From "Creed," by Dom Helder Cámara

I want to believe that the whole world

Is my home, the field I sow,

And that all reap what all have sown.

I will not believe that I can combat oppression out there

If I tolerate injustice here.

I want to believe that what is right

Is the same here and there

And that I will not be free

While even one human being is excluded.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Legitimately OreGONE

I have an unfortunate track record for falling in love and getting really good at things and then dropping them promptly--dance (when I was 4), martial arts (when I was 11), piano (when I was 13) musical theatre (high school), calculus, surfing (okay, though I'm not really good, and I haven't quit)...I could really go on for a paragraph. I also have a track record for moving, though that's not really my fault--Santa Monica, Irvine, Greenfield, Los Angeles, Ventura, McMinnville...I don't really have a geographical location I associate with home. The world is my home. ooooooo that sounded sharp.
The POINT is, I hope I don't "drop" Oregon.
If you've been following my blogs you know my parents have moved to McMinnville, a quaint farm town of 32,000 an hour south-west of Portland. I spent a couple days there, with my Aunt Jeanine (one of my three favorite people in the world) and new Oregon best bud Allie. And the city makes me swoon.
Public transportation abounds. Every Saturday the kooky artisans gather in the glistening downtown area for an adorable market. The city is the site of the largest urban forest in the US--Forest Park. I'm gonna go for a run there someday. Today I met a former Jesuit Volunteer for lunch on Hawthorne Blvd, one of the funky neighborhoods in the southeast city. I parked behind a VW van, running on biodiesel, with a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer bumper sticker. On the street everyone was wearing an Irish cap or colorful stockings or carrying a farmer's market bag. The city is extremely young, fresh, organic, liberal--not that I whole-heartedly embrace all of these things, but I certainly love being around them.
And there's so much GREEN. Allie and I drove to Washington Park (part of Forest Park), up a winding blue road and through some smoky mountains, where we entered the forested Portland Zoo and took a cold nighttime train ride through their Christmas lights. It was the most Christmas-y thing I've ever done. When you're downtown, too, you're surrounded by clean, friendly skyscrapers and the MAX (a tram), but around you are pines and grass and hippies. And REDHEADS (the JVI I had lunch with, por ejemplo). So many gingers! Yay! My dad says it's no wonder--the smart descendants of northwestern Europeans are drawn to the northwestern united states, where they contract less skin cancer. Perhaps...
Who knows where I'll be in a year--five--ten. Saudi Arabia would be jiggy (in the right circumstances). But realistically, I could be here for a while. It's more realistic than my other fantasy prospect, London, a place I could never move without annoying my family. I FIT here, and I've never fit anywhere.

Taking my fickle personality into account, I'm sorry if tomorrow my favorite city is Houston. But don't count on it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


I can smell the fresh cold air...a dusty bed not covered in assignments...the eclecticism of a Portland Saturday mother's dog's lack of bathing.
My Christmas in Oregon will consist of:
1. Two nights with my homegirl Allie...we will explore Christmas season in the Pacific Northwest like two college students should
2. Finish a Peace Corps application (and beginning one for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps)
3. اللغة العربية
4. READING: Orientalism, Mother Theresa, fiction by Middle Easterners
5. Getting my singing voice back into shape--I start women's chorus in January. YIKES.
6. Skype and phone conversations with long-lost fantastic people
7. Finishing touches on alternative break to East LA
8. Learning to play "100 Years" on the piano
9. Trying to make it to Canada or Washington for New Year's
10. Preparing mentally and physically for my FINAL semester at LMU. ooooooh $%^#.

This post is procrastination. Back to studying for my 4:30 final. Bye.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The 2nd-to-Last Semester Paper Topics of a B.A. in English

...because I think such things are interesting to the general public.

The Jerusalem Syndrome and Orientalism: exploring the Western visitor's first-time trip to Jerusalem, the feelings that arise, and the prejudices that create them

A History of Paradise: from Atlantis to Shangri-La to Thomas More and Marx, a research paper chronicling what has defined perfect societies throughout human history

Baghdad Burning and Modern Journalism: the value of Riverbend's blog from Baghdad to the current political situation and the future of online journalism

Friday, December 4, 2009

Random Thanks #2

I've decided this post is going to become a regular thing, at least in the short-term. I find it keeps me grounded and positive, especially after five days and 23 hours of sleep (which just happened to me).

More things I am randomly thankful for, in no particular order, with no particular agenda:

My rainbow journal, which will be full and join my shelf of full journals in four more pages. Christmas lights. Answered prayers in disguise as coincidences. Alexis Mendoza and Jack McSweeney. The way it's impossible to feel anxious or stressed when I'm listening to Shokolo music (from west Africa). My roommate Naivasha's bizarre sound effects and beautiful eyes. My new sporty, felty sweatpants against my legs. The picture of my sister Earm on my wall. Thursday nights (the BEST). De Colores trips (to come this weekend!). My incredible growth and maturity this semester. And, as always, the written word.

Would love to hear some of yours...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bloggers Better Than I

This blog will probably be the topic of my senior thesis. This blog is an earth-shaker. More later.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Jacuzzi in the Fog

That will forever be my strongest impression of Thanksgiving 2009 in McMinnville, Oregon. Every single night, after a turkey dinner with nine relatives, a walk downtown under Christmas lights, or a nose buried in a book on Orientalism for my thesis, I'd hop into a 104 degree jacuzzi with my mother. The air around was never more than 40 degrees. Around me were our wood fence's mahogany pillars and the spidery trees that grow around our yard. The waxing moon was usually visible between the branches and behind all the fog.
I am absolutely convinced that every human being capable of such a thing should either own a dog or a jacuzzi (or, if you're in the cool club like me, both). How else could such utter relaxation be possible?
Other Oregony stuff I did this break: being silly with my cousins in our front yard, making sangria, exploring fall leaves. I found one tree amid a bunch of green with bright orange leaves that hadn't fallen yet...and named it the Heather tree :).

Hoping your Thanksgiving was equally fantastic. Good luck to students with the rest of the semester; good luck to humans with the rest of their lives. Haha. Hasta pronto.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Random Thanks

Family, Faith, Friends, Food, Home, Education, Health...these are always on my Thanksgiving Grafetful list. But I was sitting at LAX enjoying the squirt as my spearmint gum molded to my mouth and realized that the list could be so much more longer and random than this. How many things you consider mundane are actually amazing gifts, for which today is the day to be grafeful? Examples:

the juiciness of the first few chews of gum
dancing on hardwood floors in extra large socks
the pronounced click of a laptop keyboard
a real toilet
sense of smell: dish soap, deodorant, fall Oregon leaves, cornbread for stuffing, sweetsweetsangria
the goosebumps when your skin unexpectedly touches someone else's
(naked dip in) the jacuzzi in my backyard
plush pillows

Your own examples?
Something further. This morning I opened my eyes and found myself staring at a copy of The Last Lecture on the office bookshelf. I've never actually read it, but I didn't have to. Something else to be grateful for today: life itself, and that we have more of it. Every moment, every single moment, is absolutely precious. ENJOY IT!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Home is where no heat is?

My spunky roommate laughed at me as I left the apartment in a brown raincoat, boots, and a Palestino, in 80 degree LA weather. I didn't care, I was headed north (said with an adventurous twang). For those who haven't heard, Oregon is my new default. Faced by unemployment and the realization that Monaco is cheaper than California, my parents moved to McMinnville, Oregon, which, so far, I associate with three things: fog, farm, and trees. Here's my proof, taken (today) Wednesday morning, when I went out for a "run"="a-fifteen-minute-need-warmer-pants-give-up".
That's home! Whadya think? I'll be honest. I'm inclined to get bored here; it reminds me too much of Greenfield, IN, my home for 8 years where I met one black person and drove a half-hour to get anywhere (though I did meet incredible people I will never forget; so don't any of you reading this think you didn't make it worth it for me). The differences (so far) are that there may be less plastic and more wood.
But FOOLED YOU! My overall impression of being here has nothing to do with the temperature. "It will be so nice to breathe fresh air again," said my friend James, who was on the plane North (zarathustra music) with me. And the landing in Seattle, WA got me feeling just that. We landed as the sun was going down, leaving a laser orange hole. I felt like I had flew into a raindrop. The city was gray and peaceful and it sparkled as the sun went down like my Irish scarf. In addition, as James duly noted, "there are trees in a city. It's fantastic." It's not just that there are trees in the Pacific Northwest. It's that they are pre-eminent, all-encompassing, and somewhat menacing. Portland exudes the aura of healthy mud, crawling with evergreens and rain and nature. I LIKE IT. And a few days ago while taking a walk off-campus, my new friend from Irvine asked me, "So you're going home to the Pacific Northwest for Thanksgiving right?" Keep in mind I am not friends with him on facebook, and had never told him where my parents lived. I remarked about how that was weird and he said, "Oh, well, you just give off an Oregon vibe."
It's true. People think Oregon and they think green, hippie, liberal, raincoats, colors, um...and when people think of me, 7/10 times "green" or "hippie" or "colors" is part of the description.
In other words, this is meant to be. Wish me luck. Today I'm going for a bike ride through downtown, to buy a new phone, get my haircut, and thrift store shop. I will take pictures of the middle of nowhere and post them with much love.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Happiness Hierarchy

There have been multiple occasions during the last two weeks when I have been so happy that I lose impulse control and start screaming, dancing, or hugging people (which I never do otherwise, of course). That is, I am at the top of the life roller coaster, and some of these things have helped:

  • Feeling more certain about post-grad service: I haven't felt such passion (or fear, which pales in comparison) for anything in a long time.
  • Having fun: taking my newly-21-best-friend out to bars and to the best dance club in LA, being Mary Poppins for Halloween, playing a game of King Frog in Campus Ministry that I will never forget
  • Forming new friendships with incredible people on campus whom I never before had either the time or guts to meet...and the relieving realization that it's never too late!
  • Singing at the Vatican in June?? So I recently realized that next semester will be my last opportunity to be in choir in a long time, and I wanted to re-audition. I sent the director, Dr. Mary Breden, a letter of inquiry about joining up again, and she responded:
  • I was so pleased to hear from you and would love to have you singing in the Women's Chorus. You do not need to re-audition--you can simply register. Just a heads up in case you haven't heard, the choruses will be traveling to Italy next June for a wonderful number of performances in Venice, Lucca (Tuscany) and Rome, including singing a Mass at St. Peter's Basilica. We are working to fund as much of the trip as possible. If you want more information on the tour, please stop by my office. I look forward to having you back singing!
  • Making fitness a part of my daily regimen, and feeling better about myself because of it
  • Preparing for a silent retreat and service trip to East LA in December and January
  • Going back to Oregon, but for the first time calling it home (also, beginning the endeavor to turn my bedroom into Middle Earth)
  • Christmas approaching...

I have never denied how grateful I am for my life (though I sometimes forget). But as I finished this list, I became my pensive self. I could write an entire page full of exciting possibilities like these. But what if I wasn't 21, if I didn't live in Oregon, if I wasn't going to Italy, if I didn't put together a hard-core Halloween costume? Then what would I be excited or grateful for? The list simplifies a bit:

  • Health. Being able to see, eat, swallow, breathe. My heartbeat.
  • Having food to eat and money to spend every day.
  • An education at a fantastic institution which has opened my eyes.
  • A family who never says no. I love you, Mom and Dad.
  • Intimate friends who would jump off a bridge with me if I asked them (though I am not planning to test that theory)
  • Being myself: tenacity, intelligence, curiosity, humor, expression, depth, even strawberry blonde-ness (trust me, the world is so much more exciting with that going for me)
  • Existence Thank you!
  • God

Writing and re-reading the last few entries to this list calms my sheer excitement into awe. Look at what I have, what all of us have, if we take a moment to process it. Then tell me you don't have a reason to be happy.
I remember my facebook status a year or so ago being "Heather has too many reasons to be happy. Anyone want to share?" That sentiment has returned. And now that it has, I wonder if there was ever even a moment when it wasn't true.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Turn-Around

Today was a 1.5 hour dinner with volunteer coordinators from ten different service organizations that recruit recent graduates. I focused my attention on Working Boys' Center in Ecuador and the Peace Corps, the only two international programs present. As I left a conversation with Jeanette from Peace Corps which left me in panic-excitement attacks during the walk back to my apartment (no really, I couldn't stop screaming; ask Jess Vega), it struck me how I was all growed up. The transformation is annoyingly near completion.
In 5th grade and 8th grade (or 4th and 6th? does it matter anymore?) I took fieldtrips to summer camp and Washington D.C. On both occasions I had a terrible time because I missed my parents so much. I cried every night for almost two weeks at summer camp, the only kid to do so. Everyone wondered when I'd grow up, probably. I was the cutesie girl-next-door who still needed her mommy (and I LOVE MY MOMMY STILL; don't ever doubt it).
Now my first choice for post-grad is to not see my family or friends for two full years.
Okay, that's an exaggeration. There's skype, 48 days paid vacation however I choose to spend it, and emergency leave. But seriously, Heather? What happened? How did girl next door become the 6-month to 2-year studier-abroad, bored to tears by routine, so utterly disconnected from almost everyone?
Other examples. My high school revolved around music performance: choir, musicals, a cappella groups...I was named "most likely to star on Broadway." HA. The only singing I do now is every other three weeks at a Taize prayer service, and that's not about singing; it's about chanting and praying and blending in. I suppose this instance is a bad example because I utterly miss musical theatre; I don't think I grew out of it. It was one of the few activities that set me on fire inside. The bottom line, however, was that it wasn't the only activity that did so, and I heard music/theatre majors continue with their art because it's quite obviously their heart and soul. For me, it was an exciting hobby, not a way of life.

Better example of my turn-around: faith. Cantoring at Church, Confirmation class, praying to the old-man-with-a-beard God: these were all staples. I gawk at them now. My certainty has become questioning; my givens have been taken away. And though frustrated and isolated, I am so thankful for that. I am seeing outside the box. I am grown up.
The examples go on: socially, physically, romantically...I am older, wiser, sadder. The platitude I've pulled out of all this bothers me. Life goes on. NO REALLY. Here's all this going on in my head. Here's my cousin getting surgery tomorrow, my great Aunt dying, my friends' lives thin with hope, and the big wide world rife with calls to serve beckoning me. I can't press pause, or rewind, and go back to childhood. Life goes on.
Then why am I smiling right now? Jess Vega, my post-grad service buddy who never fails to churn my noggin and soul, put it this way today: "I think life gets harder. I don't know how we're supposed to deal with that. But it also gets better."
My brain can't tell me that's true. But my heart does.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Smiling, Crying Alarm Clock

Bittersweet doesn't even begin to describe it.
Sister Margaret "Peg" Dolan, my friend Molly's grandmother, died about a week and a half ago, and the entire LMU community from the past 30 years, or so it seemed, came to her funeral. Sacred Heart Chapel was bloated with mourning, and love. She was a counselor, a professor, head of campus ministry, and the heart of the school...I am always happy to hear that, at an extremely male institution. On a personal level, I met her once. For a few seconds. She introduced herself while her Goddaughter and I were eating dinner. I was immediately struck by how I felt nothing could crush her spirit (she was going through chemotherapy at the time), and how, to her, I was the only person in the room--though Molly said the same thing.
Sister Peg was the fourth death in Molly's family in two months. That doesn't have the effect I want it to, in simple words. Try this; imagine your grandfather, lifelong dog, aunt, and Godmother, then imagine life suddenly deciding to go on without them. Then add senior year of college to the mix, and you've got one unfair emotional roller coaster. The worst part is, I know that this sort of thing is real life. Genocide in Sudan, Rwanda, Juarez...the Holocaust...Burma...the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement. And more than that--death and suffering are items on the daily menu, for people right next door, not for the exotics or ancients miles away. Life trots along happily and then ringalingaling; the alarm clock called mortality interrupts your pleasant dream, and there is no snooze button.
I entered the murmuring Chapel a couple minutes before the funeral started, all of these dark clouds circling. I felt slightly panicked: everyone was already seated and watching me, a lone acquaintance of the superwoman, clicking along in rarely-worn black heels, all these dark clouds swarming. The panic didn't last long. I heard someone call me and turned to find Molly awaiting a hug. Despite the situation, I immediately felt better for it, and smiled as I watched her return to her reserved seat at the front of the Chapel. Next came David, a former LMU student now going through Jesuit training, who embraced me and said he'd pray for me. It was a funeral and I felt oddly loved; the dark clouds had melted away.
Chance had it (perhaps it wasn't chance at all) that I could see Molly's family from my seat in the back corner of the Chapel. I found myself watching them as they watched the casket and the proceedings, and I felt like a highly emotional fly on the wall, wanting nothing more than to fly to them. Afterwards, I crossed through a throng of well-wishers and hug-attacked Molly. We cried together for a long time. She cried to get off the roller coaster; I cried to be on it with her. I hadn't felt so utterly sad in a long time. Next I hugged her mother, whose straining eyes still managed to smile and embrace me, and her sister and father. They are all 5'10 or taller, and their collective warmth I swear envies the sun sometimes, so I felt very small, very sad, and very loved. The third emotion slowly became the strongest. Molly's dad let his hand rest on my shoulder and I put my arm around her sister's waist and we stood for a while together. I felt indescribably connected to them.
It wasn't because I'm so close to Molly that I feel they could be family. It was because grief has an inescapable beauty to it, an intense beauty I can't find anywhere else, a beauty that makes me smile every time I'm slapped in the face by mortality. The beauty is called intimacy...or friendship...or love. And it's the strongest when illuminated by death.
One of my favorite movies ends similarly:
You're capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. In all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Attempting to Transcend Whiteness

Damariyoh, mareeh-oh, neh-oh...
The African beat slinks through the hallway to the circular table where I am reading The Alchemy of Race and Rights, the academic diary of Patricia J. Williams, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin.
Oh, damariyoh maree-oh neh.
Ohemaah, whose name means Queen in Ashanti, sends a good morning my way with her eyes smiling behind her rose-colored glasses. I hear her brush attack her coarse hair as she sings along with the music.
It hits me. My roommate is black. Did I never notice before? Am I noticing now because of this overly-analytical, bitter, but painfully true law diary of a woman trying to shake white society by the shoulders? Am I a racist for noticing all of this?
Moments in my life when skin color have wound their way into my mind and conversation come racing back to my consciousness. A lunch with Luz Jimenez, who complimented my awareness of the issue. "I like you because you know that being white has made it easier for you." I remember an instance in a discoteca in Spain when a Moorish-Spaniard and his black Moroccan friend asked me about my ethnicity, and I told them I was Irish, Swedish, German and French. "Ah, completamente gringa," they joke.
I remember the Nigerian dance party where I was the only white girl in the room and it didn't matter at all. In fact, it was more fun.
I remember yesterday, when Ohemaah came with me to Ventura, CA's Scottish Seaside Highland Games, a haven and competition for all things Celtic. I felt like royalty, walking around with wavy strawberry-blonde hair, blue eyes and freckles. Everyone who came across us asked me, "Are you sure you're not Scottish?" But what struck me more was how much they loved both Ohemaah and I. A band called Bad Haggis played on the Celtic Rock Stage. During a transition between songs, the guitar player began singing in Ewe, Ohemaah's language, and she freaked. She told me that she introduced herself afterwards as Ghanaian and the entire band swarmed her, fascinated by her African-ness. One lady even cooed, "this might sound weird, but I love your color." Ohemaah was even adopted as an honorary member into the Armstrong clan.
Race hit me. And particularly how mine influences the way I think and see everyone else.
Yeah, I'm totally white. I feel guilty about it, the way it opens the world to me and not to others, and the way whiteness has subjected and impoverished and terrified everyone else for so long.
And then Ohemaah enters my room, in her church clothes. Golden high heels, a black blazer, a taut turtleneck. Her shoulders are pulsing to the beat of Damariyo. I no longer see color. I feel the culture she exudes and begin to hum along with her. I am no longer white; I am the Queen's friend.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Perhaps a Post Built on Stereotypes, But Worth the Risk

We wore leopard print, flowers and sequins. The women around us showed off their athletic thighs and full lips with bright colors and tight skirts. Everyone smiled a greeting and then fell into dancing like a pool of rose petals, including the confident, smooth-faced men, who seemed to have rhythm in their blood.
I was the only white person in the room, but it took me an hour to notice.
With my Ghanaian roommate Ohemaah and her Nigerian friends Jen, Lil, and Tameshi, I went to a Nigerian Independence day celebration in a crowded, rented club. We quickly made friends with some of the other women who were there and started a circle of dancing, which became a throng, which became the epicenter of the night. No one stopped or stared, everyone weaved in and out of the circles, and contented "ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhs" would erupt when the DJ transitioned into a traditional Nigerian or recognizable song.
I was so alive. I risk stereotyping the situation or even being racist when I say that Africans are, over all, more alive than white people. They smile with life and move with the music of nature. Last night, I'm sure they noticed the single blonde girl in the room, but so long as she felt the music like they did, there was nothing more to say. I even got a couple "ehhhhhs" from some women watching us, approving my moves. I felt so cool.
One more plus. Nigerian men. Latino men dance with style and seduction, but have always been slightly feminine in their dancing, what with the hip-swivels and spins. West African men are pure masculine power and class. It is rare for an entire room of men to be dancing, and enjoying it. This was off the charts.
We white people need to loosen up. I don't think we're capable of such rich fun.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Squirrel Man: An Awkward Love Story

This is a completely true story, which happened at approx. 1pm on Thurs, Sep 24, 2009.
An innocent Thursday, heading across campus to work as a tutor at the Learning Resource Center. Doing something I wish I did a little less: minding my own business. Pretending not to notice everyone who passes me, for fear of the awkward do-we-acknowledge-each-other-or-not sideways glance. But that choice was taken from me by Squirrel Man.
A brown squirrel scurried across the sidewalk, and I jump as I hear a joyful, "A squirrel!" from a male voice to my left. He is walking in stride with me, wearing a nondescript red tee, with shabby bright blonde hair, a dopey nose, and intelligent blue eyes. I chuckle, as do the girls passing me with whom he exchanges flirtatious glances, at the ecstatic Squirrel Man who gets joy out of such ordinary things. Then I return to minding my own business.
Or I try to.
Next thing I know Squirrel Man has taken a few purposeful leaps and is once again walking in time with my steps, but in front of me, so his red shirt is all I can see and process. I try to let him go wherever he is going without taking it any further, but suddenly his left shoulder tilts downward and his neck spins with the agility of an owl and he is facing me, asking, suspiciously and slowly, "Are you foooooooollowing me?"
Okay, Squirrel Man, let's play. "Yeeeeees," I reply deeply. "At least for a while."
"Excellent; I like that deep 'yes,'" he cooes, and takes another few leaps so that he is walking behind me. I am getting confused at this point.
"Well guess what! Now I am following you!" He says it as though his armada has destroyed mine forever.
"I guess so." I have no idea how to reply, so I tell him the truth. "You are an interesting person, aren't you?"
"Thank you! I like to think that. It's because I'm bored; I'm at work right now."
"Right now? Where do you work?"
"I work for a hair salon. Are you interested in coming?"
At this point I give him the benefit of the doubt, assuming he really does work for a hair salon, and isn't a pervert looking for a meek victim. "You know, I actually don't do that sort of thing," I say honestly.
As he says this next line he tantalizingly shows off his bicep, rolling up his red sleeve. "Ah, well I guess I'm not the right man for you."
"I guess not," I say, almost laughing hysterically.
"I'm Alex."
"Heather, it was fantastic to meet you. I think I will break off here and follow that brunette."
"Suit yourself."
"I love you!"
"I love you too!"
With that, he leaned back slightly to watch me as long as possible as he made his way to Possible Client #H+1. I caught myself smiling incessantly and decided to process the whole thing.
It was a hellofalot of fun. Those moments that catch you and re-tweak your view of a moment, or of the world, are few and far between, and a specific person initiating those moments are even more rare.
I thank you, Squirrel Man, for being a source of enjoyment in my day, and nothing more. Moral of the story? Go out and take someone by surprise. Smiles are soul food.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Border

The bulbous heads of seaweed pop under my concrete feet like bubblewrap. Without warning, the question came to me: How pleasant would they feel popping under the sprint of someone fleeing torture, gang life, a destroyed field in the campo, for the undocumented unknown?
Ten miles behind our group of 14 loom the smog and high-rise of San Diego, a boring backdrop for us, an unattainable temptation for those we cautiously approach. There is nothing for miles on the US side at Border Field State Park in Tijuana. On the Mexican side, you hear mariachi bands, smell taco stands, and gawk at the hundreds of beach-goers dancing and smiling across the double fence at their United States counterparts. Couples and small children even step through the jagged wooden posts, stationed haphazardly in the sand like obelisks, marking the border. It's as if none of them know that US Border Patrol agents are analyzing their every move. Waiting just out of sight, I can see two bullet-proof jeeps equipped with sirens, a light house, the top of which I fantasize holds a sniper, and a concrete guard shack. It's as if none of them know, but we know they do. No one who crosses the obelisk line dares continue down the beach toward San Diego. Those who risk it seldom have fairy stories to tell.
It is a perfect Sunday in September on an LMU-sponsored "De Colores" trip. We have just entered the US after two days of walking alongside communities in TJ, a walk which covered us in sweat and concrete and salsa, and are ending our weekend at the State Park. On their side, I feel welcome, and confused. On my own, I feel misplaced. As we walk up the beach slope toward the light house, where our group leaders will talk about the changes in the border over the last two decades, my new friend Terese tells me she feels like the kid next door who can't play with the fun neighbors. We can't make out our neighbors' faces through the barbed wire fence and holed wall, but there are so many of them, wading in the ocean, sitting at the line in front of the fence drinking beer, frolicking in the carnival atmosphere, but mostly, I can sense, wonder what we're thinking, the tiny group of 14 estadounidenses surveying them like modern art from fifty feet and an entire world away.
The separation is amusing. Two twenty-foot fences, one steel and strong and the other haggard and piercing, come from the eastern hills and taper off into the wooden posts when they reach the sand, which is too unstable to support a fence. Nothing, I realize, conquers mother nature. Time and the forever ocean have presented engineers problems with enforcing the border, but efforts have increased exponentially since March 2009. The US Border Patrol hired a core of surveyors to create an artificial hill between TJ and SoCal, upsetting the river ecosystem of the area in the name of security. Whereas in 2008, since the days of Friendship Park, separated families and curious citizens from both countries could mingle at the posts, there is now a fifteen-foot "no-man's-land" between the old fence and the new steel fence. Any trespasser within this space, our leader informed us, is legally referred to as "clutter," and may be thrown away. A border patrol officer, we are informed, can get to any of the clutter, or any of us, within 15 seconds.
We do get a taste of the "action." I am headed back from the out-of-order bathrooms to our discussion when a patrol jeep tears around our group down the slope toward the wooden posts. I break into a jog to see the fuss as I see necks on both sides crane to witness the confrontation. A US photographer has wandered cluelessly toward the posts, snapping shots of the waving Mexicans on the other side. The jeep has reached him, and a beefy patrol officer issues a "warning," informing him of the new rule regarding the fifteen-foot gap. I imagine his confusion, as there is no official sign posted regarding no-man's-land. I imagine he knows that a few months ago families could embrace without the intervention of AK-47s.
Our group begins to hike back up the beach toward San Diego. I walk backwards, facing the fence, when I can, and I quickly fall behind. I cannot seem to take my eyes from them: not the wires or growing emptiness, but the figures beyond, slowly becoming black dots, falling behind, just like me.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

How Dare You. Thank You, Toni Morrison

If you've never read Toni Morrison, you may not appreciate this post.
I was a disillusioned member of the Sailor Squad. As a kid I soaked up every young adult sci-fi or fantasy novel available without realizing how much I read. I remember A Wrinkle in Time and Methusela's Gift affecting me the most profoundly. Propelled by all this lush fantasy and low self-esteem, in middle school I turned to cheap anime, most notably Sailor Moon, with her perfect pigtails and sparkling explosions, to dominate my world. I missed out on hand-holding, preliminary cussing, make-up and fashion, exchanging them for season marathons, intellectualism and misinformed superiority. My three anime friends and I were so detached and nerdy that our more popular peers gave us the nickname "the Sailor Squad." We wore it proudly. Those books, that escape, became what I lived for. More importantly, they became my future. You can imagine my disappointment, then, when my interest in them rapidly dwindled, and by freshman year of college I read (tops) one novel-for-fun a year.
Many factors contributed. Cathedral High School surrounded me in spirit, stress, and opportunity. I became a star member of the theatre and choir programs, which housed the performing that probably removed the need for literary fantasy in my life. In addition, I looked down upon those unpleasant middle-schoolisms in arrogance, not wanting to subject myself to anything remotely "Sailor." I read so much for AP English that the last thing I wanted to do in my free time was read. I regret it now. Reading recommendations which like-minded undergrads breezed through during their high-school years fill my to-read list, which has been on an unpleasant hold.
There have been exceptions, especially recently. I tried Tolkein over the summer and was smiley, though somewhat disappointed by the sheer detail. That man named every speck of sand in Middle Earth. I read the fast-paced, youthful The Night Climbers for a book club last year and relished it. But it wasn't until this semester that an unknown genius sucked me (is sucking me) back into the power of the novel, no magic necessary.
Her name is Toni Morrison; her book is The Bluest Eye.
Outrage. Chronic discomfort. Anger. The screaming passion of someone mixing my organs together, causing goosebumps and paralysis. Speechlessness.
I am nearing the end as I come up to breath and post this catharsis. Despite the rate at which I hungrily turn the pages, taking breaths is both jarring and necessary. I despise, and crave, the hellish world she creates. I despise it for its brutality, its distance from my perfect world, and its utter invasion. I crave its honesty--no, Truth--its delicious words, its sexual tension and command for an outcry. It is more real than the reality to which we submit.
This novel was a reading assignment for my Reading Cultural Studies class, and I thank the fantastic Dr. Juan Mah y Busch for assigning it. To think I wouldn't feel this elation and revulsion, all in one unbearable moment, if it weren't for homework.
There is one world of a difference between my reactions to this novel and to those of middle school and before. Other than the change in classification from "juvenile" to "adult," (X-rated might be more appropriate), this book deals completely in the "real" world. No magic powers, ends-of-the-rainbow, space suits. Just Lorain, Ohio, black people, white people, and the hell ensuing. Here's the best passage I could find within a few minutes.
With only occasional, and increasingly rare, encounters with the little girls he could persuade to be entertained by him, he lived rather peaceably among his things, admitting to no regrets. He was aware, of course, that something was awry in his life, and all lives, but put the problem where it belonged, at the foot of the Originator of Life. He believed that since decay, vice, filth, and disorder were pervasive, they must be in the Nature of Things. Evil existed because God had created it. He, God, had made a sloven and unforgivable error in judgment: designing an imperfect universe. The most exquisite-looking ladies sat on toilets, and the most dreadful-looking had pure and holy yearnings. God had done a poor job, and Soaphead suspected that he himself could have done better. It was in fact a pity that the Maker had not sought his counsel.

I hereby finally affirm that Heather Moline is once more a novel gobbler, but has moved on from the Sailor Squad to rolling joyfully in the grime of racism, sexism, poverty, and reality, all thanks to Toni Morrison.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

An Unsolicited Revelation

Monumental first week of school. Being back at LMU is intoxicating; how could it not be monumental? I remind those of you who are physically most distant of me that we are atop a hill ("the bluff") overlooking all of Los Angeles: the Hollywood sign, the ocean, Century City, and the Los Angeles National Forest. As for the forest, we visited it this weekend on a CLC Coordinator Retreat. Honesty (my forte): I didn't expect much. I'd been to Camp Mariastella in Wrightwood, CA on the last two coordinator retreats, and after being away from the CLC community for so long, I wasn't looking forward to renewed responsibility and reverence (yes, I was extremely secular in Western Europe; who wouldn't be?). During the first half day of retreat, while we all sang along to praise&worship songs and talked about the graces of our CLC lives so far, I was thinking about anything but God. What had been most perturbing me of late was post-grad plans. Now is the time for ambitious college seniors like me to apply for things like scholarships, grad schools, and competitive jobs. On the back of my mind was post-grad service abroad--that is, giving up everything I know for two years of my life and moving to a third-world country to be a volunteer. Interlude: I don't "want" to do this. I like (love) SoCal. I like making money. I like being around people who have made my life what it is for the past twenty years. I don't like the prospect of taking cold showers, not having a grocery store down the street, and getting stomach parasites again--all honest-to-God possibilities as a Jesuit Volunteer, or member of the PeaceCorps, etc. Though I don't "want" to join these organizations, they have always nagged at me, like a pressing deadline, or, more realistically, like a legitimate call to the priesthood. This weekend at retreat, without warning, they became suddenly so much more.
To calm myself after we reached Mariastella, I took a quiet walk between retreat sessions and began scribbling my manic thoughts into my journal. I will give you a snippet of what emerged, in the format of a post-grad service application essay:

I describe myself now with total honesty, and apprehension at what that could mean.
I take this risky measure because I need for such a vital decision in my and my future community's life to be made without reservations or sugar-coating.
We have all made decisions without truly listening to ourselves, for whatever reason, be it greed, fear, or stress. When I have made decisions in this way, they have not led me to harm, but they have not led me to the fullness of myself that I seek. That is why I am now endeavoring to be completely honest when I say that I am afraid.
On a superficial level, I am afraid of dirt and grime, sickness, stomach aches, and discomfort, all things I know I will face as a volunteer.
On a deeper level, I fear insecurity, suffering, and death, all, once more, realities, especially in the third world.
I am aware that I jeopardize my application by admitting full-well that I fear much of what I would face. I am also aware, however, that I would not be human if I did not fear these things. It is with some measure of hope, for myself and for the world that I have the opportunity to change, that I accept these fears and open my arms to them. Why? Because I believe that the deepest joy originates from the deepest pain.

I wrote six journal pages of soul-searching like this without lifting my pen. I had never had such ease in expressing myself. The rest of the entry I abbreviate: I have always wondered whether taking the Bible literally and immersing myself with justice where it is most needed would relieve the strange dissatisfaction under which I currently live. During the sudden burst of words, I realized I believed it would. I repeat; I don't "want" the experience; I need it. However difficult I find the prospect of service abroad, I think it is meant for me, and I am meant for it, especially because I fear it. Fear is the ultimate roadblock; if I can get around it, the horizon awaits me.
I would be honored to go into more detail about why I will probably (it is still only a possibility) choose this post-grad path. Send me an email or a comment for more info!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Foggy Fairy Tale

I drove from Ventura to LA with an eight foot surfboard blocking all views from my rear view mirror and right side. Extremely safe. The heat was exceptional (okay, for Southern California), because our sweet city is burning again :(. The mushroom cloud of smoke rising from the Los Angeles forest covers the horizon off the bluff. Very looming.
I saw people for the first time in six months and felt like we had never parted, though at the same time, I smiled bigger than I can remember smiling in a long time. There were some necessary hiccups. But the best part of the night had nothing to do with happiness or smiles...there were many tears, and much joy.
Vega came over, and after too much whining about how badly we were going to fail, we (okay, she and Molly) made an almost perfect Spanish tortilla. After showing it off to everyone who came through the door (not one complaint), we settled down snug on our carpet couch to watch Evita with Madonna and Antonio Banderas. Sure, it's festive music, and has an extremely delicious male lead, but overall, what a sad movie. What a realistic, sad movie, which makes you think, sometimes too hard. So as the final credits crept in after Eva Peron's coffin faded out, we three sat in silence, staring at the laptop, each in her own silent, scary world. There was no way I was going to bed on such a note, so heavy-legged and dirty from moving boxes and flipping potatoes all day, we trekked out to the bluff and sat and stared in silence at the Los Angeles lights below. We each fought our own demons, but I, at least, felt extremely comforted by their presence. There's nothing better and worse than hugs and tears.
I needed a night like that. I lacked them abroad. Most of those nights consisted of FUNFUNFUN, but I am ready for the real world. With a little fun on the side, for sure :).
Thank you to my girls for that foggyfairytale first night back.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Two Days in London? Really?

I'm ginger. Blue-eyed. Fascinated by literature, the Britons, the Celts, greenery, Irish/Scottish/Welsh/British accents. I like wearing rain coats. I'm very sarcastic. And I love anything internatonal. In short (dare I presume?), I'm a Londoner at heart.
How the heck did I expect to spend two days here and not get attached?
The second I stepped out of the Tube from Heathrow airport, a metro attendant with a face like mine winked at me and inquired, "You alright there, love?" With his perfect accent. I almost died. It only got better.
London in a 10 minute description, since I'm leaving for LAX in a half hour:
It smells good everywhere, like flowers and water and wind. Unlike most other capital cities, which have a couple gardens to make themselves feel better, the greenery and gardens are the life of London, and they dominate the landscape beyond it. The British accent has the capability of sounding pleasant in any situation. A couple bums were screaming at each other in Piccadilly Circus and I stopped to listen at how refined they sounded. Also, this city is the capital of the language I love the most, where I can find literary history seeping from the cobblesontes. I LOVE IT HERE. Here's how much. You know how I loved Spain? After visiting here two days, I think, if I could do it over...
...oh, that's unfair. My first day here I walked through everything, almost. The Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, the Globe Theatre, the Thames, Parliament and Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral (didn't see any old women feeding birds; Mary Poppins was mistaken), Southwark Cathedral, St. James' Park. That night I ate dinner at my hostel's restaurant with four Aussies. London is LOADED with them. I got up the next day and met Marie-Helene, an Erasmus friend, at Buckingham Palace. We took a sentimental walk through Kensington, Hyde Park, Piccaddilly Circus, and the National Gallery. That night I went out with two adorable Aussie girls again, for drinks, and a sweet bon voyage from Europe.
I'm leaving.
It's true that it's time, that I will ecstatically step into LAX and embrace SoCal with a WHOOP. But I have made this promise to myself, so that I can handle leaving London:
I will be back, and for a long time too!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lebanon Won't Let Me Go

Here's (probably) my LAST POST before returning to the States. It was fitting that yesterday was an INCREDIBLE day in Beirut. It started with turning in an awesome final portfolio, and checking my final grades: A in الفصحى , or modern standard Arabic, and A+ in عامية, or Lebanese dialect. Just thought I should brag, because I did absolutely work the bum off here to learn and do well. After taking a deep breath and finishing my last course, I walked down to LAU's lower gate, where I climbed into a black Cadillac with tinted windows and drove to a fancy Lebanese restaurant for more lunch than I could handle. Okay, background story. Dr. Nancy Jabbra, Chair of the Women's Studies Department at Loyola Marymount, is the wife of Dr. Joseph Jabbra, President of Lebanese American University, where, you guessed it, I have been studying for the past six weeks. She was the one who alerted me to the existence of a "fantastic program" called SINARC, so she's technically the reason I am here. Every summer she flies to Beirut and receives queen treatment, as the president's wife. So knowing her, and being "her girl in Beirut," I got the perks on my last Thursday. I thought we'd take a sleezy service (public taxi) ride to a diner. Nope. The Cadillac was driven by two 6'3'' Lebanese bodyguards with baldheads and sunglasses. They escorted us everywhere, and she paid for everything, making sure to smile manically when I took any bite. "I am a true Lebanese; I like to see Americans eat our food," she said. She's totally Caucasian, but it was a complete princess lunch. Next, I met my الفصحى professor, Maha Demashkie, at LAU's upper gate. She walked me to her 6th floor Beirut apartment, where my 25 classmates and I treated ourselves to lounging amid plush yellow sofas, chandeliers, ice cream (booza!), lemonade, and Arabic dancing. I had a fantastic time winding down the six weeks with my peers, and I am not exaggerating when I say my professor is made of sugar. She is forty-six with two married sons, but looks like a thirty-year-old beauty queen. She is patient, goofy, motivated, and has an incredible heart. I can never repay her help and generosity. Shkran Kteer ya Ustethe! (Thank you so much, professor)

Six or seven of us took a slow walk back to the other side of West Beirut, where I returned to my apartment, brushed my hair, and hurried downstairs again, to pile into a service to Gemayzeh, the affluent night-club street in Beirut.

At Glass Cafe, Gemazyeh, I had a night that made me never want to leave Lebanon. 20 of my Sinarkies sat at a long rectangular table right in front of a drum and an aoud player, who entertained us for four hours straight with Arabic music, from Fairouz to Mabrouk (you'll have to check out the videos on facebook to know what I'm talking about).

Oh, but that's just a portion.

We all danced. Before a full room of joyful, smoking Lebanese, the American tourists danced to the trills and cries of the aoud. I had more fun than I had ever had in Lebanon, and perhaps in Spain, and perhaps in the USA. NO JOKE. In the meantime our table was full of--yeah, see above--fatoosh, kibbeh, hommos, babaganoosh, khubz arabiye, khudra (vegetables)--a bunch of things I hadn't the stomach to be able to eat because of my face-stuffing day, but ate anyway, because it was my last party night in Lebanon.

Friday (the day of this blog post), I woke up early to sulk to class one more time, sad I had finally fallen in love with Lebanon and was set to leave. It's always the music and dance that does it. Now, I'm off to do some last minute shopping, pack, read about tomorrow's destination (LONDON), and sleep as much as possible before my 4:00am flight to Heathrow. Which is Heather + ow. So this is bound to be a great final weekend.

Then--you guessed it--Monday 6:45pm I return to a little ole place called

You know, I think I've done it good.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Chaotic Mind Bids Goodbye

Things. are. happening. I'm going back to the States. We're moving to Oregon. One of my best friend's younger sisters died, and so did Dave Donlon, my cousins' grandpa on the other side. To abruptly change the mood, I picked a major I don't like at LMU, and now that I'm graduating I'm getting a lot of couldas picking at my brain. What the heck do I want to do after I graduate? My heart and mind are utterly conflicted on this point. I'm drowning in Arabic, last minute gift buying, and Lord of the Rings, the only English book I brought with me, which I foolishly left til this week to read and am now trying desperately to finish so I don't lug it to London. Oh yeah, I'm going to London. That too. Just two days, but this city has captured my heart without my ever seeing it...obviously I'm ecstatic.

Anyway, good luck comprehending all that. I certainly can't. So in effort to somehow process all this elation, sadness, confusion, screaming, dancing, numbness, I'm turning this post into a journal-like collection of thoughts, which the unfortunate reader will have to dig her way through, though I hope it's worth it.

First, the move. Came as a surprise. One day my mom sent me an email, "I'm in Oregon right now. Was offered a job. Gonna seriously consider moving this weekend. Have to talk to you about it."


It's cheaper there, and my mom would be better paid, and better able to provide for us. It's also closer to Jeanine and Teddy, my mom's sisters (and my crazy aunts), which is a support system my mom needs, as I cut the umbilical chord more and more. Those are the major reasons, I believe.

The dealio is that I had exploded my image as the California girl while abroad...I began to realize SoCal has my heart and some of my identity. And then I suddenly we're leaving. Somehow I knew it was necessary. With me going globe crazy and financial issues in our family, living in the single most expensive region in the US just won't fly.

This move thing, I think, is a metaphor for everything else: all good things come to an end. Study abroad, college, romance, life. Did I think I could avoid it? I accepted depression as a possibility upon leaving; why am I so reluctant to pass through all of this, knowing full well it would hit me?

Trinity, I don't know if you're reading this. With what's happening to you now, I doubt it. But this is for you. My thoughts are with you. I love you very much, and pray for your strength through this difficult time.

As to abroad ending, the strongest feeling at this point is, as I have said, elation. It's a temporary joy, for sure...but the thought of passing through customs at LAX, hugging my dog, finally seeing people I love, eating food without fear of indigestion...these things make me shiver in my pants. It's funny, I mentioned this to a fellow Sinarky (cute name eh), who said, "Oh yeah. Well, that will last a couple weeks. Then you'll be wanting to leave again. Sorry, but that's how it works."

I believe him.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Hike of My Life...and a Giddy Top Fifteen

My apologies for not blogging; it seems that when life is at its fullest, I haven't the time to breathe. Such has been the case these past 3 weeks. And when I do have time to "stop and look around," as Ferris Bueller pleaded, I don't want to breathe, I want to sleep. And even cry, deep down. Okay, time to revive the mood of this post.

Here I am at an overpriced Italian place with Wifi on Hamra street. Ibamos a explorar Downtown Beirut today, but I was the only SINARC student to show up at the lower gates of the university at 8:30 this morning (after a night returning at 2:00am, thank you very much), so they canceled the trip. Actually, I have liked today, and the relaxation it provided...including reading Lord of the Rings, which I brought to Spain six months ago in hopes of finishing it there. Oops; I have just reached the flee to Helm's Deep. I fully intend on finishing it before my Aug 1 return....I also have the chance to blog! Which will include a description of the highlight of Lebanon, for me, so far: the hike up El-Rahal!

So our weekend excursion on July 11-13 involved a small group--the 15 of us who elected not to go to Syria that weekend (out of 100 total SINARC students), all comfortably spread through an air-conditioned bus, driving to Tripoli on Saturday, and staying in the cedar "forest" Saturday night and Sunday. Tripoli was, sorry, forgettable. It was Beirut but less organized and more poor, though I did enjoy the sweeping boat ride through the island chain off the coast of the city. But that evening we drove up and up until we reached the scanty cedar forest at the base of a rim of snowy mountains. It was at first painful entering the region. Of a once cedar-covered country, which even sports the tree on its national flag, the three-square-mile circle of magnificent trees is all that is left in Lebanon. I found myself reminscing of Maui, Gaelic, the Amazon, perhaps even Euskera--all the tidbits I have come across that may soon disappear forever. But after a relaxing walk to the top of the circle, where I swear there was no sound at all, and the sunset was taunting me through the pine scent, I forgot the sadness. 'Twas almost as fantastic as the French Pyrenees :).

(Interlude...Bing Crosby's "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" definitely just started blasting at this Italian restaurant in Beirut. In July. I love this country.)

We stayed a night at a simple wooden hotel five minutes from the forest, receiving a free five-course Lebanese dinner and breakfast, and woke early to take the rickety ski lift halfway up the third highest peak in Lebanon, El-Rahal, to reach the summit, we crossed through a snow drift. Arg, California girls don't do snow drifts. I remember one time I tried in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, with my super-skiing cousing Jill, and she couldn't stop laughing at my knack for slipping. This time around, my butt hit the ice seven times. We next trekked through a few hundred meters of bee territory, where random brush with purple flowers attracts all the stingers in the area. This was my least favorite part. I haven't been stung and intend to keep in that way. We finally summited after struggling up a loose, rocky slope, which an Italian named Filippe had to tow me up, basically. At the top, a human-sized, simple wooden cross was waiting for us, along with a view of almost the entire country (I got a great pic; Pido paciencia con el upload). The only thing that ruined the moment was an ill-timed "We hiked all this way to see a cross?" remark, from a skeptical Muslim.

Let it be sung through New Zealand, Mongolia and Scotland: I am in love with you, nature, and intend to get to know you better, In Shah Allah.

Here comes the million-dollar writing moment: I am less than 3 weeks from home. You can expect a dazzling report of my 2-day layover in London, where I will be meeting Marie-Helene, a SanSe Erasmus friend from Quebec, who magically happens to be in the most expensive city in the world on the same weekend. To be honest, however, I'd be just as happy flying straight home. It is time. I don't know why I'm so dead-set on exploring Peace Corps Jordan/Morocco options after college, cuz they stay away 2 years, and 6 months was hard (and fantastic) enough. In hand-wringing anticipation, and the resigned knowledge that after 2 weeks in good ole Ventura I'll be itching for el exterior again, I announce the

Top 15 things I'm excited to do upon returning home:

15...hear American English everywhere. Ouch, how easy it will be; I can't wait. horrid processed food, like oreos, Kraft cheddar singles, and Ritz crackers with cheese.
13...learn to cook a Spanish tortilla, Lebanese Fatoush, and Hawaiian pizza, in my parents' kitchen.
12...stuff my face with frozen yogurt, at Joe's across the street from my parents' house, and at Penguin's once school starts.
11...renew my wardrobe with help from Salvation Army, Oxfam Fair Trade Store, Goodwill, and other (infrequent) places where not everything's made in China.
10...embrace my doggie. I can just see her elated confusion when I greet her in the car at the airport. WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?? Sorry Kix! some of the Pacific Coast Highway with my dad. Just a small bit. No hills or traffic. HA, yeah, that's possible.

8...bother the my fellow Ventura LMU friends, Katie and Liz Manning, at Barnes and Noble, where I wanted to work, and they got the jobs. No hard feelings REALLY. ;) And that's why I'll be bothering them. Also because I like them.
7...walk the Camarillo trails with the Lower sisters. I recalled my first time doing this on the hike up El-Rahal. Okay, so Camarillo's not as exciting as a cedar forest, but those Lowers make everything a party in Narnia!
6...have some long-awaited phone conversations with incredible people (Joey, Alex, Derek, Ohemaah: beware).
5...have a pizza/movie night with my best friend. Already set for August 5. We will be making cookie dough and drowning of gab in her pool.
4...make an Erasmus poster, full of pictures of me with my favorite Europeans, to put in my dorm room in the fall. Countdown to senior year: 6 weeks!
3...continue surfing in my native land (with my birthday present: a longboard).
2...turn 21 and celebrate it with a family boat ride, a trip to an Irish pub, and some salsa dancing.
1...plan my next trip to Spain! Possibly as an English teaching assistant, or student at University of Granada? With Molly? We'll see...

I'm off to find a new cafe on Hamra, and then to go to sleep very, very early, after a couple hours of studying. Asalam Alaykum; Peace be upon you!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The 1/3 Mark: Highlights and Frustrations

So here I am one month from the States. I picture myself pondering quietly on the Ventura Pier, and (most of all), running into people I haven't seen in six months on the first day back to LMU (senior year), and this elation pitter-patters in my heart, and then I just want to yelp to the universe YES and NO all at the same time. I am ready. I am reluctant. I don't know!

Here's what's happened amid all this.

Sam the building owner invited all of the SINARC students in his building to his house in the mountains (45 minute drive from Hamra, our neighborhood in Beirut). There were six stories (though only two were developed significantly) with a pool and a garden and a view of the bay of Beirut far below. His whole family--three sisters, their sons, and his 90-year-old father--were waiting to greet us with hugs, smiles, and an entire decked-out living room full of chocolate and Lebanese food. We chowed down all night on fatouche, dolmas, miniature pizzas stuffed with meat, mana'ushe, kefta, and pepsi in glass bottles brought to us by Karim, his 12-year-old American-loving nephew. I felt extremely welcomed and never wanted return to the congestion and stress of Beirut.
I'm sure the city has great night life, and some of my roommates have been giving me a hard time for being a "homebody," but I'm sorry, I spent all my energy and (of course) money on nightlife in Spain, and I'm ready for a little rest. So I haven't yet seen Beirut, the Paris of the Middle East, in its full glory. Though I do hope for a night of dancing and talking to young Lebanese sometime soon.
Also, my energy here goes to studying primarily, and nothing more. An intensive language program should not be any other way. Heck, I've been studying four hours a day outside four hours of class, and I still got a C on my first test. To be honest, I'm just not a natural language learner. Funny how I go for it anyway :).

Another highlight: walking back from the university one afternoon I felt a tug on my blouse from behind, and spun to find a tiny Lebanese girl with short curly brown hair and sparkly eyes offering me a white flower!! Her mother smiled at me from across the street. I accepted, thanked her, and she toddled away.

Girls in big groups frustrate me. It's like ALL energy revolves around getting male attention, and people cease to listen to me. This is why I prefer: one-on-one conversations, mature people, dancing or sitting on a patio philosophizing to climbing all over each other at a bar. Is it so terrible to want to settle down with a book instead of sitting at an expensive bar?
The electricity here goes out every five minutes and we have to recharge it ourselves.
I got uber-sick with "bubble gut" two days ago and was up all night puking and...doing the other thing. Better now. Hope that means my system is adjusted.

Funny story:
I took a nap one Friday night, to no avail, because just after I fell asleep I felt the building begin to shake. Then I heard gunshots and shouting outside our balcony, and I began to shiver. I thought civil war had fallen on my area in Beirut once again. Somewhat terrified, I threw on a shirt, took a deep breath, and raced down the stairs to the nearest open door I could find. It belonged to Columb from Britain and John from Virginia, who was half-naked. I didn't care at that point; I was so scared. "I just had to see someone's face, sorry." They didn't help much. John kept staring out the window at the commotion, and Columb ventured, "Maybe we should get a backpack ready, just to be safe."
Yeah. The bombs were definitely fireworks. It was in celebration of the election of Hariri. I felt pretty silly.

Until next time, ma salemi!

Friday, June 26, 2009

All About Those Lebanese

Don't get me wrong; I love Spaniards. They are sultry, cheery, and great fun. Plus I understand them when they speak. But my heart has moved on to these fascinating types called the Lebanese. Oye, es que, in San Sebastian, I spent the majority of my time hanging out with Europeans (Erasmus), which had its good sides and its bad sides. Good: how awesome they all are. Bad: how I lacked one-on-one time with Spaniards. SO, arriving in Beirut, I decided to do as much interacting as possible with the people here. Granted that's limited, because I'm surrounded in the SINARC swarm (they're great too). But I am putting more effort into talking to people and learning the language.
So here's a couple notes on my experience with Lebanese people (half Lebanese included; there's plenty in SINARC).
1. They stare, but don't do more than that. I'd stare too, if I wasn't used to a certain kind of person (but living in LA, I suppose, gets you accustomed to anything). I wear clothes that show my pale knees, and have long gold hair, and I can see men checking me out from their reflections in shop windows as I pass them. Oh, well. Look, don't touch, and I won't react.
2. They gossip. I can't tell you how many times I've walked into the room and heard story's about so-and-so's daughter-in-law who did such-and-such with your best friend's cousin. Samir, the building owner, is always telling stories about how his children should have listened to him better. Dr. Mimi Jeha, the in-four-places-at-once program director, keeps alluding to times when some student decided to wander off while at the grotto excursion and split his head open, so don't do that, or how Samir should really keep better track of who lives in which room, in case of emergencies, but don't tell him she said that.
3. They are overly polite and gregarious. I'm about the most blunt person you'll ever meet (blunt meaning brutally honest), and chit-chat bothers me, so sometimes this aspect of their mindset and I don't mesh. It's required, when you pass someone you know, to at least exchange a few words: "Kiifik? (How are you) Hamdulillah. (Fine, thanks be to Go) Ma Salemi! (See you later)" The hard core Lebanese, to each other, also inquire as to your health, your family's health, your job, and sometimes invite you to coffee when you've said you're in a hurry. I feel a little awkward going into rooms where they expect me to address them, but where I clearly just want to get in/do my thing/get out. Like at the gym, or passing Samir as I go to school.
4. They smile. I derive endless energy from people who make the effort to show my presence pleases them. To every single Lebanese I have met, or even come across randomly, I get the impression I am being listened to (though not agreed with, sometimes) and that they see God in me. Why can't my own peeps be this pleasant?

That's all on that subject for now. Shout out to my Jenny N, who's having a rough time. Thinking of you. Also to Godfather Jim, if you're reading this. I'm okay, me oyes? No te preocupes!

This program is exhausting. This language is exhausting. There's no end to the amount of studying I need to do to understand even slightly what my professor is talking about. But, as Sister Mary Beth Ingham once told me, "You're tired? Good! That means you're living to the fullest." There's no other way to do it, sadeekatee (my friends).

Tomorrow, excursions to Byblos and Jeita Grotto (see pictures), one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Heather-ana Jones returns.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Beirut Bids Salaam Alaykum to The Backwards West

Some initial remarks on arriving in Beirut.
1. You're not going to see too many pictures from this experience, sorry. I'm less inclined to play tourist in a place where I want to attract as little attention as possible.
2. Arrival went smoothly, other than depression from my obvious reluctance to leave Erasmus/SanSe, which made me rather glum, even in my one-day break in Budapest. I didn't even have to pay for a Lebanese visa upon entering the Beirut airport. And as soon as I emerged from customs, I saw my name with SINARC in welcoming letters on a sign held by a smiley driver, who was waiting with 5 other weary American students.
3. I'm not deep in enemy territory per se. Not only because we're not enemies, but also because:
...Beirut is the most "western" city in the ME, often called "the local Paris." Very few Muslims wear veils, plenty of women go to universities (although according to some female exchange students, the local ones are often here to look for husbands), night clubs and "USA grocery stores" cover the main streets like Hamra and Istaklal.
...I'm at an American university hanging out with American students (and some Brits), the majority of whom are female, and many of those total gringas like me(if you don't know that term, do yourself a favor and google it). So I fit right in, and am separate from true Lebanese culture in many ways. Or, if you prefer, I'm experiencing it more safely.
There are dumpsters, beggars, broken buildings, hunger, and dirty streets. That's called poverty. You will find it anywhere outside the upper-class bubbles where you're accustomed to living. There are also buff, dark men dressed in camoflauge and black berets with guns. That's called security, believe it or not. I feel safe around them and they are very hospitable.
Speaking of hospitality, I have experienced it to the max here: the Australian-Lebanese family who helped me get through customs, the first store owner I talked to, the cashier at BarBar (بربر) the the dorm director Samir (that dirty maverick is so much fun; he will be the subject of many blogs), the elementary Arabic professor Tarif. I suppose my favorite story is the market owner, who I will definitely go to meet again. I admit I am blinded by stereotypes and the like, so when I walked in wanting to buy a bottle of water with no idea how to communicate with him, I was expecting impatience, or at least blank stares. Nope, all smiles. His English wasn't very good, but he spoke it (hey, USA, we are so behind...learn another language...better yet, teach your children to value it). "Where are you from?" "The United States," I attempted. "Beautiful country," he replied sincerely. "You are always welcome; thank you for coming!" Baffled, I thanked him, promised to return, and ran to catch up with my roommates.

All of this warmfuzzy amid CNN's reporting "DEATH TO AMERICA", friends and family gasping at the realization that I was going to Lebanon, and an increasingly Muslim world. It's time we opened our mind, folks. The less we give in to fear, the less there is to fear. And, according to what I have seen in 24 hours, we exaggerate anyway. We're the ones who are confused, and at times, blind.

A tip. If you ever feel unsafe in the Middle East, or around Arabs, begin with salaam alaykum. It means peace be with you, and it will always bring a smile.