All posts tagged: Adventures in home-making

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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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When the syrup makes a sound

I am standing over a pot on the stove, stirring the syrup. Are you supposed to stir syrup? Or are you supposed to let it sit and boil undisturbed? Does it even matter? Cooking inspires an uncharacteristic resignation in me. I succumb to the bubbling honey. It will either congeal, or it will not, and I can live with the worst outcome. I shrug, stare at the mix, and keep stirring noncommittally. “How much is 180 degrees Celsius in Fahrenheit?,” I call out to Elijah in another room. “You’ve lived here all these years! Come on!,” he sighs exasperated. “You can’t at least look it up?” I have stubbornly resisted translating some pieces of my immigrant life to the language of its new home. I think in meters and kilometers, rendering my instructions for parking useless and my sense of distance impractical. I measure heat in Celsius — but cold in Fahrenheit, because it was only here in Boston that I learned this kind of cold. These dilemmas are all arising in the context of my determination …

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Our honest places

It is the smell that catches you first. You open the front door gently, a skill you learned when you were 15 and tried to glide into your house without anyone noticing you are wearing blush. You didn’t know then that mothers can detect makeup on their daughters with infrared vision, even if the teen magazines swear that it’s a “natural neutral look.” But you did know just how to turn the key so the door doesn’t squeak and which tiles to step on so you do not wake up the whole house. This is how you still enter your childhood home, even though your cheeks can shimmer without inspection.It is always the smell. It does not emanate from the people. It is steeped in the place. You have left and returned here before, but you always somehow forget about the smell. It escorts you from room to room. You feel larger than life and play Alice in Wonderland with the objects of your childhood. Were the shelves always quite so low? Were the curtains …

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Hereditary travel neuroses of a Greek childhood

Things I learned in Greece: Never rush your coffee, summer is everything, always chase the dust. This is my last morning in the United States for some time and I have spent it shaking my head at dust. Let me explain. Ever since I was a child, I could never sleep the night before a big journey. “A big journey” then meant a car ride from Thessaloniki to Larissa, 2 hours away, where my father’s family lived. I prepared for those trips for days, lining up all my stuffed animals, deciding which of them get to go on this trip, making packing lists (for them, not me, because the beauty of being six years old was that I could live in a single pair of shorts all summer), writing up itineraries (again for them because, um…), and packing car snacks. In the summer, my aunt Mina would move from her home in scorching hot Larissa to the seaside town of Platamonas. At least two weeks before my family descended on Platamonas to join aunt Mina, …

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Our other selves: From the field to graduate school

When the deep breaths came more easily: Day 3 in Massachusetts after returning from Bogotá. Returning home is a process of memory and activating the muscle of remembering to be here in Boston is more strenuous than I had recalled. I used to have dreams about Boston fall. In the years that I lived in deserts or straddled the Equator, cherishing the eternal warmth and sunshine, I missed the crispness of a September morning. This September, with my feet planted on top of crunching leaves, I struggle to feel anchored in place; almost ironically, I am having trouble feeling my feet on the ground. Leading a life of perpetual transitions allows one to develop a strange set of expertise, of the kind that cannot quite be called a skill or a desirable trait. Pack a carry-on bag in under five minutes. Emerge on the other side of the world and find your bearings sooner than one would expect. Learn to love from a distance, and love well. ‘Being good at distance’ is not a title …

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The rituals of a return to the field

When I returned to the United States for my graduate degree, I promised I would stay put for a little bit. I declared this the ‘age of (semi-) permanence‘ and even purchased a bookshelf or three to anchor myself in Boston. I put nails in the wall and unpacked every box and suitcase and bought polka-dotted wine glasses at the nearby Goodwill store and went through the rituals of nesting with gusto. In early January I wrote: “But I am learning permanence now, if you will, and part of that requires making peace with the part of me that will always, always want to be the girl who goes.” In the months that have passed since then, I have made peace with the fact that the girl who longs to stay and the girl who wishes to go inhabit the same body. There is a part of me that feels like my happiest, most alive, most invigorated self ‘in the field’, doing the work I love, asking the questions that drive me. And there is …

The homes that inspire nostalgia

This essay appeared first as my Eternally Nostalgic column on the Equals Record this week.   We first met when I was on the cusp of nomadism and she was on her return voyage.I was about to embark on my first true field work in conflict management. I did not know it then, but that year would hold memories of Egypt, Uganda, Colombia, and Guatemala. Her journey stretched from Liberia to Indonesia and Boston to the Hague. We both swam in the pool of conflict management professionals, spoke with our hands, loved every baked good we met, and shared a passion for wander and wonder. In many ways, she inspired my own path with her courage, whimsy, curiosity, and attachment to service and to making impact. Meeting her kindled my faith in humanity—and sparked my consequent overuse of the term.We are now sitting at her dining table in Washington, DC, five years later. She and her loved one built the bench atop which I am perched, and everything else in the house too. Even if …

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Thoughts from the girl who goes: On place, planes, permanence

If there were assigned roles to airport farewells, I would lay claim to the part of the girl who is tearing up on the walkway to the gate. I have been that girl time and time again, wearing every article of clothing that did not fit in checked baggage and carrying on my shoulders every book and memory with which I could not part. Despite the moving walkway sweat and sniffles, and much like a high school student auditioning for a play, I have thought that the parts in the drama of airport farewells are unequal: It has always been easier to be the girl who goes, than the person who is left behind. “I am sick of watching your backside fade into the distance,” I was once told. I have been privileged to always leave one home in search of another, one project in anticipation of the next, to depart from one community with the knowledge that I am en route to the next one that will host me. And every time, the person …

Death by reading

“Oh my God, we are going to die.”After three years of living and working in conflict and post-conflict zones around the world, I did not expect to hear the above sentence uttered outside a library in Boston, Massachusetts. “We are going to die, I’m telling you.” This time it is neither of cholera nor of rocket fire, neither of a mine nor of malaria. You see, we will allegedly die of . . . reading. “Four hundred pages. A thousand. Eighteen thousand six hundred and fifty eight.” People try to calculate the number of pages we will have to read per week to complete our graduate coursework in law and diplomacy. We signed up for this, just as we did for that stint of work in Sudan or Colombia, in Uganda or on the Iraq border, and our freedom to parachute in and—most importantly—out will always make every page turn feel like a privilege to me. Imminent death does not feel like autumnal breeze, the laws of humanitarian intervention, or blank pages waiting for ideas …

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Telling a new story

“Roxanne Krystalli is a gender-related development specialist in conflict and post-conflict areas.” What do you do when the first line in your biography no longer fits? I am between stories at the moment, a process that involves consistently living off the top two layers of my still-packed suitcases, debating the merits of paint swatches, and confronting the reverse culture shock inherent in returning to what used to be a home with the task of sorting out the disorienting dance between the unfamiliar and the too familiar. And the first line no longer fits. Having worked in conflict and post-conflict areas, I know not to confound conflict and war. Conflict, human pain and strife exist in Boston and Colombia and Guatemala and Jerusalem and I have called all these places home at some point along the journey. Yet, you would hardly call Boston a “conflict or post-conflict area.” You would hardly call me a specialist. I have grown wary of specialists and experts. The longer I have worked with women affected by conflict worldwide, the more …