Category Archives: Opinion

An unexpected talk

The airport is a place where dreams come to die.  It is the perpetual waiting room of austerity and confusion.  Walls line with cologne-perfumed-electronic-gadgets-cheapfigurines-lame tshirts-fastpizza and maybe, if one is lucky, some un-melted dark chocolate in a gift shop.  Mozambique has allowed more than one of us an appreciation for this.

Maybe this is why travelers are so relieved to have conversations with the person they are seated next to, or across from.  Any kind of conversation.  On the journey forward, I found the most intriguing interaction between myself and a London couple who had one seat in-between us.  The interaction included a smile and a nod when I ordered a second glass of cabernet after dinner.  They soon followed suit.   This marked the end of our conversation.  In-flight entertainment helped of course.

I have had many flights with very little talk – and also shared quite the opposite.  I’m one of the ‘put two books in the seat pocket in front’, ‘read the newspaper,’ and ‘plug in your earphones’ passenger.  I’m also the ‘indulge the next person’s need for companionship to be nice’ woman.  My departure home used my skills from the latter prototype.

My episode occurred with a young lady from Nampula who adjoined my flight home leaving South Africa – there was no nonverbal communication this time.  She wanted to talk.

“I saw you had an American passport.  So you are flying from the U.S.? So where are you coming from?”

“No. I just came back from Ireland,” I responded.

“Oh, I see.  So are you visiting Mozambique?”

“Actually I live there.”

“Really?  Do you like it?” she asked, incredulous.

“Yes, it is a beautiful country.  Of course there are challenges, but I really enjoy it.  So where are you from? Mozambique?”

“Yes. I live in Nampula and I have 2 daughters.  I just came from Johannesburg because I had a baby.”

“You had a baby?  Wow.  So you came to go to the hospitals in Jo-burg?”

“Yes.  I miscarried and the baby was growing inside me for many months but I had to go to see the doctor.” She replied matter of factly.

“You couldn’t go to Nampula?  Are the hospitals better in South Africa?  I’d been told that there was a very big general hospital in Nacala Porto.” I said with fervor.

“Nacala?  No.” and she smiled with an almost-laugh. “The hospitals are much better in South Africa but the doctor told me I still could not have a baby for several months.”

“Yes, I’m sure you need to get healthy first.”

“I must wait and take care of my health – then my husband and I can have a child.”

It was gathered through further conversation that not only did Carrie, the name I will call this woman, have several children – she also had them from different fathers.  In addition, the man she called her husband was actually her soon-to-be groom who would marry her in two weeks.  This is not such an uncommon occurrence.

In this country and perhaps other Southern African nations as well, people meet and conceive of the birth of a child almost as an immediate product of a romantic alliance.  It is unusual that it is imagined as a shared connection so quickly because it often loses its physical ties almost immediately if not conceived in marriage – and this is also uncommon at the start.  In the Westernized world where marriage is traditionally a unification of love, this is arguably a discussion to be tabled in Mozambique.  Men and women often ‘hook up’ and a woman intends to provide him with a child to secure his commitment.  However, I have already spoken to women who never knew their fathers, or fathers who have long left their sons and daughters behind.

Family planning here requires a different cultural lens than the ones we look through in American, French, Dutch, and German googles – they ask us to look at the value of the woman and the value of the tribe.  Unfortunately, the value of a woman seems to be her ability to produce several children, even under the pretense the man may not be around.  Strange way of thinking, but I have heard more conversations than I can count on this subject – many ending with the conclusion that women often have a child to ‘catch’ a man – despite knowing that in Mozambique, he probably won’t be around anyway.

This is a bleak portrait of the country indeed, but a harsh truth.  I thought of how blessed I was, but more than that.  Here was me – boarding an airplane to an exotic land that held such promise – Mozambique has more to offer me I’m sure – after coming from the beautiful land of Eire.  Ireland is surely the land of rain, but it also has storms that give it the penname William Drennan put to ink: The Emerald Isle.  What could I do about Carrie’s situation?

Maybe not much yet.  But one day I will be in a position to explain why things don’t need to be in this way.  Surely all this street-wise education is going to teach us all something more than book smarts could ever do.  Meanwhile back at the ‘ranch’ in Nampula, I got off the airplane and studied the sun.  Home at last.

Where-ever home may be these days.

2012: On a brisk, chilly day just in front of the Cliffs of Moher as the sun came out.
2012: On a brisk, chilly day just in front of the Cliffs of Moher as the sun came out.

Featured Photograph (from my  SamsungS4):

Who’s your snazzy jazzy anti-valentine?

Modern Love in the Digital Age: Volume I
The darkness crept into my bones like a horrifying roar screaming at me to back away, just back away.  I looked at the wreck – a grey Toyota with low headlights, tires with barely any tread, and no gasoline to spare. The car sat there looking miserable in all its loneliness. Where could I go?  Running like a frightened squirrel, awkwardly and no more confident than a nineteen-year-old can be in any life-important moment, I fled.  My eyes saw nothing but blackness down a long road as I ran and ran.  The car was broken.  I was alone.  The fear engulfed me but five minutes later I had discovered, light, an empty parking lot and a small hotel (with a phone).  This was the day before your mobile saved your life.
It wasn’t long before I heard her voice.  You know the moment.  You remember.  “Mom? I’m in a bit of trouble.”
There’s a lot of talk about love right now and for all of that discussion, I see very few people ready to say Happy Valentine’s to some of the most romantic people in their life.  For me, it is someone who always remembers to send a card or for many years, gave me candy without fail.  Like a clock that just refuses to stop ticking, she never forgot to remind me I was loved every February. This was my mother.
I’ve definitely had my share of letting her down, especially in my younger days.  She has been there for me whether I had my life together or not.  There was the day I left my keys in the bottom of a grocery bag and was locked out when I packed to go to college after Christmas vacation, the many months I was victimized in sixth grade by a Seattle bully, the surgery week I was stuck in the hospital and had a nauseous reaction to every piece of food, the moment I cried because I lost her dad & my grandfather, and of course, the day I sold my car and belongings to move to Hong Kong.
 Mothers have the uncanny ability to see into our emotions more than most.  For someone who is admittedly not often conscious of my feelings (A trait I most likely have inherited from her side of the family) it is important to have relationships that understand who you are and yet are able to challenge you.  These are the ones who bring the best of you forward.  One of the things this woman has taught me through years of being available when I was angry and when I was overjoyed, is that real love is patience for the ones you care about.  She certainly has needed some for all the aggravation I’ve caused her.
On the Day of Hearts, you might see a lot of anti-affection quips telling you that Cupid is a mythical, fat baby, that Singles Awareness is hardly a reason to go crying, and that we should make fun of all people in relationships.  While the anti-valentine is a clever ploy to use sarcasm for no apparent reason, I think there is still some sanity in being a sardonic anti-valentine with a bit of heart.
Most kissing selfies are boring but this one defies the definition of awesome!  Source: Rick Neves, Flickr Select
Most kissing selfies are boring but this one defies the definition of awesome! Source: Rick Neves, Flickr Select
There are the obvious lovely-dovey couples who take kissing selfies and show off the bouquets of pink peonies that were just delivered to their office colleagues. I can say that I am not a major fan of Hearts Day mainly because of these foolish people.  There is intense pressure (on males ad infinitum) to buy chocolate or an overpriced set-course-for two to “prove” love.  Gag reflex, I say.  Love cannot be proven through materialist attempts at romance. It has to be proven through loyalty, through the attempt at understanding a person and what they are all about.  Real romance is always seeing hope even despite the darkest, ugliest days. Therefore my sardonic anti-Valentine appears in all its glory this fourteenth of February, with a proviso. In this cynical culture of casual hook-ups and lonely digital Dungeons-and-Dragons and World of Warcraft players-role playing-life, isolation abounds.  I still believe that people should cherish each other.
We’re not lonely because we’re all out of heart, it is because we’re trying too hard to have a heart.
While I do have a valentine of my own, if I would even call him that silly term, I would never assume that cards and roses would prove his heart was with me.  Love is about choice.  My realization that Mom chose to be there for me is what speaks to my heart more than anything.  It is why I can never truly speak with a bitter after-taste when I talk about red candy hearts, smarties, and lace-covered chocolates.  Candy does not mean anything, per se, but they symbolize the effort someone took to choose you.


She reminds me that to love is to choose someone over and over again no matter what they do.  We lead informed, educated lives in most Westernized countries and are indoctrinated with the idea that choices mean lots of different flavors, lots of different friends, lots of different relationships, and lots of failed ones.  In some ways, modern thinking means modern love equals “move on to the next one.”  Regardless, to choose the same person over and over is beautiful because it is not easy.  It isn’t convenient and digitized like your Facebook app on your iPhone, or your 24-hour delivery pizza. (Despite its serious delicious-ness!)
This may also be why I still believe in old-fashioned romance.  It also doesn’t hurt that I have some serious role models. My grandparents fell in love in one day, got engaged, and were married happily all their lives together.  That’s romance.
As The New York Times says about traditional love before the digital age:This was the old-fashioned way of falling in love: all of our attentions were on each other. We spent less time with our friends, who could not track the electronic footprints of our relationship. We didn’t have cellphones buzzing every five minutes, distracting us with nonessential chatter. Neither of us was tap-tap-tapping away, eyes downward, communicating with other people during meals. The outside world fell away.”
 “St. Valentine, what have you done to us?” I may ask, along with so many others inundated by the Hallmark-sourced holiday.  Quite frankly, it seems like a warpath many want to blame the outside world for rather than to look inward.  This isn’t to say that no one recognizes unconditional agape love, patience, and faithfulness when they see it but that it seems easier to walk away from than it used to be.  There should be more of the kind of connections here where the ‘outside world [falls] away’ and we grow to really understand each other.  The kind of hope Mom gives me is one that makes me want to write a real love letter – to my family.
Do you remember the moment you had stage fright?  Your knees knocked together just seconds before moving on the podium for a Philosophy debate? Who was there? Do you remember watching your sister win her Athlete of the Year award over cheering middle-schoolers?  Do you remember spending weekends at football tournaments in cow-patty infested inland California areas for ‘family time’?  Do you recall when you felt that surge of real romance?  Do you remember your heart suddenly beginning to beat once more as you walked on that stage?  I do.

Artwork Credit (above): Chuwy, Vetta


Works Referenced:

Vecsey, David, “Before the Web, Hearts Grew Silent.” New York Times.

Interesting stuff you may like to read for the Day of Hearts:


On Romantic Places & Facebook as a Statistician, Wall St. Journal:

On Love/Science/Marriage Intersection, The Atlantic:

GQ’s tips for men on Valentine’s Day, GQ Magazine:

Marriage is now more important for men?, The Telegraph:

Careless in our summer clothes

This has been a dirty week.  I’m sorry.  That’s the truth.

Monday began slowly but it had a strong collapse from a cool thirty degrees celsius to a raging thunderstorm before noon on Wednesday and the howling, pounding rain smacked the ground with puddles and smatters of muddy, dirty, you-name-it (you stepped in it), only to return  again and again.

Autumn Flower, Photography Credit (pictured above): Ilya Bushuev,

Several hours after dusk, the first few nights were filled with drenched rains and dense humidity.  Interestingly, the last two days were a grand turn from wet and musty to parched Earth and gorgeous light.  What is it about a beautiful day?  Sometimes it appears on the weekends, but then other times it interrupts you.

It appears.  Where are you?  Indoors staring at the white walls of your research lab, otherwise known as the office.  Confession.   My research is not equal to stem cell discoveries and chemistry beakers. Instead it is the truly vilifying nonsense of internet surfing, .pdf analysis and fact-checking which is more tedious than my Masters professors may have had me believe when I signed on to the exciting task of dissertation-writing.  Composition is meant to be creative, intellectual work but academia is just tiring when it comes to deadlines.  Ask Calvin.

Do you have fun when you are indoors?
Do you have fun when you are indoors?

Calvin often asks the question many adults would like to say but are loathe to admit because of the demands of a normalized work week.  Why this assignment?  Why do we have deadlines?  Naturally, these are rhetorical questions most socially-aware adults would merely think rather than utter out loud.  On this gorgeous day, it got me thinking.  Maybe I am no longer capable of thinking the “six impossible things before breakfast” that Lewis Carroll bragged he could daydream about, but I can still set aside the curtain of the window.  Maybe I can remember how lovely the day is.  While the rain has some strange weight that makes my heart heavy, it is magically lifted when the sun appears again.

My father is a great example when it comes to prioritizing the day.  He loves to work and in fact, often ends up focused on more than three projects at a time in less than twenty-four hours but he always, always gets it done.  Of all the people I know, Dad would be the one to remind us to get outside and play when we were kids.  He knew the value of ‘Work hard, play hard.’  I may not be a kid anymore but there is something that makes me smile about seeing the sunshine even if I’m not in it.

How do you prioritize a beautiful day? Do you stop to notice it?
How do you prioritize a beautiful day? Do you stop to notice it?

I’m carefree even if just for a moment.   It may be Winter where you are but it is Summer in AFRICA.  Happy Friday!



Careless in our summer clothes

Splashing around in the muck and the mire,

Careless in our summer clothes

Splashing around in the muck and the mire,

Fell asleep with stains 

caked deep in the knees 

What a pain…

Now hang me out to dry

– Hang me out to dry (COLD WAR KIDS)