All posts filed under: Oldies but Goodies

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Desynchronosis

My dear friend Erin, with some help from Alexander Pope, likes to remind me that “hope springs eternal.” With all the love for Erin and poetry alike, I struggle to believe in eternally springing hope this week. One of the disorienting aspects of watching the crisis in Greece unfold from afar as an immigrant involves reckoning with joy. On Saturday night, on the eve of the referendum on austerity measures in Greece (or, depending on whom you ask, on the future of the Euro and our lives as we know them), I found myself sitting next to a two-year-old. Every four minutes, like clockwork, he would exclaim “Fireworks! … Fireworks!” Fireworks, indeed. Eight different displays of them, in fact, all visible from the same porch. We were splayed against lawn furniture, the type that defined the image of New England for me before I could identify the region on a map. Since I ever watched those Steve Martin Father of the Bride movies with Greek subtitles in the early 1990s, I have wanted an Adirondack chair, even before I knew its …

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In your country’s shoes

“I have a question for you… Why do all the Greek girls here wear those shoes that could kill cockroaches?” I was 17, and part of the Greek National Debate Team contingent that competed in the World Schools Debating Championships. I am not sure which is more astounding: that I ever recovered from that level of … coolness, or that to this date, I look back on that experience with the kind of sincere, boundless gratitude that faux teenage coolness could never inspire. Our team had just managed an upset victory in a debate against Scotland, a country which had for years produced debate powerhouses (Yes, “debate powerhouses.” Ceaseless coolness, I tell you.) When it dawned on us that our team full of vividly gesturing English-as-a-Second-Language debaters just might beat the polished Scots, I remember thinking back to all those subtitled movies about underdogs that Greek TV loved to broadcast on Sunday afternoons: the Jamaican bobsledding team that wins in the Winter Olympics, Herbie the Beetle that beats the much cooler cars. As it turns out, …

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Migratory silences

September 1, 2014, Acadia National Park “I feel like we have done this before.” We are at a campsite at the very edge of the woods near Acadia National Park on what feels like the last weekend of summer. He loves it, the privacy, the vastness. I wish I had googled “bears at Acadia National Park?!” before I lost reception. We are wearing all the clothes we brought on top of themselves, sweater above sweater, shorts above jeans above leggings. He makes a comment about how “tight European pants” are no good for layering when it’s 38 degrees at night on what should have been the last weekend of summer, but we both know he hates those pants in the city too — at all seasons. He is making me my first ever s’more. I am watching for bears.We both forget I didn’t grow up here sometimes. He insists I must have eaten a s’more before. We are now at the deep end of splitting hairs: “a marshmallow yes; a s’more per se? No!” “What about at …

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Untranslatable words, saudade, and linguistic nostalgia

Every so often an article catalogues untranslatable words from around the world. For example, as this Matador Network piece tells me, mamihlapinatapei means “the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start” in Yagan, an indigenous language of the Tierra del Fuego. According to the same article, the word ‘tartle’ in Scottish refers to “the act of hesitating when introducing someone because you have forgotten their name.” And then there is my personal favorite: saudade. Not quite nostalgia, not quite longing or yearning, not a blend of both. There is more to saudade — and perhaps its magical grip lies in that untranslatable space the other words do not quite capture. In my column today at The Equals Project, I explore untranslatable words, linguistic nostalgia, and what happens when you feel your mother tongue slipping away from you. Wander over here to read it. 

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Anchoring love in memories

When I was growing up, my mother insisted that “respect cannot be forced; it must, instead, be inspired.” She may as well have been speaking about love. My notion of love is grounded in place, anchored in memories of the self I was when the heart fluttered readily and of the life that made it come aflutter. I remember what I was wearing, I remember the documents I was editing when I was g-chatting inconspicuously in another tab. The slight nausea in anticipation of the moment when the distance would end, and he would parade through the airport doors. The need to remember how to be with one another again, in proximity and in the flesh, not protected by laptop screens thousands of miles apart. I remember what loving in Egypt felt like: dusty, furtive, tasting of ‘shai’ and ‘asir faroula’ and ‘sheesha toufach’, with the strong Arabic ‘ch’ at the end that I could never quite muster. It felt clumsy and young and shy and full of wondering and wandering. It was the love …

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Beginner’s mind

I am not sure at which stage of life it became shameful to be a beginner. We were born beginners at crawling. We spat up our creamed food, leaving our mark on the walls. Beginners at talking, reading, learning. Embracers of firsts. Then at some point, some firsts developed a speed of their own. The first girl to have kissed a boy in her middle school class. First boy to fall in love. First to know what heartbreak is. First smoker, first to marry, first to be divorced. First to know grief, first to know wealth. We choose our firsts — or stumble into them, or life puts them in our paths. We lay claim to the life experience of knowing; we become experts of grief, specialists of love, chain smokers. We leave beginners behind. When I arrived in Khartoum, I never would have imagined that it would bring the perfect muffin into my life. I had picked muffins to be my “Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like“, thus fixating over the just-right overflowing and crusty …

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My Greece

Homes are committed to my memory in color. Cairo was the dance between beige and gold. Jerusalem was rosy-hued. Guatemala was terracotta. Uganda was red. Greece is a memory in green and blue. It is frappe foam at the bottom of a cup and sand in the anti-itch cream. The constant waving of arms above a salad to chase the flies away from the feta. It is sand trapped in your sunscreen, flicked onto your legs by children racing to the sea. It is grains of sand and salt at the roof of your mouth. It is sand between your toes, sand everywhere. Sunscreen spots on a Kindle. The constant turning of pages, the squint of eyes reading in the sun. The redness of a nose or a shoulder that got away from the constant lathering. Body heat on the sheets. Turning over the pillow for a sunburned cheek to meet its cool match. The strumming of a bouzouki at a tavern, the jingle of the same six summer songs. Everyone hums the lyrics. Three …

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The involved places

I did not come to the Middle East to maintain an attachment to privacy. I have worked in five countries in this region and each of them has stripped me bare. The invisible bubble between you and the world dissolves and you sit there, practically naked in all your layers of clothes, with yourcollarbones covered but your life exposed. Questions feel like pokes initially, like none-of-your-business jabs. This is the story of my making peace with the questions. It is a story of my love for “the involved places”, the places that do not stop at “nice to meet you” and “check, please”, the places that transcend what is appropriate or their business to form a human, intrusive life connection. *** Living above Burgers Bar means I have woken up on more than one occasion wondering if there is, indeed, a portion of the population that craves a lamb burger at 8 AM. Some people wake up to the gurgling of the coffee machine or to a whiff of hazelnut coffee; Elijah and I wake …

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Slippers

A year ago, I arrived in Bogotá, Colombia knowing that it was notorious for organized crime. A week later, I found out that it should instead be famous for its organized districts. There was a neighborhood for everything: the pet shop district, the sinks and bathware district, the lighting fixtures district. The more specific the modifiers that defined the character of the district, the better; one could not possibly fathom  light bulbs, electrical outlets, and cables coexisting harmoniously for sale within the same zip code. As such, each neighborhood – stretching from one block to twelve – boasted punishing uniformity in the shops it hosted within its boundaries. This had two implications on my daily life: I learned that you cannot live near the electrical cables neighborhood and go looking for a store that sells, oh, soap. And I discovered that for the rest of my life, I would miss the privilege that is waking up, stepping out your front door, and being blinded by a row of glistening toilets for sale. The blinding toilets came …