seek and find

Friday, March 13, 2009

thus far

Books Read Thus Far

In 2008

Good News Edward Abbey

To Kill A Mocking Bird Harper Lee

Pages from a Scullions Diary George Orwell

Flight Sherman Alexi

Jitterbug Perfume Tom Robbins

Slapstick Kurt Vonnegut

The Island Aldus Huxley

Still Life With Woodpecker Tom Robbins

Me Talk Pretty One Day David Sedaris

Animal Farm George Orwell

Principles of Uncertainty Maria Kalman

The Spectator Bird Wallace Stegner

Illusions: The Adventures of a
Reluctant Messiah Richard Bach

The Death of Ivan Ilkych Leo Tolstoy

Happiness TM Will Ferguson

Jailbird Kurt Vonnegut

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom T.E. Lawrence

Tuck Everlasting Natalie Babbit

The Audacity of Hope Barack Obama

… In 2009

Lonesome Dove Larry McMurtry

Short Stories Jack London

The Time Travelers Wife Audrey Niffengger

A Year in Provence Peter Mayle

My Year of Meats Ruth L. Ozeki

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Robert M. Pirsig

patrick dentler

i am trying to put photos onto my but it is taking so long.
please forgive me, darling. hopefully i can get some up before my patience runs out and i throw things like a little kid... which i have inadvertently turned into when it comes to technology in the third world.

i was sitting in the bank presidents office the other day, in a leather chair, amongst piles of paperwork, electronics and from behind his small circular glasses he noticed that i was looking around in somewhat of a dumbfounded manner.
he adjusted his tie and began to read aloud notes and numbers and flipped through his billfold to show me a diploma. his pride and his ability to read, write and do basic if not complicated arithmetic truly threw me off.
because i know that when he leaves here to eat lunch, prepared by an oppressed woman who undoubtedly bore his children while still a child herself, washes his hands with the same tool he uses to wipe his butt, probably takes a swig of that same water, then proceeds to eat from a metal bowl on the floor with his hand. he surely throws his tie over his shoulder and later returns through the dusty, filth ridden streets, past starving children and polio-maimed elders, to his shiny perfect office and his electronics.

i am so confused. feeling rather judgmental in my state of observant participation. how does one become a Change Agent as Peace Corps so politically correctly puts it when it so obviously is not a clear change?


anyway, pat-o, this is my excuse for avoiding uploading photos because it takes so much damn time. also, i find it strange to be in a place where most people don't even know about electricity but some, few, are able to use and abuse it.

one day, this will make sense. until then, drink one for me and hope that i come home less crazy than i am now :)

its O.K.

Its OK
8 march

Its ok to sit, think, read, write.
Thousands of things, foreign to me, happen every time I go into this world. Thousands… its ok to sit and ponder those things, to absorb and digest and contemplate and evaluate. To ponder those things; to read and escape them; to sleep and pass them; to write and re-live them. But to never see, feel, suffer, ponder, be with those thousands of things would be to not live.
You can be an observer as long as you also participate.
It is good to sit, think, read, write.
It is OK.

A Time and A Resting Place

I went and said my prayers and gave my donations to Moro Dian’s 3 remaining wives. I found out today that, in total, he had 6 wives and 42 children. WHAT!
I arrive at his compound, poorly dressed but warmly welcomed. Three women, his wives, lay in one bed, sheathed in white mourning cloth, warmly lit by the 6pm light. Women everywhere shouting what seems to be comments of anger but are more likely discussions on how to cook the chicken. This language sounds so angry, so harsh and yet every is so kind and gentle. I enter the room, sit on a low stool amongst huge sacks of donated rice, millet and cloth. A very tiny, palm sized, black and white kitten tromps in, unnoticed by the calloused and cracking soles that linger above, weak and limp due to teary days of mourning.
Since there is obviously no opening for me to being my public prayer, I just begin talking. The women soon quite and bow their heads, some staring at my torn jeans, some at my sand-caked, sweating feet. Some the paleness of my skin. Some at the ground. I repeat the same prayers over three times, “may Allah cool is resting place. May Allah forgive him of sins on earth.”
I’d been practicing them all day and now that I’ve said them, to women who have known him since they were children, who bore his children and suffered loss and famine and abuses with him; only now do I finally mean them.
I think this is the first time I prayed and truly meant it. What a calming feeling. Talking to no one and to every one, including Allah, God, Buddha, whomever.
I said my peace (piece?) and feel quite peaceful.

the Sixth and Seventh

6 March 2009

Everybody is dying. Sirakoro’s chief, Koni’s mom, Moro Dian and the Siran, the little boy who got caught in a donkey fight.


7 march

Its extremely hot, drenched in sweat even before I get up from bed, so much so that my sleep clothes, sheets and mattress are laying out and hanging on the line to dry in the sun before I return to them in 5 hours for my day-nap. Its this hot and yet I still drink coffee.
Olfactory senses, remembering Ryan in the mornings, coffee with cream and honey.
I love him.

in an attempt to cool the oven that is my mud hut

Hut test:
- putting water on the floors midmorning and midafternoon – possibly will encourage humidity and/or coolness…
- shut doors; keep east window closed until 2pm; west before noon

(You are eating your 5/13th of the Peace Corps Pie…)

Later: the aforementioned do not work.
Also, I need Ryan. He is my life. I breath and sweat and cry and eat and smile for him. Knowing that he is doing the same keeps me going.
Why did I put so much space between us?!
Masochist? Tortured artist? (where is the art?) Damn it. I’m so lonely here. I miss Janna. And Lauren. And BT. And Patrick, both McL and D. and Vickers. Whitis in general. And Brett Buchanan. And SKYLAR. But I bet they miss me too.

Digits Don’t Do the Trick

3 march

235 days in Africa
555 days to go
23 days until Ryan’s face is pressed against my face in sweet embraces and watery eyes and big smiles
23 books read (see list below)
13 hours until bedtime
258 days without Ryan


...Some days I wake with bad-dream malaise. It can take a long time to pass but it is often forgotten when the babies show up. Baby goats, sheep, dogs, Babies. Precious and trusting and innocent and watchful. Some days I wake with reality malaise. Babies don’t help with this. This is a toughie to shake because it is encompassing. It is too hot outside, inside for that matter. Too. Too. Much.
Some days I wake up and am infinitely happy. I go have coffee in my kitchen hut, make my bed, clean a little (there is always dirt and termite dust in a halo around my shoes and on the floor), put on SPF60, take potable water to my host family to do the little I can to ensure safe drinking water for the time I’m here, and truly purely enjoy the liberties of the life of a Volunteer. These days I read, write, chat with friends of strong Malian tea while sitting under beautiful ancient trees atop bamboo mats for praying to the east, I walk about and greet and take in this L.I.F.E. I am here. I am now. Here and now.
Those are good days.
Some days I wake up and smile and stretch knowing that soon and forever I’ll be waking up to the love of my life, I’ll nuzzle my face into his back, he’ll turn over, cradle me and give me a sleep and sloppy kiss and we will live together with Fisher and Tuk and Zoe (god willing).
Today will be a good day. Even if it isn’t, good luck wiping this smile off my face.
….. a little later
It is 1130am it is 109F and steadily rising… sweat is dripping off my chin, is swelling behind my knees and slipping down my back. Although my face is slick and glistening with sweat and caked dirt it is still grinning about my future mornings. My forever mornings.

Side note: I love these pens. Thank the Biglows.

is it contagious?

Worthlessness, like a bug, like an illness, virle and painful, has seeped into my brain. I woke up in tears. I slept for 10 hours last night after a 3 hour nap in the shade yesterday meaning that I spent more than half of the day’s hours asleep. If that isn’t depression then what the hell is?
The Funeral for Moro Dian is today… I don’t want to go but I must. He was a true friend to me, a believer in America and more importantly in Africa. He was jet black with big droopy eyes and when he said my Malian name, Oumou (Umu), he said it like Yogi the Bear. Its only 1030am and its already 104 in the shade. Yikes. He’d say, “come on, Umu, lets go for a walk and see the babies.” He loved baby goats. They play and frolic and jump and wiggle mid air and are one of the most consistent things of true and pure joy here… at least that’s how I feel when I’m depressed. There are many true and purely joyous things here but when I’m down and out and busted (I miss seeing the Hudson’s at Waterloo on Thursday nights…) its hard to see them through the haze of “man-this-sucks-why-am-i-here-suffering-for-no-reason-making-my-family-suffer-and-missing-janna-and-ryan-and-fisher-and-todd T-and-beer-and-relaxing… I could go on, but you see how lame it gets.
I guess I should (or could) give myself a break. Dabi was on the brink of death, there are funerals (that are NOTHING like funerals at home) in every nook of the village and everyone is affected by the loss of family and friend and life. It is awfully hot. I am from Colorado, although Texas holds a true place in my heart (Jake Janicek, you can quote me on that), and the heat. The immense insane heat.



1 mars 2009
(written in all caps and with little sparks flying off the i’s and dots around the numbers)

Its March! It is Sunday March 1st 2009! Its all happening and I am here and now and alive and in Africa and in love and its not stopping for anyone anywhere!

I’m sick as a dog but elated because Ryan’s face will be in my callaoused, loving
I’m reading more now than before, escaping from the trials, daily tribulations of this life. I’m told that “its normal” and even “healthy” but it feels foreign and strange. Alas, what doesn’t here as a white American lady in a tiny West African village.
Today, although the first of March, a seemingly exciting day, was from the beginning, a continuous letdown. The only 3 people, count’em one two three, that I actually dislike in my village met me at the pump today and mocked every move I made, sound I uttered, to the point brimming on tears when I triumphantly walked away with a 20gal bucket perched atop my head. “Ne be se” (yes I can).
A little later my nearly-blind host father came with his one-eyed friend and two able bodied sons to clean my house. Uncomfortable doesn’t begin to describe it. When an African offers something you almost always take it. It is polite to do so, even if it causes you a bit of trouble. They swept, they moved things around and left me with a bigger mess and more awkward take on life than before. At least I had something to fill a few hours… cleaning up their clean-up.
I’m distancing myself, I can feel myself pulling away from my friends and host family here. Is it fear? Of death? Of loss? Of future pains? I’m pulling away from the most welcoming thing I know and I cannot stop myself. But I must. They are my family. They care for me, feed me, help me, smile for me and pray, in whatever way, for my safety, for my (American) family’s safety and for the happiness of my children. They are good, solidly good people and here I am in flee mode. What is that all about?

It is March 1, 2009. I need to – nay – I am going to sleep better tonight, be healthier today and happier by ways currently unbeknown to me. They will show themselves. I’m going to do as the O’Briens do – I’m going to make a change in the only thing that I have true power over: Myself.

Eff Fevrier

27 february 2009

Its been a long month, its almost over and things are going well. I’ve changed my perspective a bit because:
-Dabi is alive and well and is de-wormed
-The bees are thirsty so they are less likely to notice me at the pump but I still don’t think that bees should be swarming me at the pump… I do believe that a project is on the horizon. Maybe if I can turn the area around the pump into a cement water-trough the bulls wont charge, the sheep will quit walking around with their tounges hanging down and the bees will take up sipping from the spillage at a spot other than directly beneath the handle.
-A sweet old woman died. Her skin was like blackened crepe paper. I loved holding her hand during conversations. Her eyes were still livid and bright. She told me I was the only white person she wasn’t afraid of. Except at night – of course she is afraid of me at night, “you glow, Oumou.”
-my huts are standing. That’s pretty big in these parts.
…………………………………..later that day……………………
Everything can fall apart, can go to pot, can dissipate and then there is nothing but me, stark white, plainly foreign and I am the stranger.
Fisher’s first day of preschool is in two days. I’m so proud of Ryan, although he slipped when referring to the teachers as friends that “we” have and was, in fact, to refereeing to me in that “we”. It sucked my heart out, it curdled in my belly. This verbage. This wordage. Only semantics… but indeed said.
I have to let it go.
All of it.
The fear of death, of life, of missing out, of being too small in a place that demanding – needing big things. Thoughts of Ryan fill every part of my days.
He is solid.
He is stable.
He and I have a “We” that no one else knows.
He is making everything better everywhere he can for us: myself, little Fish and himself.
He is so good.
I’m going to go sit with Dabi and talk in the way we do about dirt and poo and stars and baby goats and it will make it all ok. It always does. Who doesn’t want to sit and revel in a child’s ability to talk? a child’s ablity to laugh and smile and cry and breathe and hold my hand and lie on my belly and mock my voice and giggle when I tickle?
I love this life. Full of questions and answers and stars and time and love. Lots and lots of love.
I miss my parents and my brother so.
They will like Dabi, I know it.

Bits of Glory

12 February

When I look back on this journal I hope I do so with the Happy, the many joyous moments and memories in mind. I tend to use it only when sad, tragic or just strange things happen and I feel as though it is an injustice to my life here to only record those events, although they are numerous, they are not the most important.

Wurdia’s hard work, beautiful back and fabulous taste in blue hued clothing; her dark skin in contrast with the fresh flutter of sand in the air amidst the sinking sun; her application of homemade, hand whipped shea butter – pressed lightly to her fingertips then shoved into the fire to soften, then applied briskly and without care although leaving a glistening and ever-deepening black sheen. The stars glisten often when she works over the fire from the skin on her back. Strong. Solid. She is a truly beautiful woman.

Brahima’s love of children, his patience, his tender touch when they are sick with fever and shakes. His raspy and cooing voice. His humor. His homegrown tobacco. His feverish and insistant (thank god) handwashing techniques before each meal eaten with me. His night blindness and his attempt at covering it up. His humor and insistence that I eat more… always eat more. His pride in his work, his children, his country, his history, his life. His good nature.

Dabi walks like an 8 month pregnant woman. The reason for this is that he is severely malnourished, leaving him with a terribly bloated belly and tiny frail legs. It is, however, one of my favorite things when he runs to me, carrying his belly in one hand and waving with the other, completely naked and shoves his (perpetually filthy) face between my knees… just waiting…. Loving… holding on. When he walks away in the night to fetch a shirt (which he does rarely without provocation) or a cup of water for Brah he waddles. Proud and bowlegged and beautiful.

When I wake up in the morning I stretch. Immediately. Then I make my bed and fumble my way to my kitchen hut and being my morning ritual of making coffee and oatmeal… these two things are olfactory reminders of Ryan and simplicity and the importance of both in my life.

The smiles here, even with tongueless elders and tooth decay rampant, are fantastically genuine. They are effortless, natural and painfully simple. Elegant. Insightful. Happy.

When a breeze cuts across the sweat beneath my chin and behind my legs it cools me down for moments in which I feel as if I am floating. Chilled often for mere moments.
Sheer bliss.

When a garden here is successful, you can taste it, smell it, feel it. People are immediately happier after eating a raw and lovely red tomato, or chomping down on a local-eggplant or finding their way through the tough surface of a lime.

Itty bitty bits of goodness. Everyday. Everywhere. I’ve got to be more receptive. perceptive.
10 February 2009

I woke today know that soon I’ll be waking up to Ryan… glorious. Even though it is nearly 50 days away… IT IS ONLY 50 DAYS AWAY!

A Fever, A Friend, a Full Tummy

9 February 2009

Although Dabi’s fever is subsiding, it is persistent, and aside from giving him modern medicine (which I actually cannot do for fear that such powerful and directed stuff would send his little body into shock) I can do nothing but continuously encourage, nay, beg Wurdia to take him to the clinic. I try to bribe him with candy (thanks Reagan and Ginger) to drink lots of water; I try to coax him into eating; all of these attempts fail at the blank stare he gives me as the heat radiates from his skin causing me to sweat as I hold him. He is stubborn and in that I love him; dearly.

I’m going to see Liza today. Maybe she can give me some advice, maybe she will be the person that I need right now. She usually is and if she isn’t she seems to know it so she stuffs me full of American food and lets me stay the night. She sits with me, commiserates and sympathises, changes the subject and suddenly I’m smiling because I’m winning at uno. She is the ticket, man. The real stuff. There are ways about her that remind me of Janna); words she uses that bring me to memories of long talks with Brett and sweet embraces that timewarp me back to Patrick and Brandon.
On a more practical level, maybe she’ll know something I don’t – that is greatly possible. Maybe her experience at IST wasn’t as pathetic and useless and degenerative as mine.
Maybe she will give me the hug and the strength to do this.

my exit strategy

8 february 2009

I’ve never felt more unsure of myself than I do right now. Its an empty, longing feeling. I don’t however long for pity or help. Just the knowledge of ability… that I have this ability to be stronger than myself. To overcome myself and my thoughts and at the same time to hold them and own them and know them.
Be patient, Sydney.

…………………………………………………… later that day

I was hoping that the mood swings would level out. Maybe… soon? I am hoping that today was special, that its subtle enormity would end and be ended and put into history or better yet forgotten.

I miss home. Its security. Its safeties. Is that a word?

Blek. Move on, Syd. Dwelling does nothing. Sitting does nothing. Think it through; get it out and GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD.

Aaaand, We're Back.

Sorry for the seemingly infinite delay but once you read through the mess that follows it might make a bit more sense as to why I was so jumbled and scared and messy in the previous blogs. Its weird to have these amazing, terrifying, huge and insignificant experiences, everyday, every hour, and then try to jot them down so that later, when near a fan and light and icewater I can focus and type… I’ve found that when I’m near a fan or icewater all I want to do is stick my face and feet in both, alas, I’ve decided to sit down and take verbatim from my journal (bear with me).

Here it goes…

7 february 2009

2 months later, after a rocky Christmas, a blissful New Years and a terrible month of InServiceTraining in Bamako, it is finally Ferbruary. In 57 days Ryan will be in my arms. He will be here, in Mali, in the heat and the muck and the beauty and the harm. He will help me to realize my life, current, past and future, a track I feel that I have lost due to my ability to normalize much of this way of life. He will help me to confirm, help me to explain and help me to explore my magnificent and completely simple surroundings. He’ll see beauty here that I have grown to take for granted; he will be visiting, be living, here with me for 13 days. He will help make me see the truth behind this quest.
20 months to go… I’ll need his outlook to make it.
…………………………………………………….later that day………………………….
I tripped near a well today; a fall down a well is sure death, instant if you’re lucky. I fell while pulling water in Wurdia’s garden across the face of the well.
My first thought was of Ryan. After being helped hastily by my host sister Tene, I steadied myself and handed the job of pulling water over to the professionals – the 12 year old girls with no shoes.
It was terrifying – it was clarifying.
I will never do that again and I truly deeply wholly love Ryan.
Life will go on.
So will my love for and of him.
………………………………………………………….even later………………………
Today was tough first day back – I almost fell into a well, Gus* died, I’m constipated with heartburn, the temperature is starting to affect the animals and a snake crawled halfway into my hut before being thwarted by an adolescent in a ‘90s concert-t.
On the bright side, because if I die out here I want my loved ones to know that I didn’t loose my spirit in the face of adversity: I did work with Wurdia, I was given a garden plot in the Women’s Community Garden (a sure sign that they see me as a woman OF the community), Newt* survived and still has a big heart and I have faith that if something did happen to me out here, my Malian friends would do their absolute best to help me AND my American family at home. That is huge.

* I was just getting to the end of LoneSome Dove. If you have not yet, take the time out of your life to make it better by reading, truly living, this novel. It is one of the best.