Friday, December 20, 2013


I am so happy right now.  The sky is grey but my world is rainbow.  Skipping and grinning back to the hostel - my Diploma in Tropical Nursing course is completed, exam done, and I'm off tomorrow to see the Lake District National Park in Ambleside, UK. 

Then to see the Peak District, then on to Grantham to see my dear friend Bronwyn for some spicey Christmas cheer, perfect coffee, mountains of chocolate, and long chats swimming through everything from leaving Tchad to starting over to the many memories that will glue us together forever that need only be said with a glance. 

I haven't seen this beauty in over a year, the last image I have of her is a receding beautiful shaven-head figure, waving from the dust of the air strip jutting bumpy and red from the grasses, smaller and smaller and smaller.  The night before I left taking a late night motorcycle spin, drinking one last cup of inventively whipped up coffee, curled up in the depths of the mosquito net, wishing I wasn't going, knowing nothing would ever be the same again, one last deep glance at bright clear stars, a broken mosquito lullaby.

I left her there to coax F75 into peeling lips, place NGTs through tiny nostrils, and march the daily grind of death and beauty alone.  Leaving this dearest of friends was one of the hardest things I ever did.  And now she's back home, after more than two years in Tchad, and I finally get to hug her under crisp grey sky on the other side of the world, and I simply cannot wait. 

I am going to see the one person that truly understands every aspect of what Tchad was to me.  The one person that just gets it.  All of it. 

I feel brilliantly liberated now that this course is behind me and exam passed!  Coming here to the School of Tropical Medicine was one of the best things I ever did for my career and I would highly highly recommend it to anyone who is currently working in or wants to work for an NGO, FBO, or is going to do any sort of tropical medicine nursing or community outreach in the "tropics" and/or in Sub Saharan Africa.  If anyone wants my lectures for their own knowledge - I will get together a link on drop-box in the next several weeks so just let me know. 

I will officially be in NYC Feb. 11-14 for MSF Info Days and have a ticket back to Homer Feb. 15!  Can't wait to plunge into the snow, wear plaid layers, and play with my friends.  Even though I am having the time of my life I consistently miss my beautiful Alaska.

Here's some back to school pictures - just for you mom.  Cheers and happy Christmas! 

oh the gram stain

Looking for Ascaris ova
Listening intently as usual - with the fabulous Masha.

post-test euphoria

class photo

Saturday, December 14, 2013


I am so excited for life.  I am excited to live.  I am excited to be.  I am excited to go.  I am excited to wander.  I am excited for color.  I am excited for faces, for places, for strange ocean beaches, for new ideas and concepts and flashes of oh! understanding.  I am excited for travel.  And more travel.  and more after that. 

I'm like a dog panting after a dripping bone, like a baby screaming for milk, like a horse jumping a fence, like a rocket that just launched, like a train emerging from a long deep tunnel - finally seeing the green and steep of a breathtaking mountain valley.  Being here is like finally looking through telescope at the vast universe I'd only seen sparkle vaguely, like summiting a high grey mountain and glimpsing the coast of the ocean I'd only heard crashing.  It's like seeing an apple tree bursting into blossom or a dandelion breaking and puffing into the wind.  Its like seeing detail in what once looked blocky and vague, like glancing out the window to see a rainbow that had been arching for hours. 

I want to scream and run wild up mountains and roll down heather purple hills and stumble across pockets of hidden ruins and see mountains rising jungle from mist.  I just want to go

Being here is just as much about inspiration and different kinds of knowledge as it is about my tropical medicine course.  I am not spending as much time studying as I technically should but I am too busy talking to people and being amazed.  This fervent tirade about seeing the world is coming on the heels of leaning on the wooden table in our hostel room, three of us gathered around a laptop seeing my friend Masha's amazing pictures.  Photos of Tibet and Nepal, of trekking the Himalayas, of red and yellow and blue tattered prayer flags, ripping and streaming from mountain summits, of Everest base camp, of rock climbing in Thailand, street food in Vietnam, and and and and and my mouth was open and my eyes were wide and my heart is pounding and yes yes yes I want to go there I want to be there I want to see that I want to taste that I want to touch that I want to live that.  It is amazing to see the photos of places I've never heard about and places that I have.  There is so much breathtaking beauty in the world just waiting for me to conjure up a bit of money and a good pair of hiking shoes. 

I have been on the path to realizing it, preaching it even, but at the deepest level I am wild with excitement because I finally truly know that travel is possible, true experience is possible, seeing the world and traipsing the earth is possible.  Not only is it possible it is attainable, it is within my grasp, it is practical, and I have been shown the way.  From learning from my brother who was on the road for 5 years to following the travels of my friend Dave as he hitched back and forth across America to my couchsurfers who have made it in buses or on foot or by train hitching and camping and driving across continents, stopping for a few days in Homer, Alaska.  Just all of it makes me feel like a little kid, sitting at the feet of a wonderful vivid teacher, listening to the most wondrous anti bed time story ever told. 

Every encounter, every story, every map pulled out and route traced, every photo shown is shoring up my excitement and my courage, this little bug called explore the earth is contagious and my head is spinning with imagination and I don't have words for it all. 

Some of the best magic of travel is human connection.  The people you meet that tell you a story, or sing a song, or point out a town that you just have to get you, or call up friend you could stay with.  Its magic really - and it happens all the time.  About 2 1/2 years ago I met my friend Joe in Chattanooga, TN - we met accidentally had a connection in common and
talked for less than an hour.  Now he is passing through Liverpool after hiking across Scotland and Ireland and part of England.  It just blows my mind to be exploring the city with someone I met by chance so long ago - but travel is like that, taking that risk and talking to a stranger is like that - and it represents everything that is right about the world.  I'm salivating over his pictures too - sacred abbey ruins, wild jagged coast lines, tiny tucked away Scottish towns, just the wild vast green grey windswept quality to those photos - now I want to run out and get lost in the Scottish highlands or spend weeks hiking through rolling plains and stumbling into tiny crumbling towns. 

Before I came to England I hadn't really cared much about Europe.  I craved more travel in Africa, wanted to road trip across Canada, and was starting to be more intrigued by SE Asia.  But now that I have glimpsed the beauty and the possibility here, even just England is added to my list of must see must do, have to get back.  And I'm already here.  But I am just in one city.  There is a whole country waiting to be explored!  I have 4 days after travel starting this Friday before I head to Bronwyn's for xmas and after my class ends.  I am close to the Lake district and also to Yorkshire Dales NP.  Joe sat down with me tonight and gave me some pointers, ways I could see abit in a hurried four days.  I am grateful for my four days but I wish I had four months! 

I bought my ticket from London to Nice last night and I'm scouting out couch surfing in between. I stayed with an interesting Zimbabwean guy when I first got to Liverpool and it was a fantastic experience as my first time actually doing the "surfing" bit.  There was a Polish couple there as well and I am just so in love with hearing where people came from, what they care about, what they have studied, where they are going.  Traveling is just an immense education. Its definitely like being in a really rad school where there aren't any uniforms and you don't realize you are in class.

Speaking of school I have one week left of this 3 week course.  It has been very intensive both intellectually and emotionally.  There is no way I can fully absorb all of it - we are covering a wide range of topics related to tropical illnesses, public health, foreign aid, and health systems development.  The true value to me in this course is exposure.  I have just been given an armload of resources that could take me years to read through.  But I have them.  I have MSF and WHO pdf documents telling me how to run a measles vaccination campaign or set up a refugee camp.  I have tools to develop a comprehensive and successful project.  I have handbooks for obstetric care for the nurse that just isn't familiar with it.  I have tables for treatment of TB and ARV treatment for HIV.  I have malnutrition re-feeding guidelines and recipes for ORS and weight-for-height charts.  This isn't about memorizing for me.  This is about getting a general understanding of the tools at my disposal, placing them in a box in such a way as I can easily access and utilize them when I need to.  It's about the bigger picture - realizing the impact an intervention can have - for good or for bad.  Its about being exposed to the current research and to the current challenges being faced by the international community and by resource poor countries.  I guess I feel a lot less ignorant now.  At least I'll stop and consider the complexities of my choices and behavior and projects as I prepare to have an international nursing career and hopefully go on missions with MSF. 

The main things I have drawn from this course that have hit me the hardest are mainly things I was either too busy or exhausted or lazy or ignorant of to do in Tchad.  Many of the lectures have been hard to hear because I am constantly seeing faces or drawing parallels to people, to specific patients, to friends and family and the Tchadian health care system.  It is all very real.  A talk about malaria takes me back to seizing kids, dehydration lecture brings me back to the eyes rolled back exhaustion and spiking bags of Ringers and repeatedly urging parents to give ORS.  On TB day all I could think of was one chief de quartier - the one with active pulmonary TB who just wasn't getting better - who was coughing up blood, who used all his money for a week to get a chest xray, who a prescription was hurriedly written for by a well-meaning nurse who worked full time in another department.  I can still see him under a tree, away from his family, rapidly weaving grass mats, working the fibers in and out, skinny hollow chest and wide hopeful smile.  I had his carne for a week and in the end nothing changed for him. 

I almost started crying at in at least 3 different lectures.  Tchad was a hard place.  In many was it was an impossible place.  I am struggling to not burden myself with this new knowledge I have.  To not play, "I should have known this, why didn't I google this, how dare I have done this without consulting the research, what would have happened if I had done it this way, did my project do more harm than good to the community?", these questions go on and on and I'm struggling under them.  I just cannot let myself go there.  I worked hard.  I did my best.  I asked MANY questions.  The optimal is often not possible.  Protocols often simply cannot be implemented due to resource constraints.

 The one thing I will squarely take responsibility for my lack of personal research.  I should have read more.  I should have studied more.  I should have read labels more carefully, I should have practiced in an evidence based manner.  But the good news is that now I will.  I have learned hard lessons I have a lot of experience in terrible situations where my hands were literally tied - where everyone's were - the doctor's the parents, the hospital's.  In countries such as Tchad life is just brutal and unfair.  There just isn't oxygen.  You will run out of medicine.  There will be poorly trained nurses. The poverty is simply too extreme.  Every single person doing their absolute best and it simply isn't enough.

In light of all this I am just so excited to work for an organization like MSF.  Olen and Danae were and are amazing, experienced, and knowledgeable clinicians - working and learning there was a wonderful education and experience.   But personally, when I was the white nurse working in Pediatrics and a child needs his second bottle of IV quinine to keep the parasite at bay in his bloodstream and the parent refuses to buy that second bottle because I am white and I know if I buy it the next bed over will refuse as well - what do I do? Its situations like that that shook me the deepest and that I frankly have no interest in being a part of again.  Someone stronger needs to do it because it broke me.

 Or having a child that has that almost dead look hanging about their eyes, talking to the Doctor just in case he has more insight - realizing that its just about the quinine and the IV fluid and that bag of blood and maybe a bit of diazepam for the seizure and that's it - being so angry that there isn't an ICU and that I don't know what to do and that there isn't much else to do other than count the heartbeat as it slows and monitor the drip rate, its the choosing not to do CPR because we don't do it there because there was no life support because a few cracked ribs later they would still be still and flopping - its about knowing that and being there yet still being tortured by should I have breathed for him? would he have come back?  should I have bought that extra medicine?  what if we had had some oxygen, or a ventilator even...... those questions and situations broke me too.  My hat is off to Olen and Danae and Bronwyn who do this every day and somehow stay sane.  I was reading back through my blog and I was shocked at how really imbalanced and crazy I was towards the end.  It was embarrassing really that I put that kind of thing out into the universe.  Its not normal to write about seeing skeletons wrapped around mannequins in the mall or excessive descriptions of ugly things......

but the good news is I know my breaking point.  I know what I can't handle.  I know what I am not strong enough for. 

I know how I can make a difference.  I know how I can't.

 I know I don't know anything. 

And I know that next time it will be different.  I will be working within a rigid set of protocols.  We give this medicine for this.  We have the resources for this medicine.  What I prescribe will be given.  People I train will have an actual job to do and I won't have to write my own materials. I won't have to feel like I'm playing god.  I know that working within an organization will come with its own set of complications and problems but I am ready for them.  I have decided that what I can handle is guidelines and protocol in an environment where the optimal intervention is implemented with sufficient resources.  I won't have to make haunting decisions daily (maybe just weekly....).

I don't know.

 So I have been thinking about all this and thinking about traveling and talking to Canadians and Australians, and Brazilians, and British folk and so many more in between and I feel like all of these thoughts and conversations and experience is much for important than trying to get an "A."  I have context for the past, passion for the present, and preparation for the future - and I am grateful.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


City Street
Christmas Market
Albert Dock cityview
I think I could spend my days in hostels and be extraordinarily happy.

I also think I could spend them studying parasites and public health terminology and be equally as delighted.  For the first time ever I want to look at things under a microscope, to peer into the void of squiggling worming tiny killer bugs.  I have a neon yellow high-lighter (and a pink one!), a stack of scribbled on lecture notes, and it feels criminally delicious to be back in school.

Yes.  I can be a nerd.

However!.....back to my pristine lodgings: other than braving a basement kitchen over run with black rats and "just little mice," and a bi polar roommate suffering from delusions of grandeur, I am loving it here.  Everton hostel, in addition to being the cheapest in the city, is an over 200 year old house converted into shelter extraordinaire for all sorts of wanderers, derelicts, students, and traveling workers.  It is cozy and grand and bright with lime green walls, Beatles murals and black framed posters, rooms with high ceilings and giant cracked vertical windows with sweeping cream curtains that match the ceiling trim - opening the door is like turning the pages of a forgotten novel. 

There are many people from Spain who live and work here.  I learned that Spain is experiencing a particularly high unemployment crisis and many Spaniards have immigrated to the UK to work, the workers here being no exception.  Others are here for what Liverpool is famous for - its fabulous pubs, clubs, and nightlife, birthplace of the Beatles (Beatles fans are crawling wildly through the city, coming thousands of miles to see the Cavern Club - where they first played, and to see the birthplaces of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  You can go on multiple different Beatles tours about town), and its football team.  Last week the hostel was packed with people coming in to watch the match - sadly I don't know who it was between.  Sadly also for the Beatles fans out there....I won't be going on any tours...because although money can't buy me love it CAN buy me food.  and plane tickets.  and train tickets to the more remote parts of England so I can walk about the English Moors and pretend I'm in a Bronte novel.

Liverpool has been great really, it's sprawling and decently old and its on the coast.  In earlier times a very bustling sea port both for the slave trade and all sorts of other imports and exports.  The accent here is insane to the ear that has never heard it, "scouse," and it is a very distinct English dialect if you will.  I won't even try to attempt to imitate it either in writing or speaking but its worth a look up.  It can be very difficult for those who haven't heard it to understand, even to native English speakers.  Liverpudlians therefore are also called "scousers."  If I walk down the street I am surrounded by many different subtleties and variations of what I used to just call an "English Accent."  Another wonderful thing I discovered is that much of Europe traditionally has Christmas Markets.  These are usually in the city center and are festive and happy and fun.  There are booths and tiny assembled storefronts strung with Christmas lights (think much the vibe of a fair), people playing all sorts of instruments in the street, stalls loaded with heaping chunks of fudge, vats of beer, hot dogs and ice cream, "make your own" personalized stockings, wooden carvings and knickknacks, and all sorts of things you could possibly imagine - sweaters and oranges.....and white Christmas patterns strung across cobbled walking streets.   Many of the girls do their shopping with huge curlers in their hair - later they will be out steaming winter with perfect tiny dresses, red lipstick, legs for miles, like a ship of alien bridesmaid models descended on the city center - these girls dress it up - no Xtra Tuffs and leg warmers on a Saturday night in this city. . 

There are travelers here from France, Germany, Japan, Poland, Spain, Czechoslovakia, other parts of the UK, and many different places.  And the embarrassing thing is - every one of these blokes and wanderers speak English.  Quite good English.  It's sick how ignorant that makes me feel as I stammer about in my French and wonder what my American accent sounds like to foreign ears.  And the view most seem to have of America and particularly Alaska is embodied in one woman.  Sarah Palin.  Alaska?  US?  absurd right wing politics, the games played and wars waged on Capitol Hill and....Sarah Palin. 

I have been horribly sick, I think I had both the flu and bronchitis and its just today after a miserable 3 day sludge through congested hell and city streets I finally feel like a semi normal person.  I missed class yesterday on purpose and slept almost 17 hours straight.  So this with assist from dozens of cough drops, cold medicine, Kleenex, hot tea, a shower that sometimes works, and some Penicillin (that my roommate has conveniently been carrying across the world for 6 un-expired months!), I a have beaten the beast with many heads and am getting better slowly.  Now at least I can refocus on topics such as refugee health, emergency obstetric care, anemia, cholera, and the increasing burden of non communicable diseases in developing countries.....

I really love the Diploma in Tropical Nursing course that I am taking.  The school of Tropical Medicine here is really world renowned and we are lectured to every day by people who are involved in cutting edge research and are at the top of their fields.  There is far too much information for me to absorb but I think the real goal of this course at least for me is not just memorization.  It is just as much about gaining knowledge as it is having my mind exposed to new ideas and current thoughts and issues in the field of global health, refugee health, and foreign aid and international policy.  I will come away from this course with an amazing stack of electronic reference materials - even if I don't learn it now I will know which documents contain the information and need and where to get them. It is just a very valuable experience, the only part of which I dread being the referencing of my research paper......

I am also blessed in the random gift of a perfect roommate, the only other person in my 4 bed hostel room that not only happens to sleep in the bed above me but also is in my class.  She is a Bosnian Canadian world trekking mountaineering vegetarian yogi nurse with as great a passion to work for MSF as I do.  And she is nice.  It simply couldn't have worked out more perfectly.  It is nice to have someone to make jokes about parasitic life cycles with and who also wants to wander the streets of Liverpool on foot culminating the journey with a visit to the International Museum of Slavery (what??!!!).  Anyhow - very grateful.

Also - MSF update:

I passed the interview.
I passed the reference and background check.

There are a host of people that deserve thanks for their help advice encouragement and input in every step of the process but I will save that litany for a later date.  The truth is I am now only cautiously optimistic.  Almost every person that goes to Info Days gets into the Applicant Pool and gets to work for MSF officially and go on a mission.  But I feel that I cannot rejoice until I am done with this class, done studying French, pass my French review, and make a good impression during training.  However, it IS a big deal, at least to me, so yes.  cautiously optimistic!  Only when it is official will I celebrate full throttle screaming whoop run through public places dousing perfect strangers with champagne leaping crying dancing status.

so hmmm....that's about as newsy and informative as I feel like being for now...I actually have a host of blogs to post that I just haven't put up that I started writing since I left AK.  All in good, sweeeeeeet, time.  I'm off to study about nematodes and helminthes.  peace.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Well, I will say this for NY- there are a lot of attractive tall men wearing very tight pants.

The only thing better than men is tall men. The only thing better than tall men is tall men in tight pants.

For the briefest of moments, the BRIEFEST of time capsule split second zings, I LOVE NEW YORK.

But I refuse to buy the Tshirt on multiple principles.

I did get my nose pierced though.  Twice. To celebrate being unemployed (and mostly because my friend was running late and the piercing shop happened to be next to our dinner destination).

New York.  It overwhelms me.  City of fantastic leather boots and iphones and headphones and squirming merging crowds.  New York, the city that glitters and moans and mobs and is hope or hell or home for millions.  New York, a hybrid crisp of a juicing apple, enchanting and repulsing, maybe its like Africa, maybe once you bite the apple, it gets in your blood stream, under your skin and in your heart and skyline haunts your dreams.

 New York - to me it represents the best and  worst of America.  The roaches and the skyscrapers.  Wall Street and the homeless, leather briefcases and cardboard signs sharing the same side walk space.  Is it easier to march through a rat colony in high heels?  Is it easier not to make eye contact in sunglasses? Is it easier to be rude if you are reasonably sure you'll never see that person again? 

Sitting on a slatted wooden bench, hard and scratches and smoothed by thousands of jean pockets, a quintessentially "dapper" old man (if you will)  with cartoon red rimmed plastic glasses and a purple knit hat, "Missed that train by a whisker,"  he laughed. 

"You know that expression? They say it in England."

Speaking with an accent that wasn't English but decidedly foreign.  Danish, perhaps? I smiled at him.

"In England? Where are you from?"

 He stiffens and the electricity in the grey changes and...

"You can't just ask me that. You can't do that here. No hi, my name is... No introduction.  This is New York!

Actually, I'm on my way to being a millionaire, I write encyclopedias on garden flowers from A-Z,  I am here trying to find a publisher.

Where am I from!! [scoffing] you can't ask that. It doesn't work here."


I am a long way from Alaska.

After just a day, I'm a long way from me. Already wishing I wasn't wearing mud boots, already breaking my rules - the people on the street, busking in the corner or on the subways, shaking plastic cups of change, red and ringing Salvation Army bells, I walked past every one. I didn't have cash, but I never stopped. I was too afraid of what New Yorkers would think of me.  I, who have everything. The disease of caring more about what a stranger would think than if I stranger would live.

And the subway, rubbing shoulders out of necessity, hanging on the silver barred hand holds, sitting side by side in burnt orange and yellow plastic seats, strangers that make it look effortless, the art of being perfectly attuned to everyone and everything around you while managing to never look at or acknowledge anyone. Is it human nature? Preservation? Culture? A normal human response to such caged and prodded and crowded yet wild and pulsing surrounding? The length of one subway journey, I have been ignored, cursed, and laughed at.  Or would we be meaner? We the good neighbor and smll towner who pride ourselves on friendliness and community? The very nature of small town life provided checks and balances and very real consequences for nasty behavior. The answer is probably much less pseudo philosophical- I simply don't understand New York.  Being in a place for three days hardly qualified me for cultural commentary. But I can't help it. Just take my silly judgements with a grain of salt. It has to be humanity.  The study of how we behave based on our environment. 

I think we all do it.  It's survivalst. It's basic.  All those silent ones on the subway have friends and loved ones and people that would make them grin and cry and dance and shake. I guess it's not wrong. I just want to live in a place where the mask is a little more unpeeled is all.  Where I can smile at the person I pass on the sidewalk. 

 To be honest, if I lived in New York, I'd probably change too. I might not go out in sweat pants.  I might buy Michael Kors sunglasses and tight skinny pants and fabulous knee high leather boots. I might wear fitted gloves and vintage dresses.

"I had to buy a whole new wardrobe when I got here," she said, "you really have to up your style if you want to make it here."

 So would I conform? And if I did. Would that be wrong? The me fresh from Tchad would say yes, YES, it's wrong to buy nice clothes when people are starving.  The me now wants the person back that said that. 

She did look truly fabulous. Glamor and grunge and dark bouncing curls.  This girl I hiked the Blue Ridge Mountains and cooked over an open fire with grown into a goddess. And I am here to interview with MSF anyway.  Trying to talk my way back into the raw way to live.

"I'm waiting for my third mission now," my interviewer smiling, eyes shining, "it gets addictive."

 I know that drug.  Give it to me please. I 'm already addicted.

I think it want well. I'll hear in 2-6 weeks if my application is " moving forward."  This would mean they are serious enough to check my references, background, and liscensure, to invite me back in February for Information Days.  Fingers crossed and all I can do is hope and believe. But I have not one regret. I was so prepared, so professional, and I gave this my all.

And I can't wait to leave New York. 

My wonderful friend Angela who journeyed here
 for moral and navigational support:)

Standing in front of MSF
headquarters in NYC

Thursday, November 14, 2013

.greyhound bus

November 14.

Greyhound bus.

Home to Idaho. In 11 years this is my second time back. It has been 2 years since I've seen my parents.

The bus winding up through southern Idaho, following the path of the Snake River. Huge rolling pickle green and mint "hills" rising sharply up from the river, rolling and towering into each other like petrified cookie dough, dotted with the occasional fierce pine tree, orange and neon yellow low left brushes, and weeping willow.

Tiny fishing boats sideways in the current, fishing in the eddies, skiffs filled with what I imagine to be the proverbial fathers and sons but could just as well be stuffed with old friends, river guides, perfect strangers, or just neighbors. The road climbs into a stand of pine then plummets down into a prairie and I start to glimpse the Idaho I know, that perfect mesh of Palouse, the black rolling fields of lentils and herds of Appaloosa horses (these are imaginary...but I love horses), peeling white painted farm houses, clustered with silo and mossy barn and various levels and textures of rusted farm equipment.  Carpet fields of harvested hay and herds of black cattle, desert turned patchwork gold, slowly giving way to mountains, real mountains, pungent bristling evergreen, clear mountain streams, abandoned rail road tracks, startled deer, logging trucks loaded with stacks of new cut pine, and tiny desperate derelict towns that my childhood eyes were so enchanted with.

It is lovely to be back, its almost not real - to see the same landscape with a different prescription on my glasses. 

I am an hour away now.

Leaning into the window, I'm typing and fogging the glass with my breath, wondering how many people sat in this red striped blue plush seat, thinking quite predictably about Simon and Garfunkle songs.....I've come, to look for Americaaaaaaaa....(I can't help it!)  Conversation from the back of the bus, about Alaska, "I hear you can make big money up their man, North Dakota too, go work in the mines, or get on a boat."

"my cousin got on a boat.  Make 14 grand first 3 months."

Across the isle, "Gotta do something, can't just sell drugs, gotta work."

"yeah, gotta do something....."

I tell them about Alaska, wishing it could be their fairy tale too. 

Nodding, uncomprehending, I'm a white girl anyway, cans of coke disappearing and the talk drifts around me, prison, girls, one fresh from a sweat lodge, headed to the half way house, the other just out of prison in Texas, 4 days on the Greyhound, hours from home, headed back to the res to a brand new car and a girl that might have waited for him.  The other, mostly silent.  All of them agree it's better to be in your room playing video games and petting your dog then outside getting into trouble.  All of them agree to do more sweats, to go to church, to spend time with the old ones. 

I grew up on a reservation, but I still know nothing.  I never will.  And that is alright.  I can never change the color of my skin.  I can only give space and respect.  I can only realize I don't understand.

I love Americana, in all its crumbling neon vast beautiful littered guts and glory. The buses the trucks the cars speeding insane through pockets of wild windswept emptiness, small towns Ill never know the name of, people Ill never meet living out their lives in peace, misery, love, and struggle. There is nothing like America witnessed from the highway, the dirt road, the gas station. Like the child sprawled sleeping on the blue cushioned bus seat, mother outside with a cigarette,  who kept turning and grinning shyly back, peeking over the seat, wide unworldly button green eyes, or the vomit congealing in the sink in the back of the bus, or the man in the ballcap missing teeth, clutching 2 Dr Peppers,  talking loudly on his cell phone, "I heard there is opportunity to work in Spokane, you know, I'm going where the jobs are.  I'm going to get a computer."

 Everyone, including me, has messed up hair in this bus, rumpled clothes, junk food, society of the vagabonds and busted.  Where are you all going? Where did you come from? Are you running away or going home? Meeting a lover or headed to a job? What did you look like in your prime? Who did you want to be? Why am I assuming you looked or wanted better?  Why can't I stop judging?  Who will I be at 50?

Passing windmills and railway trestles, spanning gorges and fast fat creeks, the damp mossy stillness of covered bridges, the way no two trees ever look the same, the way each sunset is unique and maddening, smoky orange, sky scraped by bleeding purple cloud fingers, and I have this manic desire to soak this in, all of it, every color glance thought observation, second. The road brings out something joyous in me, a channel through which to cascade my wanderlust.  The lurch of the bus grinding me down to something harder, more basic and sharp and solid.

Did you know that in 1901 after many failed attempts to navigate the river at the bottom of the Black Canyon of the Gunneson, it was finally achieved by two men on a plastic air mattress?

In our own ways - crooked, posh, stark, impromptu, fervently, or feebly, we are all trying to navigate the unknown. We are all hoping the dark unexplored canyons will someday lead us home.  And we know that even though the old barn still caves in the same spot and the same aroma is wafting from the fields and trash cans and kitchens, that everything will have shifted, that wrinkles and creases and hatred and sorrow have crept onto high smooth cheekbones, that we have missed moments, that things will never be the bright perfection of memory.  But we are going anyway.  Clutching our air mattresses and our dreams, we are jumping whooping into raging rivers, washing up drenched and ragged and free on the other side. 

Courage packed into sodden suitcases.

This is a spirit that cannot be drowned. 

This bus - this is the home of the brave. 

This, this is America.

road feet

Idaho sunset


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

pale pink perfect


cosmic sunrise

Last morning in paradise and it is perfection.  My bags are packed my goodbyes are said and my heart is throbbing with TOO MUCH LOVE.

The support I have been gifted by friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and strangers has been overwhelming.  I am the luckiest girl and I cannot believe that a year ago I knew no one.

I have been tackled by hugs and last minute heart to hearts at 4 am, I have a little turquoise silver travel turtle nug for protection, my co workers gave me grapes and a chocolate cake, a wool knit hat, a signed mug, and other beautiful things. My friends all showed up to a bonfire and everyone took time out of there lives to toastand laugh and let me crash on their couches.

I think my peace has almost been made with leaving. I am flying out on the wings of a love for this place and this people that I have never before found. I am basically just groping for words to somehow convey the extent of my gratitude and how much each and every one of the mad quirky individuals I have tangled paths with means to me.

Through the goodbyes, I have realized how much love I have here and my heart literally feels like it is too big for its encasing tissue and with each beat I might just burst open.

I know hard times are coming. Loneliness. Exquisite experience. And I'll deal with that as it arrives. But I want to remember this feeling forever.  Being surrounded and carried on a magic carpet of complete and utter love.  Being so aware of gratitude it's hard to breath.  The knowledge that no matter what happens I can always come back to these mountains. That i can always come home.

last morning love

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


October 16.

I got here one year and one day ago. I came with the first snow and Alaska is my fairy tale.

beach snap
The mountains are just as wild and wanton as the day I arrived, the ocean the same angry range of roiling aqua, the sunsets just as vast and fire and purple, the boats still nestle and sleek and buoy and rust in the harbor.

The only thing different is me, is people, is friendships. Now I have a whole stack of experiences to go with the scenery and a diverse handful of strong beautiful passionate women to call friends, a backbone of wild, wise, witchy inspiration and love.

Looking back, once again comfortable, once again at the summit, no longer the new kid, it's hard to remember how lonely and frightened I was when I got here, how much of a leap of faith it all was. And now I'm back there. Once again packing for the zesty titillation of uncertainty, once again boxing and labeling and saying goodbye and bequeathing my possessions. Once again I'm leaving loved ones, feeling blue, and fighting the tide of comfort, the waves lapping "stay, stay, stay."

The hardest part about leaving isn't getting on the plane. Its not even the airport sigh of relief on my way slump against the backpack check your watch, your ticket, your messages. Its the days before. Its the hugs. It's looking into the eyes of a friend you wish you could stay close to forever. Or wondering what it was about you that made me grin wildly, that secret ingredient I probably won't ever know.

But oh! the mania, the wild glee yee heeee inner whoop of impending freedom, road boots, new faces, lying in airports and scrawling poems with cold shaking fingers and every street and town and person a tumbling wide eyed untapped miracle.....

feelin' tuff
I'm ready to go alone. I'm tougher now. Alaska taught me that. I've lived alone for the first time (in the woods),chopped wood, hauled water, started fire, caught mice, wrestled fish, skinny dipped in ocean, walked beaches barefoot, climbed trees, drove a steaming clattering Subaru, had a cat, worked two jobs, kept mad spinning summer daylight hours, spent many nights in tears, took thousands of photos, learned to drive in snow, had my heart punched, learned how to go out alone, didn't write much, laughed a lot, learned new things, threw out deep rooted beliefs, opened my mind, leaned into connection, and dabbled (only slightly!) in the dirty work of inner growth: small victories, hard gravel eating falls, getting up to slay demons disheveled and smiling, lips smudged with dust and spit, ocean salt and red wine.

 All this stuff isn't tough per say but it was what I needed this year, what forced me to grow and gave me the profoundest sense of constant reverence, perpetual pangs of gratitude. Now I can march boldly into a new chapter, slosh grinning through England in Xtra Tuffs, and have the strength grace and confidence not to waste a single moment of this one, rare, BEAUTIFUL life.

View driving down Diamond Ridge

I have been blessed. Beyond measure. And in celebration and respect of this blessing I will go. I will travel. I won't be afraid. For all those who wish they could, for all those that can't, for all those that will, for all those who have - I'm going on the road.

Au revoir cheries.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


There's something about leaving that makes the words tumble like unpolished rocks through the swirl of my brain and cut their way out of my fingers or pen. 

The truth is I haven't really written lately.  And by lately I mean pretty much my entire Homer Alaskan experience went undocumented.  When I first got here the loneliness and solitude fueled a couple pieces about snow and mountains and biting cold, but when my real experience picked up the writing somehow stopped. 

In 3 weeks I will have been in Alaska for a year.  As long as I was in Tchad.  As long as I'll be anywhere for awhile.  I don't know what it is about a year, but around the turn of the sweeping annual clock, something strange happens to me.  The drums of hmmmm and where? and there? and ahhh! start to hum and pick up momentum, the perennial itch rages up through my subconscious and manifests as a thousand prodding pin pricks on the soles of my feet, and then one day I snap and launch a shaking breathy dart of forward motion into the universe - all it takes is one decision, and suddenly everything lines up to catapult me shaking and wide eyed and resolute into the next journey. 


so where am I going?

see the thing is I have really no idea.  the thing is that the plans I have could capsize at any time.  but the thing is I'm doing it again.  and all of those old feelings, the fear, the heartache, the pain of leaving the people I love, the hysteria and compulsion of the unknown, the stern self-lectures about how I can do it, how the risk will be worth it, its all coming back.  Its the same way I felt as I grappled with leaving for Tchad, as I wrote about my terror and excitement to move to Homer, a place where I knew not a living soul. 

You'd think my last two journeys would have prepared me, but I'm still in chaos about it as I've always been.  The only solid known is that I'm going. 

I finally applied to Doctors Without Borders (MSF).  It will be a couple weeks until I hear if I got an interview in NYC.  and If I do, it will be a long and hopeful process of continued evaluation, but it is an immense relief to have that intention finally released to the powers that be.  I worked on my application for 5 months.  As in, I sunk about 20 hours total into it.....over five months.  As in, I was so stressed about wanting it to be perfect, about being so close to my life's dream, about what if I don't get it, what then? that I simply didn't send it.  I thought about it all the time.  I berated myself for not doing it.  I dreamed about it.  And then finally, one day, I sent it. 

It's much easier to have a dream you don't go for.  One of those tragic raisin in the sun kinds.  One of those that is so far fetched you get to live with your head in the clouds as your feet trudge the hamster wheel.  It's much harder to give your everything to one thing - to one dream, to have worked for years and years and years building a specific resume, to have gone through pain and heartbreak and thousands of hours of work - and to condense all that longing into a professional CV and send it off to an unknown human resources department.  What happens if they say no?  And what happens if they say yes?  but it is done.....

I am on the waiting list for the School of Tropical Medicine in Liverpool.  I am going to get my Diploma in Tropical Nursing.  They have given me every indication that I will get in, and to that end I am behaving as if its a for sure thing.  To this end I have given notice at both my jobs - I leave Nov. 1.  I have let go of my darling cabin that I am so in love with - Nov. 1. 

I am renting out a storage unit, parking my car at Betsy's diamond ridge homestead, giving the cat (yes, i got a cat of all things) to lawd knows who, hauling heaps of accumulated goods to the Salvation Army, and trying to spend as much time near the ocean as possible. 

All of this happened in the space of a few days really.  It was nothing nothing nothing and then as soon as I got on the waiting list, everything accelerated and the great wheel of life started spinning and a fuzzy arrow emerged and I'm off running again.  But I feel good about it.  Getting this diploma and getting to study all the infectious diseases I saw in Tchad is a good career move as I pursue working internationally again. 

So - the rough plan (always subject to change), is as follows: first week of November saying goodbye to all my darlings, stop over in Juneau to see Grandparents, fly into Denver and meet the wonderful Jessi Steve and take a week long road trip hitting 7 or 8 National Parks in Utah and Colorado and maybe Wyoming.  Spending time in Idaho for several weeks hopefully studying for my class and seeing parents and old friends, maybe hopping over to Seattle, then Dec. 1 or so jumping on a one way flight to England, school for a month or so, see the lovely Bronwyn returned to the UK from Tchad, couchsurf through England and then at that point anything can happen but the plan is to travel France and lock down my French.  Once I am fluent in French nothing will stop me from working in francophone Africa and I will have a skill set that is marketable. 

All these plans will immediately be abandoned if MSF comes knocking but in lieu of that I'm headed off no matter what.

The major difference is that I did it.  I did what I came to Homer to do.  I built a life.  I have a household.  I have a car.  I have connections in the community.  I have the most amazing group of friends - strong beautiful women roughing it in tiny cabins and spilling beauty and sunshine into the world.  The difference is that this time I'm not coming back to boxes in my ex's house - this time I will be coming home.

I am not leaving permanently.  There has never been a place where I felt like I fit as much as here.  This is the place I want to call home the rest of my life.  The place I want to rest in when I come back.  The place I want to hike in and buy land in and fall in love in and grow old in.  It's the home base I was always looking for.  And I feel desperately sad to leave it.  But I have to.

It would be impossible to encapsulate this mad mad year with its darkness and light, beauty and cold, heartbreak and healing, late nights and early mornings, and all those moments and memories and friendships in between. This is wild, freeing, cosmic, and earthy place where the music is good, the produce is local, the beer flows like water, the campfires blaze, and the people are real.  The people I have met here are some of the most wonderful and genuine collection of souls I have ever crossed paths with and I am in constant gratitude. 

The flip side of the magic was that I worked 2 jobs and often did 6 or 7 days a week.  The upside is that now I can travel, but the down side is obvious - I was on the hamster wheel and it ground me down, leaving me often too exhausted to experience the culture and wildlife that this area has to offer.  I firmly know I will NEVER do this again.  I will never work a 9-5, I will never do the same thing 5 days a week with only one vacation day available a month.  I need a life style change.  I want to work hard hard for 3-6 months at a time and then have 3-6 months off to breath and hike and travel and garden and sew and brew beer and cook things and gather things and take classes.

so I'm starting the blog again.  It will be about my travels.  It contain some longing and some nonsense and hopefully some wonder.

Monday, February 11, 2013


Self-lecture I sternly wrote to myself when I first got to Tchad.  Came across it this morning.  Reminds me that nothing is more important than being fully present.  Nothing is as vivid and vibrant as is the consciousness of to be. 

Be Present: Be here.  Live in the moment, even when that moment is hard.  Embrace the sweat, the dust, the grime, the fever.  Embrace the chance to change. Listen.  To my family, to the doctors, to the nurses, to my friends, to anyone that blesses me with stories or insights.  With-hold judgment.  Wear others shoes.  Go barefoot in their feet.  Avoid hasty conclusions and all forms of gossip.  Speak only truthful things.  Be kind.  Go out of my way for others.  Don’t complain.  This is what I signed up for – the heat, the disease, the work, the experience.  BE PRESENT.  Work hard.   Other than wistfulness for those I love, dwell not on the past.  Don’t think about the future.  Don’t imagine other foods, other places, other temperatures, future times.  Don’t build castles and conversations and dwellings.  Be present.  Right now.  The future will arrive – do you want to say you spent the year you dreamed of being lost in a future dream? This, this is my dream.  Helping people is hard.  Helping people is thankless.  Helping people causes brutal introspection.  But helping people is the only thing worth doing.  Work hard for the people.  Work hard to give them optimal health.  Work Hard on Project 21.  Do not complain.  Attempt to lighten the burdens of others.  Spend time in the village, not in the compound.  Look for ways to pull your weight and be helpful.  Be cheerful. Be excited.  Be present.  Wake up. This is your dream.  

Just as applicable as it was a year ago.  I guess its the human experience to have to learn the same lesson over and over and over again yet have the capacity to experience a new sense of wonder as you re-realize your recurring epiphany.  



 You called from the urn where your ashes stirred

        charred dust of a haunting plea.

Listen now to what I have heard

        as we set each other free.

Take a pinch of my eyes you said

        and fling them into the breeze.

Speak to me of the color red

        when the sun takes leave of the seas.

Dip your toes in my crumbled feet

        and march where you’ve never gone.

Diverge with me from the cobbled street

        and dance to my barefoot song.

Scatter me at the foot of a pine

        at the heart of a needled wood.

Root my soul to the mossy shrine

        where the Coeur d’Alene once stood.

Take a whiff of my nose you said

        a line from my nares to your brain.

Inhale warm waft of fresh-baked bread

        or the lush clean musk of rain.

Release a grainy puff of grey

        to the gust of a northbound wind.

Whisper to me that you will not stay

        in the place you have always been.

I looked in the urn that the ashes fled

        echoed space of a haunting plea.

I live through you, so what is dead?

        just tell me, are you free?

*** To Kimmy.  Poem that definitely did not win the poetry contest - but that I want to share anyway - its good to be slapped in the face that I just need to write better that's all.