The Plan:

Dear people,

I have a plan!

I have decided to return to Alberta in the fall (like to live). I will stay with my parents in Medicine Hat probably for the year. These are the reasons I’m coming back to the homeland:

1. I felt like it. I have quite enjoyed living in Harrisburg for 2 years, but it is not ‘home’, and I think I could make it home if I lived in PA for another decade, but then I decided maybe it wasn’t worth it since I do, afterall, like my parents and Canada and all that jazz. I chose Harrisburg because it is bankrupt and an underdog city in glitzy America, and I feel somewhat useful there. (Whereas Canadians already have everything figured out). But then I realized Canadians don’t necessarily have everything figured out, so heck, maybe I can just move back home and live in the wilderness where I like it. Cities stress me out sometimes, especially when I can never escape the suburban sprawl.

2. My house is breaking up… Alaska, India/Seattle, Thailand, Ivy League Grad schools, marriage, whatever-rachel-is-doing….  my roommates are moving on and Hamilton House as we like to call it is coming to an end. It was great while it lasted. I WILL be living in Harrisburg for the summer still, until August/September. I will also be having an art show in July in Harrisburg. You are invited. I also plan to visit my elderly brother in New York City this summer.

3. I don’t have health insurance, and strawberries from the Great Canadian Superstore taste really good. I could potentially get really rich if I work in Alberta for like a month (joke, but not actually).

4. I like my job in Harrisburg, but it is not my ‘passion’ to work with kids with autism, for the most part I felt like I was just doling out common sense, which was great, but I don’t feel like I’m performing at my highest potential. Thus, I am open to trying out something else.

So my plan is to live in Harrisburg for the summer, drive back to Medicine Hat Alberta with all my stuff in my car in the fall, work a dead end job for a while (get rich), go to Africa (the whole continent – that’s a joke, not actually) for a family reunion before Christmas, then return to Canada and find a real job. And then ‘take it from there’ in the most vague sense of the word.

Some things I’m worried about:

1. Getting sucked into the superficial comfort of Canadian living (obviously I already have.) It seems to me that most Albertans are obssessed with making money. Most Americans are too, but people in Alberta actually succeed at it. And it freaks me out a bit that it’s a whole culture of rich people with comfortable lives. (Unless you’re homeless in Calgary I understand).

2. Making friends. So far I have an average of three and a half intergenerational friends in Medicine Hat. None my age. None interested. I will also miss the great friendships that grew out of good ole Messiah College, and all the friends in Harrisburg that I could walk down the street and visit.

3. It’s a little bittersweet that I won’t feel justified in making fun of ‘Merica when I don’t actually live there, but priorities, priorities…

Travel is all I ever write about…

My day on Saturday:

Woke up at 5 am to persistent pounding on a door and a man yelling “you’re f****** kidding me,” intermittently with “I’m gonna stab you, I don’t care.”  Luckily he wasn’t pounding on my door. Crept outside on my second floor balcony and my neighbor informed me from her balcony in the morning light that our other persnickety neighbor had already called the police twice.

Walked the banks of the mighty Susquehanna [river] and reflected on the probable fact that I would be in Calgary, Alberta in the evening. Ate two breakfasts, the latter being my housemate Kate’s bridesmaid  brunch and pre dress shopping shindig of freshly made melt in your mouth blueberry scones with cream cheese and coffee, and met all of her bridesmaids, who all fit in the kitchen at the same time.

Caught a ride with my friends ‘The Calebs’ to the Harrisburg mall to catch my bus to Philly. A fact for which I am EXTREMELY GRATEFUL and I also bribed them with chocolate. While waiting for the bus I talked to a friendly girl around my age who said she wants to switch to working with kids instead of doing medical billing which she hates. She said something to the effect of,” there’s so much potential in kids they just need to be able to do good things.” Very profound.

Rode megabus to Philly. Thought I had time to spare, so bought a frosty and wandered around. Couldn’t quite remember where the regional rail to the airport was located, so I asked a Septa Subway agent. Turns out Regional Rail employees are on strike as of last night. He told me to catch the subway West to 69th Street (40 blocks away) and take a bus from there. So I panicked and followed his advice. In hindsight maybe should’ve risked a taxi. Because I boarded the bus about the time I should’ve been arriving at the airport. And I was really annoying and asked the annoyed bus driver when she ‘thought’ we ‘might possibly’ arrive at the airport. She said an hour and 15 minutes. Ahh! Decided to take the bus and risk it, because I didn’t see any taxis and I told myself I could always get off the bus and just hail down a taxi (in the middle of West Philly) like they do in the movies. So I rode the bus for an hour and  the whole time I was hyperventilpraying (yes I just made that word up) and I also hummed to myself under the drone of the bus because that is how I cope apparently but one time a lady looked at me wierd like she could hear me humming so I tried to tone it down a bit.

So we zigzagged and stopped at all the bus stops and stop signs in the whole West Philly and then South Philly, both places that I am not familiar with so I didn’t ever know how close we were to the airport. I saw a plane flying overhead at one point and was a little encouraged. Eventually the bus started clearing out and I had a nice conversation with an airport worker on her commute to work about how the regional rail strike was ruining everything… that made me feel better. Finally made it to the airport exactly an hour and a half before my international flight. The bus stopped at the first terminal and just sat, because it was ahead of schedule, so I got out and ran to the departure area with my heavy backpack and overloaded suitcase stuffed with three winter coats and two pairs of boots and various other materials. Asked for Air Canada and ran ahead 3 more terminals with my suitcase clickety clacking behind me. Arrived a little sweaty and out of breath, but the ticket man was still there, and I made it!!!

Drank some free Coke on the plane to celebrate. Then travelled for 11 more hours!

Year of the Car, Revisited

One fateful February Wednesday morning, whilst brushing my teeth at home, my green-gift-from-God-Ford-stationwagon was smashed whilst parked on my street by a large Egg and Cheese Delivery truck. There was freezing rain and the truck slipped. The truck driver was an honest abe who luckily stayed around and called the police and gave me his insurance numbers. My car was smashed on both ends with a broken window, and I caught a ride late to work.

After some minor hyperventilating, and some phone calls back and forth, with scary insurance adjustors and my Dad and the Egg and Cheese Company Owner, and some major zoning out on my part at work, the owner of the Egg and Cheese Company agreed to just buy my smashed car off of me for an okay price. So 9 pm the same Wednesday I found myself with two middle-aged brothers from the Mennonite Mafia (with matching jackets, and embroidered things like “Gary: Owner; Egg and Cheese Company” stitched onto their lapels) awkwardly standing in my dining room, handing me a wad of cash and signing papers that we won’t sue each other, and I signed over the title (Gary’s ‘brother’ was apparently a Notary) and they drove my green stationwagon off in the dark with one taillight missing, two smashed bumpers, and some cold wind blowing through the broken window.

So, once more I was without a car. I feel like I can relate to all people who have malfunctioning or nonexistent vehicles.

And it is hard to get to work, and go to the other place of work, and the other place, when you have no car and all one’s friends also work. But thank you to Katherine, Rachel, Kate, Danielle, Becca, Maryann, Eldon, Henok and Sarah, for really helping me out. I also enjoyed a few adventurous four mile walks from Harrisburg to Steelton in the middle of the day, to make it to all my ‘clients’ for work.

It is hard to buy a car when one has no car to drive to look at the cars. And I realized that I absolutely hate asking people for help when I suspect it is inconvenient for them. Not sure of the solution to that dilemma.

But a nice man offered to drive me around to look at some Craigslist options. However all the cars we saw were crap – for lack of a better word.

But then again when I was getting desperate after almost 3 weeks another nice knowledgable car man called me up on a Saturday morning and offered to go look at cars with me, and I found one and bought it! (And this time there were no smiling men with babies involved, if you catch my drift). So in conclusion I upgraded 7 years to the nicest car I have ever owned!

But then a filling fell out of my tooth and I almost had to get a root canal and deplete my bank account again, but that’s another story.

Date my brother… who travels

Date my brother who travels.

Sometimes his hair changes colour in the sun. And he has a scar on his hand. And his skin gets tan in the sun also. And he tells interesting stories.

Date my brother who travels. He loves malls more than a preteen girl in a Hello Kitty sweater.

Date my brother who travels. He takes weekend getaways to Five-star Egyptian hotels on a student budget. He takes obscure one way flights through Eastern Europe merely for the thrill. He’s always planning the next trip, and he’s memorized the Wikipedia article on regions and peoples of the world that you haven’t even heard of.

Date my brother who travels because he drinks more than his weight in water. He goes to dangerous places. He can sign gestures in any language. He can stick up to corrupt taxi drivers. He doesn’t do yoga, but he dances Zumba far better than the rest of us.

Date my brother who travels because he spends his vacation on one-man scooters. He goes where the road leads him. Life is a road. He goes out and takes what comes. He scooters in the sun. He scooters in the wind. He scooters in the rain. He would scooter in the sleet if it ever sleeted. When he is scootering, he forgets about his other lives and lives in the moment. But he has learned that important things in life are only slightly better than scootering.

Date my brother who travels as he speaks his mind. He isn’t afraid to have opinions, and he can justify his reasoning so well you’ll find yourself nodding your head in aquiscence, regardless of the issue, because you’ll realize he’s right. He’s so passionate about social justice he doesn’t even mention it.

Date my brother who travels because he can’t cook, and he’s quite high maintenance, but he does not let that deter him. He will let you pay for his meals. You can get stuck in airport security with him for 3 hours. You can live life on the edge and spend a lot of time around toilets and eat parasitic street food for a good price.

Date my brother who travels, because heck, he’s got a blog. And he’s not even a hipster.

Check out his blog here!!!!

http://notenoughclothesinmybag.blogspot.co.il/2013/04/a-study-break-in-beirut.html

work

Well, i haven’t ‘blogged’ lately because I’m much too busy being uninspired and ‘working for the man,’ which in my case is a nonprofit human services agency, (but with still enough paperwork to seem corporate).

a day in the life of Maria:

morning: Hang out with my ‘client’ in grade 4 who doesn’t know her alphabet yet, who is scared of her teacher and cries and shakes and drools every time the American anthem plays during morning announcements. Who should’ve never watched the ‘Chucky’ horror movie, because it’s provided too much trauma considering how much she talks about it (in incomplete two word sentences.) This girl had hydrocephalus as a baby and is ‘on the spectrum’ as they say, which means she’s diagnosed with autism of some form. She likes to passive aggressively fight back at her teacher by ‘roaring’ at the teacher behind her back and calling the teacher names, like novio (which means boyfriend in Spanish) or Justine Bieber, which is apparently the biggest burn ever. They say she can’t remember and that’s why she can’t learn the alphabet but she seems to remember other things just fine, like when I told her about how I fell out of my bunk bed once. I mostly just pound alphabet flashcards into her head, and hand out lots of high fives. And try to act as a buffer between frustrated teacher and scared child.

Lunchtime:
Drive to my afternoon ‘client’ or ‘kiddo’ as they say (if you’re up on the lingo – which I’m rebelling against) and eat lunch in the car in the company of NPR (National Public Radio – rough equivalent of CBC). Sometimes I stop on the drive and walk around for 10 minutes to help deal with my restless leg syndrome (RLS).

Afternoon number one:
My afternoon client is a little (large and chubby) boy in Kindergarten on the tough side of town. He’s ‘on the spectrum’ too and is super smart – knows his alphabet inside and out. He does this thing called ‘scripting’ where he repeats lines from TV – somewhat awkward when he’s supposed to be listening to the teacher. I mostly just observe Kindergarten in action – terribly interesting since I haven’t been to  Kindergarten since my personal accomplishment of becoming somewhat socially aware. All the little kids call me ‘Miss Maria’ and ask me to tie their shoes.

Afternoon continued:

Drive across town again to teach a piano lesson or too. I like being my own boss for this work.

Drive across town again (in rush hour traffic) to tutor two lovely children in their house, and I supplement their homework with pushups and situps and jumping jacks and running laps around the tables in their house because I tell them it gives them more oxygen in their brain so they can pay attention. Which is true? It also helps me deal with my RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome.)

Then I come home, eat some food, sit around the kitchen in confusion, possibly sing some homemade opera songs with my house mate Katherine (who’s not a nurse and therefore is home when i am!), then go to sleep under a borrowed down blanket that was apparently bought second hand in a bazaar in Afghanistan so who knows where it’s been but it certainly beats freezing to death!

And then, quite predictably, it starts all over again.

Generic rant about faith:

So… why am I a Christian? Well, even though I’ve practiced being awkward so many times that I’m pretty good at it, I still don’t like to talk about this because I either come across as defensive or preachy (and I try to avoid defensive and preachy as often as possible, because when other people do it, it makes me feel like throwing up) or I appear simpleminded which is somewhat embarrassing. Oh well.

So… mostly because I’ve had a good feeling about it for quite a while. And also I have a not so good feeling of the alternative. I’m not talking about heaven and hell, I’m talking about having God in my life versus not. I usually feel a bit out of control in the realm of who I am and what I am becoming and where I’m going and where I’m coming from and how I’m surviving in the meantime, and I need some help with that. And since most people naturally care more for themselves than me, as is to be expected, I can’t get it all out of other human beings, and I ‘believe in myself’ to an extent, but not that much, so that leaves God. I suppose some people have it all under control and don’t need God, but I’m not one of those people. And I’m glad I’m not one of those people, because at this point I am stressed about 50 percent of my life, but I can’t imagine being stressed 100 percent all the time.

I think I can admit that I might be a perfectionist in life. By that I mean I want my life to be happy (have some hope), and I want others’ lives to be happy (have some hope also). And when they’re not, I get sad, and a little depressed, and wish there was some hope outside of myself, and then I turn to God for hope and then I get a little happier because I realize He’s good and there is some hope.  And everyone keeps arguing that God isn’t the answer for making the world happy because why does he let good people suffer, and if He’s good than why do bad things even happen, etc etc…. Well, I don’t know – but since all those good people are suffering and bad things are happening I crave some hope and happiness. When I was little I used to get sad quite often for no apparent reason and I couldn’t snap out of it. By sad I mean hopeless and confused and lost in my little brain. And then one time I thought, ‘hey maybe if I pray to God to be in my life God will help me stop from being sad.’ So I did, and I stopped being sad, and that gave me a lot of hope. And even now, when I am feeling hopeless, I talk to God about it, and it’s nice to have someone else with more power than me understand how I’m feeling and give out some encouragement here and there. And that goes beyond my own hopelessness – it extends to unhappiness I see in others that I have absolutely no idea what to do about.

Some preachy hypocritical Christianeze for the Churched (blah blah blah for the ‘normal’ people):
So, now let me just jump into the Christian bubble and say, I think there’s a lot more to being a Christian than rationalizing why I am one. I think us twenty-something-Sunday-Schooled-cynics spend too much of our energy thinking it all out, of whether we should go for it or not, and then we’re forever drinking that ‘baby milk’ Paul talks about because we can’t ‘leap’ off the fence (Kierkegaard cough cough) and we’re afraid that if we do we might fall into a rut of legalism or judgemental attitudes or radical fanatacism or believing what we want to believe and thus putting God into a box or believing what everyone else believes which is actually secretly wrong or believing and then being proven wrong or worse yet getting no proof either way – God forbid! Well that’s how I feel at least. It’s a crazy world out there – especially the Christian worlds that seem to also be on a hazy plane far separated from actual reality. My plan is to venture out from the fence here and there and ask God to keep me out of a rut (PLEASE!!) because apart from falling off a climbing wall or getting raped that’s my worst fear. But I think we get discouraged because we leave the fence for a second and expect God to prove his magic, when maybe our focus should be more on weaning ourselves off the ‘baby milk’ to ‘adult food’, and God will work magic eventually, but it might be more in what God does for others than what God does for me, which is egotistically draining. Of course, you say, it’s smart to make sure you’re right before you just blindly follow some strange religion, but I’m tired of arguing that point, so whatever. I can’t prove I’m right but I’m assuming God knows what’s right more than I do. Yes that’s an assumption.

But my problem is it’s hard to find some good safe paths to follow – because all those saints who’ve gone on before didn’t grow up when I did. Case in point – Billy Graham didn’t have Facebook when he was my age. And I have a feeling it looks different for different people and I would like to have someone from my generation who has my personality who has figured out how to connect to God and make God happy all the time, and is also really enjoying it, and isn’t crazy – and can prove that they’re not crazy. That would be nice.

So what is my point? Don’t have one, other than I’m trying to verbalize myself and thought maybe you’d find some food for thought to pick yourself apart with.

Walking

Wrote this for a college writing class back in the day:

There was a time when I used to walk past barbed wire on a regular basis. I walked beside a rusty brick wall, topped by equally rusty curled spikes, against a low grey sky. I didn’t find the wall shocking, or even particularly depressing, it was mostly boring. I found the occasional passerby, in a drab overcoat, a ‘kercheif on the head, or carrying a  plain boxy brief case a welcome point of interest. I’d stare at them, with abandonment in regard to my Western manners, through the veil of my misting glasses. Every day it would rain – not rain – but mist. I had a sneaking suspicion the mist was a result of all the pollution in nearby Djerzhinsk during the Soviet era.

The mist made the leaves smell, and my glasses fog up. I had to watch my step in my high heel boots when traversing those rotted leaves. I never understood how the tight-legged Russian girls could totter so high up on their heels, on precarious ground, and never come toppling down. I’d watch those skinny heels shift awkwardly from side to side on the bumpy sidewalk, and wonder when it would happen – when it all would topple, like the wall of Jericho. I was always waiting. I wonder what those Israelites thought, walking and waiting for seven days. They must have believed, because they kept marching.

One morning in the spring of grade 12 I walked to school. You have to understand that I live in the country, and my school is 5 or 6 miles away, in the city. I woke up at 6:30 and stumbled out the door with the dawn – down the dewy gravel, across the highway, over wet brown grass still recovering from the snow. The Canadian winterland had recently given way to mud and gravel. The sun rose behind muted clouds, and I ignored the stares of the pickups on the nearby highway.

When I reached the first traffic lights of my city, I got a bit nervous. I still had substantial ground to cover, and it was already 8:20, only 10 minutes until school’s beginning. My first class was math, and tardiness was a habit of mine. My teacher would always lock the door after the last bell had rung, and coming late meant knocking politely, waiting patiently, and squirming under the teacher’s annoyed glare and reprimand when he finally let me in to class. That man once made me do pushups for being late.

I sped up my legs. I was also getting tired. Blisters were forming inside my old muddy running shoes. I started to doubt my genius in walking to school. My heart started beating, not from the physical exertion, but from stress. How could I have miscalculated? My day was ruined. This was embarrassing.

The Safwa people of the highlands in Southern Tanzania are always walking. I spent a week following my host parents through dirt mazes carved out of the hilly cornfields, winding under avocado trees, and skirting the neighbor’s shamba garden on the mountainous incline. They have no real roads. Everything is on foot. I never quite knew where I was going there. I just followed my parents around, and tried not to lose sight of my Mama disappearing behind a row of corn, with a pack of dried beans balanced perfectly on her head. I wished I could stop on the path and take in the beauty of my surroundings – the high mountain covered in clouds, the dark wetness of the blue forests, and the hills rolling on and up and all around, splashed with sunflowers in contrast to grey sky. The landscape was always lush and confusing. It was overwhelming at times. When the rains came every afternoon, I followed my Baba’s barefoot steps in the mud. The path was all I saw – all I had capacity to concentrate on. He’d always tell me “pole pole” – “slowly, slowly.” Messing up and slipping was a cause for chuckles and conversation. Nonetheless I tried to never slip. I had my pride.

Walking on ice can give you the feeling of swimming. There is nothing concrete to latch on to. It’s all fluid, relative. Each step is best done after a careful survey of the surrounding surface, a little nudge of the foot. Gravity, and whatever friction you can find will be your best friends. The secret is to make friction if you can’t find it. Little steps are best. It’s often beneficial to act confident, but always inwardly aware of the immense risk you make by stepping out. A seasoned icewalker appears as though they are strolling on a summer sidewalk. No one would know they are testing every move. Once you are used to the strategy of icewalking, any surface becomes walkable.

It was American Halloween in Russia –  Halloween with ‘fourth graders,’ in a party for their English class. I practically ran the 8 blocks from the university to get to the school on time to don my pony costume. I had made a horse nose out of paper, and crudely coloured it brown with a marker I found in the apartment. Pony is the same word in Russian as English. I’m incapable of saying horse. I wore a bright orange synthetic wig as a mane. I told my fellow classmate volunteers that we would have to humiliate ourselves for the enjoyment of the fourth graders. And so we did – acting out some pathetically translated horror stories, and neighing with sincerity. I bobbed for apples with a soggy horse nose. All the while the stern Russian parents lined the walls of the crowded classroom, watching. Thank God the kids at least laughed at our antics. I don’t even like Halloween, but I guess I did it for the kids. I didn’t do it for America’s reputation. I didn’t do it for the candy, because we didn’t get any, and anyways, I got sick the next morning from a bad apple. Maybe the purposeful humiliation was in response to the teacher’s love and acceptance of us, to make her proud, to give back. The least we could do was humiliate ourselves for her children.

My last day in Quito, Ecuador, my Mom took an early flight out, so it was just me and my Dad. I didn’t quite know what to do with him for so long, so we public bussed it to an adventure in Old Quito. The capital of Ecuador is a few centuries old, dating back to Spanish colonialists, and their type of buildings. The high elevation and mountainous landscape give a depth that most cities don’t have, while simultaneously every hill takes your breath away. In the old section of the city, my Dad and I wandered aimlessly up the narrow streets, not understanding the Spanish, but nevertheless experiencing the people and place. Short squat natives in colorful weaving pushed carts of homemade icecream cones to the street corners, old men trudged up their hill to coffee, and playful children peeked out of their parents’ bins of corn and beans.

With my father I walked up and down the hills, sometimes retracing previous steps, but always learning anew, seeing more. We saw rich people and poor people, unhappy people and content ones, whole families and lonely strangers. Our legs got tired, but we kept going in order to see more. The companionship and shared experience was motivation. My Dad bought me a pineapple pastry from a streetside bakery, and I remember feeling free, because I knew he would provide for my needs.

I’ve been walking my whole life. Like the Israelites around Jericho, I know I need to keep going and keep trying. It can get boring, be overwhelming, sometimes the victory seems doubtful, sometimes the concept of merely walking seems inadequate. It can become tiring, but encouragement is often just around the corner. Maybe the humiliation is worth it. That battle of Jericho was less about the toppling, and more about the obedience, patience, and trust. When we walk in tough places, we learn to endure and we learn to trust.