Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Homer is the kind of place where people hug you after they meet you.  The kind of place where a stranger turns into a friend and then disappears in the vast wildness of the cold.

It's also the kind of place that is in itself a rite of passage - the kind of place where when you ask someone if they are from here, they will pause, say, well, I've been here for 12 years....so I'm almost from here.  Or, I've been here for 2 years.....so I just got here.

It's the kind of place that not everyone stays but those that do tend to never leave.  It's a place of magnetism, pulling tourists, entrepreneurs, fishermen, Alaskans from other places, and all types of workers, adventurers, outdoors men, and vagabonds from the lower 48.  

It's the kind of place people dream of living - driving in with their RVs and rental cars, taking snapshots of mountains jutting white and sacred like cathedrals rising out of the ocean and ringing the bay.  Its the kind of place where living the dream is more about guts than glory, and whose winters shift and shake what men are made of. 

Its the kind of place that pulls you in, and then shruggingly dares you to stay. 

It's the kind of place where people shake your hand, look you in the eye, go out of their way to help you. 

It's the kind of place where doors aren't locked and neighbors are neighbors, where everyone listens to the local radio and personal messages are sent over the bushlines.

It's the kind of place where you box your own groceries, recycle your cardboard, glass, and plastics, and take pride in keeping the surrounding nature pristine. 

It's the kind of place where everyone knows everyone, where mutual friendships and complicated connections abound, and where its both hard and easy to be an outsider.

It's the kind of place where you can be as visible or invisible as you want to be, as involved or reticent as you decide, and where the experience you have depends entirely on you. 

It's the kind of place where individuality and eclecticism are given room to spread their wings, where you are free to be whoever you want to be, where you can wear what you want, say what you want, and live how you want - and nobody bats an eye. 

It's the kind of place where people work hard, play hard, and drink hard. 

It's the kind of place where moose curl up 20 feet from the front porch to sleep. 

It's the kind of place where the air is unspoiled and the stars are bright and vivid and the moon is covered in frost - where the sun rises purple and slowly and disappears too soon,  dropping fiery pink under the edge of the sea. 

It's the kind of place I don't fully understand, but want to learn more about. 

It's the kind of place I want to stay. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Sometimes I feel like Tchad was a dream.  Or a nightmare.  Or a an intricate, laughing, crying mix of both. 

Still, I am just this morning stopping to register the fact that I am literally on the other side of the world.  I am geographically, spiritually, emotionally, physically in a completely different place than I was a month ago.

A month ago....

I was walking barefoot down muddy sandy village paths, tangling my toes in shattered millet stalks and nudging croaking frogs from beneath my feet. 


I am crunching through crispy, crystalline snow with 2 layers of wools socks and XtraTufs or snow boots, kicking clods of frozen snow and gingerly picking my way through the ice covering the porch and driveway.

A month ago.....

I got woken up at 5:30 am to screeching rooster calls, chased hoppety raggedy anne sheep out of the cook shed, threw sticks at mangy duck families trying to steal the peanuts drying in the sun, and watched goats meander through the compound.


I stand outside on the log front porch, cup of steaming coffee in my hands, watching a moose and her calf kicking up snow and dancing in and out of the spruce trees.  I look to the left and see an eagle, perched on the top of a tree, his nest an intricate sprawl of woven sticks, half-way down the tree.  I can hear magpies and watch the birds that I don't know the name of flitting in skittishly to peck at bread crumbs and bits of salmon. 

A month ago....

I was queen of pediatrics, comfortable and competent, making my way down the line of quinine drips, adjusting and assessing, writing prescriptions, making things happen, giving good care, presenting lectures and communicating in French.  I was creating the hospital paperwork system, wrapping up my Community Health Worker training program, starting a new parasite prevention program with Mebendazole prescription slips for the community, and interviewing leading government officials about women's rights.


I am broke, I am jobless, no one knows me, and I know no one.  I am starting over at the bottom, all my "accomplishments" pressed into a few lines I printed out on nice paper and slid carefully into a black presentation folder.  I clutch this folder and push it forward, pick me, pick me - I'll do a good job for you, I'm a hard worker,  I'm a team player, I'm....... desperate.

A month ago.....

I was eating rice and alum sauce with my fingers, sitting cross-legged on the mat and laughing with my family, for desert crunching handfuls of freshly roasted peanuts between our palms, the skin sliding off and and wafting to the ground like clay-red fairy dust.  I was dreaming of sorbet and dark chocolate and real creamy milk and butter....just a taste of butter.  I was craving potatoes and apples, crisp fresh perfect apples, and planning to eat berries every day. 


Food has become food again, grazing through the cupboard, toasting a slice of bread, slathering it with butter without registering the deep appreciation I thought I would have.  I'm making lentil soup bursting with bright beautiful organic vegetables, forgetting to marvel at the color, the texture, the vibrancy, the fact that I can cook on a stove and put something in the oven.  Now, I'm taking food for granted, forgetting its a miracle, forgetting to savor it, forgetting I had dreamed of it for over a year. 

A month ago.....

I was sleeping outside every night under the stars, perfectly comfortable on my little back packing mattress that was always deflated by morning.  I was trying to soak in the brightness, the clarity, the wisdom of those stars.  I didn't have a sleeping bag, a blanket, only sometimes covering up with a light faded paisley blue tapestry when I woke up at 3 am to the novel and welcome sensation of being cold.  I woke up every morning to the sun on my face and a pack of children screaming and sweeping and beating drums.


I am sleeping on a cozy comfy queen sized bed, burrowed under a down comforter, soft pink sheets, and a wool blanket if I get colder.  I look up and see rough wooden rafters, peeking my toes out of this sprawling mass of comfort.  I wake up to....darkness, or grey morning light, the window between me and the gradual mild purple orange of the dawning sunrise.  The stars here are just as bright but I have to bundle up to see them, pulling on layers of hoodies and flannel, looking at the end like a clunky overstuffed giant as I stumble onto the porch in the morning, blowing white morning breath from my shivering lips towards the light creeping over the mountains.

A month ago....

I was wearing light flowing cotton skirts, pants full of holes and tears, tank tops and flip flops, scrubs and a stethoscope.  I didn't wear makeup and my face was tan and vibrant and I saw tone creeping into my arms from a long year hauling water from the well for dishes, horse, and bucket showers.


I am wearing stacks of layers, taking Vit. D instead of sunshine, and have yet to sink into a fashionable mode of winter attire.  My tan has faded, I am shudderingly white, and I've lost my edge.  In so many ways.  I no longer look and smell like I stumbled out of the Sahel, I look....normal, kind of pasty, the wildness is gone and the make-up is on.  I'm scouring my scanty wardrobe for things that look professional, looked through the Salvation army for black pants, worrying if my boots are nice enough for an interview....wishing I hadn't so zealously thrown out most of my possessions before going to Tchad.

A month ago.....

I was surrounded by friends and people that loved and respected me.  I was enjoying relationships cultivated by a year of sharing intense experiences.  I was swimming in the rice fields with Bronwyn and getting perpetually lost of the motorcycle with Carlie.  I was hugging those girls goodbye the day I left, all of us crying, waving and waving and waving as the plane took off, some of the dearest people in the world to me fading to tiny little toy soldiers, still in Tchad, still surviving, still changing lives.  How could I have just left them? 


I am lonely.  I'm reminding myself to be brave.  To take risks.  To join things.  To try.  I am overjoyed at the fact that I have found a friend in my neighbor, even though she is moving.

A month ago.....

I was putting NGTs into tiny broken babies, tucking them between Danae's hot water bottles, telling them to know, just know, that someone loved them.  I was squeezing colostrum out of stubborn nipples, trying to keep from screaming at obtuse husbands that refused to let their aging wives have contraception, even though their life was at risk, and breaking down regularly as child after child that I knew or worked with died. 


It seems like that barely happened.  It seems like I barely cared that much.  It seems like I don't know that person anymore.  Even there faces are fading, the ones I swore I would carry with me always.  The ones I swore that would always be remembered.  The ones I promised as their heart slowed under my hands that I would never forget.  Now, I am forgetting. 

Then and now

Then and now

Now and then

Now and then

And that

is all I have to say



****note: "a month ago" is not quite literal.  think more " a month and a half ago" - but i didn't say that cuz it kinda messes up the literary "flow"

Monday, October 22, 2012


What is it about the unknown?  why is it the pied piper of the ages?

What is it about going west, going north, about last frontiers? 

What is it about climbing a mountain, just to see what it looks like from the top?  Or climbing the next one, to see if it looks any different?

What is it about not following recipes, adding rebel dashes of pepper and switching white sugar for brown or deciding to let the dough rise a few extra times? 

What is it about not reading owners manuals or not stopping for directions? 

What is it about breaking rules and laws and driving fast just to feel the wind in your hair?

What is it about Airstreams and VWs and campers and tents and tarps and backpacks? 

What is it about moonshine and bluegrass and plucking the music of the road, of the mountain from a borrowed guitar?

What is it about the power of dreaming - the invisible forces of cherished wishes driving you on a blind walk toward a distant flash of northern lights?

What is it about seeing gypsies, road kids, hitch-hikers, leather tramps, thumbs to the sky with the world in their backpacks, wishing for a moment that you could be that free?

What is it about people that live on the edge, carving out there wild niche, not quite belonging to the wilderness, not quite belonging to society?

What is it about the notion of starting over?

What is it about long silver braids and feathers in the hat, fringed moccasins, and leather jackets?

What is it about wanting to beckon a stranger into the cracking contents of your soul, just because you know you'll never see them again?

What is it about motorcycles, the raw power and grit eating up the open road?

What is it about how the moon looks the same, dimpled and creamy and ferocious, no matter which side of the world you are standing on? 

What is it about thrift stores and threadbare sweaters and a black and white picture in a locket that someone somewhere wore close to their heart?

What is it about used books, the wanderlust and wonder and exploration masquerading as dust falling reverent from cracking spines, weightless in slanted beams of afternoon sunshine.

What is it about peregrine falcons and birds and airplanes and hang-gliding and faeries and angel wings?

What is it about songs from the past, filling you with the wistfulness and power of a movement, a generation that will never repeat itself?

What is it about gambling, with your last crumpled 20, or with your job, your future, your life?

What is it about trading in everything tangible for an idea, or a belief, a cause, or a person?

What is it about forbidden fruit and Eve and skinny dipping under no swimming signs? 

What is it about rain on your tongue and running water and bubbling springs and waves crashing rhythmic on salty beaches? 

What is it about the eagle, the the wolf, the flashing flip of a silver salmon?

What is it about moving trains  and open water and thunder swirling its grey magic across the sky? 

What is it about cracks of lightening and gold trimmed purple orange sunsets and flames licking light from a solitary fire?

What is it about legends and leprechauns and big foot and running breathless towards the goldmine at the end of the rainbow?

What is it about the dust and the tears and the dance and the colors and the mad mad halleluiah of the journey? 

What is it about craving, about wishing, about wanting, about going, about trying, about moving, about flying, about being, about hoping, about risking?

What it is about discontent masked as wanderlust?

What is it about longing to find a place that will finally pull me to stay?


**** in honor of Christopher Columbus and the spirit of this blog, the following is a silly throwback to my time in Tchad - what is it about the allure of exploring uncharted seas (or flooded rice fields) in a dugout canoe??


So, I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Homer, drinking a frothing latte
from a perfect turquoise speckled tie die cup. The view of the water
and the mountains is extraordinary. I have been here a week now. It
seems longer, so long, while at the same time seeming to be a frosty blink.

The snow came to Diamond Ridge with my arrival and hasn't left. I
probably won't see ground or green until June. Winter is long here, and
on the ridge it is even longer.

I have already seen a moose and her baby frolicking in the sloping field
in front of the front porch. I have hauled wood and split kindling. I
have shoveled snow and learned how to keep the wod stove at the delicate
and desired temperature. I have successfully driven on snow and ice
(twice!) and am slowly learning how to navigate the town. Its simple
really, most of the businesses etc are clustered on a few long streets.
I have driven out onto the spit - seen the boat harbor and where the big
oil rigs dock when they come to town to refuel. I am learning to cook
salmon and may have to just abandon my vegetarian status for awhile, or
join the ranks of those who mistakenly insist that fish isn't meat.

The atmosphere is different here. More relaxed, friendly. Yet it is
still a small town, skeptical of tourists, the demographic seems to be
split between the hardy long-termers, the ones that came up 20 or 30
years ago and never left, and the more transient gypsies, passing
through, spending a season or two taking in the beauty and outdoor
opportunities this place offers. There is an abundance of cute cafes
and coffee shops.

I am just trying to take it slow, gradually explore, but I am still in
limbo. I thought that feeling would stop once I got here, but
everything is just so up in the air. I always considered myself to be
easy going, not much a planner, but now I'm not so sure. I need to get
back to my live-in-the-moment-not-worry-about-what-tomorrow-brings kind
of attitude that I had in high school before nursing school sucked my
soul away with its responsibilities and deadlines - turning me into a
person that got A's and showed up to work on time.

The unknown is hard. Everything is up in the air. The neighbor in the
guest house next door is leaving and anything could happen. I don't
know if I'll stay in the log house or guest house will be. I don't know
who my neighbor will be or if I'll have one. I don't know if I will
take care of the dogs or not - Betsy is trying to decide whether or not
to take them to Portland. I'm trying to be responsible and helpful and
learn as much as I can and just roll with things, one day at a time. I
think it is good for me. The solitude is a mental game - and I am
gradually remembering that there is such a thing as controlling your
thoughts, as intentionally creating stillness within your mind and heart.

The solitude is going to be hard to grapple with. But it is necessary.
Learning to be good company for yourself. Motivating yourself to push
through loneliness and be productive. Its harder than I thought but I
will have all winter to work on it. I still wonder what on earth I am
doing here. That part never was clear to me. I just knew I wanted to
go. I felt like maybe I was supposed to be here. and so I staked it
all on that, threw all my eggs in one basket, some of them cracking, and
put everything I had into making it work in this place.

And I love it here. The beauty is stunning. A new place is just always
hard. When you are in the old place, comfortable and zen with your
current experience, the unknown is alluring. the journey. But then
when you arrive, it isn't quite as glorious. When you arrive at a new
place, you realize all the things you knew you would. You realize you
are at the bottom again. You realize that you will have to fight your
way up. You realize that even though its an essential part of the human
experience to arrive an unknown in the place you know no one - still it
is lonely.

I haven't found a job, and that is disconcerting. I have also only been
here a week. The search is far from over, but one did not fall out of
the sky into my lap as I had somehow expected. But I have far from
exhausted all my options, and I am currently deciding just how picky I
can afford to be. The answer, really, is not picky. not picky at all.

But the sun is shining, and the water is glistening, and the mountains
are silent and wild and ageless and I am grateful to be here.

que serah serah

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


so I used to write about being hot - now I'm going to write about being cold.

I am cold!

Today it was 29 degrees, not even cold at all by Alaska standards - but I spent the better part of the day in various levels of shivering. 

I need to learn how to dress.  I was always the girl that never got cold, that kept the AC at 68 and opened my windows in the winter.  I never bought coats or warm clothes and just went through winter's with hoodies, it was always too much bother to buy a warm coat and I would laugh at those who suggested it.  I even used to go barefoot in snow and liked the feel of frosted grass under my toes. 

But this is different.  this is cold!  Its probably because exactly one month ago - I was in Africa.  And I had acclimated so much that the heat that felt unbearable a year ago felt like a perfect temperature when I left.  Maybe I'll acclimate here too.  Acclimate.  I use that word a lot, but it has a quite literal and freezing meaning here. 

I feel like of shell shocked to be honest.  Its such a drastic change.  I'm just taking it slow, doing one thing at a time, trying to give myself time and space and not expect too much.  Today was the first big snow they have had here.  Its a wild and eerie and silent and calm. 

The snowflakes are falling in large lazy chrystalline clusters, the world is white and three inches of snow are stuck in feathery stacks on the the porch, the trees, the whole ridge. 

It is wonderful here.  Absolutely wonderful.  It will take some de cluttering of the spirit to be able jive with the solace and solitude of life here.  But it is beautiful.  I am staying in a log house that was built by hand by Betsy's husband in the 60's.  There are hard wood floors and huge picture windows overlooking the valley and a wrap around porch.  There is a perfect glowing wood stove and I've already spent several mesmerized hours toasting my feet with my hands wrapped around a cup of tea, watching the twisting orange flames lick around the crackling logs. 

There is art on the walls and plants on the window sill and 2 loving and enormous St. Bernard dogs lying like huge furry rugs in the living room.  My room is full of books and bookshelves - I spent part of today unpacking and arranging and now I have my little slice of home and sanctuary.  Items that once were stacked inside my mosquito net are tucked into a cabin in the Alaskan mountains. 

I'm wondering what on earth I'm doing here.  It is far from the edge of the Sahel.  Far from the poverty and corruption and the daily grind of unspeakable suffering.  This is a cute little town with a vibrant community, but I still miss Tchad.  I knew when I left that Africa would stay in my blood and it has.  I especially miss my friend Bronwyn - she is going through so much on the other side of the world and I wish we were holed up in her little house, slapping away mosquitos and ranting our frustrations or laughing hysterically as the situation requires.  I love you Bronwyn.  I miss you more than you can know. 

It looks like my daring gamble payed off and I won't have that much trouble finding a job.  I'm hoping I won't have to endure the dreaded soul suck of a 9-5, and I'm currently on a mission to discovery exactly how picky I can or cannot be.  Betsy is amazing - the lady I am house sitting for.  She is wise and kind and gentle with long silver hair and a robust laugh.  I want to be like her when I grow up.  She eats organic food, went to Berkeley in the early 60's and got a degree in Genetics and drove north from California one day, finally winding up in Alaska.  It seems like most people that come here end up staying.  I wonder if the same will happen to me. 

I already have had my first lessons in working a wood stove, cooking salmon, and driving in snow and ice.

Today we had lunch at this awesome place - had steaming cups of soup and fresh baked bread - I'm in love with Homer already. 

And did I mention - I'm cold? 

Cold but so so so soooooo grateful for the opportunity to be here!

Monday, October 15, 2012

.Homer bound

So, in case you didn't know ( I didn't until 2.3 seconds ago when I
finally googled where I'm flying into in 2 hours...) this is Homer!

I'll be there this evening.

After a month of catching up with friends and family, packing,
repacking, crashing on couches, meeting wonderful new people and
reconnecting with old, I am finally almost at my final destination:
Homer, Alaska.

Why Homer?

no good reason.

I hear its beautiful.....
I have always wanted to live in Alaska.....
I feel rather "called" there.....
I hear it might be my kind of town.....
I'm looking for a place to put a few roots down....
I really don't know....

But I do know that it feels right. I do know that I'm so excited. I
do know that it was be hard. I do know that it will be another cultural
experience entirely.

But I am ready.

My goals are to take it slow. be kind. be quiet. be honest. be real.

and then of course....the elusive and all important nursing job....
(expecting my AK nursing license in a few days!!)

and then keep working on French

and when I get settled start taking a hard look at all the interviews I
got in Tchad from the women....

and I want to become more outdoorsy, maybe take up cross country skiing,
swimming, kayaking, etc.

I just want to settle in gradually and let the serenity of the mountains
seep into my soul

My "culture shock" which was really more of a grey haze is slowly
receding and strength and excitement is taking its place.

Thanks to those of you who are hanging in there with my blog - last
month was sort of a black hole but I am hoping that inspiration will
come again and I can take you with me on this new journey to the other
side of the world.

As I flew into Anchorage, there was a low mist hanging over its flat
sprawling expanse and power sugar snow was dusting the tips of the
mountains and clinging to the trees.

It is officially freezing.

and as of today,

I have officially moved to Alaska!!!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


So whats it like to be back?

That's the real question.  Not the "how was Africa?" I was expecting, but, how does it feel to be back?

how DOES it feel to be back? 

that's a valid question that I have no answer to.  My answer varies every time. 

The fact is I just don't know. 

Maybe "it" will hit me later. 

What that it will entail I have no idea.

Or maybe I made out like an emotional bandit - maybe it really IS this easy.....

After my initial evening of wow look at all the paved streets, it has been surprisingly nice to be back. 

That's the word: nice. 

Raspberries with thick creamy Greek yogurt have been nice. 
Hot tea in the morning as rain bruises the window pane has been nice.
Catching up with as many friends as possible, although exhausting, has been nice.
Markets stuffed with fresh baked bread, organic chocolates, and rainbows of vegetables has been nice. 
Hot water and bathtubs and bath salts and sugar scrubs and tea tree face wash has been nice.
Getting my nails done has been nice. 
Being able to sleep in without a pressing engagement has been nice. 

Its all been nice.  But its vanilla. 

I miss the depth, the richness, the spice, the color, the mud, and the heat rising from the trampled earth.

But its not like its always in my mind - just a vague wistfulness.

My main problem right now is limbo.  Not having anywhere to call home, packing and re packing and sorting and sorting and now with 130 pounds of belongings I am going to start a new life.  Its silly, but it breaks my heart to leave my books behind.  I don't have much in this life to call my own other than clothes and books and mementos from all my travels.  I so wanted to haul everything up to Alaska with me and have a fresh start, a clean move. 

But the absurdities of shipping 7 boxes of books when one is broke and living off a credit card are self-evident, and so I'm once again split - half my things at Grandma's and half my things with me.  Its not like I have a lot - to most people's standards I don't.  I just hate feeling scattered, feeling split. 

And I love my family and friends and those that have been so gracious to me, but a month of living on other people's couches takes a strange toll of its own.  There is no sanctuary, no space to spread out and decompress.  No room to arrange things to your liking and then sit in it thinking. 

Of course, its people, not things, that constitute the stuff a vibrant life is made out of, but there is something to be said for having your own space. 

So, now, a new, emphatic, adamant dream has been born - I want to make as much money as possible and then buy property some place beautiful at my first available opportunity.  I don't want to get sucked in, I don't want to sink a lot of money into it, just some small quaint self - sufficient place that is mine, that is a home base, a sacred space, a little oasis I can come back to every time I get back from the madness.  Because I want more madness.  I want more insanity.  I want more travel.  I want more experience.  I loved Tchad.  I want to work internationally and MSF is still my big wide driving dream - but I never want to feel like this.  never. ever. again. 

So, how is being back? 

Its a curious mix of gratitude, limbo, longing, and grey.  Its sort of like a lucid dream while at the same time feeling both brutally awake while unable to shake off the curtains of sleep. 

and also, it is, it really is nice.