Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Washington Post Fiction Contest - this year's entry

Okay, my dear friends... here's the entry I plan to send... you have until the end of the day today (Wednesday) to make suggestions for improvement!

In a Sun-Scorched Land, He Will be like a Fresh Spring
By Kathryn Evans

I spent over one hundred thousand dollars on my top-shelf education, and all I can remember now are stories that make me interesting at cocktail parties. I cannot recall how to find the ratio of a triangle, I have at least temporarily forgotten the year that Queen Victoria took the throne, but I do remember the lyrical story of how Corot left England to vacation in Rome and was changed forever. It was something about the light.

Apparently, the same thing has happened to American artists when they headed to the West. The intense light and open sky of the Southwestern United States changes your life. I searched and waited for that kind of transformation - I waited over ten years after I left college, slowly becoming convinced that I might never find it. I tried Mexico, I tried Greece, and I tried Sante Fe. All are pretty places that I was happy to visit, but equally happy to leave. I was looking for a feeling of change and a place where I could settle - I covered several countries and nine states in search of it. I longed for a place that was different, and one that could hold my affections. I wanted bright and beautiful, with a full spectrum of emotions. I wanted the place I lived to be like life itself: overwhelming, chaotic, teeming with colors. And then I found Nairobi.

All romantic transitions in my family happen in the same way, in a swirl of words. My parents met in the library of their graduate school. This library - a big, lofty cave of intellectuals - remains a spot where ethnicity, economic backgrounds, and race are leveled by education. A place where idealism is both encouraged and negated in long-winded prose, bound but uncovered in long, ordered rows.

My romantic story begins in similar but more vulgar fashion, the place so often touted as the modern equivalent to the library, in the local big-box bookseller. Here the words are coated with a capitalist sheen, and arranged by topic and appeal. Disneyland for bibliophiles, this store is not known as the place to locate a well-written treatise on 19th century French poets, but instead as a splashy stock-all for current events, fashion magazines, expensive coffee, and immediate entertainment. As if someone took that nice, old library out on the town and the collective cultural zeitgeist ended up spilling its strawberry-kiwi mojito all over its nice dress.

I walked into the store and immediately noticed a very tall, handsome stranger on the second floor. In the whitewashed world of suburbia, tall, dark and handsome was a combination so extremely rare that I uncharacteristically found myself investigating. I loitered in the same section; following close enough behind to view his selections, but casually enough to not seem desperate. His selections showed someone worldly, with a wide range of influences, showing precisely the type of interests that I had hoped he would have. I briefly caught his eye, panicked, and booked a rather quick retreat, pausing long enough to purchase the item I had been carrying in my hand.

I returned to the safety of the first floor, back to my usual quiet place - the biography section. Slowly I realized that by hiding in the far corner of the store, I was both wasting the courage I had just mustered and actively prohibiting the opportunity for fate to intervene. I thought perhaps something miraculous could happen if I just gave a little nudge in my preferred direction, so I stationed myself approximately five paces to the left of the down escalator. I tried to appear completely engaged in some fluffy nonsense about the latest adventures of some celebrity teen stick figure while I waited to see what would happen. Thirty excruciatingly long seconds later, the same tall gentleman swept up beside me and asked me what I bought.

Most of the next few minutes are left as a blur with a combination of fear, excitement and smugness at my ability to manipulate fate. As I recall, we talked of Kenya and he seemed surprised that I guessed he was from Nairobi. And at some point in those few minutes he told me of the loneliness he felt to now be trapped in a place where no one knew or cared about his home - the place that meant everything to him. I listened and walked him to his car. I was comfortable and it was easy to jokingly suggest to him that he become my Swahili teacher - and he left me with his email address.

The next romantic transition was again a mixture of words. We started by meeting at that same bookstore to talk about Swahili. First I learned the Swahili words that were already part of my lexicon, courtesy of Kwanzaa and The Lion King. Then we moved on to simple greetings followed by short sentences. I found an online translator, and tried to surprise him with new phrases, never getting them quite right. This exchange of language led to the exchange of stories. The exchange of stories led to the exchange of emotions. The exchange of emotion led to the exchange of vows.


Now I am here on the open road. The drive from Nairobi to Kisumu is about 5 hours directly west, heading towards Lake Victoria. In front of me is only open road. But behind me is a crazy caravan of Range Rovers, convertibles, and one old-timey bus. His family and mine are intermingled in this cavalcade on our way to Seme for the dowry celebration.

I am drunk with an elixir of mixed traditions. At our civil ceremony, I wore white and carried a bouquet. At the wedding, we had a chupah of flowers, but the priest was Episcopalian. We had a blessing by my husband's favorite Catholic priest in Nairobi, the one that taught him to play ping-pong and encouraged him to sing in the choir. Now, we are on our way to Nyanza, where my family will receive cattle as payment for their daughter, and a goat to signify the wedding ring. We have brought many presents to give them and a number of mammoth suitcases of books for their tiny library. Even with all of this, I am tempted to add more blessings, more traditions, and even more fanfare. Not because I ever thought I was the type of woman that wanted all this attention, but because I am so excited to finally feel a love that preserves a feeling of freedom and encourages a certain type of uncertainty.


The fiction of this story is the thought that the rest of our life will feel just like this moment in the sun. The wind in my hair, my brother at the wheel, we are lucky we have not yet been stopped by the police, or by some group of young ne'r do wells with some kind of hustle foremost in their minds. At any moment there are possibilities for tension that words cannot relieve. The romance of it all could vanish. But for now, the open road gleams before us, looking almost, but not quite, solid. It's something about the light.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Time to Panic.

Over the course of this spring, at completely unpredictable moments, I've been suffering from what must be panic attacks.

Out of the blue, with no warning, I go from being excited about something I'm doing to feeling like I might just puke, followed by the feeling that I will pass out. Since I have a history of fainting, I get myself all worked up that I'm going to faint, but then - magically - I am okay and back to whistling a happy tune and skipping down the street.

The first time it happened was at the event with Dave Eggers and Valentino Ackek Deng. And it just happened in a meeting where I needed to present information about my job to a committee of Board Members and faculty. But its happened at least 3 other times.

So I was probably turning ten shades of red, sitting there in the big, fancy conference room thinking, "if this is a physical issue, then I'll faint and be done with it, if however its a mental/emotional issue then I'll be fine."

Well, I was fine while presenting, then in the break-out discussion it started up again, then I was fine again while presenting, and now that it's completely over, of course I'm fine again.

So, therefore and forthwith, here is the issue: I'm crazy. No problem.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Three Major Events Down, a few more to go...

This Spring has been busy.

First there was my nephew's birth, then there was Mrs. Bamba's passing, then Vaneeta's wedding, and there's the big show at the college, which happened last night.

Another wedding or two, another couple visits to my new nephew, commencement at the college and I'll be done for awhile.

This morning I feel like I was run over by a Mack Truck.

What do marathoners do to recover? Whatever that thing is, that's what I need.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Life feels exactly like this right at this moment. I am grateful that is the case.

when faces called flowers float out of the ground

when faces called flowers float out of the ground
and breathing is wishing and wishing is having-
but keeping is downward and doubting and never
-it's april(yes,april;my darling)it's spring!
yes the pretty birds frolic as spry as can fly
yes the little fish gambol as glad as can be
(yes the mountains are dancing together)

when every leaf opens without any sound
and wishing is having and having is giving-
but keeping is doting and nothing and nonsense
-alive;we're alive,dear:it's(kiss me now)spring!
now the pretty birds hover so she and so he
now the little fish quiver so you and so i
(now the mountains are dancing, the mountains)

when more than was lost has been found has been found
and having is giving and giving is living-
but keeping is darkness and winter and cringing
-it's spring(all our night becomes day)o,it's spring!
all the pretty birds dive to the heart of the sky
all the little fish climb through the mind of the sea
(all the mountains are dancing;are dancing)

ee cummings

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Huge Ass Beers to Go...

I lifted my lifetime-donut-ban for one of these little beignets. Cafe Du Monde did not disappoint. We had a great time with the family of the bride and all left with a dusting of sugar in various nooks and crannies.

Jackson Square... so pretty!

A little pirate! He even did his pirate growl for us!

Man, I need to work on my tan... but I was in love with all the ornate entryways... this is my new Jcrew dress. Expect to see it alot.

I had to take a picture of this sign...

Obviously, I am just back from New Orleans, and the post title does not do justice to the weekend. It was sweet, it was sad, but mostly it was just wonderful. Wonderful to reconnect with the people I love and wonderful to remember that despite adversity, the resilient find a way to keep on going.

It was sunny and hot all weekend, a perfect introduction to 'Nawlins...

Friday, April 18, 2008

It's my JOB!

So, here's a new picture of my little nephew, Bo. He is one month and three days old... and very cranky.

I understand, he misses me.

Hold on, little bo... I'll be there in two weeks!

Monday, April 14, 2008

What the director said...

I've been on a big kick of watching the director's commentary on films. I've even been renting films I've already seen, just to see if there is a director's commentary.

For those of you who are not movie nerds, the director's commentary is a setting in "Bonus Features" where you can rewatch the movie with the director telling you all kinds of wonderful- or stupid - things during the entire run of the movie.

Superbad, Anchorman, Knocked Up, have been recent ones that have - perhaps - not really been my style, BUT last night, I watched the director's commentary for Water.

Deepa Menta kept me captivated for hours - and had me in tears twice. At one point she was discussing her motivation for one of the main characters - a pure and sweet young widow who is being prostituted to the wealthy local men to support the ashram. She quoted the Bhagavad Gita, and to paraphrase here - Be like the lotus flower in contaminated water, be in the water, but not of the water.

I love this quote so much. It perfectly describes how I want to live my life - helping those that are struggling to find peace, while preserving my own sense of calm and purity.

So while I could live without Will Farrell trying to push the limits of what he can say on the "uncensored" director's commentary, I am so grateful for the time that Deepa Menta took to explain her process, her unfaltering commitment to make that beautiful movie even as Hindu fundamentalists shut them down, and her desire to show women's lives in a heavily paternalistic culture.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Official Weird Outfit Day...

You know you're wearing a weird outfit when people say things like, "I like your apron, what are you working on." But the only thing is that you're not wearing an apron, so you say..."oh, you know, just work."

Then you walk down the hall a little farther and someone says, "Wow, you look like a waitress, I saw you and I thought 'What is she going to serve me?"

Nothing, I will not serve you.

But my two favorites said I looked cute, so that's what I'm going to focus on.

Oh, and also the guy at Starbucks and I had a great conversation about fair trade and a decent wage for migrant workers. That makes me feel better about such a large portion of my salary going to that corporation. At least its paying that cool kid's salary.

Someday I'll have a camera phone and I can upload my Official Weird Outfit of the Day or OWOD, but for now you'll just have to imagine.

Oh, and I got my haircut again. The hairdresser wanted it to be more "classic" for the upcoming weddings, but she overshot a bit to "matronly." I'm gonna go back in a month and tell her to return to "edgy." Clearly that's what she's best at. No one seems to notice the difference, so I guess that's good.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Congratulations, Gene!

Those of you that come here to visit me regularly know that I'm obsessed with this man.
Well, he just won a Pulitzer.

See, I have good taste!

A Quote I like.

Alright, I admit I know ZERO about Eisenhower's presidency. But I really like this quote - sorry if its incomplete or incorrect, it came as the footer on some random person's email:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies,
in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone, It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
Dwight D. Eisenhower April 16, 1953

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Simple things.

Perhaps I'm not destined to be one of the great minds of the world. Perhaps I'll never be one of the great beauties. Perhaps I'm too human to be anyone's measure of morality.


I think it's time to set some things straight about me.

1) I love lambs, puppies, and babies.

2) I hate war, torture, violence, and the abuse of power.

3) I mean well and try my best. Nearly every minute of the day.

4) I am a patient person. And if you think that I love you, despite your flaws, then I probably do.

All that being said. I do occasionally get overwhelmed at the enormity of the problems that surround me. I'm in that moment, so please be gentle.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Not for the faint of heart, nor for the grieving.

As part of my daily blog rounds, I stopped by here and saw this.

If for any reason you've recently said to yourself, "Ya know, I haven't had myself a good cry in awhile." And you're looking for something to put you in that nice, cathartic place for awhile, then there you go.

I couldn't really look at them. But took note of the beauty and sadness of these before and afters. The interviews put them over the top.

They remind me of the practice of creating death masks. While death masks were a mark of wealth or celebrity, these portraits are quite different. The practice of death masks was in large part to record identity. These photos- on the other hand- remind me that there is a marked difference of identity and features before and after death.

Wow, I'm such a downer today.