Saturday, March 24, 2007

Cast your vote!

I've got two weeks to travel this summer, and I'm turning 30 on July 11. Where should I go?

Take into account:
  • I want to go somewhere in Asia
  • I don't mind the heat, but don't want to be miserable either
  • I like destinations with culture and history, with just a wee bit of outdoorsy stuff, like beaches or hiking
  • I want to be able to travel pretty comfortably without breaking the bank

So, suggestions anyone?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

1,372.5 hours down....

Just one and a half hours until Jorge is back!

I had a depressing dinner the other day, though. With a divorcee telling me that 80% of her friends who got married in their twenties are now divorced, and how none of her married friends are happy. Stupid lady (actually, she's very nice, but still...).

I pointed out that my parents were married for 30+ years and seemed pretty happy about it to me. My sister is going strong at 10. Aunts, uncles...seem OK to me too. So, based on empirical evidence, I can say that a happy marriage is not a statistical impossibility.

Now, I do make a point of asking long-married couples how they managed, and they pretty much always tell me the same thing, which is along the lines of: "Oh, there were months when I just couldn't stand him, and I wondered why in the hell I went and got married in the first place. But you stick it out during the tough times, and it's worth it."

I think I can live with that.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Taking my own advice for a change

About a month ago, I joined the gym. I was hoping to lose a bit of weight before Jorge got back, but alas, those 8 Cadbury Creme Eggs and 2 pounds of cheese I ate in Ireland seem to have de-railed my plans. Given that I advise people on health and nutrition FOR A LIVING, this was a serious lapse for me, but it was only one week, after all. And I'll be back to eating healthy again once I polish off the additional two pounds of cheese I brought home with me.

I know most of you will find it very difficult to imagine a gym in sub-Saharan Africa, but they do exist. I have hit the gym in Eritrea, Ghana, and now Malawi. Alas, Darfur still hadn’t opened one during my stay there, but I’m sure it’s coming.

My gym has two treadmills, three bikes, and about 8 weight machines. There is a sauna and steam room (which are only heated on request) and a hot tub of dubious hygiene. Overall, it’s small, but well-equipped and clean. It’s located in a very nice hotel opened by the Malawian president 3 years ago.

What you may not know is that every African capital has at least one swanky hotel for visiting dignitaries (Lilongwe has 3!). There’s been a trend for quite some time among African heads-of-state to build ostentatious, Western-style luxury hotels, intended to proclaim to the world that the country is no longer a backwater. And when these hotels get out of date they raid the treasury request the funds for a new one. Often these hotels are blocks away from slums full of poverty and squalor.

But for a gal in need of a bit of firming and toning, who needs politics, right?

Friday, March 16, 2007

In the Field

This post comes to you courtesy of the marvel that is satellite technology. I imagine my thoughts being beamed all the way out to space, only to be beamed right back to your places of work or residence. Amazing. Especially since I haven’t even gotten my head around radio waves yet.

So today I am in one of our field offices, about 3 hours north of Lilongwe, in a town called Nkhotakota, which is fun to say. Yesterday I spent the whole day out in health centers and villages, pre-testing some questionnaires for an upcoming study.

First we held a focus group discussion among program participants at a rural health center. We all sat on mats or on the ground under a tree, as chickens pecked and squawked around us. I couldn’t understand any of it, because it was in Chichewa, but I was watching for the interviewers’ facilitation style and the level of engagement of the participants. There were about 8 women, and one man. It is unusual to see a man bringing his child to the doctor here – that’s normally women’s work. It was quite sad, too, because the child was disabled. He had a small wheelchair, which is a rare luxury here, and occasionally went into little fits of convulsions. I wished I had a toy or sweets to give him, but it’s very difficult here to single out just one child – you have to bring enough for everyone.

In the afternoon we had a harrowing drive through muddy rice paddies and down bicycle paths to find women who had dropped out of the nutrition program. Again, I couldn’t understand the proceedings, but it was a very big deal to have this azungu (whitey) showing up on your doorstep in a big Landcruiser. I drew big crowds everywhere I went.

During the last interview I tried to get some reading done, but it was very difficult to focus, what with 20 small children standing in a circle around me, watching my every move. So instead I showed them the pictures from my magazine, and took pictures of them. In a strange coincidence, my photo was in the magazine (see page 41 – I’m in the big group photo, 2nd row, 4th from the left), and I was wearing the exact same outfit in the photo. It was like magic to the kids.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Pictures from Dublin and London

Out for Mexican food. 10 dollar Margaritas and no trace of seasoning. Bleagh.

The W.B. Yeats monument in Dublin. Yeats was my mother's favorite poet.

A Rugby match at Trinity College


You can't go to Ireland and not eat Fish & Chips

Doesn't look like much, but that's a photo of the lunar eclipse.

With a work colleague

This is a map of the British Isles, made from a beer coaster.

And that's me skeptically evaluating the map. ("Come on, that doesn't look like the Isle of Man!")

Lunch with English Cousin #1

Dinner with English Cousin #2

Friday, March 9, 2007

Oh how special those three little words are…

“No abnormal lymphadenopathy”

What, were you expecting love and romance? You need to be ALIVE for those other three little words to mean anything!

I have been on pins and needles all day after getting a message that the nurse who is handling my case needed to speak with me right away. Urgent messages always ring off alarm bells for me. So all day I’ve struggled to get any work done at all, little worst-case scenarios running through my head.

15 minutes ago I got a phone call – the nurse had received the report on my CT scans, but they were sealed and addressed to my oncologist. She wanted to know what I wanted her to do. So of course I had her open the envelope and read the report to me. You thought I was going to wait another week?

The tests showed no tumors, no swollen lymph nodes, so signs of cancer at all really. I’ve just come back from the ladies room, where I went to do the happy dance in private. I feel so light and relieved, knowing I’m now going into my 4th year of remission. Each year that passes, the chance that the cancer will return diminishes, although I know that I will never be completely free from the risk, and the fear, of relapse.

So here are three more words for you:

I love everyone !

The world is so beautiful today, even with the rain and rubbish I see out of my dingy office window. To be born in a time and place where I have the opportunity for a long and healthy life…I just feel so blessed. If I had been born just a generation or two sooner, I probably wouldn’t have even made it to 30.

Although, that thought brings me back down to earth. I am alive now because I got about 150,000 dollars worth of top-quality medical care from the US government. I live in a country where the average life expectancy is 37, and where most people don’t have access to treatment costing hundreds of dollars or less.

Earlier this week, after leaving a meeting with a donor, I asked “Why is it that we don’t think twice about spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat critically ill children in the West, and yet we have to fight to justify spending 200 dollars to treat a dying child in Africa?”

Nonetheless, I sure am glad it was me who got that treatment. I will not let my liberal guilt ruin my mood today. It can come back tomorrow. Tonight I have some celebrating to do.

Monday, March 5, 2007


That's how much it costs to take one short trip on the London Underground!

How does anyone afford to live in this stupid city?

The CT scans went as well as they can, I suppose. My mouth still tastes like a penny, from the dye they use. And if it makes you Americans feel better, health care is no cheaper in Europe, from what I can tell - $1400 for the scans, about the same you'd pay in the US.

Directly after the appointment I went to the airport and flew to London. I'll be here until Wednesday for a meeting. Tomorrow I plan to meet up with two of my English cousins, which I'm very excited about. In the meanwhile I need to find some food in this town and I'm worried I'll and up spending twice my per diem on one meal...Either everyone here gets paid a lot, or they all shop secondhand for everything.

CT scans today

I'm nervous. I always get nervous before these things. Not about the test itself, which is unpleasant, but safe enough, but about what the outcome might be.

I am in remission 3 years as of last month. I feel healthy, no weird bumps or unexplained symptoms, so I'm optimistic that I'll get another all-clear this week. The first time I had to go for follow-up scans I couldn't think of anything else for two weeks. This time I only started thinking about it yesterday. So that's progress.

I'm not allowed to eat or drink anything for 4 hours before the test, which means no breakfast today. I'm hungry already. And during the exam you're given an IV and they inject "contrast dye" into your veins, which gives you a hot flash. Like menopause. It's about as much fun as it sounds.

Then immediately following the test, I'm off to the airport. My bags are crammed with things to take back to the office in Malawi, so I'm a bit stressed about carting everything around today. So wish me luck today - you'll hear the outcome one way or another in the next few weeks.

Friday, March 2, 2007

No buyer's remorse for me

When I first arrived in Dublin, I took a walk down to the center of town, and found the big pedestrian shopping mall. After 7 months in Africa, I was giddy - my first thought was "I am in retail heaven."

Turns out it's more of a purgatory, really. The clothes are a bit pricey, and they all seem to be made for either Twiggy or pregnant women. I had no idea of the current trends, of course, because the prevailing fashion in Malawi is prom t-shirts from the 1990s. (I once saw a man in a Star Trek uniform shirt. No kidding.)

The skinny jeans will never be a go for me. My legs would look like hamhocks in those things. Apparently Sir Mix-a-lot was on to something with the whole red beans concept, as they do, in fact, appear to have missed the Irish. But not me.

However, I have warmed up to the new flouncy maternity look, given that my diet for the last 5 days has consisted primarily of cheese and Cadbury's Cream Eggs and my belly could now use a bit of camouflage. Elastic waistbands here I come! The damage so far is $385, which accounts for:
  • 4 pairs of shoes
  • 1 handbag
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 2 sweaters
  • 1 shirtdress
  • and 5 tops

That's a lot for just 5 days, but when you consider that I haven't bought clothes in 7 months, and won't again for another 7 months, it's not bad for a year's worth of shopping.

*ahem* [steps up on soapbox]

So, normally I try to avoid getting too editorial on here. That's the realm of much better and more intersting bloggers than myself. But I read an article today on the New York Times that got me thinking so much that I began actually mouthing words and expressions on the street, making me look like a crazy person. So I figured it was worth a mention.

The article was about a book that's apparently stirring controversy back in the U.S., called "Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both." The gist is that women are damaging their emotional lives and potential for meaningful relationships by engaging in casual sex.

OK, so you're probably expecting me to blast this, but I think the woman is right on. As a self-labeled feminist, I can't understand how we've gone from demanding equal rights and fair treatment for women to condoning and emulating the bad behavior of men. Someone please explain to me how we are getting ahead by giving...OK, I just can't go where that sentence is leading me...

I have several friends who insist that they have the same urges as the men they date, and are fully satisfied by purely sexual relationships. I think they are either lying or in denial. That's not to say that all women want to be married or settled down. But happiness comes from our relationships with others, and from being loved and appreciated. If you don't have that in your life, you are bound to feel something is missing at some point. I think the whole "hooking up" culture is just another example of the men winning, by convincing women to do what they want (i.e. sleep with them), and getting women to think it was their own idea.

Call me smug, but I honestly don't know any woman who is happy having one-night stands and sex-based relationships. Well, they start out a bit giddy, but after a couple weeks, when they realize the relationship is never going to grow into something more, I have to sit through the complaints about how they "really like this guy" and "why doesn't he like me back?" Maybe your friends are different, but I don't know any women who enjoy sleeping with men that they don't like and are not attracted to. And the closeness of physical contact leads inevitably to feelings of emotional attachment. (This is actually a hormonal, biological response to sexual contact - the oxytocin reflex.)

I think that men, like women, want someone who is interesting, charming, and confident - not just someone who puts out. And if women insisted on being valued right from the start, they have the chance of meeting someone who's really worth their time. Why would anyone want to spend time with a man who's perfectly happy to be with you if you're naked and it's dark, but won't acknowledge you as an important person in their life when you're out in public? That sounds horrible to me.

And you can tell me "hey, that's easy for you to say, Ms. Married-to-a-great-guy-who's-crazy-about-you" (yes, indeed I am smug), but I can guarantee that my husband would have had nothing to do with me after a few months if I hadn't been so dang demanding and difficult right from the start. And if he had not been so obliging and sweet to me, I would have ditched him anyway.

So, go ahead and blast me for being out-of-touch and old-fashioned. I'm interested to hear what you think on the subject.