(get over the) hump day inspiration: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf edition

Today’s quote comes directly from The New York Times’ International Women’s Day-themed Daily Briefing. And it couldn’t be more appropriate to where I’m at right now.

Also, the briefing noted that Senegal ranks in the top ten countries with the most female representation in Parliament. I had no idea. Go, Senegal!

(get over the) hump day inspiration: Kurt Vonnegut edition

I unexpectedly and very pleasantly had the day off, and with nothing pressing to do, I started the mammoth article I’ve been meaning to read for three months, added words to my neglected French vocabulary list while finally streaming Lemonade, ran a couple of miles at dusk, and generally lazed about doing semi-taxing but rewarding things that are only enjoyable when done at leisure. And I did indeed note that I was happy, and feel grateful for it.

I hope you are having a happy day, too.

(get over the) hump day inspiration: Jack Canfield edition

I harbor a very strong fear of posting cheesy* motivational quotes by multi-millionaire self-help gurus on my blog, but since everything I want is on the other side of that fear, I’m doing it anyway.

*yet powerful, practical, and true

(get over the) hump day inspiration: Rilke edition

rilke beauty and terror.jpg

I’m not sure whether anxiety and depression are feelings, or mental states that keep you at a distance from your feelings. Regardless, a big old ball of anxiety tinged with despair has been hanging over me like that little Zoloft cloud lately, and every which way I’ve tried to fight it – or not fight it and simply get through it – has failed miserably…

…including posting this quote. Oh well. Maybe it’ll work for you.

(I don’t know whether this rightly belongs in the “inspiration and encouragement” category, but I don’t have one called “let’s all feel like shit together,” so it’ll have to do.)


(get over the) hump day inspiration: Desmond Tutu edition


Trying times. So many hate-filled people causing so much needless pain. I wish I could go hang out on Desmond Tutu’s couch and listen to him make me feel better about the universe. Last week I said I would pay to be David Sedaris’ friend. Today, I think I would turn over my life’s savings just to sit at a kitchen table with Desmond Tutu and David Sedaris and feel that all is right with the world.

Perhaps I should give up on language learning and join an ashram instead…

(get over the) hump-day inspiration: Paperwhite edition

I am actually over the hump already, since it’s 1:30 on Thursday morning here, but I never changed from EST to Dakar time on my computer so I’m just going to pretend it’s still Wednesday at 9:30. When it was actually Wednesday at 9:30, I was in a great mood despite this looming deadline, but since then a very industrious and vengeful mosquito has picked up tormenting me where it left off last night. This same mosquito bit me repeatedly on four of my toes yesterday, and today it has tattooed that ankle and also gotten both arms so many times that the hydrocortisone cream that usually kills the itch immediately has given up the fight and left me wanting to peel my skin off. I don’t even understand how one mosquito needs that much blood. How has it not exploded by now?

This is all entirely tangential. I had meant to post a song that, while not filled with the most inspirational words, is filled with an inspirational feeling that had described my current mood, until my current mood shifted from a world-is-my-oyster-happiness to a world-is-nothing-but-discomfort-itchiness. Is itchiness a mood? Because it is literally overwhelming all my senses right now.

In the battle of mosquito bloodlust vs. Ruth wanderlust, the mosquito has won out tonight. But there’s always tomorrow, and with that I am off to bed.



a new French benchmark! (Frenchmark?)

espresso machine

People. Today I had a meeting… in French.

The first thing the man I was meeting with asked was, “Français? Anglais?” I chose the latter because though I’m seizing every opportunity to speak French, a business meeting is no place to practice. I then proceeded to lose all professional decorum when he offered me espresso from his Lavazza machine.* It was like Beatlemania applied to a coffeemaker.


So to be fair, there wasn’t much farther to fall. But I was alarmed when the man called over one of his staff, seemingly to introduce us, but actually to join us for the rest of the meeting – in French, because I had said that was fine when I thought we’d be doing five seconds’ worth of, “Je m’appelle Ruth. Enchantée. À bientôt.

For the next twenty minutes I had three parallel streams of thought running through my mind. One was, “Holy shit, I’m having a meeting in French and I can understand!!!!” One was, “Holy shit, I’m having a meeting in French, what if I can’t understand????” And then of course, one was the conversation itself.

Perhaps it’s due to this overcrowding that my brain seems to skip over some fundamental processing component when working in French. I’ve noticed that I’ll follow along with a conversation, respond accordingly, and conclude with some mutually agreed upon forward-facing plan, but afterwards I’ll find myself unable to recap what was said in anything more than vague general terms. The specifics don’t seem to get banked, even in my short-term memory.

Anticipating that I might have this problem today, I scribbled down notes in English immediately following the meeting. It felt a little like I was cheating the (language acquisition) system, but in this case I couldn’t afford to get anything wrong by writing in French. As it is, I’m terrified that when I email them to follow up they’re going to be like, “Why is she going on and on about X when we asked her to talk about Y?”

That’s not the point. The point is: today I reached a new personal level of awesomeness because I had a business meeting in French. I just gave myself a literal pat on the back, because such things are important.

*It takes capsules just like Nespresso but it is as delicious and potent as the real thing.

(get over the) hump day inspiration: Stevie Nicks edition

Stevie Nicks

Yesterday was my one-month anniversary (monniversary? mensiversary?) in Dakar, and I spent most of the day crying. But that was before I realized what day it was. At about 6pm it dawned on me that I arrived on February 15 and it was now March 15, so I took a moment to be proud of myself before returning to weepiness.

This morning I was scrolling through Instagram (where I finally started posting photos) and saw this quote on @CarolineCala‘s feed. It was exactly what I needed.

I’m by turns discouraged, lonely, bored, frustrated, overwhelmed, disconnected, hungry, nauseous, and unsure of myself here, not to mention convinced that my hair – which I am hoping to grow out as quickly as possible and which I am thus loath to trim into shape – makes me look like a socially untouchable muppet. But I’m not leaving til I finish what I started.

(PS It’s not nearly as bad as that sounds. I am in a slump right now but there have also been many moments of pure joy, confidence, excitement, chattiness, connection, and happy gorging.)

(PPS Will share photos from my trip when I figure out how to connect an Android to a Mac to upload them.)

Coming out of the woodwork

woman_on_map.jpgIt seems that the more boldly you go in the direction of your dreams, the more readily you find kindred spirits going boldly in the direction of their own very similar dreams.

It started two years ago when I traveled to Argentina for my first solo adventure abroad (apart from Vancouver the year before, which barely counts). I met a 20-something Korean woman who had been backpacking alone for four months across South America even though she spoke maybe 40 words of Spanish and even fewer of English. I sat next to her on the bus back to the hotels from the Argentine side of Iguazu Falls one night, and then ran into her at the entrance of the Brazilian side early the next morning. We walked around the falls together, and though we understood next to nothing of each other, her bad-assness translated perfectly.

A few months ago at a Speakeasy event I met a French woman in her fifties who was in the midst of long-term travel. She is the only person I have ever met who has taken a cargo ship to get where she was going, and she did it by herself. I asked her all about it because I would love, love, love to do a leg of my (still-nebulous) journey via one of those ships but am just a little wary of what that would entail. She assured me it was safe, clean, fascinating, generally awesome. More inspiration in the bank.

In Mexico City two weeks ago, I hit it big. At breakfast on the last day of my trip, I met a Dutch man whose adventure started twenty-something years before when he moved to Sweden after studying Swedish in school. He just loved the idea of Sweden for some reason, much as I love the idea of Senegal without really being able to say why. After something like twelve years there he quit his job as a translator to travel through South America and Asia, but he ended up staying in Buenos Aires for almost three years because he loved it so much. (Much as I fell head over heels for Argentina.) At some point, his former company called to offer him translating work that he could do via telecommuting, and he realized he could travel at the same time. So he’s been a veritable nomad for twelve years. He speaks seven languages, several of which he learned in his thirties, and he did it via self-teaching and immersion rather than classes. I practically bowed down to this man for offering living proof that it could be done.

Then I returned to work and found out that it was a colleague’s last day. I hadn’t talked to her much before but we started a conversation and learned that we are the same age, have trained in similar fields, and are both about to take off on a self-financed trip to Africa to finally do what we’ve been meaning to do for years. She plans to head to Tanzania in January to document the situation for Burundians in refugee camps. I told her I’d see her there – since, you know, we’d be nearly 6,000 miles from each other but we’d be on the same continent, so of course I’d come to visit.

Because that’s how you’ve got to think when you’re thinking big.

[Photo: Kate Ter Haar]