May 19, 2011, 3:16 pm
Filed under: insight

Yesterday I saw my first election in Africa.

Everyone, was in a good mood, smiling on the streets at strangers. People dress up neatly to vote. The cashier at the grocery store tells us she voted before work from behind thick smudged bright pink lipstick, as though she is reminding us to do the same.

People will stand in line for two or three hours to vote, some lines in other places streched a kilometer. In order to be able to vote, you have to register about a month in advance by going to a station, every election. Grandmothers began lining up in some places at four in the morning, in the cold inland winter. Fathers brought their young sons to stand in line with them. Almost all of the politicians line up amongst the crowd, waiting an hour or two, while women with babies and the elderly are ushered ahead.

Coming from a country where the democratic exercise has seemed farcial for the past few years, where a recent election was more about grumbling apathy than policy, that snaking line is a beautiful thing.


The Small Bits About Living Here
May 17, 2011, 3:40 pm
Filed under: voyageur

This house does not technically have hot water. For hot water we light a gas burner that runs off a tank bought at a farmer’s co-op twenty minutes away or a harbour five minutes away. This house, built more for summer cool out of cement, has a stove for burning coal on the days the sky turns blue grey and a cold front creeps over the ocean.

Internet, now, is run from a stick attached by usb that someone gave us. It, and our cell phones, feed off the television antenna (evidenced by how we know our phone is about to ring or a download is speeding up by flickers of the tv) and work better when we stand near the windows. Our other usb stick involved going to a store, buying an assortment of credit vouchers, loading them by punching in an excessive series of numbers and sending a text message about what kind of data bundle we would like. My phone works in a similar way, although I top up in increments worth about seventy five cents that last for about a week of casual texts. You can prepay pretty much anything around here, even your electricity.

To get groceries we typically go into the farming town twenty minutes away rather than the expat town ten minutes away, once per month. We get most meat from a butcher, eggs from an egg and chicken store, milk and cheese from the dairy store, dry goods from a general store and vegetables from people selling them on the pavement. All of these things are available on one short main street. We get all of our bread and baking from a bakery in the expat town with semi-surly owners we have grown to love, if High Fidelity had a bakery sequel you could shoot it here. Last weekend we bought a cake and ate it on the beach, it was the stuff of dreams (the cake, specifically, eating cake on an empty white beach with gentle blue peelers, generally).

Every two weeks library books come due. There are no real fines and you can only have three books at a time, but the elderly volunteers will give a disapproving eye if you fail to respect the stamp. Books are shelved in a semi-order, probably because the volunteers have different concepts as to what categories books fit in. There are really only two categories: holiday, a la John Grisham and Sophie Kinsella, and literary, a la Doris Lessing and Paulo Coelho, but really this works fine given that I have not read enough of either genre in this lifetime.

Ten Year Reunion
May 3, 2011, 11:00 pm
Filed under: when I grow up

There isn’t one. It seems. Not that I would be first on the mailing list.

Ten years out, contact to the world that was high school is limited, I could count those people on two hands. Obviously there is little point in wishing to do things over again because we are the sum of our experiences, et blah. Recently I watched a movie called The Lather Effect (released here under a different title) in which a bunch of hung over characters debate the value of nostalgia and work through their own histories after a Come As You Were theme party serving as a defacto high school reunion between close friends fifteen years later. It gets bad reviews; I liked it.

As a thrower of house parties, maybe even parties of note, I imagined a reunion weekend that will never happen with all the usual suspects. The music we would listen to, the shitty vodka mix drinks that could be briefly revived (Vex, anyone?). Break out the flared jeans, platform sneakers, pizza one of the guys picked up from down the street, random useless item in the house that becomes irreperably damaged, hazy four in the morning confessions. To be honest, I don’t remember the point of this, only that it was fun and that my co-conspirator’s basement always smelled like a certain kind of fabric softener in the middle of the night before we passed out in the spare room. We never got caught, never really felt hungover, never questioned the shortness of our skirts walking through campgrounds in the dark or into dank auditoriums.

If you could go back, knowing what you know about the world and yourself, what would have been different?

I would have done something athletic, recognizing that the labels of unathletic and uncoordinated were inaccurate. I think I would have been a danger to teenage boys, as a progression of realizations beginning at nineteen have clued me in to the idea that I was never unattractive – only lacking confidence. I wouldn’t have had more boyfriends, youth is wasted on boyfriends. I would have pursued and embraced the eclectic interests I only gave myself permission to openly like as an adult, some of which I remain too self conscious about, setting the bar too high. I think I would have been friendlier by default, and more patient with the fickle nature of teenage friendship; I would expect less than the idealized version I had convinced myself existed.

All of this is broad, sort of dishwater grey brown, probably obvious. Maybe it belies a lack of real regret. Didn’t we make the best of it anyways? Considering the raw ingredients of a one horse town and a pretty dull cohort?

Two years ago, over Christmas, drinking with friends from high school in my parents living room, a return to the scene of the crimes save the beer being taken with my parent’s blessing. Two of us split off, stayed out longer, the way we always used to, mutual admiration society. Cold, snowy, car half heated up. I said goodnight and it lingered in that way it always used to at fifteen, seventeen, nineteen. The space before opening the car door, the great tense silence, a frenetic calm.

Nothing happened, I went inside. Later he would write that he thought about it, which I knew more than I’d ever known int he preceding intervals, and I’d write something back to make this confession comfortable. We are preserved.

It is likely that confidence and knowledge would have blocked that over the falls, into the rabbit hole feeling that makes up most of my better teenage memories. I remember all the non moments before things happened not by the ensuing story but by the mixed feelings caused by not knowing the outcome. The first time someone handed me a shot of whiskey. The first time I went to a party, smoked a wine tipped cigar, had a guy pick me up from my house in his car. Going back to class in new clothes with unblemished paper, or to a friend’s house for the first time. Starting a summer job.

The anxious flushed pause in the passenger seat of a car, this I miss.