ei·do·lon (-dln)
     n. pl.   Image of an ideal.

Plato believed that we lived in a world of images, three-dimensional shadows of the true one.  What we see with  our eyes is nothing more than a cheap imitation of its true state.  For  example, the chair we see before our eyes is nothing more than a shabby image of the true chair that exists.  We carry on everyday with flawed perceptions of the true ideal form. 


Life After College: Year 3 -  In Transit    

[Sunday, October 31, 2004]


Halloween is easily my most favorite holiday. This year I'm at my parent's house handing out candy. I got a pair of pointed ears and pulled on my mom's hospital scrubs. Voila. Dr. Spock. Except none of the kids really "got" it. The ears are obviously made for northern Europeans as they're this impossibly pale color. You're supposed to glue them onto your ears and then blend them into your ear with foundation, but right now - they're just kinda perched on top of my ears. I also changed into my hoodie sweatshirt as the night started to get a bit cold, but I left the ears on. I tell the kids I'm a lost elf that's staying with this family for a little while until I find my way home. I also tell them I'm handing out buckets of teeth rot for Halloween this year. And that kids without costumes get candy from the "other" bucket. The bucket of candy that's already been sucked on.

One kid came up, obviously dressed as the Incredibly Hulk. But for some reason, I drew a blank on what he was. "Oh nice! You're.... Shrek, right?" He gave me this withering look. I immmediately felt uncool.

Posted by ink |  5:50 PM

[Saturday, October 30, 2004]

The V-Card.

So, my brother took it upon himself the other day to discuss his sex life with me. I was very proud of myself. When a younger brother can talk about such things with you, it's practically like pinning a big shiny badge of "BEST BIG SISTER EVER" on your chest. I puffed up with pride, until he said the words that would shock me forever.

"Yeah. It's overrated. I mean, it's okay, but it's not that great. I'm not a huge fan of it."


I asked him a flurry of shocked questions. "Did you put a jimmy on? Was it the girl's first time?" ANYTHING that could possibly account for his lack of enthusiasm for it. Yes he put a jimmy on, no it wasn't her first time. Of course, the fault lies with her then. What kind of girl is she? She's supposed to make sure my little brother's first time is FABULOUS. Still, I'm disturbed by his lack of enthusiasm for it. This defies everything I know about men. How come I'm the one who got the sex drive in the family? Even more disturbing - which one of my parents do I take after? What do you do as a parent when you end up with two kids - and the SON is the one feeling lackadaisical about sex?

Posted by ink |  6:08 PM

[Tuesday, October 26, 2004]

There and Back Again.

The hospital is one place where my ID photo inevitably turns out worst than can be imagined. This time - I look sunburned, but only for the bottom half of my face. Today was my first day at my new job. Or really - my old one. Walking into the hospital again after two years felt surreal, especially since the same people were there, and I reclaimed my old computer. This was the origin of it all. Here is where I worked when The Firm had deferred me indefinitely as a result of the slumping economy. Here, is where Ordered Chaos first started and Nine was born. Here, is where I left when in August of 2002, The Firm called me to start working in New York, and I ditched Here to work There for twice the salary. And twice the misery. I left Here fresh-faced from college with long straight hair and a feeling that my life was about to start. I return Here wiser and older, with short hair, and the same feeling that my life is about to start, but in a different direction. I bring Eidolon instead, and come as Ink, but Nine lurks shyly behind me, looking out every now and then to wave a small hello to her old co-workers. Instead of hiring me reluctantly, and only because Manager really wanted me, Lady Boss actually recruited me herself this time - offering me a raise if I'd come back. It's great. Everyone is still here, and our lunches are the same - as if I'd never left. I forgot how good it felt to have co-workers who care about you. How fun it can be when you're not competing against each other for the prize. How nice it is actually like your manager. Perhaps these next few months won't be so bad after all. Except for the living at home part. But if I can save enough money ($500 per month on rent x 6 months = $3000 I'm saving), I promised myself I would go travel again this winter. And around and around we go...

Posted by ink |  8:33 PM

[Saturday, October 23, 2004]

Countdown to re-immersion.

So it's taken me about 6 days to slip back into my old self.

One thing I used to pride myself on is my diverse upbringing. Whereas I used to resent it because I meant I switched schools one too many times, hindsight always seems to wipe away those qualities. This childhood, I would argue to business interviewers, medical school interviewers, and hospital interviewers, made me easily adaptable to different situations and personalities. And so it is. When I go to different countries, I slip in rather well with the local communities. And when I return to the U.S., I also - dismayingly enough, adapt really quickly to the American culture.

The T.V. held no lure for me until today, when I switched it on to find out what music had become popular while I was away. Intrigued, I ended up on MTV's Choose or Lose program. Though I question the bias involved in the stories, I applaud MTV's efforts to breakdown the political issues for the teenagers so they can make a better educated choice on their candidate. The duo of Shania Twain and Mark McGrath was bizarre, and I loved the Alice in Wonderland take in Gwen Stefani's video. I did note the advent of Asian individuals on MTV. Eminem uses a little dancing Asian girl in his video, and Stefani's video has a heavy Asian presence as well. Could it be that being Asian will be "trendy" in the next musical age?

Browsing through my old internet haunts was what really did me in. Despite my easing into the entertainment culture, I was still holding myself aloof from the material culture. That is, until I saw anachronic's post on his new Sidekick II. Intrigued, I checked it out on Amazon, and then read its review on CNet. Then, spurred on by former desires, I checked out the ipod competitors. I've wanted an ipod for a long time but have held off purchasing one because none of the current models have all the features I want. I checked out the Creative Zen Micro and the IRiver. And then I checked out the ipod again.

I always hold myself back from buying first generation devices. Whereas its great to be on the cutting edge and be the first of your friends to have something, it sucks even more to be the one left with the old model when a new slimmer better version comes out just one year later, for a cheaper price. My current portable music device is an old Sony MD player. It's served most of my purposes well, though I hate having to convert from mp3 to atrac3 format. The newer generation ipods have recording capabilities now, which is a big plus in my book. I'd love to have radio capabilities as well (my MD doesn't have this. does the ipod already have this?), largely because I like to listen to the local stations when I travel. See what music is popular among the communities.

So the short list of what I need on a portable player is as such:
recording capability
FM radio tuner
large storage capability (i'm likely to use it as a portable hard drive as well)
easy navigation
small size and shape
remote control with LCD (absolutely key, something the iriver has but the ipod doesn't)

Sounds like all of these are existing on available models, so what am I holding out for? A color screen. Like cell phones, once color screens become available - all of these blue-screen models will go kaput. There will be a mad stampede. Once they come out with color screens on these mp3 devices, I will whip out my credit card and proudly say, "Charge it."

Posted by ink |  10:01 AM

[Wednesday, October 20, 2004]

I'm getting the feeling that I will need a holiday once every two years or so just to keep myself going. A good holiday. For a month. I will choose my countries based on whether the exchange rate is in my favor. And I will go alone.

It's been about 24 hours since I've been home. The jet lag surprisingly hasn't hit me that hard yet. I've been going to bed at normal hours (circa 10 pm, 4 am african time) and waking up early (6 am, 12 pm african time). The hardest part has been reconciling Ink now with Ink then.

I've been wearing the same 6 shirts for the past month, and now my closet suddenly seems preposterously ridiculous.

I bought this cheap little 7 dollar blue rubber watch for the trip. It was convenient because I could swim with it and take it into the shower. I didn't realize it would make me an idol among the campers, who were fascinated by the blue backlight at night. When I returned home, I saw my regular seiko watch and diamond ring sitting on my dresser where I'd left them. I put them back on, and my hand looked so foreign to me that I took them back off again. They're still sitting on my dresser and the blue rubber watch is back on my wrist.

Not just that, but my collection of high heeled pumps and winter boots looked bizarre as well. As if they belonged to a different world. Did I really used to derive joy from these things? Was it only because there was so little to derive joy from in my former life?

After all, being in Africa was the happiest I've been in years. Travelling, freewheeling, AND male attention - even despite my baby mullet due to 5 weeks of unchecked hair growth. What more could a girl ask for? I'm generally miserable when I'm in the States. Not that it's all -that- bad. Misery makes great fodder for sarcasm and jokes. But its hard to fill that void when you live in a culture of materialism. So you fill it with the only thing available to you - materials. To think, buying a new shirt used to make me happy. Why? Because it would make me feel prettier. Jesus, who cares.

Am I a changed person? I hesitate to make such a leap. Perhaps I am for the short-term, but the long-term remains to be seen. After all, it's hard to fill that void that used to have 10 year old African boys who scream "MAMIE!" and then cling to your waist. You know, the ones who cry in their sleep on the last night of camp and then crawl in to sleep on you, patting your face sleepily and mumbling "Me love you." I don't know what's going to fill that void now. I do know that I used to cram it with other things. I do know that when I was corporate, the void became so yawning and gaping that no amount of alcohol or pretty clothes could fill it. I'm waiting to see.

I start my new job on Monday.

[Click me] The rhythm's in their blood.

Posted by ink |  8:59 AM

[Tuesday, October 19, 2004]

Post-trip one-offs.

*Though I didn't see where the workout was when I was learning how to surf (it deceivingly feels like you're doing nothing), I definitely felt it in my shoulders and arms the next day. And the day after. And that day after that.

*I don't know what possesses people to bring small children onto long international flights. Or on holiday at all for that matter. Despite my resolution to travel somewhere every two years, I think I will have to give up any notions of a real holiday for at least 10-15 years when I have children. I hope I'm still interesting then, especially as children have an inconvenient habit of swallowing up all remnants of who you are, leaving behind a frazzled outline of a soccer mom.

*Africa is an interesting study in contrasts. Though maleness is so obvious here, its juxtaposted by a widespread affinity for hobbies that would be considered un-masculine in the Western world. Like poetry. Almost everyone here is a poet, and a pretty decent one at that. Does poetry, like rhythm and dance, just run in the blood here? Rap artists are predominantly black, and a surprisingly large percentage of the camp counselors wrote good poetry. One of them actually stopped writing poetry because it made him cry. Or is it just because they live in harsher conditions and thus have more to write about? After all, middle class suburbia isn't exactly good material. Hardly stirring.

*Why is it that flights returning are so much more bearable than flights going?

*30 minutes to landing. I tried hard to stay awake in order to combat jet lag, but failed miserably.

Posted by ink |  9:20 PM

[Monday, October 18, 2004]


So my holiday is officially ended. I've spent the past 6 hours sitting in London's Heathrow airport waiting for my connecting flight back to the U.S. I met a good looking German cultural anthropologist named Sven on the plane who told me of the ins and outs of the Indian community that is growing in South Africa.

It's funny how quickly one slides back to Western ways. I've only left Africa for half a day and I already find myself looking around and wondering why no one is smiling at each other. I miss the friendly backpacking ways and all the excitement of life on the road. I miss the spirit of travelling. And I don't mean tourist-ing or business commuting, but truly travelling. The spirit that pervades you with its lifestyle and wraps you swinging into it, swaddled and rocked while you giggle. Already, the memory of Africa is fading fast. Even my souvenirs, that I coveted 24 hours ago like I would've coveted a new pair of shoes in my former life, seem foreign to me. All my efforts to grasp the feeling of travelling Africa are flouted as it slips through my fingers. It just feels so far away already within the context of Heathrow airport. And yet somehow, I feel as if I've been made whole by the experience. That any damage or bitterness remaining from my corporate days has been wiped away. Somehow, travelling Africa has made me more confident.

And despite my instinctive inclination to, I will not mourn Africa when I get home. I will not mope and shut myself in my room to steep in the memories, hoping to cling on to the vestiges. Because it's a part of me, and I will celebrate it. I will be joyous when I return home because my parents, who love me so much and allowed me to go despite their worries, deserve no less. And because I did miss them dearly.

I've come to terms with a few things on my trip. That even if I'm not beautiful, people can believe that I am, and it's okay for them to think that. You don't need to be the prettiest or sexiest girl there. I learned that I can be generally well-liked, and not just a "niche" interest as I believed myself to be - well-liked by the weird few. Like a Star Trek fetish. I learned that 10 year old S. African boys know entirely too much about sex, and that the Queen of England should not use her famous wave in Soweto. I learned how to say "Sho sho!" like the locals and "Brilliant!" like the Brits. I learned how to take a compliment gracefully. E. told me I was charming and B. told me I was intelligent while he tried to feel me up. Wonderful. I suppose what this trip has ultimately done is restore my faith in the world. That there really are beautiful things out there worth trying for. That I -can- make a difference in this world seemingly dominated by materialism and money. That boys can look past beauty and breasts. And that not everyone is out to get you. This trip has cured me, however temporarily and hopefully permanently, of the jadedness that permeates my peers. It makes me look at the world with bright eyes again and believe that I really have a future that will be great and exciting. That maybe I really can be someone. And not just think it or say it aloud to friends to convince myself, but truly believe it.

Posted by ink |  8:54 PM

[Friday, October 15, 2004]

J-Bay. The nightlife.

So, last night was quite a riot. I walked into the hostel after my surfing lessons, and who do I see playing pool, but E., the Irish guy I met in Nelspruit 3 weeks ago. After the initial shock of seeing one of my own indiscretions show up again, I decided to repeat the process, but with someone else. Hurrah for morals! I met B., who has dimples. Need I say more? You could be fat and pimply, but if you have dimples, I'm likely to think you're hot. Luckily, B. was neither fat nor pimply, but really quite cute. He seemed quite stiff and proper during the day, but when the alcohol began to flow in the evening, propriety kinda went out the window. Then he said one of the most flattering things I've ever heard.

"I love kissing intelligent women."

Best line ever. I knew it was a line, but I loved it anyways. Then he proceeded to talk to the Norwegian girl when I crawled back to the dorm to pass out. I really could've done without the last 2 tequila shots, but at 5R per shot ($1 USD = 6.6R), it was hard to resist. I was supposed to leave tonight for Port Elizabeth as I have an early flight in the morning. Luckily, I met these two Brit brothers at the hostel who also have an early flight from PE in the morning, and they have a car.

This man is responsible for the 5R shots.

Y-M-C-A with party hats.

Posted by ink |  9:33 PM

[Thursday, October 14, 2004]

I went sea kayaking today, and saw whales and dolphins. I don't know what I was expecting - Shamu and Flipper? But they were disappointing. The dolphins swam and ignored us. The whales looked like rocks. But since I'm at the famous Jeffrey's Bay, I decided to take some surfing lessons. I was basically beaten to a pulp by my own surfboard.

The view from Island Vibe's open air bathroom. The hostel itself was right on the beach and absolutely fabulous. Would stay there again in a heartbeat.

My surf instructor and the surfboard that kicked my ass.
I look better in this picture than I actually am. If you look carefully, you'll notice that I'm "surfing" in about 2 cm worth of water.

Posted by ink |  8:45 PM

[Wednesday, October 13, 2004]

Plett Bay, part 2.

Knysna Elephant Park.

You'd think feeding elephants would be a little cleaner, but I came out of it with an empty bucket and a hand completely covered in elephant nose mucus.

Open wide. Harry the Elephant is showing us his teeth. Later, I got to stick my entire hand in his mouth.

Fresh from the oven. You can see the shine and practically the steam rising from this elephant poo.

And here are the babies, eating the poo. Apparently, babies are born without a lot of the enzymes needed to digest food, so they eat portions of the adult poo to get those enzymes. In addition, elephants only digest 40% of their food, so there's quite a bit of nutrition left in the droppings.

I have an announcement to make. I AM A ROCK STAR. Or at least, I feel a lot like one. I did well on my MCAT's! I haven't felt this elated since I somehow managed to graduate from college (I had to beg my professor to give me a C- instead of an F in a required course). I must be particularly good at filling in bubbles, because I sure didn't feel that confident about the exam when I came out. And I'm not the sort to moan and groan over every exam that I take. I bought everyone at the hostel a round of shots when I found out. Of course, if I'd scored poorly, I would've bought everyone two rounds of shots.

Posted by ink |  7:08 PM

[Tuesday, October 12, 2004]

Plettenberg Bay.

I've realized that everything about Africa is very in-your-face. And everything is huge. The animals, the bugs, the men. Even the puniest African male has pectoral muscles. In fact, some of my 10 year old campers had abs and biceps. African sexuality is equally huge. I went bar hopping in Soweto with some of the counselors and as soon as we hit the dance floor - I realized that my little shimmies and wiggles couldn't even compare to the full body gyrations I saw. They were sexually charged in every way, yelping was going on, and I felt like I'd landed in the middle of a soft core porn. I tried very hard not to be a prissy uptight American shocked at their behavior, but failed miserably. Even with all my "cultural awareness", I was uncomfortable witih the casual flaunting of sexuality, and was even more uncomfortable when I was pulled in for a "slow dance" and was held very very close. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. My two African roommmates at camp regularly walked around the room naked. Full frontal nudity. And every morning, they took a bath together. I got over being shy about being topless around the room, but I couldn't quite get over the hump of taking my underwear off in front of them.

The poverty here is equally in-your-face. Shacks line the highways in a way that would never happen in the U.S. Here, we hide our poor, pushing them into out-of-the-way neighborhoods so we can ignore them. Ironically enough, I've seen very few homeless people here despite the poverty level. I suppose if you're allowed to build your own shack wherever you want, you're also less likely to be on the street corner huddled in a doorway. After all, it's a natural animal instinct to find shelter for the night.

I've been riding the Baz Bus, a backpacker hop-on-hop-off bus that's pretty convenient, but a tad on the pricey side if you ask me. It was an 8 hour ride from Capetown to Plett Bay. I found Capetown to have a distinct Western flavor to it that I'm not sure I like. You can see it in the people staying at the hostels. They're not really travellers per se, but more tourists - yuppie tourists. They were much more stylish than the people I was used to in Lesotho. The girls had obviously packed a few pairs of shoes in addition to hair dryers and curling irons, and all of David Beckam's past 5 hairdo's were represented among the boys. It's like Africa Lite. Complete with Mcdonald's and strip malls, just like the U.S. The quality of the crafts down here are also lesser than what I've seen up north in Johannesburg, and they're pricier. They can be found in Western style malls, right alongside the Body Shop and Guess. I'd recommend future travellers to buy their souvenirs in Joburg and the surrounding area. I did buy a painted ostrich egg for my parents that cost entirely too much. Now I only have to pack it around for my last week and hope that either 1) it doesn't break or 2) I don't lose it by leaving it behind somewhere like I left my glasses behind in Lesotho, my guidebook behind in Nelspruit, and my hat behind in a minibus taxi. I've taken less and less photos as my holiday has worn on, I think because I feel more and more at home, so things seem more everyday and normal.

My MCAT scores are supposed to come out soon. Last night was filled with nightmares about it. I dreamed that I got my MCAT scores but couldn't make heads or tails out of the score sheet. It looked like I scored a 19 in Verbal, which made no sense because the highest possible score is a 15. I also kept having dreams about my campers. Happy dreams in which they lived with me in a house and we were taking a walk outside.

For some reason, the lady at this church thought I hitchhiked my way from Capetown to Plett Bay (8 hours). I looked down at myself, did I really look like the hitchhiking sort? To my own eyes, I looked normal and conservatively dressed. But perhaps she saw my inner wild side.

I went souvenir shopping at the Global Village in Plett Bay. There were these beautiful chess sets for sale for these extraordinarily low prices, but I couldn't see how I'd fit them into my backpack =(.

Posted by ink |  6:18 PM

[Sunday, October 10, 2004]


The flight from Jo'burg to Capetown ran on "African" time - well over the 1.5 hours it should've taken. Ashanti Lodge then took another hour to pick me up from the airport. Though I've been very pleased with the lodgings otherwise. I've been putting nothing but trash into my body for the past few weeks. My diet content and timetable is generally crazy and unpredictable, with only a few unwavering components - a bar of chocolate a day and a bag of Doritos or Simba (the S. African version of Lay's/Ruffles). Capetown's much more diverse than Jo'burg. I even saw an Asian family walk by and they looked so foreign that I stared in them in curiosity before I snapped myself back to the fact that I'm Asian too. Is this how foreign I looked to people up in Jo'burg?

As this is my last week in South Africa, I'm trying to plan out my itinerary. I'm going to make my way up to Port Elizabeth along the Garden Route and fly from Port Elizabeth (PE) back to Jo'burg for my flight back to the U.S. I'm starting to realize that I'm not going to have time to do everything. If I only had one more week... But I suppose that's how it always is. Tour of the winelands and Table Mountain made the cut though, as well as the Green Square Crafts Market. I've started collecting curios since I'm leaving soon. I negotiated a great wooden hippo from 150R down to 90R. I was extremely proud, until I got home and one of his legs promptly fell off. I suppose I got what I paid for. But it's nothing a bit of super glue can't fix.

[Single Berry Muffin] I splurged and bought a muffin at the airport. I've been packing arouund peanut butter and jelly in an effort to save money. Little did I realize that a "blueberry muffin" in South Africa means that I only get one blueberry.

Believe it or not, this little guy's closest living relative is the elephant. Living on table mountain, the "dassie" lives primarily by begging me for food when it hears the crinkling of my sandwich bag.

The views from Table Mountain were just phenomenal. One word of advice though: Regardless of how hot it is, bring warm clothing when you go up the mountain. The views would have been much more pleasant if I wasn't at risk of catching hypothermia.

Posted by ink |  8:29 PM

[Thursday, October 07, 2004]

Lesotho (Leh-soo-too, the country) is filled with Basotho (Bah-soo-too, the people), which is comprised of many Masotho (Mah-soo-too, singular form of Basotho).

Pony trekking in the Lesotho mountains


The altitude here makes me want to pee all the time. I got up three times in the night to urinate, and got lost coming back on the third time. Partly because it was so dark outside (no electricity), partly because all the huts look the same, but mostly becuase I didn't have my glasses on. It gets pretty cold here, but my Basotho hut surprisingly holds the heat pretty well. There's a distinct temperature difference when I enter the hut.  Here, the people are building a new hut. You can see that the frame is made from branches, and the walls are just mud and rocks.


I met a Brit gal traveling on her own and decided to take a pony trek together. A German couple, Petra and Rainier, decided to join us as well. For the 6 hour pony trek (which would take us by the waterfalls), we had to bring a fleece, rain gear, and lunch. I ended up being very very grateful for having the fleece. The temperatures change on whim in the mountains. By chance, I ended up with saddle bag #9. Nice, eh? I took most of the pony trek photos from the back of a trotting horse. So apologies for the lack of composition and centering in some of the pictures.

Here is our pony trek guide and my horse, named "Lesotho", though oddly enough, all of the horses seemed to be named that. My suspicion is that all the horses had South Sutu names that they knew we'd never be able to pronounce. As is evident from the photo, my horse was a particularly cheeky one.

One of the first things we rode by was a Lesotho school. Since it was so early in the morning, the children are outside playing in the schoolyard. Can you imagine going to school with a backdrop like this?

This is one of our guides to the waterfall. The pony trek guide brought us to a location where the boy was waiting for us. We dismounted and he led us to the waterfall. You can see that he's wearing hand-me-downs. The standard rate is 10R per hour (~$1.50 USD). The walk to the waterfall was only half an hour, but we gave him 10R anyways. At the market, you can buy 12 apples for 1R.

My last night in Malealea. The nights here are very cold. I'm grateful for the fleece and down vest I brought from home. The Basotho hat and "Malealea" that I requested be embroidered on my new wool cap turned out a bit gaudier than expected. The Basotho hat embroidery was fine, but the Malealea spelled out in metallic beads was a bit too bling-bling for me. No matter. I wore it regardless because it kept my ears warm. This here is where I lay my head down to sleep.

This is my misguided attempt at snapping a shot of the stars. I've never seen such a beautiful night sky and I've never before wished so much that I could have extended exposure on my little p&s digicam. So many so many stars. It makes me think that perhaps the Basotho are richer than they seem. Lesotho apparently has an even higher rate of HIV infection than South Africa. Swaziland has the highest, then Botswana, then Lesotho, and then South Africa. Like most African countries, the Basotho deny that there's a problem, no one talks about it, and no one gets tested. In South Africa, 1 in 4 is HIV+, and 1200 people are buried every weekend.

Posted by ink |  6:26 PM

[Wednesday, October 06, 2004]

More from the Travelog.

Malealea, Lesotho.

"Wayfarer. Pause and look upon a gateway of Paradise."
(Sadly, the bus did not pause long enough for me to get a good shot of this

10 am - Maseru So, in the U.S., we joke about being on "Asian" time, which is usually a good half hour to a full hour late. "African" time is no joke. No one here wears watches. Buses don't run on any sort of timetable. They sit at a stop until the bus fills up before they leave, regardless of whether that's 5 minutes or 5 hours from now. I'm in Maseru, waiting for the Malealea bus to leave. I've bought a new hat to replace the one I lost in Ladybrand, but it most definitely does not measure up to my old one. I'm said I lost it =(. But it was really only a matter of time as I'd lost it and refound it multiple times already.

Being a female travelling alone has made me a curiosity, not even mentioning that I'm a minority from America. Being from America is a fact that's difficult for a lot of Africans to grasp. They insist I must be returning to China when I leave, not to the U.S. My response is usually to tell them that I've never even been to China. Then I ask them whether they consider Puff Daddy and Beyonce to be African (Beyonce has almost cult status here). After all, they're black, aren't they? The amount of English spoken in Lesotho is marginal since it's only taught after fifth grade, and many of the people here cannot afford to send their children to school. I find myself resorting to charades very often, though charading "bottled water" is hard. I kept making the motion of drinking from a bottle, and they kept taking me to beer. The water in Lesotho is considered unfit for drinking. This means that after I bought my apple at a street stall, I was posed with the questionable dilemma of whether I should wash my apple. Do I wash it in potentially dangerous water? Or do I eat the street apple unwashed? I decided to take my risks and eat it unwashed. Mmmm... pesticides. Though I bet they don't use pesticides here. I did buy meat off a street market stall though. Again. I hesitated, but then my growling stomach overrode my common sense. So far, my guts haven't even protested. Funny, since nearly everything upsets my stomach in the States. No signs of even traveler's diarrhea so far. My skin has also cleared up.

Later. 3 pm. Malealea
Whoever said Malealea is only an hour away from Maseru is mad. It may only be 80-some kilometers away, but with the minibuses running the way they do, it takes 2 hours. We didn't leave Maseru until noon. I did not arrive at Malealea Lodge until 2:30 pm. The country looks very dry and dusty, and the sky is threatening to rain. I passed on a 2-hour hike to the gorge as the owners told me the view would not be visible in this mistiness. The minibus ride was a bit grueling. The van was so packed that there were people standing in the aisles. A young girl gave me her baby as she tried to maneuver her bags into the space beside me, but then she never took her baby back. She fed her baby as it sat in my lap, giving it cookies and juice, and showering me with crumbs. More concerning to me was whether this baby was toilet-trained. It certainly wasn't wearing a diaper. The only word I know how to say in Zulu is "I don't know" (very useful phrase. When someone foreign is angry at you, knowing how to say "I love you" or "F you!" in their mother tongue will not help). "Toilet trained" is a bit advanced for me, and it was evident the girl didn't speak English. I didn't have too much time to worry about it though, as the baby soon fell asleep against me, and I fell asleep against the window, crumbs and all.

As taboo as this sounds, after the minibus ride, I was indescribably relieved to see Malealea Lodge with its European lodgers and Beatles playing in the bar. All the comforts of the Western world - postcards, tea, stamps, real beds, but a creepy crawly bathroom. No matter. What people seem to always fail to describe in their high falutin' efforts to be a non-touristy world traveller is the automatic comfort found in being around other tourists. The safety in knowing that they'll share good deals with you instead of referring you to their friend who will then rip you off. Even though the guests speak European languages that I don't understand, it's nice to sit in the corner and write and blend in instead of being a curiosity always.

I bought a pink hat, a christmas decoration, and a handbag from the Malealea Handicraft Arts Center. I made a custom request and turned my hat in to be modified with an embroidered Basotho hat and the word "Malealea" on it. I hope I don't end up hating it. Chocolate is quite possibly the least productive thing to bring with you in Africa. I've already lost 2 Cadbury chocolate bars to the heat inside the minivans. My Mint Crisp is nothing but a melted blob at this point. Funny how chocolate is the universal word. I went to the gate and asked where I could find chocolate. They pointed me to the shack store. Sure enough, they don't stock eggs, but they do stock chocolate. The little kids run right up to you here and ask you where you're going. I'm still displeased with my Lonely Planet guide.

"Car wash.  Find chocolate at the gate."

The store where you can find chocolate.

10 pm.
Malealea Lodge turns its electricity generators off at 10 pm, so I'm writing this by candlelight. It all feels very Little House On The Prairie as I lie in my trundle bed with my candle holder on the wooden table beside me. Except I'm in Africa. The majority of the clientele here are tour groups, but Mick (the hostel owner) says it comes in waves. I seem to have missed the backpacker wave. Its kinda nice though because this means I talked more to the local boys around the village and to the South African blokes who are the tour operators. The lodge invites the local village choir and band to play for the guests every evening. The band especially was great. I got to drum a bit with them. Their instruments are made of tin and metal gut, and their drum skin is just black rubber.

Tomorrow is my pony trek. I await with great trepidation and excitement. Dinner was fabulous. Am not looking forward to minibus ride back to Jo'burg.

Malealea band.

Malealea choir.AVI
Malealea band.AVI

Posted by ink |  7:53 PM

[Tuesday, October 05, 2004]

The Rules.

9 am.
I've broken the cardinal rule of travelers. "Never eat street food." I ate chicken gizzards yesterday, off the streets of Kliptown in Soweto. I was hanging out with my co-counselor N and she bought me some. I could hardly say no. But I seem to have made it through the night with my intestines in one piece. I stayed the night in Soweto after touring Kliptown. A few of the kids from camp recognized me in the tour bus and waved at me from the street. One of them was still wearing his camp shirt. Judging by the holes and dirt on it, you could tell he hadn't taken it off since camp ended. Kliptown is, quite literally, a shantytown. The houses are made of corrugated metal and tin, and everyone shares a few outdoor taps. There's communal porta-potties as well, and most of the children run around dirty and barefoot. It was surprisingly small, less than one square mile of shacks. The associate director of the community center said that there's usually one grandma taking care of 12 children because the parents have been killed by AIDS. N's sister is HIV+. She announced it to me this morning. Death seems to be a familiar thing to South Africans. N's other older sister passed away in April, of a "headache". The death certificate lists the cause of death as "natural causes." No 31 year old otherwise-healthy woman dies of natural causes. She left behind a son that N and her remaining 2 sisters take care of. His father had been killed a few years ago by a carjacker who shot him at close range while his 9 month old baby watched in the backseat. [Photo: Kliptown.]

N's house in Soweto is worlds above the shacks. She lives in a nice safe neighborhood in what seemingly is a middle class home. But she shares her full sized bed with her sister and her nephew, and her brother sleeps on the futon in the same room. There is no running water inside the house. Only a tap in the backyard and a flushing toilet outdoors. No shower or bath facilities exist. Not even a sink in the kitchen. They heat up water in a kettle every morning and sponge bathe themselves. They live simply, but well. The word "love" also seems to be thrown around lightly here. Venda professes that he loves me, persistently despite my repeated denials of interest. One of the 14 year old campers Tea told his counselor that he was in love with me, but that it would never work because I'm from America. Ironic how Tea at age 14 seems to have more sense than Venda does. Considering that neither Venda nor Tea speak to me often, I can only attribute this attraction to my natural charismatic charm. If only it worked so well in the States. If I was 14, Tea would not be bad though. There's something very earnest about him that's appealing. The lankiness, the great smile, and the fearless proclamation at camp that he's a virgin. There is this South African belief that having sex with a younger man will youthen your appearance. It's also a South African belief that if you have big breasts, it's because you've had a lot of sex. [Photo: N dressing her nephew for school.]

I've been sitting in a minibus for the past hour, waiting for it to fill up so I can go to Lesotho (pronounced Leh-soo-too). That's the other travel rule I'm breaking. I'm traveling by local minibus taxi alone. But I'm in a taxi filled mainly with women, so I'm not feeling too endangered. I don't anticipate the ride being pleasant though as the seats have no padding, the vehicle doesn't seem like it has great suspension, it's a 6 hour long ride, and its cramped. I'm starting to doubt the wisdom of this choice. But Lesotho is so remote that no trains or buses run there. This is my only option.
[Photo: Friends from the minibus - Kefuoe, Lebohang, and Motselisi.]

Later. 10 am.
Been here waiting since 8 am. Seriously considered asking for my money back in an attempt to go to Jo'Burg to take Greyhound to Bloemfontein, and then take minibus from there, but realized that greyhound would not be leaving till 4 pm. That and, I couldn't get my money back. The passengers have started chatting though. I suppose this is the "true" experience since I'm with the locals and I should be more appreciative. Patience is not the ability to wait. It is the ability to wait with a good attitude. I, obviously, am not patient.
[Photo: I watched this view for 3 hours as I waited inside the taxi.]

Even later. 7 pm.
After the most horrifying ride in which the minibus broke down twice and we had to switch taxis in Ladybrand (where I lost my hat), I'm finally in Lesotho. I would not recommend traveling long distances by minibus for any backpacker. The presence of a backpack alone makes it a struggle. I sat for 8 hours squashed into the corner with my backpack in my lap. Then I had to sacrifice the water in my Nalgene to help cool down the radiator in the overheated vehicle.
[Photo: Broke-down palace.]

They dropped us off outside of Lesotho and I had to get off and walk across the border with my backpack. I felt Mexican. I arrived in Maseru (the capital of Lesotho) on foot and was planning on going straight to Malealea where the lodge is, but it was too late for the minibus taxis to be running. A lady offered to take me in her private car for 300R, but I balked considering that a minibus in the morning would be 17R. Instead I checked into Lakeside Hotel, a seedy little place. Do not stay here. Ever. First of all, there is no lake. Secondly, the loud pounding music coming from next door doesn't particularly assure me of the hotel's clientele. I suppose I'll venture out and check the dinner menu.
[Photo: Border between Lesotho and South Africa.]

9 pm.
I don't know why I was so shocked to see a small roach in the bathroom, but I was. My penchant for chocolate has done me in as my stash melted all over the inside of my bag. My sleeping bag liner caught the brunt of it. Whereas falling asleep enveloped in the smell of chocolate sounds heavenly, I realized it would attract roaches by the hundreds. So far, my original idea of losing weight in Africa hasn't happened. The daily chocolate bars may be why.

10 pm.
My boogers are black. Am still hating my new Lonely Planet guide and intensely desiring my old Let's Go guide.

12:30 am.
Someone is rattling the doorknob of my room. Am hoping desperately that it's a drunken person who is trying to get into the wrong room. Am scared =(.

Posted by ink |  6:16 PM

[Saturday, October 02, 2004]

Why do the little monsters make me love them so much it hurts.

There's something about a crying child that tugs at every maternal instinct I try to deny. S., the little monster who calls me "MAMIE!" with one breath and then refuses to make his bed with the next, cried on my shoulder last night. He told me the other day that he loved me. Or, he told me as well as a 10 year old from an orphanage in South Africa can manage. "Me love you," he announced one day when I came to take him to his medications in the morning. The HIVSA rep told me that she thinks he has ADD and a low IQ. The ADD portion I may agree with, but not the low IQ. There's something about S. that makes you love him. The sticky hugs. The cheekiness. The demands - "Kiss!" Or, as he calls them, "Boops!" He does speak broken English since its not his mother tongue, but he seems pretty eloquent in Zulu. I don't know how well he'd sit still in a class but he knew enough last night to realize that the cards we were drawing to thank the camp sponsors meant that camp was coming to a close. He drew one flower on his card forlornly (insisting on using my lap as his desk) and then fell silent. He announced "Want sleep!" and fell over like a narcoleptic. I've never seen anyone fall asleep so fast. He kept waking up with tears leaking out of his eyes and crying heaving sobs. I put him in his bed, only for him to stumble out again a few minutes later to throw his arms around me and cry tears against my neck. He fell asleep on me with one arm holding me securely around the neck and the other hand patting my face sleepily as he'd mumble repeatedly "Me love you. Me love you." It brought tears to my eyes, especially considering that he's the one I'm always dragging out of the dirt, telling him to stop fighting, no pushing, go wash your hands. And his response is always "NO!" I'm sure orphanages these days are nothing like the institutions in Little Orphan Annie, especially since S. and his brother K. seem well adjusted, but it still made me want to take both of them home with me.

I eventually put S. back into his bed when it seemed like he was sound asleep, and I tucked the rest of the kids in for their bedtimem story. Usually, because these kids are from Soweto, they insist on closing all the curtains and doors tightly before they go to sleep even though we're in rural area. I normally have to yell through the door when I read them their bedtime story. That last night though, when I read them their bedtime story as usual, S. woke up again to climb out of bed and open the door all the way so he could see me as he was lying in bed. On the last day of camp, he refused to let me hug him or touch him, scowling "NO TOUCH!" whenever I tried to even cut his food for him. But he leaned out the window of the bus and grabbed my hand before they pulled away.

For all the levels of frustration that they caused in one way or another, I was sad to see them go today. There were a lot of nice photo ops at the goodbye as the buses pulled away, but something stopped me from whipping out my camera and snapping away. Being behind the camera somehow alienates you from the situation, making you an observer and no longer a participant. Never have I wished more for a little camera behind my eyes so that I could replay their hands waving out the windows and their heads poking out. I think I would feel better knowing that they were going back to loving families, but the harsh reality is that I don't know what they're going back to. Most of my kids live in children's homes, and others live without any adult supervision - only with their siblings. While they were at camp, I at least knew that they were getting 3 meals a day, a hot shower, and were safe. I have no such assurance now that they're gone. The older boys broke my heart more than anything else. The younger ones I know will have caretakers at the children's home, but some of the older boys are returning to the street. A lot of them are good kids and I can only hope that they're going to turn out okay. I'm frustrated with the English language as I feel like I can't adequately express my thoughts right now. I think it's a mixture of incoherence due to too much emotional stimulus and exhaustion. I can't help but feel like my life in the U.S. is so... soft in comparison. Cubicles. Excel sheets. Paperwork.

I turned 24 today. At breakfast, the boys sang me happy birthday before they got on the bus. I cried a bit when they left. S. saw my tears when he leaned out the bus window to grab my hand. He scowled and called out, "No cry!" as the bus pulled away.

All I want to do right now is eat chocolate and bury myself in meaningless fashion magazines.

Older boys singing goodbye.AVI

As the buses pull away.AVI

Posted by ink |  6:15 PM



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