Sunday, November 28, 2010

Beautiful India

Taj Mahal - the classic shot (although just a tad crooked).
Someone I know has been traveling to India often for business these days. He is very active on Facebook - posting photos and words to capture his sights and experiences - and he was there recently posting a lot of very funny things. And a work colleague also just returned from India on vacation. Their FB postings have created in me this incredible longing for India that I did not know was there. I am really missing India and wanting to return. I haven't been there since 2006 or 2007 - way too long to be gone.

From 2000-2004 I spent a great deal of My Byway in South Asia, mostly in India, and mostly in New Delhi. Later in 2006 I again spent some significant time there. All for work. I once calculated that during that initial 4-year period I had visited Delhi so many different times that I had been there for some period during every calendar month, thus experiencing all the different weather and holidays. My trips were often for 2 to 4 weeks at a time, with the longest single trip being approximately 3 months. Sometimes during those trips I also traveled to Kathmandu in Nepal, Dhaka in Bangladesh and Colombo in Sri Lanka, but the majority of my time was spent in Delhi. I did get to visit a few other places besides Delhi - brief trips to the Taj Mahal, Rajasthan, Pondicherry, Goa, Calcutta, Dharamsala, Hyderabad - but India for me really equals Delhi.

Back then Delhi really felt like a home away from home. We had a great little project office in Vasant Vihar, with an even greater staff. The staff really were like family to me. I miss them. I knew my way around somewhat to go shopping and out to eat and to meet friends. I did an enormous amount of shopping during those years. Delhi has such beautiful things - fabrics, jewelry, handicrafts. My wardrobe and my home are full of things I bought there. 

I look through my photos and sadly realize I have practically nothing from these times in Delhi. I was hoping to post a few photos here, but the ones I have are not digital and need to be found and scanned. I didn't have a good camera back then and I was also there for work and not site seeing, so I guess I just never got the bug to take photos. I wish I had captured more, but I am grateful I have the memories so strong and clear in my mind - sights, sounds, smells.

Some favorite little things from my times in Delhi...
  • Seeing and hearing the beautiful green wild parakeets that flew around the city. To this day their sound is one of my favorite sounds ever.
  • The beautiful wide, old, tree-lined streets in parts of the city. The gardens. I love that Delhi has so much vegetation and so many parks.
  • Cows wandering in the roads.
  • The sea of cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, etc. that makes up traffic and somehow amazingly works most of the time. Drivers must possess some seriously good depth perception and guts. I could never drive there.
  • In the neighborhood where I stayed sometimes, the men selling water from their pushcarts - the sounds of their voices calling out to announce the pani.
  • The old Ambassador Classic taxis. Love these.
  • The shopping - Fab India, Anokhi...others I no longer recall, but I bet I could find them if I returned. So many beautiful fabrics and clothes and jewelry and shoes and art and handicrafts...sigh.
  • The food. Oh man, the food. I miss it a lot sometimes.
  • Incense.
  • Seeing monkeys running around the city.
  • The beautiful clothing. Just watching streams of people walking by or passing people on the streets - so much beauty, so much color.
I would recommend to everyone that they visit India. It is an experience. And of course it is a huge country with many states and regions and much diversity, so you could go and have a hundred different experiences depending on what part of the country you choose to visit and what you are looking for from a trip. I've seen so little of the country and would love to see more. I look forward to getting back to Delhi someday, to see it again and share that place with my husband, and also to see more of the other parts of big, beautiful India.

I think this was taken outside of our office in Vasant Vihar.

Art Basel Miami Beach

Art Basel Miami Beach is where I will be in a few days. My first time. 

"Art Basel Miami Beach is the most important art show in the United States, a cultural and social highlight for the Americas. As the sister event of Switzerland's Art Basel, the most prestigious art show worldwide for the past 41 years, Art Basel Miami Beach combines an international selection of top galleries with an exciting program of special exhibitions, parties and crossover events featuring music, film, architecture and design. Exhibition sites are located in the city's beautiful Art Deco District, within walking distance of the beach and many hotels."

Check out the write-up in the NYT:

Not so sure my experience is going to be quite like the one highlighted in that NYT article, but it promises to be fun. My husband has gone several years past and loves it. I am excited to experience it with him. 

Art, art, art and then on to the beach, beach, beach in Mexico for a little family vacation. 

Man I travel a lot. How does that happen?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Alps Scene

I took this photo, I think in 2004, maybe October. I was with good friends who were living in Geneva, Switzerland at the time. We were driving across the Alps down into Italy to visit the lake district and then Florence. It was my first trip to Italy. The drive was amazing. This remains one of my favorite captured scenes on my scenic byway.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Liberia - Things You Might Not Know

Liberia History
Founded in 1847, the country known as the Republic of Liberia was started by freed American slaves. “Liberia” means “Land of the Free”. The government was modeled after the US, and the capital city Monrovia was named after James Monroe, President of the US and a supporter of this movement. Of course there were already people living on the land (16 ethnic groups) so you could imagine that the arrival of these colonizing “Americo-Liberians” was going to cause some tensions at some point. Liberia suffered two civil wars (often referred to locally as World War I and World War II), from 1989-1996 and 1999-2003.
In 1980 Samuel Doe led a coup of men from many ethnic groups that claimed marginalization by the Americos and ended the Americo reign of power by killing the President and most of his cabinet and assuming power. Doe controlled things, manipulated election results and stayed in power until the first civil war in 1989 when Americo warlord Charles Taylor entered the picture. Doe was captured, tortured and killed (an all to common ending to many who have led countries in Africa – payback is a bitch). Lots of other players were involved during this period of course - Prince Johnson, military involvement from many of the neighboring west African countries, the US, and everyone’s favorite north African crazy Muammar al-Gaddafi. Taylor was in power but it was very unstable and the first civil war blended into the second. Taylor was forced into exile in 2003. He currently sits in the International Criminal Court in The Hague awaiting trial for war crimes. His son, found in California, has already been convicted of war crimes and sits in jail in the US. 
Estimates are that 200,000-250,000 people died during the civil wars. That is a large number in any case, but it seems even larger when you realize that the entire population of Liberia is only around 4 million. In addition to these deaths, many more people were brutalized (injuries, rapes) and uprooted from their homes and forced to flee the country and live as refugees in neighboring countries. Infrastructure in the country was destroyed and life was disrupted including agriculture and schooling. So what you have now is a pretty broken environment and society trying to rebuild and make up for lost time.
  • Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world. Liberia has the or one of the highest population growth rate in the world at 4.5% per year (different sources claim different things). Half of the population is under the age of 18. Life expectancy is 44-60 depending on which source you believe. Estimates are that 85% of the country is unemployed – the second highest rate of unemployment in the world. 57% of the population is literate. 85% of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day.
  • Liberia has the first female head of state in Africa – President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Harvard trained economist. She was inaugurated in January 2006, almost defeated by George Weah, a famous Liberian footballer. Elections are coming up again in 2011. Get ready! I love that every reference you ever find on President Sirleaf has to mention the “Harvard” background. That is funny.
  • 15,000 UN peacekeepers keep the country running. This is one of the largest most expensive UN operations in the world.
  • There is a small surfing movement in Liberia. Seriously. In Robertsport, west of Monrovia. Check it out. Look up Liberia surfing on the internet and see what you find. There’s even been a movie made about it – Sliding Liberia.
  • Liberia has the highest ratio of direct foreign investment to GDP in the world. Liberia’s economic history has included export of iron ore, rubber, timber,and diamonds. The country survives on foreign assistance and concessions given to multinational corporations interested in steel, oil, rubber and other raw resources. There is a very large Chinese presence there, like the rest of Africa. The Chinese have taken over the continent and you should be concerned.
  • There is a large population of Lebanese merchants, families and businessmen who "own" or run many of the large businesses in Liberia (similar to what you see with large South Asian communities in east and southern Africa). Some families have been there a very long time since the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But they do not have citizenship rights and I don't believe they can really own anything, certainly not property. They can however secure 100 year leases to "own" the businesses for now.
Young rubber trees - photo by me
  • The American owned Firestone Rubber Plantation Company has been in Liberia since 1926. It is an interesting business with an interesting history. A lot of controversies, but probably also one of the better businesses in Liberia. They stayed during the war. They seem to be doing a lot for Liberians. Their hydropower plant powers Roberts International Airport. It is the only hydropower plant that survived the wars. Mount Coffee, the large hydropower facility that powered Monrovia, was destroyed during the war and remains in disrepair. This means the city is powered on diesel generators.
  • A very cool peace movement was formed by 1000s of women, led by social worker Leymah Gbowee, called Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. These women staged silent protests, sit-ins, and refused to sleep with their husbands until Charles Taylor agreed to attend peace talks in Ghana. I believe many would agree they played a major role in bringing peace. See the 2008 documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell for more details. Once again - women rock.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Things I Just Do Not "Get" (part 2)

  • People who use airplane bathrooms in their socks. Don't you see that people pee all over the floor! How can you feel comfortable walking in people's pee? You know you are going to end up touching those socks, right? And then touching your face. You are disgusting!
  • The creepy King in those Burger King commercials. It is not funny. Its creepy. Remember the one where he is looking in the window, like a peeping tom? It freaked me out. I had a peeping tom once. It is not funny Burger King. Not funny.
  • The fascination with the Kardashians. They make me ill. And America's amount of attention to them makes me more ill.
  • "Chick lit." I guess some of it can be mildly entertaining, but be honest...a lot of it is really, really stupid. The last chick lit book I looked at, someone loaned it to me at the beach. Five pages in I knew I couldn't read it. And I was at the beach, where you know, you can usually read anything because its the beach. The woman who gave it to me gushed and gushed about how wonderful it was. I just smiled and listened...
  • How much bacon I can eat (a lot).
  • Regis & Kathy Lee and now Regis & Kelly.
  • Black Friday. What is this obsession with shopping? I can't believe people go to stores at like 3 am and wait in long lines for hours to get a 'deal' on electronics and toys. And sometimes this turns into violence because people are so freaked out about missing out on the deals (remember the store security guy who was trampled and killed by the crowd looking for tvs??). Life is more than shopping and possessions. This is crazy.
  • Cottage cheese. Nasty. Any way you serve it.
  • Tv sitcom laugh tracks.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Paul wanted me to post this photo. Because he says I look like I am 14. But this photo was taken December last year. Silly photo. This was taken at Muir Woods outside of San Francisco. Redwoods. Perhaps the most beautiful place I've been. It was so beautiful I cried. Because you know I love trees.  I can't wait to return.

Photo by Paul Hadley

Photo by Paul Hadley

Photo by Paul Hadley

Work Scene in Liberia

I am trying to blog again regularly. I was so good about blogging every single day, sometimes multiple entries in a day, until I hit Liberia. Now Liberia is certainly an interesting Scene on the Byway and deserving of much blogging. But the internet was crazy slow, making it a tedious process to upload an entry and almost impossible to upload a photograph. I spent one night waiting for hours for one photograph (1!) to upload. Additionally, while I would think of things I wanted to write about, I never had the time and energy to sit down and put those thoughts onto paper (in this case I guess I should say computer screen) because I was so insanely busy. 

I would walk out of my room (room 13 - best room at the hotel...only ocean view...13 is a lucky number for me...never mind that I discovered that was a room where a guy killed himself...) into our temporary office in the open air bar/restaurant (until we secured an office, we were working temporarily out of the hotel restaurant/bar) ...the temporary office with the amazing view of the Atlantic Ocean, but also with the incredible humidity that along with the crappy fluctuating power system would cause me to get a slight shock from the corners of my laptop about 20 times a day (good times!), causing me to jump and yell. It happened to others too so it became this funny thing...we would all laugh when someone would yelp because we knew what it was.

And there would be the deafening sound of the ocean crashing - right there, several yards away - so loud that it made it difficult to hear someone on a phone call from our little office/bar/restaurant. That sound never ceased. You would hear it in your room at night...fall asleep to its sound. I knew I would miss that when I left. Who doesn't want to have crashing ocean waves lull you to sleep at night? It is certainly nicer background noise than traffic. And when you would look out at the ocean occasionally during work, you would see boats - big modern ships and little traditional canoes, cruising along. Then every evening we were treated to amazing sunsets across the ocean. And for a few nights we were treated to a lightning show across the water that was one of the most beautiful things I've seen.

Anyway, I would be working in the office/bar until around 8 or 9 pm at night. By that time I was a damp mess, my butt hurt from sitting on a hard chair all day long, and my back was killing me as I was hunched over the computer all day. I would go to my room and take a much deserved air conditioning break (sweet paradise!) and a much deserved hot shower (no matter how hot it is, you want a hot shower when you feel so sweaty and dirty). 

Being outside in Monrovia you sweat all day long...I mean sweat like I've never sweat before...your clothes get soaked...your hair never really dries and long hair cannot touch the neck and must be worn up at all times or you feel like you are suffocating...your face always has a shiny sheen (which was actually great for the complexion)...and you always felt like you needed to put on more deodorant and some kind of body spray or something...anything you put on would disappear immediately, just sweat rolling off. It is the most humid place I've been (although I do recall Colombo, Sri Lanka being like that...but there I was usually in the air conditioning). All of our papers would be moist. I already mentioned the computer shock - due in part to the fluctuating bad quality power, but also due to the humidity. Any beverage you ordered, within minutes the ice was melted, the drink was warm and the condensation was all over the table soaking your papers. So...the air conditioning respite in room 13 and the hot shower, were pure heaven AMAZING. 

Then after a little time in the room, I would head back out to our office/bar which was now just a restaurant/bar and start to decompress from the long day and get ready for the next one. We would hang out with the motley crew that resides at the Atlantis Beach Hotel - guys who have been living in Liberia for a long time. Have a few drinks. Get some food. Listen to music. Share stories, be silly, argue, goof off...and then suddenly before you knew it, it was 1 am, 2 am. So then you would go back to the air conditioned heaven, maybe try to get on line a little to check email, and fall asleep knowing you would not get enough sleep before you had to wake up and do it all over again.

I am happy to be home, but I will miss my little open air office/bar...and the ocean view...and the sounds of the crashing waves...and the fascinating, fun people who populate that scene.

Temporary Office/Bar/Restaurant, Atlantis Beach Hotel
View from the "office"

Few of the regulars

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Scenes from Atlantis Beach Hotel, Monrovia, Liberia

Palm trees and razor wire

Beach and razor wire

Looking out from the restaurant

Beautiful sunsets on the Atlantic Ocean

Local boats

Ben Ben!!!! The cutest little boy in the world

Scenes from Liberia

Sunday, November 21, 2010

And...4 am in Liberia

Its 4 am.

And I am in Liberia. In a hotel room.

And I just got home from a nightclub (Deja Vu). One of two here in Liberia. Well, really, it is the only one of its kind. The other place to go out and dance is Club 69. Yes. Club 69. We went there for Thursday night reggae night. It was fun. But not a real "night club" like Deja Vu.

And I walked in and just killed a roach on my bedroom floor.

And I turned on the TV and guess what is on? Barney. Yeah. Really. I have the sound off. I never watched this show (I was too old at the time. No little siblings). It is bizarre. Really bizarre. Especially with the sound off. Sitting in a hotel room in Liberia.

And the sound of the ocean is LOUD. Pounding just outside my window. Earlier tonight we had an incredible storm. Thunder like I've never heard before. Then the power went out. Then we watched lightening across the ocean. Then it rained so hard it was deafening. And beautiful. Memorable. You never forget that sound.

And I am here in this room where I've stayed for 10 days and it was only today that I found out that two years ago a man killed himself in this room. Room 13. 13 is always a lucky number for me. Guess not for him. And Room 13 here happens to be the best room at this little place. And I am trying to determine if I am freaked out or not about this. Trying to remember if there was anything unusual that happened. Or if I had weird feelings. But the reality is that when I've come to bed each night, its been so bloody late and I have been so tired, that this man's ghost could be dancing around the room and I would probably not sense it.

And here I am. So tired. And now it is 4:30 am. And I am not sure I can just sleep now that I know about the man who overdosed and took his life here. A Nigerian business man. Who arrived here at the hotel and asked not to be disturbed. And after a few days the hotel staff were concerned and came in. And found him. PIlls. And a suitcase of money.

And I am so tired. I think I have to crash now. In room 13. Me and the ghost. Talk to you later in the morning...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I Love Trees

On Friday, driving up country in Liberia in Bong County, we visited Kpatawee Falls to check out its potential for hydropower development. There I saw the most gorgeous tree. I love trees. I take a lot of photos of trees. I stop and stare at trees, my jaw open. I hug trees. I just feel I have to have this physical connection with these gorgeous things. I wish you could understand the size of this tree. Magnificent. I have more photos, but it took me hours to upload this one and my attempt to upload a second was unsuccessful. I think I've given up trying to upload photos while in Liberia. Additional photos will just have to wait another week. Until then enjoy this photo. A tree is a beautiful thing.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Liberia, Liberia - Random thoughts at 2 am

It is so late. And I am tired. And I have to get up in like 4 hours. And I have to try to make myself sleep even though jet lag has be feeling like I will die when I have to get up early in the morning, then again feeling like I will pass out around 5 pm, and then having me wide awake until 2 or 3 am…but a few quick words to capture Liberia thoughts before I go to bed...
  • the sound of the ocean pounding the surf outside my window is insanely loud.
  • my god I forgot about the humidity! oh the humidity! it is insane...
  • thank the universe for hot water, ice and air conditioning
  • no mosquitos! (yet)
  • I try not to, but I drink way too much here. It is my environment and the people surrounding me...ok, really in the end it is all my weakness...but I still blame them
  • I really love the people I have met here. I do. I really do.
  • This project rocks. It might not later, but right now it is a full on love fest. And it feels great. Please let it last.
  • Tonight I sang the words to Rappers Delight to a group of colleagues and friends because my friend from here thought 2 Live Crew was the first rap song and I had to educate him that he was DEAD WRONG by doing a google search and then playing this song that he had never heard of and then I had to impress him and others that even though I bought the record back in 1979/1980 and sat in my room playing it over and over until I learned EVERY SINGLE WORD, here we are 30 years later and I can still sing all the words. He realized he was wrong and I impressed some people. I might forget a lot of stuff, but I will not forget the words to Rappers Delight. Sugarhill Gang you rocked my world.
  • I have to get up in a few hours and drive up country for a day of meetings and driving. The morning is going to SUCK big time. And I only have myself (and jetlag) to blame.
  • The internet is so slow here it makes me crazy.
  • I keep getting shocked from touching the corners of my laptop. I swear to you. I thought I was crazy, but it is happening to others and I am told it is because the power being supplied is so fluctuating here. This is not cool. Trust me. I will be working and then suddenly ZAP - my hand gets a shock. Shock therapy?
  • Until our office gets set up next week we work out of the hotel bar. I am serious. It is an open air bar, facing the ocean. It is fun, but it is so humid that all the papers get moist. Plus it gets noisy and distracting sometimes when people are trying to use the space for its real purpose (bar and restaurant) instead of an office.
  • Have to keep remembering to take my malaria medicine and to not space out and use the tap water to brush my teeth.
  • I have never sweated so much in my life when I am outside of my air conditioned room.

More Bed Bugs

I've given up. I have tried for two days to post some of my Liberia photos...but no luck. Sigh...the woes of the slow internet. There would obviously be no photographic blogging if I lived here. And I am too exhausted to write some deep things about Liberia - that is for another time. So, I will just have to write about....BED BUGS.

Yes. I am obsessed with bedbugs. I can't help but continue to talk about it. I might need to create a category of postings called "bed bugs." But seriously, you can't follow the news anymore without hearing about bedbugs. I swear. Almost every time I am catching the news, I see or hear something about them. As I have posted before - this is freaking me out. I already knew to worry about beds, but then came mention of problems in store dressing rooms. I who always tosses my clothes all over the dressing room floor. I now take the time to hang my clothes. Then I heard something about bedbugs in movie theaters! The latest freak out - bed bugs in rental moving trucks. What?? Sure, it makes a lot of sense, but that thought NEVER crossed my mind. And I just rented a truck back in May and moved my things across the country. What if we had rented a truck that had bed bugs? Fortunately, we did not. But you better believe that if we have to rent a moving truck again, I will only hire one of those companies that proves they do inspections and clean up after every move to ensure there are no problems.

Do I need to start worrying about airplanes? Airplane seats? Luggage compartments? Doesn't it seem that this would be something of concern? I have not heard any news stories about this yet...I thought of that lovely one all on my own. This is what I think about, laying awake unable to sleep from jet lag, hoping I can get the internet to work over here in Liberia. Well, that and also how much I miss my husband.

Have you heard about bedbugs in unusual places? Come on, give me something else to freak out about...

I am delighted to report that I have had no bedbug experiences here in Liberia. Big sigh of relief. So here you go...a poor substitute for my awesome photos from Liberia, but it will have to do and you will have to wait, probably about another week, to see those photos...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Liberia Arrival

I have had no time to blog over here. I am crazy busy. I woke up around 4 am on Monday, was at the airport by 6 am and on my way to New York, then Accra, then finally Monrovia, arriving around 1 pm on Tuesday. Got to the hotel, showered and then proceeded to have meetings with our team until around 9 pm, and then proceeded to imbibe way too many spirits with our team and the usual bunch of whacky misfits (and I use this term lovingly) who hang out here at Sam's aka the Atlantis Hotel, until later than I care to admit. When you have just traveled many miles and your body clock is all screwed up, you have no idea how late it is until suddenly someone checks their watch and you realize you have to get up in 4 hours for a long day of important meetings. Its a fun group of people and I haven't seen some of them in a year so it was exciting to catch up and it feels great to be back here. I did not feel so great when I had to drag myself out of bed this morning. It was a very tough day. But a good day too in terms of the work.

I have a lot I want to share about Liberia, but for now I only have the energy to share a photo. Good night from the eastern side of the Atlantic ocean...

View from my hotel window at the Atlantis Hotel. Atlantic Ocean, Monrovia.

I was trying to be artistic with the security bars.
P.S. It took me about 30 minutes to upload these two photos - welcome to the high speed internet in Liberia. I hope I can get this entry uploaded before I pass out...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Utah Impressions Part 2

Babies. Utah is a land of babies. Young parents and babies. I have never been in a place where I have seen so many young couples with young children. And big families. Signs everywhere for baby doctors and fertility clinics. Children are very important here. It makes a woman in her 40s with no kids feel  really, really out of place. But there is certainly a lot of assistance around here if one does want to try to have a child at this age.

White. Utah is very white. And blonde. Me with my blonde hair and blue eyes - I fit right in. Sure, occasionally I will see some people who don't look like me, but its not a very common experience. I've never lived in a place like this. It feels strange.

International. Although being very homogenous, SLC is actually more international than I thought it would be and than you probably think. My guess is that it is a combination of things. Mormon missionary work goes all over the world, linking far away places and drawing those who follow the Mormon faith here to the epicenter. The University of Utah is a pretty large and good school, attracting students from all over. Some people come for the economic opportunities - there seems to be fairly large Asian (from all over Asia) and Latino (probably from all over the region) populations. SLC has an international airport and its close to a lot of scenic attractions (all the natural parks, Vegas, fantastic skiing, etc.) in the West, so a lot of tourists from everywhere come through here. Utah gets a LOT of tourists from Europe, especially Germany. Plus there a lot of people from elsewhere in the US and the world who move here for the beauty and the outdoors opportunities.

Food. Somewhat related to the above, I have found really great restaurants here. The best Mexican food I have ever found. And its everywhere. Which makes me extremely happy. Lots of different kinds of Asian restaurants (Sushi, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, etc.). I noted the Belgian waffles and frites place in an earlier blog entry. There is even at least one Nepali restaurant here that I am anxious to try. I've heard of a German restaurant and store that a German friend says is very good. I just found a fantastic Italian store on Saturday. It helps me not miss my former world in Washington, DC so much.

Gay. There is a larger gay community here than you probably think. And that makes me happy.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Leaving Home

I leave tomorrow for Liberia.

When I am getting ready for a work trip I am this combination of excited and stressed. It takes time and energy to prepare - securing visas, booking airline tickets and hotels, getting any missing shots and medications, shopping for toiletries, packing, organizing work papers, preparing things around the house for your departure, etc. It does not matter how many times I have done this before. Some things become somewhat routine, but it still takes up precious time and energy. Time away from my routine life and my family and friends. Energy away from the present. 

And there is always this part of me that doesn't want to go, right up until I am getting on the plane I am asking myself why am I doing this, why am I disrupting my life, why am I leaving my loved ones, why am I taking any kind of risk like this? I am not afraid to travel or fly - never have been. But I am also a bit morbid in my general thinking - I've been called "worst case Wendy." I just have this tendency to think about the worst thing that could happen in a situation. For some reason it helps me be prepared, to accept things and move on. So, when I am getting on that plane for every work trip I think to myself - well this could be it. You could go down in this plane so accept it and be ready for it. Again, it is not about fear of flying, it is just staring the possibility directly in the face and accepting it. I do that when I fly for personal travel too. It is not just work trips, it is any trip. But it just seems harsher and more unfair if you were to go down on a work trip rather than your vacation. That sounds really stupid, doesn't it? Because if you are dead, you are dead and it doesn't matter if it was during a work trip or a personal trip - it will still suck.

When I was single again, work travel was great. Work travel only really becomes a problem when you have loved ones at home who you want to be with - a partner/spouse, kids - or when you have things going on that continuous travel really disrupts - pets, hobbies, fitness goals. A lot of Paul's friends work in the film business. Some of those people go off to work on these films in different locations for months at a time - all the time. We sometimes talk about parallels between the international development and film worlds - how some people have to always be traveling and how this can ruin their personal lives. This is why I have seriously cut back my work travel and will continue to do so. I don't want work to ruin my personal life.

Two weeks isn't a long time, but sometimes it can seem like forever on the road. I will miss my love and will be counting down the minutes until I can be home again with him. Every single action will be about getting back home to this:

No business trip is worth leaving this man...

Byway Memories

Albert and me, summer 1987
Funny that I just stumbled upon this a few days ago. I wrote the following blog entry four years ago today - November 7, 2006 - in an old blog I kept for about a year in 2006-2007. It is something that really captured a piece of me - a major scene on the byway that is my life. There are people and places and times that are big in your life - that shape who you become and hold on to you forever. This was one of them.

Albert Nzaro (written November 7, 2006 - as it was, no changes, even though the writer in me wants to make it better)

Its after 1 am and I really need to sleep, but I'm awake. I worked on this proposal until 3 am yesterday, then got up at 7:30 and was at it, working from home, until 3 when I went to vote, then raced downtown for a 4:00 meeting that went until after 9!!! I have so much work to do, but I am too tired to do anything but look at funny sites on the internet.  Now I have started googling names of people I have known in my past, just for the heck of see if anything comes up.

There is just so much information out there - its crazy.  Have you ever googled your name to see what you can find? It is weird. I have found people from my past.  That is weird too.  I just googled an old love - Albert Nzaro.  I was so in love with him back in college...back when I was around 21.  I thought I would marry him and live in Nairobi, or Kampala where he was from.  Those were fun, crazy days. 

Albert died back around 1997.  It is so weird to lose someone who was important in your life, especially when they and you are young and feeling indestructible.  He died of AIDs.  Another statistic in the disease that has ravaged Uganda and many other countries in Africa.  Not only is it weird to find out that someone you once loved has died, its even more bizarre to discover they died of AIDs.  It was so sad.  And how ironic.  His father was a doctor and one of the top people in the country fighting AIDs.  He always taught his children to be safe.  But Albert...he was a lover of life.  He was always the life of the party. Everyone loved him.  So many women wanted him. He was a good catch.  Attractive, intelligent, funny.  He had so much potential. I will never understand why and how he could have wasted it. He came from a good family. He had opportunity.  He wasn't stupid. So, why, why was he sleeping around Kampala when AIDs was ravaging the place? 

It hurt so much when he died. It hurt to know that he died such a stupid, stupid death.  I remember receiving the phone call from a friend who knew someone who knew him. She didn't know what he had meant to me.  She passed the message on and I went numb, started sobbing and handed the phone to Bik because I couldn't speak. I mourned so much. I grieved so much.  We hadn't spoken in years by then, but I still always imagined returning to Kampala someday and having him in my life as a friend.  When you are that age, you really can't imagine death.  Its funny that I am sitting here tonight and he suddenly came to mind. I haven't thought about him in a long time. There was a time when a day didn't go by that I didn't think about him.  I used to cry a lot over his death. The loss of young love. The loss of innocence.  The lost of what could have been.  He was so vibrant and full of life.

I had to grieve alone. No one over here in the US had known him. I wasn't able to go to Kampala to attend the funeral. I wasn't able to connect with old friends who had shared with me what it was to know him. Back then we didn't have the easy communications of the internet, cell phones, skype...And I have never been back to Kampala since I last saw him in 1994.  So, there is this part of me that has always still hung on to his death. I wait. I wait for the opportunity someday to get back to Nairobi - to visit the old haunts we shared for more than a year. Back to Kampala to visit his home and his family.  Back to visit old friends who knew him well  so we can share stories about the great man that we once knew. Back to visit his grave.  I have always pictured that trip. I picture going to visit his grave alone. To sit there and cry and release and grieve. 

I have a photo album filled with photos of that man that I loved.   Scenes captured from long ago, when we were young and life stretched before us endlessly.  Happy pictures of us together everywhere. Running all over Nairobi, all over the University.  We took trips to the coast. Days and nights in Lamu.  We climbed Mt Kenya together.  We traveled by bus across to Kampala. We traveled down to southern Uganda so he could show me the place where his family came from. We crossed the border into Rwanda and had a coke. We didn't have visas, so couldn't really travel there, but the border guard let us go across the border to a shop to buy a coke. I have a picture of the two of us standing under a big sign that says "Welcome to Rwanda."  We are young, fit, tan, with huge smiles.  We were in love. The world was ours. I cherish that picture. I cherish those memories.

He played the piano. He loved classical music.  I had never really listened to classical music until I met him.  He was studying to be an architect.  We used to study together in his room, me sitting on the bed reading while he sat at his drawing table, drafting designs for hotels and hospitals.  We would listen to mix tapes and smoke cigarettes in that ratty little room at the University of Nairobi. 

On weekends we used to go to Uhuru park or sit outside for hours at bars drinking warm beer and playing scrabble and Trivial Pursuit.  We used to do the word jumble and the crossword puzzle together in the daily paper.  Days were full of classes, nights we went drinking and dancing. There was endless time to hang out and just be.  We were inseparable. 

He was so tall and skinny and dark.  I was so blonde and fair. It caused a lot of attention. We didn't care.    He had the smile of the Cheshire cat.  I captured it in pictures.  Every once in awhile I will see a man who resembles him in some way and I catch my breath.  The memories were so hardwired. It happens less and less as the years go by, but it still happens.    Knowing him..being with helped shape who I am today. He was and will always remain an important part of my youth.

I used to Google his name and there were a few articles about a business he had started in Kampala after he finished school.  He was active in the community.  Kampala is not a big place and he came from a good family. He was known.  As I said before, he could have and should have been a part of the new generation there. And he was for awhile. But the lifestyle there got to him and it took him away.  I Google him now and all that remains is a link to the high school he attended in Uganda with a list of those who have left us.  And that makes me sad.

So, next year it will be ten years since he passed. And almost 20 since we met.  Time.  I know that I will get back to Kampala someday, and I will have that moment I need to grieve.  In his homeland. The place he once shared with me. There is no rush.  The memories will not fade.

I will always love you Albert.  You remain alive in the memories of all the people whose lives you touched in your all too brief, but vibrant life.

Climbing Mount Kenya, February 1987. I turned 21 during the weekend of that hike.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Belgian Delights in Salt Lake City

I am super excited because we discovered an authentic Belgian waffle and frites shop right here in Salt Lake City! Its called Bruges Waffles & Frites and it is located near the Rio Grande at 366 W. Broadway. The place was started by a guy from Bruges, it has been open for more than a year and they may be opening a second shop.

You may recall me posting earlier that Bruges is my favorite place from our honeymoon. Just the other day I was pining for those famous Belgian Frites. And now I can have them anytime I want here in SLC.

Today we sampled the frites and five different sauces - mayonnaise, aioli, curry ketchup, sezuan, and greens. We also tried their famous sandwich - the Machine Gun or Mitrailleuse. The Machine Gun is a large piece of French bread with merguez lamb sausages, a pile of frites and andalouse sauce (mayonnaise, basil, red pepper, garlic, mustard, cayenne pepper). The waffles will have to wait until the next visit.

The Machine Gun, frites and many sauces!

My love waiting for our food outside Bruges.

Thoughts at the Nail Salon...

Spring - my new nail salon BFF.
I went to a nail salon yesterday here in SLC. It was my second time going to one (same one) since arriving in Utah. This salon is in the shopping plaza right near our house - a 5 minute walk, a 2 minute drive. Very convenient. I was still wearing the same toe polish from my wedding almost two months ago and I can't stop pulling at my cuticles (bad nervous habit) so I thought a manicure and pedicure would be a nice thing to do before I head off to Liberia for two weeks.

It is just a typical salon, nothing really special to write about - just a few observations of Utah and myself - from the experience.

I am a stranger in a strange land. I get into the salon and I am sitting next to two women who look like they could be my age, or maybe a little younger. There is lots of talk about "the U." I have learned the "U" is the University of Utah. It is a big University here in SLC. I assume that a lot of people went there and stayed in the area. So there are a lot of people walking around with a continued strong allegiance and support of the U. It is football season and "the U" is obviously having some big games. There were references to picking a nail color that is red to match "the U's" colors. The women are looking at me and smiling and laughing and I am just nodding my head because I am not from this place and I do not know or feel this fun and connection with "the U." Women my age picking a nail color to support "the U?" Really? Now I guess I can see this if you are in high school or college, but at our age? I guess its all fun. It is just strange to me. I was never into football and I did  not go to one of those Universities that has a football team and a following, so I just never experienced or got into any of that. This experience was a reminder to me that I am a stranger in a strange land.

Teenage girls are a weird, scary creature. Then the next customers that walk in are three teenage girls. They are probably 14. I think about how I and no one I knew ever got our nails done when we were kids. Oh we might have painted each other's nails at each other's houses, but I don't recall going to nail salons and getting pedicures. Was that just me? Or was it because I grew up in a small town and that was the early 80s and it just wasn't the same thing that we have today? I mean I know that we have tons of nail salons and other beauty places these days, much more than when I was growing up because now all of this beauty maintenance is such a huge thing ingrained in our society for both women and now men. I don't have kids so I don't spend much time with teenage girls. Therefore I don't really know their kind and their behavior. They look like the teenage daughter on Modern Family. Cute girls. Reading People magazine and constantly on their cell phones. What struck me was how serious they looked. Little women. And so much drama in their voices talking on the phones. Hysterical, and also weird. Did we look like that at their age? All serious and trying to look and be so adult? I could be wrong, but I don't think so. Although I am sure we were effecting the same drama. That I kind of do remember. 

I wish I understood Vietnamese. I won't be the first to ask this, but I don't have an answer so maybe you do - why is it that the Vietnamese have dominated the nail salon industry in the US? I guess this probably isn't the case in small towns, but I've mostly lived in cities all my adult life and I have yet to walk into some random nail salon and find someone besides the Vietnamese. I just find it interesting. I know that different ethnic groups can tend to take over a business in a certain area because it stays in the family or the community, opportunities being passed on to friends and family - e.g. Ethiopian taxi drivers in Washington, DC and even the Greek extended family that owned a lot of restaurants in my small hometown when I was growing up. It is just interesting. And then the salon is full of these women all speaking Vietnamese and I know (because I've read stories and other friends have told me and I feel it myself) that inevitably there is a time where every woman feels somewhat uncomfortable wondering if these women are talking about them. I wish I could speak and understand Vietnamese so I could eavesdrop on the salon ladies.

I want a woman doing my nails. This salon has a man working there. I think this is only the second nail salon I've been to in the US where a man was working. The other was in Tysons Corner, VA. I am sure you find more of this in NYC and LA and as more men are getting their nails done these days, I bet more men are getting into the business. But it is still an unusual thing in my opinion.

The first time I had a man do my nails was in India. I worked a lot in New Delhi from 2000-2004 and I usually stayed in this lovely hotel that had a beauty salon. That is what they called it - old school. That was when I really first started getting pedicures. I was one of those women who never really had time or thought for that kind of stuff until I was around 40. I just never thought about it earlier in life. The first time I went I was surprised to discover that only men would do your pedicure. Women would always do your manicure, but for some reason the pedicure was reserved for the men to do it. It was so strange. I never understood that. And it felt weird, quite frankly, to have some strange man doing your toes. Eventually I got used to it, and besides, they gave better foot massages (a primary reason to get a pedicure in the first place).

I had this man do my nails last time I was here for my wedding. He was nice, but man oh man did he ask a lot of personal questions. It can be awkward just sitting there, so I realize a lot of salon employees ask questions to make conversation (although in my experience most of the time I get the silent ones). Honestly I don't really want to be telling some strange man in a nail salon about my love life. He was a big flirt too which made it all a little creepy too. He was there last night, but thankfully I did not have him working on my nails. I really would prefer to have a woman doing my nails. Just as I would prefer to have a woman do any waxing or give me my annual pap smear. Sorry.

Kids love me, but I don't want to babysit at the nail salon. I love kids and they love me. I think maybe its because I don't have kids of my own. Maybe I bring some new kind of enthusiasm and interest that often is beaten out of their parents and other adults who have kids and are living that every minute of every day. Or maybe it is just that I am a freak and they find me entertaining. At the nail salon there is a little girl dancing around my chair and staring at me. Her mom works there. So I smile and say hello and start talking to her a little. Her name is Spring. Well next think you know she is sitting in the chair next to me asking me to explain to her every single button on the giant remote that controls the crazy massage chair. I can't even figure it out myself, but Spring is not to be ignored. She is my new best friend. Sigh. I came to the salon to veg out, but I guess now I am part of informal daycare. 

Final thoughts...
  • Sorry to those of you who have them, I think fake nails are really gross. Gluing this plastic onto your nails and then sanding them off? Gross.
  • I always mess up my fingernails. Always. Which is why I never get color on my fingernails.
  • Call me a bore, but I am too old for flowers on my toes. This place always asks me if I want flower decorations on my toes. All the teenage girls got them, of course. I think unless maybe I am going on a tropical beach vacation, flowers on my toes would look very strange at this place in my life.
  • Getting your nails done is much cheaper here in SLC than it was in the Washington, DC area. Not a big surprise.
  • I have now talked to two of the nail salon workers. Both are immigrants who arrived in the US and came straight to Utah. Both hate it here. For some reason both of them want to live in either California or Maryland. Maryland? I am going to hit up everyone who works there over time and see if all of them hate Utah and want to move to Maryland. Will keep you posted...