Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On intentions and evil

The cheerful, gentle-looking man above, according to many who knew him, loved to laugh and joke. Loved his family. Loved his country. Was kind to those around him. His countrymen still go to his grave to pray that he bless them and send them winning lottery tickets.

And he authorized the killing of more than a fourth of the population of Cambodia during the seventies. A fourth. About 2.5 million.

He is Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge (pronounced something like (Ka-mai Rouge)

Sorry to drag you down here with me, but I just watched the documentary "Pol Pot's Shadow" last night, about the Khmer Rouge genocide in the 1970s. So we're going there.

I don't even think I ought to try to use words to describe what happened. I feel like it would take a lot of gall for me to think I could even begin to put adjectives on something so far beyond my own experience. I, who have suffered so little. I, who have never had the least fear that my friends, parents, professors, classmates...myself...would be dragged off to be maimed and killed. I, who fancy myself compassionate and good.

But I can tell you, the most shocking, jarring, thing about this particular documentary was the interviews of those involved in the Khmer Rouge army. One of these was a man name Nuon Chea. He was "Brother Number 2," and apparently even more morally responsible for authorizing the killings than the smiling face at the top of the screen.

Yes, somehow, they could interview him. Living free in a home in the jungle, being taken care of by his wife. And I tell you, he seemed... nice. Mild-mannered. Grandfatherly. Proud. He admires George Washington. He quotes "E pluribus unum." He smiles.

The interviewers of course, in their commentary, pass him off as a two-faced liar. Putting on a show. Pretending in front of cameras.

And that's the most convenient explanation, really, isn't it? I really want that to be the whole story. I really want to believe that Noun Chea changed character completely after the cameras left the house. That he sat chuckling over how he fooled us all.

Because after all, who wants to face the moral dilemma of a sociable tyrant? A murderer who loved to make others laugh. A torturer who can hold his children tenderly. The leader of a genocide who really wants an agrarian utopia.

Better, much better, to pass Pol Pot and Nuon Chea off as diabolic, crazy men, wolves disguising themselves in lambs clothing, than to try to explain how someone who actually believed they were doing good could do such horrific wrong.

God help me the day that I try to explain that. I imagine then I'd have to start looking at the evil within my well-meaning self.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Shelter in Place

I don't have the proper gut reaction to the weatherman's images of white spirals hurling toward the Atlantic coast. You know, like, natural conditioning. See a dog bear it's teeth, run for your life. See a rattlesnake on the path, run for your life. See a bee flying at you, run for your life. (Just me?)

See a hurricane on the television screen, buy a weeks worth of canned goods, board your windows, and hunker down in the basement.

Except, I usually open the windows and or sit on the porch or forget to even watch the weather. I don't advocate this approach.

I have no faith in the hurricane predictions. Those big white swirls and I have a very rocky relationship. I like big storms. I like the wind and the rain and the anticipation. I even kind of like the threat of destruction. (Other people's destruction, obviously.) But toooo many times I've been promised destruction and got a delightful fall shower.

And this time Irene was meant to blow us out and instead here outside of Boston we got a little rain and a little wind and a very quiet day of forced apartment mate bonding. Also known as "Shelter in Place," which is apparently the proper term for "if the campus police catch you outside you'll be escorted back."

Hope you all are safe and warm as well!

Friday, August 26, 2011

The less coolness that is senior year

I distinctly remember feeling very cool walking across a college campus freshman year. Kind of strutting across the campus, feeling mature and independent. Although, I wouldn't have described it as "cool" of course. Have you ever heard anyone seriously describe themselves as that? Outside of the family movie genre I mean, where teenagers will continue erroneously spouting lines about how the have to fit in with the "cool kids."

I remember feeling a bit in awe of the upperclassmen. Surely, surely they know things. Maybe someday I would know things. (I know, long, right? I was gonna separate upper and class. But Blogger insists.)

I remember being proud to tell people that I was, in fact, a college student. I thought that that read adult. I think it does sometimes. In a way. In the patronizingly voiced "You're an adult now and you have to start making your own decisions" which they're actually not really sure you're capable of making, kind of way.

I also remember thinking it would be awesome to live in an apartment with a bunch of other girls. And I was right about that.

Homeowners may be scoffing at that. To which I say, "Go mow your lawn!"

This is the destruction the hurricane Irene has wrought here so far. But apparently the end of the world cometh on Sunday.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Back in Massachusetts

I'm back at school. And it's weird. Weirder than I expected.

Not so weird last night, when I got in at 1:40 AM. But there was no one around except the angel/fellow Bromley resident who could let in a poor girl sans key.

As a side note: Does anyone else get really pedantic about everything late at night? At 10 o'clock, even midnight, I can be a careless slob, but post midnight Dani has to brush her teeth the full recommended 2 minutes, make her bed exactly how she was taught in Girls Club, and empty her car of almost every item she can feasible carry herself.

But the daylight took me on a rollercoaster ride. Walking across campus this morning was surreal. The freshman were wandering around with lost looks, the sports teams were practicing on the quad, the faces were unfamiliar. I almost felt like I feel when I go back to my high school.

Once, I knew people, I did things, I belonged. What's my place here now?

I couldn't help picturing the students at la Catolica, walking el Tontodromo, sitting in the outdoor cafeterias, taunting the deer.... Much like I pictured the university I'm at now the first time I left it to go to la Catolica.

And then later meeting up with a group of students interning in Lynn, a nearby city, and discussing community development. It was a lot of great conversation, a lot of really important topics, a lot of really cool people.

A little overwhelming.

But at least now, it's a familiar overwhelming. I've changed scenery enough by now to know that it takes some adjustment for me. I feel small. I feel alone. I cry a little. I smile. I adjust. I settle in. I move on. I grow.

For me, there's comfort in knowing the cycle.

And oh yeah... you go candlepin bowling.

And laugh.

Monday, August 15, 2011

This week in the news of Dani

Yo dudes! I know I haven't been writing much. But hey, this blog is supposed to be a fun thing, not a stress thing. So you get what you get, buddy.

A random sampling of the thoughts I've had over the past week:

1) The highways in Virginia and West Virginia makes me nervous. Too much tree-y space. Too many giant hills to climb. Toooo little signs of civilization. I wanna speed up but I'm constantly having to check myself for fear of those undercover traffic cops that just pop out of nowhere. In PA we may drive 15 miles above the speed limit, but at least you can blame it on the cars in front and behind you. "But officer, I was just going the speed of traffic!" (In theory...I've never actually been stopped for speeding, so, maybe don't try that excuse.)

2) Oh how I miss the city!! Lima, yes, but just any city. I want the tall buildings that make you feel like men can do great things. I want the strangers running around who are simultaneously a part of each other and paying no attention to each other. I want the neighbor's noises leaking in through my window. And a hundred other things. I'm practically tearing up right now just thinking about it.

4)Even after a month and a little, I still occasionally lapse back into Lima phrases and habits when I'm in new situations. Especially with new acquaintances or service people. I accidentally mumbled "Como?" last week when I didn't understand the man in the ticket booth. He obviously didn't understand, but mercifully I think he just thought he didn't hear me. But it was still embarrassing.

5) I'm super super excited to go back to my college in good old New England! (Writing and saying college again, instead of university, like it would be in Spanish, still feels very strange. Actually, I'm pretty sure I mostly don't change it, even though my school isn't technically a university.)

Especially apartment living again. Really cannot wait. Especially looking forward to being with my lovely friend and future roommate Jess. (I love you Jess!) You'll probably be hearing more about her.

4) I've searched through and gleaned out some of the best photos from the last year to hang in our apartment. My original idea was like ten 5x7s and ten 6x4s. So naturally I ended up with about twenty 5x7s and eighty 6x4s. But I won't hang them aaalll, silly! I mean, probably not. Maybe not.

Here's a sample of my soon-to-be wall paper. Some have made it into this blog before:

From a birthday party for my friend Nate last semester, which was in a very nice house

Champion, the driver of the boat when we went to swim with the dolphins.

An old woman (or man, can you tell?) buying a magazine in New York last winter.

An inspiring wall in Via El Salvador, Lima. One of the poorest districts.
From when we went to talk with a former mayor.

A wall and floating stools from la Casa de Panchita, where I taught English classes.
Okay, I turned it upside down. I like it that way.

A flower in our front yard from the first real rainstorm we had after I got back from desert Lima. I ran outside to take pictures. I got soaked. The lens got wet. It was miraculous.

I love these photos. I love that they're each a different story. I can't wait to hang them.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hikers who are not in the Trail Club

Last weekend my Dad and I went on a three day, two night hiking trip on the Appalachian trail. A real one. The whole no showers, the paste-like power bar dinners, water from the stream kind of trip.

Cause ya know, I'm the whole tree-hugging, technology-shunning, who-needs-civilization kind of girl.And even so, the phrase, "We're not real hikers" came out of my Dad's mouth at one point, because we met hikers who are doing the trail in one go, from Georgia to Maine in a few months. They do take breaks visiting friends and eating in restaurants and what not, but during that time they mostly, as one girl said "walk and eat and sleep."

Many of them get to know each other, asking "Have you met so-and so?" and " How long have you been out?" They have trail names (like Panda Bear and Peter Pan and Red Flag) and trail lingo (Sobo and pack-slacking and purists) and inside trail jokes (hiker smells and the creepy old men). It's like a dirty, smelly exclusive club. With some of the strictest entrance requirements I've ever seen.

How do they afford four or five months in which they make nothing and spend money on expensive hiking gear and occasional restaurants and hotels?

I don't know. The one guy said some people are retired, some just out of school, some on disability. (I know, right? Anyone on disability who can hike for four months...my tax dollars at work.)

But anyway, our three days was a pretty good first trip for me. I saw some great countryside views, I walked in the rain, I made my ankles sore jumping over rocks. I spent time with my Dad and we sang such hiking classics as "The ants go marching," "John Jacob Jingleheimerschmidt," and "I know an old lady who swallowed a fly."

It was a good time.

But tip to myself for next time: bring a sleeping mat.

The wildlife varied from tame and cracker-eating to slightly dangerous.

Prime PA views.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

This is what cool people do...

... when they've reunited after six months of away-ness.
1) Stop first at a Mexican restaurant, which in reality only lists maybe three Mexican items on the menu. And calling even those Mexican at all is probably very generous. But there was a lot of hot guys, so who's focusing on what she's eating anyway?

2) Spend 20 minutes in the parking lot of the Salvation Army after the clerks see smoke pouring out of the ducts. It was half-off day, so we were naturally all much more concerned about our stockpiles of two dollar shirts than about our lives. So we sat as close to the building as possible, ready to rush back in and claim our dressing rooms, as all the king's horses and all the king's men (who were apparently bored in the station, just waiting for the a puff of smoke or a kitty in a tree) stood around and tried to convince us that it was serious business.

Now that's a classic Q-town love story right there.

3) Picnic in the park and attempt to be all intellectual and book-y. But we mostly napped.

4) Attend Shakepeare's classic Two Noble Kinsmen (You haven't heard of it? Shocking! But neither had we.) and whisper the whole time about how the actor playing Palomon looks like a serial killer and how distracting Hippolyta's fake Australian accent is.
5) Watch Gigantic, which is the weirdest movie I've ever seen, and not even worth all the snooty, hipster buttons you might get to put on your girl scout badge because it's an indie film. Who's that homeless guy? Why's he hitting whatsisname with a metal pole? What kind of weird eight year old wants to adopt a Chinese baby? Is whatsisname's face capable of smiling or frowning or expressing any emotion other than boredom? Though looking bored while getting hit with a metal pole is impressive.

Dude, admit it. We're way too cool for you.

Although, I've discovered I have just about zero cool-dar. Obviously. Or I wouldn't be writing the word cooldar.