Sunday, June 9, 2013

Esther Levin Lewis 1923-2013

Esther Levin Lewis, affectionately known as Estie to family and friends, and to me, as Grandma, was an amazing person. She taught me about putting powdered sugar on my French toast (much to my parents’ dismay, and quite possibly to her inner delight), taught me how to weave on her loom (granted, I only made one placemat), and taught me about how important it was that I did what I wanted to do, and did it well.  I think she got the better deal of what she got to teach me as I would on occasion force my grandpa to sit me down and discuss subject-verb agreement in English with me (yeah, I was a weird kid).

When I start talking about my grandma, I always have to talk about my grandpa, Nahum, who was a wonderful person, as well—he was quite a modern man, always supporting various causes and right movements, and my grandmother was always right beside him.  Nahum was a man that had an impression on people.  People loved him—I truly believe that he was the man he was because of my grandma. He was also a smart man—he knew that Estie had causes of her own, and that he also had to be there for her.  Their partnership was a model, I believe, for my parents, my uncles and aunts, as well as all of us grandchildren, Nathaniel, Jacob, Hannah, Sophia, Rebecca, and me.

Speaking of grandchildren, I have a slight suspicion that we got our independent streak from Estie.  She, after all, spent some years living in New York City, and volunteered for for various organizations for a number of years, with a good chunk of those years on the board of the local Planned Parenthood. 

I have a vividly clear memory of how I learned that tidbit—I was maybe eleven or so, and I was complaining about a teacher’s aide who was basically just sprouting out biblical verses when we were in health class talking about the various birth control and other options available to women, and I was telling mom that I just basically told her that it was all about choice, that it was what it is. 

Mom looked at me, stood up from the kitchen island and went to the telephone, saying, “We gotta call Grandma and tell her this story.” 

I remember my mind churning and thinking, hmm, maybe there’s more to Grandma.  I also remember thinking, if she’s strong enough to stand up for what she believes in, I will try to do the same.  Needless to say, at eleven, that path wasn’t even close to perfect, but I had a couple of great examples in my grandparents.

This morning, Grandma passed away, leaving me with sadness, memories, a lot of love, and most especially with a few lessons; live the life you wanted to live, be with people who you want to be with, and of course, always, always drink your martinis with vodka. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Green Tea Toothpaste

Note:  I wrote this earlier this month, and have only gotten around to posting it today, as I figured I should post something for March …

Languages and accents were everywhere I went, naturally, one does not expect to travel through various countries and areas for almost four months without expecting this.  In the past few months, I have encountered all kinds of languages and accents.  All these languages did not really bother me, as I was already a foreigner in my own country as a Deaf person – only a small percentage of people spoke my language, ASL. 

I knew about accents.  I knew how they applied to ASL and KSL – if someone signed a sign a certain way, you could tell which region they grew up in, or which school they went.  I have read books with English accents in the dialogue, others with Scotland Highlanders saying, “Dinna ye know ye ken go?”  I understood, in theory, why people have a hard time understanding English in foreign countries, partly because of the slight combination of the country’s language and English, along with how letters are voiced out.  That understanding went from ‘in theory’ to reality, as pen and paper was my mode of communication with the various people I encountered.

“Eny Cestions?” a guide in Egypt wrote, bless her heart, and it took me a few seconds to figure out what she was trying to ask as our tour ended.  I didn’t have any questions for her, but I realized that I had the good fortune to have it written down so I could take some time to figure out what she was trying to say, rather than only hearing it once and having it lost in the wind.  In the middle of the tour, she wrote “Tiebs driver” and for the rest of the time, I thought that was the name of the driver, until she made the universal sign for money, and I smacked my forehead and fumbled for some money. 

Just when I thought I had gotten used to using “chemist” instead of the pharmacy throughout the two years in Kenya, I ended up in countries that uses the word pharmacy, alternating with other countries that uses the term chemist ... I have taken to using both words whether I need cough drops or rabies shots.

In Kenya, tuk-tuks were the motorcycle taxis, with a bench and a roof on the back of the motorcycle, in India, it became an auto rickshaw, back to being a tuk-tuk in Thailand, but only this time it is with a lounge chair style of bench and painted various sparkly colours, and finally they are tricycles in the Philippines – motorcycles with a little sidecar attached.

Now, I’m sure you’re a little confused about what all this have to do with the title of this blog post – well, here it is! I ran out of toothpaste in Viet Nam, and went to a small shop (a duka in Kenya, a bodega in New York City), and picked up a familiar brand’s logo, along with the familiar green colour, thinking I had picked up mint toothpaste, which I have used practically since I was a kid.  You can imagine my surprise when I tasted something akin to green tea when I brushed with that toothpaste for the first time. 

I googled the translation of the Vietnamese words on the tube, and, yes, it was green tea flavored.   

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Goat In The Middle Of The Road ...

As I travel, I met quite a few people, some friends of friends, some old college friends and sorority sisters, and some who were perfect strangers. All of these people have experiences in their lives that vastly differs from one another. Some lived in the countries that I visited, others are travelers for two weeks' vacation, some are in the country for work related reasons, and still others took six months or so off work to travel the world.

I had realized that fact when I saw a new friend stop to gawk at a goat in the middle of the road. I turned to look at this friend snap photos of this goat. I stopped myself from asking why the photos were being taken - I remember the first time I saw a goat walking down the road in Loitokitok over two years ago, and my reaction. I don't remember exactly when that became a daily thing for me, but definitely not long after I saw that first goat.

This friend came to me and gushed, "Isn't that the cutest goat ever?" I thought - this is one of the first tests of the numerous conversation that may relate to my two years' service. Should I be brutally honest and say that the goat looks just the right size to be slaughtered, and possibly would be eaten next week? Should I just off-hand mention that it's usually a normal occurrence in developing countries to have animals patrol the streets? Should I use that as a doorway to my experiences as a PCV in Kenya, to start a conversation that the other person probably doesn't want about the experience that was both hard and incredible for me? Or, should I just say, yeah, that goat is cute, and leave it at that?

My friend waited for a response, and I sensed that standing in the middle of the road wasn't the perfect time to begin a conversation of that degree, and I looked at my friend, who didn't look like someone who was ready to delve into the philosophy and ideals of aid to developing countries, so I took the easy way out, and said, yeah cute goat.

So, my life in the past two years vastly differs from the majority of the western world - I had lived in a developing country, and I am grateful for my travels as I meet various people and throughout this process figured out how to talk about my service so that I feel good about it, and not burdening people that aren't all that interested in it.

All because a goat decided to cross the street.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The race to the end of January ...

I thought that I should post something on this blog websie thingy at least once in the month of January. I guess I beat the end of the month by two days, and here's sort of what I've been up to in the past month and a half or so.

I went to four new countries, am currently in the fifth, read the best of Sherlock Holmes at least three times, saw amazing pyramids and rock-hewn churches, gorgeous mountains, met an old college friend who made a new life for herself in a new country and her friends, got bitten by a dog and got rabies shots, had a baby thrusted at me for photos, saw gorgeous temples and momuments, took over a thousand photos, read many books, went on numerous buses, trains, taxis, tuk-tuks, and planes (and had several crazy ticket experiences), met a good friend's boyfriend and traveled with him for a few days, joined couchsurfing, bargained a number of times, drank numerous cups of chai (damn the British for colonizing and spreading their love of good tea and bad coffee ....), bought a small trinket from each country, got so cold I had to buy mittens, got so hot I wished I was dipped in the Artic, was amazed at how fast the internet was in comparison to Kenya, watched a few movies (yay for foriegn accessible airlines!), met travelers from New Zealand, Australia, China, a couple on their honeymoon from India who admitted to being a Bridezilla and the poor suffering newly wed husband, ate incredible food (good bye bland food in Kenya!), planned various things for the next month and a half or so, and all in all am having a pretty good time.

Hope you all are having a good start of the year, and I'll try to post something next month ...

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Northern Frontier, the Ambassador’s Christmas Party, and Close of Service

“This bus ride sucks.” I said for probably the 20th time to Matt when we were bouncing over dry river beds with dust swirling around and landing onto us, Kenyans, more specifically the Turkanas, their women sporting awesome mohawks and a full neck of necklaces piling into the bus until we were suffocating.

We were going to Lodwar, near Lake Turkana, with the objective of visiting the lake and doing some cool things around there, as our last trip before our Close of Service (COS), and just because we thought it would be something cool to do.

In a way, it was truly the perfect last trip for Paul and me, who will be leaving Kenya today, after two years of service (and Matt, in a few more months), as it was the truly bush Kenyan experience, nothing like our trip to Zanzibar.

Bargaining was definitely on the menu on this trip. And wasn’t about to leave at any point on this vacation until we jumped on the plane back to Nairobi.

We bargained the price of the tour of Lake Turkana, met with numerous people in the Kenya Wildlife Service, who we think probably wanted a piece of the pie we were providing, a few people from the other side of the lake, all wanting some certain amount of money.

We bargained the price of the cab from the crazy town of Kalokol, we bargained with the Beach Management Unit guy on the shore of Lake Turkana (and to this day, we’re not sure why we paid him, nor what service he was supposed to provide us). We bargained with the driver of the boat about not only the cost of the trip from Kalokol to the defunct Fisherman’s Lodge, but also from the lodge to Central Island. We bargained for the matatu from Kalokol to Lodwar, and for almost everything in between. Just writing about how much bargaining we did makes me tired.

Matt and I agreed – jumping onto that plane was one of the best decisions we ever made.

Last night, a group of us COSing PCVs along with a couple others went to the Ambassador’s residence for the annual Christmas party – which was exactly the opposite of our trip to Lodwar. It was almost like a company Christmas party at that place, a lot of food, a lot of drinks, and a good way to spend our last night in Kenya.

This morning, I finished the final few details and took care of the last few pieces of paperwork I had to do, and I have now officially finished my Peace Corps Service. I will be flying out this evening to meet a dear friend in Ethiopia, beginning my three months of travel.

I hope to be able to post a few photos here and there, but just a warning: posting will be very light, probably until I return to the States in mid-March, when I will try to figure out what to do with this internet bloggy thing.

On that note, I, along with my students at my school want to wish you a fantastic holiday season, a great New Year’s and hope to see you all next year!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Gede Ruins

A few weeks ago Mary and I visited the Gede Ruins to cross that off my Kenya bucket list. It was a gorgeous day, and we had a nice time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

New Roommates

On a lighter note ... a couple of months ago, I got a couple of new roommates! They moved into my bathroom sink while I was in South Africa.

Damn squatters!


This blog consists of my personal thoughts and opinions. It does not in any way reflect the position of the United States Government or the Peace Corps.