All posts tagged: oldies but goodies


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. 


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 …


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 …


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 …


Loving from afar

Mary Oliver has written one of my favorite lines in poetry: “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” There is a lot of advice for international development workers and conflict specialists and nomads and travelers and ‘women on the road.’ I have been told not to get attached. To live fully and to experience everything and to not linger or get caught up in people, in stories, in places or in circumstances. I have been told this is no way for a love to grow and thrive; I have been told to settle down and I have been told to choose. Mary Oliver still wins in my heart. There is a love somewhere across the ocean, in our former dusty home whose living room is probably unswept right now, and that love fuels me. It grounds me, it energizes me, it slows me down. It helps me process. It makes me look forward and it makes me reminisce. When I was a more emotionally stunted college student with 643 …



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 …