VAMP Performance Piece September 2014 - Going, Going, Ghana

(This piece was performed in a version updated for performance rather than reading at the VAMP showcase put on by So Say We All, September 2014)

The taxi lurched along the uneven roads. There were no street lamps, no road signs, no pedestrians were visible. The sight of another human would have comforted me, but I knew it was for the best. The headlights of the taxi were flicking on and off, and hadn't been strong in the first place – if pedestrians were out on the dark streets, we'd probably hit them.

The driver hadn't said anything for ten minutes. I couldn't tell if he had gotten lost getting back to my neighborhood, East Legon, was angry that I had refused his earlier marriage proposal – or drunk. After living in Ghana and taking taxis regularly for three months, none of the above would have come as a shock.

I usually never came home this late, preferring to be carefully ensconced in my mosquito net by 9 pm, a bag of water next to me and a book from home to keep me company, but the artist I'd been meeting for an interview had been two hours late. “Africa time,” everyone called it.

Thus, after the hour or so of wandering through Teteh Quarshie market, it was pitch dark about halfway through the ride from Madina to East Legon. At least I thought it was halfway. There was a persistent angry voice at the back of my head that I was trying to drown out, yelling at me “you don't even where you are!”

And it was true. I didn't know my way around Accra by car even in daylight, the city's interwoven neighborhoods were made up of streets without names and landmarks that looked suspiciously similar to other landmarks across the city. There were traffic lights only on the largest main road, no stop signs, and all the houses, enclosed by giant walls, looked exactly the same.

Miraculously, I recognized something that had to be familiar out the window – it was the downtrodden shopping center where my friends and I went to eat rice, work on our independent projects, mooch off the wifi, and cry. I'd made it! 

I told him to turn left at my street, paid him, thanked him for the ride, and purposefully opened the door, strode up to the gate, and fished my key out of my purse.

My hand found the keyhole from memory, the darkness preventing me from finding it by sight. I unlocked the gate – but it wouldn't budge. With a sinking heart I remembered – the inner lock that the landlady haphazardly enforced, never warning us which nights it might be in use. With the inner lock engaged, nobody could get in from the street even with a key. In Accra, this was an attractive feature to a homeowner – all the houses had tall fences, some with spikes, some with shards of glass molded into the cement to imitate spikes.

It was not an attractive feature when you were an American girl locked out of your apartment at midnight, being watched by a strange cab driver who you'd just refused to give your phone number to.

*

I visibly shook walking myself home from middle school as a pre-teen because I was so afraid of random men on the street. My friends made fun of me relentlessly after once, in 8th grade, a GAP worker posed the question “What flavor of Jamba Juice did you get me?” and I paused for a good two minutes only to reply “Uhhhh...the nothing flavor??” Part of this was social anxiety, another part altogether was an early onset fear of rape that stretched from lying in bed at night worrying someone would break into my house, to plane rides next to strangers, to carefully dissecting the motives of my male teachers.

My fears did not stop at being afraid of half the population. I also convinced myself at age 9 that I had breast cancer. This was following the incident in third grade where I faked sick for a week when we read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes because I was panicking so much from reading about leukemia. I was sure that when I got back to school, we'd be done with the book and I could stop watching the sky for atom bombs as I walked home from school. Unfortunately, the other third graders did not read as quickly as I'd assumed and we'd progressed about a chapter. I was doomed to suffer for the rest of the book, culminating in a haiku that prompted my teacher to write “This is....a sad poem.”

Sadako sleeps still

she will probably die soon

And be underground

As I grew older, my intense fears of men turned to a general uneasiness and inability to be normal and my fears of diseases turned into going to the doctor anytime there was so much as a pain in my thigh. I figured out somewhere along the way that the amount of time I spent fretting about obscure things over which I had no control was higher than normal, and had no problem believing that I did indeed probably have some kind of anxiety disorder.

When I got to college, I figured out how to manage the fears relatively effectively: I didn't worry when I was hanging out with my friends, so I made enough friends that I could have them around me at all times. I filled my life to the brim with my sorority, eating out, partying, going hiking, study groups – anything that kept me distracted from worrying about rape and disease.

These fears fell far enough to the back of my mind that I didn't think of them in conjunction with my decision to live in Ghana, a small country in West Africa until I'd already bought my plane ticket.

My overly anxious mind started to kick back into gear around May; I was set to leave in September. Boys at parties started telling me story after story of their female friends going to unnamed cities in unnamed countries in Africa and getting constantly harassed. My friends worried I'd come back with AIDS. Everyone spoke of how dirty it would be, how nobody would hear from me for months because I wouldn't have a cell phone or reliable mail.

Practically, I knew these warnings were offensive, based in false assumptions. I had been taking classes in African studies for two years, and as a hypochondriac I'd obviously read up enough on AIDS to know it was more likely that I'd contract it in New York than Ghana.

But I was afraid that my anxiety would reappear abroad, and I was afraid of how I would function without my friends.  Alas, I was more afraid of having to take out two years of extra loans to start over a new cross cultural concentration – so board the plane I did.

Twenty one American students displaying various degrees of idiocy departed the Accra airport into the suffocating humidity to be shepherded to a waiting 'tro-tro,' or large van with all the interior fixings stripped out, then bus seats put back in. In the Amsterdam airport, we'd been chatty and excitable, but once we actually set foot in Africa we were silent.

That is, until we got to our guest house, where our program director, Papa Atta, was waiting.

“Hellooooo! Ohhhh this is an exciting moment for all of us! We've been waiting weeks for all of you, and I'm sure you've been waiting to meet us! Welcome! Welcome!”

One by one, Papa Atta enveloped each of us in a hug that instantly made all the strange faces in the guest house feel familiar. He bought us all beers from the guest house bar, and just as we were getting excited to hang out with him and hear some stories, he said

“Okay, I must go to bed now! But you all have fun, not too much fun, you hear! I want you to all be alive in the morning!”

The next morning, I learned that I hadn't been the only one terrified of infectious diseases prior to Ghana. Our faces were analogous to portraits of the scream when Papa Atta told us in our first information session,

“Oh yes, many of you will get malaria! Maybe five, maybe ten, maybe all of you! If we are lucky! You want to be able to go home and tell your friends you survived malaria, yes?”

Our slackened jaws implied that no, this was not on our Ghana bucket list.

Papa Atta just laughed a garrulous belly laugh. “Oh, don't be so afraid! I have had malaria seven times! The last time, I almost died!” He was literally beaming as he said the phrase almost died. At this I think one of us may have cracked a smile, still too afraid of malaria to actually laugh.

Post malaria chat, we moved into a dance class. Papa Atta and the rest of our educational team were of course the first up, dragging us out of our chairs and making fun of us for our lack of rhythm and we spun around the circle.

As it turned out, Papa Atta wasn't the only not-terrifying man in Ghana. Almost every man I met was just as friendly, fatherly, and joyous as the first one we'd found after disembarking the plane. Our youthful chaperon and I bonded over discussing one of my friends from school who'd been on the trip a few years prior, he took me on tipsy turvy motorcycle rides to the same spots my friend had told me about in trying to tell me why Ghana would be fun and not terrifying. One artist I worked with invited me into his studio to paint twice a week, giving me countless art supplies and a bottomless amount of guava juice. Another took my best friend and I to a beautiful set of sea cliffs and didn't pressure us to talk as we looked out on the crashing waves as night fell. In my old life, I would have been considering throwing myself off the cliffs out of fear, death a better alternative than the possibility of an unwanted advance from an older man, but now I felt comfortable, even relaxed, trusting of the strangers who had shown me so much respect since my arrival in Ghana.

*

I turned around from the gate and called to the cab driver, “Hey, can you help me?”

He got out of the cab. “Sure!”

“Yeah, the gate's locked from the inside. I know there are these spikes, but I don't want to like, sleep on the street. Can we try vaulting me over while I call my housemates?”

I started the phone calls as he moved his cab up to the gate so we could stand on it. As expected, none of them answered. Meanwhile, the kind man was getting into a strong standing position on the hood of his car.

“I don't know about this, those spikes!” He said.

“I'll be careful. I'll yell if I need you to put me down.”

There were foot sized spaces between the spikes, and with height of the car plus the driver we could get me up there, but I'm short. I kept yelping and forcing him to catch me as I sprung backwards and down. I'd be almost over, and then freak out imagining the spikes penetrating my vagina.

We paused after a few more tries so I could call my housemates again. Finally, one blearily answered.

“Hey girl, I know I'm the worst, but the gate is locked from the inside. Can you please come and let me in?”

She staggered outside in shorts and a t shirt, mumbling a greeting at the cab driver whose car was still pushed up against the gate as he checked his phone, as if this happened every day. I thanked him profusely, handing over an extra tip, and went to pass out on the foam mattress that was my bed for the remainder of my time in Ghana.

I never did get malaria. My roommate in Kumasi did, and I spent a good three days attempting to nurse her back to health before we convinced everyone that her symptoms were indeed bad enough to get taken to the hospital. I did get sick so frequently from the unfamiliar diet that my stomach seems to have never recovered, but it was a small price to pay for learning from the kindest people who have been ravaged by stereotypes that it's not a requirement of living to be afraid.   

 

 

The Bekwai Baby

(Written July 2012, while the story in question happened in October 2011)

Twice in the past few days I have been reminded of one of my favorite stories from Ghana, The Bekwai Baby.  The first time I was in the car with my mom, and she said “Remember that story you told us about the baby in Ghana?” and I said “Yes,” because there is only one great story about a baby in Ghana so I needed no other clarification.  The second time was when I had a dream that I had a baby of my own, which was a hamster. I had to care for said baby and figure out how to take it on an airline trip because even though it was my baby, it was still a small animal, and I don’t know if you are allowed to travel with small animals, regardless of whether or not they are your children.  Anyway, I was reminded of the Bekwai Baby again after this dream because my dream and this story both involve a baby.  If you can’t tell yet, I prefer to not encounter babies on a regular basis so I don’t have many stories about them.

Over time I’ve found that some of my stories from Ghana endure while others fade into obscurity, and as one of the enduring stories I figured that this one deserves to be retold in a place where I can access it at will.

When I was living in Ghana, we spent two weeks living in a village that was a two or three hour drive from the nearest large city, Kumasi.  I cannot tell you how long this is in distance because I usually am able to measure distance based on time it takes to get someplace, but time it takes to get places in Ghana is extended by the, we’ll say ‘odd’ roads and the ‘questionable’ means of transport.  The villages we were staying in were then about an hour from the nearest marketplace which was in a smaller city, Bekwai. 

Bekwai is small but the market is the closest for a lot of surrounding villages in a wide radius so it’s relatively busy.  It’s certainly no Madina Market in Accra, where I could probably have gotten separated from my friends and tripped and died and not been found for days, but it is definitely a place where you want to avoid getting lost and need to have a good sense of direction and purpose to not get distracted.  Keep this in mind for when I tell you of the market customer we encountered later in the day.

So we’re at Bekwai.  It rains.  We hide under the awning of a stand selling vaguely Tupperware-ish containers.  We help them throw tarps over the Tupperware that is not under the awning.  We try to locate cheese.  We are unsuccessful.  I buy a small plastic bag of an unidentified spice.  Someone purchases a flashlight for the family whose home they are residing in.  Most people purchase soaps and the like.  I purchase clothespins in an effort to be different.  I pick up some decks of cards to entertain myself when we have five free hours in the village and I have already taken my cursory three hour walk of the day.  We meet back up by the bank and head over to where the tro-tros are congregated to make our way back to our villages.  Fan-ice, my ice cream in a bag friend, is purchased by all and we begin to head back to the village, slurping our ice cream while chatting about who out of the twenty-one of us would win a physical fighting contest.

We are not the only people in the tro-tro.  There are about ten of us, the driver, one of our chaperones in the front seat, and then a few Ghanaians going about their daily business.  One of these Ghanaians is a woman sitting next to the door of the tro-tro, with a child on her lap.  Presumably her child, so none of us take much notice.

The tro-tro stops at a cluster of homes.  The mate opens the door, and helps the baby down off the woman’s lap and onto the ground.  A few of us halt our contributions to the conversation and eye these actions suspiciously.  The baby has a bag in its hand.  The woman does not exit the tro-tro.  The baby walks off into the cluster of homes, the mate closes the tro-tro door, and we continue on our merry way, woman (now presumably not mother) still on tro-tro.

We don’t say anything at first.  We look around at each other.  None of us is exactly sure what to make of the situation.  There are a few hushed ‘did you see that’s’ and ‘what just happened,’ but we table the topic for later since we are not alone in the tro-tro and don’t want to loudly question the baby in earshot of the woman, presumably not mother.  We go back to saying who would win in a fight, who would be out first, and who would hold their own for a while and then get slung off in the middle before the real competition starts.  But the baby is not far from our minds, and we are all beginning to play out scenarios for how this incident took place in our heads as we roll back into Ampento.

When we’re back in our community room in the village, the conversation immediately turns to the baby.  First statements are generally similar to these:

“IT WAS A BABY.”

“IT WAS A BABY, ALONE, ON A TRO-TRO.”

“THAT BABY WAS AT BEKWAI.  AND THEN TOOK A TRO-TRO.  HOME.  ALONE.”

We talked about this for hours.  We talked about this every single day.  We talked about it at our breakfasts of toast and eggs, we talked about it at our repeated lunches of yams and cabbage stew, we talked about it while sitting in the community room with no activities, we talked about it while children yelled for us, we talked about it at the bar, we talked about it when walking to the other villages.

This baby was on the tro-tro by itself.  Not a child, not even really a toddler, a BABY.  We spent hours and days trying to piece this back together and figure out how a baby had survived alone at Bekwai, picked out the right tro-tro to go home, gotten on the tro-tro (a feat for even a short adult,) paid the mate the fare, and gotten off at the right stop and gone home.  Did this mean the baby got on the tro-tro to Bekwai alone too?  How did it know where it was going?  How did it know what part of the market to go to or what items to pick?  Where did it keep the money?  What were its parents doing while it was out running these errands?

What I’m sure you’re doing right now is thinking of all the ways this could have made sense.  Trust me, we did that too.  We thought of every scenario that would make this un-weird, and after every scenario we realized why each one was not the case.  For instance, I proposed:  “Maybe the lady whose lap the baby was sitting on was friends with the parents and she took it to the market.”  Nope, someone else on the tro-tro had been witness to when we got on the tro-tro and took up too much space so the lady offered to have this strange baby sit on her lap to make more space.  “Well, maybe the baby just took a different tro-tro from its family”  Nope, that didn’t work either.  Nobody was outside waiting for the baby and if that had been the case, why wouldn’t the baby just have sat on its parents lap in their tro-tro?  We literally went through every scenario we could think of that would make this baby being alone on the tro-tro make sense, but someone always came up with something to dispute it.

We finally asked Auntie Grace, one of our chaperones, if she knew anything about how the baby was on the tro-tro alone, or why, or really anything that might shed some light on the situation.  Her response was a nonplussed “Oh, they just sent the baby out to get some things.”

IT WAS A BABY.  Upon further pressing she told us that it seemed that the tro-tro mate had been told to look for the baby.  Oh, that makes it not weird.  OH WAIT, the baby still got on the tro-tro, got off at Bekwai, a super busy marketplace, went off and found the things it ‘was sent out to get,’ didn’t die in the crowd, didn’t get lost or trampled or kidnapped, picked out these specific items, paid for them, found its way back to the tro-tro stand, met back up with the mate, and made it home.  And nobody thought this was weird but us.

We talked about the Bekwai baby for weeks.  All we had to say was ‘the BABY,’ and we were off and running again.  We discussed it to no end, because it never stopped being fascinating.  The baby…went to..Bekwai.  IT WAS A BABY.  To this day if I text any of my Ghana friends a phrase as simple as ‘Dude…the baby…Bekwai,’ it is sure to spark a spirited discussion.

I could make this story about how capable children in Ghana are at an early age.  I probably didn’t go to a busy place alone to pick things up until I was like, sixteen.  I could make it about how kind and non-threatening the people of Ghana are, to not cause danger to a baby shopping and traveling alone.  But really, this story isn’t about any of those things.  It’s just a really funny, moreover crazy story of one of the many odd things I witnessed while in Ghana.  I guess the point is that somewhere out there, there is a baby who will one day soon be a toddler and will soon after be a child and eventually a teenager and then someday adult, who has no idea that across the globe twenty Americans are spreading his or her story around the country.  “Dude, guys, there was this baby, and it went alone…to Bekwai.”

The Puppets in the Titanic

Somebody (named Victoria) has been doing a bad job of giving me assignments which has in turn made me bad at blogging because without any kind of deadline I get lazy when I'm tired at the end of the day, which is every day, and have trouble turning my brain back on to blog. So I decided to pretend some of my big theme things were assignments to keep me blogging and writing even though I am a victim of fry-brain.

After Dublin, my itinerary took me up to Belfast with the intent of seeing Titanic related items. No, really, that's the entire reason I went and almost everything I saw there was related to the Titanic. Laugh all you want but listen here for this piece of advice, while traveling it has proved best to have one main goal in a city because it's not just trying to do everything that is overwhelming, even looking at everything is overwhelming. Even glancing at a list of things is overwhelming. I can't speak for everyone but I've found it most effective to have one main goal and let a few other things slip in along the way. As long as you commit to walking to that one main goal then you'll see a lot else and get used to the city with a lot less stress.

I took the train to Belfast from Dublin on last Monday (I'm quite late updating this, so think like a week and a half ago) and got there around 2. Finding my hostel was slightly difficult because sometimes when hostels give you directions in email, they say 'walk straight past x hotel' when they mean 'walk five blocks THEN you'll see x hotel' but once I found that landmark it wasn't too long to the hostel. I was pleased to find that the room was cute, with a sloped ceiling and a nice free plushy bed under it. There was only one other person staying in the room which was a thrill and I promptly took a nap because morning train travel, although fun, is not entirely a rest.

After my nap I went to see the botanical gardens and walk around Belfast, where I got a Chipotle equivalent type of fast Mexican food. I hadn't even been craving it, I just saw it and suddenly I was inside ordering. No choice was involved in the matter. That night I made friends at the hostel, which was easier than at my last one because it was smaller and we had a community dinner. I went to a pub with a few of them where I was consistently told by my new Canadian friend that I must be in Ireland looking for Gerard Butler. He made many references to this over the next three days because I ended up joining him and his companion a female Canadian to the Giants Causeway. By the end I just stopped responding.

Anyway on to the Titanic. Belfast is so dedicated to its historical affiliations that they call an entire part of town 'Titanic Quarter' and many parts of the city are labeled on maps as part of the 'Titanic Historical Walk.' They don't actually label anything on the historical walk so its hard to say what it is but the Titanic quarter is much less misleading.

The Titanic Quarter was quite a walk from my hostel, but I got a good amount of walking exercise in. The first thing I did was the 'only authentic Titanic boat tour.' I may have renamed it, but regardless it was not entirely authentic because it did not sink. I loved this little trip, it was on a small boat (I really learned a lot of seaman's lingo clearly) through the harbor with just me, the guy driving the boat, the guide, and an Italian couple. This proved a bit confusing at first because the guide asked us all if we spoke good English, and I just nodded because I forgot that that's actually a necessary question, but it turned out they didn't so I seemed to lump in - a few minutes later I had to explain to him that not only did I speak good English, it was actually my only language, because if he directed the whole thing like we were all non-English speakers it would have been quite a waste of a tour.

Anyway cute Belfast tour man was quite enthusiastic and fit in lots of information about the building of the Titanic and how it related to the city. His accent was quite there which really contributed to the Irish feel although it made me understand why people have a hard time understanding me who do not have American accents. Since it was pretty much just me and him we got to chatting and he was impressed with my alone trip. So am I, for the record. We also had a rousing conversation about seals.

After the boat tour I headed across the channel to the Titanic Experience which is the flagship Titanic attraction in Belfast. It is a large building with four big silver triangles stabbing out the sides. According to cute man it was supposed to be designed to look like four ships hulls but all the locals refer to it as the iceberg for obvious reasons. I would post a picture but I can't because all of my technology is faulty per usual.

The Titanic Experience was: 1. Expensive. I think I blocked the exact sum from my memory but it was at least 17 pounds which equates to a lot of dollars. Word to the wise: pounds are THE WORST. It's almost 2 to 1 (1 to 2? whatever. the dollar is weak.) I got the ticket which included both the TE and the shipyard where the real Titanic was built.

The TE goes through 7 stages of Titanic related exhibits related to the building and voyage of Titanic. As with most of the T-related things in Belfast, it is very focused on the building of the ship because that's Belfasts connection to the fame. Many shirts and homeless men like to say that 'she was fine when she left here!' It also has a fair bit about Belfast working conditions around the time she was built which is probably relevant to some people in the world.

The TE as a whole was pretty hit or miss, some sections were awesome and super interesting and well done while others were pretty dry and overly detailed. For instance they have this awesome ride thing where you go through in a little cart through how they built it from the ground, but then there are whole other sections devoted to little computer screens where you flip through trifold screens about 21 different survivors which as you can imagine aren't exactly conductive when the place is packed with people. That's another challenge with this place as well as many others I've been to: WHERE DO ALL THESE PEOPLE COME FROM? (this will be expanded on in the later entry where I go to Arthur's seat and conclude that we need a new plague.)

After the TE I headed over to the shipyard where the ship was built which was quite a walk and very confusing to get to. But once arrived it was excellent. There is a small museum exhibition, but the real gem is of course going out into the shipyard itself. I don't know exactly how to explain it in technical terms but basically there is a bigass hole in the ground where back in 1910-12 they used the relevant technology at the time to build the ship before sending the hull out into the water where the innards were added. Going all the way down in really shows you how massive the ship was but moreover what an undertaking of manpower it was which I suppose is really the point of all the Titanic stuff in Belfast, as the place where she was built, which then makes you realize how insane it was that the ship sank.

I was pretty tired by the time I left here and headed back to the hostel. Until Victoria does her job I will be posting entries based on my main activities in each place, although as I said I'm behind, so stay tuned for The Puppets in the Giants Causeway, "We Need a new Plague": the Puppet at Arthur's Seat, and The Puppet has friends: out of exile in London.

The Puppets in the Pub - Challenges in Dublin

The event the world has been waiting for has finally commenced - the transcontinent adventure of me completing assignments from a one Victoria Beckley while I travel alone and wish she were here. This is all preparation for our get-rich-quick plan to co-author a book entitled Laize-Faire Parenting by Becky Beckley (the 40-year old identity we will be adopting) to make the overhead for the botanical brewery we will open to reunite all our far-flung friends.

As you can see from the picture which hopefully showed up, Victoria gave me three assignments which I completed with varying degrees of adherence to the syllabus. Johnston student as always.

My first assignment, to visit the Trinity college library, was completed somewhat inadvertently. On Saturday night I went on the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, where actors perform scenes from plays and literature, such as Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, and tell you snippets about Irish writers as you travel to different pubs and different historical sites. The Trinity library happened to be one of the places where we stopped to be infused with knowledge, such as the fact that Oscar Wilde almost competed in the Olympics in boxing.

Since I had to book the tour on-site at the pub it started at to use my Dublin pass discount of three euro, there was quite a bit of waiting time since I couldn't prereserve. I prompted completed my task of befriending a student by talking about Oscar Wilde here. By which I mean, I promptly befriended a Swedish man, approximate age 70, named Pare, by talking about James Joyce and traveling. Same thing. We became buddies for the whole tour and hung out in every pub sharing our life stories.

The tour used two actors to relate facts in an entertaining manner. The main guy, we'll call him Jervis, was quite funny and did great renditions of the works that infused his personal wit. Unfortunately his companion a woman who we'll call Patricia was not as good of an entertainer, and her recitation of part of Molly Bloom's Soliloquy was not good. But alas I am a snob so I could just be being a Joyce-jerk.

My next assignment, to explore the Temple Bar area, was also completed on a pub crawl, this one called the Viking Pub Crawl which seemed to be a younger crowd (shocking.) It just so happened that there was a large Swedish festival thing because of some soccer game (a really important one I'm sure, I know about soccer now because of the soccer boyfriends) that was Sweden against Ireland and their festival was congregated in Temple Bar. At first I thought it was the same group of people wearing yellow shirts and we just had really similar itineraries, but no there were actually hundreds of these yellow soccer jersey wearing menfolk wandering Dublin.

This pub crawl took us to a few swanky locations in Temple Bar, five to be exact. My friend on this one was a fellow female solo backpacker (the first one I found!) from Canada. We immediately bonded because most of the people on the crawl were Spanish students on a banking internship and they seemed to all know each other already. It turned out she had also just graduated with a math major and econ minor! Just like me! JK. But actually just like my sister.

We were given free shots at every bar, but they were all of the similar gross-low-alcohol content variety like Bailey's or syrupy things or some licorice jaegerlike substance. I thought that joking about this would be an acceptable way to talk to the guide who was talking to me and my Canadaian friend, but I think he actually got insulted and defended the jaeger-knockoff shot. At this I laughed and politely extracted myself to tell another traveler about how much I loved the Steve Jobs book because I don't have time for anyone getting insulted by my snobbish wit.

My other experience at a Temple Bar pub was the previous night, my first, when I went to the bar that has a back entrance at the hostel I was staying at to have a pint to make myself feel like I was being productive even though I was mostly sad to be alone. Luckily I made two friends and one enemy, the two friends being brothers who were reuniting (one was back visiting from New York where he had moved to open a bar!) for a funeral. So that was sad. I felt bad. The enemy was their friend who was super drunk and kept coming over and trying to hug me. He was so drunk I thought it might be some kind of comedy act but they said no, he was just jet-lagged, drunk, and an idiot.

I accomplished task 3 yesterday, on my Ulysses day. I will chronicle the entire day in another post, because it was magical, but I will outline the gorgonzola and etc part here. I went to Davy Brynes after checking out Swenys Pharmacy, which has been reinstated as a Joyce-memorialish place where they do readings. The kind volunteers invited me to the Finnegans Wake reading that night so I decided why not, I'll go have the g-sandwich then come back for the reading.

The sandwich was literally a large piece of gorgonzola cheese on bread, which I found odd but it was surprisingly tasty. I then headed back to Swenys where I hung out with my new friend Kevin, one of the volunteers. About eight people came, most of whom seemed to frequent the readings (they do multiple ones per week, some of Ulysses, unfortunately I missed those) and they were all very friendly although may have been confused about my identity because PJ, the main volunteer, an eccentric old Irish man who wore a lab coat and spoke mainly of cats, thought my name was Betta when I introduced myself and kept referring to me as such. I thought it was just his accent at first, but that turned out to be false. That would be a really ugly name.

Anyway after reading a chapter of Finnegans Wake in which I understood nothing but according to Kevin read well, we went to a pub and had an appropriately awkward hour and a half of chat before I headed back to the hostel to pack/cry. (I bought NOTHING here and got rid of 2 books yet somehow my backpack is still more full. Hmpf.)

Re: puppets in the mail. One of my assignments was brevity but hello each of the three assignments was brief, I can always separate them...

Stay tuned for the Puppets in the Titanic as well as a more emotional and flowery story of my James Joyce day in the regular section. Cheers!

Two Blind Girls One Europe

One fine day within the last month, Victoria, Mark and I were sitting outside trying to plot my re-entry into the blogging world.  While I was fine with just coming up with a witty name (or a dumb name) and starting a blog, Mark went into one of his usual persuasive sprees on why I needed to have a hook for my blog if I had any hope of it being successful.  This proved to be a difficult albeit funny conversation because I didn’t at the time (and still don’t) have any one particular objective when traveling.  I’m not searching for the perfect soup.  (Yes, this was discussed.)  I’m not out to review anything or interview any people.  In my opinion my hook should be that I’m witty and have a weird life, so weird things were bound to happen.

This of course did not satisfy Mark, ever the businessman. So the three of us set out on a long and ridiculous conversation about possibilities for my ‘hook.’  What I realized is that I didn’t want to blog about searching for one specific thing.  I just wanted to do what I do best (if you think I’m not good at it, shut up, because I’m not good at anything else either) which is telling stories.  With the combined brainpower of three of the most wily students to cross the Redlands campus, we came up with a somewhat ingenious solution that also solved the ever present problem of the long distance friendship, or LDF for those who are sick of hearing about people in LDRs or long distance relationships. 

Victoria, my LDF, would give me funny assignments from Redlands and I would accomplish them in whatever city I was in.  This way we would have a great ‘niche’ blog topic – well, perhaps not, I don’t know whose niche it is to track legendary friendships of college students – but whatever.  We had a great hook.  And, it was a great way to keep in touch. 

Now all we needed was a name.  This proved to be challenging, as you can see from the fact that the name is The Puppet’s in the Mail.  Trust me, it’s the best one we got.  We toyed around with a lot of ideas: Two Blind Girls One Europe, the Blindfolded Marionette, Traveling Blind Girls, etc, that all sounded like weird porn about being blind.  The name Puppet’s in the Mail came out of an idea for the creepiest reality tv show that could ever happen:

Somebody sends puppets with a videocamera implanted in their head to stranger’s addresses and films their reactions as they receive a creepy puppet.

Well, we couldn’t stop laughing about this concept and somehow the name stuck.  You know when you decide to wait a little while before coming up with new ideas and then suddenly since you’ve been referring to the thing with a joke name for so long, the joke name becomes real?  Yep, that’s what happened.

After I got home I decided that to make myself feel useful/get ready for the internet’s role in the adult world, I would also start a website part of which would be a truthful travel review blog aka my normal stories and adventures blog, because some of us just can’t let that one go.  But the Puppet’s in the Mail will still be my flagship blog because Victoria is making me keep the posts shorter so that more people will read them.  See, we’re a great partnership.  Bon voyage!