The Spaces Between

What can keep it apart?

Miles of land or ocean feel the same

The empty spaces between

Close your eyes and imagine walking toward me

As I breathe deep and slow

It dissipates like warming flog

Condenses on my cheek like dew

 

New Like Porcelain

New like porcelain

Shimmers, clean, untouched

Beckons me to glide my fingertips over i

lovingly

So tempting to give my skin

that smooth, cool welcome

To close my eyes and let it envelope me

 

 

Liz Does Relationships (and the world-traveling modern female)

Alright you all, I’m about to go down on the dirty.  No, I’m not going to give explicit details from my own personal life (uh, yeah right), but I am going to try to collect and present my observations on love (and lust) for the world traveler in some sort of coherent and meaningful way (if I fail, which is probable, let’s call it well-intentioned ramblings from the Road).

Doesn't it kind of look like she wants to get away?

As far as personal stories go, I will admit to this, that I ended up sacrificing a five year relationship with a great guy to satisfy my own wanderlust.  And I also can say that I believe I made the right decision.  Follow your dreams, or you’ll live to regret it, right?  That’s the adage, and if current pop culture has anything to say (and they’re always saying something), then eventually you’ll end up with both the dream career with the dream partner.   Boy as hopeful as I would like to be, the cynic in me says “not always the case.”

Let’s take the world traveling female, for example (sorry, boys, I’m not going to attempt to write your experiences, and sorry, ladies, because I will attempt to write–perhaps generalize–yours).  At this juncture in my life (I love the word ‘juncture’), I do not foresee “settling down” anywhere in the near future.  And YET! I hold on to the assumption that I will find a partner and be able to have a family–One Day.  But, biologically speaking, I should probably be at least considering that “one day” might come too late and I may find myself ready for the whole family-caboodle, but sterile and ALONE.  After all, as this article from ABC News states,

By the time a woman hits 30, nearly all of her ovarian eggs are gone for good, according to a new study that says women who put off childbearing for too long could have difficulty ever conceiving.

The study published by the University of St. Andrews and Edinburgh University in Scotland found that women have lost 90 percent of their eggs by the time they are 30 years old, and only have about 3 percent remaining by the time they are 40.

And as I am about to turn 26, and wasn’t even planning on beginning to think about having a baby until I was well into my 30s, it looks like I just may be fucked (or maybe I should be getting fucked that is).  I recently had a conversation with a friend, a fellow world traveler but male, who expressed many of my own beliefs about this whole “settling down and having a family” thing.  He said that, basically, he doesn’t feel that marriage is necessary if two people love and are committed to each other, and he’s all for traveling and living the “ex-pat” life.  Men, however, can have children so long as they’re cranking the stuff out (which can be well into their seventies and beyond), do not have to physically carry the baby to term (or breast feed, or feel bloated and fat), and for some reason women tend to go for the older man (even I have been known to have a few hopeless crushes on the balding, bespectacled 40+-somethings), meaning they have it easier if they want to “have it all.”

Even if we are to put the whole fertility issue aside (because seriously what better way to get into a guy’s pants than to harp on and on about your biological clock?) there’s the whole logistics of it all.  My current short-term plans (let’s say five years) involve me moving around A LOT, and we’re talking a series of trans-continental moves.  What are the odds of finding someone who would be willing to drop everything and come along for the ride?  Even a fellow wanderer, who lives for travel, may have a different location in mind.  And, from personal experience, long-distance relationships are straining, and sometimes unsatisfying (if the distance and time apart are significant).  One of the reasons why my long-distance relationship ended was simply that neither of us were getting enough of the benefits of being in a relationship to stay in it (and both of us too poor for visits to be an option).  There is only so much intimacy one can transmit through the satellite projections of two cellular phones (that is how they work, right?) and the unfeeling Times New Roman, black letters on a white screen, achievable through email.   We physically need touch.  So, that leaves us with only one answer…

PROMISCUITY!  (Just kidding, take a breath, Mom.)  But seriously, let’s consider this for a moment.  Now, I consider myself a modern feminist.  I would like to fancy myself capable of throwing out the old, tired, traditional image of “Boy meets Girl; Boy dates Girl; Boy marries Girl; and Boy and Girl live happily ever after with 2.1 kids, white picket fence, and a mortgage,” for a newer, hipper image!  An image that screams, “I don’t need anybody!”  Picture it, a young woman moving around, independent but not alone, lovers all over the world, not ONE BIG LOVE, but many, passionate love affairs.  This lady is cool, in every sense of the word.  If she decides she wants to be a parent, she makes it happen (hello sperm bank/willing participant)–no strings attached!  She can do it all, and all on her own.  The elusive, ‘uncatchable’ female.  Do I want to be this woman?  HELL, yes!  I would LOVE to be that independent and strong, but if I’m to be brutally honest with myself (and you poor readers who made the mistake of clicking on this link), it’s not what I really want.

I’d like to “One Day” find a guy willing to be my partner, one who wants the same things in life, and willing to shoulder some of the burden.  I believe a healthy relationship is when two people join together and commit to be honest with each other, have fun together, support each other, whose mere presence inspires each to be their best possible self, and who are moving in the same direction.  I also believe, that if the time comes that they must go separate ways, they should be able to say “I love the person that you are, and I will cherish our memories together forever; however, it’s not working out anymore, and I wish you the best.”  There doesn’t have to be drama or jealousy because love isn’t about ownership; two people can be together while maintaining their identity and freedom.

Okay, so I’ve talked myself into a mess.  I have no more answers than when I started this post, and in fact, feel a bit more confused.  I do know because of a recent experience, that as much as I love being independent and on my own (and the pride of knowing that I can thrive by myself), I actually miss having someone to hold me, talk to me, and that fun that comes from slowly opening yourself up to someone and they to you.  As my girl Tracy Chapman says, “I don’t want no one to squeeze me; they might take away my life; I just want someone to hold me and rock me through the night.”  For now, anyway, and maybe One Day just might come…

Liz: Full Frontal

Isn’t it just like me to disappear from the Blog World and come back just to completely bare all for you?  Yes, it is.

Where have I been all this time?  Has nothing been happening?  Well, actually everything has been happening, and I can’t seem to process any of it.

My orphanage project is still in the fundraising phase.  Do you want to know the truth?  I’m terrified.  I’m terrified I will not be able to raise the money.  I’m afraid to get everybody’s hopes up for nothing.  I’m afraid that all the donations all you wonderful people have made will come to nothing.  That I will fail you.  Fail the kids.  And maybe worst of all, fail myself and the image I have of the volunteer I should have been.

You join the Peace Corps knowing that you’re in it for two years plus training.  You tell yourself you’ve got the stamina and perseverance to make it through those two long years.  To say goodbye to all you know and love for something new and unknown.  Family, friends, lovers, foods, even language are left behind so that you can “make a difference” in the world.

But what no one tells you is that two years isn’t too long; it’s too short.  At least, for me.  Not because I love it so much, but because it has taken me this long to define my experience and define myself as a volunteer.  It has taken me this long to become comfortable in this new skin, to grow into this new person.

What am I talking about?  Well, I came here with an idea of who I was supposed to be.  I came here with all these expectations.  But how could I?  How could I know who I needed to be and what I needed to do when I didn’t know anything about this place: how it works, how it doesn’t work, and how I would react?  I’m a different person than I was two years ago.  How could I not be?

Along with everything else, my definition of a Peace Corps volunteer has also changed.  I realize now that there are so many ways in which a volunteer can be successful and have an impact; that success doesn’t have a rigid definition either.  And, most importantly, I’ve learned what kind of volunteer I am.  And now, it’s time for me to close up my projects and get ready for my replacement.  And as reasonable as I can be with myself, I can’t help but feel like a failure, and see all the ways in which my replacement will see me as a failure.

There are a lot things that I did (and didn’t do) that do not make sense, unless you were here to witness every event and everyday.  Why didn’t I work with the agroforestry guy who lives up the road from me?  Because early in my service he made it clear he wanted to start a relationship with me (even though he’s married and even though he tried the same thing with my predecessor) and when I explained that I was not interested and was only here for the work and cultural experience, I never heard from him again.  (Except that day he ran into me in front of a group of men from the agricultural delegation and he continued to berate me for “abandoning” him and my responsibilities as a volunteer.  That was a great day.)  How can I explain that there were days (more than I will ever admit to) when I couldn’t leave my house and desperately hoped that no one would stop by because I just couldn’t face anybody?  That I could not take being called “The White” one more time; that I wanted some anonymity when walking to the market to buy my groceries.  You will never know how taxing it is to have every movement you make noticed, to walk down the street and have unwelcomed comments thrown at you, to be criticized (your body, your accent, your behavior) and scrutinized until you feel that hardly anybody actually can see you for who you are, and even less are interested in making the effort.

Everyday you are reduced to your image and whatever connotations that person has of that image.  You must strike the balance between generosity without letting people suck you dry; you must learn to greet everybody in the street (even though some will ignore you or insult you or tell you to go home) because you are not just you, but a representation of your heritage, your country; you must develop a thick skin because even your closest friends will insult you, and you them.  And you must learn to forgive yourself, because there will be days when you retreat into the safety of your home, the expatriate community, the Hilton for Happy Hour, you will lose your temper and flip people the bird or tell them to get stuffed, you will fall off the exercise wagon, you will cry, you will stumble, you will fall in front of everybody.  But that’s okay, because you’re human…and so am I.

So did I make a difference in the world?  I think I did, in some small way.  Writing my description of service has reminded me of all I have accomplished, and all the truly wonderful people I’ve met, fellow volunteers, Cameroonians, and Couch Surfers.  But one thing I can answer in all honesty is that the world made a difference in me.  And this new me will continue to affect the world and so on.  I guess that’s what growth and evolution is all about.

Let’s build an orphanage!

Hey everybody!

So finally, FINALLY my project is up and ready for contributions.  Each donation is 100% tax deductible.

The orphanage that I work with here in Baham is being forced from their land.  Due to the generosity of the prefecture, they were given almost one entire hectare to relocate, but must start building within the next two years.  Please follow this link to make a donation–whether $5 or $500–every little bit brings us one step closer.  We don’t have much time, though.  Let’s get the $6,600 raised by the end of the month!  We can do it!

Marie Noel and Lisa during physical therapy

 

Soy, Tofu, and Tempeh!

Hey lovely babies! So it’s been awhile and mea culpa. I’ve got exciting/stress inducing news, but that post will wait until it’s a sure thing (no jinxies, please).

So what have I been up to lately?  Well, perfecting and promoting tofu, that’s what.  Tofu brochettes are extremely profitable for my lovely lady friends (income generation, hello); it’s roughly 7,000 CFA profit per batch! (What the WHAT?)  Yeah, you heard me.

So here’s the recipe Tofu Au Cameroun:

Ingredients:

3kg untreated dry soy beans, three ladles of red wine vinegar, spices (here that’s Maggi cube, hot pepper powder (piment) and salt), a clean cloth diaper, and water

Step1. Soak soy beans for roughly 7-10 hours, drain and grind into a smooth paste (will resemble homemade ice cream, yum)

Step 2.  Take the cloth diaper and squeeze out the milk.  The soy curds can be saved to put into sauce.

Step 3.  Place soy milk in a large pot and bring to a boil.  (At this point you can sweeten and drink as milk).

Step 4.  Add vinegar.  Leave on heat for 5 minutes, then remove from heat and wait for the mixture to coagulate.

Step 5. Once it is cooled to touch take the cloth diaper and squeeze out excess water (and throw out).

Step 6.  Mix in spices to the meet.  Wrap in the diaper and tie securely.  Place under a large rock and allow it to set for 15 minutes (this creates a dense, firm tofu)

Step 7. (optional) Cut tofu into half inch cubes and fry in palm oil until crisp.  When cooled place meat on brochettes and sell for 100 cfa.  Enjoy!

————————

I’ve been on a cooking kick and reading my new favorite blog:  Sweet Tater Blog. Tater’s got all sorts of delicious recipes and funny anecdotes.  Her blog inspired me to learn about Tempeh, another soy-based vegetarian must-have.  Please visit this great site to learn all about Tempeh (and even get your own free Tempeh starter delivered to your door!) www.topcultures.com 

Give tofu transformation a try!  (And let me know how it works out in the Comments section).

Who sucks at updating their blog? THIS girl!

Back from vacation! Vacation? May not be the best word for it. Adventure, session in breathing during extremely physical discomfort? Yoga asana? Better descriptions. A great time? Definitely.

Traveled all over the Sahel of Cameroon, to the very extreme of the Extreme North Region, where women with scarification on their faces, dreadlocks with shells, coins, and metals woven in their hair, and vibrant Muslim veils in chartreuse, magenta, aqua, turquoise, mauve, electric tangerine, and lemon yellow, dotting the desert like colorful flowers decorating a sepia background.

Me? I haven’t slept (well) in two weeks, but it was worth it. I need a vacation to recover from my vacation. I motorbiked in a peasant skirt over rocky terrain, rode bareback on an old blind horse, swam in numerous oases, camped out in a stranger’s living room floor decked out with colorful carpets and prayer mats, pillows, and a wonderful fan blowing on me, and drank more coca cola than I’d ever care to admit.

Stories? You bet I got ’em. Cannot, could not write them all here, though. So sorry. Just close your eyes and imagine being at the verge of tears, uncomfortable, and yet so happy, you wouldn’t change a thing. You might have an idea of what I felt.

A Year

I am now past the year mark and have about 11 months to go with my service.  This has been the longest I have been without seeing my family and my friends from back “home.”  Even though I have been in Cameroon now for 16 months, 11 months sometimes feels like a long time.  I ask myself, can I do it?  After all I’ve made it this far, the rest should be a breeze, right?  I think it might be.  Maybe not all rosy fun times, but I’ve broken up the upcoming year into “increments” based on project time lines, travel plans, visits, and Peace Corps meetings, and it looks something like this:  January- Agro fair/Mid Service, Feb/March- Environmental Education training, April-North to present HIV/GYD committee for “in service trainees,” travel, Agroforestry seminar, May-My Mom comes to visit!!!, June-Batir l’Avenir, July/August-HIV Summer Camp, September- COS CONFERENCE(!), October/November- GRE, World Map Project down town Baham, Replacement Site visit!, December-COS (Close Of Service) and travel.  Put in this context, this year is going to FLY BY.  This is not counting smaller projects along the way which will take time as well.  Each new hurdle is another accomplishment and another step for “what comes next.”

So what exactly does come next?  I don’t know for sure.  I am definitely going to travel.  I have a “Round the World” plan that may be a bit too ambitious for the time being, but I’ll find a way.  I just need to make sure I have some cash left to start my life.  I’m wanting to move in to the NYC area and try to get a job (as a Peace Corps recruiter, but we’ll see…also side jobs like research assistant, server, babysitting are in the forecast as well) and work for about a year while taking some classes and taking the GRE Psychology Subject test.  I’m very interested in a clinical psychology phd program in New York, school shall remain nameless for the time being, but you can probably guess.  I still see myself living in “another part of the world.”  But I don’t want to tie myself down.  I’m all about options at this juncture of my life.

I am, however, thinking about finances.  529 plans, investments, Roth IRAs, setting aside money to buy property one day.  It’s amazing the perceptional shifts which come automatically once this ideas start swimming around your mind.  I find myself changing.  Before I firmly believed that any one person sitting on wealth was sinful, if not THE ultimate sin when there is poverty and starvation.  More than one home a sin when there are homeless.  I still feel myself clinging to these points, but there is a shift brewing and I feel at the precipice of something huge.  Is it possible that Peace Corps service has made me more….gasp…conservitive???  Oh, the horror.

One thing is certain.  I. Do. Not. Want. To. Be. Poor.  Period.  Been there, done that.  When I was younger, I would flat out tell ya “Hey, I don’t know how, but I’m gonna be rich when I grow up.”  Then I changed.  I refused to say “idealistic” because I believe this to be a sell out term.  I was completely and totally socialist.  No rich.  No poor.  Enough for everybody.  No, if I do become “conservative” (barf, yuck, spit) I will call myself and everyone like me a sell out.  And I’m thinking about selling out.  At least a little.  Can one be a “bit of a sell out?”

Well, to the Paul Farmers of the world (and no, Oprah and Bono, you do NOT belong in this category because the vast amounts of wealth you hang on to, far exceed what you give away (and show me the proof that your donations have made any sustainable positive change, but I’m a harsh critic.  Rest assured, I’m toughest on myself) I salute you!  You have donated all personal wealth, time, and body to helping the poor.  You are unselfish.  But I am finding, that I, in fact am.

So how will this story end?  Will I turn out to be a Wall Street, wise-ass, tight pursed business woman, or the free spirit living off the grid in some B level road in the country?  We’ll have to just wait and see what develops.

Maybe I can look the hippie, living out of the van and washing my hand-sewn clothes on a rock by a river all the while with a nice nest egg in some account online somewhere…?  Who’m I kidding?  The world is gonna fall apart in a few years anyway.  😉

Do you have financial advice for our directionless author?  If so, post in the comments section!