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Mad World

I would like to take a short break from talking about my self-improvement project and instead talk about about my bizarre methods of handling overwhelming emotion. In other words, I'm a basket case who might need to be committed. For my own safety and for other people's sanity. Here's the issue: sometimes I have a hard time interpreting where my pain and sadness is coming from and so I have to let off steam in other ways before I can get to the root of the problem. Normally I err so far on the side of even-keeled that it alarms people*. I'm going to go ahead and categorize myself as cool as a cucumber. I'm not an extremely expressive person and I rarely ride the emotional rollercoaster, so anytime I hop on it's unnerving and really very frightening for me. In addition, I don't like talking about my feelings. I don't have a lot of patience for it, and also it makes me feel exposed and vulnerable, and that, above all, is the worst feeling in the world.

But! I'm not a robot! I have to express things somehow. Normally that translates into me walking around my house in a huff and occasionally bawling about things that on an emotionally stable day I would scoff at. For example, the puppies in the refrigerator commercial debacle circa 2008. Ask Samantha. I dissolved into tears when those little furbulls came romping onto the screen and said the now famous line, "Is that a puppy?" in the most pathetic quaver possible. I was in the middle of trying to choose a college. It was rough. Later that summer, Sweet Child O' Mine by Guns n' Roses brought me to the brink of insanity and not for the reasons Axl Rose probably intended. I was about to leave for Tulane. I was a mess. More recently, I came home and banged around until my poor unsuspecting roommate asked me how my day was, which is when I launched into a very teary explanation of how I got asked out by a football player. One of the more interesting catalysts, I'll admit. Was I just distressed by whether or not I was making the right choice by staying exclusive with somebody from home? Of course. Did I express that by crying over something mostly unrelated? Naturally. Did I feel immensely better when we found him on facebook and noticed he had an enormous family crest tattooed on his bicep? Yep. That's what friends are for. And also I laid on Erin's bed for awhile while she patiently went through a laundry list of things I was sad about until we hit on the one that was causing this particular breakdown, and then once I knew I was fine and went on with my life.

I'm making a point of bringing up my history of meltdowns because on Wednesday I had a jarring encounter with a homeless man and his dog that just shook me to the core of my being. I intern two days a week at a conservancy in Belle Chasse, across the river, and every time I drive home I pass by the same dog and man. The dog sits on a little flat bed trailer behind the man's bike, and he wears a red hat. He's tan. He has a pretty big body but a smallish face, and he sits very patiently and looks at the man while the man holds out his hat to traffic. I've never seen anyone give them money, and I never do although I've thought about it every time I pass them. It's just there's a toll station right before them and so I always have to give them my dollar and I never have any money when I get to the man and dog. The man is older, in an aging hippie way, and he sort of looks like a thinner version of Willie Nelson. And on this day, on Wednesday, I was pretty far back in the line waiting at the light. Before I got there I watched the man flip his hat back up to his head and turn to the dog, kicking a leg out and opening his arms, sorry buddy nothing today. And the dog looked back, and his face was still the same, patient and ok, and without any condemnation even though the man wished he could do better. And I felt so bad I put a hand over my mouth in the universal way women do awhen we find ourselves breaking apart inside, and I had a series of irrational thoughts, what if they're not there when I get back from Arizona, what if I gave them my debit card what if I had twenty dollars, I only have change I don't have any money anyway. So I drove through the light and I cried and cried, and I found myself saying I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry over and over again until I wore  myself out and then I was just driving. And I went to Starbucks and tried to pour some good, upper- middle class consumerism into that wound but I was still only left with a raw ache in my chest and underneath the hollow of my throat. And a terrible latte.

When I told my sister she started guessing right away, she knows me too well not to. Are you worried about Arizona? she asked. Is school going ok? No, I'm not, yes everything's fine. For whatever reason,that day I was just sad about the human condition. Some days it's just heartbreaking. I don't know why but I feel like I'm just beginning to find this out. There are only so many barriers between yourself and sadness before something comes tumbling through to make you see how hard life can really be. Which is, I think, the moral of the story. There is a certain amount of perspective to be gained from someone else's pain, although I feel like that somehow diminishes the dog and man. This will be the start of a much longer meditation for me on gratitude and guilt, equality and the way of the world. Maybe this is just growing up, and the real difference between children and adults is that adults see not the red hat on the dog but the desperation in the man's face. I don't know for sure, but I have a sinking feeling that I'll soon be finding out. Probably accompanied by a crying jag.

xoxo, Lauren

p.s. I'm typing this on my phone from a gate at Louis Armstrong International...on my iPhone. Forgive me my mistakes, autocorrect isn't always what it should be.
*A few examples: Once I was walking home from campus with the aforementioned roommate, and bashed open my toe magnificently on one of New Orleans' notoriously horrific sidewalks. I'm not lying, I did not react. Once I could feel the blood starting to make my sandal stick to my foot, I told Erin, I don't want to alarm you, but my toe is bleeding profusely. She just about had a heart attack. I didn't look down and walked all the way home. There are witnesses. That's a positive example--sometimes there are negatives. Sometimes people think I'm not happy to see them or that I like them because I don't react like my sister does. Sorry, people, my voice doesn't go into that high of a register. Anyway. A story for a different day.


I am a tactile person. I like to touch things to find out how they feel--for example, I like different kinds of fabrics and really smooth surfaces, like stainless steel, or I really like having my hands submerged in water. I really like the way good leather feels. At least I thought I was a tactile person. Then I had lunch today.

It had never really occurred to me, at least in recent memory, to touch what I was eating. In fact, I extensively avoid touching my food--an ingrained habit, I think, from years at a dinner table, and probably a pretty good one. In Senegal, in the Wolof tribe, which is what the country is predominantly made of, you can only not touch your food with one hand. The left. The right hand? Encouraged. There's a whole process of eating with your right hand--and not just with your hand off a plate, per se, but around a giant serving dish with cejube, Senegal's national dish, in it. Other people eat out of the bowl too.

We're breaking from one of our orientation meetings for lunch and the waiters and waitresses start pushing the chairs and tables away from the middle of the room, towards the edges. They roll out six huge mats, they place the bowls in the middle of the mats, and then we're ushered over---we take our shoes off and sit around the bowls, maybe 5 people to a bowl. And then we're shown by our language teachers how to grab rice and a little bit of fish from the bowl with our fingertips, move it to the middle of our hands, squish into into a ball in our palms, in a motion similar to throwing dice in a loose fist, and then eat it. So we do, without thinking too much, trying to get the technique right. I think I was mostly just hungry, so I ate, with or without a fork and even though I don't like fish that much--having an opinion on food is now more of a luxury than a choice. It was great, although I did, at one point, look around and observe mildly, we look like animals. This is so animalistic. Because it was, although not in a negative sense of the word, more we were just eating like animals. You're supposed to literally lick your hands clean, like a cat.

We won't eat every meal like that, obviously, and most Senegalese don't eat regularly in the traditional Wolof way--this was more of an introductory experience, so that if we do happen to eat like that with our families we won't be offensive. Still. Different. We also had our first introductory experience with Wolof, our new langauge. Everyone starts with the mandatory greeting: Saalamaalekum, and everyone responds with:  Maalekumsalaam. To ask how someone is, you say: Nanga def? And to say, I'm fine, you say: Manga fi rekk. Good is now: Baax na. There are no grammar rules, really, you just learn how to say things--I can't tell yet if I'm going to like it, or hate it. I'm leaning toward like it; it's a fun language to listen to. Like a language a kid would make up, or if you're pretending to speak another language but you're really just making noise. I think I've missed every nuance possible, but that's ok. I still have time.

xoxo, Lauren

Le Passage

Well not much has happened since I last posted---August came and went in a sublime blur of perfect Oregon summer weather, freshwater bodies, my family and my friends. September brought me to Senegal, which is where I am now. No big deal or anything, but hello Africa. I flew in and landed this morning in Dakar--although time is playing tricks on me again and I'm pretty sure I'm back in the warp and today is actually tomorrow, because frankly it feels like last night. Riddle me that. 

But I'm here without incident. I'd like to first point out that if, in the event a person might ever be on the lam, this should be their first stop. Customs, for the first time in the history of my travelling life, were fun---I should probably be questioning the security of the country but hey, it's hard to complain when they practically stamp your passport with a smiley face. I'll just put it out there though, myself and the group I'm with do stand out significantly. And by stand-out I mean we are the biggest and most obvious target of every panhandler on the continent. Our Academic Director, Souleye, wasn't able to come through the airport gate, so there were 7 of us girls walking out of the airport and we were immediately swarmed by men offering to carry our bags for money and to have us buy SIM cards--talk about an adrenaline rush. Some of the girls had their bags pulled right out of their hands, but I think they were just overwhelmed and hadn't practiced their mean faces enough, like me. It's a gift and a curse. 

But once we were caught by Souleye and Bouna, our assistant director, we were off to the races. A more charismatic pair there never was--Souleye told us that he and Bouna had been together for years, best friends since secondary school (high school), so we shouldn't listen to any stories Bouna told us about him, and vice versa. Bouna will be with us the most, I think, he rode with us on the bus to the hotel and told us stories about his recent trip to New York. I wasn't paying attention though because outside life in Dakar was happening--just off the highway, or main road, none of the roads are paved and cattle and goat drives are normal. Outside of our hotel too, there's a horse untethered. I haven't seen anyone claim him yet and he hasn't left--I'm curious to see how this drama unfolds. Once we got to Hotel Good-Rade, which is remarkably nice--they fed us and left us in jet lagged hazes for the rest of the morning, so I showered and napped, and then we had lunch at a Restaurant Mowali. We met the owner, Owa, the most beautiful restaurant owning woman in the world, and her son, Pierre--it was like eating in their living room, they were that welcoming. They made us drink some ginger drink for our stomachs and then they brought us Bissap, hibisicus flower juice, and something called Monkey Bread juice, which was good but I have no idea what it is. Hopefully not monkeys. The bread part is negotiable. The food was good--beef in a sauce, rice, cooked vegetables.We walked to Mowali from our hotel, which is small and colorful and has a wonderful guy named Alfa who is hellbent on meeting OUR EVERY NEED. It's on this wide, dirt road kind of, but there are only buildings on one side, and only about half of the buildings are empty and dilapidated, and the other half are beautiful and look like they belong in the Caribbean. 

Sidenote: Already there are kids everywhere. The brave ones wave, the shy ones smile, they all steal your heart. 

Now we're back at the hotel trying to rehydrate and understand the Senegalese soap opera we're watching, Jacob's Cross. Someone's dead. That's all I've gotten other than the title. Next we go to dinner and then collapse and get ready for a crazy, crazy orientation week. Bouna has told us three things he knows for sure about Americans: we ask too many questions, we are always thinking about money, and we despise, more than anything, being sick. He's probably right. 

xoxo, Lauren