Archive for the ‘mundanity’ Category

Bogota: What It’s Like (For Me)

January 5, 2013


In October, I was caught in a downpour during which my camera got wet – and the automatic lens cover won’t open all the way, ever since. Hence the dark shadow in the corner of many of my photos.



Our kitchen, and the two inexplicably side-by-side bathroomsDSC07820

Whimsical cat planterDSC07824

Small town outside BogotaDSC07842


One of my favorite things about our life here: the playground 1/2 block away:

View from our bedroom window – the trees there are on the National University grounds.DSC07891

Christmas candles in our fireplace:DSC07935

Christmas lights seen from a friend’s apartment window:DSC07954

View of the city from Monterrate, an historic church on a mountainside.DSC07979

Detail of the building our office is in:DSC07997

Graffiti on the street our office is on (in the far distance, beyond the banana stalk, it says “Mas Paz” – More Peace.)DSC07998

Where I catch the bus to go home:DSC08000


Oz’s Christmas present (the rugs and cars):

Check out Bloodsigns for more What It’s Like Here posts…

… or here and here for the ones I did in Tirana.



Culture Shock (*now with more linky love!)

January 4, 2013

I’m a veteran of transcultural living; perhaps at some level I thought culture shock didn’t apply to me anymore. I certainly thought that Colombia, being Latin America and sharing a border with Peru, would feel like home. But I’ve been overwhelmed with longing for Albania… the last thing I expected to feel upon coming here.

I had felt so ready to leave. I felt “done.” I knew I would miss Dhurata, but that didn’t feel like enough of a reason to stay on another year, so very far from my family of origin. I so looked forward to the familiarity of Latin American culture and the sounds of Spanish.

Today as I walked to lunch with  Gimli I looked up and saw laundry hanging from a balcony high over the city streets and I smiled, because it reminded me of Tirana. When we got back to the office I googled “culture shock.” My body has been registering strong symptoms of anxiety – difficulty sleeping, a tingling feeling in my face, headaches – and I’ve been persistently haunted by thoughts of how much better life was in Albania… more and more easily accessible fresh produce; a better apartment; a close relationship with a dear friend who also watched my children and helped me clean the house.

In the past, when I’ve shepherded university students through cross-cultural adjustment, I’ve given them lists of things to do to ease through culture shock: get enough sleep. Eat well. Exercise. Pay attention to the things you like and appreciate about your new context. Find ways to do the things you enjoyed doing at home. Care for your mental and emotional health, whatever that means for you.

So I’ve been trying to list the things I like about Bogota. The fact is, I feel much happier about living in Colombia whenever I have a chance to get out of the city… But there are things I do like. I like being fluent in the language. I like the bakery next to our office. I love the foods I can get here that I couldn’t in Albania, or very expensively in the US – papaya, mango, pineapples, avocados. I love the “typical” regional foods – a wonderful soup called “ajiaco” with chicken, potatoes, corn, flavored with capers and cream; fried plantains; fresh-squeezed guava juice. I like the public transport system – amazingly sophisticated and efficient compared to what I’m used to in other parts of Latin America.

I’m thankful it’s been so sunny since we’ve been here! Our previous impression of Bogota was constant clouds, cold, and drizzle, but the weather has been wonderful (climate change? Or just seasonal variation we weren’t exposed to before?).

I also love that the work we are doing is something I feel like I can really get behind, whole-heartedly. More on that in a future post, perhaps.

In terms of self-care, I know I need to take this down-time to pay attention to my emotional journey. I’m going to pick up again with the coaching I’ve been doing with my SIL, and I want (need) to resume blogging (and commenting on personal blogs) and personal writing. I need to figure out how to get more and better sleep. Yesterday when Gimli and I came to the office, there was nobody else here… so I lay down in the guest room we have for out-of-town volunteers to use when they’re in the city… and slept for six hours. Worker renewal.

I’ve enrolled both kids in a preschool just around the corner from our house. They start February 1. I’m terrified. More on that in a future post, to be sure.

And I’ll be doing a “What It’s Like Here” post a la Bloodsigns soon… I need to take more photos around the city… although I still feel a little wary of hauling out my camera on random city streets… but something will go up soon.

Last but not least, a grateful thanks to my top four commenters of 2012 (the fifth was myself!):

Jjiraffe – Faces of ALI, fashionista, mother of twins, and my first URL -> IRL friend (along with Esperanza) 🙂

Rachel – Raspberry Chip, baker, seamstress, faithful friend

St. Elsewhere – Intrepid woman, word artist

Tara – I miss you.

Just checking in…

December 11, 2012

The truth is I miss Albania. Sometimes acutely. I miss the four fresh produce stands located within a block of my house. I miss the grocery store right across the street. I miss the boulevard, the central square, the view of Dajti. I miss Dhurata.

Our last afternoon in Tirana, Dhurata put Oz down for his nap while I sat in the living room working on my laptop. I could hear her singing to him in the next room – ‘Oh Dhurata’s baby boy, Oh my little rabbit’ – the rise an fall of a melody in a minor key that she sang to him from the time he was a tiny baby. That last time, her voice was so rich and full with love and tenderness – I can’t recall the moment without dissolving into tears.

Our place here is good, but it doesn’t feel like home. Not yet. It’s hard to imagine that it will… Sometimes I wonder if we made a mistake in coming here. I don’t dwell on it though.

My parents are here (yay!) and Gimli is away again (boo!). This time I’m the sole one in charge in the office as well as at home. I’ve been utterly exhausted. The first ten days after my trip to SF were brutal. I sat in meetings pulling the tiny hairs on the back of my neck to stay awake. I drank five cups of coffee one morning without the least lessening of fatigue. I had a four-day trip away from the kids (where I took the photo that is my new header!) and miraculously caught up on sleep, but the exhaustion has crept back again now that I’m once again co-sleeping with my nursing toddler. Maybe after Christmas we can make some adjustments…

My parents are house-sitting a lovely home about 20 minutes away by taxi or commuter bus. There’s an utterly tranquil back yard where the kids played all afternoon on Saturday. I think we’ll be spending a lot of time there over the next two months of their stay! Our holiday break is from Dec. 21 to Jan. 14 so that should be a good chance to regroup.


July 2, 2012

Saturday is Oz’s second birthday, and Saturday Gimli leaves for yet another trip without us. He’s going to a politically volatile region, so while I’m sure he’ll be fine, part of me is on yellow alert. He’ll be gone two weeks. And I’m sad that he’s leaving on Oz’s birthday. While it’s not actually the case, it just feels like work is coming first before family again. He didn’t notice the date when he was making his plans.

Our sleep is all messed up still from the trip, although Oz had the best night of his life – quite literally – last night; he slept from about 8:30 to 6:30 and only woke up twice! And both times went right back to sleep! Illyria, on the other hand, fell asleep around 11 and woke up at 4 a.m. That’s right: 4 a.m. At 6:30 I found her sitting on the couch in the living room so I gave the kids breakfast and then took them out for a walk in the stroller since it was still not too hot out. I was going to keep her awake this afternoon instead of letting her take a nap, but really that wasn’t an option after her only sleeping 5 hours.

I’m kind of at a loss here. I thought by the weekend she’d be on a regular sleep rhythm again. I feel like I need to really work on her this week – minimize the screen time (40 minutes max), maximize exercise, try to get her to eat more nutritious foods. That last one is getting harder and harder. But I know we could do better. It’s been so hot out, it’s hard to get out in the middle of the day, but Dhurata is going to take the kids to the public pool tomorrow so hopefully they will enjoy that. They’ve been playing in the wading pool here but it’s good for them to get out and about.

I’m also going to try harder to get her to drink the magnesium supplement we got in the US; a friend recommended it, said it worked really well with her daughter. It’s just that even if I mix it with juice, and put in lots of ice, if Illyria can taste it at all she won’t drink it. I also got some melatonin that I gave them (very small amounts) for the first few days for jet lag; it worked amazingly well with Oz. With Illyria, it seemed to help her fall asleep initially but then she’d wake up after awhile and be awake for 4-5 hours. So I don’t know whether to do try it again or not. But SOMETHING has got to change here. We can’t go on like this.

So my SIL is getting licensed as a Life Coach and I agreed to be a client. Although I think Gimli needs it more. I had a “sample session” over Skype while we were in the US, which was made kind of difficult by Oz coming in mid-way and wanting to nurse, and trying to push the keys on the laptop, etc. Hopefully the next session will not have as many distractions.

Life Plans Are Best Discussed Sober

March 16, 2012

First Entry


March 12, 2012


(Sometimes I get bored while I’m working)

Hey, it’s my birthday today! I’m now on the final count-down to 40. I want to do something intentional this year, a daily discipline of the sort that I can reach March 12, 2013 and be able to look back and see something that has unfolded over the 365 days past. I thought of doing a 365 photo project, but I already take a lot of photos and couldn’t think of a subject that really lit me up. I thought of doing something health oriented but that’s not really, well, fun – I mean, taking my vitamins and flossing should theoretically contribute to my general overall good health a year from now but there’s not the aesthetic aspect that I’m looking for.

So I decided to dive into a blank journal I’ve been hoarding for a few years now. I plan to write something in it every day (I haven’t decided whether to do morning or evening) – aim for just one sentence. Something good that happened that day, or something I am thankful for, or an intention for the day (if I’m writing in the morning). I want to end my 30s thoughtfully and proactively. I want to begin my 40s mindfully and optimistically.


Last night our nanny texted me to say she had a family medical urgency and could she come in late today? So I spent the morning doing housework and playing with the kids, instead of going to my Albanian lesson. It was nice, by and large. We played “monkey catch” which entails Illyria standing on the bed and throwing a beanie baby spider monkey at me while I do slap-stick leaps and jumps in a mad effort to never, ever catch it and she laughs hysterically. Oz enjoyed it too. We had oatmeal and peanut butter toast for breakfast, potato-noodle-bean soup (leftovers edition) for lunch, and I moderated disputes over a beanie baby cat toy. I checked in periodically on the Healing Salons but have yet to add my two cents.

When Dhurata arrived around lunchtime, I went out to do the shopping but then also bought myself a sandwich and Vogue and sat at a cafe to read and eat while sipping a chocolate drink that is exactly like hot chocolate pudding. It’s a sunny day but cold. As soon as the kids went down for naps I slipped back indoors to sit in the back bedroom and surf the web. I might watch part of a movie on DVD while knitting socks. Later tonight Gimli and I are going out for an early dinner. It feels… luxurious.

And that’s all the birthday party I want or need.


February 13, 2012

Today in Tirana it’s pouring rain; dignified old men walk under black umbrellas, and chattering schoolgirls cluster under flower-colored ones. Here in our little Balkan hinterland unprecedented quantities of snow are falling on the high mountains in the north; it’s almost a Grimm cliche, but wolves have even been coming into the villages in advance of the ten feet of snow that hit this weekend. Corruption having siphoned off the diesel for the snowplows, people are homebound and without electricity. But here in the capital it’s just rivers of rain and more rain.
My mom left in the pre-dawn hours five days ago, and I miss her. But I’m also trying to tease out why her visit was somewhat disappointing. It was good to see her, to hear her voice, to hug her closely. But I didn’t feel the joyful contentment I imagined that I would. She seemed low-energy and tentative, on unfamiliar ground, and spent a lot of time reading novels. I couldn’t help but compare her to my MIL who was a bundle of non-stop energy playing with the kids. And my mom did play with the kids, but it seemed like she would usually wait until I asked her to. And while I appreciated her help with little household tasks I also felt bad when she did things like wash the dishes – I felt like I should be waiting on her instead.

She had an awkward experience in the grocery store early on, when she went by herself to look for chicken breasts and left without buying anything when she discovered they didn’t carry fresh meat there; two men followed her across the street and one came with her all the way up to the door of our apartment – it scared and upset her – when I opened the door, the man said he was looking for the dentist. So strange. She said she thought they suspected her of shoplifting. So I went back with her a little later to buy something or other we needed, and to gauge the owner’s reaction to me (they know us well there) – sure enough, he looked at my mom, looked at me, and got this “oh shit oh shit oh shit” look on his face. Then he said “Excuse me for the men following her, they just wanted to offer to help her if she needed anything.” Right.

It doesn’t matter that she has a US passport, she is small and dark and speaks English with an accent and will never be treated – save by family and close friends – the way someone would be who looks the way people expect an American to look, to sound, to move.

After some thought, she said of the incident “well, it’s right that they should be careful and should check on people who come in and out without buying anything.” And she had no more problem with it. But I still kind of do.

Ugh, I don’t want this blog to just be gloomy and negative. Although it is kind of my repository for those moods, a place I can put all that dark stuff and feel the release of getting it out of my head.


We had a lovely mother-daughter lunch out one day, just the two of us. I took her to a nice place that serves “typical” Albanian food as well as the Greek and Italian fare that has become standard on most menus here. It was so relaxing to be out without the kids, to actually be able to have a conversation. I realized that I’d been spending a lot of my time with her here trying to gauge her evaluation of my parenting and wifing and life in general here, but that judgment was the farthest thing from her mind. A lot of her thoughts were with my dad, back in Peru by himself. He is not well, and hasn’t been well for over 20 years, and it’s hard on them both to be apart. They’re hoping to come together in April, hoping he will be strong enough for the trip. And one evening, late, as she hugged me goodnight, she said “tu eres una buena mamita.” And that – such simple words – made such a big difference to me.


A commenter suggested some time ago that one reason I’m perhaps more tense when Gimli is around is that I’m looking to him for approval, especially of my parenting. I’ve been watching this, sort of monitoring my inner state, and I think it is to a large extent true. His default mode of conversation and interaction is teasing banter, largely of the insult genre, and I know, I know that it is his way of showing affection. But it can be hard for me, when it comes to something that consumes me 18 hours a day and that I take extremely seriously, to respond in the same vein. I think I was looking to my mom for the same thing.


In the “perfect moment Mondays” vein, I’ve been trying to pay attention to the small perfect moments with the kids as they come. Like when Oz pointed at the red circle of light on the ceiling from my headlamp one night and said “sun.” Or the way he throws his arms around my neck, leans back and kisses me, then lunges in again for a surprisingly strong squeeze. And the way he’ll – how can I describe this? – he’ll see something that charms him, and he’ll go into this little crouch with his hands in front of his mouth, squirrel-like, smiling squint-eyed and wrinkled nose, fingers out like little birds’ beaks, and chirp.

Illyria’s favorite game is “boing-boing” – she jumps on the bed holding dad’s hands, then he’ll give her a little push and she’ll fall back shrieking in laughter. She also likes to play “try again” – dad will lie on his side on the bed, and she’ll jump up, kick both her feet into his butt, and then bounce down again. Three year old exuberance. She has mastered a 100-piece puzzle, and is actually learning to read – around 40 words she knows by sight, and can spell out with blocks. I was astonished yesterday to look at her magnetic drawing pad and see that she had written the word “fox,” completely without prompting or guidance whatsoever. When I lie down with her at bedtime she’ll throw an arm around my neck and say “awwww.”

So there’s my Monday morning brain-dump. To those of you still reading – a heartfelt thanks for sticking around. I’m so behind on commenting it’s not even worth commenting on (ha ha). There’s been so much really good, thought-provoking stuff coming through my reader in the past couple of weeks, I have a bunch of posts marked to respond to more thoughtfully, soon, I hope. Now tell me, if you’re still here – just as a way of saying “hi, I’m here” –

Salty or sweet?


The requisite post about goals and resolutions

January 5, 2012

Welcome to 2012!

I’m still sort of mulling over in my mind the requisite retrospective on 2011, meanwhile penning multiple (albeit short) lists of resolutions.

Yesterday morning at 7:45 I headed down the hall to wake Gimli up for work. Oscar was stomping along in front of me in his sister’s shoes, and I scooped him up in one arm and swung him into my hip so he wouldn’t make quite so much noise. As I straightened, the walls tilted and spun and I caught myself with the other arm against the wall to keep from falling over.

It scared me.

I took a deep breath, then hefted myself away from the wall, took two steps and had to find the wall again. The word “swoon” comes to mind as the perfect word to describe the feeling of the room spinning around me, the way gravity went out of balance/alignment, the way my head felt. Vertigo.

I waited a little longer this time, and when I stood up again I was fine.

I’m not sure if it was from lack of sleep, dehydration, or wonky blood pressure – or all of the above – but it scared me and scares me still when I think about it, especially because I had Oz in my arms.


This year, my top resolution is to lower my blood pressure and cholesterol through diet and exercise. I don’t want to become dependent on medications to keep my bp low, although I will if I have to. I’m too young for that (so much for aging gracefully). One of my college frenemies has become an ardent vegan, and thanks to his persistent posts and links on FB I’ve decided that my second resolution is to decrease consumption of meat. I don’t think I’m ready to go vegan, or even vegetarian at the moment, but I’ve realized that my favorite 3-4 dishes to cook are, unintentionally, vegan. But I still enjoy the occasional steak, and we can’t get stuff here like tofu that would make me feel better about the kids getting enough protein (Oz won’t eat eggs or cheese so that kind of limits us as well). So I’m not sure where I’m going to fit the exercise in – ideally I’d like to work in a combination of yoga and pilates somewhere – but I think the first two resolutions do dovetail nicely. And will hopefully preclude any further dizzy spells. Because that – did I mention? – was scary.


I sat down this morning (back at Cheers! Yay!) and added up my work hours over the past year, working out the monthly average for the year, and quarterly. The encouraging result is that from the first quarter to the last I more than tripled my monthly average of work time, and overall showed a steady increase. My best month was August, when we didn’t go anywhere and didn’t have any visitors. I have an abstract to write for this year’s professional conference in November, and I HAVE to finish transcribing my interviews so I can do some proper data analysis. I have about 7 hours’ worth to go. And I realized that I really should start thinking about job applications… it’s early, to be sure, but I need to be in a position to start interviewing at the conference in November. Gimli has said he’s willing to relocate to any place I can find a job, and is encouraging me to look outside the US (of course). But on the other hand, a friend of ours who teaches at the big state university in our city in the States sort of gave me a tip that there are plans afoot to dramatically expand the humanities and social sciences programs there in the coming year or three, and my specialization would position me extremely well for a strong application there. So there’s that. Lots to think about in both the short and long term.

I was mulling over Magpie Days’ post on goals (she’s an American poet living in Switzerland), and what it made me think was that even though one might not have reached or exceeded one’s goals for the year, there is still value in setting the goals – let’s say you only achieve 60% of your goal; what if you hadn’t set the goal at all? Or what if you had set a much more modest goal? 60% of a more modest goal would be much less than you actually achieved, and 60% of zero is zero. So maybe it doesn’t matter if I failed – by a really long shot – to meet my original goals for 2011. I did a lot more than nothing, and I am a lot closer now to my ultimate goal of a PhD than I was last January. So I’m choosing to think positive about this one and not beat myself up about it. At least for today.


And I do have another goal for 2012 – to read every post on the 2011 Creme de la Creme list (and the 2010 one because I missed that one almost entirely).


Best to all who stop by here, for 2012. May your deepest wishes come true.


July 31, 2011

Do you judge a book by its cover? Do you judge a person by the books on their shelves? I know I do – at least in the “could we be kindred spirits?” sense – if judgment, in this case, can mean making an assessment about who they are, how they think, what their priorities and interests are.

I took these photos yesterday of the books I had shipped here from the US (although a couple were mailed by friends or family). Not pictured: one shelf of Albanian-English dictionaries & grammars, and about 100 children’s books. You are welcome to judge me as much as you like – and make lots of comments especially on the parenting-books shelf! If nothing else, it demonstrates my lack of clear focus. Oh, and can you spot the ALI blogger books?

What are you reading? (I promise I won’t judge you!) 🙂

dissertation books 1

dissertation books 2

personal and parenting books


January 12, 2010

Due to a major traffic jam, I was unable to make it to my appointment and had to reschedule for Wednesday.  So anti-climactic.  I feel like I’ve spent all my worry-energy and now just feel calm.  In fact, I’m thinking of telling T. that Clara is going with me, and telling Clara that T. is going with me, and just going by myself.  I feel bad for wasting 3 hours of her time this afternoon for NOTHING.