing, because at our ages, he's not my boyfriend) is the pitcher and he's seriously into playing this game. He's also the sort of coach, though another guy has the title. AND THAT GUY PUT ME ON SECOND!!!

People like me do not play the infield! I was actually heading to right when he said, "You're at second."

Aghast, I looked at him questioningly. He returned with the look of "I'm in charge, don't question me." So I headed to second -- which of course was wrong.

My MIS pointed to the spot away from second that I was to be stationed. He then assured me that the team would "look out for me" and then I heard the chatter as the men and women at first, short and third began to plot how they would compensate for the hole (that would be me).

The forfeiting team wanted to scrimmage and wound up being lots more fun than my team. I'm told that it was because they were so good and winning that they were laughing and teasing me. I think the beer they'd smuggled in might have had something to do with it.

My team wasn't evil. They were just focused. They "coached" each other after a bad play. They kicked at themselves after a bad play. Most of them shared "one of the main things you need to remember about softball" with me and of course, none of those things were the same. I was being told when to hang back, when to move left, when to move right, what base to over run, what base I couldn't, where to hold my bat and hundred other things.

I also got yelled at. Seems standing in the way of a center fielder who's barreling a ball at several miles per hour in your direction when he really means to be getting it to short is not a good idea.

Neither is catching with you bare hand but I'd done that by this time so what more could I lose? (By the way, the term "softball" is a mistake. It's not and I have the bruise to prove it.)

By the time the third inning of the real game we played came around I had determined I was experiencing the levels of hell, that the 7th inning stretch would have a whole new meaning to me as I recalled my own experience with Dante's Inferno.

By the fourth inning I was trying not to tear up as the MIS asked me yet again if I was ok. Deciding his pleasure at playing this so-called game was greater than my pain, I informed him my hand hurt and that I was enduring the experience but I didn't go into any details. Didn't have to. He saw the tears forming.

Eventually my nightmare ended. Only after, though, the final inning when it had been announced we could still win if we got four runs. Two were already accomplished by the time I was warming up. The guy ahead of me was a hotshot and I was silently chanting/praying/whatever to the powers that be that he not show off and make an out (which would have been the second). BUT NOOOOOOOOO! He stayed true to form, got out and I walked to the plate knowing I'd be the third.

I did not disappoint.

Later, the MIS remarked that I did great, they were grateful for me coming, and I would REALLY enjoy it next time.

That's when I informed him there would be no next time.

I know sports are a joy for some. But unless I'm laughing at myself (which I couldn't do with this crowd) sports has never been my joy spot.

Still isn't.

I wonder if there's a competitive laughing team I can get on?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Two Months of Feelings. . .

I've spent the past couple of months feeling ignorant. Note that I did not say stupid, however. I know things. I just didn't know the kind of things I needed to know to be the kind of worker I wanted to be.

So for two months, I've dug in. I listened, asked questions, made tons of mistakes, listened some more, tried and tried again.

Today I feel more aware of how much I depended upon people who do the kinds of things I've been learning. People like Tish, Linda, Sharon and many, many more were the people I gave things to and then miraculously saw the idea that had been in my head become a reality. Mail merges, labels, printing and a plethora of other assignments took place while I went on to the next task.

Today I feel grateful.

I also feel ready to no longer feel so ignorant. I can copy a column in Excel now, sort data, create labels and no longer cringe when the online database is mentioned as our go-to source for something. But I'm no expert. I still have more questions than answers. But as of this week, I also have help. Two interns are taking on a load of the work that for two months fell solely on my desk.

Like I said, today I feel grateful.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


The beautiful young man standing before me was physically strong and soul weary. I could tell as soon as I asked the standard, "How ya doin?" His "fine" was of the "not-so-great" variety.

We aren't friends. I've only met him a couple of times and both of those were at professional functions. But he's standing there, waiting. So I go deeper.

Sure enough, he's ready to unload. A few minutes later, I've learned the job that has us both scrambling at the moment was a distraction. He went to school for architecture. He then got into a political science class and with his personality found himself the target of recruiting by candidates. Several campaigns later, he's ready to return to the classroom and build something other than ideas. (Though his ideas for buildings still include using materials and financing that will help the "little guy.")

I enjoyed listening. I felt no need to fix him. And after spending a few minutes with his returned dream, he was energized once again. That's when it felt ok to tell him my favorite metaphor.

When I was just out of school, I had the privilege of starting fast and furious on the ladder climb. I had the personality to propel me. And, I soon learned that folks love to look at the flying kite, colorful and bright, darting in and out, taking risks along the treetops and not just surviving but sometimes taking your breath away with its daring and the brillance of the sun behind it.

The thing was -- and at least I knew then as well as now -- the kite is only as good as whoever holds the string. She/he is the strategist, the real risk-taker (and if you've read The Kite Runner you know how strategic the role really is). And though the attention is never on them, without them, there's no flying.

"I'm aware now, in the new roles I'm exploring, that I no longer am the kite. That's for folks like you or the two we're helping get into office," I told him. "I'm happy to hold the string."

"That's good!" his face beamed as he affirmed the metaphor's usefulness. And then more to himself than to me, "Yeah, that's really good."

I thought so.

Ahhh . . . Whew . . .

That's the sound of me breathing. Two months of two jobs and life on a futon and I'm finally at a computer again for something other than lesson plans or databases.

Don't know if anyone is still out there, but if so, here goes.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Couple of Reasons Why the Blog Posts Have Been Fewer of Late

Volunteer Update

As of April, I will move from having no paying positions to having two!

I'm still not making the kind of money I once did, but as I told an acquaintance recently, I made the choice for having less and doing more when I left the career I'd invested 23 years in.

I'm not complaining! By all accounts, these last six months have been every thing I thought they'd be and maybe even a few things I didn't fathom were possible!

Will Volunteer for Food

Asked what I was up to this weekend, I replied:

As soon as I leave my volunteer position with the campaign, I'm heading to the theater to serve as a volunteer usher and then will wake up on Saturday to volunteer at the AIDS hospice after which I'll go to the rodeo where I was a volunteer in order to now be getting in free.

My thought later ... I may not make a lot of money but I have a lot of fun!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

60 Miles from Crazy and Driving Below the Limit

I have a new "job."

My buddy asked me yesterday if this was like my other jobs with the theaters where I usher for free, and Bering Omega where I work at a hospice for free, and the rodeo where I speak for free and Africa where I did my communications stuff for free.

So if you're wondering if that's what the quotation marks are about, then yes, it is.

Still, I feel I'm going to be employed. And, in fact, I may eventually make a few dollars. But the point of this year is to gain experience more than income (and I can happily report that part of the journey has been tremendously successful).

So Monday morning I'll report to my new office -- running the campaign headquarters of my state representative.

I'm thrilled.

First, I really respect the candidate. She won her first term a couple of years ago and has proven herself over and over to be beyond the barriers of party lines and about education, health, and things I hold dear. Plus her right hand woman is a good friend of mine and soon to be my boss.

I told the rep during the interview that I took this year off to do the things I could have never done in my old position. I explained that in Africa, I had regained the passion that I had once held dear whenever I helped a person live into a passion that drove their every step. And I readily admitted that I was clueless about most things political.

Still she "hired" me. I think her only reluctance was the thought that my church background might make me a tad sensitive to what she described as her irreverence.

Is that laughter I hear coming through the Internet???? Yeah, I laughed too.

My friend/and now boss is beginning to send me emails for my to do list on Monday. Today she asked if she was driving me crazy.

"We're 60 miles from Crazy and driving below the limit at this point. No worries," I replied. And, frankly, it's true. I'm sure it's going to get strange, wild and maybe even hectic.

I plan on enjoying every minute of the ride!

Sweet Life Is the Sweetest Revenge

Some of you may remember the car dealer who "traded up" last year (my phrase) by dumping me for a woman who he felt would help him make needed connections for his business.

I saw him Tuesday night.

My girlfriend and I were at the rodeo and, I have to say, looking the part. We hadn't crossed the line into cowgirl costuming (this year's trend seems to be mini-skirts with boots and/or short shorts that make the hot pants of the 70s look like Scout uniforms). We weren't trying (as many implanted and tucked psuedo-blondes our age) to pull off younger or hip or anything other than comfortable.

Jeans and good living were are only adornments as we checked out the scene. A quick survey of the second gathering point netted me my prey. After a year of tsk-tsking his behavior and knowing that no matter what his choices did to his bottom line, he was the one who would come up empty, I saw him standing three feet away.

Now, at this point, I could have walked away. He didn't see me. But where would be the fun in that?

I called his name . . . He didn't hear me. . . I added his last. He looked up.

Nothing. I didn't register. And then . . .

He almost gasped. I smiled ... actually, I beamed. He was at least 20 pounds heavier and showing wear and tear. I was . . . as I said . . . totally comfortable and happy with the moment and me.

He stared then and took in every inch. I knew that the longer hair, the post-Africa glow, and the cowgirl confidence was making thinking a bit difficult on his part.

He asked how I'd been, checked on my dating status, introduced me to his friends (which I did as well), told me about his rodeo involvement, asked more questions. I answered, offered up juicy bits like the whole "I-quit-my-job-have-been-traveling-and-just-spent-six-weeks-in-Africa" line that elicited the now all too familiar "holy shit" look.

In the midst of the interview, he stopped short to add parenthetically, "My God, you look fantastic!"

I merely patted his arm and complimented him on the fact that his taste had only improved.

Two minutes into it, I realized that living well is the sweetest revenge when someone somehow thought you didn't live up to what they needed. Less than five minutes into it, I knew all I needed to know.

I suggested he might want to get back to his friends as I had merely wanted to say hi. He hung on a bit longer and finally, complied.

Later I realized that I had actually used the "shoo fly" motion as I directed his attention back to them.

The music that night was adequate. Our energy fell short before really getting to enjoy the dance floor. But nevertheless the wild, wild west was alive and well on Tuesday at the rodeo. Sweet life indeed . . .

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Since Landing on Thursday (And Now It's Saturday)

My hairdresser and good friend was able to fit me in and I got a cut and color before anyone other than the MIS (man I'm seeing) had a chance to explore the wonders of my roots becoming the dominant feature on my head!

I ate the first Mexican food I've had in over six weeks.

I drove my VW once again.

My feet are now actually clean . . . and the nails are nicely polished, thank you!

I attended my first ever BBQ cookoff and when I put a piece of chicken, a couple of slices of sausage, and some brisket on my plate I realized that was more meat than I'd eaten in the last six weeks.

I danced until my newly colored hair was soaking wet.

I dressed as a rodeo clown and mingled among the special needs kids who were on hand to see the parade of horses that signals the start of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. And then I ran the parade. Please note that I said "ran." We were behind a float on wheels rather than hooves and were supposed to keep up with it. So instead of the leisurely stroll I anticipated we booked the entire parade route. I did a rodeo clown version of wrestlers' high fiving the crowd to at least engage a bit. I also sweat some more!

I planned a party with Roger to do some show and tell related to the trip on Sunday.

I fought the urge to say "asante" and "pole sana" on numerous occasions and went with "thank you" and "I'm sorry" instead.

And I thought of the hills of Karatu and the people I left behind every other hour.

Don't Want to Lose This Moment

On one of my last days in the office in Karatu, the director was chatting with her staff and when one of them offered to take care of a certain task, she inquired with a joking tone to her voice (because hey, she's the director!), "Promise?"

They said yes. And then as almost an afterthought, she asked, "By the way, what's the Swahili word for 'promise'?"

They paused. You could almost imagine the sound of shuffling feet coming from the room. She asked again.

One woman replied, "Well, you see that's a problem. . . . There is no word for 'promise'."

"Aha!" the director exclaimed. "That could explain a lot of things!"

Yep . . . it does.

Friday, February 29, 2008

I'm Baaaaack

When it takes 25 hours to make it home, you're bound to encounter a tad bit of drama. Nothing serious, actually, more like comedy but still entertaining.

First, before we even get to the from airport-to-airport-25, the story of the trip to the airport -- Jolene and I headed for Kilimanjaro a bit after noon. We made some stops in Arusha for Chinese food, one last minute coffee purchase and one last stab at Azam ice cream (though alas, they didn't have our favorite and I left the country without that tasty treat on my tongue ... guess I'll just have to go back!). We decided to give one last chance to the ever so shy mountain that I had tried to see FIVE times previously, so we went in that direction (also the direction of the airport named for said mountain). You'd think that one of the largest mountains in the world might actually be visible. But, no, I had yet to see it ... even at its base!!!! As we approach, I finally note the ridge going upward and then on the other side .... far, far away is the ridge going down. This is more than I've seen thus far and I'm ready to be satisfied with that when .... Jolene sees it! The patch of snow is undeniable! I'm seeing the top of Kilimanjaro!! Wooohooo! Mission accomplished!

Now to accomplish this mission was no small feat given that our vehicle also gave me one last true Tanzanian experience -- a flat! We were soooo very fortunate. We were on the road to the airport (a better than average road) and less than a mile from a gas station when it happened. Though the vehicle was sans some of the proper tools for fixing flats on it, the guys made do with what they had and Jolene tipped generously.

At the airport and after a tearful goodbye that made me know I had lived well and deeply in these six weeks, I entertained myself with Solitaire. The cards attracted a bit of attention and that was pleasant as Tanzanians passed by quietly to observe what I was doing. Then in the holding area for our plane I found a table and kept going. Soon a band of Italian men came in and I assumed they were some sports team. One plopped himself beside my table and began watching. Intently. Very. And even corrected one of my moves with a very vocal, "No!" I laughed. He laughed and I discovered he knew "no" but not much more English. He continued watching and I asked a couple of questions. Took a while but I learned that he had just climbed Kili and that he liked cards. So I taught him Blackjack. Then with more hand gestures and mime, he taught me an Italian card game that was a comedy in the making given that ... remember he knows NO English. The first few hands I was just tossing cards down like he was doing, totally clueless as to the point! Eventually, though, I won! Lewis (I eventually learned his name) made a date with me for more cards later but that was not to be due to seating arrangements but it was a cool moment.

Hour 21 of the trip home was my breaking point. I thought I was going to have to rush the upstairs first class section and demand a TV of my own with something more entertaining than the small screen of Rush Hour 3 that was playing a full 10 feet away and behind the luggage rack. Instead, I opted for walking around. I wound up in conversation with a man from Trinidad now living in the Middle East but also with a home in Houston. He was fascinating and we exchanged travel stories and cultural observations for well over an hour. He asked about what had brought me to Tanzania and I told him. I also told him about a few other volunteer endeavors I'm into and he bombarded me with questions and a need for details. Seems he's at a point of wanting to give back after having just lost a sister to cancer. When we were finally having more pauses in the conversation than we'd started with, he said he thought he should go get an hour's sleep but before he left he said, "You have been a medicine to me ... a medicine to my soul."

I was surprised, pleased and reminded that healing comes in many forms. While I may not have a great realization to share at the moment about my time in Africa, I do know a few things. I'm a healthier woman for having been there. I'm a better student of humanity for having experienced life from outside the role of pure tourist. And I totally understand how a person . . . or even a group of people ranging from students to about to be medical doctors to a staff of complex and diverse personalities to an incredibly gifted country director can all serve as "medicine to my soul."

I'm glad to be back. But that comes from being most certainly glad to have been away.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

For those of you who thought I was just trying to photograph giraffes . . .

Summary Report of Six Weeks of Volunteering
Karen Campbell
February 26, 2008

When I arrived in Tanzania, I first noted the darkness. No street lights. Very little traffic at such a late hour. As I conclude my stay, I must note that I have indeed “seen the light” . . . in the form of a dedicated project director and a staff working towards awareness of survival of mothers and their children.

Though the five-year project focuses on health (and we all know I'm NOT a doctor), as a communicator and educator, I easily found a role. Over the course of the six weeks I served with Minnesota International Health Volunteers I:

 Tutored one young woman on writing and another two on intensive Powerpoint training. Worked with four others on some aspects of Powerpoint
 Presented two presentations to staff – one on planning and one on Powerpoint
 Scanned and created Powerpoints (so we could print out slides as flip charts) on Safe Motherhood and Home-Based Life-Saving Skills. Helped do some laminating of what will be 85 sets of 67 pages.
 Created Powerpoint presentations and suggested learning activities for MAISHA and Drug Shop Keeper training
 Working with doctors, developed a picture-based simplified partograph for TBAs to use on the field
 Wrote two news features and two press releases
 Consulted with communication staff on marathon preparation & planning
 Designed logo for health communication plan and accompanying interpretive presentation
 Tweaked and developed logo for marathon t-shirt
 Consulted with project management in weeklong appointments with nationally-based business leaders seeking marathon sponsorship
 Proposed potential curriculum outline for volunteer orientation
 Developed series of templates for MIHV presentations
 Compiled file of teaching pictures for use in later presentations
 Blogged regularly

Here’s hoping that the light that this relatively small group of people shines forth extends even further and brighter in the future. They have already surpassed one five-year goal in that rather than train 90 village health workers in five years, they’ve already certified more than 150! Their education efforts have translated into an almost complete reversal of the dispensing of dangerous (though profitable) half dosages out of some tested drug shops. And they are planning on raising awareness of malaria with a first-ever-in-this-district-half marathon! Add a three week training that will offer home-based life-saving skills and a strategy for multiplying that learning across not just the district but the country and well . . . even in rainy season, you’ll need shades.

For those of you reading this blog post who have heeded my pleas for funds in the past, I hope you’ve stayed with me long enough to pay attention one more time. If you make a donation to a group this small you add immediately and significantly to their incredible impact. To give some financial support, make donations to Minnesota International Health Volunteers, 122 West Franklin Ave., Suite 510, Minneapolis, MN 55404 (and note on the check that it's for Tanzania). Or check out their website for needs you might turn into volunteer opportunities (they could use office support, documentary filmmakers, trainers, writers, computer experts, and more!) at

My plane leaves tomorrow at 9:30 p.m. About 24 hours later, but around 1:30 p.m. Thursday, I land in Houston with enough warmth in my soul to illuminate anyone who cares to listen, to see a few photos, and to catch up. Until then, I close with a phrase I've employed continuously since arriving, "Asante sana." To whoever is paying attention, "thank you very much".

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Didn't Think I Had It In Me

Masai markets are common in these parts. Roadside stands with the outside walls serving as easels for numerous large and brightly colored paintings of women carrying baskets on their heads, men and women dancing, etc. pop up frequently along the route to the major tourist attractions.

I hate shopping but this trip I felt some souvenirs were in order so I dug deep to what resolve I could and we headed to the nearby city’s Masai market.

We drive in and I immediately think of Santa Fe, New Mexico where Native American women (usually) are seated around the square with their blankets of silver before them. Here it’s Masai women with beaded everything displayed shukas (Masai cloth).

Once again the stall architecture (a la our food market) is employed to show off the kinds of things I often see at Cost Plus back home – statues of wildlife, masks, “ebony” carvings, batiks and more. And every vendor has a young man (usually) eagerly suggesting I check out what’s in his stall.

I have a few things in mind and we head where we see those items (which, of course, I can’t name here or it would ruin the surprise of those who will receive them). The man quotes a price comparable to what I’d find in the hotel/lodge gift shops – about three to four times what he’d sell it for if he knew me and maybe ten times more what he’d ask of a fellow Tanzanian (except they wouldn’t be buying this stuff to begin with!).

Suddenly, I’m overcome. I know he’s jacked up the price. I know it’s what he’s supposed to do in this setting and I know that my usual response is just to give in. But this time ... this time ... I haggle.

I cut his price in half. He says he’s going to lose all profit. I say, “But that’s what I have to give.” He tells me his hardship story and that he needs to do better. I tell him that I know I look like a rich “mzungu” but I am a volunteer, working for no money and that I have a limited amount to spend on my friends and family. He says, “Give me just a little more.” And I reply, “That’s what I’m offering and it’s ok if you don’t want it because I’m thinking any one of those guys standing in front of all those other booths will take this price.”

They gave me what I offered every time.

Except … for one woman and I’m glad because I love what I got instead. And one elderly gentleman whose teeth were brown and one seemed ready to fall out. He had EXACTLY what I wanted to get a very special man in my life and when I asked “bei gani?” (how much?) he quoted me the fairest price I’ve been offered by anyone in this country for anything! I was so shocked I didn’t bargain at all. In fact, I found something else to buy.

And finally, I had been looking for a requested item since I arrived. My friend, Beth, wanted some fabric and had given me some suggestions and even the cash with which to make the purchase. We had been less than thrilled with what we’d been seeing the few times we had a chance to look so my director, Jolene, had kind of taken this on as her special project. We still hadn’t found it.

The men at the end of the first line of stalls began their onslaught of me and already knew I knew a few words of Swahili. They greeted me enthusiastically and I didn’t even lie. “I’m not mzuri (good)!” I exclaimed as I feigned almost fainting. Suddenly, they dropped the hard sale.

“Pole sana, madam,” they offered a quick apology and then inquired about what it was I was searching for. I explained and rather than dig into their stuff to show me yet more “almost-but-not-really” possibilities, one guy became the spokesperson.

“You’re not going to find that here but in town . . . “ and he continued with directions. I was shocked.

Jolene brought me out of my shopping shock and stupor to tell me she had at least found an example of the pattern we were looking for and the woman she had been talking to unfurled a hand-painted, modern take on African art. The thing, I think, was EXACTLY what I think Beth will like. So I asked the woman how much.

I’ve not seen such honest, worn, resolution as I did on that woman’s face as she folded the cloth and said with absolutely no enthusiasm, “Fifteen thousand.” And you could tell she was about as eager to bargain with me as I was with her.

“That’s absolutely perfect,” I said and dug in my purse for the bills. She looked up. She smiled and she gave me the cloth as Jolene said, “See you did get a first purchase of the day!”

I found out that Jolene had liked some key chains she was selling but had declined once she determined the coins dangling were Kenyan and not Tanzanian. The woman must have had her hopes dashed slightly and I got to redeem the sale!

I walked away quite pleased with my purchases but especially with my performance. I don’t like the idea of haggling. I rarely do it and consequently usually bring home very few sounvenirs. I don’t like the system that has built up around tourism and the bad name some of us give others as we bully our way to what we want. Neither do I like the fact that because of my complexion, I’m a target for gouging.

But I love fairness. And so I treated it as I knew I should – fairly.

I told Jolene later that I have no intention of trying to cheat these folks out of what they need. Enough people from all sides do that to them on a regular basis. But I don’t want to be cheated either so I love it when the price I’m offered is a good one. I then asked if Jolene would sign an affidavit indicating she had actually witnessed my bargaining. A few of my previous fellow travelers are simply not going to believe it without proof!

Walgreens ... EAST

We’ve decided I probably am deficient in a needed vitamin or two. My gums are bleeding. So yesterday after we did our first presentation (of what will no doubt be many to sway the thinking in what is definitely an outside the box arena) of a tool for the Traditional Birth Attendants to the area government medical politicos, we stopped in at a drug shop.

Amy, the fourth year med student and our resident Swahili translator, greeted the young female clerk with enough “hello, how are you, how’s your work” to satisfy the social graces. She then moved into the fact that we needed multivitamins. The young woman quickly and easily pulled the bottle off the shelf to count out our 15. And THEN . . .

She pulled out a square yard of brown paper (of cheap paper sack quality) and then pulled out the scissors. With origami-like precision (and I know that true origami doesn’t use scissors) she sheared and folded and glued until she had formed the perfect little envelope in which to put those 15 pills and taped the container shut.

I marveled and couldn’t help but wonder what my sister, the pharmacist, would say should she have to do the same on a day when she was filling 400 “scripts” at Walgreens.

Oh, one more thing, my big purchase cost all of 300 tshillings which isn’t 30 cents total.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

For those who've been waiting . . .

If you knew what it took to upload these, you would gladly just turn your computer so that you can see them correctly!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sampling the Serengeti

For those of you who know it, think west Texas without the windmills and with giraffes. (Someone needs to help me understand why wide expanses of land feel the need to populate their plains with tall, thin creatures reaching toward the sky! Gives a whole new flavor to my childhood song of deep and wide!)

The Serengeti elicited various emotions from our safari band of volunteers (two fourth year med students, a soon-to-be med student who is a recent Yale grad, and me). They rode quietly in awe of the "endless plains" as the name translates. I remembered my recent trip across my homeland, shifted in the seat numerous times during the hours-long trek and wished I could have seen more animals.

We did see giraffes and I fell in love with them just as I did the zebras on my earlier excursion. What's not to love? They are dressed for a party, always eating and travel with a crowd -- my kind of creatures!!

The driver and guide were wonderful and given that we managed to finagle (or really, our office manager pulled all the strings) this trip that costs most people somewhere around $1000 to get there and back for around $300.

"Getting there" was an experience though. Landrovers are the transportation of choice for the roads you must travel. And our vehicle this time had more scrapes, bangs and tears than a 9-year-old boy on summer vacation. But we traveled safe ...

And silently. Because even if you have seen west Texas, you can still harbor a sense of awe and between bumps, I did.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Powerpoint Princess

I sort of made a name for myself when I first started my old job a decade ago as the go-to person regarding Powerpoint. I really wasn't that technically inclined but I intuitively knew how it worked because it was really based on the idea of strip posters and animation. Through the years, I was often seen crouched over the computer screen creating and recreating presentation that we would be using in leadership training the next day (or sometimes the next hour).

Today, I reclaimed my role as the Powerpoint Princess. I taught a beginner's class in the morning and an advanced class this afternoon. We went from "this is a text box where you put the words" to animating slides to the point of video quality (ok, I'm a princess I can exaggerate a bit!).

For all of you reading this who have suffered through and/or enjoyed my Powerpoint prowess, you were on my mind today.

My Yuck Lasted Less Time than Houston's

I had food poisoning on Monday night and recovered all day Tuesday. By Wednesday I was back at the office, helping out with powerpoints, and teaching little communication tips to all that asked. (And at this point, more folks trust me and are asking!)

I heard today that one friend in Houston is still not recovered from whatever hit the city about the time I left, another got better and then got hit again, and still another has a new sore throat due to the on again off again yucky weather H-town is currently enduring.

Who would have thought I would have been healthier in Tanzania than at home?

I'm Already Missing . . .

I’ve come to loathe photographs (and not just when they are really bad ones of me like the one in the entry below). No, I don't like them because I know they won’t capture the grandeur of a scene, or in any way conjure for the viewer the sense of wonder, or shock, or awe or whatever emotion flooded me when I rushed to take it. The details are lost.

I hope to never, but know I will -- save for these few ramblings -- forget the feel of the red clay inches deep on my shoes and the daily regime of wiping said shoes on the grate provided. I wish I wouldn’t lose the thought but soon enough won’t be able to recall the name of the woman who cleaned the concrete floors throughout the day as we tried in vain not to track the mud. We’ve had a running battle of etiquette with her. Shel tsk-tsking our removal of shoes at the office door because we were taught not to bring the mess inside and then dutifully and against our wishes retrieving those shoes, cleaning them thoroughly and returning them to our naked feet. Our dual “polle sanas” (“I’m very sorry”) drowning out the other.

Other details sure to be lost are the sight of the other women who clean our homes sweeping the dirt on the “lawn” out front, bent backed and with straw, handle-less brooms in hand. Or the rim of brown that’s left in the pot when we boil the water for eating and drinking.

I’ll have photographs of elephants and lions but I’ll never be able to recreate the smell of the African male sans deodorant in his immaculate slacks and ironed cotton shirt. Nor will the sound of two introverted speakers become more animated by the syllable ever be shared.

Meryl Streep’s voice rang through my head the first weeks I was here. She may have had a farm but I’ve had a compound. Two houses, three bedrooms each, two bathrooms – one Western toilet and one not -- a den and a small kitchen. I’ve cooked more in the weeks here than I did all of last year.

My housemates are half my age and in some cases have twice my experience. I marvel at their adventuresome spirits and their willingness to take a crowded bus halfway across the city knowing only the words to “Does this go to the hospital?” Or their cleverness in picking up the vowel-ladened language with such ease.

“I’m already missing you,” the country director calls out each day the office manager begins the lock up for the night.

I’m feeling that now I guess.

I’m already missing the sounds of the crows cawing each morning, the tiny, silly bird that bangs at least ten times on my window as the sun comes up. I’m trying to listen really listen as a result. Today I heard flies buzzing in mass along the path I walk toward work. They were investing in yet another pile of dung.

The corn growing across the street. The cows that are penned in about 20 feet from my office window. The blue sky serving as a background to the Tanzanian flag flapping above the nearby government building. The faces of the kids as they call out “Hello” and then ask for pens. The school uniforms using various shades of blue and either orange or brown. Kongas. Lots and lots of kongas. Women walking along the streets dressed in bright patterns with sacks of rice on their heads or buckets or whatever is in need of transport that day. The heat on my neck as I walk the one paved street in the town, followed by more of those children.

The list continues but like that inadequate, imaginary photo that won’t convey what I want, neither do these words.

Yep, I’m already missing Tanzania.

But I’ve been missing home just as much. And in less than two weeks, I’m heading that way. Until then, there are more photos and word pictures to compile.

For those of you waiting for me, remember the old slide shows folks used to make you endure in years gone by? Remember? Ok, then prepare to be really bored! Because I've got photos to share and stories to tell.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Lions, No Tigers, No Bears

We saw these two at the Crater. Don't believe me? Look over my shoulder in the next one.

I know these are small but I had to make it quick and compact in order to upload it without it costing a fortune. One of my fellow vols is a great photographer and will be giving me his best so you can count on much better than these when I return to the U.S. Until then, these were actual shots taken by me with ... yes, my phone!

THe Birds Sing for Everyone Else . . .

Friday began with my discovering that I’d lost one of the few pairs of earrings I brought. Oh well, I hadn’t included anything of great value in my packing.

At work, I learned that I had mislabeled 67 slides, so I explained to my Pennsylvanian co-worker the Southerner’s meaning behind the fact that I was having a “bless my heart” moment.

Then we found that the new color printer’s driver wouldn’t load on my Mac. Neither would it load properly on my co-worker’s Dell or the office manager’s PC. Without instructions (they weren’t included), we methodically (I have mentioned that all the volunteers excluding me are science-oriented, haven’t I?) explored every rationale for why the printer wouldn’t print. By lunch time we still had no answers.

I was now in the mood for carbs. The other vols decided to reheat the tomato soup we’d had the night before but having been the creator of said soup I had smelled it for quite some time and couldn’t fathom another go at it. My California connection and I decided to head for Parrot, a cheap place for good basic rice and meat.

But first a stop at the house because dehydration (I know! I’m supposed to be drinking more water at this altitude!) had left my stomach in knots and I wanted to check in with the Western toilet for a few minutes. That’s when I learned that we still had not received our refill of the water tank. And I had to turn the vols back to the second house in our compound (where the fridge is and where the soup had been stored) because we also still didn’t have a new full gas tank for cooking. Of course, all of this was after we had finally retrieved the keys to get into these houses after the woman who cleans them had determined that our hiding place was evidently too obvious and had locked them INSIDE one of the houses.

My fellow carb hunter and I started heading toward the oasis of food that was intended to make this day brighter and that’s with IT happened.

I felt and heard it. The feeling suggested someone had thrown a rock. The direction from which it came and the subsequent oozing on my fingers when I reached for what I thought might be the wound confirmed that no one in Karatu was stoning me, but a bird had done his business in my hair.

I’m wondering, dear reader, at this point what would you have done?

I directed my friend to carry on and turned quickly around to go wash my hair in what limited water we had on the premises. With my shiny clean hair, I marched to the other house and prepared a delicious fried egg and cheese sandwich.

I then proceeded with my fellow workers to tackle that printer problem with gusto. The day had started anew. I couldn’t continue to catalog how bad it was. The negative energy had already resulted in a handful of … well crap!

Thanks to minds sharper than mine, we finally got one computer to talk to that printer, finally got one set of colored prints to come out right (we now have 79 more sets at 67 pages to go!) and the day ended with me winning one game of Scrabble and one game of Farkle and dinner at Bytes (where we get cold drinks and meat that I can not only eat but last night’s lamb was so tender I could cut it with a spoon.)

All this reminded me of my brother Bart. He used to frequently remark that “the birds sang for everyone else but shit on him.” He said it though, with great irony, because he was one of the most content men I knew or have ever known.

Shit happens, I think he knew, but your response is up to you. As for me and my house, we had a good laugh and then a very good day.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Different, Yet the Same

When I was traveling in Vietnam, we often heard the comment, "Same, same." Which was the equivalent of "no problem" and "yeah, yeah." Tourists were even found wearing t-shirts with the phrase on it.

I thought of that when my brother who works in the Appalachia area of the states told me of seeing “old school satellite dishes converted into the world’s largest bird baths. Or in some cases a wading pool for the little ones." He also said that he was working to secure a grant for a family in upper east Tennessee "so that a well can be purchased for their home. They did not have an indoor bathroom until this summer. They still do not have water running to the house. They have a foot path out back where they travel to the creek and draw the water needed."

Much like the house next door to where I'm staying in Tanzania.

Same, same indeed.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Stuff You Might Find Interesting . . .

- We boil the sandy brown tap water and then filter it or use bottled water in cooking. Simple things like not boiling water are causing disease and death here. I try to remember that when I get frustrated that the filtered water drips out rather than flows.

- I brush my teeth with bottle water as well. We go through a lot of bottled water.

- Sleeping surrounded by a mosquito net is strangely comforting. Reminds me of camping out in my bedroom as a kid under a sheet.

- "Squatty potties" are the norm. We have them at work and they are at most businesses. The guest house where I stay has one Western toilet and one with standing room only!

- Radios and TVs are rare. Our only connect with news is the Internet and English newspapers. If you haven't read the headlines on MSN or AOL in a while, you should do it. Read with an eye toward what folks who aren't from the U.S. might think of us. One thought has to be that we are worshiping at the feet of Britney.

- Most homes and businesses have grates at the door for you to scrape the 2 or more inches of red mud that will cake on your shoes walking from home to work or the market or wherever after a rain.

- The mud is really more like clay and many, many houses are made out of mud bricks. I'm assured the rain doesn't affect the stability of these homes. Still it's an odd sight to see mud houses and folks walking everywhere with cell phones.

- The average life span in Tanzania (due to the child morbidity rate) is 47 years old. Yet some can't get their pensions until 55. (I told you that you might find this stuff interesting!)

- I learned last week that probably all the staff I work with has malaria. I was then assured without even a pause for breath that it was mostly likely in my blood by now as well. Seems the biggest killer in this country just doesn't discriminate even if you take your meds and sleep under the nets. We as the informed ones simply sleep easier knowing that those meds are available. For some ... probably too many ... they're not. So that's why I'm here ... to insure that more and more become part of the informed.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Seems Like Good Advice to Me

We spend our down time watching DVDs (they get 30 films on one disc and they usually come themed like Angelina vs. Julia Roberts), walking (one or two are runners but not me), playing games, cooking and reading. I received Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert as a gift (thanks T) and I have captured a few thoughts from it to share with you for your reading (and maybe thought-provoking) pleasure.

The first I’ll share comes from the author’s experience in India. A New Zealand “plumber/poet” has listened as Gilbert claims to want true resolution to a bad relationship but hasn’t found it. He takes her to an Ashram rooftop and indicates she’s to climb to the top of the minaret. The view is of the entire river valley with mountains and farmland stretching before her and soon the stars will be out. He passes her a page with the following:

1. Life’s metaphors are God’s instructions.
2. You have just climbed up and above the roof. There is nothing between you and the Infinite. Now, let go.
3. The day is ending. It’s time for something that was beautiful to turn into something else that is beautiful. Now, let go.
4. Your wish for resolution was a prayer. Your bein ghere is God’s response. Let go, and watch the stars come out – on the outside and on the inside.
5. With all your heart, ask for grace, and let go.
6. With all your heart, forgive hi, FORGIVE YOURSELF, and let him go.
7. Let your intention be freedom from useless suffering. Then, let go.
8. Watch the heat of day pass into the cool night. Let go.
9. When the karma of a relationship is done, only love remains. It’s safe. Let go.
10. When the past has passed from you at last, let go. Then climb down and begin the rest of your life. With great joy.

Later, Gilbert concludes, “This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you’re craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet. If you bring the right earnestness to your homemade ceremony, God will provide the grace. And that is why we need God.”
(p. 184-85, 187)

Seems Like Good Advice to Me

We spend our down time watching DVDs (they get 30 films on one disc and they usually come themed like Angelina vs. Julia Roberts), walking (one or two are runners but not me), playing games, cooking and reading. I received Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert as a gift (thanks T) and I have captured a few thoughts from it to share with you for your reading (and maybe thought-provoking) pleasure.

The first I’ll share comes from the author’s experience in India. A New Zealand “plumber/poet” has listened as Gilbert claims to want true resolution to a bad relationship but hasn’t found it. He takes her to an Ashram rooftop and indicates she’s to climb to the top of the minaret. The view is of the entire river valley with mountains and farmland stretching before her and soon the stars will be out. He passes her a page with the following:

1. Life’s metaphors are God’s instructions.
2. You have just climbed up and above the roof. There is nothing between you and the Infinite. Now, let go.
3. The day is ending. It’s time for something that was beautiful to turn into something else that is beautiful. Now, let go.
4. Your wish for resolution was a prayer. Your bein ghere is God’s response. Let go, and watch the stars come out – on the outside and on the inside.
5. With all your heart, ask for grace, and let go.
6. With all your heart, forgive hi, FORGIVE YOURSELF, and let him go.
7. Let your intention be freedom from useless suffering. Then, let go.
8. Watch the heat of day pass into the cool night. Let go.
9. When the karma of a relationship is done, only love remains. It’s safe. Let go.
10. When the past has passé from you at last, let go. Then climb down and begin the rest of your life. With great joy.

Later, Gilbert concludes, “This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you’re craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet. If you bring the right earnestness to your homemade ceremony, God will provide the grace. And that is why we need God.”
(p. 184-85, 187)

Saturday, February 02, 2008

I'm Satisfied

5 rhinos, 10 or more hippos, 16 elephants, 9 lions (including a male and female who lounged, mounted, dismounted, and roamed witn 10 feet of the Landrover I was in), and too many to count of zebras, wildebeasts, buffalo, giselles, pink flamingos, warthogs and even a few baboons as we were leaving ...

We had a good day at the Crater.

The experience of being inside was almost as mystifying as the story of its creation. I learned that our Crater was once a volcano that collapsed on itself. We were completely circled by a ring of mountains. We saw at least two large lakes and green of every variety -- light, dark, luscious, and sparse.

At one point my companion from California noted that no matter how long we'd been driving it didn't appear we were any nearer to the mountain ring.

I said it was just like West Texas.

I went in with zebras being my favorite and came out that way too. Like a horse dolled up for costume party, the zebra is an animal of community. Traveling in herds, they are usually quite close to wildebeasts.

I've heard zebras usually take the lead until they're in a predatory situation. Then they allow the willing wildebeasts to forge ahead . . . and right into the mouths of the predator.

Yeah, I like zebras.

But the lions had me in their paws as well. (Breathe, people, I'm speaking figuratively.) The two we spent the most time snooping on lounged, dallied with one another, lounged some more and then took a stroll to the watering hole where an elephant was takign lunch and hippos were having drinks.

But what amused me was the mall behavior those two lions were following. I swear the male was always at least 3-6 feet behind the female, faithfully following and looking totally clueless as to where they were going.

Today is not why I came to Tanzania. I came to make a difference and I really believe this project is doing that. But today ... well today was a payoff more satisfying than any paycheck I've ever received.

The Contrasts Continue

No flies. No dust. No smells of goats and cows competing with overripe bananas and dried fish. The air was frigid and frost could be seen on boxes. But in Karatue, we don't buy frozen because we have no freezer ... no fridge for that matter.

This Dar es Salaam mall was surreal. Think Kirkland's The Limited, Target, Kroger and Ewards Theater under one roof and you've got the picture. Add in the wandering teenaged boys and overdressed young women and you've got a shot ready to print.

But ather 12 hours there and 12 hours back, I can assure you that's not the whole of Tanzania. In fact, it's merely a corner.

Sure Karatu, where I live, has grand lodges with $35 buffets but to get to any of them is a roller coaster ride down mud paths any American would consider a closed road. And even when you arrive the subdued lighting is your first hint that this is not a Hilton-neon lights-screaming for attention. Quiet welcomes. Quiet spaces with lots of dark wood and batiks on the walls. That's the high life in Karatu -- for tourists with several hundred to spend a night.

For the majority of the town, an after dinner drink is a Serengeti beer at a mostly oudoor bar and grill. Sitting in a plastic chair postioned to see the nightly entertainment happening along the darkened streets(remember no street lights) . Maybe a TV is blaring. Maybe not. The food will be simple -stew meat, rice and greens. And the Swahili will flow.

I like the night life. I love the city. But I'm glad that for a few weeks, Karatu is where I call home.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's the little things . . .

Some things are just universal. I'm in a big African city and yet these sights are all too familiar:

- Men gathering every morning to drink coffee at a restaurant and argue over sports and politics. I've seen it happen every day that I've been here. I thought of Gene back in my hometown and figured with a few words of Swahili under his belt he'd fit right in!
- Ice cream and cold sodas on a hot day are just good things. People smile when you gift them with either. The women at the copy shop yesterday certainly did. They were grateful and asked our names and backgrounds while gushing and laughing. But I still couldn't take the bottle with me!
- Sometimes ... even if you love exotic food and drink ... eggs and toast in the morning is most satisfying.
- I stayed longer in the city than I planned and all my clothes were wrong given that it's HOT here. So I bought a konga, the material women use to wrap themselves in for informal and formal wear. However, while the sales clerk told me several times the cost was due to it being two pieces, the two pieces had to be cut apart. Note, I'm in a hotel with no scissors. So I marched down the four flights of this simple, inexpensive (read that hot water and a window unit air conditioner) EconoLodge and in my broken Swahili asked for a pair. The clerk was studying my question and his response when the man on my side of the counter directed him to get the scissors and then proceeded to hold the konga while I cut. Good people are everywhere if you just take time to learn how to ask the right questions.
- And speaking of questions, I love how gracious folks can be. I thanked the bank officer who helped exchange my dollars into tshillings with a polite thank you in Swahili. He responded in kind and then smiled and said, "Do you know Swahili?" As I stumbled over just saying the one word for a little, he smiled again and asked no more questions. Sometimes, hello, thank you, and good bye are enough.

Almost but not quite ...

The text read: His schedule is too tight today. So he can't meet with your group. He will try and schedule something before April.

"He" is ... get this ... THE president of Tanzania. And I am one of the "group" he couldn't squeeze in today.

Still ... pretty cool to almost be invited to meet him.

MIHV (the organization I'm working with) is hosting a first ever half marathon in Karatu. The area has produced an Olympic silver medalist but not had a running event of this magnitude. The organization wants to use the attention this thing is going to garner and promote malaria awareness. With 200 first class runners (they're working with the Tanzania Olympic Committee) and the crowds that will gather plus all the local teams, they should definitely pull in some publicity. This week in Dar es Salaam has been all about raising financial support for the race. While it would take lots more than the $43,000 they need, if we were doing it in the states, that figure is not easy to come by. We think that when we leave tomorrow that we have a good chance of at least half if not two thirds of it covered.

One bank rep we met with said, "You don't know how many marathons and events like that come through those doors asking for our support. But you are different. You don't want to raise money or sell anything. You just want to do some good. That is something I can care about."

I'm crossing my fingers he does more than care! He was a marketing guru so we sent him the logo I had worked on and asked for his input and ... if he was willing for him to send it on to an artist for some sprucing up. We'll see.

I really feel I did some good while here. I certainly learned alot. The financial capitol is definitely like many huge cities in the world. The population is a few hundred thousand more than Houston. And today I was in a mall that looked like any other major mall around the world. But one street over tonight the vendors with their small fires and roasted corn and meat on a stick will be sharing their efforts with the hundreds of folks who are walking along the dark streets sans lights except for the flames. This is Tanzania -- a land of potential, progress and yet deaths that could be prevented.

We didn't meet with the president but the race will happen. And maybe, just maybe, a few more women will learn what it means to save their child's life by using a mosquito net.

And that will make this week a very profitable one.