seek and find

Friday, November 7, 2008

two front teeth, gold plated, with american dollar signs emblazed in platinum. thats all i want for christmas.

if there were to be a Christmas wish list this year it would be this:

a copy of Ryan's plane ticket confirmation
a few small Moleskin journals
a hug from Daddy and Mama
a few nice pens to script into said journals
a hug from LeeAnn and Ed O'brien
a few mixed tapes, maybe including Rilo Kiley, My Morning Jacket, Flaming Lips and some Wes Anderson film soundtracks
foot cream
a call from Brandon Taylor
happy books
old and new photographs in ziplock baggies
a letter from Janna Thornberry (hint)
a polaroid of Patrick McLaughin in all of his glory
a trip to Segu to be flagged constantly by my two best friends in country, Daniel Dayton and Megan Pilli, for 10 days
a realization that i'm 6 months into 26! woo hoo!
some bacon, bit form will do nicely
a nice picture of SeanBerg and Lauren McAuliffe (also a mailing address!)
a kiss from Ryan O'brien, just above a closedm smiling eyelid, always a favorite
nice flipflops
full knowledge of Bambara
a new head lamp
a picture of Zoe, Tuk, Wyatt and Fisher, an ensemble of lovely and proportional sorts
letters from the kids in Austin... oh how i miss you all
a hug from Daddy and Mama
a long long talk with Skylar about politics and life and love and goodness and trouble and puppies and everything. he's a good one to do this with.
a notice of Ginny Sednek's continued health improvement
an email from Katie Fay concerning the newest addition in San Francisco and and Oma and Laila update
a used baseball cap to cover my slowly growing hair which is sitting in a rather awkward stage right now
an update from Dale and Sadie
an eta from Brandon Taylor

love you all

*essentially, goodness via mail*

i ni ce kosobe

thanksgiving is on the horizon, just three weeks away and i'm feeling its looming presence. thanksgiving in the Schalit household has always been a really lovely time of year. i can only recall a few where Daddy wasn't present and fewer still where we didn't trek to Ft. Worth to see Uncle Joe and the Hart side of our family. its tough being here, missing the family and the friends and the FOOD and the love and the goodness and the conversations and the hugs and the football and the naps and the true loyalty reverberated throughout all aforementioned aspects. this time last year i met ryan and fell in love. this time 2 years ago i was unconscious through most of it due to my Vespa wreck and subsequent injuries. this time 10 years ago Aunt Diane was brightening everyones lives and eyes with buffont hairdo's, purple eye shadow and wicked nails.

this thanksgiving will be spent in village, most likely with my immediate and fantastic teammate Liza Clark (known locally as Awa). we've planned to purchase a guinea fowl and have a friend slay and clean it for us. Aunt Tootsie has generously sent more than enough spices, dried veggies and potatoes to last Awa and myself for days with leftovers. my recent purchase of a solar oven will hopefully produce some cookies or maybe a pie if we can find the right fruits.

needless to say, it will be a tough year for this holiday, but will always be filled with reminiscent thoughts of good family, friends and food. lucky for me, i've recently come across the concept that "Heaven is Gratitude Itself" and i do believe that this W. Blake quote will serve me well this year.

i have a hut. i have water. i have the support from america and from a few amazing friends in country to make this whole endeavor which started as a dream a true reality. i have love. i give love. i am happy. i am lucky. i am american and female and proud.

its going to be a good thanksgiving. full of tears of joy and of naustalgia and love.

please know that i appreciate you all, reading this, supporting me, supporting the Peace Corps, supporting my family and loved ones in my absence.
thank you for you. thank you for being exactly what and who you are and for your continued support.

Happy Thanksgiving. I ni ce kosobe. Merci Beaucoup.

an attempt at justifying my underlying thought processes

i've reached a point, here in my early twenties in west africa with long dry days pushing my thoughts in directions otherwise left for those dealing with boredom, with which
i'd like to share with the dedicated fans and scrutinous critics of this web logged life of mine. there is something to be said for what some may call boredom and that thing is this: its awesome. boredom is something that stateside, or more, in any developed country, that can come from too much stuff. (typical peace corps preachiness, i know but bear with me) for example, when i want a cool glass of water i cannot merely go to fridge, pull out the Brita, reach into the cupboard, grab a sturdy glass and pour away; instead i have to go to the pump, find that the key is missing, go find Tati, the 80 year old key-holder, greet him for 5 minutes, coax him off of his bamboo cot, help him find his sole-less shoes and walk for 25 minutes to the pump which lays 40 feet from his door, pump water into a 5 gallon bucket, carry it home, put it through the filter, wait patiently, and pump it into my water bottle. not cool, not in a glass, but damn is it good water. another example, in the US, i would arrive at Whitis or Walling or one of the satellite homes of said groups, walk in, greet on the way to the fridge, ask for a beer after my first sip and sit with one or two or five friends on a couch or bench or floor and converse during commercial breaks and over taco shack or maudies take out. here i show up, sometimes accidentally in someone's concession, sit on a freshly swept dirt floor and quietly watch as they pour shotglasses of very dense tea in and out of a tiny perfect teapot adding more sugar than water and continuing the pour until there is more foam in the glass than room for tea. people come and go and we greet and send them on their way, commands are thrown across concessions and donkeys cry in the distance (worse yet, near by).

hours move like snails across grass and days include countdowns to my usual 2 hour break from it all (where i curl up on a mat on the floor with a book and a pillow and a 2 liter bottle of water and make myself get through both before napping a bit to avoid some of the hottest parts of the day) and to bedtime, which was 8pm but has recently been revised and moved back to 10pm. its tough to fill your days here because everyone only speaking slang bambara south of Kita, no one does anything when they say they will - if they're within 20 minutes of said time, they're on time. if they're within an hour, they're a little late; only if you end up spending the night due to someone's tardiness are the reprimanded - and its just fucking difficult. you have to reaffirm your purpose day in and day out. countdowns, check marks, to do lists and letters abound here and sometimes its really tough to persuade yourself that you're right in choosing to leave behind everything. your whole life. and for me, that is a lot. friends who adore me, parents who respect and love me, a brother full of encouragement and pride, and the man of my dreams, waiting wide awake in Salida, Colorado, loving me from afar. its easy to get caught up in it all - the things we miss. but its fun to review those things and find out that they're not things at all, they are people. oftentimes, though, those things are legitimately food items and that is absolute.

i should be bored. many people are bored. volunteers here in mali have a tendency to get extremely bored. there are many reasons that they will spout out just as easy as the pledge of allegiance but i feel that it has been misdiagnosed. some of their reasons tend to include the trouble of everything (more, the lack of ease. everything you do, including fetching water, takes lots and lots of effort), the lack of friends (though i'm told that this will change soon with the influx of our language skills) or things to do with them that doesn't include superior amounts of sweat and sand, and the continuous, repetitive, exhaustive way in which many things, including the greetings and farewells and making of tea, are done... although not always completed.
although these reasons are quite valid, i find myself never bored although i suffer from the same symptoms.

want to know my secret?

Ryan O'Brien.

yep, the man himself. he is far far away, in a cool and soon to be cold place, living with his wonderful, bright, beautiful soon-to-be two year old in a home made house at the foot of the collegiate peaks. (many cringe at just these words both with jealousy of his surroundings and rage that i would even utter them) we are able to speak on the phone every two or so weeks and as wonderful as it is when we do, its made all the more wonderful by the times in between. the times when i should be pulling my hair out and reading 6 novels a week like the others. but i'm not. Ryan, just by name, brings a smile to my face. the thought of him, of our past, of our future, fills my mind at every waking, and sleeping, moment. he underlies everything, from my morning coffee, to my trips to the fields with the women's group. somehow, i always find him on my mind and making me smile.

once, when i thought i was bored and i was laying underneath a hangar made of bamboo and grass, my hand dangling in the sand, my eyes unfocused and my head even loopier, i reached for my water bottle only to find a giant, fist sized, shiny like a pearl but black like charcoal, spotted with vibrant, king's cape blue dots, 5 legged beetle sitting inches from my bottle. horned, bright eyed and walking in long, lazy, loopy circles (due to the lack of its 6th leg), i sat in awe of this creature. i was terrified. i was memorized. and my first thought was : Ryan. he would love this, but i couldn't bring myself to loose eye contact with it and take a picture (sorry Patrick). i smiled a big, comfortable, easy smile (the first thing i'd done with ease all day that day) knowing that he would want not to see it in picture form but hear about it via script and scripture, because he would know that if i were to get up, scramble to find the camera and return, this beautiful cripple would have spiraled out of my life and i would be without a memory of such cyclonic enormity. Ryan brings ease to my life. Ryan brings smiles to my face. Ryan brings peace to my sleep and sweetness to my coffee every morning.

of course i'm bored, i'm not mental. but in my boredom i think not of how bored i am but how grateful i am for this man who fills every thought with triumph and joy and goodness and introspective sight and i could go on forever but the keyboard won't let me. everyone is bored, but here boredom is something with which you can gain triumph over and although its not easy, nothing is. however, i will be a devil's advocate here and claim that it is easier here than in the US. for here, the activity of fetching water is just that - an activity, its a conscious effort to do something for yourself and upon its completion, you get to drink cool (meaning not 116F like the air) water and be refreshed so that you can go to another's concession and sit with Malian friends and eat corn off the cob and peanuts you may have pulled from the ground and drink overly sweetened tea on a floor thats dirt and yet clean and be content because you are there. you put yourself on that floor with that water bottle and around those people and ryan ryan ryan would love this. everything that is done is a triumph over nature and self. also, there is no tv. there are no computers. i can't even get radio reception where i live. we don't have phones. we don't have electricity. there is nothing to pull us out of ourselves, so many go nuts inside their heads (and i must admit, i'm victim to this as well) but because we have to light a match to get a flame inside a lamp instead of flipping on the switch, and if you've got the right mentality, everything done here is a triumph. all of it. making it through each day. triumph.

so, like so many other things, i got wordy and windy and apologize. the point to this log, however, is this: if there is one thing in your life that you can focus on that makes you extremely happy under any and all odds, and you link that thing to every waking moment, every possible, plausible and strange thing, you will find that boredom becomes a vacation, a trip down memory lane, and a good use of time.

and in the immortal words of Wayne Campbell, "i once thought i had mono for a whole year... turns out, i was just really bored."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


i'm so proud to be an american after the events of yesterday.

watching the election at an expat bar in the capital city of the world's 3rd poorest country with 40 other peace corps volunteers under the guies of sleepiness (we had to stay up until 530am to see the final call and historic speeches), hope, fear and pride, we all came to tears, we all clapped and hugged and when we emerged this morning, hungover and happy, we were congratulated by absolute strangers on the streets.

we are american's and we are very proud of that fact.
especially knowing that we, americans, are able to make history, one by one, as a group and for the greater good.

pride doesn't describe it correctly, but it gets you close. to have had the opportunity to witness that, to participate in that, from abroad and while serving in JFK's dream, was beyond moving. was beyond good. was absolutely amazing.

Patrick Dentler - congratulations! all of your work paid off. i'm so proud of you.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

to: Patrick McLaughlin with Love

So, as some of you already know, Ryan has a 2 year old son, Fisher. due to his amazing and wonderful parenting techniquies, we are with Fish often and thus he poked his pretty head into many a photograph. As I settled into my community in Mali, a polygamist, animist and Muslim community at that, I busted out the old photo album if for anything the ability to show off the fact that I could in fact describe one or two things, be they pretty, tall, black or white, in the local language Bambara. Anywho, most of my favorite pictures of Ryan are of him and Fisher and so, by both default and lack of vocabulary, the people of my community see Ryan, locally known as Wyna Obyna (Ryan O'Brien) and Pisen (Fisher) as my immediate family; meaning, Fish is my son.

Following the multitudes of blessings that follow the assumption of parenthood, women were curiously staring at me below the collar bone. Some happen to get rather close, so close that their noses nearly touch my "clevage" (if we can still call it that - I'm still under 130 trying to recover from an illness in August) and sit up, profoundly, much like judges finding lawyers in contempt of court, and announce that "no, you cannot bear children with little tiny teeny weeny breasts like that" - I truly wish that this was not a direct translation... alas, here we are.

Anyhow, about a week after first showing off my family and beautiful friends from home, I was on my way to the pump as Kontie, a 35 year old female, mother of 15 (not kidding), wife of the community chief, president of the local women's association, three toothed, terror of a woman flagged me down from the near by well. Mid pull (meaning, amidst her 150 foot 1.5 gallon pull of water from the well) she dropped the bag, laughed out loud, shouted my local name "Umu! Umu!", and proceeded to pull her left breast out from underneath her oversized traditional Malian shirt, shover her left nipple into her nearly toothless mouth, and chewed, all the while mocking me, yelling "you couldn't do this if your life depended on it."

Alas, Kontie, this beast is dead on. I will never be able to pull an empty mamory gland 2 feet out of its way to mock an innocent, able and trying American volunteer, and no, I haven't breast fed anyone yet, and no, I can't shut up 9 year olds with my overused nipples as pascifiers. However, I can take this with a grain of salt and will forever think of the reaction that Patrick McLaughlin might have had to this (continuous) abuse and with that, I smile and walk with Kontie to her peanut fields everyday, take the abuse, smile and almost pee my pants every time she whips it out like American moms pull out mp3 players and ADD pills.