Monday, November 29, 2010

Firestarter: Failure

If you live in Brazzaville, and you want to light your gas stove, I would not recommend these matches. Simba is not as virile and roaring as he may seem- let me tell you!

Firestarter: Success

The combination of a reliable box of Le Boxeur matches and a fast moving football lighter were my solution to the dawn crisis of lighting my gas stove to make the ever-important morning cup of instant Nescafé with Milgro powdered milk and white sugar. Getting the human engine started with caffeine...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thinking About Soul Mates

Soul mates are about work, not play. The word “soul” opens a gigantic can of karma. While dating and light relationships are all about fun and playfulness, soul mates are all about deep emotional support, trust and faith. When you choose to go deeper with someone, you’re opening yourself up — you become emotionally vulnerable. Susan Strong, San Mateo-based astrologer and metaphysical counselor jokes, “Sometimes our soul mates become our cross to bear. You marry someone who is your soul mate and, over time, you realize you’re connected not just through chemistry, but because you are there to help each other.”

To love someone and be loved is a deeply spiritual state. [I never thought about it like this before, while at the same time realizing there is no assurance that a soul mate is for life. Just learning from the other person is the gift.]

Maybe I am ready to work now!
Thinking about Eternity while living in the present- the human condition.

Monday, November 15, 2010

for mom take II

for mom

"When we do make a genuine connection with another person, it's a heart connection. We can touch another heart, another life, only with our own heart and life. We may be the ones to benefit most; you never know what will happen or who will end up liberating whom. When we reach out, we're offering to let go of our own preconceptions about "who I am," "who you are," and what could or should happen. A meeting of minds or hearts is never about just one person; it's like a chemical reaction, an alchemy that can transform both." —Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

They are discussing Ponlop Rinpoche's Rebel Buddha at the Tricycle Book Club! I think I want to read this book.

Check It Out

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Wandering Mind: Unhappy Mind

"A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind," Killingsworth and Gilbert write. "The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost."

"Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and to 'be here now,'" Killingsworth and Gilbert note in Science. "These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind." This new research, the authors say, suggests that these traditions are right.

Unlike other animals, humans spend a lot of time thinking about what isn't going on around them: contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or may never happen at all. Indeed, mind-wandering appears to be the human brain's default mode of operation. "Mind-wandering appears ubiquitous across all activities," says Killingsworth, a doctoral student in psychology at Harvard. "This study shows that our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the non-present."

"Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people's happiness," Killingsworth says. "In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged."

Killingsworth and Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, found that people were happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working, or using a home computer.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Harvard University. The original article was written by Steve Bradt, Harvard Staff Writer.

Journal Reference: Matthew A. Killingsworth, Daniel T. Gilbert. A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind.

Science, 2010; 330 (6006): 932 DOI: 10.1126/science.1192439

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rising UP, turning mistakes into gold: That's me!

Just where to put all your faith and where will it go? Eddie Veddar, Rise Up

UniVerse- A United Nations of Poetry:

Amadou Lamine SALL

Amantes D'Aurores

déjà le poème s'essouffle et les mots s'esquivent
la plume danse des arabesques saoule de son vin noir
les voyelles sont distraites
et les consonnes rétives errent en procession
sur le vide de la page qui bâille

English Version

Already the poem is out of breath and the words are slipping away
The pen, inebriated by the black wine, is dancing arabesques
The vowels are distracted
And the stubborn consonants are wandering in procession
On the emptiness of the yawning page (7-11)

Commentary on Life: The renewal of new beginnings in Buddhist philosophy is fundamental to a life well lived for me, so I pick up my pen to compose a new poem. All words and opportunities- both past and present - are waiting to be remolded into artistic visions of grace and harmony on the chosen medium. Opportunities, arrows, words, and vague memories of past lives recycle continuously into new shapes and colors zinging through the pink cotton candy of our minds. This process is what gives life surprise and joy! and its sweetness too of course.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Sordid Onion Breath

Chinese Keys

I am having one of those days that seem to happen here more often than once a week. I just found out the keyboards attached to the computers in the Ministry Library might have Chinese characters- but despite that obstacle to updating journalists’ technical skills- the first stumbling block is to have the Minister of Communication (minus the s) and the American Ambassador inaugurate the library so we can go inside. The doors to the library are now locked until said inauguration hoo-ha takes place. My supervisor is coming from South Africa today, but nobody told me when he plans to show up: Surprise it will be! I tried to call my contact at the ministry, but his phone has been off all day, and I want to pull someone else’s hair out of his head, preferably the guy who sent Chinese keyboards to Brazzaville. AGH!

To top this off, I have sordid onion breath from my avocado and onion sandwich.

The Dollar is King in Kinshasa: Counterfeit?

Dear Universe- Divine and Otherwise,

My mom had a minor stroke on a day I don’t know exactly in October because I am on the continent of Africa- Brazzaville to be exact- and she is in Iowa. I only found out via e-mail from my sister. I spoke to her this morning, November 8, because lucky for me- at 4:40 in the morning Brazza time- my phone decided to put a call through, which allowed me to imbibe her timid voice into my ears before she ate her cookies and drifted off to sleep at around 21:40 Iowa time. I don't know how every moment was in synch, because usually something goes wrong here to derail well crafted plans, but my ZAIN telephone service worked. I talked to her for about 7 entirely wonderful minutes. What a relief. When family is not balanced, I am not balanced.

Crossing the River

I am trying to cross the river to Kinshasa on Friday to take my GRE subject test in literature at the CALI English Language Institute. The Wikitravel site warns that “Kinshasa's infrastructure is largely dysfunctional” but then so is Brazzaville’s infrastructure. Fellow Americans who are not under the protection of the embassy tell horror stories about DRC immigration. A welcome to the country is initiated by officials shaking people down for money. In order to prevent this obstacle to one’s destination, a fixer or an expediter on both sides of the Congo is paid to help naïve Americans and Europeans navigate the corruption that is part of everyday life here. I’ve heard it’s not supposed to be so bad on the Brazza side, but corruption, like rust, rots the spine of this nation until water and electricity are sporadic and the gap between rich and poor yawns outrageously grotesque. I wonder what the holiday experience will be like when I depart from Brazza’s Maya-Maya Airport for Dakar, Senegal at Christmas time. I will worry about that voyage in December- for now- it's the Kinshasa trip that requires my time and attention.

People are kidnapped in Kinshasa; the taxis unmarked; and the drivers potential thieves I am told. As a single woman, I want to take all manner of precautions while visiting, so as not to be driven to a remote location by a taxi driver and robbed. Carrying cash is another problem. Credit cards are not widely accepted in Kinshasa or Brazza, and the minimal bandwidth problem means that even if they are accepted, there may be no connection to open the credit access lines for a customer at the cash machine. Carrying large amounts of cash is not my preferred method of travel, but may be my only choice.

As this is a society that operates mainly on personal connections and word of mouth, I have asked everyone I know about their travel experience to this emaciated capital city. I have e-mails flying in all directions regarding lodging and public transportation. I don’t want to disappear into the dysfunctional infrastructure or have my valuables vanish with me into the crowd of nearly eleven million that is the city.

I am also planning to visit CALI, an English Language School, while I am there. When I called the director of CALI, he said that the car is broken down, so Cyril, a teacher, can’t pick me up. That’s the other important defining characteristic you should know about the two Congos, things break and don’t get fixed. My apartment complex has been out of water due to a pump repair since Thursday. It’s amazing how little water one really needs. Makes me feel like a water hog in the States, but darn, I miss water in the pipes flowing out the facet on to my naked body- sometimes warm and sometimes cold- but water nevertheless.

Friday, November 05, 2010

candle light eye candy

Inviting Julia and Philip into my electricity-free apartment and enjoying the companionship of a language exchange in the dark, punctuated by flickers of orange flares from the candle lodged in the NesCafe tin was a completely normal evening. Oh Brazza!!

Eye Candy

I was comparing notes with Andrew, a former student from Zimbabwe, who lives with his family in the U.K.

Being black in rural England

Being white in Congo-Brazzaville

We decided it’s like being the wrong variety of eye candy- orange jellybeans in a bag of cherry.

Sometimes, I think people enjoy being with me because I am an odd sort of status symbol, like an expensive car or a golf club membership. This feels awkward and uncomfortable. I had the benefit of blending when I lived in Lithuania at least until I opened my mouth. But most of the time, I love the Congolese friends who surround me daily and the missionary community members who have embraced me as SIL.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

champing mosquitoes, water, and miss lory

The mosquitoes of Brazzaville go champ, champ, champ, champ, champ.

If someone is eager or anxious to do something, they are said to be champing at the bit, (not chomping at the bit. nor chomping on the bit).
CHAMPING: Repetitious, strong opening and closing action of the mouth which produces sounds when the teeth hit together. Champing in swine may be a threat signal, but also is performed by boars during courtship and mating. Definition from Hurnik et al., 1995. 
- The Encyclopedia of Farm Animal Behavior

Cited on:

The generator is up and running I am told, but no water for a few days. Despite what you may think, this makes me happy because I saw the shiny green paint on the new water system.

Water Outage
To:SIL Community

Wed, November 3, 2010 2:52:42 PM - Water Outage

Hello everyone,

Rock asked me to inform you that starting tomorrow there will be no water for several days. The plan is to run the pump this evening so that center can fill containers with enough water for Thursday, Friday, Saturday and possibly Sunday.

Water may run early tomorrow (Thursday) morning, but then workers will come to drain and clean/repair the underground reservoir and fix the problem with equipment that moves water from the reservoir to the center buildings.

If you there's no water running this evening, you should probably draw water from the reservoir to fill your containers.


Re: TH Classes
From: Franck
To: miss lory

hi miss lory!
sorry about the late, there was no electricity and the generator had broken down. but it is fine now. you know, it happens all the time here. there are electricity shortages almost every day. but whe you have a generator it is ok. it may be difficult for you because it hasn't been a long time since you came here, you may be having a hard time adjusting, but you will see, in time, you will get used to congolese life. i know what you're going through cause i've also been trough it. i used to live in france before. and when i came back here, it was horrible but now it is ok. i mean i know how to handle this life.
thank you for the details you gave me. by now i know which tele congo office you are talking about. i'll do my best to make time so i can come.
enjoy the rest of your day and remember you will get used to congolese life so don't panic when there is no electricity or when you have an appointment with someone and he or she doesn't show up at the appointed time. and please buy a generator.

--- En date de : Mar 2.11.10, Raingirl a écrit :

Objet: Re : TH class
Date: Mardi 2 novembre 2010, 21h14

Hi Franck,

It is the new building (green with mirrors) that was built by the Chinese that is about 15-20 minutes from the city center. The television studio is there. Hope that helps.


Tue, November 2, 2010 10:38:13 AM
Subject: Re : TH class

Good afternoon Miss Lory!
i've just got your message and i'm very happy to read it. i'm going to do my best to make time so i can come and attend your first class. however i need a little information. are you talking about tele congo office which is located on the outskirts of the town, in a area called "kombo" to be precise?
thank you for your time!

--- En date de : Mar 2.11.10, Raingirl a écrit :

Objet: TH class
Date: Mardi 2 novembre 2010, 15h49

Hello Franck,
I spent the afternoon at Tele Congo today. My first Thursday class begins at 9:30 am until 12 pm. The afternoon class is from 2 pm until 4:30 pm. You are welcome to come Thursday.

Sent: Tue, November 2, 2010 12:02:25 PM
Subject: Re: email for ELF

Hello Franck and Debra,
I found the email. Frank, my classes start this week, but I am really organizing everything. If you want to start next week, that would work too. I am running this morning. Please email again for details.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Etcetera of the Mind

Books, Books and More Books

Lan Samantha Chang, “Hunger: A Novella and Stories”

Dreaming in Chinese, by Deborah Fallows

Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun

The Elephant’s Journey, by Jose Saramago

Room, by Emma Donoghue

The book [Diaghilev: A Life by S. Scheijen] concludes with a letter from Nouvel to Stravinsky: “He was a pagan, and a Dionysian pagan… He died in love and beauty, under the tender smile of those gods whom all his life he passionately served and worshipped. And I think Christ cannot but love such a man.” - NYT Book Review, Oct 26, 2010

Questions of the Day

Has anyone hot ever ice or roller-skated through your dreams- day or otherwise?

Defensive pessimism- what does this term mean to you?

Lucky Writers


"A wasted writer is one who spends his [or her] life pursuing false work in the hope of hiding from his [or her] own secrets. The luckiest writers cannot hide from them."

Lan Samantha Chang, All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost

Monday, November 01, 2010

Scandal Loves Your Appetites

New Chapter: November Rains

My ankle is my Achilles’ heal. I scratch it with pleasure sinking my nails into the inflamed patch of flesh that is the source of my irritation. Why the back of my ankles? Is this cherry chocolate cheesecake territory for mosquitoes? After one week in the country, I made a conscious decision to stop taking my malaria medication. The medication- Malarone- caused blisters in my mouth and an upset stomach most of the time even when I took the pill before bed. After making the decision to live a drug-free life, I experienced a few moments of terror when I imagined the worse. Each mosquito bite that appeared on my elbow or lower leg became the one that unleashed the infectious disease into my bloodstream pumping eventual fever and bone crushing pain from my liver and red blood cells onward.

I have never been a person who falls sick easily. Ills that affect others on first exposure wilt when they meet my immune system’s security guards. But the fact is, I could be infected with this dormant parasite waiting patiently until a moment of weakness descends upon my army of immunity. This is a risk I am willing to take, but I talked to a fellow book club member recently whose brother nearly died of cerebral malaria. I know from living in Kenya that this strain of the parasite is no laughing matter. The student told me that she spent her days running from pharmacy to pharmacy in Brazzaville trying to find the medication that her brother needed for his survival. The doctor pronounced him to be a lost cause, but she refused to release his life into the greedy hands of the afterlife. Slowly, slowly he began to emerge from a foggy coma, resurrected from death by a sister’s persistence and faith.

Now that rainy season entered stage left like a villain in a silent movie- overdramatic and black- mosquito larvae incubate and hatch wriggling in millions of stagnant pools pocketing the city. Who will care for me if my fever spikes to a deadly number? Once again, I will have no control over my life if and when delirium descends.

Yesterday was a hot- like sticking my face 20 centimeters from a preheated oven door- and only getting hotter. I soaked through my clothes at least five times, maybe as many as seven or eight, but I stopped counting after five. Soaking through my clothes is a bit like wetting my pants. I’m standing in front of coworkers and friends with patches of perspiration all over my body experiencing a bra full of moisture. And, my jogging bra often doesn’t dry out, remaining damp for the remainder of the day. There’s nothing I can do about my less than crisp appearance because my body is a fountain celebrating the season of rain, sun, and humidity.

All through the night, the rainy season dumped relief on sweaty people tangled in their sheets in the form of wind and rain- and more rain and wind. I woke at 5:45 this morning to waving banana leaves and the drone of drops propelled through the air by the force of the new month: November. I could only speculate on what the weather was doing to the Internet service across the city including the embassy’s computers. Would I find havoc and lethargy online when I returned to work on Tuesday? Booting up my own personal computer and trying to initiate a connection led to this message: “This computer was unable to join the Airport Network you selected.” No surprise there. Rain nurtures new vegetation and cripples Internet connections and speed in Brazzaville. No sign of stopping.

I have yet to find a permanent place to land. I plan to move into a small apartment in the city center on Wednesday, but until then, I am living in a room with an attached bathroom and access to a community kitchen. For some reason, my room is connected to a city power line that is not providing me with utilities, while my neighbors’ lights shine brightly on. I can only hope that morning will bring electricity to my dwelling as well, but like so many other things in this country, the outcome of light or dark is out of my hands. Understanding the Congolese electricity grid would be an overwhelming challenge for a trained professional, let alone an English Language Fellow from Iowa. I worry that trained professionals are not in charge of the dysfunctional grid because so much hiring here is based on nepotism and personal relationships-not actual knowledge of electricity- but as I said before, this is out of my hands. There are benefits of not having electricity, but I still want its unceasing presence. When there is no electricity, the intensity to produce, create, appear efficient is diminished, and I can fully relax into the moment. I find my self-awareness increases because I can hear my inner voice explaining what it needs to maintain a vibrant equilibrium. Life slows down and I can relax into the here and now. This condition of calm, balanced inefficiency; however, is alien and scorned by American culture- therefore, my American self looks at the inept fluorescent light stick longingly.

Reading on a Sunday

“…awkward, engorged with desire and then dead.” Is that the human condition? From the NYT Book Review, “Obsession” - Oct. 26, 2010

From the NYT Book Review, “They Did What?” - Oct. 26, 2010

“Scandal loves your appetites,” she writes, “all of them, the more voracious the better.” In this book, the competing drives that result in scandal don’t live in some neuro-chemical haze; they’re corporal… “fermenting in every social being’s gut”; all of us fall prey to self-destructive desires that are “deviously tunneling for freedom.”

About Me

My photo

What do I do? That’s a question with more depth than the deceiving three-word construction would lead us to believe.

I live on planet earth with other folks, and I’m involved in the field of education and learning. I’m a life-long learner with a passion for knowledge and the process of bending bits of ideas into new constructions of beauty.