All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible. T. E. Lawrence
Do you remember what life was like before cell phones? I got my first cell phone before heading to California in 2000. I don’t remember how often I used it. I mean, it didn’t have internet or any apps. It was a Nokia. I remember buying a pretty pink flowery faceplate for it off of eBay. Oh yeah, that’s the one.
Well, a few days before liftoff, I couldn’t seem to find my T-mobile SIM card anywhere. I decided instead of risk leaving it behind and being phoneless, I would call them up and order a new one. A very long phone call and $10 later, they were sending out my new SIM card. Which arrived the day after I did, but nobody was at home to sign for it, so it went back to UPS. And when I tried to pick it up, it wasn’t available until Monday. I landed on Thursday (Halloween), and was phoneless until Monday. My iPhone was basically a glorified notepad. I had a few apps that would still work, like my French flashcards. And I could take pictures. And use it as a flashlight. So for these 4 days I communicated with my friends and family via email, letting them know that “I’m leaving the house in an hour, and then you won’t be able to get in touch with me! Say it now!” I had to take pictures of maps in case I got lost. When I went to get my cat on Saturday, I had both him and the dog in the car, with my gas light blinking because I forgot to get gas, and just prayed “oh PLEASE don’t let me run out of gas now, with animals in the car, in the dark, and no way to call home.” We made it.
It was really interesting being unplugged for the weekend. I’m wondering if it affected the number of times I check email on my phone now, or how often I’ll post photos on Facebook, or any of those things. I’m not sure. And now that I’m relying on my phone for messages about work, I don’t want to repeat the experiment any time soon.
Oh and guess what I found today? Yep. It was in my suitcase all along…. why didn’t I unpack sooner?!
Here is where I admit that I adjusted to Africa like my dog would adjust to swimming in the ocean. Which is to say, you toss her in and she gets out as fast as she can (or she’d probably drown). It appears with a quick Google images search that there are no other Yorkies that enjoy swimming in the ocean either.
And I feel terribly guilty about it. Not throwing my Yorkie in the ocean, but how I handled my time in Africa. The people were wonderful, and it was amazing to experience something so different from my own life, but it was way outside of my comfort zone. Yes, that’s partially what draws me to foreign lands… a chance to get out of my comfort zone, to stretch myself, to humble myself, to see things rather than to just hear about them… but it’s not easy. I’m like a new pair of toe shoes that needs to be worn in. I’m stiff and shiny and I need to be bent and softened, cut and beaten down a little bit before I am ready for use. Before God can dance in me.
I would love to react to life the way Audrey Hepburn did. She was always thinking of others first, it seemed, and wouldn’t mind her own discomfort. Of course, she grew up during World War II and had a mother drilling into her that “others matter more than you.” I’m sure she handled Africa much better than I did. Though, to be fair, she did request to have an air conditioner shipped to Africa during the filming of The Nun’s Story, and also that ”quarantine laws in the Belgian Congo would be waved for [her terrier] Famous […] and most important of all, that a bidet would be installed and waiting for her… It was probably the only bathroom fixture of its kind in Central Africa at that time.” (I read this ages ago and found this particular reference Here)
I, however, did not have a bidet or my Yorkie. So perhaps Miss Hepburn’s trips to Africa were slightly more comfortable than mine. I did my best, but I felt that two weeks was enough to experience major culture shock and not really get acclimated to a new country such as Ghana. I admit that my own discomfort really took over my thoughts at many times. Many, many times. But what drove me crazy about that was knowing that many, many people have traveled to Africa, have lived in Africa, spend their whole lives in Africa… and probably do it without complaint. I mean, I’m just assuming. Maybe I’m being hard on myself. I don’t know. I can adjust to things. It doesn’t mean I like them, but who says you have to like everything? Perhaps I was just not sufficiently mentally prepared for this.
I knew there would be no running water in the village. I knew the internet situation may be sketchy. I was prepared to bend the rules on being vegan or vegetarian. I was not exactly prepared for other things, however.
I haven’t known exactly how to approach all of this in a blog post. To me, it was another world far from my own. To those who live there, it’s life as usual and people seem generally content. I don’t want to gloss over my experience there and only share the positive, fun stories, but I also don’t want to focus only on the negative points. Because it’s a completely different culture that I’m not a part of and won’t completely understand or agree with. To me, it’s shocking to see the living conditions of some people, and I feel the urge to change things. But I don’t know what it’s really like to live there, or if they even want to change. I’m sure there are aspects of my own culture that Ghanaian people would witness and say “that’s terrible!” and they would be right. We all have things we can learn from each other, and ways we can help each other. This could be it’s own topic….
That said, let’s move on. I’m going to just start with some of the things I wasn’t prepared for.
Transportation. I actually did not get a photo of the exterior of the trotros, which are large white vans that can seat over 20 people inside. They go down the road in set routes, with the mate hanging out the front window making signs with his hands to tell people along the road where they’re headed. You hop in and pay about 25¢ for a ride.
From the junction near our town, we would get a taxi (see above). Several of them would line the street, waiting for either enough people to fill it up, or someone willing to pay for all 4 seats. Somehow, most of the time we got a taxi, it was the one above. The inside was terrifying. You could touch the rolled-down window through the inside of the door… because there was no inside of the door. I don’t recall if it was this particular taxi or another one, but I’m pretty sure there was a jug of gas with a hose stuck in it on the floor of the passenger side. Every time we’d pass a sign saying something to the effect of “slow down! 12 people died here” I was pretty sure they were talking about a trotro accident.
The issue here seems to be that cars are imported to Ghana, and a heavy tax is levied on them, making them unaffordable to most people. So they wring every last bit of life out of the cars they have. Even if in the US, they wouldn’t even be allowed on the street. Here, apparently, if it starts and you can still move it… continue on.
According to Road Safety Services, a few of the major causes of road accidents in Ghana are, in fact:
• Most accidents are caused by broken down vehicles on our roads.
• It appears in Ghana there is a leeway for drivers to drive on worn/second hand tyres.
• The unworthiness of some cars on our roads also invariably leads to road accidents.
• Over-loading of vehicles beyond their expected gross weights is a known cause of accidents.
Road accidents are among the top causes of death in Ghana, with malaria, diarrhoeal and respiratory diseases, according to deputy director of the Ghana Health Service, George Amofa. Road accidents kill more Ghanaians annually than typhoid fever, pregnancy-related complications, malaria in pregnancy, diabetes or rheumatism.
Sanitation. I don’t know why I thought nothing would be different. Sure, in the US and in France you run across the idiots who pee in the street or don’t wash their hands, but I was practically in shock here. Men, women and children used places other than covered toilets to relieve themselves, and don’t seem to see the importance of washing their hands after. I witnessed a small boy at the marketplace casually relieving himself on the ground not far from where food was being sold, and the toilet above was found on a visit to the Department of Social Welfare, with a little sink out in the hallway. Toilets in this part of Ghana seem to be treated the same way as kitchens in Paris – an afterthought.
I got a lot of use out of my organic, lavander-scented hand sanitizer spray on this trip, and cringed inside every time somebody wanted to shake my hand. I loved the children and let them touch me, but I also knew that they probably hadn’t been washing their hands either. I’m not a mysophobe, I swear, but I must have seemed like one. Even with all my precautions, by the end of the trip I suffered mild diarrhea and major stomach pain during my flight home. I’m better now. But so many people are not as lucky.
In Ghana, diarrhea accounts for 25 percent of all deaths in children under five and is among the top three reported causes of morbidity…. Nine million episodes of disease could be prevented each year by washing hands with soap.
“In Ghana it is even critical because most of us like eating with our hands, because of the type of dishes that we cook. So when it comes to handling food we use our hands a lot. Secondly, surfaces [transfer] to palms a lot of germs. It can be a door knob, even our computers, the ATM cards…people use their hands a lot so there is the need to create awareness. Look at the food that we eat – fufu, kenkey, banku and all those things – we don’t enjoy eating with fork and knife, so we have to eat with our hands – therefore we have to keep the hands very clean.
I’m really glad to see that there are efforts to promote hand-washing. Global Handwashing Day has even been established by GlobalHandwashing.org. It’s just one of those things I never even thought about… I naively assumed most people knew you get sick less often if you keep your hands clean. Even last year I learned my lesson once more. After months of winter illness, I started carrying hand sanitizer and not touching anything on the public transportation. Add to that a morning smoothie, and I have not been sick in over a year (though there was the one time I fell ill from lack of sleep). Sometimes I forget that we are not all aware of these things. Heck, there are still things I could learn.
See all that fruit up there? That was not to be found in Ghana. Apparently I’d missed mango season so really all I had were tiny bananas, avocados, apples…mmmm am I missing something? Oh, some papaya but I really don’t like papaya so I couldn’t finish it. My friend had told me diets were different here, but I thought really… so close to the equator… there wouldn’t be tropical fruit to eat? I’d find something. I was a little wrong. I am realizing my love of fruit is so strong that now I’m researching tropical paradises I can live happily ever after in. Kauai?
In Ghana, I’m rich. Fair enough, I understand. I do earn more than most of the people I met. But the cost of living is much higher in the US and EU. And right now I would not be considered rich in either of those places. lol But in Ghana it was assumed that I am rich, and that prices can be higher for me. I suppose it’s like that anywhere for a foreigner…. the other day I bought a little toy from a man outside of the Pompidou Centre and we got to chatting… he told me that he sells the toy to Arab tourists for 10€ because to them it’s nothing. It’s all relative. I don’t mind so much when I’m buying bananas or some fabric, but when they want to charge you oohhhh like, 500% more to enter a fort and then the equivalent of $100-$200 to take pictures…. I’m wondering exactly how rich they think we are.
I’m white. And that’s weird. lol. There is no walking around unnoticed. Even in my nice new dress.
I love that dress. The niece of a friend of my friend made it for me from fabric I’d bought at the market. Other than that dress I wore for Manon and couldn’t keep (it was a costume), and my “Belle” Halloween costume when I was about 12, I think this is the only time someone has ever made a dress specifically fit for me. I usually buy second-hand. But anyway, yeah, there’s just no blending in. You’re white, and you’re rich. Get used to it.
Now we’re moving into the cool unexpected things… I mean starting with that dress. I’ve even worn it out in Paris, and I’ll wear it out in L.A.
Water… baggies. What do you call this? This is pretty cool.
Trashybags.org is even doing what I had been thinking about as I stared at all the bags along the streets and outside of the villages – collecting the bags and upcycling them.
Sorry to go back to the negative zone, but this does bring up the issue of trash collection in Ghana. I found an article focusing on waste management in Accra here, if you care to read it. In the village I was at, there was no trash collection, and in my meanderings around the community center I stumbled upon a trash heap (on which someone was, er, squatting, to top it off….). Walking along the beach, I would see buried trash beginning to peak out after a high tide. I didn’t take a photo but I found one online to illustrate:
Anywaaaaay. Since I knew where all my bags would end up, I decided to take most of them home with me. I’m using one of the bags as a soap holder, and the rest are awaiting inspiration.
I’ve been learning about natural cures (specifically in the tropics but some apply anywhere, you can learn more at anamed.net) and one powerful plant seems to be Moringa. It grows in Ghana! In fact there was a tree right behind the community center. Sadly, the pods were very dried up and the seeds didn’t look so good, but we did find some in Cape Coast!
I was taught how to make a certain veggie and fish stew that I found tasty, and it’s been my easy go-to meal to make since I’ve gotten back to Paris. I’ve had to adjust because of differences in the availability of ingredients (those whole cooked fish, not sure where to find them here. Short grain rice? Seems different in France…) but I like to have this new African dish in my recipe book.
Seriously. I’m going to start hacking down palm trees when I get to L.A.
I don’t think I actually ate any, but I’m including it here because it’s funny.
I believe this was the first time I’d ever eaten a fish that still looked like a fish. And I’d do it again. So un-vegan of me….
Well, this blog post has taken hours, and I should start packing up my things for another move this evening.
In closing…. I’ll say of course there is more to say about Ghana… good and bad. It was my first time in Africa, my first time in a really, truly completely different culture…. I was almost going to say “I hope in some ways it’s changed me for the better,” but then thought how self-centered that seems to me… what I really wish is that somehow I could have gone and returned having made someone else’s life better. But perhaps it’s just given me things to think about, and a better idea of what I can be a part of in the future to make someone’s life better. Some sort of reconnaissance mission, in a way. There must be a better phrase for that. But I think with first-hand experience it helps one to understand the world better than you can simply by Googling things (duh). And some day the pieces of the puzzle that you’ve gathered simply by being open and curious will come together and help you fulfill your purpose.
I’d like to leave you with one of Audrey Hepburn’s favourite poems (and one of mine, too) by Sam Levenson…
For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run his/her fingers through it once a day.
For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.
People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.
Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms.
As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands; one for helping yourself, and the other for helping others.
Last year, somehow I stumbled upon a website called ScoopThePoop.net and contacted the owner about perhaps creating some French pooh flags. Which he did. But between my trip to L.A., making a short film, and moving around way too much, I forgot about printing them up and flagging pooh.
Knowing the end of my time in Paris is near (at least for now. I just don’t know what my plan is and will spend time sorting that out in L.A.) I had to do something. I couldn’t leave without taking action against a few of the things Parisians need to work on, because I want to make the world a better place. So I am letting certain irresponsible dog-owners know that we DO notice the crap they leave behind, and we are not OK with it.
And this is how.
Paris is well-known for the crap on the sidewalks and if I could just get the ball rolling on this public shaming, perhaps others will want to join me and continue the mission once I’m gone. But to do that, they will need the flags! So you will find the downloadable and printable PDFs in French and in English at the end of this post.
This new hobby has really changed my mood while out walking and stumbling upon (or narrowly avoiding) dog poop. As I walk my own dog, or as I’m walking to the store, or to class, or wherever I’m going…. instead of seeing a pile of stinking poop and silently going “AAAAAGGGGGH!” I reach into my pocket and pull out a flag, taking a bit of delight in the thought that this doggy’s owner most likely will pass by again and see what those of us who buy (biodegradable) doggy bags think. If you can’t read it, it says “Mon maître est un gros dégueulasse” which loosely translated means “My master is an inconsiderate jerk.” Or at least that’s what the English version says. I did ask one friend if it made sense to him, and he said yes, sooooo…. there you go.
I’ve already flagged almost a dozen poop piles, it’s about time to print out some more flags. I have only taken photos of two, because really, it just feels weird to photograph poop.
If you’re interested in shaming irresponsible dog owners in your English or French speaking city, please feel free to download these printable flags! Also feel free to print them on colourful paper.
And…. that’s not the only disgusting habit I’m going to try to get people to quit.
If you’ve spent any length of time in Paris, you’ve probably seen some grown man pissing in public, right? When there are cafés and bars and even free public toilets practically everywhere you look, there he stands in broad daylight, peeing on a wall.
Well. That drives me nuts, and I wish it hadn’t taken me until a trip to Barcelona to find a way to show them that it’s not appreciated.
Sold in packs of 6 for about 5€, I found pocket-sized water guns. Parfait. If you’re going to behave like a dog, I’ll treat you like a dog.
I haven’t had a chance to use it yet. The only two opportunities I’ve had recently were 1. when I forgot to pack my gun and 2. when there were three drunk teenagers in a park and I was walking to the metro in heels and a corset (what, I was at the Paris Burlesque Festival). Not the best time to exact punishment. I hope I get to do it at least once before I leave, but if not… I will definitely be packing them in my suitcase on my way back. And girls, I have 5 extra if you’d like to join my gang.
Sorry for the radio silence. That’s the term, right?
I’m alive. And I really do want to get back to talking about Ghana, but this month has also been quite an experience and I feel I should write about it as it’s happening…. There are a lot of things I can’t say, or rather just choose not to say… I made a decision to not be public about my relationships and I’m trying to stick to that. I think it’s a good decision, because sometimes we can get quite upset at someone and it’s probably not a good idea to vent it to the whole world.
So let’s seeeeee. Last week, I went to my friend’s place, and stayed there for several days. It was really enjoyable. We stayed up late and talked about everything and anything, from relationships to movies. We watched movies, too. He gave me his couch-bed and slept on a thin roll-out mattress on the floor for the whole week. Awwwww. I did offer to switch with him if he needed a break from it. Luckily, he got a break on Sunday, when I went to check out guests at the Vacant Apartment. This week I started painting the walls of the V.A. It always looks like an easy, quick job, but somehow it does take time. You plaster some holes, wait for that to dry, sand it, put tape around the things you don’t want to paint, then you paint with the brush, then with the roller…. then you let it dry while you watch an episode of Drop Dead Diva, or The Daily Show…. then you apply the second coat. Voilà! One wall down. How many to go? How about that one back in the corner near the washer, that one looks ugly. Yes, so I’ll just move these things off the – dammit, nooooo! Detergent on the floor. Must pull out cabinets and the washer, and try to mop it up…. washer is attached to wall by hose…. that’s not happening….
On to the next wall. Well, the next day. I’m doing a wall a day. Why, you ask? Because I have a life. A life that involves taking the metro to my storage place every morning to tote back more potential items to either come with me, get mailed to me, or stay behind. I’m sorting. And I have until the 24th to empty that thing. I figure I have 6 more trips to make if I’m doing it on my own. Potentially less if I can get a friend with a car. Which I may have for this weekend, or may have had….
This weekend is the Paris Burlesque Festival. A friend and I have volunteered, and I’m very excited about it. Nervous too, since I rarely volunteer for this sort of thing. I get nervous having such responsibility. Oh, and potentially having to converse in and understand French. But I want to meet people in the burlesque world, and see some shows (which otherwise are not free)! And have an excuse to wear a corset. I’m still unsure of my costume.
I almost had a plan to ease my storage woes this weekend, as well. Someone from out of town, with a car, would stay over on Saturday and help me with the trip on Sunday. All my things need to be out of storage by the 24th, and it’s been a pain going back and forth and figuring out what has to come with me and what has to stay. My new storage is another friend’s cave. That’s like an underground storage area.
And then things start to change. I’m told I may have to finish up the walls tomorrow and figure out how to shove everything I could possibly need access to before the 27th into a small closet in the hallway so that a guest can check in. Can I stop here and say, yes, I know this friend seems a little selfish right now, and if you knew the extent of the relationship, you would just say, “what an @sshole,” as others have. It has not been an easy year for me. Every year in France seems to get more difficult. Like running on a hamster wheel that won’t stop. And that’s why I’m getting off for a moment, and taking a breather in L.A. I need to examine this wheel and figure out a survival strategy now that I know what I’m in for. But at the moment, things have gone what I would call, “wrong,” and I’m temporarily without a home of my own. And does anyone see the irony of the homeless girl managing an apartment rental? Yeah…
It’s been an interesting time for me. I am observing which friends reach out and offer help, and which ones could, but don’t. Which friends are always there when I need help (even when I tell them “you’ve done so much for me already, I don’t want to ask you for help again!”) and which ones say (well not out loud) “OK, I’ve given enough, I don’t care if you have to sleep on the street with your dog.”
I’m not perfect. There have been times where I couldn’t respond to a request for help. But I’ve taken in cats, I’ve nursed a cat with cancer, I’ve picked up and dropped off friends at the airport (one time in the middle of the night, too), I’ve loaned money (and sometimes it doesn’t get paid back…. thanks, guys), I’ve loaned my car, I’ve taken in friends who had no place to go, I even shared a tiny studio with a friend for months and slept on a mattress on the floor. I want to help. I love it when I can be there for someone when they need it. I actually am enjoying painting the walls here, because it’s something that I can give.
But to know that the place was vacant for the entire 6 weeks I was gone, because I was the only person he thought he could trust in all of Paris to manage it…. and now that I’m back with this major issue of homelessness he desperately needs to rent it, and I have to be the one to do it…. Over the summer I dealt with a water heater that wouldn’t heat, a washer/dryer that wouldn’t dry (and I was up all night for an 8AM check-in trying to do laundry. Then vacuuming, which woke the downstairs neighbour. And she let me know of her displeasure.), a clogged kitchen sink, a wobbly faucet, hair in the shower drain, stained sheets, ripped sheets, putting up curtain rods for curtains I still can’t figure out…. need I continue? But when I am in serious need of help and a place to stay, and this place is not being lived in… I need to prepare it for someone else who’s got the money to go live wherever they want. I’m seriously reconsidering my relationship with this person.
So on Friday I may have to shove everything into a closet and pack my backpack… forget about more musical contests because my guitar will be locked inside an apartment… and now figure out what I’m going to do about my dog while me and my friend (who has been helping to watch her when I can’t) both are volunteering at the festival. Oh yeah, and I can no longer host the friend who was going to save the day with his car on Sunday. So there goes that, and I have no idea how I’m going to get these things over to the new storage place.
OK, on a more positive note… I listened to the audio book version of The Four Agreements, which I highly recommend. I will probably listen to it again soon. I need to drill it into my head.
“Be the source of God’s presence in the life of another.”
Other notes were:
Be grateful for every condition and circumstance in life.
Ask myself how I would be able to express who I am (in the form of being kind, caring, loving, forgiving…) without conditions in which to become that.
To say,”Thank you God, for this one more chance to announce and declare, to express and to fulfill, to become and to demonstrate, who I really am.”
Good stuff, especially when going through trials. But that first note makes me think, a lot. He said when we look at what it is we think we lack, and then instead of trying to find it, seek to give it to others…. it will find us. It’s a little tricky when what you lack is a place for you and your dog to sleep, but maybe I can come up with something else.
One time I stopped and gave money to an older woman who was in the metro station with her cart of belongings. She told me to wait a moment, and then pulled out a pack of gum, which she handed to me. I thought it was so sweet, so special that this woman who had almost nothing would find something to give to me. She didn’t have to. I wasn’t expecting anything in return. But she gave. I kept that pack of gum. In fact, maybe I’ll even bring it back to L.A. with me….
Oh yes, I mentioned musical contests…. so if you wouldn’t mind…
For the past two years in Paris, I’ve been trying to settle in, despite my decreasing income and frustrations learning French. My plan was to be creative, all the time… make that webseries! Learn French and act in French! Act in English! Do background work, like in L.A., when I needed extra cash! Have a cozy place to live! But it’s been a struggle. Looking back, of course I can say, “well maybe I should have looked for a job right away so I would learn French quicker, and have a little more income….” but I was really optimistic. And then after the optimism came the time in The Suburbs, when commuting for any reason was a pain, and culture shock and homesickness set in big time. I left that place and tossed everything in storage, all the furniture to be sold again over the summer for much less than I paid to furnish my cozy house…. I returned my cat to his natural habitat (California) and decided that I would join him again in 3 months time.
The financial situation continued to get worse, and when I returned from Los Angeles I could only manage to afford a tiny studio in Belleville, on the 7th floor, for about the same price you’d get a decent studio with a toilet, shower, maybe even a tub, and a kitchen in Los Angeles. I intended to buy my ticket home at the end of July so I could go back to doing background work, be with my cat, and just recover for a while in a real apartment. Or house. Well, the Prefecture messed up those plans with an appointment in September, so I had to stick around. Knowing how time-consuming the search for a place in Paris would be, and how expensive a decent place to live would be, I opted to go traveling. When I returned to Paris, I thought I had two options. The apartment I help to rent out on airbnb (in between guests) and someone who said they had a spare room I could stay in. Well, the second option fell through. Which left me a couple days here and there in option #1. One sweet friend came to my rescue, and hosted me for over a week, until another friend of his came to visit from out of town, and I had to find a place to rest my head in the next 24 hours. My dog would stay behind for the time being. The next day, another friend came to my rescue, for one night. I even got to sleep in a bed! But the next day I was back on the search for another bed. And now I find myself, for the first time ever, I believe, stuck with no place to go and no place to be. I’ve got a backpack and a bag of bananas and left over veggies. My first thought was to head to Eastside Burgers, where they have vegan (junk) food, free wifi, and a restroom. When I arrived, they were closed. Yay for Mondays. Do Parisiens fast on Mondays? I sat for a few minutes trying to figure out where I could go next. “Home” wasn’t an option. I turned the corner and found a public toilet. Yay! At least I could do that. So I wiped down the seat (come ON, people) and did so. Then I walked along the street, through a bit of a park. I sat and watched the water, and pigeons, and smelled the flowers. A homeless man slept on a bench across from me, on the other side of the fountains. I wished I could sleep.
I’d been texting and FBing for some help since yesterday, and by now at least knew where I would have a bed for the night, though I was told it would be 10pm before he arrived home from work.
I moved on after lightening my bag by two bananas. I thought perhaps I could get a haircut. It’s about time for that. My fringe is in my eyes. I knew my regular place was closed on Mondays (seriously!!!) and the one place nearby wanted over 40€…. no thanks. No haircut today. Now where? I looked up Subway. They’d be open, for sure. And have veggie options. So I walked to Subway. As luck would have it, I sat down next to an outlet. So I gained 20% on my phone while I slowly ate half of a sandwich, saving the other half for dinner, because who knows where I’d be. I felt like I should be on my way, but… to where? Then I remembered some letters I had to mail. La Poste! I mailed my letters. Now what? I walked around the block and thought of a park I’d been to. I looked on my map, and I found it. All four benches were claimed. I mean seriously claimed, by one or two people sitting smack in the middle of all of them. I sat on some stairs until one pair left. And this is where I find myself now.
My lovely host has informed me that it will now only be 7pm before I have a place to come “home” to for the night, which makes me very happy and relieved. I may eat the rest of my sandwich early, to celebrate.
Tomorrow I will go to French class, comme habitude, and then check those guests out of option #1. Although there’s an inquiry open for people to check in only hours later, it hasn’t been confirmed and I’m crossing my fingers, holding my breath and praying that they’ve found another place to stay, because my friends don’t seem to have any spare sleeping surfaces for me this week.
The rest of the month looks a bit scary to me. I have to save everything I can to afford to fly my dog, my luggage, and me (I borrowed money, for the first time ever, at least when we’re talking more than $20) back to L.A. and then have enough money to pay for November’s rent there. But when I start getting scared, I remind myself that as long as I have what I need for today, I am taken care of. We pray “give us this day our daily bread…” Not tomorrow’s, not next week’s… one day at a time. Each day has enough worry of it’s own, without adding to it the worry for tomorrow.
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? Or, What shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (for after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
It’s something I should pay more attention to, instead of getting distracted in survival mode. It’s hard. I think we all like security, we want to know that we’ll have food and shelter when we need it. This month is becoming a real test of where my focus lays, and how much faith I have in God to provide what I need, when I need it…. no sooner, no later….
I am glad to know that there will be an end to it on October 31. That I will have a place to rest, and that this is only temporary. Because even though I’m learning how to trust God day to day, I also feel very frustrated with the time I waste just moving from one place to another, every few days, when I could be focusing on being productive or having fun. I will be learning how to be productive and have fun through it all, though. A good lesson, since when is there ever a “perfect” time to do anything? Though there’s really something to be said for having a home you love to come back to and know you can come back to for as long as you want, to lift that burden of concern from your shoulders and free you to truly focus on your creative pursuits.
I am grateful to every friend who has been able to take me in and save me from hostels, or whatever my alternatives are, and to any and all of my friends I say if you’re ever in this position, my bed, my couch, my floor, whatever I have that you’re willing to sleep on, is yours. And some of you know that already from experience.
OK! So here I go, I’m going to eat the rest of my sandwich, signifying my faith that God will provide.
Whenever I would think about going to Africa, I would think about seeing wildlife I would never see in America or Europe – lions, giraffes, monkeys. I imagined large, quiet plains of grass or desert with a sunset more magnificent than any one I’d ever seen over the Pacific Ocean.
True, Africa is large, it can’t all be filled with lions and giraffes and sunsets. What else came to mind when I’d think about Africa…
Well, I thought about what I’d be doing there. Perhaps helping to bring water to a village, or helping out in some other way. I like to go places with a mission, though many times that just doesn’t happen. I didn’t really have a mission for this trip, other than to visit my friend in Ghana and to take some nice pictures. I’m working on the photography thing. I tried to get in contact with film makers there, but being far from the main town made networking difficult in person. We had thought perhaps I could take some video of my friend’s computer class that she could use as promotional material, but it turned out my trip fell right before class started. Regular school started midway through my stay, so I got to see the kids in their school uniforms and take some class photos of them. I did take some photos and video in the computer lab, since the kids would go in there and play on the computers some afternoons. Silly me with my new microphone though, sometimes I forget that I have to turn it on in addition to the camera. I’m still learning.
And speaking of photography… Ghana not only knows you’re coming with your camera – they’re counting on it! Many of the touristic places in Ghana not only charged non-Ghanaians more than double the entry fee to places like parks and forts, but the equivalent of about $100 to take photos…. and more for video. Needless to say, most of my photos were taken at the beach, in the village, and in the city, but not in the parks and forts. That just gives me another reason to come back (and this time with some money. Apparently I’m the only person who goes to Africa on a budget).
I spent two weeks in Ghana, between a small village called Afrangua and a place called Kokobongo Beach. I don’t want to make this into a massive blog post that nobody will ever finish reading, so I won’t give you a day-to-day account of my time there. In Afrangua, my friend and I spent a lot of our time chilling out in the courtyard of the community center, hovering in the one area by the table where cell phone reception was the best, so we could check our Facebook walls and post photo updates. She let children into the computer room occasionally, where they would sit at the computers drawing pictures, putting together puzzles, and other activities for young kids.
The kids were very curious about me, the visitor, the “obroni.” They wanted to play, be chased, hug, touch, handle my hair… one tiny girl giggled hysterically until I got nearer to her, at which point her giggles turned to terrified shrieks. She would run and hide, and we would try to convince her to touch me, that it was OK. When she finally did, she found me endlessly entertaining. She reached out for my face with a look of utter amazement…. it’s the look I imagine I would have on my face if I were to reach out and pet a unicorn.
We spent some of our days near the beach, where there was running water and even a little restaurant. The bread that the sandwiches were made of was really unique. It was in slices perhaps three times as thick as American sandwich bread, and a bit more solid and sweet. Being on budget, the tuna cheese sandwich was the only thing I ordered at the beach. And the one I got that actually had cheese in it was quite tasty!
There are so many little moments to record, and many of them I documented with photos, so I’ll be spreading out the details and thoughts on my trip as I remember things to share with you. For some reason I’ve been putting off blogging about it. Maybe because it feels like such a big task. I don’t know. But I’m determined to get this posted tonight and get back on track!
I also need to get more focused here. I started this particular blog to document how I make things happen in my life, how I create, how I give back to the world, how I join with others to make films and make music… but I feel like I haven’t done much of that at all this year! I suppose we go through peaks and valleys, and every experience serves us in some way we may not be aware of yet. I have written several songs this year, so that’s some progress, though they all still need the finishing touch and a genius musical partner to help me bring them to life.
I feel like I’m still figuring out life. My snow globe world is still being shaken up, though I’d really like it all to settle into place soon. This is why I’m taking some time out to get myself back to Los Angeles, land of the familiar, to take a few deep breaths, write a few deep songs, and make a plan.
But for the first time ever… I don’t have one! Sure, I have some official addresses, but I don’t have a home right now. Let’s recap.
My little sublease was up at the end of July, because I thought I would be returning to L.A. after having a residency meeting in June. Well, that appointment got placed at the end of September, screwing up that plan. So instead of looking for another overpriced apartment in the Paris region, I estimated how much I could save by staying somewhere else. So the month of August was spent in Barcelona, and then the past two weeks visiting a friend in Ghana. The largest part of my spending was the plane ticket to Ghana, but overall I definitely spent less than I would have if I’d stayed in Paris. I’m back in Paris now, and surfing my way around until the end of October, when I really get to go back to L.A. Yes, the Parisien adventure, Part I, is coming to a close… it’s practically bankrupted me. I need to get back to a place where I can at least do background work and garage sales.
A month and a half is a lot to go over in one post, so I won’t do that. I’ll spread it out a bit. I did give you a little update from Barcelona… did you want more? lol Barcelona was a nice break. Downstairs from where I was staying was a fruit and vegetable market where almost every day I’d go down and check their discount shelf, with the fruits that were on their last legs. I’d pick up a bunch of fruit for only a few euros. I’ve been trying to stick to spending roughly 5€ a day on food. And now that I’m back in Paris, I’ve unpacked all my kitchen goodies to see what I’ve got to eat in the next 40-ish days. Can’t throw things out, that’s wasteful! I made a chickpea/spinach/coconut milk curry today (no lemon, that tasted weird to me last time). The past few days I’ve been chowing down on an African recipe taught to me by someone in Ghana. It’s not vegan, there’s fish involved, but it’s just so gooooood and doesn’t cost much to make. Perhaps when I get back to L.A. I’ll be able to find some kind of imitation smoked fish flavour to make it vegan. I also attempted to make some crêpes the way we had them in Cape Coast, but I failed. I only found one or two recipes online. But I’m not sure what the problem really is… they’re just dense, and not as sweet… I guess I’ll just stick to French crêpes!
Well, I just wanted to let you know I’m alive (still taking my malaria pills) and well and back in Paris. In the next post I’ll tell you more about Ghana, as it was my first trip to Africa, and very different from anywhere else I’ve been.
So I’m still in Barcelona and my stay here is already halfway over! I’ve been reflecting on some of the things I wished to accomplish while I was here and realize I’m not very far into making any of them a reality. Perhaps I was a little overambitious, or perhaps in the end it was a really good thing for my sanity to just take the time to relax a bit instead of constantly trying to be productive. Or perhaps I just succumbed to the heat and really could have gotten more done had I been able to breath.
The Potential Big Ideas I had for Spain….
Connect with film makers and film something.
Make a music video.
Write more songs.
Learn some Salsa or Tango!
Well, I did write one more song, and a second is on it’s way. And we may be playing a set at the very end of the month, but we seriously need more practice, and that may be the only show we do. Still pretty cool though.
As for the music video, well, I never did get someone to help professionally record one of my songs, so that’s not happening yet.
And I have not gone dancing yet…
I really have just unplugged since being here. Of course, the heat kind of makes you feel like holding very still in front of a fan for long stretches of time, but that’s not all I’ve done. I’ve done some wandering around, put in some beach time, met a few new people, gone to the grocery store a lot…
This week I’ve gotten sucked back into reality with a surprise bill from the IRS (how are they allowed to just NOT tell you that you supposedly owe them taxes and fees from years gone by until you log into their website and try to set up a payment plan for this previous year… the only one you’re aware of owing anything for?) and the ATM rejecting my request for cash because there’s not enough there. It makes a person want to just disappear. Even buying the discount fruit at the corner store, this girl is still on the verge of trouble. I get an Adsense payment around the 25th of the month, but I’ve spent the past hour trying to figure out how to transfer any amount of money from my US bank to my French bank (since they have no useful ATMs here…) with no solution.
In good news. Today I took a free Reiki course a new friend was offering through his Meetup group, and tomorrow is another beach day. We are also going to get a little more organized in planning our days, since we don’t have a lot of time left before our show and the end of the trip.
So I Googled information on productivity. Again. I tend to forget how to be productive, and get really scattered or distracted with “things that need to get done that I don’t care about or want to be doing.” You know those things.
…. during the day we move from a state of alertness progressively into physiological fatigue approximately every 90 minutes. Our bodies regularly tell us to take a break, but we often override these signals and instead stoke ourselves up with caffeine, sugar and our own emergency reserves — the stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol.
Working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity. Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University have studied elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors and chess players. In each of these fields, Dr. Ericsson found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes. They begin in the morning, take a break between sessions, and rarely work for more than four and a half hours in any given day.
OK that helps for long stretches of songwriting and singing, or doing work on the computer. I was spending all day every day working online last month.
This article on Inc. also mentions the 90 minute cycles, along with several tips on how to be more productive. They’re kind of obvious, like stay away from distractions. But setting small goals on the way to big goals is a good one and I think we’ll be doing more of that this week. I have so many bigger goals in my mind that I need to work towards, not just ones for this month. Sometimes it’s easy to get overwhelmed and not make any progress.
I read an old article once in which Audrey Hepburn was interviewed (a very old article, from the 1950′s) and mentioned something about focus, and how important it was to success. I wish I had the article with me to share, but alas, I do not. But it stuck with me, because focus can be very hard for me unless I’m doing something I really enjoy. I keep working at it though…. focus, productivity, time management. Someday I’ll master it and make some progress in life.
What about you, how do you deal with time management and reaching goals?
So this past week has basically been a vacation for me. One where I don’t think about EDF, I don’t do online work, I’m not on the computer all day, I’m not moving things around from apartment to apartment to storage, I’m just being present, being in the moment, in Barcelona. And I’m here all month. I’ve started getting back to those things I need to work on, calling EDF, that sort of thing… but oh gosh it’s been so good to basically not have to think about anything and just enjoy life for a week!
It’s been extremely hot here the past week, though, and without AC in the apartment I’m staying in, it’s been a bit hard to bear. I find myself almost wishing I had some kind of office job to go to, just for some cold air. Somehow I managed to get a little cold yesterday that’s hanging on today, too. I’m not quite sure what brought that on. Can heat make you sick? But when we realized we needed more pesto for our sandwiches, I decided dragging myself out of bed to visit the air conditioned grocery store might be good for me. It was. For a few minutes I was bouncing through the aisles breathing in cool air. Later in the day we went out to Sagrada Familia for the first time, once the sun went down… so that’s the photo you see up there. I haven’t taken my real camera out with me just yet… since I’m here for a month I figured I’d get a feel of the place first, then go out for photos. Hope you don’t mind. I also brought the 3D camera, so… we’ll see what I can do with that. I still have to figure out how to share photos from that camera. I’m starting to figure out how to share them on YouTube 3D…
As I’ve said before, I want to make sure I’m being creative on each trip I take, and I’ve lucked out on this one! A friend from L.A. (Brandon, hence the title… and btw, if you haven’t seen Vicky Christina Barcelona, do so!) is joining me for the entire month, bringing along his guitar skills and tiny little travel guitar. And then our host here in Barcelona just asked if we’d be interested in playing a show (for money! And food! And drinks!) at the end of the month. To which we said, “heck yeah!” Because the original plan was to just work on music, and then go to open mics and busk. So we’ve been browsing songs we’d like to cover, and working on a few originals. Except today it sounds like I’ve never sung in my life. Well, tomorrow is another day.
Today, while listening to Enya on our quest to find songs to cover, we heard a commotion outside. I couldn’t resist. I peeked through our 4th floor window and watched as some people argued outside. No idea what they were saying. Two women and three guys in red were standing in the crosswalk. I kept trying to figure it out. Well the answer came when the woman removed several sausages from her skirt… then more sausages… must have been a dozen sausages… ahhhh. And the men must be Dia employees. I hope they don’t put those back on the shelf. I hope people aren’t stealing fruit too, because that’s what I buy….
We’ve started hitting the vegetarian restaurants around Barcelona, so I hope to make a post all about that in the future. I’ve taken pictures of everything I’ve eaten (well, at the veg places) in preparation for sharing with you.
I have to say, I came to Barcelona thinking there would be a lot of colourful buildings. I don’t know where I got that idea, because the buildings are grey and very similar to Parisian buildings. Except the Gaudi buildings. Well, they’re grey, but really cool. Why on earth did I think there would be colourful buildings? I was looking forward to it, though. Well, at least I get a beach! And the ocean! The ocean isn’t freezing cold! I got in the ocean! I will get photographic proof of this next time. The only other time I’ve swam in the ocean was a 2005 trip to Hawaii.
Even though there are so many things about Paris that I don’t miss – the winter weather, lack of beach, expensive food, and the impossibly small living quarters (unless you can afford upwards of 2000€ a month)… I still find myself missing it. It’s a little crazy. But I’ll be leaving it for a while, since I know I can’t afford to stay, and I can’t deal with moving around as often as I have been…. there’s no way to create stability, habits, progress, when you’re constantly moving around the way I have been. Barcelona certainly seems to have some things going for it though. I found cappuccinos for 1,50€ at a vegetarian restaurant, whereas in Paris they’re usually around 4€. I found vegetarian and (one) vegan options at a place we stopped in for a kind of tortilla sandwich (for about 5€). I spy many AC units in apartments, in the metros (but not in the stations, where you diiiiie of heat waiting for the train), and in stores. Even the monthly metro pass is cheaper at 54€ (compared to Paris’ 65€, though that covers zones 1-2 and in Barcelona I just got zone 1, but it seems to cover all you need).
So yes! I’m in Barcelona! And I’m here ’til the end of the month! And performing before I leave! It’s fantastic! So you can look forward to photos and videos… though I may be a little behind on posting. I go to Ghana from Barcelona and will definitely be out of touch while I’m there, but I’m going to do the best I can.
I hope your summer is going well. Anyone else traveling to new places?
OK, I swear after this one I’ll have something useful or deep to share! lol. I just know I haven’t been writing much and I wanted to touch base. Hello.
Today I was on a Skype call with someone discussing the latest thing I’m trying to accomplish (it’s early, I’ll share about that later, I promise) and once again got to the point of conversation where I get asked:
“So how long have you been in France?”
And I have to answer:
“About 2 years.”
And at that moment, every time, the whole thing flashes by and I wonder what on earth I’ve been doing. And then I always realize that so much of my time is just spend moving or preparing to move. Looking for a place, packing things, buying things, unpacking things… and moving again. In my current place of residence, I have become very unhappy, but I stick it out because it was only for 3 months, and the search for a new apartment is all-consuming. I want to use my time more wisely. But I did just consider leaving after the first month or two. For anywhere. A couch. Whatever. What was making it a bit more bearable was that halfway through this month, I thought I would have 2 weeks to spend in another apartment. It’s an apartment that I help manage, and between guests I go and make use of the shower, toilet, freezer, internet, washing machine, stove, and bed that does not require a ladder. At that point, I thought “yay! I can spend time with my dog!” so I got her from her baby-sitter, who is on her way to Sweden for a week. And then the place got rented. I mean just yesterday got the email. So after dragging all of my living supplies, all of my food, over there…. I was packing it up again and walking up 7 flights of stairs with a Yorkie. Who promptly needed to go outside again. We’re both exhausted.
But the point of this story is…. I’ve spent a lot of time moving around. I love to travel, yes, but I have no real home base, and it’s exhausting now. So much of my physical and mental energy is spent just trying to secure a place for me and my things. I have most of my things in storage right now, and the rest of it will join at the end of the month. By the way, does anyone want a mattress, a juicer, a dehydrator, or a toaster?
It’s frustrating to think that this basic necessity of having a home, somewhere of your own, somewhere to depart from and return to, has evaded me for so long. And it’s kept me distracted from the more creative and productive things I want to be doing. And I’ll only be doing more moving around for the rest of the year. Yes, to some places I want to go (still hoping for India!) but with nowhere to call home. It’s like being lifted off the ground by a balloon, it can be a fun ride, but I have to hold on tight until there’s some solid ground again.
It’s different if the goal is to be traveling around, always moving, but my goal was to set up home in Paris, and make little trips out, while learning French and working on my creative pursuits. Not hopping around, living in 5 different locations within Paris and the suburbs within 2 years! That’s just insane! Insane… so yeah, no wonder I feel like I haven’t gotten much done. My average in L.A. was a move every year, until the last few years… my last place of residence lasted 3.
I need to resolve this, but I’m not sure how. It definitely means leaving Paris. I can’t afford a decent place to live here, and my cat is now in L.A., where he can be happy going outside. But I don’t want to leave forever. I want to come back and continue working on things. I don’t know. I don’t know how I will figure it out. I’m sure I will, but it may be as exhausting as the past 2 years have been.
Any other travelers out there with any advice? I know one thing that would help would be to earn more money. The less I have, the more stuck I am. I’m working on it, I’m working on it. But these things take time…. I don’t want to bounce around, I want a home base for me and my pets. But I don’t want to give up travel, either.
Whine whine whine, from the girl in Paris.
Speaking of travel, did I tell you I’m going to Barcelona at the end of the month?! I think I did. I’m excited. Here, watch some fireworks: