Friday, July 30, 2010

Rachel in Arbil (or Irbil) (or Erbil)

I can't figure out which is the best way to spell it. But it looks like I'm moving there in a couple of weeks.

Watch out, Professional Paid Aid Worker World. I'm slowly forcing my way in.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

perks of being a consultant

Being a consultant means that maybe, one day out of the week, when the air is heavy and the sun is smacking the pavement over 110 degrees hot before even 10 am, you can work from home for maybe three hours in the morning, another four hours in the evening and at night, and in between then one of your close close friends can call in sick to work and you and she can drive off to the Six Flags water park 17 miles away in Maryland and sit in innertubes that drop down rushing waterslides at 89 degree angles and scream your heads off and laugh.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

This is an Unexpected Development.

Erm. Um. So. I got a phone call unofficially asking if I would be interested in accepting a job in Arbil. This came yesterday morning. It came completely out of the clear blue sky. Just – poof! – my phone rang. Hello? I said.

All of my job searching has revolved around returning to the Great Lakes region.

So. I get this call. I immediately e-mail 50 million close friends begging for advice. Then I stop abruptly and shut down my computer without e-mailing any other friends at all. Hell, there are no guarantees. Shouldn’t concern/excite people unnecessarily.

So since I’m not telling other people, and I’m waiting for work e-mails to come through in regards to my consultancy, I leave the apartment, walk down to the metro, get on a train, switch trains, and ride the long escalators up at Pentagon City mall. I go into clothing shops and pick out the clothes that I think are stylish, although what do I really know anymore, I don’t live here. I try on the short high-waist skirts and the gladiator sandals and the frilly blouses and the smart-cut vests. I stare at myself in the mirror and I cock my head and I try to decide if this outfit, or this one or this one, is the outfit that a woman who might move to Arbil for a year would wear.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

DC in the Summer

Guess who is working for the next few weeks as a consultant writing a proposal for an NGO in Eastern Congo? THIS me!

I’m working remotely, of course, but it is so wonderful to still feel connected to life in Goma via the research and reading and writing I’m doing. In the meantime, I’m playing young urban professional, hanging out with dear dear dear friends in the evenings – visiting museums – going to darkened movie theaters – sipping martinis at rooftop bars – shopping for random overly-priced items at Whole Foods – walking everywhere until my feet bleed in my flip-flops but I don't care because I'm able to walk everywhere – and wondering where I will move to next.

Friday, July 16, 2010

If Wishes Were Dollars, I'd Be Rich

I used Skype – how blessed are we to live in the pocket of time-on-Earth that has given us Skype? – to call a friend back in Goma this morning. And then other friends were with her, so I got to talk to a handful of friends. Oh I love them.

But I wish I were there.

Tonight I am driving to DC, a city I love, to sleep on the futon of two old friends whose wedding I missed last year when I was living in Northern Uganda. Tomorrow morning I am going to see two other dear friends whose wedding I missed this spring when I was in Eastern Congo.

I wish I had trillions of dollars and a private jet and the ability to be everywhere at once.

Monday, July 12, 2010


When I was a kid I used to like reading science fiction novels about space-travel. Little communities would climb into a ship and fly for years and end up on an entirely different planet, disconnected – deep into the Wild West(ern sky). The night of my birthday (Saturday), I was looking up at the planets from a horse field next to the Pennsylvania woods. Venus, Mars, and Saturn were all visible – Venus was even visible at dusk, shining small and bright and white through the pink gloaming. It was the same sky – it’s always the same sky – there is only one sky – but the planets were in entirely different places than when I would look up at them in Goma. Like as if I were elsewhere in the universe.

The cultural norms here are different from the norms in Goma. Instead of wearing bright colored cloths people wear costumes of khaki pants and polo shirts. Out at dinner, I have to think and think to remember which angle to rest my salad fork at on my plate so that the servers don’t grab it out from under me, imagining I’m finished. People can talk for hours about the genealogy tests they had done on their dogs, and “Oh,” I say in response. The shadows of chandeliers and fir trees on white-painted walls are gorgeous like carved wooden masks. There are deep woods and moss-covered felled and fallen logs and slippery rocks in trickling streams and trees taller than me twenty times over. There are blasts which are fireworks, not gun shots, and there are gun shots which are people shooting clay pigeons, not aiming at each other. When people ask me about Eastern Congo while I am sitting beneath a chandelier that is reflecting rainbows on intricately pattered wallpaper, and when I respond in a voice tinny to my own ears, it seems to me that I am making up stories, that I am lying – that these two worlds do no overlap, they cannot co-exist – that I never have been anywhere but here.

Space-travelers in the novels I used to read would fly for hours or years to get to their new planets, dependent on the universe created by their author. Me? I was up and down in the sky for 36 hours to get here. Miles above human habitation, I wasn’t quite closer to space than to terra firma, but I was still pretty high. I landed in an entirely different place, where people look different, talk different, dress different, and care about different things. I remind myself of those astronauts in those paperback books. I like imagining that this is a different planet entirely.

It’s not, though, a different planet entirely. On our one singular earth, everything is interconnected. The fiscal and structural architecture of our global society is one formation, and the life that I live here does impact the lives that people live there.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Back Home

I had my blood drawn today – which hurt like a witch – to be tested for schistosimiasis. The doctor came into the room flipping through a diagnostic book because he had no idea what it was I was asking to be tested for. That was concerning.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

4th July 2010

Here in the United States on America’s 234th birthday, there are fat robins, manicured lawns, and paved sidewalks. The TV news channel headlines with “Janet Jackson Discusses Oil Spill”. I went to bright, shiny Old Navy and bought a new swimsuit because mine went missing in action three days ago when I was packing and there is a party at the city/country club pool that I am going to attend tonight with my parents and next-door neighbors, with brokers and businessmen and young pregnant wives.

Today, I’m typing this sitting on the kitchen counter of my childhood home with my feet in the sink, my laptop balanced on my lap. This is the only place I can find to grab wifi (with permission) from a neighbor.

Yesterday, I was on an airplane miles and miles and miles above the Atlantic Ocean. The airplane was crammed full of people: There were the teenage missionaries with their braids and bandanas, the hunters who didn’t want to pay $40,000 to kill an elephant so shot a leopard instead, the dozen white American couples clutching their newly adopted Ethiopian babies, and me. The kid next to me was reading a self-help book about leadership on his iPad. I’d never seen an iPad before. The yellowing pages of the book I was reading (about Robin Hood in Sherwood) kept falling out after the binding cracked when I turned a page.

Two days ago, I was also up on airplanes, one of the members of the lucky minority of this world who periodically get to look down on the clouds and chase sunshine across the sky.

Three days ago, I was in Eastern Congo.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Love love love part #2

Yesterday – Thursday – was my last day in Goma – for the time being. As terrible last days and sad goodbyes go, it was pretty lovely.

Morning – I woke up and packed. That was awful. But then my sweet, darling friend C called and we decided to go get coffee. Waiting for C to pick me up, I climbed up into the guard tower and clutched the non-razor sections of the razor wire, looking out over the dusty street. Our guard P was up in the tower listening to music. She took one of the ear buds out of her ear and stuck it into my ear, so we listened to music together. It had a lovely beat with lyrics in Lingala. I pulled out a cigarette and offered one to P. Turns out, she’d never smoked before. So we shared a cigarette, one puff for me and one for you, and the whole time P giggled like a 13 year old sneaking behind the high school. Which made me giggle too. And we felt like young best friends acting silly.

C came and we drove to get coffee, whirling around the round-about with the golden chukudu statue. The golden man riding the golden chukudu was dressed in a basket ball uniform that must have been sewn on him, the colors of the Congo flag, decorated for Independence Day. We laughed at the wonderful sight and took pictures with everyone else.

We ordered Mochas at Nyira and they came with little cookies, and we sat with another friend, M, who told me how jealous she was of me for my unsurety about where my next job will take me and when the pieces will fall into place. She said that if she were me she would go to DC, sleep on her friends’ couches, and volunteer at the zoo. She said she’d watch my Facebook page for updates about playing with pandas and French classes that I could take at local libraries until the time came for me to leave the States again. She said it sounded unsure and perfect and wonderful.

C and I ate lunch together at my home, overlooking the lake, and A joined us. A was my first friend in Goma. I will always owe him a debt for his initial kindness to me when I was friendless and clueless about where I’d landed myself. My experience here would have been totally different and far less vibrant without either C or A.

After lunch, I went to K’s apartment building. K has been on vacation for the last ten days and I missed her terribly. She is one of the most hysterically funny and also one of the most pure, lovely, good people I know. It was three in the afternoon and we went to a fancy hotel and got glasses of white wine and sat by the lake watching the cranes and talked about every single thing in the whole wide world and my stomach muscles hurt from laughing. I’m so lucky to be her friend.

K’s wonderful wonderful partner J picked us up at the hotel in the evening and we went to the grocery store. They bought cheeses and grapes. A small handful of my dear friends came over to their house and we sat and watched crappy TV and ate cheese and grapes until past midnight.

Today – Friday – I woke up early and finished packing. I sobbed on H’s shoulder – sweet, supportive, darling H who I have lived with for the last 8 months – she and I had been living in our group house the longest of anyone. H gave me cookies and magazines for the airplane ride. My funny, kind housemate B made me a mixed tape. K also made me a mixed tape. I cried when I said goodbye to our chef, JB, and he gave me his phone number and made me promise to call. I hugged P goodbye and she started crying. My Cote d’Ivoirian housemate, J, called me by the Swahili name she had given me, which means “Joyous”. I rode the three hours to the Kigali airport with B and V, and V bought me a croissant and a water.

But then they left. And I was alone.

Sitting all alone in the coffee shop at the Kigali airport, crying quietly to myself, I pulled out my computer and opened up Skype. An old friend’s name popped up, a wonderful woman I haven’t talked to in months. I double-clicked on her name. And I began typing to her. I asked for stories about her life in Spain to take my mind off of my loneliness. And she told me about love, love, love. We talked about friend love, lover love, and family love. We talked about how damn DIFFICULT love is. And how impossible it is. But how difficult and impossible it is for everyone in the world – every single person. And so I stopped crying. Because I wasn’t sitting all alone in a coffee shop anymore. I looked around. I was sitting next to an old man who kept having to get up out of his chair to chase down his little granddaughter, who kept running hither and thither. I was sitting next to the waitresses, one of whom rolled her eyes and whispered something to the other, just at that moment, and laughed. I was sitting next to a young biracial couple, two tables down, and next to another woman jiggling a screaming baby on her knee. I was sitting in Rwanda beside my friend in Spain.

I do not make life easy for myself. My heart gets broken all the time. Sometimes somethings that would not hurt someone else very much will hurt me a great deal. But I think that this is okay. It is okay to be sad sometimes. I get sad because I love, I love, I love.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Love Love Love

Thursday before Friday when I Fly

Woke up early & got up out of bed to pack.  That way I will have some time to spend with my dear friends today-my-last-day.

Took a break from packing and lay out on the hammock looking over the lake, puffing on a cigarette.  I'm not a smoker, but I've allowed myself all the cigarrettes that I want this week because starting tomorrow I will be back in the land of $10 cigarettes and won't be able to afford them, anyway.  So there's no worries about it becoming a habit.

A little tiny tiny little lizard crawls up next to me on the hammock, the same light green color as the hammock, with huge eyes, a tiny body, and huge toes.  The songbirds are singing.  The cormorants are fishing.  The kingfishers are winging.  The lake is the pastel green color it is in the mornings.