25 August 2010

Have you ever met anyone this cool?

The newest and proudest invitee to Peace Corps Jordan, to depart at the end of October:

She taught middle school special ed for twenty years, then went on to get certified to work with visually impaired students. Now she's off to learn Arabic and teach special needs children (and probably adults) motor skills like hand-eye coordination and coloring, and basic life skills like getting dressed in the morning. Did I mention that she's going to learn Arabic?
I am not aware of anyone cooler than this.
In case you need a visual:
I'm in the top lefthand corner. Mom is northwest of Saudi Arabia. LOOK HOW CLOSE THAT IS!!!

Congratulations, Mom. This is a new chapter in your life.

18 August 2010

in America

the obvious things are not the things that shock me so much. when i landed in london on the way out, the airport looked nice. big. clean. but that could be anywhere. bulgaria is still the dumps in a lot of places, but find the right restaurant in varna and you're straight back into 21st century. find the wrong gas station on Delmarva and you're somewhere around 1985. it's all perspective.
i was at one such gas station, the closest one to my american house, right on racetrack road, and i was dying to get to the beach. mom was letting me drive her car. all the pumps were full, and there was one car waiting. i saw a pump open up on the other end and i immediately started to jockey to get there fast, lest a new car enter the station and think it was theirs for the taking. in bulgaria i am so used to having to fight for everything. if you don't hold your place in line, be sure someone will step directly in front of you. i have spent extra 10s and 15 minutes in the grocery store because i was too timid to assert that i was in fact next to be served.
i pulled up next to the other car and rolled the window down. "do you want that pump?" i asked.
the man was white, middle aged, affluent looking. he smiled and said, "no problem. i'll wait for this one."
"i just didn't want to jump in front of you" i said. i always feel the need to give an explanation.
"it's no problem" he said again, as i wheeled over to the pump which was somehow, magically still unoccupied.
"you're so polite" my mom remarked.
i'm so american, i thought. "i've been getting cut in front of for 14 months." i replied. we both stepped out of the car; i ran inside to pay and she pumped. we were out of there and on to the beach in no time at all.

10 August 2010


the bike wheels jumped with uncertainty across the cobblestones that made up something resembling a road. i had seen it many times before turned into a lake, a mudslide of animal feces and dirt and fresh rain, but today is was dry and the sun was beating down hard. i turned when i saw the mosque and parked the bike next to a field of 8 women, dressed from head to toe in the scorching heat.
"is Gülten here?" i asked and i trudged forth between the high stalks. she turned around, familiar face with hair all hidden under a cotton kerchief. to her left one of my colleagues, Seyarey, smiled widely and said that she would hug me if she wasn't so dirty.
they showed me how to pick the leaves, starting at about eye level and working down; sticky things really. we stacked them in our hands and periodically handed them off to another woman, who slid the piles down large metal tongs which she would later thread to make bundles. i was going slower than everyone else, but everyone refrained how much they appreciated the help.

when we finished only about an hour later (i had come around 10:30 but they had been at is since 7) and we took a lunch break. i rode home to wash the dirt off my hands, which proved to be a trickier task than i expected. in a little while i returned, then my hair all wrapped in kerchief, and we started the next step of the day-- gathering the bundles, moving them from the field to the woman's garden. a donkey cart was soon enlisted to help, but there being no donkey, the woman (Ayshe), Gulten and I pushed the cart back and forth between destinations. other women were at work unstringing the bundles and hanging them out in small greenhouses to dry. everywhere you looked tobacco, in all varying stages; green, sticky, heavy, wet. hundreds of leaves on a line. another greenhouse down, more yellowed, dry but not ready, withered under the august sun. we spent the afternoon that way- my first day of true manual labor.

"15 days, again" Ayshe said. somehow throughout the day she had become one of my new favorite people in the world. this was her tobacco, this was her labor and her livelihood. such a sizable group of us had worked all day, and in fifteen days we would go back and do it again, gathering the higher leaves that today we left behind. at the end of the season she might collect 500 leva for the lot of it. that comes to around $260.

"say it in Turkish" someone suggested to me, and my mind searched for a moment.
"On-besh gün. Geljem." i said. "Fifteen days, I will come."
the ladies all laughed.