Saturday, April 30, 2005

R-R-R-R-Rio de Janeiro

I have a super precarious internet connection right now, but I wanted to let you all know that I made it safely to Rio. I arrived about noon today and Beth cooked a great welcome lunch for me of rice, black beans, collard greens, manioc meal, and guava juice with passion fruit mousse for dessert. After lunch, I spent the rest of the day napping, then went out for beers with my friend Jenna from high school.

I'm going to search for an internet cafe with high speed connection later this week, so hopefully a decent post and some personal e-mails will be on the way soon.


Friday, April 29, 2005

Last Days.

So this is it. In a few hours I'll be in the plane for Rio. My last few days in Austin were nothing short of amazing. Good friends, sweaty nights dancing downtown, motorcycles and swimming in the creek, and an experience that put a zen smile on my face and reminded me that sometimes the very thing you seek is, quite literally, right next door.

My mind is in a blur. I feel like I'm getting sick and I have symptoms of vertigo. Not exactly the best mood for writing, but God do I have a lot to say! I look forward to spending day after day writing in the courtyard garden in the house in Santa Teresa, banana trees and jacaranda blossoms perfuming the air.

Thank you to everyone that made this chapter in my life so special. I look forward to the next adventures.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

I got the truck!!!


The 28' moving trailer fit in the parking lot!!!!!!!!

I literally jumped and skipped around the parking lot yelling, and probably would have kissed the ABF guy had he been slightly younger!

I must capitalize on this burst of ridiculous energy and get a'packin'!


Monday, April 25, 2005


So I think I figured out one of the big reasons behind my recent insomnia. Two nights ago I was tossing and turning at 3am and decided to try something new: counting sheep. I made myself concentrate on the images, giving personality and wardrobe to each sheep, not letting any other thoughts occupy my mind. I created moustached Groucho Marx-style sheep, pucker-lipped Geisha sheep, and boisterous surfer sheep, making each one's journey over the fence last at least 30 seconds. When I reached the 300th sheep, however, I gave up. More frustrated that before, I finally allowed myself to obsess over the remaining planning details I've been stressing over all week.

And then it occurred to me. Something BIG was wrong. Something that had the potential to undermine all of my careful planning and organizing. I DIDN'T HAVE MY PLANE TICKET TO AFRICA!!!!!

No, I didn't forget to *purchase* the ticket. Several weeks ago, on the day I started this blog, I logged onto South African Airways' web site and bought a $1600 ticked from Rio de Janeiro all the way to Maputo. A few minutes later I received a confirmation e-mail, complete with seat assignments, locator number, and credit card info, and filed it away in the travel folder of my Yahoo account. Since I'm so used to e-travel these days, the fact that I didn't have a paper ticket in my posession wasn't immediately alarming. But for travel to infrastructure-challeneged places like Mozambique, you most definitely need a paper ticket. And I didn't have mine!!!

Panic. Clammy palms and feet. More squirming and flopping around on the bed trying to fall asleep. Realization at about 6am that my efforts were futile. Decided to get up and make some coffee, then call the airline until someone answered the phone.

When the South African Airways US ticketing representative finally answered my call, I tried to clearly and calmly expain the problem. "Yes, hi, I purchased a ticket on April 5th on your site, got a reservation confirmation, but have not yet received my paper tickets. Could you please verfy the mailing address you have on file for me?" I was certain that was the problem, just a simple mistake in a data base entry. Maybe they sent them to Brasil by mistake. I gave the woman my locator and she looked up my flight information.

"Miss, I'm showing here that this reservation has been cancelled."


She put me on hold to check out the situation, cutting off the beginning of my hysterics. About 20 loooooong minutes later, the agent got back on the line with an explanation.

"It was cancelled by the internet." Of course. The internet. That bastard, always the guilty party when something goes wrong and you don't have the faintest idea why.

" what do I need to do to get my reservation back?"

She put me on hold again and then, as if rebooking 8 flights was the easiest thing in the world, informed me that everything was good to go. I requested another e-mail itinerary and hung up, suspicious of the ease with which she resolved the situation.

By the end of the day I still had no e-mail itinerary, so I called the airline again. A different agent looked up my reservation and said that it was confirmed and in the system, but that the person responsible for sending the e-mails wouldn't be in until Monday. I called back this morning, still waiting for the itinerary. This time the agent told me that it was impossible for her to send me an e-mail, that I had to go on the SAA site. I started crying I was so frustrated. I went to the site and couldn't find anywhere to request an e-mail. Called back again, and now the person told me that an e-mail request was in the system and that I should have it by the end of the day.

Guess what I still don't have? Yeah. I must say that the customer service provided by South African Airways thus far has been a supreme disappointment. And I'm not going to completely relax until I have the new itinerary and the paper tickets arrive at my mom's house. Those ticketing agents are *really* going to get sick of me.


On the brighter side, my landlord finally paid attention to my e-mails and got some guys out here today to prune the trees in the parking lot. I now have well over the 14-foot clearance necessary for the moving truck to squeeze in here tomorrow morning. Now the only problem is the tight little turn in from Lamar Blvd. Please, please, please let the truck fit in the parking lot!!!!!!!!!!!

Well, I'm going to get back to packing. Anyone in Austin that is just dying to pack some boxes, give a call and we'll negotiate. Nothing like a little free labor!

Friday, April 22, 2005


I feel like my already busy life has been playing in fast-forward these past few days. I wake up at 8am with my mind in a swirl, to-do lists and appointment times repeating over and over, being modified as the reality of all that I have to do sets in. Luna bars, coffee, and Emer'gen-C are the staple components of my diet right now, backed by healthy doses of adrenaline and stress. I put so much time and effort into planning this trip, but even so it seems that I'm perpetually four hours behind schedule. I STILL HAVE SO MUCH LEFT TO DO!!!

I tried to take a nap this evening and couldn't fall asleep, despite my total state of exhaustion. That's when you know it's bad. You can't even get 20 good minutes of rest until everything is checked off, shipped out, and squared away.

My day started out early, depite traces of a hangover from downtown with the brasileiras last night. Leticia and I drove up to North Austin to get my car appraised by a brasilian friend that owns a dealership, then I raced to Vickmay Day Spa for a mini facial and swedish massage. I booked the appointment over a month ago, anticipating the frazzled state I would be in five days before the big move. God, was it a nice break. I made myself put all neurotic tendencies aside and just enjoy the lavendar oils and meditative music before hitting the errands again two hours later.

My friend Jesus gave me *the best* going away present the other day. I have a small obsession with Mr. Natural, this delicious vegetarian mexican restaurant down the street, and have eaten there at least twice a week since moving to Austin. Jesus' family owns the place, and he surprised me with a gift certificate for free meals at Mr. Natural from now until I leave!! So after my spa break, I had tofu sunflower tamales, black beans, and fresh strawberry lemonade for lunch. I plan to stop by for sweet potato empanadas and horchata early tomorrow morning so that I have an extra incentive to get out of bed.

After lunch I went back to the car dealership to seal the deal and sell Phoebe. (We name cars in my family...Inga the Volvo; Pia, Uma, Bibi, and Luna the Saabs; Petey the PT Cruiser, Bob the orange pickup.) It was more sentimental than I'd anticipated to part with my car, but I was happy that she went to a good home. The car dealer's sister, who just had a baby and needed a 4-door sedan, bought the car on the spot and paid me cash! I feel like I have a fatty bank account right now, but I know the bills are going to roll in next month in a big way.

My friend Carmen gave me a ride to the airport and I rented a car to use for the rest of my time in Austin. It's amazing what a luxury it seems to be driving a Dodge Neon. Nothing like power steering and a cd player with good speakers to keep me going!

Erin came over around 7:30 and we made some coffee, put on makeup, and prepared for the latest adventure: a mini road trip to San Antonio to see Juanes in concert!! It was a super show that deserves (and will get) a post all of its own once I get a chance. Suffice to say the night delivered in true Erin-and-Ali style.

It's way too late right now and I keep thinking that I'm spending too much time on writing and not enough time on packing boxes. Gotta get some sleep, even if my dreams are peppered with the same list of errands that has been reeling through my mind nonstop. Tomorrow is wholly dedicated to goodbye celebrations, and I have to wake up early and drive to the lake with all my good friends in tow.

Buenas noches mi gente!!!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Austin is Already Weird

Oh dear God, how do I even begin to whirl together a narrative that will do tonight justice? It was Weird in the best style Austin has to deliver, strange yet strangely perfect. Let me begin with a bit of background...

Every time my friend Erin and I go out, there is this peculiar chemical reaction that takes place and we just attract random, fabulous situations out of nowhere. The night always starts out straightforward enough - "Let's go grab a cocktail," or "We'll just have some dinner and call it an early night." Our intentions are there, but somehow things *never* end up that way. In our evenings together we have crashed parties at strangers' houses, spoken a dozen foregin languages, danced bluegrass, and met members of what I swear is the Moroccan mafia.

We've been on a run lately, though, with each night out somehow surpassing the last in terms of randomness and fabulousness. But tonight...ha! Tonight crowned them all and then ran off, leaving us agape in the parking lot wondering what the hell had happened.

We decided to check out Toni Price's regular Tuesday night gig at the Continental Club, one of Austin's stubbornly authentic haunts on South Congress. Toni's voice filled up the room with blues and Texas twang so soulful it defied her petite frame, pretty face, and long gray hair. She held a drink in her hand, and Erin and I both agreed that the show got increasingly entertaining the more Toni sipped and let her voice go.

After a few minutes, three guys approached us and offered to buy a round of drinks. Now I'm pretty good at the "guess my nationality" game, but these guys had me stumped. From their accents, I would have guessed Scottish, maybe Welsh, like the actors in Trainspotting where you know they're speaking English yet can't understand a damn thing. But the image was all wrong. Although their jeans were tight, a sure sign of a Brit, they were tight in a Belen High School 4-H Club kind of a way, not a metrosexual Europop kind of a way. And they all looked Mexican, especially one guy that resembled my ex-boyfriend Oscar only 40 pounds heavier and much more abrasive. To top it off, these boys knew how to rock the mullet. We're talking bald in front with a nappy, shoulder-length party going on in back. I finally broke down and asked where they were from.

I think it is only appropriate to dedicate this moment to the town of Wallace, Louisiana.

Dear Wallace,

My sincere congratulations. You have perfected the formula for producing top quality, country-fed, mixed ethnicity REDNECKS. May you continue to shape the denizens of St. John the Baptist county with the culture and refined social graces necessary to work at Golden Chick'n and travel the south in an El Camino.

Yours truly,

Honest to God, I have never met people like the Wallace Three in my entire life. My friend Erin had a leg up, being from the Florida panhandle and all, but even she was shocked at the back-ass-wards-ness of it all. The guys were all half Black and half Dutch, self-described gypsies that wandered the South in the winter and went to Pennsylvania for the summer. "We just laaiiiike to have a real good taaaiiiime, you know, dancin' and draaiiiinkin' and such. We even got a couple uh reeeaaaal good joints, we do laaaiiiike to smoke and all."

Erin and I stepped out to the back alley for some fresh air, and the Wallace boys followed us so they could, um, smoke their good Louisiana joint in the middle of Congress Ave!! They sparked up and slowly attracted a crowd. First this huge hippie man with tie dye, a headband, John Lennon glasses, and a beard down to his chest walked up and joined in the fun. Then, not two minutes later, who should saunter up but Leslie, Austin's most illustrious homeless cross-dressing political advocate. How weird is this city, you ask? Just last year Leslie ran for mayor, decked out in his fuschia thong and devilish goatee, pushing for less corruption in the police department.

And there we were, watching Leslie, the large hippie, and the Louisiana rednecks smoke pot in the middle of a busy street on a Tuesday night. Doesn't seem like the "Keep Austin Weird" campaign has much to worry about. And I don't, either. Life is good.

Erin and I walked back into the Continental Club and danced the night away to a Western Swing band with an upright bass and an accordion, laughing at the characters we'd met. Truly, we agreed, the night had been the epitome of Austin.

Oh, I will miss this strange, delightful place.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

I Hung Out With Leslie Tonight

Leslie, Austin's infamous homeless cross-dressing ex-mayoral candidate, just one of the colorful characters that shaped my evening.

For more on Leslie and his politics, check out

Lord Help Us All...

(posted this evening on the mailbox, by the washing machines, and on my front door)

Hello Neighbors –

I am moving to Africa next week and will be loading all my things into a 28’ trailer starting on Tuesday 4/26 and ending Thursday 4/28.

I am planning on parking the trailer in the two southern-most parking spots in the lot (by the fence and empty lot). If you see orange cones in the parking lot on Monday, it’s just me trying to save those spots for the truck.

If you have any questions or concerns about this, please see me in apartment #213 or give a call.


New Heights of Laziness

There's something about moving that not only brings about new levels of slothfulness, it also provides a sweet justification. I think we all can agree that I have a bit of a messy side, but honest to God - this is getting out of control.

My house looks like a hurricane swept through several times, scattering books and art supplies and clothes in its wake. And why would I bother actually folding the laundry or shelving my clutter when I'm going to turn around and pack it all up tomorrow? That would just be illogical and a waste of precious time.

Use actual silverware and dishes? Hah! Not when I'm too lazy to handwash and don't want to waste energy with the dishwasher. My meals from now until I leave the country will be either 1) take out, 2) on paper plates/in plastic cups, or 3) in the form of protein bars. Good, balanced nutrition I tell you.

The height of this newfound laziness can be seen in my bedroom. Granted I don't make the bed every morning, but I do regularly wash the sheets, change the duvet cover, and tidy up when company comes. But that I have no visitors and I'm shipping everything out to California, I can't seem to find the motiviation to even put a fitted sheet on my bed. I'm currently sleeping directly on top of a foam egg-crate mattress pad, covered only by a crocheted blanket my stepmom made when I was in college. Forget sheets or pillow covers or hospital corners! And secretly I'm loving it - some of the best sleep I've ever had. I never knew that foam could be so downy soft and comforting...

*** *** ***

So the theme of the day is dropping lots of cash on stuff for the move. In the space of 3 hours, I spent:

$65 on beads, pliers, stringing wire, and clasps for my jewelry making (taking it all to Africa - I have visions of making elaborate tribal necklaces with local beads)

$19 on yarn and knitting needles (making a blanket for my god-daughter who will be born in June, shortly after I arrive in Chimoio)

$98 on boxes, bubble wrap, packing tape, and dish protectors (why is it so damn expensive?)

$1,115 on global health insurance. (necessary, but hopefully unnecessary)

Good thing I'm selling my car on Friday otherwise I'd be squeezing the last drops out of my bank account right about now. I'm always amazed at how expensive it is to move!!!

Well, I'm off to pack and clean. Leatrice is coming over tonight to pick up about half of my furniture and my tv. At the moment, you can't see the surface of my kitchen table it is so covered with STUFF!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Carlos delivers a reality check

My friend Erin recently spent 6 weeks in China and Tibet doing an internship in oriental medicine. She had a fantastic time, and came back with one main piece of advice:

Don't take yourself too seriously.

Just to be sure I got the message, life conjured up a lovely little reality check for me last Thursday. My friend Carlos and I had plans to see this tokaido japanese drumming group perform at the Texas Union ballroom. We were waiting to cross Martin Luther King, one of the main streets near the UT campus, when a truck full of construction-type guys drove by and honked. I automatically assumed they were honking at me, and started complaining about how people have no respect for pedestrians and we are not just nice pieces of ass to be gawked at on the street.

Carlos cracked up and said, "Ali, they were honking at the bus." Apparently a city bus was taking forever to move and I missed it all because I was facing the oncoming traffic and ranting about the men in the truck.

Sigh. Nothing like a good, sound reality check every once in a while. I did laugh really hard, though, to the point that my stomach hurt. And I think Carlos was entertained as well.

Well, I'm running around today trying to do as many errands as possible before it starts to rain. Highlights on my list include:

- buy lots and lots of moving boxes
- drop off dry cleaning
- apply for health insurance in Mozambique
- find a fax machine to use now that I've quit my job
- return a million phone calls and e-mails
- go to Nia
- walk to the convenience store on the corner in hopes that somebody will honk at me and my self-esteem will be redeemed!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Goodbye #1: Dad Comes to Austin

My dad came to visit me in Austin this past weekend. It was his first trip to any of the places I've ever lived outside New Mexico, and definitely a new experience for both of us.

I've always visited my dad at his house near Tome, not 5 miles from Adelino, the sleepy hispanic town where I was raised in the Rio Grande Valley. By default his house has become my home base in New Mexico now that both my mom and I have given up permanent residence. I have been "home" 4 times since moving to Austin, always happy for the chance to see old friends, but this time it was his turn. Te tocaba a ti, dad.

My cell phone rang earlier than it should have. I was still on my way down Highway 71, a couple of minutes from the airport.

"Hey dad, I'll be right there. I'm just around the corner." I tried to will the car to go faster. How did I end up being late? I planned everything so well...

"Okay, pup. I'm waiting in front of exit 2 near baggage claim."

It had been at least 10 years since the last time my dad called me "pup." I smiled and wondered if it had been at all conscious. My smile turned to a laugh when I pulled around the corner and finally saw him. My dad was wearing his signature tweed jacket and driving cap, with a khaki fly fishing vest thrown over the whole getup in the spirit of practical travel. Allen Ginsberg meets Orvis. Nice. We hugged and got back in the car, driving past bluebonnets and gentleman's clubs towards the city.

I have always liked hanging out with my dad. We have great conversations about everything from the second amendment to Quentin Tarantino's new martial arts effects. Hands down the best storyteller I know, he narrates with such involvement that your breath catches in anticipation of the details. I have been his audience for countless stories and even a few photography classes, but never his tour guide. I really wanted him to see my life in Austin, understand a bit more about what I've experienced in the last few years.

My dad's trip was particuarly important for me in terms of finding closure before moving to Africa. Just over a year ago I got a phone call from my stepmom in the middle of the night that made my stomach drop.

"Your dad had a heart attack!" She was hysterical, and it was difficult for me to understand exactly what had happened through her sobs. My stepbrother took over the conversation.

"Your dad tried to convince everyone it was just a bad burrito he'd eaten for lunch. They've got him scheduled for an angioplasty tomorrow."

When I finally spoke with my dad on the phone later that day, he was on morphine and I could barely recognize his quiet, slurred words. At least I knew he was alive. I flew back to New Mexico on the first flight out and spent the next three days on the sofa, just eating enchiladas and knitting. The whole experience had shaken me more than I was willing to admit, and my cheeks actually ached from putting on a strong face.

My dad's heart attack was the closest I ever want to get to losing someone I love without the chance to say goodbye. Too often we censor ourselves, holding back kind words and warm hugs because we see no justification for a sentimental outporing on a regular old Tuesday. We take it for granted that our loved ones will be with us on Wednesday, and Thursday, and each day after that. But there are no guarantees, especially with an ex-smoker that puffed for 40 years before ending up on the operating table.

My dad and I had such a nice time together this past weekend, just hanging out and having lazy conversations. We ate breakfast on Sunday at Cafe Mundi, this hidden hippie cafe next to the railroad tracks with a garden full of banana trees. Despite the overcast weather, we sat outside and ate migas while boat-tailed grackels looked on greedily. Then the raindrops started and we decided to drive west to Fredericksburg, an old German colony in the middle of the Texas hill country.

The hour and a half drive went by in a blur. My dad rigged his iPod up to my cassette deck and we jammed out to Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, and Miles Davis. Bright swaths of poppies and black-eyed susans blanketed the side of the highway, the colors running together to create long ribbons of red and yellow. About 7 miles outside Fredericksburg we came across Texas' version of a heat mirage: endless fields of wildflowers planted so close together they looked like solid blocks of color. We stopped and took pictures in the middle of the flowers, then treated ourselves to big bowls of homemade peach ice cream.

Further down the road we hit Fredericksburg's historic downtown. It felt like everything had been frozen in time around 1925. The wide main street was teeming with people window shopping and eating chunks of fudge, enjoying the sunny weather. We gawked at the old limestone buildings and wrought iron ornaments, and wandered through a few courtyards before heading back to Austin for some dinner.

The South Congress Cafe delivered great food once again, with the tomato-roquefort soup and crab enchiladas the definite highlights of the meal. I love dining in Austin - everything is so pointedly hip, but you can always get away with wearing jeans and boots even in the trendiest of places. Full and happy, we drove back to my apartment and settled in for a night of dorking out on the computer and learning how to use my new 40G iPod.

And then, before I knew it, Monday arrived and it was all over. Time to go to the airport, time to kick off my last week of work, time to say goodbye. We stood on the curb outside the Southwest check-in area and looked at each other, not knowing exactly how to proceed.

Sometimes the most significant moments in life can be strangely anti-climactic, especially if they are planned out. You want everything to be seeped in meaning, profound and beautiful enough to last you a lifetime if necessary. The thing is, you can go through the motions but it takes time for those memories to really develop. You aren't hit with the flood of emotions until you are half a world away and several months have gone by. Then you realize how important that field of flowers was, how special the endless conversations about music were, and how you don't have any of it anymore except stored away in your mind.

"This has been a wonderful, wonderful weekend, Ali." My dad stepped forward and gave me the biggest hug his small frame could manage.

"Thanks, Dad. I'm glad you made it out here."

"Enjoy this hug," he said, "it's going to have to last us for quite a while." I squeezed him back tight and stared up at the thick, hazy clouds overhead. How do you hug hard enough when you are painfully aware it might be the last time?

The whole time my dad was in Austin, we never directly addressed that point. We talked about his nitrates, and the fact that he's now addicted to Altoids (cigarette substitute!), and how he has good cholesterol levels - but we never talked about the fact that he might die while I'm away having adventures in Africa! For me, it was a constant undercurrent to the trip, but I was afraid to really bring it up. I didn't want to seem morbid, or speak words that would take on a prophetic power and later fill me with guilt, like somehow by talking about my dad's mortality I would have indadvertently guaranteed his untimely passing. The problem is, by not acknowledging the all-too-real possibility that I might never see my dad again, things were left unsaid. So let me say them now...

I appreciate you, I forgive you, I admire you, and I love you.

Job Hazards Redefined

At approximately 10:30 this morning, the women's bathroom on the first floor of our office filled up with smoke. Nasty, acrid clouds filled the stalls and blurred the mirror, but nobody could find the source. Ms. Faye called the fire department and we all hung out in the parking lot waiting for the truck.

How's that for symbolism? It's my last day at work and the building is going to burn down.

We heard the sirens coming down Cesar Chavez, and not one but *two* fire trucks pulled up to the building. Guess not much was going on in East Austin this morning. The firefighters checked out the bathroom, but by this time most of the smoke had cleared out. It was just a blown circuit. Blame it on the shoddy 1970's wiring running through the bat-infested attic.

Yes, that's right, *bat* infested. Last week as I was walking down the hall to my office, I came face-to-face with a Mexican fruit bat that was hanging on the ceiling, wings all splayed out, beady little bat eyes staring back at me. I screamed, dropped my coffee, and nearly tumbled down the stairs. Mr. Roy, one of our senior volunteers and a no-nonsense kind of a guy, trapped the bat in a box and took it out by the dumpster. Turns out it was the third one inside the building that week. Someone from the City came by to collect the critter and test it for rabies, and took a look in our crawlspace to see if any more were roosting up there. There were. Ah, the perils of living in Austin, home to the largest urban bat colony in the world.

It's 4:22pm now and I'm getting ready to take down my prevention posters and load up the car. Goodbye, bats. Goodbye working in the barrio. Goodbye underpaid, overworked position.* It's been quite the experience.

*just for the record, I am getting ready to start an even more underpaid, overworked job next month. damn humanitarian, do-good-for-my-community, nonprofit world!!!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

I love you, Prevention!

My staff threw me a surprise going away party today at work. I could tell something was up when people kept peeking in my door and inventing nonsense conversations to keep me at my desk. But I never imagined that everyone was waiting for me in the conference room with roses, South African wine, sushi, and a delicious cake.

I tried to capture nearly two years in a five minute speech. Working in HIV Prevention has been one of the most valuable experiences of my life, and I have met such wonderful people in the process. I think back to where we started with the program, how many obstacles were in place - both personal and professional - and am unbelievably proud that we somehow overcame everything and created not only a strong team, but beautiful friendships along the way.

I spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning out my office and shredding old files. Everything still seems so normal - my phone still rings, my inbox is still full, people still come down the hall to ask if I want catfish or enchiladas for lunch. It still hasn't really hit me that tomorrow is my last day at The Wright House.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Brunch at South Congress Cafe this morning with my mom y mis primos queridisimos. I'm just a *little* tired!

The Swingset in the Sandias

Countdown: 19 days to Rio, 46 days to Mozambique. And only 15 days left in Austin.

It's hard to plan a goodbye. When you start to really analyze your life and pick out the little parts of each day that are important to you, it becomes even more so. I have a strong desire to leave Austin with a sense of closure. I want to squeeze the most out of my last shared moments here with the people I love, take full advantage of the beautiful spring days, and create meaningful memories on my way out.

When I was 15 and getting ready to go for my exchange year to Brasil, I had similar impulses to do everything and see everyone I cared about before I left the country. I could sense that my life was about to drastically change, and I wanted something to make me feel grounded. I would spend hours driving around the North Valley in Albuquerque, just soaking up the adobe walls covered with periwinkles, the red chile ristras, the beautiful gardens along Candelaria and Griegos that defy the desert, the junked out cars in driveways, and the specific way the sunlight floods everything just before night falls and the evenings become cool.

The night before I left New Mexico, I drove to a hidden park near our house in the foothills of the Sandias. It was the middle of July and I could hear the cicadas buzzing around me. The park was xeriscaped to blend in with the natural surroundings - no grass or tennis courts, just colored gravel and sagebrush around the swingset and slide. I decided to swing, looking out over the city lights and the dark patch of the bosque and Rio Grande cutting through the heart of it all. I swung in silence for over an hour, just letting my mind wander, taking in the stillness and simplicity of my surroundings.

Swinging alone at night at the hidden park in the foothills became my closure ritual. I swung there before I moved to Rio in 2000 to go to business school, and again before I moved to Austin in the late summer of 2002. And now I'm getting ready to leave Austin, but don't have my swingset in the mountains...

Thursday, April 07, 2005

How to Leave Comments on my Blog

I wish I knew a lot more about web design and script. I would make a couple of formatting changes to my blog, including a *much* more obvious spot to leave comments.

Until then, to leave comments about any of the posts, just click the spot below the text that says "comments" next to the date and time. There is a little pencil icon there as well that you can click on. Another page will pull up for you to leave a message. You can post under a username, or as other or anonymous.

Sorry for any confusion...

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Okay, I admit it...I'm afraid

Countdown: 22 days to Rio, 48 days to Mozambique.

Number of days I'll actually still be in Austin: 18.

This figure has me slightly panicked, I'm going to be honest here. People ask me all the time these days, "Aren't you scared?" Not really, not of the things you automatically think of. Usually this question refers to one of the following:

a) Coming down with Ebola, Malaria, Schistosomiasis, Dengue, Typhoid Fever, or any other weird parasite you get from simply setting foot outside the US.

b) The possibility of civil unrest, guerilla warfare, or being kidnapped.

c) The perception that I'll be living in squallor, eating unsanitary foods, and taking cold showers with a garden hose and a bucket.

Obviously I have strong motivations not to have any of the above happen. I've done my research (no significant civil unrest in Mozambique since 1992), taken my vaccines (4 shots and emergency treatment for malaria), and experienced my share of freezing cold showers (thanks, Brasil, you're the best).

But I am afraid.

I'm afraid of taking my cat Azul on a plane next weekend to live with my mom in the Bay area. What if I can't get her to take the 1/4 Benadryl capsule the vet prescribed? What if she yowls the entire flight?

I'm afraid of packing my portion of the 28' moving truck improperly and having my things break on the way out to California. Worse yet, what if all my stuff doesn't fit in the 6 linear feet of truck space I've purchased?

I'm afraid of packing the wrong things in my suitcase, or forgetting something crucial. It's so hard to anticipate what you will really need and not have access to in a new country. So far I am stocking up on contact solution, tampons, multivitamins, Burt's Bees skin products, rollerball pens, Splenda, books, and good music. What if there's something I don't think of?

I'm afraid of my layover in Maputo. I have to spend a night in Mozambique's capital because the flight to Chimoio (my future home) only leaves in the early morning, and I arrive in Maputo from Johannesburg around 4pm. Where will I stay the night? How do I find a decent hotel? Are there decent hotels?? What will I do for dinner? I absolutely *hate* eating alone, I'd rather go without a meal. I dread feeling like a totally lost outsider.

I'm afraid of putting DEET repellent on my skin for an entire year. I'm afraid of side effects if I end up taking malaria pills.

I'm afraid some crucial detail will fall through at the last minute and none of my plans will work out. I am counting on so many people, so many promises.

I must admit, though, that despite these and *many* other fears it feels almost indescribably good to just LET GO. There are very few things that actually tie me down at this point in my life - basically work and Azul - and in less than 3 weeks I'm going to leave those behind, too.

What a great chance to start fresh.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

My Apt in Austin

mi casita que voy a dejar...

Lightning Storm and the Adventure Begins

I have never seen a true electrical storm before. Lightning with tentacles across the sky is striking outside my window, probably one flash every 5 seconds. It's close, the kind you would expect to smell ozone from, but there is no thunder. That's the strangest part. No noise, no rain. Just flashes of light. My neighbors and I all hung out on the balcony for a good half hour, drinking beers and staring agape at the show in front of us. It made me realize how much I'm actually going to miss Austin, my little world I've carved out here in the past two years.

Mike and Dave, my deadhead older neighbors across the balcony, are moving out this month, too. We talked about having a porch party before we leave. Jen, my corner neighbor with the Tibetan Terrier, came out and we did some vague planning. Next weekend, or anytime this week actually. We're all basically finished with this chapter. More lightning.

This is the first time I've ever done a blog. I've kept a journal since I moved to Maringa (Brasil) when I was 15. Every day for the first few years, now only when I have something to say. Needless to say writing plays an exceptionally important role in my life at this point, nearly 8 years down the line. But I've never published my writings, and only shared my journals with a handful of people. And now I am writing with the hope that people I've never even met somehow stumble across this blog. Not to be grandiose, but I have a feeling that the experiences that are about to come my way will certainly be life-changing; I can't help but think that it will all make for good reading!

Countdown: 23 days to Rio, 49 days to Mozambique.

I just bought my ticket from Rio to Maputo (capital of Mozambique, but not where I'll be living) this morning. Reflected a bit on the relativity of airline prices when I jumped up and down because of the fantastic deal I got with South African Airways - US$ 1600 round trip, not including a domestic flight from Maputo to Chimoio, the city where I'll actually be living. I clicked the mouse to purchase the ticket from a South African site, priced in brasilian reais, bought with a US credit card from my laptop in Austin, and thought...this is it. Done deal. I'm going to move to Africa.

I guess today was a definitive day in terms of my upcoming adventures. Not only did I buy my ticket to Mozambique, I finally got my decision letter from Berkeley. I applied to get a Master's in Public Health, just another alternative for a very uncertain tangle of possibilites in front of me right now. I just knew the envelope was too thin. "Dear Ms. Burr, we regret but we cannot recommend you for admission at this time. Best of luck with your future endeavours." Strike one more vote up to the theory that the Graduate School at Berkeley doesen't really exist...

It finally started raining outside, big thumping drops on the banana plants in the yard. With a plane ticket, a letter, and a spring storm, my adventure begins...