Friday, December 25, 2009

Photo diary

In a store in West Seattle yesterday, I found a coffee table book by a guy who had taken a photo of an ordinary event every day for a year. I've been really stressed about the future lately...well, to be completely honest, I've always been really stressed about the future. The book made me remember a day this summer, when I was in Uganda. I was sitting on the lawn in the setting sun, listening to music on my iPod, feeling guilty because I had lived in England for a year and hadn't seen any of it, and now my year of study was coming to a close. I started looking through photos on my iPod, and before long, was realizing just how much I had accomplished in the past few years. I lived in France! Then I moved to London! I visited Dublin and Edinburgh and Amsterdam and Hamburg and Switzerland and Lyon! I hung out with people I adore, who make me laugh and smile! I got a Master's degree!

Looking through this book in West Seattle, I thought of the coming year. If I were to document each day of the next year with a photograph, where would I be in those photographs? What would I be doing and with whom? And for once, not knowing the answers to those questions filled me with hope instead of dread. Why? Because of this past year, and the years before. If I had documented every single day for the past year or the past five years, I would have a physical reminder of all the wonderful places God has taken me, and all the wonderful people I've met. The continents I've visited and cities I've seen. The next year may be horrible and lonely and dismal. I may not find a job. I may have to move home and live in my parents' basement. But probably not, and even if it is, that will be an adventure itself.

So I'm going to do an experiment. Starting January 1st, if I can remember and not get too lazy, I'm going to document the next year with a photo per day. I'm going to see where the next year takes me, whether it takes me to cosmopolitan cities, or to far-off corners of the world, or to the loving arms of my family. And a year from now, I'll know if all my worst fears have come to fruition, or if, once again, my worries were unnecessary.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Weird day

Weird day today. Not bad, just weird. Boys confuse me. Let's leave it at that.

Today being the first of December (oops, forgot it was World AIDS Day!), decorations arrived at the pub and I was recruited to help out (you know, since I'm a girl and all girls are great at decorations.) Apparently, head office instructed the general managers at all the chain pubs to have "a couple people come in an hour early to help decorate." Then they provided each pub with some of the shittiest-looking decorations in the world. A couple people and a spare hour were not nearly enough. We received two Christmas trees worthy of starring in A Charlie Brown Christmas Special, 4 sets of gharishly blue white lights, two long lengths of red ribbon (unknown purpose), several glass ornaments, some fresh-cut holly, a few thick branches off an evergreen tree, a couple wreaths to hang from our glass doors (?), and some bare willow branches spray-painted either silver or red and covered in matching glitter. All pieces which could have been elements of great Christmas decorations, if only the other elements were available and if only it was a much smaller pub. Also, no nails or staple guns were provided for affixing these random bits of trees to anything. That left a bunch of us with a bunch of messy but useless decorations. In the end, one of the managers went out and bought more supplies (including ribbon and more ornaments) which ended up making the place look way more festive than head office's supplies could.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More adventures in pubbery

I had the day off on Saturday and wanted to do something fun, but almost everyone was out of town or busy. Tanya mentioned that she and her cousin were going to go to Greenwich market in the morning, so I asked if I could come along. I've been meaning to get back to Greenwich since Jacque and I visited last January. It's gorgeous and kind of really different from the rest of London. The Naval Academy and Royal Observatory are all about when Britain was Great, and Greenwich Park looks like a place Jane Austen characters would stroll through arm-in-arm.

Tanya's cousin decided not to come in the end, but Tanya and I had so much fun! It was a perfect day, but then the sun went down and we couldn't figure out what to do with the evening. No one was free. In the end, Tanya decided to head home which meant I had to go home, too, at 9pm on a Saturday, alone. Lameness galore.

And then I got stranded in effing Canary Wharf. The DLR train that's supposed to run from Greenwich to Bank (where I could get on the Tube home) was under construction and i had to get off at Island Gardens and take a replacement bus to Canary Wharf (where the Tube also runs). However, they failed to mention that the Jubilee line was closed, so Canary Wharf was more or less a dead-end. As I read a bus map trying to figure out how to get anywhere near a place with a functioning Tube station, it started raining. Found the bus stop: it was "not in use." It redirected me to the South Colonnade. Where the h*** is the South Colonnade???

I wandered around Canary Wharf for a while (it sounds worse than it is, if you're imagining me wandering around an actual wharf with docks and stuff. It's the business center of London with a high concentration of skyscrapers belonging to Citibank and BoA et al. Lehman Brothers used to be based there.) Anyway, it was deserted. I found what I thought was the bus stop on the South Colonnade, just barely missed the bus I wanted, and waited for the next one. When it came, the bus driver informed that I was at the wrong stop, but he very kindly drove me over to the right one. Anyway, I got home eventually, but was very annoyed with the sheer lameness of my Saturday evening. Boo.

Sunday was better, though. Tanya and I went to the National Gallery with James (see last entry), despite the fact that none of us were all that interested in the art on display (meh). I got there first, and despite some light rain, decided to wait in Trafalgar Square and look at tree stumps someone had placed there. The light rain quickly turned to the clouds POURING THEIR BITTER, ACHING SOULS OUT IN ORDER TO SOAK ANY INNOCENT PASSERS-BY IN THEIR MISERY AND DISCOMFORT! Or as the British call it, "pissing rain." I spent the next 4.5 hours with my feet marinating in the rainwater trapped in my shoes. James arrived with his trousers soaked all the way up to his waist. We had lots of fun, though, and then I went to work. After work, a bunch of people stayed around and we all got hammered. Fun! This time, I was very wary of getting drunk, because I had to work the next morning. I tried to refuse the Jaegerbomb that was offered to me. In fact, I tried to leave but was picked up and placed back on my stool by the general manager. When the second shots were poured, I tried harder to leave, so one guy grabbed my arms, the manager grabbed my legs, and lovely Jo, who had moments before promised that I didn't have to drink anymore, poured the shot down my throat. Later, when the third round of shots were passed around, I realized that I needed a new tactic. They weren't taking "no" for an answer, so I didn't say no. I took the shot from them, took a deep breath, and threw it back. Over my shoulder. "Seattle!" the general manager barked in a warning tone. "That stuff'll take the polish off the floors!" Well then it's not something I want my liver to have to battle, is it?

Finally, around 3am, my coworker, Julian, decided that he was drunk enough and needed to go home, so I took my chance to escape. "Good luck getting out the locked doors, Seattle," the GM called. Ha! Thank goodness someone showed me the secret back way on Friday night! I escaped into the night, dragging a drunk Julian behind me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Care package!!

EEEEeeeeekkk!!! I'm so excited! My care package from Pops and Michele arrived today! It has candy and yarn and cheez-its and a be-yoooooooooo-tiful Fossil wallet! Best of all, it has homemade jam!

Last night, my friend, Aparna, invited me to a poetry night. Poetry generally makes me cringe, but I like hanging out with Aparna, and Alex was going, so I went. The room was packed and we were too late to get seats, so we stood. Also, the room was about 98 degrees F, so by the end of the first half, we were all swooning a bit. But it was so fun! Some of the poetry was annoying and made me roll my eyes, but some of it was really good. After the first act, Aparna and her man left for home so Alex and I went to dinner at My Old Dutch pancake house with Aparna's friends, Simon and James (I had the Amsterdammer, which has apple and ham; soooooo yummy!). I heart Simon and James. I met them a couple weeks ago at Aparna's birthday party and they're really great guys. They're flatmates, and they admitted over dinner that they read Keats out loud to each other over the dining room table. Too funny!

All in all, an excellent night. And what with this care package, today is off to a good start as well! At 5pm, I have my interview. I should probably be more nervous about it, but that won't help me. In fact, nerves make me do worse in interviews. I'm just gonna be myself and hope they like it. Afterwards, it's dinner with the old crew to say goodbye to Claire, who has managed to get herself a posting in Cambodia! Congratulations and best of luck to her, but I will miss her. She is a lovely, sweet girl and I enjoy just chatting and hanging out with her.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Life at the moment

Thanksgiving at the farm was wonderful, but too short. We arrived around noon, ate at 6, and left at 9. We didn't even play any games in the field! Sad. Still, the food and the company were divine. I was really looking forward to trying Alex's sweet potato biscuits, but she said they were burnt and she wouldn't give me any even though I begged. The rest was fantastic, though, even the turkey! No one wanted to do the turkey, and we decided it would take too long to do one anyway, so Alicia found three large turkey breasts at the grocery store that came pre-seasoned and we cooked those instead. She cooked them in special cooking bags with the result that the turkey was nice and moist. Still not my favorite meat, and nowhere near as good as ham (nothing is), but very nice. Sadly, I forgot my camera, and so did Carina and Alicia. That left Alex to take pictures on her phone, and she always takes months to post pictures.

Remember how I mentioned last week that I applied for two jobs? Well, I got an interview for the unpaid admin job. It's a sad state when I get excited about an interview for an unpaid job, but I've applied to several unpaid jobs now and not received an interview for any of them. So this is good. Plus, the whole point of doing these internships is to get a foot in the door of an organization doing the work I want to do. So yeah. Woohoo! Wish me luck!

Monday, November 16, 2009

I got a letter from Becky! I got a letter from Becky!

Friday, November 13, 2009

I'm coming home

Today, on my break between shifts, I headed down to the £1 store where I discovered a decent sized Toblerone bar for £1. Heck yes please!

Due to scheduling issues, I will not be visiting Alex in Atlanta this holiday season. Alas, another time perhaps. I came home from work tonight and FINALLY bought my ticket home! Woohoo! I'm really excited to come home. I've been ready for it since September. I'll be home for nearly 4 weeks. You're all gonna hate me by the time I leave again! Though Pops will love me cuz I plan to take (almost) all my crap out of his basement.

Thanksgiving is Saturday (ok, I know that's not true) and I'm really excited about it. It appears that almost no one is going to be able to make it, but I don't care. The more intimate, the better, right? Actually, I wouldn't care if no one came. It's taking place at the Farm and I jump at any excuse to escape London for Sussex. One day, I'm just gonna show up at Holly's parents' house with all my personal belongings and settle in. But I know I'd be bored out of my mind within three days. But I'd be bored while surrounded by Cath Kidston, and that ain't so bad, man.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I heart TB

Alright, I'm feeling good. I just sent my CV to two organizations advertising jobs. One of them is for an unpaid internship that would involve me doing secretarial work (eh), but the other is an advocacy job related to TB. I'd really like to hear back about that one, although they want the position to start December 7. How about January 7th? I'm also starting an application for...the Peace Corps. I know Mama was worried back when I was 18 that I was gonna run off and join the Peace Corps, but ten years on, I'm still a bit hesitant. I don't know why. I know I want to work in the developing world but I have no experience so can't get jobs. The Peace Corps is the perfect solution. I just need to friggin' apply.

Have I mentioned lately that I love TB? Cuz I do. It's my pet disease. It's so fascinating. Did you know it kills more people annually than any other infectious disease? (Yes, even more than HIV/AIDS.) Yet it's 100% curable with drugs that we've had available for 60 years. In those 60 years, rather than see a decline in incidence, we've seen a rapid, unchecked increase to the point that WHO declared TB a public health emergency a couple years ago. Granted, this is mainly because of the rise of HIV/AIDS, but still. It's curable, if the systems are in place to provide adequate treatment (which they aren't).

Anyway, speaking of December and January, I still haven't bought plane tickets home for Christmas. I did spend a while online today, though, figuring out when is best to fly and how much it'll be. I'm basically just waiting on Alex to see if she'll be home in Atlanta in January so I can visit her. Either way, I'll be in Seattle for the same amount of time.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Team meeting

Work meeting=suckiness. Though we were fed a whole roast pig, so I can't really complain.

So the tipping system at this pub (and in London in general) is very confusing and I still don't really understand it. There's a 12.5% service charge put on all bills and this is distributed to all staff on a points-based system (did I already explain this?) Sometimes, people add an extra tip. I was under the impression that these extra or "cash" tips joined the same pot as the service charges. But around the time that I started working there, the company was losing money because some people were apparently stealing stock. To compensate for the loss and punish everyone, they kept all cash tips. Then they caught and fired a couple people and since then, we've been making and not losing money, so now they're going to start giving us the tips again (by adding them to the same pot as the service charge).

That totally sucks, but whatever. What can you do? The meeting also consisted of criticism of the waitstaff and some arguments between we waitstaff and the kitchen staff, and the general manager singling out one girl as the source of all complaints we receive. He actually turned to her and said, "I don't receive many complaints, but the ones I do receive are all about you." Harsh! Then they told us to be happy and enjoy our jobs. Thanks guys!

On the bright side, they said that people who go home for Christmas may not have a job in January, which saves me the trouble of having to quit. Yay!

To be honest, though, I do enjoy certain aspects of working there. I like the people I work with, and the GM is cool, and there is something satisfying about serving tables. When I leave at the end of a shift, I'm never down or depressed or upset. But at the same time, I dread going in for shifts. Especially evening ones, when I've had a nice day of hanging out with friends and I have to say goodbye to them and go expose myself to potential criticism from managers who don't have a clue how many different things I'm trying to do at once.

I realize I'm complaining about work, and work is a fact of life. I've totally forgotten about my goal of being less negative. Okay, here's my attempt to be positive: I only really have to work there another month, and then in January I can start over again trying to find something I'll like better! Onwards and upwards!

Now I'm applying for yet another job I don't qualify for (how many applicants are they gonna get who speak Kiswahili?) Wish me luck!

Just for fun, here are some pictures of Holly's birthday in the 100-acre woods.


Saturday, November 07, 2009

Halloween and Bonfire Night

Ugh, I hate doing catch-up blogs. Recapping is so dull.

Halloween was good. Well, the day before Halloween, anyway. Izzi and Tim and their flatmates had a party and it was super fun. Izzi and Tim are lovely and all their friends are lovely, too. I recycled my Tinkerbell costume from this summer. Izzi was Lara Croft and she looked AMAZING! Tim was a black knight made out of cardboard boxes. I was impressed with the ingenuity involved in making it (credit to Izzi). Guys, if you're reading, we need to hang out more often!


On Halloween night, I had to work. Massive frowny face. I got to work to find that the restaurant part of the pub wasn't even open, so they didn't really even need me. As there were at least four places I would rather have been, I was annoyed when I got roped into helping out with a Halloween party going on in our function room. I ended up running up and down stairs all night until midnight. At the end of the shift, the boss offered drinks to me and a couple of the bartenders. I agreed to a half pint of cider (living large). When they all finished their pints and went for another round, I declined. On their third round, I decided to have another half pint. I was good until that point. Then the boss started pouring shots. It started with a Jaegerbomb. Then there was something called a Cypress Lovely. I don't remember what the third one was called cuz I was already long gone by that point. By the time I headed home, it was about 4am. I'm not sure how I made it home (it is only a 10 minute walk), but I know the trip involved a stop-in at the gas station, where I purchased a sandwich and a bag of Kettle chips. I ate these when I got home, then vomited them straight back up. I was then "sick" several more times and sat on the bathroom floor making pathetic noises. Around 5am or so, my flatmates came home and Mel very sweetly helped me into bed. I didn't wake up until 11:20 when I received a call from work that I was 20 minutes late. Ugh. It was a long and painful day in which I stifled the urge to puke several times.

Thursday night was Bonfire Night (aka Guy Fawkes Day). It was AWESOME! I went with Holly to a small, charming town in Sussex called Lewes that is famous for its annual Bonfire Night parade. It's a very confusing tradition that I'm too lazy to look up on Wikipedia, but they basically memorialize some people (11? 17? can't remember) who were burned at the stake back in the 1550s for disagreeing with the Catholic queen, Mary I (she was kind of a bitch). While they're at it mourning over the martyrs, they also denounce the pope and police officers, celebrate the death of Guy Fawkes, pay homage to marginalized populations all over the world including Native American Indians, and dress up as smugglers. Why? Don't ask why. This is England and things don't have to make sense.

Holly and me with my toffee apple

Okay, I've given in and checked Wikipedia, though they have surprisingly little insight to give. Here's a better review. There were 17 Protestant martyrs. It's the biggest Bonfire Night celebration in the whole country. Every year, they burn effigies on their five massive bonfires. In 2001, they sparked controversy by burning Osama Bin Laden. In 2003, even more controversy when they burned a gypsy caravan (apparently, some gypsies had recently moved into the area and the locals weren't pleased). Last year, they burned Prime Minister Gordon Brown and no one batted an eyelash. We missed the effigy burning this year, but some effigies were paraded through town beforehand and they included bankers and MPs (there's been massive controversy here over Parliamentarians who have been using tax dollars to fund their lavish lifestyles. One guy claimed expenses for his moat to be cleaned.)

Basically, the Lewes celebration is a big, anarchic celebration of the right to be Protestant and the right to burn things. Firecrackers were everywhere, with parade participants routinely lighting small but powerful "bangers" whose blasts shook the sidewalks and made my ears hurt. I was surprised I hadn't lost my hearing by the end. It was jolly good fun, indeed! (P.S. Toffee apples are NOWHERE NEAR as good as caramel apples.)

Dude, I just found the Picasa iPhoto uploader! My life just got so much easier. Here you go, photos of Bonfire Night to amaze you. Also, photos of Halloween that I stole from other people (as a result, they are all photos of me).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

On the other hand

Oh, but I just remembered that I got paid today, so I'm currently the proud owner of £129 in cash. And I don't have to work all day tomorrow. It's gonna be okay.

Five degrees

I am currently five degrees of separation away from Zach Braff. I live with a guy who is sort of managing a musician who is dating a singer who is staying at Zach Braff's house while touring with Josh Radin, Zach Braff's best friend. Nifty, huh?

Tonight, I got scolded pretty badly at work. It was humiliating...and all a mistake. I was off at 7, so when another waiter signed on at 7, I headed out the door. I was a few steps away from the pub when the manager on duty called me back and asked who I had asked if I could leave. I hadn't told any managers I was leaving, so I stammered an apology. He berated me for a little while, and then I asked if it was okay if I leave, and he said normally it would be, but he was actually training another girl so he needed me on the floor. This was all said very angrily. So I followed him back into the pub with my tail between my legs, past the general manager and all the people I'd just said goodbye to, took off my sweatshirt and hung up my purse, and went downstairs to grab my apron out of the laundry basket. I went back upstairs and started tying my apron on while looking for my till key when the MOD came back in saying, "I'm so sorry, I didn't realize you were scheduled to be off at 7." He was embarrassed and felt like a jackass and told me I could of course leave, so I did. But all the way home, my heart was pounding. I feel like the jackass, but maybe that's just because I hate being scolded. I know there's something psychologically wrong with me that instead of focusing on the fact that I did nothing wrong, all I can focus on is the fact that I got scolded, but I don't know how to change that. Ugh, what a horrible feeling.

I came home and decided I needed a drink, but the opener thing on my can of pear cider broke off so I had to jam it open with a spoon...did not help my stress level.

So now it's just before 9pm and I'm alone and a little bit tipsy. But not happy tipsy. Stressed and PMS tipsy. Not quite so fun. Perhaps another episode of Gossip Girl will cure that.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friends and family day!

Today was a very special day. An historic day, really. Today, the first Anthropologie in the United Kingdom opened its doors and cash registers to friends and family of employees. Since I am the significant other of an employee (wink wink), I got to go and preview the store. Woohoo!

I was going to do a whole photo story for you lovely folks back home, but then I forgot my camera. So I did one afterwards! I carefully thought out my wardrobe (okay, not that carefully, but you can see that I made an effort).


In the next photo, imagine that I'm pointing out a giant papier mache sperm whale hanging from the ceiling (but made with fabric instead of paper).


Now imagine that this picture of my bed is actually a picture of gorgeous Anthropologie bed set atop several logs of firewood (yes, the London Anthrop is catering to those Londoners who live out in the woods).

(New sheets courtesy of Patricia and Lars! I'll miss you guys.)

To be perfectly frank (am I ever anything else?), I found the store slightly disappointing. I guess I was expecting something more like the downtown Seattle store, but this is Regents Street in London, where everything is polished and top quality. While they sold the same items I'm used to and the store was full of artsy touches (i.e. giant sperm whale), I found it a bit too fancy for my tastes. I mean, that's not to say I won't be spending lots of time and money there!

I didn't buy anything today because my S.O. forgot to grab my special discount card, but I did identify several items that I simply can't live without. Well, I suppose I could live without them, but I am going to buy a very pretty (and horrifically overpriced) t-shirt for work. It's a marginally reasonable price with the discount.

Oh yeah. I have a job. Waitressing. Ugh. I looked for waitressing jobs because I didn't realize just how ridiculous the tipping system is in this country. I'll have to see whether the amount I make is actually worth the stress.

Here is me with empty hands (my wallet is happy).


Thursday, October 08, 2009

Preemie head size

How big is a premature babies head? Or rather, just how small?

My favorite organization ever, Partners in Health, sent out a call for knitted caps to put on the heads of babies born in their clinic in the mountains of Rwanda. Of course, I couldn't resist, and promptly took up needles and wool to knit a hat using the pattern for preemies. But I'm not sure it's supposed to be this small.

Is a preemie baby's head as small as my fist? Or just larger than the top of a water bottle?



I hung out with Izzi and Tim and all their school buddies last week. I had a great time, but ended up going to a pub with a random boy who then asked me if he could be homeless on my floor. Weird. Tim mentioned that he enjoyed it when I referred to him on my blog and I said, "When did I mention you? Oh, you mean a year ago?" But then he said he hadn't read my blog in a while, so I promised I'd mention him so that he'd start reading it again. He specifically asked that I mention his [something] face, but now I can't remember what adjective he used. Pretty? Sexy? Funny? So there you are Tim, I have mentioned your pretty/sexy/funny face. Now you're like a celebrity!...among my mom and my sisters.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Karma

Two updates in one day! Wowsers! I must be really bored.

Yes, in fact I am really bored! I've been very needy as a result, constantly texting my friends to see who wants to come play with me. No one ever does :-(

Just kidding. I saw Holly this afternoon. She's moved back home to Sussex, so I don't see her as often as I used to, though she comes in to London a few days a week. I went in to school to meet her, and we discovered that the school had cleared out all the lockers to make room for next year's students. The put all the stuff people had left in their lockers on top of the lockers. Now, I never got a locker cuz I lived so close to school, but Alex had a locker. They were supposed to clear them out and return their keys weeks ago, but Alex never did. Her locker was jam-packed, as full as it could possibly be, and even had some of Holly's stuff in it. So Holly grabbed her own stuff from the top of the lockers, and we texted Alex to tell her. The stuff she had in there was data she'd collected for her summer project in Africa, so was kind of important.

I hung around the area for a little while doing some shopping, but as I was about to head home (which is now far from school), Alex texted back and said her stuff was really important and could I just pop it back into the locker. Well, no, the point of them cleaning out the lockers was so your stuff wouldn't be in there anymore! So I decided, since it was important to her (and I was mean and hurt her feelings on Saturday so owed her), I would grab the stuff and take it home with me. It only weighed, oh, 80 pounds. My arms feel like jelly. Er, jell-o. Dammit, those Brits are getting to me with their weird words!

But here's the thing: what goes around, comes around. As I was lugging a hundred pounds of Alex's stuff across London without her realizing it, she was listing me as her significant other so that I would have access to her amazing employee discount at Fancy-pants Store Which Must Not Be Named. Score!! I get my own card and everything, and no, I can't let you use it or Alex gets fired, just like that. So if anyone asks, I am dating Alex.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Yes/No

I'm trying to have a more positive outlook on life. Becky has been picking on me for years for always immediately saying "no" to stuff without giving it a chance. Recently, Alex told me that she was talking to our friend, Kate, and said "Kusems doesn't like the second Harry Potter book," to which Kate responded, "Does Kusems like anything?" Alex meant it as a funny anecdote, but it is definitely something I need to work on, the fact that I complain about everything and reject most things outright. Alex suggested the other day that the kind of boy I need is a Southern gentleman, and I scoffed outright before even hearing her out (also before remembering that she's Southern, so to scoff at Southern things is a bit of an insult to her).

There's a story arc in the British show "Skins" (fantastic show, by the way!) in which two of the characters make a deal with each other that they will be more positive. One of them is required to say "yes" to everything presented to her. So I've been thinking about that lately and I decided I need to stop saying "no" to things right off the bat without giving them a chance.

I went and dropped off resumes at a few local bars on Monday, and one of them asked me to return Tuesday for an interview. The interview consisted of the manager telling me that I have way too many brains and talking really fast about nonsense. He told me that he was having to prosecute some of his "Eastern European" employees for sticky fingers. The only question he asked me was whether I thought I could manage not to rob the till. I thought I could manage. So he had me back in yesterday for a three-hour trial shift, and at the end, he offered me a job. It's minimum wage and it's doubtful I'll make any tips (I made 6 pence in tips in three hours yesterday). I said I'd take it and he told me to come in today with passport and work visa and bank account info to set up direct deposit.

I was all ready to do that, but this morning, I chickened out. Going back to my new positive outlook, I tried to talk myself up and say, "Just do it. If you get a higher paying job next week, you can leave this one." But my gut was fighting it. It didn't feel right. I called Holly because she is imminently wise, even though I knew what she was going to say, and in the end, I called the guy and told him I wasn't gonna take the job. I felt a bit bad for saying "no" instead of "yes" in the end, but then I realized that I had given it a fair chance. I said "yes" to begin with when I dropped off the resume and did the trial shift. And I feel infinitely more peaceful knowing I don't have to go back into that place and work. (It was a super cheap sports bar, though decorated nicely enough, full of elderly alcoholics.) It wasn't right for me. I'm pretty sure I can do better and earn more.

Also, he wanted me to come and work on Sunday because it's a football game day, and I completely forgot that Sunday is Holly's birthday party. I knew her birthday was Sunday, and I knew I'd be working Sunday, and I've thought and talked about both without ever realizing they were the same day. Space cadet.

Okay, this means I need to drop off more resumes. TTFN!

Swifty

Holly took Alex and me to Bath last week (finally!) She used to live and work there, and her two cousins lived there with her, but one of them is moving to Australia, so she had a big "leaving do" (going away party). The city is GORGEOUS! if a bit resort-y. At the party, I started chatting to a bobsledder who went by the name "Swifty," and then we danced together. I think he could tell it wasn't gonna go anywhere, though, and as soon as the lights came up, he bunked off. Fine, whatever.

And then last night Holly received a text from her cousin that said:

"Kusems snogged Swifty!"

Has a charming ring to it, doesn't it? Holly turned to me and asked, "Did you snog Swifty?" We had already discussed the whole evening, and she'd been there anyway, but I reassured her that I had not, in fact, snogged Swifty. Still, I think that sentence will haunt me forever. He couldn't have been called Jack or Tom or Louie, could he? It had to be Swifty. There had to be a question of whether I had or had not made out with someone called...Swifty.

He was cute, though. And ripped.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hey, look at me!

I moved into my new home today! The move went very smoothly thanks to wonderful helpers (Alex, Patricia, and Lars). I must apologize to Alex for doubting that she was going to wake up and arrive in time, when in fact, she arrived 10 minutes early.

My new housemates are so cool. We had dinner together and sat and chatted for awhile. Part of me felt like this was completely natural and comfortable and normal, and another part of me had to keep reminding the first part that in fact, it's totally out of character for me. This isn't normal! This isn't something any of my family members would do (except Amy when she went to live in the dorms). But I feel good about it, and I hope that feeling lasts a long, long time.

I'm attempting to turn over a new, positive-thinking leaf. My new housemate asked if I had any food allergies or preferences for dinner tonight, and I wrote back that I don't eat any beans (except green beans) and that I'll eat fish, but no other kinds of seafood. But before I hit send, I thought, "She's not going to make seafood. Seafood is expensive." So I deleted that part of the sentence. You can imagine my horror when I sat down to dinner and saw shrimp mixed in with the pasta. Too late to object now, silly, you'll have to grin and eat it. So I did. And you know what? It was alright. Do you see? Do you see what I'm turning into? Some sort of adventurous, take-things-in-stride sort of girl! Living with strangers! Eating shrimp! What will I do next, get body piercings? Bungee jump? Goodness no. Oddly, though, a couple nights ago I think I accidentally agreed to have a lesbian threesome with Carina and her friend. Oops!

(Don't worry, Dad, I won't follow through!)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

And then God smiled on me...

...but it was a mean, malicious smile accompanied by a dastardly chuckle that said, "Let's see how she gets herself out of this one!"

Okay, I shouldn't be so mean to God. He is being pretty good to me.

You know how I was positive I wasn't going to get that flatshare? I was wrong. She emailed me Thursday lunch to say they liked me and wanted me to move in. Joy! Ecstasy! Relief! I responded that I was super happy, they were my first choice, I love you I love you I love you. And then Thursday night, Juliana texted me to say that her friend isn't taking her room, it's available to me after all...Oh joy. Oh ecstasy. Oh crap, I have a tough decision to make. I made a pros-cons list. I discussed with John, Alex, and Holly (Carina didn't answer my text message). Holly said that she thought I knew deep down what I wanted and she was right. In a perfect world, this girl lives alone. Or with a hot, intelligent, wonderful boyfriend, but you know what I mean.

So I woke up this morning and called Juliana's landlord to see what I needed to do to get her adorable Notting Hill studio. After some emails back and forth, he informed me that I had to have a UK landowner as a guarantor. Right, dealbreaker. I called Juliana. She told me I needed to upsell the fact that I'm still technically a student and that I have money from the American government. They are my guarantors! She talked to him and he seemed okay with it, so I called the flatshare girl and broke the bad news that I wasn't going to be living with them even though I'd already said I would. Then I went to the landlord's office to finalize the deal.

Forty-five minutes later, I walked out with nothing. It was like trying to buy a used car. "Well, my director won't like this," "My director won't like that." "You're a liability." I had agreed to pay three months up front, plus 10 weeks deposit (a heck of a lot of money, but I have it.) Could I get my parents or someone in America to guarantee me? Maybe, but I'm 27 years old and I shouldn't have to do that. Fine, we'll do. I start filling out an application. He goes to photocopy my passport. "Do you want me to photocopy your national insurance card as well?" I've never worked in the UK, so I don't yet have an NI number/card. "Ooh, 'fraid that's a dealbreaker. Also, that huge wad of money I've just asked you to pay? That's not gonna clear until Thursday at the earliest. When did you want to move in? Tuesday? Hm, too bad, here's your passport back."

Uuuuuuuuuuuuuugggghhhhh.

I walked across the street to Hyde Park and sat down. Must get advice from someone. Carina's at a festival on the Isle of Wight. Alex is MIA. Tanya left for Guinea Bissau today. Family is only just waking up. I called Holly (not that she was my last choice) and she said to call the flatshare people back and beg them to let me come back. The worst they can do is say no, right? So I did, and she was lovely and said it was alright, I could still live with them. But I felt like a moron and a spaz and an unreliable git. I was sitting in the park feeling this way, wishing Alex was around or answering her phone (since I was in her neighborhood). I got up to go get some lunch and a runner a little ways off caught my eye. "Wow, that girl really looks like Alex." Granted, I was in her neighborhood and she does go running in Kensington Gardens, but what are the chances, in a city with so many people, that I would look up and see the one person I most wanted to talk to? She started jogging away from me, so I ran to catch up, not wearing running gear and carrying a purse and a bag, not to mention the fact that I was shaky from having waited too long to eat lunch. But she slowed to a walk and I huffed and puffed and finally caught up to her.

I told her the whole story and it felt good to talk about it. We spent the rest of the afternoon together and it was wonderful as usual. I love this girl. I'm sad I don't get to live a block away from her, but it's probably for the best because I'm sure she'd get sick of me always tagging along. She made a good point yesterday when I was agonizing over which one to pick. She said that if she had to do this year again, she'd live with other people instead of alone. Other people could motivate her to get out of bed before noon and go out and do fun stuff. And you have a wider circle of acquaintances. This is a new adventure for me, and I'm looking forward to it.

However, we were supposed to discuss details tonight but the girl isn't answering her phone. Now I'm nervous that my flip-flopping made her change her mind and think I'm unreliable. They are taking on a risk by letting me live with them, as I don't have a job yet and I'm not a student anymore. Then again, maybe I'm just being paranoid. Where things stand, though, it's not so bad. If I can't move in there on Tuesday, Kate has offered her studio to me while she's in Italy. And if it falls through entirely, Anita's houseshare has a double room available for really cheap. So I won't be homeless. God's still got my back.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Woes

Uggggghhhh...I went to see that flat. I loved it! It's wonderful and the two people living there are wonderful, but I have a sixth sense that they are not going to pick me. I just know it. Intuition or something. Poo. Pooooooooooooooo.

One of them holds a world record for organizing the biggest zombie crowd ever (or something like that). The king of the zombies was Noel Fielding. There is no way that the guy who holds the world record for biggest zombie get-together, which starred Noel Fielding, is going to want to live in the same house as me. Yes, it's true that they responded to my initial email because they were intrigued by my obsession with tuberculosis and me mentioning knitting as one of my hobbies didn't deter them either, but I'm just not cool enough to live with these people. And they won't let me know until Friday, but I'm supposed to respond to these other people tomorrow. What to do??? I don't want to settle for anything less than the best, but what if the best won't settle for me?

No, that's not the right attitude. I have never yet been forced to live in a place I didn't love. I can do this. I can find my sanctuary. It's out there somewhere.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Flat-searching SUX!

I've been super clingy lately. I get upset when my friends aren't online or when I can't hang out with them because they're doing other things. How dare they have lives of their own! I just want to tag along everywhere they go like a little puppy.

The apartment search is going so-so. I went to see one yesterday. The room was gorgeous, the neighborhood was awesome, but it would be living with a 40-something woman who owns the house and has it decorated her way. I get the impression that what she's looking for is a quiet student who will stay out of the way. I can be that, but I don't want to. I want to spread out in the place I'm living. I want to make it mine a little bit. Or a lot bit. Though the room was really nicely decorated, the contract she wants me to sign says that I won't put anything up on the walls. I know I'm being picky and I have limited time to find a place, but it's important to me to be happy where I'm living for the next year. I may be a nomad these days, but that doesn't mean I want to live as if I'm just waiting for next year, or the year after that. I want to live my life now.

Anyway, I'm viewing another flatshare tonight. The two people living there sound cucky (sp?) and fun, so we'll see. It's in the same area as yesterday's, which I really liked. The room isn't as charming, though, but I could make it charming. It's more of a blank slate. We'll see.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

No job, no flat=loser

Sadness. Alex's friend with the wonderful room just told me that she's giving her apartment to her friend. Now I actually have to make an effort to find a place and, oh, guess what? I have to move by next Tuesday. How did that sneak up on me like that? So no wonderful flat, no wonderful job. Yet. I shan't give up hope just yet, right? Sad, though.

I'm a little bit panicked, but I have to keep reminding myself that I won't be homeless. I have friends with couches. Where I'll store my 10 boxes of stuff, I don't know, but I'll figure it out if worst comes to worst. Which it won't. I'm sure.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Yeah, so, I sort of have a master's degree

After a year of studying, three months of working on my master's dissertation project, and two weeks straight of sitting on my ass staring at my computer screen, I am officially done with my master's program. It is just about the most anticlimactic feeling ever. Both of our course directors decided to go out of town for this stressful and momentous time, so there was no official party plan or anything. It's just...over. We don't get our results until December and we don't officially graduate until March (don't ask why; these British are crazy).

I am no longer a master's degree student. However, I don't technically have a master's degree. But you can all still call me Master Kusems (or Mistress Kusems, if you prefer).

In other news, I completely blew my Anthropologie group interview. They sent me an email saying that my skills and experience were impressive, but they've decided to go with another candidate (several others, actually, including Alex). In other words, my skills and experience are impressive, but in person, I am not. I'm upset not so much because I wanted the job, but because I KNOW I could do the job really well yet I didn't show them that. I didn't make that clear. I didn't even realize it myself until after I flubbed the interview.

Oh well. Moving on. Moving on with everything. I'm in a scary place in my life right now, living off borrowed money with no job prospects and no clear idea of which way to turn. A more adventurous person would be thrilled by the freedom and promise of it all. I am not a more adventurous person, but I am trying to be. I'm trying to think on the bright side. The world is my oyster. I can go anywhere from here. Right? I have impressive skills and experience, though apparently not a very impressive personality.

I'm gonna go watch 30 Rock because it makes me laugh and forget my self-loathing for 24 or so minutes.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

In the market for a new lifestyle

Oh give me a break. I'm not gaunt by any stretch of the imagination. I was making a weird pose in that picture and it was taken at an angle.

There's a girl from school who lives a block away from Alex (in Notting Hill!!) who is moving back to the States on the 12th. I went to view her studio room last night and...I fell in love. The problem is, it's £50-£100 more per month than the somewhat arbitrary maximum rent I had set for myself. But I really don't know what I can and can't afford. I have the money now. I have no idea how much money I'll have in the future. It's definitely cheaper than I've been paying this past year. It's a wonderful room on the fourth or fifth floor (lots of stairs=good exercise!) with an adorable, very London-y view and all bills are included in the rent (except internet). It's fully furnished and in a location I want (close to Alex and Carina). I'm going to keep looking for cheaper places, but even looking is such a hassle. Then you have to call people, sift through all the ads which are posted by letting agents (who charge you to find you a room, usually not the one you wanted in the first place), and arrange for viewings. And there's the whole flatsharing issue again. Do I want to live with a bunch of strangers? And most of the ads that are posted now are available now, not in two and half weeks when I'm moving out of my current place.

Ugh, I don't know. I'll keep looking. It's good to have options.

The same girl used to work for the store Alex and I are applying to, so she lent us clothes from the store for the interview next week! She's so nice! It might be a bit of a problem if I get hired there. I don't have an appropriate wardrobe for working there, so I'd have to buy a bunch of new clothes, which is kind of dumb. Spending a bunch of money to get a job in order to earn money? Oh well, at least I'll look gorgeous!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wasting away

I seem to have misplaced quite a bit of weight. Has anyone seen it? I'd like at least some of it back. My favorite jeans of ALL TIME are now too big. I can take them off without unbuttoning or unzipping them. Scary!

But seriously, how did I lose weight? I certainly wasn't trying. I ate massive amounts in Africa. It's probably worms. There was an extremely suspicious piece of watermelon that I ate at Murchison Falls. Add the fact that I've been feeling lightheaded for a couple days and I'm convinced worms are the culprits (I don't actually know a thing about the symptoms of worms because I REFUSED to study the helminth lectures during revision for finals). Or perhaps I'm just dying. On the plus side, I look fantastic! My butt is positively miniscule.

I drew a new picture last night which I want to scan (school scanner=why I'm paying the big bucks to go here), but Kate is using the computer with the scanner. I'd feel bad asking her to interrupt processing all her data and creating complex graphs so I can scan a silly picture. It'll have to wait until tomorrow.

Friday, August 21, 2009

LOOONNNNDDDOOOONNNNN!!!!!

Oh my goodness, it feels soooooooooo good to be back in London! I've been on cloud nine for the past two days. Even the stress/annoyance of having to work on my research project write-up isn't getting me down. Oh, and I got my final exam grades: I did decently well! I was confident that I had passed, but I was worried that I might have received the lowest passing grade (a 2). But I got the equivalent of a B or B- (hard to say because this school uses a weird system).

I met up with Holly and Alex a couple hours after arriving and it was so wonderful to see them. I walked to Carluccio's from school to meet them, and I couldn't help smiling as I walked. I never smile while walking! Ever! (People might think I'm a crazy person, and I wouldn't want that.) I really really love these girls. Alex managed to get scabies while in Africa (HAHAHAHAHA!) and when I touched her arm, a scab came off. It makes me laugh to think about it. So funny and disgusting, I love it.

The room that I got at the residence hall is so much better than my old room! I mean, the room itself is more or less exactly the same, but it's on the 1st floor (the 2nd floor in America) and it gets much more light than my old room. Not that my old room was dark, but it was on the ground floor and the other buildings in the courtyard I looked out onto were much closer than in my new room. I can leave my window opened or leave my computer in view of the window without worrying about anyone breaking in (not that break-ins are common, just that I'm paranoid). And the bathroom tiles are prettier in this room. My last one had horrible floor tiles that always looked filthy no matter how hard you scrubbed them. Holly and I washed them with bleach and they still looked filthy. The one draw-back is that there is no full-length mirror in this room. This becomes a real issue in a country where you can't use hair dryers in the bathroom. Did you know that about England? You will never find an English person using a hair dryer or straighteners in their bathroom. It's unheard of. They don't believe in having outlets in bathrooms, except low voltage ones for electric razors. Silly English people.

Carina arrived today and she and Alex and I had lunch together (burritos from Benito's Hat, mmmmm.) It's good to have the old gang back together. I feel like it's been ages, but it really hasn't been that long. Well, I guess it has. I haven't been apart from these guys for more than three weeks since the day I met them.

Now to get back to the project. My supervisor said I need to change the names of the villages my data is based on, but I don't know how to do that. Alex gave me a couple cute Swahili names, but I feel like I should use the local language, which I don't speak. In Swahili, they name towns after the people who live in them, like "the people who like giraffes" or "the people who fish." If I knew how to construct names like that in Luganda, that would be cool, but I don't. Poo.

Here are pictures of Murchison Falls National Park. I'm quite proud of a couple of them, like these ones:





Wednesday, August 19, 2009

African skirts!

Ooh, I'm excited! I'm getting skirts made in African prints! Woohoo!

I've been kicking myself for not buying material and commissioning something and now it's too late because I'm leaving TODAY! Roya bought material a couple weeks ago (while I was bored to death at the wedding) and a workmate put her in touch with a tailor. Today, all her skirts and tops arrived and I was super jealous! Roya goes to my school and is staying in Uganda until Sunday, so she said she'd have the tailor make me a skirt. I went to the local market at lunch and found some material, and Roya and I just did measurements, so hopefully it won't turn out too big or too tight! Roya bought more material, too, and since we both have more than we need, we're gonna get skirts made in each other's material. And Roya is going to pay for mine since I'm selling her my extra Malarone tablets, which cost a pretty penny. (When I bought them, I thought I was staying here for 8 weeks, so they gave me 9 weeks of pills. But I'm only here for 7 weeks, so I only need 8 weeks worth of pills. Roya, on the other hand, was planning to leave a week ago but had to extend her stay, so she doesn't have enough pills).

Anyhoo, I'm super excited! I hope the skirts turn out well. I'm getting one longish one (to just below my knee) and one short one. When I wrap the material around my waist, they both look really good with my leggings. Can't wait to see the finished product!

Also, have I mentioned that I CAN NOT WAIT TO GET BACK TO LONDON???? I've been fantasizing about being back there for days now. I'm really excited to see all my wonderful, wonderful friends again! Yay! Also, there's a wallet that I really want to buy from Fossil in Covent Garden to replace my Fossil wallet that got stolen (I miss you, Green Wallet with an Embroidered Pineapple. You know I was never going to replace you until the day you disintegrated in my hands...or got stolen by some crummy jerk who will never appreciate you the way I did.)

P.S. Murchison Falls was AMAZING!!! Well worth the $310 that I borrowed from Bryony. I will post pictures when I get back to London and have open access to the internet. But here's a preview:

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, August 14, 2009

How old are you now?

The Ugandans sing a second verse to the Happy Birthday song, which goes:

How old are you now?
How old are you now?
How old are you now-wow?
How old are you now?

Where they picked this up from and WHY are mysteries to me.

Murchison is tomorrow, and apparently, we won't be able to get from here to Kampala in the morning in time to catch the tour bus, so we have to go to Kampala tonight and spend the night there. Ugh. I'd so rather sleep in my nice, big, comfy, mosquito-net protected bed here than some shabby backpackers hostel dorm in the loud, busy, polluted capital city. Oh well. I have been spoiled here.

I mean, he's a nice guy, but he's kinda annoying.

Inspired by the "Paint" colors, which all seemed to be named after fruits (hence the eggplant below.)

I've been going through crafting withdrawals for the past few days. I keep looking at various different crafting websites. I can't wait to get back to London and start creating things. I might even start buying Marie Claire Idees, even though it costs an arm and a leg. Maybe it's cheaper in England cuz it doesn't have to travel as far.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

You think you're so different from all them other berries?



I've been very productive today, as you can see. In addition to creating this masterpiece, I also printed up some maps. All in a day's work, folks. All in a day's work.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ugandan wedding

Today at lunch, when I asked for chicken, I was given something that did not fit in with my Western notion of chicken. It was the shape of a pelvic bone, but was meat, not bone. My Tanzanian housemate informed that it was a sort of vestigial stomach, used for collecting the sand that chickens swallow as they peck the ground for food. Of course, it is the most prized part of the chicken and is traditionally reserved for the head of household, which meant I had to eat it. I tried to be adventurous, but my overactive imagination wouldn't let me eat it without feeling a bit queasy. Really, it was like a mix between sausage and chicken. Psychologically, it should have bothered me far less than sausage or hotdogs should, but the brain isn't always logical, is it? In the end, I ate about half.

I went to a wedding on Saturday. I had been warned that they were dull, but had no idea just how much sitting and waiting there would be. We sat in the church and they played the wedding march and the bride and groom and wedding party all came out from the front of the church and stood on the stage for a few minutes, then left. At this time, we all played a sort of Chinese fire drill wherein some of the congregation left, others came flooding in, and the rest of us moved seats. It wasn't until several minutes later that I realized we had been watching the tail end of a different wedding. Whoops!

The service was pretty standard, though in Luganda, and the many many photographers are allowed to stand wherever they want to take pictures, so the bride and groom constantly had at least four cameras in their faces, while other cameramen blinded the audience with high-powered lights as they videotaped us sitting and watching. I would not want to be the one to sit through reshowings of those videos.

The service ended around 1pm, and we stood around for a while in the church garden, waiting for Bryony's coworker to organize unknown stuff. Then we headed to the reception hall where we sat and waited (while cheesy romantic and religious country western songs played)...for four hours. Roya was in the city as well, shopping for African prints and other things, and if we'd known we were going to be doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for FOUR FRIGGIN' HOURS, we would have joined her. The bride and groom didn't show up until after 5pm, and then we sat through hours of speeches in Luganda. This is life in Africa: you wait. Wait for sun, wait for rain, wait for the meeting to start, wait for your ship to come in. There was a gift line, in which everyone lines up to present their gifts to the bride and groom. There were over 800 guests at the wedding. You do the math. Anyway, when Bryony and I (the only white people there) got up to the front of the line, the emcee, who had until then been speaking Luganda, stopped me and started quizzing me in English. "Where are you from? Oh, Seattle, WA? My wife lives there. What brings you to Uganda? Research? So you are doing research on married people?" In front of 800 guests. Apparently, he then went on to talk about us for a while in Luganda, though we were totally oblivious.

It did not get more interesting from there. We left before the dancing commenced, as it was late and we had to get back to Entebbe. I feel that it was a cultural experience and I'm glad I experienced it, but through the whole thing I would have given the world to be back in the house watching movies on my laptop. Whatever. You can't say I didn't try.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Source of the Nile


The one and only source of the Nile River



The Nile (well, not quite, but it will be someday)


You think I passed that sign? Heck yes, I did!



Candle jar

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Uganda Part III

Gecko friends


My bed, tidy as usual (with mosquito net pulled back)


Meenkeys at work


Not blocked after all?

Hm, this is odd. Blogger is not being blocked. Facebook is being blocked, Picasa is being blocked, but not Blogger. Maybe it never was blocked and I just assumed it was because the network wouldn't let me access other blogs.

Anyhoo, things are going well here. After five weeks, I'm finally starting to settle in. I really didn't think I'd suffer so much culture shock here. I thought I'd been well-prepared for what Africa would be like. I never realized how attached to comfort I am. Not that I'm uncomfortable. The house I live in is very comfortable. It's hard to describe. Every time I go somewhere, I scour the landscape for "nice," Western-style houses or restaurants or hotels, and it makes me feel uncomfortable when I don't find them. It's odd, I know. But I've been feeling really homesick for both Seattle and London.

A few weekends ago, we housemates went to Jinja, home to the source of the Nile River. It was nice in Jinja, but being there made me appreciate Entebbe more. I couldn't wait to get back. We went to see the source of the Nile, then went to the agricultural festival being held that weekend. It was like an Africa version of the Puyallup Fair, but we were there at night so there were no animals in sight. It was insanely crowded and, true to Ugandan form, everything looked temporary, haphazard, and dilapidated. We climbed the steps of a particularly rickety, circular structure which turned out to be a motorcycle daredevil show. We stood on the top of a big wooden cone as a 60-year-old Indian man rode a motorcycle around the cone. I was terrified he was going to die, and due to the shakiness of the whole structure, I feared we would go down with him. It was a very terrifying and thrilling 2 minutes of my life, all for the equivalent of 25 cents!

Everyone else went whitewater rafting on the Nile, but I a) was too chicken, and b) wanted to save my money for other things, like touring a national park full of exciting African animals. Instead, I met up with a contact of my step-grandpa's. He is a Ugandan man who started an organization, called African Orphan Education Trust (AOET), building schools for kids who couldn't afford school fees, especially children affected by HIV/AIDS. They also built an orphan village which recruits families to take on 3 or 4 orphans, and in exchange, they get to live in a very nice house. They have also helped supply and train a local hospital with state-of-the-art machinery, helped by Assist International. He showed me one of their schools and an orphan village, and I was impressed with his attention to details, like making sure that the schools were wheelchair accessible and that the preschool had an extra classroom and bathroom for kids with special needs. Sadly, donor funds have been cut back significantly in the current economic environment.

Last weekend, I headed into Kampala to meet up with Aleisha, an acquaintance from home. She has been in Uganda since January and will be here for a full year, teaching science in a non-profit school. She introduced me to her two Ugandan "sisters," and we had fun shopping and visiting her school.

And now I'm down to just under two weeks here. We housemates are going to go to Murchison Falls National Park for my last weekend here. I'm really excited, but I'm nervous because we get back the day before I fly back to London. I'll have about 24 hours back in Entebbe to wrap things up.

I've been hard on myself about the last year, about not seeing as much of the UK as I had planned/wanted. But the other day I was sitting in the sun looking at photos on my iPod, and there was amazing trip after amazing trip. I've been so blessed and I've seen so much, and I've done it all with wonderful people that I adore. Amsterdam, Dublin, Hamburg, Lyon, Toulouse, Paris, Switzerland, Edinburgh, Glasgow. And London London London. So many wonderful memories. I can't wait to get back and see my friends. I miss them to pieces!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stalling/procrastinating

I only have four weeks left in Uganda. Part of me feels like that's an eternity (I kinda miss London, even if it is raining there) but mostly I'm freaked out that it's not nearly enough time for me to figure out this whole master's degree thing, i.e., HELP ME, I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING!!

Speaking of which, I really shouldn't be online. I should really get back to figuring all this out. Must quit using blogger to stall.

More pictures! This weekend, I lost inspiration to draw anymore, and was worried that it was gone forever after only five days. However, it has come back somewhat (though not full force), so it's all good.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Amazing day

Amazing day today. My first (and possibly only) day in which I am immersed in the Africa I expected to see, the Africa I have been studying for one year and reading about for many years.

I took my first long journey over a rutted and pitted red dirt (murram) road. The plants lining the road were copper brown from a thick layer of road dust. You know how, when you’re on a bumpy road, you kind of clench all your muscles so you won’t get thrown around the car? My stomach was quite tight by the time we arrived at our destination.

We arrived in a village and pulled up to what I thought was an abandoned building. People were ranged about on the lawn being counselled by TASO (The AIDS Support Organization) counsellors. We entered a room of the building full of ancient hospital beds with doctors and nurses sitting with patients. What I had foolishly thought was an abandoned building was an active community health clinic. Come on, Kusems, you’re in Africa, remember? TASO rents out part of the building once a month to treat patients with HIV (HIV/AIDS services not being offered by the normal health clinic). We did a bit of a tour, then sat down across from a worried woman with a pretty baby. Doctor Julia told her to come sit in the chair next to me. I was inches from the baby and wanted to reach out and touch her, but the mother didn’t look like she’d appreciate it and the baby herself was off in her own little world. Most babies and kids are fascinated by we white people, but this one just stared off into space, her eyes sometimes rolling back in her head the way a mentally disabled person’s might. I noticed that she was quite thin for a baby. The proceedings between doctor and patient took place in Luganda (the local tribal language) but I glanced at what the doctor was writing on the baby’s form: TB refill, fever, oral thrush. Oral thrush is a common infection among people with AIDS. I was sitting inches from a baby with HIV and tuberculosis (and possibly mental handicap?). This realization, perhaps combined with having missed lunch and having spent the past hour with a clenched stomach, not to mention the fact that hospitals have always freaked me out, made me feel a bit queasy and I had to take several deep breaths and focus on the vegetation outside the window. Here was everything I had been studying all year, sitting right in front of me. I knew what Africa was like, I knew it was this way, but it still caught me off guard and threw me for a loop.


After a while of sitting around not doing much, we caught a ride with some of the TASO workers to a place that served pork with cabbage. The place was a roadside set-up that I never would have recognized as a restaurant. A heaping portion of the food was served on a large plate. We ate with our hands (after sterilizing, of course) and it was delicious, but I haven’t mastered eating greasy, shredded cabbage with my hands, and I made an absolute mess of myself. The TASO workers chattered in Luganda and paid little attention to me, until one of the women asked if I was married. I thought it was an innocent enough question, until she pointed at the youngest man there and said, “He’s not married either. He’s a good catch, too. He’s a doctor, he’s young, attractive” etc. We all laughed, but I’m sure none of them missed the deep blush in my face. “I have his number if you want it,” she added. “You should give me yours, too.” Awkward!


After that, we got a ride home with them. I was crammed in the back of a van on a bench suited for four people, but holding six, being careful with my feet to avoid stepping on the beans and yams being stored on the floor. At one point, we passed two men on a motorbike carrying a bicycle. After a while, Doctor Julia turned to me and said, “We haven’t given you a Ugandan name!”


“Someone already gave me one,” I responded.


“Oh really? What is it?”


“Namutebi,” I answered, and everyone burst into laughter. I have no idea why, but it wasn’t mean laughter so I shrugged it off. I think they just thought it was funny that I had a Ugandan name.


So that was my odd, slightly scary but wonderful day.

Stormy sleep

Grr, did not get great sleep last night. The neighborhood dogs returned for another bark-off, though this time slightly down the road from the guesthouse. Then I had a dream that I was doing lab work and it pretty much embodied all my insecurities from the last two years with respect to lab work. I couldn't remember what I was doing, I didn't do it right, I was too slow, etc. Then, at 5:30am, a massive storm broke out. It started with rain so heavy, it sounded like the force of it would crush through the roof. I was sure it must be flooding into my room (it wasn't). Then there was lightning and delayed thunder. I got up to use the toilet, and while I was there, a sound like a gunshot rent the sky and scared the bejeezus out of me. I couldn't sleep again until it calmed down.

I had a meeting this morning with an American woman who is associated with the project I'm doing, and she suggested that I go with one of her team members out to the field today. Sweet! I'd get to see HIV/AIDS support in action. I hope it works out.

Another drawing: this thing was soft like a lamb's ear. My drawing of it doesn't really do it justice.

Daily Show

I was watching the Daily Show yesterday (thank you, African internet for thinking I'm in America!) and my housemate/fellow student was asking about it. I was trying to describe it, and she said, "Oh, that's like Nevermind the Buzzcocks."

"Uh, no...Nevermind the Buzzcocks is a music game show."

We then had a debate about what Nevermind the Buzzcocks was, and I was wracking my brain trying to figure out what she was thinking of. 8 Out of 10 Cats? Would I Lie to You? "Oh! You're thinking of Mock the Week!"

And then I realized: I knew more about British game shows than a British person. America is never gonna let me back in the country. Maybe I can leverage the fact that I watch the Daily Show?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pitchers

Pitchers from ma camra.

Having read a ridiculous amount of Natalie Dee comics this weekend, I was inspired to start doodling. I've been going for two and a half days now! And I'm quite proud of some of the images I've come up with...if only I had a way of getting them onto my computer. I may take crappy photos of them to show them off.

Yesterday as Roya and I walked home from work, we passed a house with a bunch of kids playing in the yard. Roya's supervisor was there and she called Roya over to talk to her. A chubby toddler sucking on mango walked right up to me, and I took the opportunity of knowing Roya who knew the supervisor who knew the mother of child to reach out for the child's hand. Of course, I would never do that with a strange child (could have rabies!) She grasped her sticky mangoey fingers around mine and I died a little bit inside knowing that eventually, I would have to let go. Clearly, I haven't been getting enough quality baby time this year. But Holly's sister just had a baby, so hopefully, when I get back to London, I can rectify that problem! Thanks for squeezin' one out, Holly's Sister!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Rain

My stomach is much better, thanks! I think it really was just an adjustment phase. Anyway, if I do get food poisoning or catch something from the water (which I’m not drinking), then I have some heavy duty antibiotics from the travel clinic to clear things up.

On Friday, I filed a police report in Kampala. They gave me a "temporary" report that supposedly lasts 1 month (whatever that means), as a permanent one would cost $30. "Hello officer, I've been robbed." "Your money was stolen? Hand over more money and I'll investigate." I don't know what a permanent report would involve, anyway. They don't seem to have an automated system of reports, as my temporary one was hand-written. The man handed a blank form to my driver and told him to go upstairs to have it photocopied--that would cost 200 shillings. 200 shillings for them to photocopy their own blank form!!! He then filled in the form by hand, asking me to list the items I wanted recovered, even though I had already listed them all for him.

Later, I called my travel insurance company to file the claim, and they said I should get £150 back for my phone. Sweet!

We had a ridiculously expensive dinner on Friday night. Okay, it was only about $20 per person, but that's a lot of money in Uganda! Nothing costs that much. We should have known better than to go to the restaurant closest to the UN station and the airport, where most of the customers are white. On Saturday, we went to the Botanical Garden here (no pictures because we didn't want to pay the 2000 shilling camera fee) and to a resort beach. It was nice, but I wouldn't swim. Them there's schistosomiasis-infested waters.

On Sunday, it was a housemate's birthday, so we had drinks and a cake we bought in Kampala (looked pretty but was horrible! We had to use a knife to create holes for candles in the rock-hard icing).

Rain, rain, go away. I want to eat lunch in one of the tents on the lawn, and you are making that difficult. It has been off-and-on stormy here for the past two days. There is no drizzle here. Rain is heavy, fat, and noisy on the corrugated tin roofs, but it never lasts for long. Now the sun is coming out again.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Cheez-Its!

Ugh...my stupid stomach. Why do you hate me? Is it the malaria tablets? Do you have a problem with me trying to protect myself against malaria? Is that what's going on here?

It's funny, for how horrible I feel, I haven't missed a single meal. My stomach may be churning and I may be excreting undigested matter at an appalling rate, but that doesn't affect my appetite one bit.

My classmate, Alicia is visiting the institute today as part of her summer project. She's from Seattle and she brought Cheez-Its! New best friend! Even my stupid stomach can't resist Cheez-Its. I can't even remember the last time I've had them (well, I remember someone sent some Cheez-Its to Alex, but they were the extreme flavor ones and were pretty disgusting.) I don't think you can buy them in London. It's weird seeing a familiar face in this unfamiliar place. I think I have a tendency to compartmentalize my life, so when Jacque visited me in London, or when Becky visited me in France, I couldn't reconcile having a Seattle person in a foreign city. It felt surreal in a way.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Money

I brought some US dollars with me to Uganda because I was told it was the only currency accepted at the airport (in case I needed to bribe any bureaucrats). I decided to only carry a couple twenties around with me at any given time (again, in case I needed to get out of sticky situations) so when my wallet was stolen, there were only $40 in it. This means that I had about $120 back in my room, locked away. I will now have to live off of this $120 for at least two weeks until I get a new ATM card (not actually all that hard to do around here). I went on an unexpected two hour walk yesterday in search of a good exchange rate (one dollar is roughly 2000 Ugandan shillings). I did find a good one, though, so score! In the evening, we housemates decided to walk down to an advertised beach (less a beach and more a bar on the lake). That ended up being another unexpectedly long walk, in the pitch dark, not exactly sure where we were. It’s all good, though. We eventually found our way back. I think that’s my exercise for the year.

My stupid UK bank won’t send a new debit card to Uganda. They’re sending it to London, which of course, doesn’t help me a whole lot. However, despite the fact that I was a bit mean to the guy on the phone, he was really nice and said he would figure something out for me. It sounds like I might have to transfer money from my account into my housemate’s UK bank account, then she can withdraw cash for me from an ATM here. Complicated, but I have few other options. The bank guy said he might be able to send a bank order here, but I don’t think banks here would have any idea what to do with that. My housemates brought travelers checks and tried them at every bank in town, then several banks in Kampala before finding a place that would take them, and then they gave a bad exchange rate on them. If banks here can’t take travelers checks, I doubt they’ll be able to handle a bank order. I think transferring to my housemate’s account will be more fool-proof, although now that I’ve said that, I’ve probably jinxed it.

My housemate, Roya’s mom packed all sorts of ridiculous things into her luggage without her knowledge. Roya arrived in Uganda to find several tins of food, lots of chocolate bars, a frying pan, and much, much more. Last night, she discovered that her mom had packed her housecleaning gloves, and when she put them on to wash the dishes, she further discovered that her mom had written her name on each glove. Too funny! As if the rest of use would have brought rubber gloves that might get mixed up with hers. Honestly, when I considered all the things I would need for a comfortable stay in Uganda, somehow rubber gloves didn’t come to mind.

Today I’m sick, but as the symptoms are the same as the stomach issues I had back in Feb/March, I’m hoping this is just my body adjusting to different food and stuff, and not an actual infection. We drink bottled water, so I don’t think it would be a water-borne infection, although it could be if the food I’m eating was washed in bad water. I’ve been eating a lot more fresh fruit prepared by someone else, so who knows. Or it could be the milk. Anyhoo, I’m gonna cross my fingers and hope for the best. Let’s all chant together: No worms! No cysts! No malaria!

Day 3

In which I get pick pocketed…twice.

The four of us living in the lower guesthouse ventured out to the capital city of Kampala accompanied by a very nice Ugandan man from the institution. We went by public transport, which involves very rickety vans with about 14 passenger seats. According to my guidebook, Kampala is nicer than other east African capitals such as Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. If that’s true, I’m not in any rush to see Nairobi or Dar, as Kampala was crowded, dirty, and ugly. But that’s just the spoiled snob in me coming out, I’m sure.

We ran a few errands in the city, had lunch, and then headed to the Bugandan kingdom’s administrative center for a festival held on the palace grounds. Uganda is ruled by a president, but the country is composed of several ancient kingdoms, the biggest of which is the kingdom of Buganda. Kampala is located in the Bugandan kingdom, so when the British colonized the country, they gave almost all administrative power to Bugandans. We went to visit the Bugandan parliament (not to be confused with the Ugandan parliament) and the palace of the Bugandan king. We didn’t actually see any of the palace, but there was a sort of festival on the grounds that involved animals in small cages, food, shopping, and live musical performances. I think it was while looking at the animals in cages that my wallet was stolen, though I didn’t realize it for several hours. It was at that time that I noticed the out flap of my bag had been undone, but my cellphone was still in its spot. I had a glance inside the bag, and my iPod and stuff were still there. I thought my wallet was tucked further down, and I didn’t bother verifying that, but I think now that it was probably on top, thus within easy reach of sneaky fingers.

I continued to check my phone periodically throughout the day, so I’m not sure exactly when it was stolen, but much later in the day. I remember using it to check the time at 5:30pm, so it must have been soon after that.

Grr. I just feel like such a moron. And a target. First I miss my flight, then I get pick pocketed twice in one day. What next? I shudder to think of the possibilities. I’m a paranoid person naturally, so I’ve been slightly on edge since I arrived here, but now I feel all that much more vulnerable. I feel like nothing is safe, even if locked up. I need to practice non-attachment. If Jesus’s wallet had been stolen, he would have just shrugged it off and moved on. If Jesus ever even had a wallet to start with.

But it’s not so bad. The cell phone was four years old and didn’t have a Ugandan SIM card in it yet. It’ll suck to have to recollect everyone’s phone numbers, but people lose phones all the time. The wallet had my US credit card and UK debit card, my driver’s license, $40 and 40,000 Ugandan shillings (about $20), and nothing else of much value, all replaceable. It’s a hassle to have to close accounts, especially from abroad, and especially because the phone system in the guesthouse is run through the institution’s switchboard, which only operates during business hours, Monday through Friday. Great system, huh? No one told me this until yesterday, so if there had some emergency here, I would have had no idea that I would need a cell phone to call the police. Scary.

My housemates were super supportive and paid for everything for me for the rest of the day. Bryoni offered her cell phone to call the banks, and Roya gave me a chocolate bar and decided that we needed to go out clubbing to cheer me up. So when we got back to Entebbe, we changed clothes and headed to the two decent nightclubs in town. Myth: All African people can dance. Some African men dance just as badly as white men. It was much like clubbing in London, except that everyone stared at us and I'm pretty sure I saw a cockroach scuttling across the floor. Fun times.

A few pictures of my first days.