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CT took off today, she is en route back to her life after a week of wine-, dine-, and sleep-well-past-nine-ing.

And I am now “home”, alone, in bed.

Did I mention I don’t do post-program well? I’m not going to lie I’m a wee bit nervous about the next 10 days.

“10 days, Melanie” you say. “10 days is nothing! Heck, I would love 10 days with nothing to do!” In fact, I think that’s what the rest of you call vacation. I call it a wee bit scary, but hey, we all have different thresholds. I routinely throw myself at the mercy of masses between the ages of 15 and 23 without batting an eyelash. Different fears, people, different fears. 10 days alone, minus structure, plus time to think? Cccooommmmeee bbbbaaaccckkkk CT!

Yup. Home, alone, in bed…

…trying to create some goals and some sort of schedule. Something to keep from analyzing and “processing” the last four months to death, and/or prevent my inner 16-year-old from winning the motivation battle that ends in movie musicals and crime shows.

It’s unsettling because for the first time in 5 months I am alone. There is no one in the next room or on the other side of the bed. There is no one to wake up to, no schedule to keep, no students to herd, transport to coordinate, colleagues to eat with – no one to share it with. Im really good at sharing. Top that off with having been over programmed and highly regimented and I am literally finding it hard to make simple decisions. With half an hour of thought I gave up deciding and ate oatmeal for dinner.

Its time to rely on tried-and-true methodologies: Lists. When in doubt, make lists. (World, you may have lost Opera but I’m here to fill your “quips of wisdom” void)

Entonces, in the next 10 days I will: Take 5 Spanish classes
Go on 4 bike rides
Finish IHP paper work
Write a blog about transportation justice
Go to a museum
Attend 2 couchsurfing meet ups

And just like that my week filled up! List are magic like that.

Thanks guys, you helped a lot. Go team.

Now that I’m here, alone, in bed (with my list!) I’m going to sleep in the middle and use all the blankets. (’cause she’s got the whole bed to herself, she’s got the whole wide bed, to herself, she’s got the whole…..you get it)

Sweet dreams, kids.

Mels.

Couldn’t have planned it better.

Two weeks ago I tossed an idea on the table. “Christina, come to BA!”

Two days later I got an email:
Subject:”United Airlines flight confirmation”
Body: Easiest decision ever

After four years of working together on youth programs Christina and I take a week-long pause in Buenos Aires. She, pre-program and I, post-.

It looks a lot like this….

20110527-015100.jpg
Reading about BA with pauses for coffe and Vogue magazine.

And this….

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Wine tastings and long dinners.

I don’t handle post-program transitions well, but this goes down as the best one yet.

Thanks Christina.

-Mels

One year ago this week I moved out of my apartment into a whole lotta world.

In taking Stock of the last Three Hundred Sixty-Five days, I have counted:

250 Students on Program
50 Colleagues Worked with
15 Modes of Transportation Utilized
7 New Countries Explored
5 Types of Toilets Negotiated
4 Babies Born to Friends or Family
2 Romances Attempted

and my favorite stat of all: over 65 beds slept in.

(That’s averaging a new bed every five days for my maths impaired amigos.)

As I lay in (my current, though changing tomorrow) bed at night counting up the places I’ve slept, in each pillow case is wrapped a place and time. Every foreign bed frame creek and groan tells the story of the day that got me there and the people I’d wake to in the morning.

And thats the beauty of the list, less the numbers and numerics, more the bounty of the bonds created.

Tomorrow marks a new phase of this 15 month trip; a full year has passed, this semester is over and personal travel begins. New stage, new goals, new people, a new list and – lest we forget – a new bed.

Buenos Noches. Lak u noc. Śubha rātri, Bonne Nuit. Iyi geceler.

Good Night.

-Mels

That’s all there really is to say.

It’s been a roller coaster with this group. They  challenged me as a person and educator. I made so many mistakes, fell short and did not live up to them in so many ways. They disappointed and frustrated me, resisting and complaining – moments when I wanted to stand on the table and shout  ” You entitled, spoiled, pain in the ass shits. Look around and understand how lucky you are, how amazing the world is and how much you ARE learning!” Times when it was hard to see the learning, the students who were happy, the successes and joys in a sea of negativity.  A group that looked so easy turned my head (and heart) upside down at times but in the end renewed my faith in process and progress.

This morning in a final group presentation the students encapsulated the learning, the growing, the pushing boundaries and expanding understandings; the struggle with ideas, with us, with each other and with their own (in-)abilities to articulate and contain all that was experienced in the timelapse of four months.

They opened their shell and let us into their stories of love and family, deep thought and deeper connections.  Their love for cities, for each other, for functioning public transportation!

Drawing lines of reflection between the dotted scape of guest lectures, host families and bibliographied ideas they exposed a nuanced, colorful and compassionate portrait of a semester.

Humbled and amazed by a group I doubted.

Quietly, Happily and with much to think about –  It’s over.

But in what language?  Even with minimal vocabulary in anything but English, I can feel my personality change as my language does.

In English I’m me –  Enthusiastic, Loud, Loving and Stubborn.

In Portuguese, I’m Coy.

In Arabic, I’m Subdued.

In French, I’m Polite.

In Wolof, I’m Friendly and Funny.

Who will I be in Spanish?!

Okay. Woah. Hold on.  Universe, I need you to slow your roll.

Somewhere over the Mediterranean (crazy flight pattern because Libya closed it’s airspace) we hit a warp-speed portal and everything since has happened in double-time.

It’s Sunday night, day 8 in country, and its the first time I have had a chance to catch up and slow down.  Time to think about what’s going on, where I am and how I feel about all of it. I’ve had 8 hours of sleep, a good meal and a long walk along the ocean.  My proverbial ducks are in a row…though this is Dakar so they should be goats. My goats are in a row.

MBBaAAAAA!

(That’s what my goats sound like in writing.)

Goats and a haircut - now that's one stop shopping!

That’s not to say I’ve done everything I needed to do this weekend. I still have to:

  • Do my taxes
  • Submit my pre-departure expenses
  • Write encouraging love-notes to each student
  • Make the homestay pairings for Argentina
  • Give a colleague some (not so loving from students) feedback
  • Write the programs “Letter home” form India
  • Buy aloe – for all my students who forgot they were IN AFRICA where, once in a while, you know, sometimes, or EVERYDAY there is a LOT OF SUN!!
  • And sleep.

On that note….HI Guys!!!  I’m in Dakar which is in Senegal which is in Africa! I switched continents while you weren’t looking. Sneaky girl.

This is my Happy Ocean Face! (It’s also my Ohmiggod-that-was-a-really-long-flight-and-I-slept-exactly-zero-hours face)

Dakar is wonderful.  Not only does it have an ocean, it has about 10 million less people then Delhi.  Scale matters.

Dakar is accessible in a way Delhi is not.  First of all, it’s walkable.  Within 48 hours of arriving I had figured out how to navigate the 50 minute walk to school and where the nearest places are to buy fruit, yogurt, veggies and wine. It took me three weeks to do that in Delhi.  Second, people don’t stare at you the way they do in Delhi.  While my white American-ness makes me stand out even more here, there are not the same standards of open stares and vendor harassment.  In Delhi taxis, rickshaws, vendors and street children follow you for blocks. Here you smile – “Salaam Alakuum” or “Bonjor” or “Nangadef” – shake your head gently. They reply – “walakumm salaam” or “Sava?” or “Manga fi rekk”  and that’s it.  Interaction complete.  Human to human.

Lastly, the buses look like this:

Car Rapides - Dakar's public transit.

And how can that not make you happy every time you get on.

Also…We get to eat with our hands.

 

 

 

I can’t put my finger on why, but I like Dakar so much.

Yay-town.

Melanie

Playing in my head all country long: All this Beauty, The Weepeies

Currently reading: Apartment listings for Argentina – I’m broke and trying to stay for two months!  Ahhh!

Still reading: Imagined communities – exactly where I was a week ago.

This one is going to be necessarily on the lame side.  Just want y’all to know I have not fallen off the face of the earth.

After two days of misery and four days of cautious eating Delhi belly left and my love for street food returned. Go figure.

However, I think my relationship with soft cheese is over.  There was feta with dinner the night I got sick and I can’t even think about it now with out recoiling. Better off without it.

This past weekend Melissa and I took a side trip to Jaipur and we have some wonderful pictures from the weekend.  I will post them soon once the bandwith can handle more than just email.

My goodness  – after 4 weeks in India it has come to feel complelty natural to be here and to be the IHP program.  As in, of course I’m in India, of course this is totally normal, of course we go to class and site visits, of coursethe entirety of my life revolves around 35 college students, of course all my meals are spent discussing neoliberalism and development models.  I don’t understand whats different about this from “regular” life at all.   Maybe its the culmination of doing this for a number of years with the youth programs, albeit in different circumstances, but somehow this program feels copletly normal and natural for me.  Here’s crossing my fingers that it maintains for the next 11 weeks.

Academically, this is better than grad school – but maybe that’s because I get to live with the faculty.  Speaking of faculty – lovefest. They are amazing, and I’m thankful everyday to work with three women who humble and inspire me.  And good god are they smart.

That’s 30 seconds in my world – mostly for the benefit of my Grandfather – Hi Papa Max! Love to you and Grandma!

I promise, pictures, thoughts and stories comming soon.  I’m still percolating on transportation and space.  Went to an exhibit by Anish Kapoor, architect & Sculptor extraordinaire (of the “bean” sculpture in Chicago among others) – so much more fodder for thought.  An aesthetic conceptualizing of space that turned my brain on its head for a while.

Currently reading:

For fun – The Finkler Question, Howard Jacobson. Overly self-indugent on the Jewish introspection analysis front.  Were Jewish, we talk about ourselves a lot, we get it.

For Smarts – Imagined Communities, Benidict Anderson.  It’s taking me forever and a pencil to get through it.  Each sentence is worthy of thought and I’m having great conversation with the margins.

Wanting – A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth. We keep talking about it, I’m desperate to read it, but its about a million pounds heavy and who has room for that will all the gifts I bought here!

 

Space and Place – I was first introduced to the idea of “place making” by my sister, a modern dancer who in college created “space based” pieces – in museums with works of art, in campus spaces, and in old factories in North Adams, Massachusetts. At the time it sounded like some foofy-academic stuff made up by artist and ivory towers.  I love my sister and her dance, but really?  Conversations about space?

As I moved into teaching space took on far greater importance.  What is a good “learning space”?  How do I set up a room to encourage open dialogue?  How do I make this room feel different for this afternoons fun-activity than this mornings workshop on sexual orientation?

My capstone presentation for my Masters was in my favorite room on the SIT campus except – the last time I had been in there was to mediate one of the most intense conversations of my time with the youth programs.  Each time  I walked in the room my heart started pounding, I got hot and dizzy, theroomshrank – I felt like vomiting.  The room, that space, held all the emotions of that conversation.  It held my students stories, their pain, their confessions, my reactions and sense of helplessness. The room was memory as real as any connections my neurons could fire.

Space holds meaning.  There are spaces that feel safe, places you can let your guard down, places that are home – be they your favorite swimming pool, or best friends couch, that basketball court around the corner, your wood shop, the third stool from the end at your favorite pub or the boulder on the end of a Cape Cod pier.

I’ve been thinking a lot about space and place in Delhi.  Who has rights to it, power over it, decision making authority, what are its cultural, economic, political and caste implications?  With such a huge population every inch of space, every sidewalk square counts.  I am working on a more personal, indepth look at space in India, but for now…

I turn your attention to my collegue Mellisa Garcia Lamarca.  She writes for an international blog called polis, as has just published a concise and illuminating article on the issue of space and state power in Delhi.

http://www.thepolisblog.org/2011/02/space-and-state-power-in-delhi.html

Enjoy.

 

 

Today, my cousin who is volunteering in Tanzania wrote this on her blog:

Far away

I’m feeling a little lonely and sad today, frustrated by the hugeness of the challenges we have facing us, angry at the world for being so unfair to these wonderful kids, missing my family and friends for the holidays and my birthday (in five days).   Any ideas for feeling closer to home when you’re really, really, really, ridiculously far away?

Becks – I know the feeling well.  And while I have no advice to offer, I do have this.  I hope it helps.

We all love you.

Sending oversized “we’re here”-vibes and ridiculous family singing-around-the-table-after-a-meal-just-like-we-always-have affection your way. (And yes, those are light-up turkey hats.)

Pausing at my parents house.

– – –

Each morning around 3 the door makes its sandpaper rub along the carpet.

A nose and two eyes sneak knee-height into my room.

Always the same – two steps, two breaths, a huff, and he is gone.

I sleep feeling loved and protected.

– – –

 

Snow Day.

 

Dog Park.

 

Mudded Bliss.

 

– – –

 

Seamus Foster

Welcome to the Family

 

(You’re so friggin cute.)

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