6 May 2011

A BIG post

I haven’t posted for some time now, nearly two weeks. This has been intentional, in an attempt to mimic the potential internet-free conditions that I will experience in Africa. However, I haven’t stopped writing. Instead, I’ve written a number of daily blogs during that time that I will now post up here.

This is something of an experiment, and feedback on format would be appreciated. I’m not sure if it’s better to put all of the posts that I’ve written into one super-long blog post that’s internally subdivided by dates and headings, or if it’s better to post about 10+ posts all on the same day, which makes for shorter posts but more clicking.

This time, I’m doing an extra-long post. Next time, in about two weeks, I’m going to do lots of shorter posts. Please feel encouraged to comment at length and tell me which you prefer. After all, this is for you to read, not me, and I would like to accommodate it to your tastes as much as possible.

Cheers!

5 May 2011

A Perfect Day

The weather today is something bordering on divine: 65, sunny, light breeze, 30% humidity. I’m hoping to play disc golf later, but even if I can’t it’s the sort of day where you just want to sit outside and soak in the glory of the spring sunshine.

A quick check of the weather in Ouagadougou says it’s…98, sunny and about 25% humidity. Fun. I guess I had better soak up this perfect spring while I can: so far as I can tell, day temperatures below 80 are about to be a thing of the past, and air conditioning will quickly become something that makes me cold.

But at least it’s a dry heat. I know that’s horribly cliché to say, but it’s true. Anyone who has been through a nice North Carolina summer, where temperatures and humidity compete daily to see which can hit triple digits first (without any actual rain coming to break the heat) will agree: they would MUCH rather deal with 115 and 10% humidity than 97 and 80%. I was in Phoenix in mid August and it was downright pleasant by comparison.

Here’s to hoping I get posted someplace drier. Otherwise, I may not be so reluctant to brave the crocs and hippos in the local river…

4 May 2011

Justice vs Revenge

I’ve been getting into a few hot debates lately about whether or not Osama bin Laden’s assassination (let’s call it what it was) was just. It was definitely legal – the Attorney General has officially said as much – but was it just? It’s an interesting debate that I have no intention of reproducing in this very apolitical blog. If you feel strongly on the issue, bring it up on Facebook and we can have at it to our hearts’ content. That’s what Facebook is for. This blog, on the other hand, is a public document, and I think it’s best if I leave contentious subjects alone herein.

That being said, the debate has raised an interesting point: sometimes things happen in the real world that affect our daily lives, that people feel very strongly about. Then, politics ceases to be an ideological struggle, and becomes a much more visceral thing. Blows are thrown, relationships destroyed, and even nations torn apart, depending on the issue.

Here in the US, where we have already secured the blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our posterity, politics rarely imperils the day to day fabric of our lives. This is not the same elsewhere. And I need to remember that. As you all know, I’m a contentious fellow, and I like to argue for the sake of arguing. But playing Devil’s Advocate in a place where the stakes of the argument are much more real is probably not a luxury that I should allow myself. So I’m going to have to learn to keep my damn mouth shut. Which could be as much of a challenge as learning to sleep in the heat or to deal with no indoor plumbing.

Hmm…

3 May 2011

Expats

I’m a big fan of the Oxford English Dictionary. Sorry, Webster’s fans, but the OED is the authority when it comes to definitions in English. It’s also the class of the world when it comes to other languages as well. Sure, French has L’Académie française and Spanish has, well, whatever Spanish has, but when it comes to the biggest, best, and most well-known, the OED is it. And the heart and soul of the OED’s “it” are the quotations that it includes in order to clearly demonstrate the various subtleties of meaning of usage that a definition might not always be able to capture.

Such as today:

expatriate, adj. and n.

Pronunciation:  /ɛksˈpeɪtrɪət/

Etymology:  Formed as expatriate v., on the analogy of participial adjectives from Latin past participles: see -ate suffix2

  1. An expatriated person. In modern usage, a person who lives in a foreign country.

1818    Q. Rev. XIX. 55   Patriots and expatriates are alike the children of circumstances.

1871    B. Taylor tr. Goethe Faust II. iii. 209   But a God took hold of her, The Expatriate.

1902    Daily Chron. 26 Feb. 3/5   ‘The Expatriates’ is a novel by Miss Lilian Bell.‥ Its principal characters are rich Americans and titled Parisians, and the action takes place largely in Paris.

1961    Economist 25 Mar. 1193/1   In Dar-es-Salaam all the talk is about ‘expatriates’, the technical name for the Europeans who run the country alongside or behind the African ministers.

1969    Age (Melbourne) 24 May 2/4   Mr. Barnes said the Gordon estate sub-division would be one of several new area developments which would enable closer integration of Papuans and New Guineans and expatriates.

  1. Of, pertaining to, or being an expatriate; living in a foreign country esp. by choice.

1957    R. E. Knoll (title)    Robert McAlmon, expatriate publisher and writer.

1979    Jrnl. Royal Soc. Arts 127 436/2   Many of these countries had relied‥on a limited supply of expatriate professional skills.

1980    ‘M. Fonteyn’ Magic of Dance 46   The major influence in the Western world was a large group of expatriate Russians who come under the generic heading ‘Ballets Russes’.

For those who don’t know, expatriate (or expat, as the hipper souls of the world community like to brand themselves) implies more than simply someone living in another country. It implies a mindset, a lifestyle, a weltanschauung that is urbane, cosmopolitan, world-weary and more than a little romantic. There are books written about expats, there are endless blogs devoted to their exploits, and there’s a particular subset of American youth who dearly wish to be nothing more than an expat. (Click http://stuffexpataidworkerslike.com/ for a nice listing of all the stereotypes).

I am not one of those youth.

Ten years ago, I probably would have wanted nothing more than to be an expat. Now, I eschew the term. In fact, I loathe it. It’s just so…irresponsible.

(Note: I’m deleting the approximately 3 page rant that I wrote here about my loathing of the expat cliché, on the grounds that if I can’t say anything positive, I shouldn’t say anything at all. If you want to know what it read like, just take all the negative images from the link above and amplify them.)

2 May 2011

BANG! You’re DEAD!

I was pretty tired last night, so I went to bed early – right around 9. And as most of you know, a certain press conference took place about 9:30, in which our fearless leader announced that Navy SEALS had shot and killed Osama bin Laden in a firefight in Pakistan. Apparently, this news was so momentous that it sparked spontaneous crowds to gather in DC and NYC, and baseball stadiums suddenly became filled with chants of USA! USA!.

I confess to not being that fussed. When I found out about it this morning, my initial reaction was something along the lines of “huh…go figure”. And I was pretty offended by the idea of people dancing in the street to celebrate a man’s death. I don’t know if that’s right or not, but it just seemed to bother me.

Anyway, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment at length on the subject here, but it seems silly to ignore the elephant in the room.  I *have* to mention it.

Which makes me wonder: what are folks in countries like Burkina Faso thinking right now as they look at the Americans in their midst? Do they share our sense of triumph? Are they angry? Do they even care?

My guess is probably not very much. From what I can tell, life is hard in Burkina Faso, even for the fairly well off. I imagine that manufactured billionaire boogeymen like bin Laden take a back seat to things like the looming drought, the cost of seed, and whether or not you’re going to have enough rice to feed everyone properly until the rainy season comes. Even among the wealthier classes, it’s probably a distant…15th…behind things like the rebellion in Cote D’Ivoire, the recent upheaval with the Presidential guard, the shakeup of the Cabinet, and whether or not the currently stable situation is going to be thrown into turmoil like it was in Tunisia. Spending trillions to chase down one man is the luxury of the sorts of countries that have obesity epidemics instead of famines and spend more on warships than they do on farmers.

But to be fair, no one here cares about their issues either. I’m yet to meet someone who knew exactly where Burkina Faso is, much less be able to tell me anything about the place from memory. About the best I get is ‘isn’t it in Africa someplace…?’. Monocultural awareness cuts both ways, and is equally harmful to both sides. And combating that is actually one of the principles reasons that the Peace Corps exists.

These are the sorts of questions and issues that I can’t wait to work with on a more firsthand basis. I’m looking forward to it.

1 May 2011

BS

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s writers who fills scads of pages, but who don’t really have anything to say. Which presents me with something of a quandary: I don’t really have anything to say right now in this blog, but I have to say it anyway in order to be sufficiently in practice for when I DO have something to say. If I had my druthers, I would shut things down right now and pick back up again in October. The problem is, writing is a habit, and I have to get in it. I know myself: if I don’t make myself put something down each and every day, I’ll wind up dropping it all and never picking it back up again. Which would bother me later on.

Actually, now that I think about it, that’s more or less the exact same rationale that I use to make myself go to the gym 3 – 5 days a week. I enjoy the results of working out, but boy do I hate having to pick 250 – 300 lbs repeatedly. That crap is HEAVY. And boring. And hard. And other negative adjectives.

But I digress.

If these posts sometimes seem…contrived…bear with me. They kind of are. But I promise you it will be worth it. When I actually get someplace worth hearing about, I’ll also be in the habit of telling you about it. Then, you won’t get a new post every three months (like 90% of the Peace Corps blogs I’ve looked at) that consists of little more than a photo and some lame apologies for not having posted recently. Even if I only get internet once every quarter, I’ll at least have a quarter’s worth of posts to put up for you, filled with all kinds of exciting news. AND, I won’t have to use my precious internet time trying to think of something to write, and I can instead catch up on Facebook, NFL standings (assuming the season gets underway), and world news while I’m waiting for my posts to upload.

In short, it may be bland now, but it will be a win:win later. You’ll see.

30 April 2011

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

I’m back in the Triangle after a week visiting family in Wilmington. It was…less…than a vacation. In addition to the numerous chores and errands Mom needed help with, I also got to deal with some miserable weather and a general sense of isolation. Despite the fact that I was surrounded by family the entire time, it was in no way whatsoever like going home. It was very much a trip to someplace alien.

Which, of course, led me to think about my Peace Corps service. I travelled here for a week to a place I know intimately, to visit those I know best, and it was a challenge. I’m going to have to do better in the Peace Corps. After all, for two years I’m going to be living in a distant country, surrounded by strangers, living in alien conditions, speaking a new language, eating new foods, and generally being all but 100% out of my comfort zone. If I am to make it, if I am to enjoy myself at all, it will depend entirely on my own efforts. If I am to have friends, I must make them; if I am to have a home, I must create it. They’re not just going to fall in my lap, and they’re not just going to grow out of the woodwork. Yes, I’m sure the people there will be amazing and wonderful and will surprise me time and again, but if I don’t go them there’s just no way that they will come to me. This is the thrill and the challenge of the Peace Corps.

I just hope I don’t have to do too many chores there involving crawling under the house while playing with piles and rolls of fiberglass insulation. Or I may be in trouble. 😛

29 April 2011

Essays

It has occurred to me that writing these posts is very akin to writing an essay. I have a single topic, a limited timeframe, and practical limits as to length. So I’m wondering if I should perhaps formalize the content a little more. Keep it strictly under 500 words, say, or 1000. Adhere firmly to a 5 paragraph format. Maybe contact an old professor or English teacher and have them grade it?

In all seriousness, though, I don’t want this to turn into Abraham’s Unsolicited Ramblings or A Tubby American’s Photoblog From Africa. I want it to be purposeful, insightful, and worth reading. I want to look back at it in 20 years and not cringe at every second word. And while I’m a reasonably skilled writer, that’s still not something that can generally be produced off the cuff. Maybe I need to hire an editor to go with me?

Which is where I turn to you, dear readers. Thanks to WordPress’ Site Stats, I know you’re out there, and I know you’re reading this. If you care at all, send me feedback! Comments aren’t seen by the reading public unless I approve them, so if you want to stay anonymous just let me know and I won’t approve the comment. But give me feedback, so I can structure this better and produce a higher quality product. Both you and I will gain from it.

Also, bear in mind that once I’m in country prompts might be appreciated. Everything I see, do, and hear will be new to me while I’m there, and I may very well be leaving the best and juiciest parts out! Get in the habit of corresponding with me now, and it will be easier to ask your seemingly silly questions then. I want this to be less me talking at you than it is us communicating together. That also makes it more fun.

Here endeth the plea.