Sunday, September 26, 2010

Jingle All The Way..

I've come to the disappointing conclusion that an alarming amount of my brain space has been filled with commercials. Jingles, slogans, catch phrases... Instead of rotting my brain (as my dad claimed it would), the TV was actually building up an impressive arsenal of obnoxious songs and sayings to distract and disrupt my everyday communication abilities.

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Example: I've just completed a task and felt that it was far simpler than anticipated. What do I say to myself? "That was easy!" Then it strikes. Commercials. I freeze momentarily in horror as I realize I have just quoted an awful Staples commercial where they press that stupid red button that says "That was easy!". I shake it off though, just a coincidence, an accident really. I try to forget about it.

Maybe I'll go get an ice cream, I decide, to congratulate myself on completing the aforementioned task. I get my ice cream and I'm really in ice cream heaven. My friend asks me how it is and before I can even open my mouth, it pops into my head... "Bada bah bah bah, I'm lovin' it!" AHH! A McDonalds commercial, really? I stand speechless; grateful that I hadn't actually uttered the deep-fried, dollar menu, golden arches jingle aloud. But I must respond, so I tell my dear friend "it's not good, it's g-r-r-r-eat!". Oh dear God... Commercials have taken over my brain! I quickly say goodbye, trying to hide my shame at having actually quoted Tony the Tiger, and walk away. As I'm leaving my friend shouts to me "well, see you back in the neighborhood for the block party!". Ohh, right, block party today, how could I forget?

So I arrive that evening at the block party and immediately head to the refreshments table. Ah, so much food! Then I look to my friend, calmed by the sight of such delicious treats I hardly even see it coming before it hits me... "Eatin' good in the neighborhood!".... I just sang the Applebees jingle, I think it's time to throw out the TV... or at least buy TiVo.

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Sure, okay, this story was fictitious, but based on true events! Fictional stories aside, when you really break it down--all the commercial inundation that occurred during my childhood--it looks something like this: TV--$100, basic cable--$30/month, money spent on advertising--too much.... my commercially-hijacked brain--priceless.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tell me what you see...

I have fallen into the bad habit of using lyrics as my titles, so I apologize. Although, it's unlikely that I'll stop doing it either. Every time I sit down and think about what I want to write about, I spend a least a few moments (that feel like minutes) thinking about a title, only because there happens to be space for one, so I must. Then, perhaps because I grew up with a dad who has a song for every topic, no matter how random (and feels the need to sing it too, despite, and probably because of the protests from his children), a song always pops into my head and I can't think of any other title than some lyric that doesn't sound as good read as it does sung (and lately they've all been Beatles songs... because they also have a song for everything).

Anyways, to the point (if there really is one, that's always debatable on my blog and with my stories in general). At Educate!, there are a few terms and ideas that come up repeatedly, like empowerment, goals, proactivity, etc. One that has come up quite a bit lately has been "personal vision." We ask all of our mentors to develop their own personal visions for their futures and to share them constantly and inspire others and so on. So, after all this emphasis we've been putting on personal visions, we (myself and the other program coordinators) really shouldn't have been surprised when, at our last meeting, the mentors demanded that we also share our personal vision!

Now I have to think of one... Or choose one rather. The issue is, and I think this applies to a lot of people, my attention span and my imagination are inversely related (oo, look, I remembered a term from high school math!). I have a massive imagination with an awful tendency to change my mind (or never make it up in the first place, which most of my friends would probably attest to)--so there are about a zillion different unresolved personal visions floating around in my head. That's not to say however, that I haven't been completely and utterly serious about each and every one!

When I was 5 I wanted to be in an all girls version of The Beach Boys, but that dream was crushed when I realized that playing the guitar was hard, I didn't have one, and my parents signed me up for piano lessons instead. When I was 11, I asked for a filing cabinet and a Dictionary of Law for my birthday, because I wanted to start early on my path to becoming a lawyer--then I realized I had nothing to file and dictionaries are boring. When I was 15, I planned on moving to London to join the Royal Ballet School and live happily ever after with Billy Elliot--but then my feet started hurting from the pointe shoes and I had to admit to myself that Billy was a fictional character (sigh)...

Now I'm 22 and my ideas for "when I grow up" (let's face it, that's a long ways away) are just as ridiculous as ever, but I'm just as serious about them. I guess the real issue is that I keep thinking of a "personal vision" as a final destination; that at some point, there's an end to all the planning and visioning and imagining. Maybe that's exactly why I can't think of one. I can't imagine a day where I'm not imagining something else. So what if I had become the best ballerina ever, dancing duets with Bill Elliot; who's to say I would've been content doing that forever? I suppose in reality, I have had a lot of personal visions, and I've realized a lot of them, too (the less... remarkable of them, perhaps).

When I was 5, I watched the older kids in school putting on plays and wished I would get the lead one day--then I did when I was 12 (I played a snooty little brat in a local play; a fantastic role). When I was 11, I decided UVM would be the best school for me, and despite some mind changes along the way, I eventually did go there! At 15, I dreamed of traveling all over the world, and I've kind of been doing that. So I suppose personal visions are realized here and there, and they're less of a ending point than they are a starting point. One leads to another, which leads to another and so on.

So what to tell the mentors? I guess I'll just tell them the next stop on the personal vision train. I want to go back to school (International law? Theatre? Development? undecided...). I want to make and save some money (mm, unlikely). I want to live in New York City (see vision #2). I want to travel (vision #2). And my overarching, long-term, very serious and most important personal vision is to be happy and have fun, which quite obviously impacts all the rest of my visions (I've done remarkably well with this one so far).

Alas, perhaps "Tell Me What You See" wasn't the perfect song choice for this topic, but you know... vision, seeing... it makes sense in my mind anyways. I considered "you never give me your money," but thought that perhaps the lyric I was thinking of sort of contradicted my whole story here ("out of college, money spent, see no future, pay no rent/all the money's gone no where to go").

Moral of the story: I need to stop listening to music when I'm trying to write.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"Words are flowing out like endless rain

into a paper cup, they slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe" (guess the song?)

The trouble with writing is, inspiration seems to come at the most inconvenient of times. Yesterday I had a wonderful experience at another graduation (they're endless, I know), and for the whole matatu (small mini bus; public transportation; crowded, remember?) ride back to Kampala I had words and stories and descriptions flowing through my head like water. Driving through bustling market centers on the outskirts of the city, marveling at the hilly, green landscape, reflecting on a day packed with hilarious and memorable moments, it would've inspired those least inclined to reflect to sit down and record it all on paper. Alas, over bumps we went, potholes galore, swerving suddenly to spare the lives of pedestrians and boda drivers, and so crammed in that there was hardly room to reach for my wallet to pay the whole 75 cents for the hour long drive. Writing wasn't exactly feasible. Yet, I was determined to come out of this matatu drive with my narrative in tact, ready to be posted only minutes after arriving home. I had re-written it in my head probably a thousand times (hyperbole, to aid your understanding and evoke your sympathy). Finally, I had made it home. Dark and stumbling over rocks in the road, I walked up the driveway, still determined. I opened the door and the first words I was greeted with... "There's food in the kitchen."

And you can imagine what happened next. I ate, I relaxed, I talked with my friends. I didn't even rush to check my email (I probably only had messages from Barnes & Noble or Amazon anyways), I didn't even open my computer. As my belly got fuller and the conversation grew more interesting, I saw my story, my grand blog post, being pushed out of my mind. I saw it floating off into the distance, never to return. My carefully chosen words and my grand inspiration disappeared as quickly as my food (very quickly). Then I went to bed.

So, friends, forgive me if my blog is updated inconsistently or infrequently--it's not that I'm not thinking about it. It's just that my house isn't quite as thought provoking as my matatu rides.

(But I'll give you a short recap anyways! The inspiration may be gone, but I think I repeated it enough times in my head to give you a brief summary of this over-hyped blog post. But of course, this will be the "I'm late to go do something, chopped up and poorly composed" version).

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I spend most of my days planning what I might do and where I might be a few months from now. My thoughts are perpetually in the future, imagining scenes a few weeks ahead, planning out what is point B and how do I get there. Even on the most exciting days or in the middle of the most intriguing conversations, there's a little bit of my mind dwelling on the past or reaching towards the future; wondering about a distant place or absent party. Even in meeting new people, I find my thoughts instantly turn to comparison, dragging in someone who isn't there. Oh, she reminds me of my sister! But every so often, a moment, a place, a person draws you into the moment, back to present tense, so thoroughly that you can almost physically feel the weight of all those other times, places, and missing people lifting off of you; and I think it's those moments that let you form the most long-lasting connections with a place; or a person, or a time.

Yesterday, I made another long-lasting connection with Africa. This time, quite obviously, it was Uganda. I've fallen in love with places before, of course. I've had these moments in almost every place I've ever been (which doesn't make it any less special!). I've had these all encompassing moments skiing through Hubbard park in the winter, speeding down hills past snow covered branches, feeling more like I was in a scene from Narnia that in my home town. I've had them in Burlington, dancing down Loomis St. at night with my best friends, picking flowers and taking pictures. I've had them at the boathouse, watching fireworks from our VIP section on the docks and being unsure whether to laugh or duck for cover when the firework shrapnel starts raining down on us (I kind of did both).

So, it's wonderful to say that Uganda has given me one of those moments as well. The graduation I went to yesterday was just outside of Kampala, and despite being so close to the city, it appeared very rural. After taking a matatu for an hour, I had to take a 20 minute boda drive to the school. I went over bumpy dirt roads, trying not to get hit with branches and waving at the occasional little kid yelling "how are you mzunguuuu!!!?". When I arrived, I was early, so I offered to help the scholars set up for their party. Although they thought it was hilarious to see a mzungu sweeping with an African broom (straw tied together, basically just a broom-head so you have to awkwardly crouch over to sweep), they let me help. The mentors showed up and as we waited for the party to begin, we laughed and talked about marriage ceremonies and "introductions" in the different tribes in Uganda (if ever in a position to ask about it, ask about introductions rather than marriages. They're like engagement parties and way more entertaining!).

Finally, the event started and then ended (surprisingly quickly given the affinity for speeches) and I left with mentors Hawah and Charlotte. Of course, we were in a pretty rural area, so bodas weren't exactly in high supply, but we managed to flag down one... One. Now, as a quick precursor to this, Ugandan women, especially when wearing skirts, usually ride... mm, side saddle (that's what you say for horses, I guess I can apply it to bodas?). But we saw that rain was approaching and it was a long way to walk back to town! So, after much laughing and contemplation, the boda driver scooted up as far as he could to the front, I jumped on behind, Hawah followed me next, and Charlotte, protests aside, hopped on last ("Eh, but we're sitting like men!"). So over the bumpy dirt roads went the four of us on this little boda. People were looking from their houses, joining us in our laughter and amusement at the sight. The closer we got to town, the more of an attraction we became, before we finally got off, just before the matatu station.

It was this little moment, a fifteen minute boda ride, that made me fall in love with Uganda. Of course you don't fall in love with anything immediately; I've liked Uganda from day one, but it was laughing on a cramped boda that forced me to be totally in the present, not missing anyone from abroad, not waiting for anyone to text or call and not composing any emails in my head. Just one of those times that feels so specific to a place and seems to sum it all up. The hilarity of three people riding on a boda isn't hypothetical, isn't illegal, isn't really anything that out of the ordinary, but it's funny, and no matter how long I live here, or how many times I visit Africa (because I did this in Benin, too), I will always find it amusing to see so many people balancing on a little motorcycle. It just couldn't happen in the States (for good reason, of course. I imagine things could go horribly wrong), and so it becomes a TIA (this is Africa) moment--but the kind that makes you happy to be here (unlike, oh no, the door of my matatu just fell off and there's a goat underneath my seat... TIA...). So, safety concerns, future, thoughts of home aside, it made me pretty happy to be where I am right now. Thanks, Uganda!

So, there's a not-so-shortened version of my story and I don't have time to proofread it (email me if there are any glaring errors), but I hope you took away from my rambling story that I'm having a lovely time over here and I had wonderful day yesterday (don't worry though, I won't stay forever, I'm still planning to come home!). That's all for now!