This is my best possible recollection of something that happened about a year ago.  The quotes may be a bit off, but the sentiment is there. Also, some names are changed because I felt weird.

I wander down the broken street, and my steps start to bounce because I can hear Rigoletto floating down to me out of a high Havana window.  Bum bum bum bum-ba-da, bum bum bum bum-ba-da, baa daa daa daa-daa, baa daa daa daa-daa.  I think briefly of seeing that opera at the Met when I was in high school, and the warmth of the memory has Havana feeling like home.  But still, I get slow and cautious as I approach the tiny barrio within itself.  It isn’t about safety; I don’t want to be the first one to show up.

There are no women poking their heads out of windows tonight, no children running around and curling themselves around my ankles.  One little, bare bright, bulb shines and makes shadows out of Brittan and Fernando.  Rather than playing dominoes and crouching on the metal skeletons of chairs, they rest comfortably on a low, cement wall.  They drink, but their voices are relaxed and slow and the bottle remains upright and still most of the time.

Brit smirks and stands to hug me, and suddenly Fernando is animated.  He immediately busies himself getting me the closest thing to a proper chair and a jam jar for the clear, grainy rum.

“Heh, Have I got a story for you,” Brit quietly laughs to me.  So Fernando won’t hear it: “we’ve been talking about you.”  He seems pleased at my immediate shock, annoyance and curiosity.  But it will have to wait, as Fernando rushes back out.

We talk about what they do when it floods, where the high water marks are.  How they take to the roof with dominoes and rum, and laugh the disaster in its face.  I feel guilty for complaining about my hunger enforced by the massive flood the other day, because I was safe and dry on the fourteenth floor.  They lose everything in the barrio every time there’s a flood, but I only lost my lights and wifi, something they never have in this neighborhood, even on a good day.

“I…I cannot talk about that.  It is shit.  I cannot talk about it.”

Fernando’s suddenly stoic expression shatters into a million pieces with a high, forced laugh that seems to take up the whole alleyway.  The severity is gone as soon as it came.  I wonder if the children are sleeping, and where his daughter is.  She usually spends this time curled up in my lap, playing with my hair or glasses, or hitting Brit and calling him ugly while she laughs and makes eyes at him.  I think she likes his beard.

Instead, a woman I’ve never seen before struts up.  In typical Cuban fashion, she is wearing heels, her hair is immaculate, her clothing tight.  I’m wearing a dirty t-shirt, flip-flops and shorts that feel like pajamas.  I haven’t brushed my hair in a few days.  Fernando stops tending to me to greet and chat with the woman, something that extends for hours.  He leaves the bottle with Brit and I, and we work our way through it as he tells me what I missed.

“He wants to marry you.”

“What?!” I try to keep my voice quiet, but Brit’s dancing eyes infuriate me even more.

“Yeah, yeah, he says you’re so good with his daughter, you’d be such a good mother.  You two talk about politics and you both speak french, and you’re so nice to always be coming over.  Get it girl!”

Truthfully, I probably do send all sorts of weird signals to every Cuban I meet.  I am usually the only female playing dominó, and I do bring his daughter gum or nail polish to play with.  My presence has apparently not gone unnoticed.  But I’ve never been anywhere alone with Fernando.  I’ve never offered my contact information for when I go home, or been the one to make plans.  He gets no more of my attention than any of the other aseres we play dominó with, even when he tries to egg me on.

I look back on all the afternoon baseball games, to find what I must have done or said.  Drinking rum with my male friends as well as his, trying not to let his little girl get on my nerves when she won’t stop playing the same game for hours on end.  Winning dominó when Britito is my partner, losing atrociously when I’m paired with anyone else.  Fighting with Fernando’s friend about politics, and trying not to get myself in a discussion about Castro.

And it makes me miss home.  It makes me miss people who believe that a novio means something, no matter how many miles I am from him.

Not long after, on my last day in Havana, I didn’t say goodbye to Fernando, his daughter or the neighborhood.  I just up and left.

One Word for 2010

Maris sent me a great article about this, and then I read about reverb over on Kandace‘s blog.  their very first prompt was this:

December 1– One Word.
Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?

This year, I think my word was ‘march.’  As in the verb, not the month.  I did a lot this past year, and it happened by just putting one foot in front of the other.  I went to Cuba for three months, I went to Paris and Benin, West Africa.  I got a coop job that appeared less prestigious but turned out to be awesome.

Sometimes, if we dwell on things and leave ourselves time to think and analyze, we find all the bad stuff.  The cost, the homesickness, the worry, the safety concerns, the impracticality.  But one foot in front of the other doesn’t give you the chance to let the bad things sink in.

I think if I could choose a word for next year, it would be ‘grow.’  Perhaps something a bit more deliberate, more hopeful.  This coming year will be my last full calendar year of college and my last coop, which I hope will be international.  It will also contain a lot of my last chances around campus, for Model programs as well as other clubs I wish I had joined earlier.

And can I add ‘brave’ or ‘try’?  Because I would like to be brave enough to send out my writing to NUPR, the various International Affairs undergrad journals, and maybe even write another darn play.

What’s your word for this year?  Are you happy with it?

Action: a Guest Post by Kandace of One Red Wall

Hey all, so this is my first ever participation in a blag swap.  Kandace from One Red Wall is posting here, and I’ll be posting over at her site.  And can I say that she’s been a perfect doll, even with me being the worst swap partner ever?  Check out her site to read some great posts on taking charge of your life, and making your own happiness.

As I’m sure Delia here has already mentioned, we’re taking part in the 20sb Blog Swap. Meaning Delia was kind enough to let me guest post here on her lovely blog and she’ll be over on One Red Wall today. So don’t forget to head over and check out what she has to say. Now since I ramble on enough in my post, I will refrain from rambling in the intro.

The theme this time is Action. Specifically, something I’ve been putting off a long time that I need to do next year.

GAWD there are so many things. Getting back in shape, getting back to school, paying old debts, making Friends instead of acting all Lone Wolf, all important things. But the first thing that came to mind when I read that?

I need to start saving money to go Bungee Jumping.

I had decided I’d go in 2010 and I just didn’t do enough to make it happen. I put it off to the end of the year when my sister could go with us and the company we planned on using Canceled the whole event. Really, I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford it even if they didn’t since I hadn’t bothered to Save for it. It was like I was sabotaging myself. So I failed. And I’m not doing that again. I Am Going in 2011. I Have to.

I know it sounds … crazy, but I know it’ll change my life. Although I know several people who’d be surprised to find out, the truth is that I am a big Chicken. I just fake it. I don’t even love Roller Coasters. Yet every time I’m around a roller coaster I go get on the Biggest Scariest one there First thing. I will have a mini-freak out in my head all the way up the first hill and as I start the first drop. But then we start the next climb.

That’s when I get over the fear. That’s when I start to love it. As long as I take the biggest and scariest first, I’ll love all of the ones that follow it. No gradual buildup for me. It’s all or nothing. I do that with more than just roller coasters, but I won’t bore you with 100 examples.

I know that when it’s time to go on that jump, I’ll want to go first. And I’ll hate it. All the way down I’ll probably hold myself pretty stiff and cuss at myself about Why the Fuck did I want to DIE?? And then I’ll bounce. And that’s what I want. I know that after the Bounce I’ll love it. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ll want to go again. I Know me. I really do love doing risky thrilling things, I just let my doubts and my fear get in the way too often.

And that’s how I know that bungee jumping will change my life. It’s Crazy for someone who doesn’t like roller coasters or that Drop ride thing to Yearn to go bungee jumping, but I do. Almost Everyone I’ve talked to about it thinks I’m Crazy and half of Them say it’s too dangerous for me to do since I have kids. Well guess what? I’m more likely to get broadsided while driving my car than die in a bungee jumping accident. And when I conquer that, I know I’ll look at other things differently. Maybe that sounds like a lot to put on a bungee jump, but I know it will change how I look at things. Hell, every new thrilling thing does, so why wouldn’t bungee jumping do it too?

Technically, it would be easier for me to go skydiving, since there is a skydiving place Right at the edge of town and you can go any day the weather is nice. Maybe I’ll do that next. But for now, I’m going to go on the Other side of town and go bungee jumping (did I mention they have a great bridge to jump off of within minutes from my house?). And if they cancel again, I’ll just have to bungee jump somewhere further from home. But I Will do it in 2011.

After I go bungee jumping I still have to continue saving. I have a European or Australian vacation to plan for 2012. I’ve lived in Europe, but I was never able to go Experience it without Parents or School Agendas or something that made my destination and length of stay Not of my choosing. This time, I want to go and Live Life and just take it all in. I’d love to go solo, but I’m a nice wife, so I’ll let Husband go on my vacation too if he wants to. He’s pretty well traveled and Tired of it so he may choose to stay home.

Of all the thing I know I need to do in 2011, and all the things I know I Will do in 2011… Going bungee jumping and starting the 2012 vacation fund are what I am going to do For Me. I am an older sister, a mom, and a wife, so I have been putting others in front of me for my whole life.

I have bought so many kids toys, and Husband toys… It’s about time I took some action and saved money that is only to be used for something for me.


So then the Blogess happened…

So I don’t know how many of you are here who don’t know me in real life.  Because to be honest, on the one hand I fight tooth and nail for every page view, but on the other, no one ever comments so I can’t be entirely sure.

But here I am feeling grumpy.  Hating the 16th of December, hating my lack of a birthday, not really giving a shit about Christmas for several years now.  And then I watch Firefly and read this.

So if you need it, and you’d like it, please send me an email or give me a comment.  Address, name (real or fake) and your story.  As in, who you wish you could buy a gift for but just can’t.  Everyone deserves a real damn christmas, even 12 year olds who just lost their Nana.  I’ll give 5 $20 gift cards away, most likely to someplace practical and universal.  I don’t have a lot but I think I can handle eating in and drinking in for a little while to make sure at least someone likes christmas.  If I don’t get that many requests, I’ll send the balance on over to the Blogess.

And remember things like Toys 4 Tots, and SalvArm, even though they don’t like gay people.

Merry Christmas.

Learning the Language Matters

I’m sick of reading posts by bloggers who assure you it’s okay, they had a magical and revelatory experience in a foreign country wherein they knew basically none of the language. 

Good for you. 

Do you know how we treat people in America who don’t learn the language?  Like dirt.  Even if someone knows the language but has a little trouble, or a bit of an accent, we give them a hard time.  We insinuate that they’re clueless or stupid, and make jokes about their lack of credentials.  We say, “It’s AMERICA, learn ENGLISH!”

Do people even understand the phrase doesn’t work that way? At least, “We’re in England, learn English,” works rhetorically, but the America one just makes you sound ignorant.   

Every time someone goes abroad and doesn’t even have to try the language, they’re demonstrating a tiny bit of why people hate America.  We get whatever we want, and no, we’re not working hard for it.  We just collectively have so much money and pull, and other countries have so little, that they have to accept our 2.5 gpa English-only students. 

Don’t pat yourself on the back for getting by with gestures.  Try moving away from the backpacker code or the study abroad rut and learn something real about the place you’re going to.  Something that doesn’t involve alcohol, hooking up or a beach.  Maybe it will involve a local meal for more than just the one token time, which inevitably will become a blog post or oft-repeated story.  Or try spending time with people who are not also fellow travelers, people who are not expats from your country or a place where they speak your first language. 

If you’re just going to sit around speaking English, hanging out with western people and going to bars and the beach, you may as well just stay home or go to a resort.  Make it a cheap and dirty one if you’re a backpacker.

I know there are many languages out there, and it is unreasonable to limit your travel just because you don’t know them all.  But can’t you at least put in a little effort, a little respect?  If you can’t even handle a few conversational phrases, why not try to learn some basic information about the country.  Learn some history or about a prevalent religion. 

I’m all about traveling, but if you’re just going to take advantage of American privilege and stay in a bubble, then why are you leaving the country?  Show some respect and make the most out of your time.

The Secret Can Shove It

Here’s a great link on the dangers of la-la positive thinking, as demonstrated by Eat, Pray, Love and a great feminist take on the whole thing.  Thinking positive is good, but the philosophy only works if you’re already a person of privilege.  White, western, educated women can think their way to a positive, successful life because by and large, they already have it.  Your parents worked for it, your country paved the way for it, and your skin color certainly didn’t hurt.

But what about people with (and I hesitate to say this, but it seems necessary) real problems?  Hungry people can certainly stay upbeat and do the best they can, but that won’t make them less hungry.

It is the complacent who let themselves be oppressed, which is one of the better arguments for why dictators should bother to feed their people.  Keep ’em fat, happy and reading the Secret and suddenly their problems either don’t exist or are solely their fault.

Not to be ridiculous, but the Holocaust didn’t happen because Jews were pessimistic or cranky.  People don’t have cancer relapses because they stopped writing in their daily affirmation journals.  Louisiana and much of Southeast Asia could absolutely not have used positive thinking to clean up after a natural disaster.  They used their damn hands.  Should you count your blessings?  Of course.  But the mindset that all things can be fixed with positive thinking also implies that the opposite is true: people with problems should have fixed them with optimism and “positive energy”.

And in case you’re in a sleepy haze of dreaming your way to health, wealth and happiness, here’s something to get angry about.

Shameless Plug

So I love Groupon.  I tell people about it, I email them when something comes up that they love, I give them as gifts and share them with friends.  And now Groupon wants me and a bunch of other college kids to help them promote!

So if you haven’t tried Groupon, here’s the skinny: They have great coupons and discounts and things every day, and if enough people sign up to buy one, the sale happens.  If it doesn’t happen, they don’t bill you.  You get a good deal, the business gets publicity and Groupon gets a cut.  A blog basically IS shameless self-promotion, but I like to be up front about my motives and such, especially since this has a monetary benefit for me.  Normally, the only benefit I get from your participation in this blog is better writing skills and the warm-fuzzies inside, so this is kind of exciting and different.

The downside: there are some reports that Groupon isn’t super-fair to businesses, but at least in all the ones I’ve read they admitted they should have made different terms or simply not dealt with Groupon, and none accused Groupon of going against their word/contract.

The most common downside: buying a Groupon and then forgetting to use it.  This is why I find it’s best to buy them (and then spend them) with friends, so you won’t all forget.  Or to just carry them around with you.

Here’s my referral link, if you’re interested.  Full disclosure: normally, a person gets $10 in GrouponBucks if they refer a friend who buys a Groupon.  Because of this special promotion, (now till Dec 7) I will get $20 in GrouponBucks.  So if you were going to join/buy Groupons anyway, I would appreciate it if you’d use the referral link.

-End shameless self promotion-

WebLove Wednesday

Untranslatable words (is that even a word?) via Miss Conduct

I love words and phrases and feelings oh so very much.  How great is the word for that look and that relcutance?  Although I must say, there’s something wonderful about not being able to name a feeling that so strongly revolves around silence.  Sometimes seeing or describing everything else around the silence can be more beautiful than the vulgarity of naming it.

What is Fair Trade, Really?  A thought-provoking little article to get you in gear about fair trade, from All of Us Revolution, discovered via Almost Fearless

A scorecard grading Obama‘s ability to keep promises made during his Cairo Speech in 2009 (I wasin Cairo!  but getting to that speech was impossible:( )
via The Moor Next Door

An actual link to Almost Fearless, concernign traveling parents, the cultural differences in what is considered safe/good parenting, and Britney Spears.  Well worth the read, and I love her humility, openness and practicality.  What a good mom!

A great visual about the history and money-making madness of student loans.