A Rant! A Rave! A Prayer?


I miss Sara terribly when we’re apart, but now that it’s been four days since she’s returned to Haiti, I’m experiencing the separation more intensely.  I tend to isolate when Sara’s gone.  I want to be alone.  I want to sleep.  I can barely tie my shoe or utter a coherent sentence—let alone clean the house, cook a meal, or walk the dog.  It’s a sad state of affairs. 

Yes, yes—I know I exaggerate, but I did have one small victory yesterday afternoon, having managed to extricate myself from the green chair I’ve been living in for days and drag myself kicking and screaming to the grocery store.  But then again, hunger’s a pretty strong motivator, and the only thing I want to do more than absolutely nothing is eat—eat everything—eat any and all things unhealthy and heart-attack inducing— I could so Twinkie and Ho-Ho myself to an early grave, it isn’t funny.

It doesn’t help that I’m on a diet. It doesn’t help that the date I return to Haiti has yet to be determined and will depend on security in Port-au-Prince over the next several days.  It doesn’t help that Kentucky, besides being famous for its fried chicken, is in fact one of the most boring places on the planet—no rioting, no cholera, no real election fraud to speak of.  Things are so comfortably tedious and middle class, that even the excitement phobic find themselves twiddling their thumbs and begging to be mugged, praying to be clubbed by a decent natural disaster.  Even a blizzard would do.

Obviously though, I shouldn’t tease about these things.  Obviously I should change this ornery desire to be anywhere I’m not—and never where I am—never in the here and now, in this city, in this state, on this day.

Please help me, God, to be content in the coming year—grateful for today, in this house with warm meals and clean water to drink.  Please teach me to be grateful for the little things and thankful always for the heart-pounding passion that makes me miss Sara when she’s away. Please keep her close.  Please keep her safe.  Please take me to her soon.

How do you handle separation from the ones you love?  Does humor help?  Writing?  Prayer or mediation?

(And thanks for the fabulous feedback and comments on my previous post.  Please share your thoughts and feelings on this one, as well.  My readers rock!)

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Weighing in on Bangkok: a Retrospective


(Since the holidays have kept me from writing for several days now, I’ve decided to offer a retrospective, of sorts, hoping a peek at past posts would offer decent reading in the meantime. 

The piece below was written nearly two years ago–January 4, 2009–just after this blog was born under another name.  Sara and I were living in Kentucky.  I was teaching writing at a local university, and Sara was considering a return to disaster response work that was expected to take us to Bangkok.  Initially this blog was meant to chronicle that adventure. 

In the post below, I’m moaning about a diet I’d begun as part of a New Year’s resolution.)

Okay, I got on the scales this morning–big mistake!  It may be that we are about to embark on a grand and exotic Asian adventure, but, God knows, I can’t do it fat!  I simply can not walk the streets of Bangkok like this–all 173 bulging pounds of me.

This is how it all went down.  Sara and I had agreed we would weigh on Sunday.  I had begun dieting a week ago but was too afraid to step on the scales.  Sara is to start watching what she eats on Monday.  Sunday then seemed a reasonable day to determine what we weighed.  While I may be a chicken shit when it comes to actually quantifying my size, once the decision is made to put a number on the situation, I want to get the pain over with as quickly as possible.  So when we woke up at 2 this morning to take the dogs out for their middle of the night pee, I brought the scales into our bedroom, as the floor in the bathroom slants too badly to weigh accurately in there, and proceeded to strip naked, because God forbid I weigh even an ounce more than necessary.  I even removed my glasses and seriously considered doing without a barrette but decided it unwise to try reading the numbers both blind and with hair falling in my face.  Then, stepping on the scales like the most over-sized contestant on the Biggest Loser, I was told I weighed a mere 75 somethings or other.  Now I may not have a completely realistic sense of what I weigh, but I did feel fairly certain I hadn’t been 75 pounds since I was seven.  And, of course, being without glasses I was unable to get the stupid scales to stop reading in kilograms and begin weighing in pounds, as I stood shivering and blind in a drafty 100-year-old house–not able to weigh having made the big decision to do so.  This did not sit well with me.  So Sara, who knows my inclination for throwing fits and was herself sitting warm and fully PJ-ed under the covers of our bed–decided to intervene.  After playing with the thing for a few long and chilly minutes and asking me where I had put the manual–when in fact she is the manual keeping half of this relationship–got the apparatus reading in pounds again.  You know something is not right with the universe when a book of directions is necessary for figuring out scales.

To make a long blog a little shorter, let it suffice to say I weighed a good many pounds more than I wished.  So I am an Asian bound woman on a mission.  I will not walk the streets of a Thai city like this.  I may be willing to wear my glasses the next time I weigh, but I will not make a big fat spectacle of myself on the sidewalks of Bangkok.

(Sara returns to Haiti soon, so in a few days postings should resume normally.)

Haiti’s Feast or Famine: the good, the bad, and an etiquette of greed


I got out of the house Saturday, in fact made it all the way to the grocery store, where I saw people—an assortment of real, honest-to-goodness, up-right-walking, human beings.  They were people on a mission—a singular mission, I might add—the search for sustenance.  Members of this group—more hunter than gatherer—were out for the kill—the thrill of stalking and slaying.  They were ruthless.

Blood was shed.

But, before I proceed with these graphic details of gut and gore, let me remind you how I got myself into this mess, in the first place.  To make a long story short, I came to Haiti with my partner Sara, who directs earthquake recovery efforts for a major, international, NGO.  I am an artist/writer/former-academic.  Since our arrival in Port-au-Prince, our two dogs in tow, we have survived a number of dangers that have included Hurricane Tomas, a cholera epidemic, and the ongoing threat of kid-napping.  In the past week things have worsened considerably, however, as in the aftermath of fraudulent presidential elections the country, Port-au-Prince especially, has been paralyzed by protesters rioting in the streets against a myriad of misdeeds on the part of the ruling political party, crimes that included blatant stuffing of ballot boxes and intimidation of voters at the polls.  It is this rioting that kept us house-bound for much of last week—housebound as all around us the city descended into chaos—buildings burned, people killed.   And it is this confinement that made us more than just a little merry to be out this weekend—even as far as the supermarket on Saturday—

—Where, indeed, blood was shed—

—Almost—

Okay, there may not have been literal blood in the aisles—but it was bloody in every metaphoric sense imaginable.  It was desperate.  It was deadly.  There should have been medical intervention, at the very least.

These human beings were hungry, as only housebound-for-days-with-pantries-depleted aid workers can be—a singularly ravenous group—I now know.

So here’s how it all went down:

Sara and I, wisely arrive at the super market early. Giant, as it’s called, opens at 8.  But we arrive around 7:50 with a strategy mapped out—divide and conquer.  By this time a small group has already gathered.  By 8 our number has grown.  By 8:10 we’re a small crowd.  By 8:15 we’re a ravenous herd thronging the gates of super market heaven, as Giant’s own Peter, raises the barrier.

This, I would argue, is what happens to humans accustomed to the food surplus that is America, Canada, Denmark, Kuwait—suddenly threatened—where anything short of feast is experienced as famine. Ironically, many of these aid workers feed the hungry by day, have degrees in food security, advanced degrees in hunger studies These food-spoiled-food-specialists have been housebound for days and know now that more isolation is inevitable, maybe even imminent.  These are the real survivalist, the professionally-programmed to gather, to stock pile, to horde.

Unfortunately, I participate in this parody.

Willingly—

Isles clog with carts— the meat department is particularly intense—shoppers grabbing chickens to roast, t-bones to grill, pork chops to fry.  These are carnivores galore, consuming the store.

I am no different—but I crave the carbs, have been on a diet for weeks.  And even during good times diets increase my cravings.  So when the few foods I’ve been eating for more than a month aren’t stocked by the store, I start to stress.  My anxiety soars—is still soaring two days later. 

On Saturday I do finally find a few favorite foods—pretzels, almonds, raisins, dates—the carbs I crave even on a diet.  This stockpile, however, doesn’t satisfy.  Sara and I still argue.  I know I’m over-reacting.

There’s too much uncertainty.  The airport has finally reopened, though American Airlines won’t resume flights before Wednesday—the very afternoon I’m scheduled to fly home for the holidays.  Almost daily for the past week American has promised to start flying again on a given day, only to announce the following morning the need to prolong their Port-au-Prince closure.  The only way I’ll get out with my dog Lucy on Wednesday, is if the airline does not delay again.

On top of this uncertainty, we’re not at all confident Sara will be able to leave Haiti on the 23rd—the date of her scheduled holiday departure.  The airports are expected to close again after the final results in the presidential election are announced on December 20th.  Many believe the country will slip into a chaos even more intense.

I know I should be mourning these facts on behalf of Haiti, when, actually, my grief is grounded in fear that neither Sara nor I will get home for the holiday, or even worse—that I will, but Sara won’t, and we’ll be apart on December 25th

It’s an ugly, selfish sadness. 

In fact, I am what I find most deplorable in citizens of rich countries.

Driven.

Greedy.

Vain.

I come from ugly America, a Mecca of meals with an etiquette of greed.   Am I an ugly American, ashamed but not changed?

Or maybe Alexander from Judith Viorst childrens’ book got it right after all.  Maybe it’s just

                “a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”