Taking stock of 2019

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The Good

  • Paid off my student loans, totaling nearly 6 figures over almost ten years, right before my 40th birthday. 
  • One of my best friends had a much-awaited and adorable baby in December. Baby L is my newest NYC buddy.
  • Returned to Senegal, two times!
  • Experienced the height of awe-inspiring culture at the Fête du Vodoun in Benin.
  • Visited seven new-to-me countries (Togo, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Kenya, Iceland, and Côte d’Ivoire).
  • Visited one new-to-me state (Michigan).
  • Turned 40 without major depressive incident (this was a real fear/possibility).
  • Went to a lot of delightful shows including my second opera ever (Porgy and Bess), a musical (Kinky Boots), theatre (Swan Lake/Loch na hEala), concerts (big: Phil Collins; small: ESG), museum exhibits (Leonard Cohen at the Jewish Museum, Egungun at the Brooklyn Museum, Camp at the Met), new museums (Poster House), and new-to-me museums (Cooper-Hewitt).
  • Got in lots of good French practice so my speaking skills didn’t erode too badly.
  • Got excited about a documentary project for the first time in a looong time (ultimately it didn’t work out but I now know the fire is still alive, and I needed that confirmation).
  • Saw lots of amazing movies in movie theaters, which ranks among my favorite pastimes (new: Atlantics, the Farewell, Booksmart, Letter to the Editor; old: Friday Night, Daisies, Boys N the Hood, Crooklyn).
  • Read some wonderful books (Washington Black, Thich Nhat Hanh’s How to Love, The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, very belatedly I know).
  • Experienced the mystical magical quirky amazingness of Iceland and stored up months’ worth of peaceful feelings.
  • Spent lots of quality time with my niblings and visited my sister and brother-in-law in Portland.
  • Solidified some new friendships, caught up in person with friends I hadn’t seen in years, and in general spent lots of quality time with amazing people that I’m thankful to know and love.
  • Started running again after an almost yearlong lapse.

Bad

  • Shit my pants.
  • Attempted to pee in a plastic bag, unsuccessfully.
  • Spent 45% of the year bouncing around abroad, and it was unexpectedly neither a fun nor a good thing.
  • Continued to question life’s meaning and my purpose.
  • Panicked about how I am going to fill 25 more years of my working life before retirement.
  • Various body parts started to malfunction and I realized that post-40 is just a slow march towards death.

Not sure that anything can really outweigh shitting one’s pants and enduring debilitating existential angst, but on the whole, I feel like the good at least balanced out the bad in 2019. I’ll call that a fairly good year. And I’m aiming for an excellent 2020.

Happy new year! May all your 2020 visions be realized.

a Kenya addendum

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Yesterday I told you that I was done with my Kenya posts. That’s not entirely true. I am done writing about Kenya itself, but I am not done (over)sharing about my bodily functions while there. Much as I felt compelled to tell you about my vacation-induced gastro-intestinal dilemmas, I now feel compelled to tell you all about my Kenyan pee fail. (39 was a momentous year.) Continue reading

Kenya: Masai Mara safari

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The Masai Mara National Reserve is a relatively small triangle of land on the Kenyan side of its southern border with Tanzania. On the Tanzania side,  the park continues southward as the much larger Serengeti. I had been on safari in the Serengeti and surrounding areas of Tanzania three years ago, and it was wonderful. I didn’t feel the need to repeat the experience in Kenya, except for two things. First of all, we had hoped to see the annual wildebeest migration in Tanzania but just missed it – the herds had already moved north into Kenya by the time we arrived. I happened to be in Kenya at the beginning of August, prime time for the migration, and so I felt compelled to take another shot — after all, I had heard that the migration is truly epic. Secondly, even though the Tanzania safari taught me that it is impossible for me to commune with wild animals when surrounded by a million other safari cars and the people leaning out of them to snap pictures, it also taught me that the scenery in that part of the world is breathtaking. I wanted to go back not to see safari animals but to see the landscapes around them. Continue reading

Kenya: Hell’s Gate, Naivasha, and a magical animal paradise

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When I tacked a week of vacation onto the end of my work trip in Kenya, I didn’t realize that it would be impossible to decide what to fit into that one week. In the end, rather than cut anything I deemed essential out, I squooshed everything I wanted to do into the time available. And so, I made a recklessly overambitious plan to fit Hell’s Gate and Lake Naivasha into barely two days when I should have given them four. No regrets – it was the most amazing, stunning, wonderful two days. Continue reading

Kenya: Karen and the Ngong Hills

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This post will cover two different excursions in the same general geographic vicinity – one was a full-day outing to Karen, a beautiful and posh suburb of Nairobi, and one was a half-day trip to the Ngong Hills, which are just beyond Karen. Both places were refreshing and delightful.

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give a word, get a word

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Yesterday my colleagues and I took a break from our shoot in Boundiali, Cote d’Ivoire, to eat lunch at a hotel restaurant. While we waited (and waited, and waited) for our food, a television played a Mexican telenovela overdubbed in French at a volume that I found annoying. I annoyed myself further by mindlessly complaining about how much I hate overdubbing, how loud the volume was, how dumb the show was, how much I wanted to turn off the TV, etc.

Finally I snapped out of it and apologized for being even more obnoxious than the show. I explained that in English we have a word called “hangry” — hungry + angry — that explained my behavior. I asked whether there was a similar word in French. My colleagues didn’t think so. (I later googled and confirmed there is not.) And yet, the word is simply begging to be created: faimché = faim (hungry) + faché(e) (angry). The only question is whether you would say “j’ai faimché” the way you say, “j’ai faim,” (literally: I have hunger) or whether you would say “je suis faimché” the way you say, “je suis faché” (I am angry). I guess if you are faimché enough you don’t care about grammar, so either way would work.

To balance out my gift of a new word to the French lexicon (not that the French want it – they are well-known neologism haters), I received a new-to-me word in return, one that I love.

At lunch today (same restaurant, same ridiculous wait time, but thankfully the TV volume was lower this time around), I wanted to bring up the objectification of women as relevant to the conversation we were having. Since object is objet in French, and since English words ending in -tion and -sion usually have French analogs, I assumed that I could expound upon the objetification des femmes and that everyone would know what I was talking about. They did not. One colleague caught my drift and corrected me, though. He told me that in French they use the noun chosification and the verb chosifier to say what I had meant. Chose means thing; chosifier literally translates to “thingify.”

I love this. It has such a Dr. Seuss-like ring to it, doesn’t it? If you catch me using the word thingify in future, you will know where I got it from. Just trying to add to the richness and variety of the English language, which unlike French, welcomes new words with open arms.

While I’m here, and since it’s Friday, I’ll share two articles (one of which coincidentally references the other) that I found fascinating this week:

Around the world in five kids’ schoolyard games.

A dazzling map shows NYC’s incredible linguistic diversity.

Have a good weekend!

[Photo of thingified, hangry man: Mike Tungate]

Kenya: Mombasa

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Mombasa is a fascinating Swahili city, which, like Zanzibar’s beautiful Stone Town, was influenced by a variety of different cultures, religions, and societies, due to its situation as a trade center on the coast of the Indian Ocean. I had about four hours to explore before heading to the airport to return to Nairobi from my field trip, and I saw a surprisingly large amount of Old Town (and some bits of the newer city as well) in that time.

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Kenya: Diani

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After the field trip to Western, we returned briefly to Nairobi before heading for the opposite side of the country – the coast. I was excited to visit Mombasa, but that would come at the end of the trip – for now we just drove through the island and took the ferry to Diani, a popular resort town and the jumping off point for our field visit.

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Kenya: former Western Province

IMG_2619Apparently Kenya chopped up their big provinces into small counties more than five years ago, but everyone referred to where we went as Western. It was easier than specifying the three different counties we visited in the southwest corner of the country.

I promised pictures from (former) Western at the end of my Nairobi post, but I just realized I barely took any with my phone. I did take a ton of images and footage with my camera, but it was all work-related and I like to keep that separate from what I post here. In any case, I mostly just want to show you this tiny plane I flew in.

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It had ten seats including the two seats for the pilots. I felt airsick before take-off, I was so nervous. But it was actually one of the smoothest flights I’ve taken, even though the wind was going crazy before takeoff (look at the tree in the photo above!).IMG_2546

We landed on a tiny airstrip in Kitale, which was also a first for me. And I must say, I’m hopeful it’s also a last. Even though it’s illogical, I just feel like the bigger the plane, the safer I’ll be.

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Western is super, super lush and green, as you can see from the top post. It felt like a place that does not lack for rain and abundance. My colleague told me that it is indeed known as Kenya’s vegetable basket.

Because I don’t have much to show you, please humor me and allow me to present to you yet another first for me – popcorn on the cob.

IMG_2560We stopped on the roadside for grilled corn, and the vendor asked me what kind I wanted. I can’t remember what options she gave me but I know nothing about corn so I was confused by them. I ended up pointing to a piece that looked tasty, and I was shocked to find that it was by turns chewy and crunchy.

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Did you know that young corn — the kind whose kernels are a little bit milky — is better for roasting? The older the corn, the harder and dryer it is, which means you may just end up with popcorn. Who knew? Not I.

Finally, I leave you with my one good picture from Western, of Lake Victoria. We stopped by long enough to take a picture, basically, because we were running late to the airport.

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Incidentally, Obama’s grandmother lives about 35 miles away. I wanted to go visit her but a. we would have missed our plane (thankfully not a tiny one on the return trip) and b. apparently after Obama was elected the Kenya government gave her a 24-hour security detail. So you can’t just drop in.

My next Kenyan dispatch will be overflowing with gorgeous beach photos and happily lacking in rambling thoughts about corn, I promise.

Kenya: Nairobi

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Finally getting around to Kenya! I’ll start with Nairobi, my base of operations so to speak – it was the city I popped in and out of perhaps ten different times over the course of my three week trip. I’ll cover everywhere else I went in other posts. There will be many, many pictures and much rhapsodizing.

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