You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2008.

Before we moved to Africa, we got a lot of shots. We went to a travel clinic and pretty much got everything they recommended. We even considered getting rabies shots, just in case, because of the packs of wild dogs that roam the streets. I’m glad we didn’t, because it wouldn’t have been necessary. This is also how we found out I’m allergic to thimerosal, and the resulting puffiness and red welts on my face are why I can’t wait for my current passport to expire.

We also bought enough malaria medicine to last us for a while. As is our wont, we read the information on it, and were somewhat amused and horrified to find out that the side effect of that particular kind of medicine is insanity. That’s not an exaggeration. Paranoia, hallucinations, and some suicides were mentioned. Nonetheless, we bought quite a lot of it and then never took it. We ended up donating it all to a clinic in Nouakchott.

There isn’t a lot of malaria in Nouakchott, where it’s dry enough most of the year that mosquitoes aren’t a huge problem. The doctors I knew who lived there took prophylactics all the time, but they’re doctors. Doctors are paranoid anyway, even without being on malaria prevention meds. We only took it when we went to Senegal or to villages in the south of Mauritania along the river, buying the medicine in syrup form for children, this really nasty coffee-flavoured syrup. As they got older and as more medicines have developed, we got to the point where we only had to take one pill a week for a month after returning from an affected area. No one in the Nomad family ever got it.

But I’ve seen plenty of others who did; enough to know what a horrible disease malaria is. It kills, quite unnecessarily, 1000s of people every year, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa; people who, unlike us, can’t afford to pay a few dollars for medicines to cure this preventable disease. The UN declared Friday, April 25, as World Malaria Day, and has started a big push to get treated mosquito nets into the hands of those who can’t afford them. This simple step goes a long way in preventing the disease. Compassion International is joining the effort, and announced Bite Back, a program to get these mosquito nets into the homes of the poor. For only $10, which you must admit isn’t much, you can donate one. And, if you donate one while thinking of Shalee and her birthday, and then leave her a comment and let her know, she’ll enter you to win a prize. I mean, not only can you help the poor, but you can possibly get a prize for it.

$10 for a treated net. If you were at risk, you’d get one in a second.

I spent some time over the last few days writing a blog post comparing the polygamous Mormon sect down in Texas with the Mauritanian view of marriage, but I couldn’t pull it off. Maybe I’ll keep working on it. Right now, the two things only link in my own mind, and the post feels awkward, swerving between being too bland and “culturally sensitive” and being potentially offensive, or just plain boring. I’ll keep working on it. I need a good ending, and a better beginning too. Not to mention an improved midsection.
It’s been a quiet week; lots of rain, lots of time with friends. Today Ilsa took me to Starbucks, in spite of my supposed boycott of the place. She got a $5 gift card as a birthday present and wanted to treat me and have a “special time.” It was fun. I got a coffee and she had lemonade and a cinnamon roll, and we talked about her plans for Morocco. We’re leaving in about 3 months, and yes, I am beginning to stress, thanks for asking.
Ilsa has a dream garden; we talk about the possibility of it being actualized. She wants to grow strawberries, lemons, and flowers; she wants it to be somehow enclosed so that it’s a bit secret, walled. She has planned an elaborate entrance system, made out of cardboard and yarn I believe, as most of her inventions are. I am allowed to share this garden, she tells me; I can have part of it to plant as I wish. I have no idea if our future home will even have a garden, I tell her, again. I don’t know if it will be a house or an apartment, or how many rooms it will have. Our future is unclear; a fact that, while always true, is most visible at times like these.
In the meantime, Michelle at Scribbit interviewed me today. You can go find out about the job I almost had, at a time when scheduling meant even less to me than it does now, and see a fun picture of a camel in the back of a pickup on the streets of Nouakchott.
I leave you with these thoughts from Elliot. This is a cautionary tale about what happens when you let your feverish son read too much, especially a son who received this very cool book from a favorite aunt.
Elliot: I was insane last night.
Me (smiling): Did you have fever dreams? When you have a fever, you often have really vivid dreams. Do you know what vivid means?
Elliot: Yes. But these weren’t dreams; I was there.
Me: Uh, yeah. You see, vivid means…
Elliot: It was really weird though. I was at the Battle of Stalingrad, and I was a Russian fighter, but I had a German gun instead of a Russian one.

Last week, Donn was sick, and I told him I refused to get it. Which meant, of course, that by Sunday my temperature was 102 and I had only a terrible croak where my voice used to be.
I spent the afternoon in bed, dozing in and out while catching up on my Hardy Boys books. I’m pleased to be able to announce that I am now not only familiar with the classic series, from my own childhood, but with the new and improved “modern and exciting” paperback series, and the ultra-new graphic novel versions. Which are kind of fun, really. I like the name graphic novel, as it sounds much more serious than “comic book,” which can be important for your self image even when you are high on antihistamines.
So Monday, I didn’t do much what with one thing and another. In fact, I don’t even remember the day, except after about 10 p.m. when I realized that I was hosting a baby shower the very next morning. Oops!
Ok, hosting isn’t exactly the word. It wasn’t at my house, and someone else got the cute confetti and pretty candles and flowers, and others brought muffins and scones and coffee cake and other munchies. But I was in charge of the event. Voice or no voice, the show must go on.
So I googled baby shower games, looking for something I could do at the last minute that didn’t involve diaper jokes. I know many of you find the game hilarious where you have paper nappies filled with mustard or relish or glutinous chocolate icing, but I just don’t get into those. For one, it reminds me too much of the reality of small children, and for two, it turns me off my food. And I like liking food, which might explain why these gym sessions aren’t having the desired results as far as me suddenly losing 20 pounds goes.
One site mentioned a nursery rhyme game. Perfect, I thought. I may not remember how to conjugate French verbs in the plus-que-parfait or where I put down the cordless phone, but I know my nursery rhymes! These little scraps of rhythm continue to take up plenty of space on my own personal hard drive, and no I don’t know why. Any ideas? Preferably not insulting?
So I sat down and shot out lots of ideas, like the hard-edged questions: How many bags of wool did the black sheep have? Why shouldn’t you put your baby to sleep in a tree? Yeah. This was gripping stuff. However, round about question 14 or so, I started to run out of steam. I googled nursery rhymes and found this fascinating site, guaranteed to take up even more valuable brain space. Yes, now you can waste even more time online learning the historical origins of popular rhymes.
My current favorite, and yes I have told this to everyone I know so far, is the origin of “Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary.” For those of you with brains devoted to the knowledge of how electricity works or simple calculus equations who may have forgotten this childhood favorite, the rhyme continues, “…how does your garden grow? With silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row.” Pretty, right? Sweet, even. Nope. It refers to the reign of Mary I, aka Bloody Mary. The “garden” is the Protestant graveyard, which she did all she could to fill. “Silver bells and cockleshells” were instruments of torture, and the “pretty maids” were guillotines! Isn’t that fascinating? I love mixing medieval torture implements with soothing bedtime lullabies. No, actually, I do. This way, everyone involved gets something out of it.
The shower went fine, I think, although I have a feeling I talked too much in my croaky, croaky voice–something I tend to do when I’m not as prepared as I should be.
I’m mostly better now, stuck in that awkward in-between stage when you’re not really sick enough to be sick, yet lack energy to do anything useful. I absolutely hate this as I feel I am being really lazy, although I continue to race through mindless books. But on this typical Oregon spring day, when sun and shower mix it up constantly and my planters are full of daffodils and tulips, Elliot made the Perfect chocolate chip cookie. It is truly serendipitous! They look perfect; they smell perfect; they taste perfect. It was like little cherubs dressed in Nestle yellow (actually in the Trader Joe’s minimalist red logo) sprang full-formed from the oven door when he opened it to take them out. (Ok, maybe I should back off on the Benedryl, which is the only thing that dries up my nose) (And no, it’s not allergies. It had a definite beginning and will soon have a definite end, if I have anything to say about it.) So here I am, not at the gym, with little chunks of Paradise cooling on my counter. I wonder how long my self-discipline will hold out?
I’ll let you know. Later.

Really, it’s obvious that I’m watching the wrong movies. Or it’s proof that, even after deciding to do a movie meme, that my mind goes blank. All I know is that after publishing this post, I thought of better movies that I could have used. Although, I must admit that I avoided some (Philadelphia Story, Waiting for Guffman, Princess Bride) that others had used.

Oh well. Life does actually go on. And I had a lot of fun trying to think of quotes.

Movie # 1: Casablanca. Donn and I love this movie, which has the right combination of snide comments and perfect one-liners and yet has romance, not to mention being beautifully lit and photographed.

I couldn’t find a clip with the line I quoted, so here’s another scene:

Movie # 2: Better Off Dead. This is an 80s high-school movie, one of John Cusack’s first, about a young man who’s very depressed after his girlfriend dumps him for…you guessed it…someone “better-looking, more popular, drives a better car.” I thought it had a more universal humor, but when I showed it to some young people who were only one or two when it came out, and they not only didn’t laugh but looked at me like I was really, really old, I realized that perhaps it is a bit dated. Fortunately, my kids think it’s funny.

For me, this movie has so much history, so many memories of watching it with Paul and Heather and others back in the day, that it’s just really really funny.

This is kind of a long clip, but the line I quoted is about in the middle, around the 4 minute mark.

Movie #3: The Producers. We’ve only watched this movie once, but this scene stuck in our heads, especially Will Ferrell spitting out, “Filthy British Lies!”

Movie #4: School of Rock. Part of what made this so funny is that we all know people like Jack Black’s character, only possibly not quite as manic. This line has passed into our family’s lexicon: “You’re not hardcore unless you live hardcore.” Words to live by. We also like asking, if something is forbidden, “What about verbal abuse?”

Movie #5: Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Well, I rather screwed up on this one. Because this movie is so popular, I tried to find a obscure quote to make it challenging, so I went with the silly subtitles during the opening credits. You know, the ones about the moose (A moose once bit my sister) that segue into Ralph the Wonder Llama? But I ended up actually quoted a line from a Flying Circus sketch (The llama is a quadruped), which is why I should have checked with Donn, I guess. This also means that several people actually got it right. Oh well. Here’s a clip of the Insulting French.

Movie #6: Buckaroo Banzai. This cheesy sci-fi flick is lots of fun. I hadn’t seen it in years until recently, but I always remembered the line, “No matter where you go, there you are.” Very apropos for a nomadic family like ours.

Movie #7: The Manchurian Candidate. This movie’s been remade but I’ve only seen the original, which is well worth watching. This quote was obscure, I admit (although Mad got it right off). But I love the political and psychological suspense of it. Angela Lansbury is really scary in this movie–if you’ve only ever seen her in her bumbling “Murder She Wrote” role, you will enjoy seeing what a good actress she can be.

Movie #8: I had to put a Woody Allen movie in here. I love Curse of the Jade Scorpion because it has what made Woody Allen so funny–lots of really funny one-liners and insults. Helen Hunt finds Woody Allen rummaging through her desk and he tells her, “You’re a really suspicious person. I doubt an Amish person would be so suspicious.” Or something like that.

Movie #9: This one I put in for Donn. He’s the only person I know who would actually admit to watching an Elvis movie. But this one’s better than most (at least I guess; I refuse to watch most)–Elvis imagines himself as an actual surfer, only with a little tummy on him. The music is awful, the “plot” is corny and sexist and not what one might call subtle, but it’s still kinda fun, offering a glimpse of Hawaii in the 60s. Plus, it’s got some funny bits–including Angela Lansbury as a mindless, politically incorrect Southern-belle housewife. (Sample line: Tourists aren’t people!) I really am not a huge fan, but I like her in these two roles.

Movie #10: Stephanie actually got this one, almost. It’s not Destra, Florida, but Vernon, Florida. It is an eminently quotable movie. It’s a real documentary–Errol Morris went to a small town in Florida in the early 80s and just filmed people talking. It’s the funniest thing.

It was actually really hard to pick just one line. Here’s the one I ended up choosing, where 3 old men are discussing a friend’s suicide and arguing about how he did it.

But I’m also including the turkey hunter, who is priceless. This dude is REALLY into turkey-huntin’! Here he is, describing how he killed each bird.

We also love the lady who was told of the problem of desertification, but who didn’t quite understand it. She proudly shows off her jar of “growing sand.” Donn and I sent friends a Mauritanian box full of sand, telling them it was growing sand and had only a few grains when we sent it. You really should watch this movie.

Thanks to all who played!

Do you read Scribbit? If you don’t, you should. She’s a very talented woman who lives in Alaska and blogs about everything from recipes to rainy-day activities to travel to motherhood; she’s also extremely organized and gives great blogging tips. She’s the one that put together all the mom blogs in one easy-to-find location. She also sponsors a monthly writing contest, with prizes!
This month’s theme is Going Home, and I’m the judge. Details are here. If you’re interested, get your entry in soon. And although it might be possible to sway me with gift cards from Amazon or Starbucks, or with bouquets of spring flowers, I probably should mention that the entries are sent on to me anonymously. So go ahead and try to bribe me, but I make no guarantees. My preferred form of chocolate is dark, 72% cocoa, just in case you were wondering. I don’t mind things in it either, like nuts or espresso beans or bitter orange peels.
In the meantime, here is a post I wrote on this subject in June 2006, right before we left Mauritania for a summer trip to Portland.

You Can’t Go Home Again

first published June 2006

The other day, we were talking about our upcoming American summer with a Mauritanian friend. “Will you go back to your old house?” he asked. We shrugged. We sold it when we moved here—figured it would be WAY too much hassle to have to worry about renters, leaky roofs, backed-up toilets, etc from half a world away.

“We have that idea,” he told us. “We call it atlal and it’s very important in our culture. There’s a lot of poetry written about it.” He went on to describe a nomad passing by an oasis where he spent time several years previously. Maybe a bit of his old fence is left, uneaten by animals, and he sifts through the sand to find the 3 stones on which he balanced his cooking pots over the flames and the ashes of an old fire. This is good. He sits there in the sand, enjoying the evening breeze on his face, thinking of the past. Maybe he makes a pot of tea, balancing his pot on those same stones, remembering. Bouka atlal—tears on the place where you had a good time.

It is actually painful for me to visit our old house. I lived there the longest I have lived in any single house—6 years. It is where my children were babies. It is an older house for America, and it had issues, but also ancient, fragrant roses, original hardwood floors, the biggest camilla bush I have ever seen—it was more like a tree. The morning light through the windows was beautiful. Leaving it was difficult. But now others live there, have filled the garden with new plants, built a different fence, made new memories.

Unlike the Mauritanians, we say, “You can’t go home again.” “You can’t step in the same river twice.” We don’t even try. We, as a people, tend to look forward. We glorify youth, and want always the latest things. We move on. Seek closure. It’s over now.

Going back to a familiar place after several years away is strange. Memory has shifted, solidified, and the layers are no longer discernible, so that I may remember things—not as they were when I left them—but as they were several years before that. Does it have more to do with building those layers, with seeing a particular building on a particular corner over and over again until it is fixed in the mind? So that if a building was changed only a few months before I left, I won’t remember that. Chronology can also be abstract.

I have started packing. We leave tomorrow night; our flight takes off (insha’allah) at 3 a.m. After traveling about 31+ hours, we’ll arrive at my in-laws in Southern Calif. We’ll go to bed around midnight their time; 7 a.m. for our body clocks. A few hours later we’ll get up, dazed and groggy. Happy Father’s Day Donn! I’m planning on giving him a nap, and maybe some Thai food later on.

I’m sitting on a train, swaying back and forth as we glide northwards. We roll through forest filled with the bright new green of spring, past swollen creeks and gnarled branches heavy with moss. Small-town stations feature people huddled against the rain and the backs of dull apartment buildings, cheap because of their location near the incessant train whistles, painted in shades of tan and faded green. On the outskirts of these small towns, abandoned houses with sagging roofs have gardens filled with bright daffodils, probably planted 50 years ago when living near a train had its advantages. At the train crossings, a lone car idles.

I’m on my way up to Tacoma to visit my mother, who’s 84, has Parkinsons, and recently broke her hip. It’s a sad visit. She’s just gotten the news that the assisted living place where she’s been for the past 4 years won’t take her back. They say they can’t keep her safe; they can’t trust this stubborn frail woman to stay in her wheelchair and not get up on her own in the night. I understand this and they are right; she is not to be trusted. There’s something about old nurses, not to mention women of her generation. They think that, having survived so much already, they ought to know what risks aren’t really risky. They are used to being in charge.

She has already gotten the news. My brother and his family broke it to her the other night. I haven’t talked to her since–I don’t even know if she knows I’m on this train, wending my way up through strands of trees still barren and grey on this leaden afternoon in early April. Since the fall and subsequent surgery, she’s been in a nursing home. It is impossible to call her there. I try most days; ask for her extension and let it ring and ring and ring; ask to be transferred to the nearest nurses’ station only to face the same situation.

So here I sit, on a leather seat with plenty of legroom and an outlet for my laptop (although of course no internet connection). Train travel is nice. It’s cheaper than driving, given current gas prices, and it’s relaxing. The station is nothing like airports in our post 9/11 world, and carries a sense of the romantic past that airports can’t pull off.

It won’t be a long visit–just a couple of days. The kids are doing well with school but they still need me. Elliot’s going to make my recipe for spaghetti. He’s done it a couple of times already and it’s very good, and he’s only a little obnoxious when he gives me his tips on improving it, ironically making it the way I actually do. (I never measure spices, just add generously; turns out he does too)

The rain slants against the windows, but after we emerge from a long tunnel, we see the Puget Sound sparkling deep blue under a cloudless sky. That’s just the view from one side of the train, however, and by the time we pull into the station it’s raining again. The nursing home isn’t as bad as many of them are, but it’s not good either. Mum’s room-mate lies on her bed just staring at the ceiling, and doesn’t respond to any attempts at greetings. At meal-time, residents must wear long bibs that reach their waists. The walls are painted a depressing pink. The radio blares non-stop, a soft rock station that probably none of the residents would have chosen. Mum is dressed in clothes that are not hers and that are comically large on her; although to be fair, it’s hard to imagine clothes that would fit her. She’s shrunk drastically, losing 15 pounds in the last month and a half.

We talk of the past. I ask her questions–when you first arrived in Addis Abbaba, Ethiopia, in 1954, what was it like? Were you scared? What did you think when you first met dad? What was in like when you moved to Beirut in 1963? Tell me about the time you and Dad took my two brothers, then about 2 and 3, on a tramp steamer around the entire coast of Africa and then on to England! And she does, her memory holding steady. She tells me about having tea with the governor of the Ile de Sainte Helene, who was a distant cousin of hers. It’s a good visit. She is lucid, only getting the days mixed up a few times. (And, frankly, I do that too sometimes)

Afterwards, Phil and I stop by her old place to pick up some of her clothes, although he has already brought some to this new place. Where are her things and why have they dressed her in those ghastly pink sweatpants? I determine to find out tomorrow. I collect her old knitting and sewing things for Ilsa; Mum hasn’t had the fine motor skills to use them for several years. I gather photos of family members for her new room; the one of her wedding day, where between she and Dad and the best man and maid of honor, 4 nationalities were represented; the one of all the grandchildren crammed onto a couch, all wearing pyjamas. 

I think I’m too young for this, but I’m wrong. None of us are ever too young or too old for any sort of tragedy, any sort of life event. I may feel cheated, but frankly, without her surprise unplanned pregnancy, I wouldn’t have been born. At least I made it to adulthood with her–my dad died when I was 15.

So instead, I’m thankful for this visit, these connections, these memories. I always meant to record her life and write a book about it. She lived through bombing in Wales in WWII and helped evacuate some children to safety in the countryside; she was a midwife in Ethiopia in the 50s where she delivered the Emporer Haile Selassi’s grandchildren; she met and married my father in Addis Abbaba and they literally circumnavigated the globe for their honeymoon. And that’s not all. But I always put it off, and now I face regretting it for the rest of my life. But I’m going to get what I can out of her, now, before it is too late.

First I saw this at Mad’s place, where I correctly identified Heathers (she said modestly).
Then I saw it at Beck’s and Veronica’s, where I was too late to play.
Then I saw it at Piece’s, where again, I correctly identified Philadelphia Story (although it was an easy quote)
So I thought, I want to play too.
The problem is that I am biologically incapable of saying, “These are my favorite movies.” Also, I have the memory of a swiss cheese. So, here are some movie lines from some movies that I have watched and enjoyed and REMEMBERED these lines from.
Here’s how you play. Each person gets to guess ONE movie. When you get it right or within 72 hours or so afterwards, knowing me like I do, I will cross it out and credit you.
Sound like fun? Hope so!

Movie #1:
I’m here for the waters.
What waters? This is a desert.
I was misinformed.
This, of course, is from Casablanca, which may be our favorite movie after all. We were always planning to do a little video about the joys of language learning with this scene spliced in. Suburban Correspondent likes it as much as I do!

Movie #2:
I just think it would be in my best interests if I went out with someone better-looking, more popular…drives a better car… Veronica knew instantly that this was Better Off Dead; one of the more quoted movies in my life, I must admit. (What does that tell you about me? Actually, the better question is, what does that tell you about who my friends are? I knew I missed them when I learned how to say, “Sorry your Mom blew up, Ricky,” in Hassiniya.)

Movie #3:
Hitler! Now there was a painter. He could do an entire apartment in one afternoon–two coats! TsunamiBomb (the link to your site doesn’t work) got this one–The Producers. I’ve only seen the newer version with Will Ferrell, but this scene in particular cracked me up. You should hear Donn do the German accent on “Filthy British Lies!”

Movie #4:
You’re not hardcore unless you live hardcore. Lonie Polony got this one right off–School of Rock.

Movie #5:
The llama is a quadruped. YAAY Nan! Several people knew this was Monty Python, but she was the first to correctly identify the actual movie it came from.

I picked this line because Donn used to quote it often when we were first dating. Yeah I know…I don’t know why it lasted either.

Movie #6:
No matter where you go, there you are. My sister-in-law, Kris, knew this one. It’s Buckaroo Banzai, a truly cheesy sci-fi 80s movie.

Movie #7:
It’s been decided that you will be dressed as a priest…to help you get away in the pandemonium afterwards. I was worried this one might be obscure, but Mad has got it–The Manchurian Candidate.

Movie #8:
So, did you tell her who’s boss?
She thinks she’s smarter. Just cuz she graduated from Vassar and I, I went to driving school.

Movie #9:
My baby‘s home from the Big House!
Oh, Sara Lee, would you forget those old movies?

Movie #10:
I saw him that very day. He always said last thing he’d ever do is shoot himself…which it was.


I can’t believe no one’s gotten #5, which is very popular in a certain set.

Movie #5: Here’s another line.

I’m FRRRRRENCH! Where do you think I got this outRRRRRRageous accent?

And, more clues for the last 3, which are somewhat obscure, I must admit.

Movie #8: This movie was set in the 40s and has a lot of GREAT insults traded back and forth between the two main characters.

One more clue? Ok. Constantinople!

Movie #9: This movie is set in Hawaii. I hope no one else has ever had to sit through it. Possibly your parents liked it, assuming they were WAY MORE HIP than mine.

Movie #10: This movie is a documentary. It’s really funny, especially if you don’t mind laughing at people instead of with them.

April 2008

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A Perfect Post – January 2007

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