Saturday, April 28, 2007

Race for Life

and w00t again!
As far as Peace Corps as concerned, I now know enough about my placement to know that I'll be in England long enough to take part in my second Race for Life, the 5K women-only races sponsored by Cancer Research UK. I did this last year in honour of my godsister Tricia (ok, TEB) and in memory of my Mommy. This year, it will be in both of their memories. I would love to raise more money than last year and to beat my time!

I would really, really appreciate any donations! If you'd like to contribute something to this awesome organisation, please visit my fundraising page at:!

Thank you so much!

What a lovely day!

Had a spot of shopping this morning with my dear boy, bought the rucksack I'd been planning to buy for quite some time, had a nice lunch along the Thames in Richmond (don't get too excited, we bought sandwiches at Tesco) and was reminded at how much of London I would a) love to see and b) haven't seen. Have decreed that the weekend after the elections is 'explore posh bits of southwest London day.'

Then, it was off to the Quins match where they TROUNCED Sale 49-0 in the last match of the season (and a grudge match for the Quins against the side that sent them into relegation two years ago). Boy has decreed that I officially became a fan when I sorted my own ticket and was absolutely happy to sit by myself to watch, instead of with him. On the other hand, I was quite happy to take the unoccupied seat next to him for the second half, as it was in the shade. And, he bought me my very own Quins shirt as an anniversary present! For no good reason I am wearing it now. :-)

Doctor Who was excellent tonight, if OTT on the cheesiness at times. Still, this episode was the first time that I've gotten chills from the Doctor since it was Ecclestone doing the acting. I was really impressed with Tennant, because he hasn't always been overly successful in convincing me that he had a dark side. Martha did a good job too and I LOVE Dalek 'acting', which consists of slight movements of the eyestalk and mini-rotations of the 'head'. When two of them had a 'chat,' I was dying with laughter (well, ok, I giggled). Errr, and then I defrosted the frozen-over seal of the freezer with a hair dryer. I am such a cool kid.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mmmm, sushi.

I find myself on a sushi kick. Literally, I can't eat enough of it. And happily, there's a take-away sushi place nearby that's provided my lunch quite a few times over the past few weeks.

Partially, I think it's the weather. It's warming up and soup no longer sounds like the brillant idea that it did when it was cold. Also, I'm so OVER sandwiches. And maybe with all this working out, my body's been demanding protein (especially in salmon form, I find)?

Or, perhaps, I'm gearing up for moving to a land where sushi won't be available, much to my woe. Woooooeeeeeeeeee! :-)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I'm super excited!

Our tickets to Kosovo just arrived in the mail (for some reason we needed paper tickets) and I can't wait to go! I feel like I've been waiting for this trip for absolutely ages and I'm really looking forward to seeing Baaaaaaaahar again! Kosovo! Kosovo! Kosovo! Wheeeeeeeeee!

Still nothing from the Peace Corps. I've now been medically cleared for more than a month. They do have to give me at least six weeks warning.

And, I've had a smug couple of days. Yesterday, I sorted out my own ticket to the sold-out final home match of the season Quins game and I was vindicated by showing the world (well, the Boy and his friends) that I did, in fact, know what I was talking about when I was absolutely sure that an outlined country was Uganda and not Libya (as the quizmaster mistakenly identified it) at the pub quiz Sunday night. Go me, indeed. :-)

Monday, April 23, 2007

My marathon injury

One of the Boy's friends was telling me about her dad's marathon
injury, sustained while jogging ten feet across the living room to
watch the London Marathon on tv, and now commented upon annually on
its anniversary.

I too, think I may have sustained a marathon injury: a bruised or,
perhaps, strained muscle in my right forearm from clapping almost
continuously and vigorously for three and a half hours straight. Oops.

Still, the marathon IS my favourite annual London event. The weather
was much nicer (for the spectators) this year, but the costumes
weren't as good. Still, the atmosphere rocks and I especially love
yelling for the stragglers at the end (which is clearly where I would
be). Wooo! I'll miss you next year, Marathon!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Dame Margaret Anstee

Last weekend, the NGO that I'm working for hosted their annual conference. I've been to enough stamp shows in my life to have a fairly good picture of the members before they arrived and wasn't disappointed. As usual, quite a few were a bit bonkers, they were almost uniformly old and a lot of the others turned out to be rather cool.

Anyway, the coolest thing was that I was put in charge of meeting and helping our keynote speaker, Dame Margaret Anstee, the first woman to be an Under-Secretary General at the UN. She was a representative of what is now UNDP throughout South America and in Morocco and Ethiopia and worked on the first (and perhaps most important) of the UN reform proposals in the late 1960s. She was also the first woman to lead a peacekeeping operation, in Angola. And, yes, I was in 'charge' of making sure she made it to events and helped her with her luggage. On an interesting note, all of her outfits, accessories and make-up were somehow UN blue. That's stylin'.

She spoke on being a woman at the UN, a lot of which are also in her book Never Learn to Type, but I got to ask her about being a woman doing development work in Africa. Her advice was to always take risks in your career, work with women, be yourself, and be discrete. I think that's all very sensible. Oooh, and I spent breakfast listening to her chat with old UN-types (quite a number of members seem to have worked for the organisation at one time or another) and gossiping. Did you know that lots of people didn't like Boutros Boutros-Gali? I certainly didn't. I have to admit that a lot of it was over my head, though. It was all really, really cool.

Yesterday was a great day, but I'll write about it later. It's time for me to get out of the house and walk up to Tower Bridge for the marathon! Woooo!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

An expat among the Peace Corps?

It dawns upon me, as I spend copious amounts of time reading Peace Corp welcome packs while I wait for my invitation, that I'm going to feel a certain amount of distance from my fellow volunteers. While most (if not all) of them are adjusting to living outside the United States, in particular, I'm going to be adjusting to living outside the United Kingdom (having more or less made my peace with being an American expat in the UK).

Will I have to dredge up two-year-old memories of the US? And who will I talk to when I miss thing about the UK, especially if no one else has ever lived there? Will it be isolating? Will it be an advantage?

I'm reminded of the State Department publication I read on third culture kids, the children of people living abroad who have developed a hybrid identity based on their country of origin and the countries in which they have lived. It was called 'According to my Passport, I'm Going Home.' I'm not one of these third culture kids (mostly, because I acknowledge that at 23 I'm no longer a kid), but I completely recognize the sentiment. I can't pretend that the United States is 'home' at this point in my life (and I hope no one takes offence at that statement) and I wonder if it will be difficult for me to interact with people for whom it emphatically is?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Mexico recap...finally!

Sorry for being so slow with are a few entries below and over at flickr.

Well, some people thought I went missing, but really, I went to Mexico! I’m so sorry that I didn’t keep my girls in loop (I really, honestly thought that I’d said something). But, yeah. My big sister V has been going on missions with her alma mater optometry school for 10 years now, but this time there was a very small person who had to go along with her! I leapt at the chance to take care of my adorable, wonderful, 5 month old nephew Jerry for the week. And let me add, as a side note, that despite everything that’s happened in my life, having a wonderful new family has made it so much easier. I don’t ever feel alone AND I get to be Aunt Joyce to some of the cutest kids on the planet. Not something I thought would ever happen to this only child. Plus, I have a sister. Which is something I think I totally missed out on for 20-some years.

I left London early last Saturday morning and flew to Dallas with an…interesting seatmate. Why do Americans (and really, just the men) think you want to talk on planes? Really, I’m not a fan. So when I pulled out my fairly hefty paperback book on genocide he said: “You like readin’?” Me: “Yes.” Him: “Yeah, I never got inna that.” After this follows an admiration of the thickness of the book and inquiries into how long it’d taken me to tackle such a behemoth. What do you say? Talk about a conversation stopper! Still, the movies were a HUGE improvement over USAir and the airline was better, too.

I had a bit of time in Dallas on my own (most of which I’d use talking on the phone, on both ends of the trip) and V&J got in an hour and a half later. I saw Jerry at Christmas, but OMG is he even cuter now! Especially as he’s learned some amazing new tricks. He’d discovered that he had a voice and could use it to make comments about the world (us walking down the terminal…Jerry: “Eeeee!”) AND (even better) he’d gained some motor control, which allowed him to grab things (beware the dining table) and stick out his little pink tongue. Ush! We were joined on our flight to Guanajuato by a whole bunch of students from the optometry school and even held the plane for them a little (Airline: “We, uh, don’t have a pilot…but we PROMISE they’ll be one soon!”). Customs was fine (new stamp!) and we got to the hotel pretty late.

We had long days all week, since the buses loaded to go to the clinic at 7am and, even though we left earlier than everyone else with the baby, there was an awful lot of exploring that needed to be done. Oh, and jet lag, which actually passed relatively quickly. For the most part, Jerry and I hung out in the director of the eye clinic’s office while the 40-some students and doctors sorted through 4000 patients in five days. Amazing! We’d have some tummy time, some playing on our backs time, some bouncing, some reading (Jerry’s an expert on genocide now), lots of diaper changes, a fair amount of singing, rocking and sleeping, have food, and go for walks. Jerry got cooed over every time he left the room and rather often when people popped by to get things. Can’t blame them, but my “he’s beautiful!” Spanish isn’t bad. (The rest of my Spanish, I assure you, is horrific.) I did spend a couple of hours pretending I knew how to dispense glasses, though, one day. OMG, totally made it up, but learned some, too, about glasses and prescriptions. It was fun and the rest of the students and doctors (may of whom were V’s good friends) were quite awesome. And I am now capable of fixing my crooked-feeling sunglasses.

There was a lot of talk before we went about ‘taking the baby the a third world country.’ Having been there and back, Guanajuato (the city, not the state) itself was hardly ‘developing’ (if you ignore the part about not drinking the water). The city was founded by the Spanish during the colonial era and is built in a bowl, surrounded by mountains. Or, rather, the ‘downtown’ is in the valley and a lot of the residential area (including where we were staying) was above it on the side of the hills. It made for a pretty spectacular view and I fell in love with the city itself, which unsurprisingly reminded me of Spain (um, dur, Joyce!). One interesting feature were the tunnels, built to save the World Heritage downtown from the scourge of too much traffic, which seemed to involve no lights and lots of blind turns. Wheeee! They were creepy.

The centre of Guanajuato revolves, more or less, around two adjacent plazas. The Jardin is a triangular pedestrian area with a garden in the middle that’s surrounded by outdoor cafes, the theatre and churches and flooded with mariachi bands (V noted at one point that it was a good thing I wasn’t a guy or we’d have been serenaded for sure). The other is Plaza de la Paz and is in front of the Cathedral. I did a quite stop in many of the downtown churches and they were fantastic. The Cathedral was especially nice and all were in fairly heavy use (thus, I don’t have interior photos because I think it’s rude to interrupt people’s prayers with a flash). I was creeped out by the massive wax statutes that serve as the main form of decoration (as opposed to dark paintings that you can’t actually make out), because they were so lifelike and surprising. Since the vast, vast majority of my church visits have been in Europe or North America, this was interesting in its newness (although it’s apparently fairly standard throughout Latin and South America).

Guanajuato is just a cool place to explore. They’ve done a great job preserving the city and it was amazing to wander around these tiny, squirmy streets that are still lined with 3-4 story buildings, painted different colors and decorated with the balconies and metal work that you think as traditionally Spanish. We’d go downtown for dinner most days and had some decent, if not amazing or remarkable, food. I didn’t get sick and also discovered that the Mexicans may give the Austrians a serious run for their money in the hot chocolate sweepstakes. Mmmmm, cinnamon!

On the free day, V, Jerry, two other doctors and I went to San Miguel, a town that’s known for its enormous American retiree population and artists markets about an hour away. San Miguel’s main plaza is huge and also bounded by markets and churches. Generally, though, the city didn’t feel as ‘undiscovered’ as Guanajuato; the streets were wide and there were older Americans everywhere! The markets, though, were fabulous. There were lots of rugs, paintings, and silver work. Plus, we stumbled across the shop where a family from Oaxaca were selling their wares; their son had come to the clinic the day before. Jerry really didn’t mind all the shopping. It was his five-month birthday AND he got to sit in the snuggley harness and ‘walk’ around all day. You could just see his huge eyes trying to take everything in! On the way home, we were forced by the schedule to take the ‘nice’ bus, which was INCREDIBLE. Think business class on the airplane and you’re probably picturing the right thing. I really wouldn’t have minded the 14-hour bus ride across Niger, if we’d been in one of these buses. And all for only USD $10 (the cheap bus was $6 and perfectly adequate, even equipped with a sign that lit up and buzzed if the driver decided to speed).

We left really early the next morning, which was sad. I would have loved to stay longer and I’m a whole lot more interested in going back to Mexico and other parts of South & Central America now. The worst part was saying goodbye to V & Jerry at the Dallas airport; he made me cry! Silly Jerry! I can’t believe that I might not see him again until I’m out of the Peace Corps, when he’ll be walking, talking, and almost 3 years old! It was a wonderful week, partially because of the setting, but mostly because I got to spend so much time with part of my new family. And because now I’ve got the most adorable photo of Jerry on my phone that I can proudly flash to anyone and everyone who doesn’t care, but is forced to admit how cute he is!

I spent the rest of my long lay-over taking a taxi to the nearest mall, loading up a bit at Old Navy and making extra sure that I consumed both barbeque and root beer at the airport. Heh. Oh, and the flight back was unremarkable, mostly because I didn’t get to give up my seat (and, yes, I sat in line to make sure I was the first one on the list!).

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Long Easter Weekend

Three things, just in case you were wondering:

1) I made it through Lent without eating any biscuits/cookies, except for that one I dreamed that I ate and then was very confused and felt guilty about it.

2) I did a 5K run this weekend, 2:25 faster than my Race for Life one last year. I wasn't pushing too hard, mostly wanting to make sure that I could. Having looked at the graph provided by my Nike+, I think I'm a freakishly well-paced runner.

3) I still haven't heard anything from Peace Corps.

Easter weekend was wonderful. The boy and I both took off of work on Thursday (Friday and Monday were holidays here) and travelled up for two days in the North. My lovely boy, as you may or may not know is a staunch Northerner, from Lancashire (NOT Yorkshire. They lost the War of the Roses, you know) and wanted to take me up there. I wasn't complaining, as I've seen so little of the rest of the country, and had never even been to the West of the country before. We stayed two nights in Manchester in an AMAZING hotel and went to Liverpool for the day on Thursday.

I have to say that I liked Liverpool best, but mostly because it has such an interesting history. This being the anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade and Liverpool's role as the biggest slaving port city in the country, there was a fair amount of that to be dealt with. The city later became THE hub for immigration to both Australia and North America and both of these histories were the subjects of good exhibits at the Merseyside Maritime Museum. Oh, and it played another huge role as the headquarters for the Atlantic shipping and protection thereof during World War II (and also had to put up with loads of bombing). The waterfront and a bit behind are all part of a World Heritage Site (me: "tick!") and are amazing. The Three Graces (the Liver Building, the Cunard Building, and the Port of Liverpool Building) really are spectacular and wonderful embodiments of the wealth and importance that trade brought to the city. According to Wikipedia, they're Romanesque, Italianate, and baroque respectively, and all built around the turn of the 20th Century (the first turn, not the second). I especially loved the Liver Building with its Liver birds on top. The best view had to be from the ferry ride that we took along the Mersey, during which we were both a bit cold and the boy complained about going 'soft and Southern.' Bless.

Me in front of the Three Graces

The Liver Bird

That night we went to see Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Manchester Exchange, le Boy's favorite theatre in the Whole Wide World. It's a very cool space, with a theatre that looks a bit like a lunar landing craft crouching in the middle of the old corn exchange. The theatre itself is in the round and incredibly intimate (although I did feel a bit like I was being strapped in for a Disney ride) and the renovation of the hall was incredible. They managed to preserve the feel of the place and its beautiful, period touches, but also to integrate this new, vibrant arts feeling with colored glass in the skylights and funky chandeliers. Also, they had Magnum bars at the interval, which reminded me of Niger (and what doesn't?)!

The Manchester Exchange

The Theatre in the middle

I was a little worried going into the play, because I don't know anything about Virginia Woolf and hadn't read any of her work, but that didn't matter. I was, as I always am at well-written sniping domestic drama, of The Lion in Winter, which is high praise indeed. There were times when the events on stage were just so uncomfortable that you wanted to be able to jump up and get a drink, just like the characters seemed to do all through the play, and get as smashed as Honey so that what was going on wouldn't a) seem real or b) matter. I connected with Martha's vulnerability: I feel like I know what that means, needing to put a tough front up so that you can't be touched or hurt, but being devastated when someone figures out how to defeat it. And I was worried by George: I don't want to be one of those people who seem to show promise and then end up going nowhere. And I do know that I want someone to love me who understands me that well and with whom I can be challenged (hopefully not in such a psychologically manipulative way) for the rest of my life. It was a good night.

We spent most of the day on Friday wandering around the shopping area of Manchester. Manchester's legacy is as a town of the industrial revolution and of industrial uprisings, neither of which I'm especially well-versed in, although the boy did his best to fill me in. I was really impressed by the downtown, most of which underwent extensive renovation after the IRA detonated at 3,000 ton bomb in 1996 (the Royal Exchange was near the blast site and needed extensive work). The shops were the same (if not a bit larger), but definitely less stressful than London. We also had a wander to see the outside of the library (the largest in the world when it was built) and town hall (which proves itself to be an amazing double for the Palace of Westminster in movies and on tv). Sadly they were both shut for the bank holiday. I really regret not letting myself be talked into the Museum of Science and Industry (although, frankly, can you blame me for not wanting to find out how the cotton machines worked), because we MISSED the Doctor Who exhibition. Woes! I'm already angling to go back. It was lovely.

The lovely weekend was capped by a morning spent watching the BBC Parliament rerun of the 1992 Election Night returns (dorkitude at its best) and seeing John Gabriel Borkmann at the Donmar...where we just happened to be sitting in the middle of the Earlham study abroad group. That was WEIRD! (and cool).

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Mexico!, part 1

Have finally managed to upload my photos to Flickr. Visit the set here.

Some highlights:

Jerry bear on his 5 month birthday.

A Church in San Miguel

Guanajuato looking lovely.

The narrative's coming soon, but I have to retrieve it first.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Inside I'm Screaming

Think of this as a scream. A cyberscream.

I still haven't heard anything from Peace Corps. I recognize that it has only been just over a week since I was medically cleared, but I'm getting really impatient. If I'm leaving in June, then I have less than TWO MONTHS to pack up my life here and 'move' back to the States. Which is sort of pushing it, especially since I have to book plane flights home and for the last European adventure. I'm very aware that every single day that PC farts around, the prices go up. Plus, that's not a very long time to wrap up a life and prepare for two years away from easy access to things like bank accounts and the IRS website. Let's not even think about having to say goodbye to people for those two years. I'm already aware of the barrier it's putting between me and the boy.

I'm just annoyed at the limbo that I'm finding myself in right now. Grrrr. Arrgh.