"Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night"

This space is dedicated to Adventure - and all things Challenging.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I Have My Clothes!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Bonjour! Cava? Benin smells like petrol exhaust, sewage, and body odor - but it's all fabulous! I started French class Sunday, and I have another today. Yesterday I got trained to ride the Zemijohn (moped). Oh my God! I am going to have to get used to it, but I feel I'm going to die at any moment. Today this girl from Rhode Island and I attempted to find the super marche (Mayfair) - and it was successful! I bought Diet Coke, chicken noodle soup, and laundry soap. The women here wear crazy bright sarongs and tops all of the same "tissue". I saw a tissue with a tumbprint pattern and a tea pot pattern. Very colorful. I got my luggage on Sunday, and I finally got to change my clothes - YEah! It's so humid here - I'm never actually dry ever. But I can't complain because the weather is really cool here. No one knows why. The food is mostly bread, rice, tomato/onion goo, and fish. I hate fish...so I'm telling everyone that I'm a veggie. The vegetables here are mostly avacados, tomatoes, carrots, and onions. There is this weird fried cheese that is great, and so I think I'm going to be eating that for protein. I was told there is tofu here, but I can't find it. My training has been moved to a village called Dogbo. We go there tomorrow.

Have to go now. I have a meeting. More later.

Hello From Benin

Saturday, July 9, 2005

I finally made it back to Africa, and it is fabulous! The plane trip over was unbelieveable long. I did spend 6 hours in Paris airport - which isn't as cool as it sounds. I did manage to go outside for a bit and sit on the sidewalk. A bunch of French people got mad at me on the plane for blocking the TV, and they refused to get over it - even after I apologized. My big green suitcase is missing - it has all of my clothes in it, so I have had the same clothes on for about 3 days now. My ankles are really swollen due to the plane, and I got more shots today. I don't have to have as many because of Morocco. We got fitted for our bikes and helmuts today. Benin Peace Corps is the one of three countries allowed to ride on the back of mopeds, so I have a crazy moto-helmut to carry around everywhere. The weather is VERY humid, but overcast and cool - which is apperently odd. I have to go now but I'm doing great, and I miss you all.

Hello From Philly

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

I'm in Philly, and having a great time! I get shots tomorrow at 730am :(. But I leave for Africa tomorrow at 1100am :). We have a six hour layover in Paris. I'll write more in Benin.


I've never done well to keep a consistant journal...but I don't mind retrospect. I will be attempting to enter the backlog of my "Sunday" emails from Benin...Mostly because I feel that they are the most honest account I have at the moment. I'm too clouded with emotion to write objectively about my experiences in West Africa...and I wish to write fresh material when the pain has subsided to a dull ache.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Viva la Africa

Oh my God- I'm leaving in less than 24 hours. Ahhh! I have spent the last few days running around trying to figure out what I'm doing. As of this moment - I think that I have three more things to settle, and then I'm ready to leave. I believe I have only forgotten about two important things - so that's not too bad.

This last month has been extremely weird and wonderful. I have forged and deepened friendships, and have found a piece of myself that I didn't know about. I wish you all well while I am gone, and hope that you don't forget me easily.

See you on the other side.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Grande Finale

Today is my last day at Habberton House. I'm a little mixed about how I feel. Part of me wants to burn the place down, and the other part of me wants to stay here forever. When I woke up this morning (at 0530) I wondered if the insanity of Habberton has worn off on me, or did I already come this way? Has my insanity been sleeping - only to be rudely awakened by animalistic screams and children attacking me? I wonder how much damage (apart from the loss of hearing, 3 stab wounds, a separated shoulder, and the inability to play boards games ever again) have I amassed? How wounded is my psyche really? All I really know is that now is the time for forward movement, and if I stay here I will seriously cripple myself.

"Life ought to be a struggle of desire toward Adventures whose nobility will fertilize the soul." Rebecca West (1892 - 1983)

In two hours - I plan to walk down that long dark hallway with my head held high, and my spirit free.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Pack Rat Story

There is a store in Fayetteville, Arkansas called The Pack Rat. It is an outdoor adventure store, with all sorts of fun posh gear. 99% of the time I absolutely do not need anything from that store (nor do I have the money). It is filled with all sorts of glorious camping and canoeing bits - and whenever I go in there - just to browse - I get excited about how I could use the solar powered GPS device that can start a fire and cut my meat. I also greatly wonder about all that dehydrated camping food - Do the contents of that package really taste like lasagne? or steak? or cake?

Another big plus for the store is that it is staffed by beautiful people (mostly ruggedly handsome young men) :) It always amazes me how consistently fabulous the staff always looks. I have shopped at The Pack Rat for over seven years, and I have never once seen an ugly or ordinary person yet (and being an ordinary person myself - I feel I'm qualified to make that assessment).
So, about two minutes after I found out I was going to Africa - I was on my way to The Pack Rat. I had a list, some money, and a really good excuse to be there...My moment had arrived!

*As a side note - I want to mention how sporting equipment is a fabulous way to attract men. It is really similar to the man holding a puppy or a baby to attract women strategy. I'm telling you women out there - that a bike rack on the trunk of your car equals action.*

I walked into their large, two-story, log cabin like building, that has canoes and kayaks hanging from the ceiling, with a great big smile on my face. I strode up to the counter being manned by an early twenty something - tanned and well-built - young man, who I will call "Zack", and told him in the sweetest of voices that I was in need of a solar powered battery recharger - with titanium NiMH rechargeable batteries, and a Gore-Tex carrying case ... Please (eyelashes flashing). "Zack" definitely needed a minute to process that one. Three seconds later - we were practically sending out wedding invitations... he was so helpful. Eventually there were about 2 other cuties helping me pick out a knife, super absorbent towels, unbreakable mirrors, and Nalgene accessories.

Finally, all I had left to pick out was a backpack. I realized in Morocco that I was going to need more than a daypack, so I was looking at small internal frame hiking backpacks. I had thankfully done a little research on the right kind of pack I would need (thus enhancing my self proclaimed coolness), and "Zack", dually impressed with my knowledge, led me upstairs to the pack section. My coolness was a little tainted when I had to impress upon "Zack" my need for the cheapest friggen pack they carried. He went with the flow, and informed me that he was going to have to go get "Brian" to help us (packs not being his expertise). So here comes "Brian" (aka... Super Hottie) to help me part with my money. He very politely asked me what I was looking for, and, after I explained what I needed for Africa, he started explaining the different pack uses and abilities. I have to honestly say I didn't understand anything he said (except for the word backpack). I smiled and repeated my need for cheapness - "Brian" smiled an understanding smile, and said, "Well ma'am, first thing that we are going to need to do is measure you." Mind you - he says this as he is pulling a long measuring tape out of his pocket. Excuse me - Are you kidding? Did he just say that he is going to have to measure me? I don't think so! So I smile, which is fading slightly, and say, "Can't you just eyeball it?" "Brian", who looks very serious suddenly, says, "Umm, well... yes... Umm... Ma'am... I am going to need to measure you." (Poor guy...not!)

*Side note: I have found that the general assumption of outdoor/adventure gear and clothing companies is that women bigger than five foot six and one hundred pounds just don't participate. Grrr.*

So, I let Mr. Handsome measure my back length, and take my waist measurement. (Humiliating). And then drama ensues. I apparently measure out to a women's back pack size medium, but my waist measurements are a women's large. Blah. And apparently this is a big problem for the same companies that can create material that can withstand Keith Richards type disasters. "Brian" tells me that the cheapest pack won't fit me, and the company (North Face) won't customize for me. But - he does work out that another company (Osprey) will custom order me the right pack (for a small fee), and that they will sell me the more expensive pack for the cheaper pack price. Yeah! Problem solved right? Yeah no. About a week later, I get a call that my pack is in, and I can come pick it up. I'm totally excited, and once again enter my favorite store with a big smile and a sense of purpose. (The week before, I had left The Pack Rat with not much of a smile) The crushing moment came when the waist belt was about 2 inches short of being perfect. Another cute guy, "Jack," was helping me, and was really obsessed with fixing my dilemma. The whole time I was dying to just shout that I wasn't even going to use the fucking waist belt, but I figured that wouldn't be the most kosher thing to say at the moment. So, I allowed myself to be measured yet again, and we spent the better part of an hour coming up with ways to rig the belt. (...and I have to still pay for this thing?) I can assure you that I was praying for lightning. At some point during the fiasco, I mentioned that I was going to Africa, and I probably would lose some weight. "Jack" very innocently made the insulting remark that I "probably shouldn't bank on that." (Yeah you heard me right) Anyway - I finally fled the scene with my new pack - giving "Jack" false promises about how I was going to re-sew part of the waist belt strap to add some length.

For the next week, that backpack created the most anxiety ever. My mind kept going over the fact that it had to be too tall to take as a carry on. I even brought it to work with me to get my staff's opinions, and some of the children's. So around 2am one morning as I was coming in from the bar (Go Vodka), I decided to do something about it. I customized that pack myself (for free). I made some very precise surgical tears, and ripped that shitty internal frame right out of that pack! I even made it more waterproof with the addition of some carefully placed duct tape. That baby is so coming on the plane with me! :) Shh.. Don't tell "Zack," "Brian," or "Jack," - They would kill me. Hee Hee.

Stories du Maroc #3

While I was a Peace Corps Trainee in Morocco, I managed to accidently say every Hashuma (shameful) word that the Berbers have.

*I preface these stories with the warning that though I contend that all of my stories are highly accurate, they might have been tweaked over the last two years to suit my needs (i.e. I claim author's license on accuracy).

I want to say that learning another language is fabulous, and I greatly admire those who are multi-lingual. It is my greatest desire to be fluent in many languages (and cultures). I would love to have the ability to go anywhere in the world, and not have to struggle with the language barrier. Morocco was my first really big adventure, and learning Arabic (Darisa) and Berber (Tamazight) was a daunting task. While in my village of Ait Ali Oumhand, in the Azilal Provence, I developed a "party" trick for when I was at home or visiting neighbors after school in the evenings. I would sit on comfy sheepskin rugs on the floor surrounded by staring Moroccans, and everyone would wait for one of us Americans to speak. We were like performing circus animals to them, and they wanted to be entertained. I say: Becareful of what you wish for - you just might get it. :)

I got tired of everyone just staring and not speaking, so my "party" trick was that I would just read them everything that I had learned in school - from first day to present day - I would read it all. This was the best way for me to memorize, and perfect my pronunciation. Every once in a while I would say a word wrong, and they would cheerfully correct me (sometimes even when I didn't need correcting they would "help" me). So here I am reading out my vocabulary list at my neighbors house - I get to the word chalk (Tabashir), and every one gasps in horror. Oh no! What did I say? Beside me was my Teacher Malika shaking her head, and saying, "Oh very bad." "What did I say Malika?," I asked. She says, "Oh, I cannot say." "Oh yes you can," I reply. Eventually I get out of her that everyone thought I said Tabashish, which apparently means Vagina! Oh Great. Just my luck to shout out one of the words I've been told not to say (even though I say they should of told me the actual word not to say).

Another great incident happened at the Hanoot (a Moroccan convenience store ...Hee Hee). It was my turn to go on a small shopping trip with Malika, and we just so happened to need some butter. Now the only word for butter that I know is Zibda, which is Arabic, and I had been practicing how to conduct the purchase for about two days. I felt ready and prepared, and Malika said I was doing perfect. Yeah! (Do you ever notice that there is a high point right before you screw up?) So, I walked up to the Hanoot that I had decided to go to every time (I figured the Ba'Hanoot guy would screw me over less if we had a continual relationship), and picked my way through all of the men that were just hanging outside of the building (doing absolutely nothing, or wallow, I might add). Malika and I were the only women out and about at that moment, and all those male eyes were on us. When it was my turn to step up to the counter and order, I decided to ask in a very slow, but clear, tone of voice..."I would like to buy some Zib...Da." Once again I received the gasps of horror, and I turned in time to hear Malika saying, "Oh, Very bad"..."What did I say Malika?"... "Oh, I cannot say"... "Oh yes you better." Apparently my Arabic Zibda for butter - said really slowly broke the word up - and the men thought I had said in Berber, "I want Penis here" (Zib=Penis & Da=Here / Emphatically). I was completely mortified, and worried about all those men getting the wrong impression of me. Let's just say that they probably did get the wrong impression of me, and that Ba'Hanoot guy was REALLY friendly with me until I left.

My last Hashuma story takes place on my last day in my village. I had woken up that morning really pleased with myself, and of all the progress I had made. I finally felt that I understood what people where saying to me, and that I could give grown-up answers to questions. When I got to our "school house," there were Moroccan military officers and local gendarme waiting for us. Apparently there was this war in Iraq, and we had to be taken to a "safe place." What? We had thirty minutes to pack and say goodbye to our new families and friends. Me (Layla), Jamila, Moonia, and Hannan were all heart broken. :( We were sitting in front of the "school house" waiting on our transportation to arrive, when all of the sudden we hear all sorts of crying and wailing. Here comes a large group of villagers (my mom, with the baby strapped to her back, leading everyone) - wailing down the mountain. Just at that moment, the grande taxi showed up to take us away... but the villagers surrounded the car and refused to let us load up. Malika was getting very nervous because the villagers were defying the military and gendarmes, and she was afraid people would get shot. Two hours ,and many tears later, we were able to leave, but I decided to say one last thing to everyone; I wanted to say the biggest thank you ever. Malika had told me that to say Allah Irham Leweldeen (or Allah bless your family) is the biggest thank you a Moroccan can receive. So, I stood up on a big rock, got everyone's attention, and said, "Allah Irham Leweldan." ...And everyone gasped in horror. What the fuck did I say this time? Malika was shaking her head at me saying, "I Cannot Say!" ... "Oh, Very Bad." I finally get her to tell me that I had stood up on a rock in front of my entire village and said, "Allah bless your Testicles!"


...I'm sure that village thought I was some sort of American Prostitute. ;)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Bad Worker

Right now I am the most terrible supervisor. I have six working days left, and I don't give a shit. Does that make me a bad person? The entire time I'm at work I'm worrying about what I have to get done in the next two weeks (and how I haven't made it to the gym in about two weeks. Blah.) I keep thinking about all the preparing I should have done the last two years, and how maybe I can shove it all in before July 5th. I thankfully have the internet at the nurses' station to inappropriately use during working hours (it frees up my evenings). :)

On an up note - the children are not getting away with anything! I am on them like white on rice. I think my therapeutic edge is almost gone.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Stories du Maroc #2

Many people have asked me lately how I got the name Layla. It's a silly story really - On the airplane ride to Rabat from JFK (we flew on Royal Air Maroc, and the smell on the the plane was very powerful), I was wide awake and hyper (despite some Valium), and I started chatting-up the non-Peace Corps people sitting around me. There was a nice retired couple, who had moved to Morocco because their money went further there, and a couple of businessmen going home for the holiday (Eid el Kiber) that was coming up. One man actually had the person next to me switch seats with him so that he and I could talk. He was a typical Moroccan man (I would later find out) - Shmarmy and flirty (in an oily beauhunk kind of way). He definitely thought he was hot shit. He talked about his business a bit, and then asked me my name. I told him that my name was CaraBeth, and he shook his head no. "No really - my name is CaraBeth," I said. "No," he said, "your name is Layla." "What! Why?," I replied. "Because you are so beautiful," he exclaimed! (Is this guy kidding?)

So later on - We arrived at the Hotel Balima, and started meeting all of the Peace Corps country staff. One of the nicest men there was Aberrakman, so I decided to ask him about what the man on the plane called me. "Some man on the plane called me Layla. What does that mean," I asked? He replies, "Oh! That is a beautiful name! It means night, and that your beauty is as beautiful as the night sky! I must tell everyone your name!" (I must mention that I was still confused and very embarrassed at this point). He then proceeded to go around to all of the PC staff and tell them my new name. From that point on, I was called Layla... And to this day there are people out there who don't even know my real name.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Saying Goodbye

The hardest part about leaving for Africa are all of the goodbyes. I feel like I am abandoning everyone. I hate the feeling that, even though I'm off having new adventures, I'm missing out on important experiences here at home.

Here is a quick list of everything I will be missing:

Sarah and Robert grow up.
Jessie and Randy's wedding.
Dinner parties with David, Sonya, and the Brethren.
Brewski's with the Work Crew.
My Mom's eggs-erroneous and French toast.
The possible pregnancies of Betty, Heather, and Jessie

...Ok I have to stop now.

But - The best part of going away are all of the going away parties!! Woo Hoo!
And I have to compliment the Work Crew on probably the wildest, craziest, and most inappropriate going away party EVER. Big Props!

For those of you who did not have the pleasure of attending here is a quick synopsis:

I received at least three lap dances (that I know of).
I drank an entire pint of vodka and Mt. Dew (that I know of).
I accidentally "outted" a co-worker.
Many un-named women thought it was Mardi Gras.. And flashed their breasts.
I kissed nine people (that I know of).
I told at least two inappropriate stories to the wrong people (that I know of).

I apparently groped at least five people inappropriately (that I know of).
I was groped inappropriately by at least three people (that I know of).
We all sang really badly to 80's rock ballads (I blame Ms. Jessie).
Everyone wrote on my party message board things that make it impossible for me to take it home.
The crazy old lady across the street from Travis made an appearance.
I woke up without my panties (I swear I have no idea where they went).

Not bad for a bunch of mental health workers...Wouldn't the children just love to have been there.