Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Calendar Girl

In my book there are three types of achievements. The first is the type that you can be proud of because out of sheer determination, sweat, hard work you have achieved it on your own. A university degree, completing a marathon, founding an organization fall into these categories, in my mind. The second type is the type that is slightly harder to tout because it is given to you for absolutely hardly any/no reason at all. A honorary doctorate, a knighthood, getting to speak to the Security Council on Darfur (apparently) fall into this category. The third is, by far, the most glorious. These are the things that are thrust upon you, the bizarre accolades that you had no idea that you were up for, that you did nothing to deserve, and of which you’re not sure whether you’re supposed to be ashamed or proud. I’ve had one of these given to me a couple of weeks ago. Unbeknownst to me some friends put together a ‘Darfur Babe Calendar’ for 2007. (Let it never be said that we don’t have our fun in the midst of human misery). Andn not only did I make it into the calendar, I am on the cover of the calendar. Now, laugh if you must. I did. However, in the meantime I think that I might revel in the fact that this will be the only time in my life that I will grace the pages of a ‘babe’ calendar.

Now, I know what you’re thinking (‘where can I get a copy of this calendar?’) No, seriously, you’re wondering why they put that other guy in the shot. Good question and I intend to bring it up with the publishers and my agent. However, it might be because he’s a bloodsucking French lawyer who has far more fashion sense than I – so much so that he got his own page in the babe calendar.

The Road to Jinja

I was listening to Alabama 3 sing, ‘Ain’t Goin to Goa’ which I think is appropo because I am not - going to Goa, that is. I am going to Jinja and I have not slept for 36 hours. Sleep deprivation plays with my mind in strange ways. It is as if memory has taken all of my memories out of a file cabinet and strewn them all over the floor of my mind. I have been to Goa, several years ago, and I remember standing out on the edge of the Indian peninsula with my feet in the sea looking at all the millions of bright stars. Jinja also sits on the edge of somewhere, of Lake Victoria, and the source of the White Nile that runs right up into Sudan.

Everything on the road to Jinja reminds me of something else. Kampala reminds me of Pristina. The Ugandan countryside reminds me of Thailand. The smell of the forests along the road reminds me of Indonesia. The rolling hills reminds me of driving in Missouri with my brother listening to Snow Patrol’s ‘Chasing Cars’.

‘Let’s waste time…I don’t quite know how to say how I feel…
I don’t know where, confused about how as well,
just know that these things will never change for us at all.
If I lay here. If I just lay here would you lie with me and just forget the world?’

Memories keep flooding in that I have no mental energy to sort or control. Eucalyptus trees remind me of the Californian Santa Ana winds, the roadside stalls of Zambia, the traffic of Calcutta, the smell of a hospital all the many, many institutions in Ukraine, and the wet, hot air of nights in Hong Kong, and the worn blue vinyl upholstery of driving from Chicago to Kalamazoo listening to Emmy Lou Harris,

‘Our path is worn our feet are poorly shod
We lift up our prayer against the odds
And fear the silence is the voice of God
And we cry Allelujah Allelujah
We cry Allelujah’

The strange thing is that I did not think of Darfur – not once. It was as if, in leaving it behind, memory – that eccentric librarian - tossed all these other memories out so it could lock Darfur tidily away. And I am glad for that because I don’t want to think about it. I am tired of thinking about the place. I want to think about something else and so I do with my eyes closed in the backseat of the two hour taxi ride with the wind brushing over me. I hope that sometime, maybe years from now, after it is over, I will be able to take out that file and sort through the experiences, sounds, and pictures and feel something other than hopelessness and sorrow.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The good life...

The world is a cruel place. I have a friend whose citizenship I just discovered last night.Well, not citizenship so much as lack of one. He’s what we call an a-pat. Ex-pats are those of us who are expatriated from our countries – by choice we live somewhere else. In-pats are those who choose to live within their own country but away from their homes. A-pats are those without a country. By sheer virtue of being born somewhere that the rest of the world doesn’t recognize they have no country of origin. They don’t have passports. They are offered little protection. If things got ugly the U.S. government might go to bat for me. If I go to jail sooner, or later, someone might show up to find out why. When push comes to shove they might even evacuate me. A-pats have nothing. Isn’t it strange that by simply being born on one side of a line you can have so much handed to you on a platter and if you’re born on the other you get nothing but a shrug, maybe an apology, but you aren’t going to be on the last helicopter out.

But sometimes citizenship doesn’t count for much either. Today they’re evacuating the south of the Darfur because of a major military offensive and the rumour is that thousands of IDPs are headed our way – not thousands, tens of thousands - and, as if being bombed and attacked weren’t enough they’re coming – on foot – with only what they can carry while being attacked and robbed on the way by bandits and Janjaweed. When they arrive here they’ll need food and protection and space in the camps because they’ll have nothing. Literally, nothing. I can’t even contemplate a trip without my coffee press, pillow, malaria meds, vitamins, books, clothes, ipod and friendly blue passport. Imagine possessing nothing.

Ok, so I’m a whiner. I’ll readily admit that. I like to be warm – but not too warm – and safe and dry and well-fed. I like my pillow and coffee press. But I think I spend far too much time forgetting that these things are gifts; that they are graces. I spend too much time thinking that I somehow deserve things like clean water and a bed and I’m being put upon when they’re not available to me. Well, I might not come right out and say I deserve them but I act like it. But, think how easily it could have all been different. How easily any of us could not have passports, or jobs, or countries or a language that other people strive to understand.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Some days there is no good news...

Anna Politkovskaya has been found murdered.


I cannot recommend her book, A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya, highly enough.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

In case you wondered...

For the biographer writing the history of the epic battle between me and the ants I would like it noted that: I won.