Our delightful schatzi is almost two years old! As she approaches this milestone of a birthday, I can’t help but think about her growth and development, and of course all the ways my husband and I will mold and shape how she perceives herself and her place in this world. Pretty lofty thoughts, I know, as we enter the era that is supposed to be ridden with tantrums, meltdowns, failures to communicate and general orneriness. Even so, I realize we are teaching our toddler more than just words and numbers at this stage—we are also planting seeds which, over time, will take root in her brain.

Parents tell their kids all kinds of lies throughout childhood. Perhaps the most well-known and socially accepted lie is the one surrounding Santa Claus, or, in the case of my half-American, half-German child, also the “Christkind.”  I’ve always had some issues regarding the Santa Clause lie, mainly because of my own horror at finding out the whole Christmas fairy tale was a complete farce at the tender age of 8 and the mental anguish I suffered as I realized that EVERYONE—to include my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, even older cousins (!)—had participated in and perpetuated this ruthless propaganda for years of my life. I felt so ashamed and gullible as I ruminated on all the ways I had been duped, and my own complicit suspension of reality was the worst realization of all because I suppose I knew, deep down, that flying sleds and the whole bending of the time-space continuum to deliver billions of gifts in one night was a little absurd. It was the end of my innocence, and since that time I have prided myself in my candor, however abrupt and awkward it might be at times. My forthrightness was tested that very first Christmas, when I did all of my younger cousins a favor and promptly told them that Santa Claus didn’t exist. Needless to say, this made for a miserable Christmas and I’m not quite sure some of my relatives have since forgiven me for this radical Christmas Eve announcement.

That said, despite my ongoing to desire to speak the truth at whatever cost, I do see some merit in telling little lies. After all, for those 4 or so glorious years of ignorant bliss when I did believe in magic, my imagination was filled with endless possibilities about life and the nature of the universe. Vehicles powered by happy thoughts? Awesome! Talking animals? Amazing! Elves working all year to design toys just for me? Heck yeah! In retrospect, the Santa Claus lie didn’t really hurt me very much. The pain was fleeting, and, if anything, provided a keen reminder to employ a bit more critical thinking over fantastical claims. That lie did serve a purpose.

If lies can serve the greater good, then maybe I should give some thought to a couple of really good whoppers, to give our little gummibärchen a boost here and there. It wouldn’t be so bad, would it? If our society already accepts lying as a part of the parenting experience, then why shouldn’t we apply it more broadly?

So I’m thinking about telling our daughter that I am really, really good at math. Like, so good at math that I won all kinds of math awards in elementary school and came very close to majoring in mathematics (or even applied physics) in college.  Of course this couldn’t be further from the truth—I have always struggled with math, and while we could argue over whether it was a matter of raw aptitude or my disrupted education, bouncing all over the world with my military family, I think it’s safe to say that it’s never come naturally to me.  Another theory centers around a very pivotal evening at the dinner table doing my homework with my parents sometime around third grade. I was having a difficult time with whatever I was working on at the time, and I very clearly remember both of my parents telling me, “We’re terrible at math!“  I remember at that moment feeling very let down by this, becasue even though I didn’t have much of a handle on genetics or genetic traits at this age, I was smart enough to know that this somehow didn’t bode well for me.  That seed was planted and took root. WE ARE NOT GOOD AT MATH IN THIS FAMILY. Even though I appreciate my parent’s honesty and all of their genuine help with math homework throughout my schooling, I wonder if they had never told me that truth (if it was, in fact, a “truth“) if I would have perceived my capabilities a bit differently, or maintained a higher level of confidence about math as I continued with school.

I offer another example: I took Chemistry my junior year of high school and worked alongside a fun and smart lab partner, Erin. She and I were pretty well matched, I think, and worked hard on our lab problems and solutions.  A few weeks into the semester, our teacher started telling the class that Erin and I were his best students. I can’t speak for Erin, but I was shocked.  I mean, the really really smart kids in our year group were in this class too, and surely they were performing better than we were!?  I was deeply, deeply puzzled by this pronouncement. But it worked wonders for my confidence in science (and to be fair, there was a decent amount of math required for those Chemistry labs, too…), and later that year our teacher was so convinced of Erin‘s and my prowess in Chemistry that he nominated us to represent our high school at the annual state competition. We didn’t take home any awards that year, but it cemented in my mind two things: a love of science and the belief that I was good at it.  So indeed, words—lies and truths—can be extremely powerful.

Fastforward to today. I have an opportunity now to shape my own daughter’s perceptions of herself. I already tell her that she’s beautiful (realizing this is very contentious in the mommy blogsphere because it’s regarded as superficial, but really, what child shouldn‘t think he/she is attractive?? Isn’t that a positive thing?), that she is smart, that she is very, very courageous and brave, that she is naturally curious about the world around her, and that she is very perceptive about people’s feelings and emotionally intelligent. She doesn’t understand a word of this yet, but she gets the general idea as I clap, nod, exclaim, “Great job!“ and flash beaming smiles her way. It won’t take long for those words to sink in.

So what’s a mother to do, to get in front of a potential mathophobia? Perhaps the solution lies in a lie.  I’ll tell her that her father and I are geniuses, but we CHOOSE to live a middle class life to keep her grounded and our family time intact.  I’ll tell her that math was my best subject, and if I could do it all over again I would study only math (this is only a partial lie) and speak the language of mathematics instead of the other languages I focused on over the years.  I will tell her that she can choose to do pretty much whatever she wants as a career, but if I were a betting mother, I would bet she would choose something in math and science.

Is this so wrong?? I mean, is this lie more wrong than lying to her about Santa Claus or the Christkind? It can’t be. If we had to choose, surely a lie that would push her academically is better than one that only indulges gift giving and good behavior blackmail, right?

There’s a whole other side to this subject, too, which I haven’t addressed yet—the “Tiger Mom“ approach. Tiger Moms essentially do away with verbal praise altogether in exchange for results. The Tiger Mom doesn’t tell her children they are intelligent or dumb; if they get good grades, it’s because they earned them. If they don’t, it’s because they were lazy and didn’t work hard enough. This phenomenon in Asian culture is very compelling, and there’s enough fodder from my Calvinist-Dutch upbringing for me to see some merit in this method.

But this approach doesn’t work for me. I suppose there are people who are motivated by negative reinforcement, but I am not one of them. Looking back, I can tie my academic and professional trajectories and successes to those moments when I received praise and encouragement in those areas. Positive reinforcement always led to improvement; negative ones (like being told I wasn’t good at math) always steered me the other direction. I think a hybrid approach could be useful: engage in praise but also hold children accountable for those times when they are not working up to their potential.

Labels of all types can stick: smart, lazy, fun, pretty, personable, kind, sensitive, touchy, rude, sweet.  It’s a good idea to be judicious about how we ever use them with children. Telling your child he always sings off key, which may very well be true, can instill an insecurity. Maybe his pitch would improve with some training, but because he now thinks he’s tone deaf, he will never know.

This is why well intentioned, positive little lies can do wonders for self esteem. My daughter may never be a mathematician—but at least with my method, she may have a fighting chance!

Now the hard part: What to tell her this Christmas!


My Mini-Me

I’ve always said the real reason people have kids is because we are all, at heart, narcissists.  I was absolutely right.  I gave birth almost 12 weeks ago to the most darling, beautiful, amazing little Celena—ahem, Mari Mae—who continues to inspire and delight me every day.  With her splotchy hair that is growing in weird places that still hasn’t made up its mind which exact color it wants to be and what are turning out to be big blue eyes, my little Gummibärchen is everything I ever wanted in a tiny daughter.  Except she’s not so tiny.  8 pounds at birth, she’s still growing like a weed. And looking so cute and chubby in her swimsuit, also like me! Oh, how I wish I had her confidence on the beach! 😉

MM Chubby Beach

I used to wonder how parents of ugly children could think they were so cute, and now I understand why. It’s not that parents think their kids are necessarily the most beautiful of all; it’s simply that they are enamored with having progeny that look like themselves. I don’t think I was the cutest baby. From all accounts, I was a hot purple mess until I was at least 6 months old! (Or maybe that was just the photo quality of the 1970s??) But when I compare pictures of me with pictures of Mari Mae at the same age, she looks like utter perfection: just like Mommy!

Hi World

Perhaps this is the real secret of evolutionary genetics? Passing on genes that mimic us, tapping into that selfish part that loves ourselves the most… Maybe that’s really why parents love their kids so much, simply because they are an extension of themselves.

Poor Luke. He has to endure me talking about this incessantly.  “Doesn’t she look like me, babe? Look at those dimples on the top of her cheeks! Just like mine!”  I’m sure he wants to gag sometimes. So far, the only thing Mari Mae has inherited from him is her temperament, for which I’m very grateful. Luke is super easy going and kind, while I’m high strung and impatient. If she acts as sweet as Luke, that’s wonderful. Not that I don’t want Mari Mae to look like him—if she ends up inheriting his height, thick golden locks and gorgeous lips, even better! But I’m sure no matter what she looks like or acts like, we will join the throng of annoying parents who think their kids are the best at everything.

She is, of course, a genius. I realized from the beginning that she was exceeding her milestones at a rapid pace. Eye contact? Check. Neck movement? Check. Cute gurgling sounds? Check.  We even practice rolling over and standing up several times per day, along with lots of tummy time.  How could she not be ahead of her peers, with two full time parents hovering over her every movement, praising her efforts?  She’ll be talking and walking in no time, for sure!

Alas, my glorious babymoon is coming to an end and Mommy will return to work full time soon. Boo!  If I had my way, I would be at home gazing into those smart little eyes and practicing baby pushups with Mari Mae all day long!  Lucky Luke! Now Mari Mae’s real education begins: learning German, or rather, Bavarian.  I’m hoping she’s a quick learner, so she can teach me her linguistic tricks and I can finally communicate with the Bauer side of the family! Get cracking, Mari Mae!

AF Mommy

In all seriousness, the past three months have been the very best of my life.  All of the clichés are true: when I first saw Mari Mae, it was the single best, most emotional moment I have ever experienced. She made and still makes my heart swell to proportions I never thought possible.  Everything is now about this child. Every decision, every meal, every job, every vacation—it’s all about creating the best environment for our little girl.  She deserves it! I can’t wait to see how Mari Mae turns out, but if it’s anything like her parents, I’m sure she will be pretty amazing! 😉


Since my last post, I’ve continued to study on this idea that depression might be a result of the lifestyles of the modern world.  I’ve enjoyed reading the comments on this blog as well as casually exchanging ideas about the topic with friends over beers.  It’s interesting stuff!

I’ve recognized some common threads in my discussions, but the most telling one of all is that:

It’s taken for granted that living in the modern world is better than living primitively.  In presenting arguments about the causes and treatment of depression as an illness, there tends to be no discussion about whether or not lifestyle contributes heavily—if not exclusively—to the effects.  It’s ironic that the one thing people never seem to think about or want to explore is the very thing I believe is the prime cause.  Most of the people I encounter in my life, across America, Europe and Asia, come from developed countries and enjoy a very high standard of living.  That “high” standard of living affords them luxuries like electricity, running water, permanent houses, motorized transportation, easy access to processed foods (e.g., grocery stores teeming with already-picked-and-cleaned vegetables, fruits, meats, grains, you name it) and restaurants—all designed to make life “better.”  In this case, BETTER = EASIER.  And for the purpose of my thesis, EASIER = BAD.  “Bad” in the sense that 1) having more time on our hands means more time to think, and 2) thinking can lead to self analysis, and 3) self analysis can lead to sadness or depression.  If you take 1) out of the equation, then you might still get 2) but rarely 3).

I recently read an interesting article published in the New York Times Magazine online entitled “Depression’s Upside.”  Although the author presents the case for potentially positive reasons for depression which are dubious, I gleaned from it some interesting parallels to this discussion.

To start off, it’s necessary to put this debate within a historical context.  The author writes, “Aristotle was there first, stating in the fourth century B.C. that ‘all men who have attained excellence in philosophy, in poetry, in art and in politics, even Socrates and Plato, had a melancholic habitus; indeed some suffered even from melancholic disease.’ This belief was revived during the Renaissance, leading Milton to exclaim, in his poem ‘Il Penseroso’: ‘Hail divinest Melancholy/Whose saintly visage is too bright/To hit the sense of human sight.’ The Romantic poets took the veneration of sadness to its logical extreme and described suffering as a prerequisite for the literary life. As Keats wrote, ‘Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?’”

It’s true that the three men quoted above made a living out of thinking and writing (as opposed to physical laboring), but doesn’t that make my argument even more compelling?  I know what you’re thinking: So you’re saying we’re better off without our artists and musicians and geniuses, or the very people who made it possible for you to type up this diatribe on your laptop? For the record, no.  Sure, we have great works of art and accomplished amazing feats of engineering and progress in the sciences, but are we presumptuous enough to believe progress wouldn’t come along without side effects?  Perhaps all that free time for introspection also paves the way for our mental unraveling.

Relatedly, I was pleased to read there’s some actual science behind my thinking.  The author writes, “In recent decades, psychiatry has come to see rumination [the thought process that defines the disorder] as a dangerous mental habit, because it leads people to fixate on their flaws and problems, thus extending their negative moods.”  So if there’s a behavioral process and cause behind depression, then it follows that changing or stopping that process might curb it.

Even in the “Depression’s Upside” article, there’s no question about whether or not a lifestyle in which one simply has more time to think is better or worse than one in which an individual is so consumed with living in the present that there isn’t time to agonize over and replay sad events in his or her mind, again and again.  Put another way, rumination might be the process or vehicle of depression, but what causes rumination?  Is it a foregone conclusion that humans will ruminate from time to time, some more than others?  Or is rumination just a symptom of a larger problem, perhaps that modern lifestyles are basically unfulfilling?

When I say that maybe modern lifestyles are unfulfilling, I mean the coupling of two things: 1) the modernity itself, defined by easy access to technology in developed countries, and 2) the lifestyles/jobs/careers chosen in our modern age.  So it’s not just that you have extra time to sit around and think due to technological advancement, but also that the things you have to sit around and think about aren’t that great.  If I’m unhappy cleaning people’s toilets or making my uber-rich spoiled brat of a CEO even wealthier, it’s even more miserable to have the time to sit around to stew about it.

It’s human nature to take things to the extreme to which we’re allowed, right?  So if you eliminate the option to, say, throw a tantrum if your survival depends on it, you’ll probably be more prone to make the wise choice.  I’m reminded of the stark differences in the way modern women give birth and the way women give birth in the bush.  Women in developed countries enjoy maternity leave, bed rest and comfortable hospital beds for recovery, if they choose.  African women in the bush are lucky to have a doctor or nurse within 20-50 km, much less the luxury of not having to work right before and after birth.  And you can forget painkillers!  I’ve seen a Kenyan woman work until the very moment of delivery, then promptly get back on her feet the following day with a baby strapped to her back so she can work, arms free.  My point here is not to disparage women who choose to take it easy before and after giving birth (god knows they’ve earned it), but that we generally deal with the circumstances we find ourselves in.  If my American friends had to give birth in the Serengeti sans doctor, they would deal with it and bounce back accordingly. If that meant having to walk  a kilometer or two to the nearest well the next day to draw water for drinking and cooking, they would do it.  Humans are great at rising to the occasion, when the occasion calls. But we are also great at choosing the easier path, given the option.

I’m rambling on about this only to substantiate that if self pity is allowed, then people will do it if it suits their purposes.  When it ceases to suit their purposes, they will stop.  In the same vein, there are those who suffer from depression and stop grooming, bathing, using the toilet, and even neglect their children. Isn’t it possible that people do this because they can get away with it?  Unless they have a death wish (and some seriously depressed individuals do try or succeed in committing suicide), they probably have enablers in the form of people or technology.  Maybe they have doting companions who pick up their slack in the home, or maybe they are able to sit around the house and rely on pizza delivery for nourishment—whatever the case, that wouldn’t fly in other parts of the world.  If you’re useless to people who depend on you for money, food, protection or nurturing, you don’t get coddled; you get straightened out. Try getting shunned, kicked out of your hut, carrying only a wooden stick to defend yourself and hunt in predator infested grasslands.  I bet you would take notice.  I realize I’m supplanting one extreme case for another in this example, but it makes the point.

I hear people all the time saying things like, “It’s all relative.”  Exactly, everything is relative.  What’s horrible to one person might be wonderful to another.  The realization and experience of this might just be the cure some people are looking for.  I can see it now on TV or in the travel agent’s office window: “Depressed? Sad? Can’t stop ruminating?!? No worries!  For the low cost of $X, you can enjoy a week- long stay in beautiful Stockton, California, working alongside migrant workers.  Depression be gone!  If you have time to think about anything else besides staying hydrated, finding enough food to eat and keeping a roof over your head, we’ll refund your money, guaranteed!  You’ll return home to your mortgage, beat up Chevrolet and crabby boss a changed person!”

In an attempt to explain how depression can be a useful tool, the author highlights the research of Joe Forgas, a social psychologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia:

“Last year Forgas ventured beyond the lab and began conducting studies in a small stationery store in suburban Sydney, Australia. The experiment itself was simple: Forgas placed a variety of trinkets, like toy soldiers, plastic animals and miniature cars, near the checkout counter. As shoppers exited, Forgas tested their memory, asking them to list as many of the items as possible. To control for the effect of mood, Forgas conducted the survey on gray, rainy days — he accentuated the weather by playing Verdi’s ‘Requiem’ — and on sunny days, using a soundtrack of Gilbert and Sullivan. The results were clear: shoppers in the ‘low mood’ condition remembered nearly four times as many of the trinkets. The wet weather made them sad, and their sadness made them more aware and attentive.”

We could go around and around all day about whether or not it’s good to be sad because it makes you more introspective and, therefore, more prone to change your circumstances.  But the most important takeaway from this story is that depression has a cause and that cause is preventable—or, at the very least, manageable.  Although I can’t prove it, I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as depression without a reason. I suspect there are good reasons for it: boredom, idleness, feeling disconnected from family, friends or people in general, or feeling (and perhaps actually being) useless or underutilized, just to name a few.  It shouldn’t be a given in the mental health community that depression is part of the human framework and here to stay.  If we explore further, maybe we will find that we’re “paying the piper” for our evolutionary choices and we’re not moving in the right direction.  Put simply, maybe modern folks are not leading the lives we were programmed to live.

Has it occurred to anyone else that maybe we got it all wrong?  I don’t just mean slavery, nuclear weapons and trans fats—I mean just about everything?  Jared Diamond is the well known author of “Guns, Germs and Steel,” but well before he wrote his best seller, he published a little essay entitled “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race,” published in Discover Magazine in May of 1987.  The shocking argument of the essay is that the adoption of agriculture paved the way for “the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism that curse our existence.”

To substantiate his claim, he provides examples of diet:

“While farmers concentrate on high-carbohydrate crops like rice and potatoes, the mix of wild plants and animals in the diets of surviving hunter-gatherers provides more protein and a better balance of other nutrients. In one study, the Bushmen’s average daily food intake (during a month when food was plentiful) was 2,140 calories and ninety-three grams of protein, considerably greater than the recommended daily allowance for people of their size. It’s almost inconceivable that Bushmen, who eat seventy-five or so wild plants, could die of starvation the way hundreds of thousands of Irish farmers and their families did during the potato famine of the 1840s.”

“Today just three high-carbohydrate plants–wheat, rice, and corn–provide the bulk of the calories consumed by the human species, yet each one is deficient in certain vitamins or amino acids essential to life.”

health and nutrition:

“One straightforward example of what paleopathologists have learned from skeletons concerns historical changes in height. Skeletons from Greece and Turkey show that the average height of hunter-gatherers toward the end of the ice ages was a generous 5’9″ for men, 5’5″ for women. With the adoption of agriculture, height crashed, and by 3000 B.C. had reached a low of 5’3″ for men, 5′ for women. By classical times heights were very slowly on the rise again, but modern Greeks and Turks have still not regained the average height of their distant ancestors.”


“…the mere fact that agriculture encouraged people to clump together in crowded societies, many of which then carried on trade with other crowded societies, led to the spread of parasites and infectious disease. (Some archaeologists think it was crowding, rather than agriculture, that promoted disease, but this is a chicken-and-egg argument, because crowding encourages agriculture and vice versa.) Epidemics couldn’t take hold when populations were scattered in small bands that constantly shifted camp.

Tuberculosis and diarrheal disease had to await the rise of farming, measles and bubonic plague the appearance of large cities.”

class divisions:

“Hunter-gatherers have little or no stored food, and no concentrated food sources, like an orchard or a herd of cows: they live off the wild plants and animals they obtain each day. Therefore, there can be no kings, no class of social parasites who grow fat on food seized from others. Only in a farming population could a healthy, nonproducing elite set itself above the disease-ridden masses…. Similar contrasts in nutrition and health persist on a global scale today. To people in rich countries like the U.S., it sounds ridiculous to extol the virtues of hunting and gathering. But Americans are an elite, dependent on oil and minerals that must often be imported from countries with poorer health and nutrition. If one could choose between being a peasant farmer in Ethiopia or a Bushman gatherer in the Kalahari, which do you think would be the better choice?”


“Farming may have encouraged inequality between the sexes, as well. Freed from the need to transport their babies during a nomadic existence, and under pressure to produce more hands to till the fields, farming women tended to have more frequent pregnancies than their hunter-gatherer counterparts– with consequent drains on their health… Women in agricultural societies were [are] sometimes made beasts of burden.”

Could we add depression to that list of Diamond’s examples?  He sums it up well:

“Hunter-gatherers practiced the most successful and longest lasting lifestyle in human history. In contrast, we’re still struggling with the mess into which agriculture has tumbled us, and it’s unclear whether we can solve it. Suppose that an archaeologist who had visited us from outer space where trying to explain human history to his fellow spacelings. He might illustrate the results of his digs by a twenty-four hour clock on which one hour represents 100,000 years of real past time. It the history of the human race began at midnight, then we would now be almost at the end of our first day. We lived as hunter-gatherers for nearly the whole of that day,from midnight through dawn, noon, and sunset. Finally, at 11:54 p.m., we adopted agriculture. As our second midnight approaches, will the plight of famine-stricken peasants gradually spread to engulf us all? Or will we somehow achieve those seductive blessings that we imagine behind agriculture’s glittering facade and that have so far eluded us?”

If Forgas is right, we should tap into that part of our brain that’s generating depression, collectively ruminate on this, learn the lesson and make the change.

But knowing our species, that’s not likely.  We’ll wait until we’re forced to.

Lately I’ve been noticing a lot of advertisements for anti-depression medication, and it’s reminding me of a thought I had when I was back in Kenya: I’ve never met a “depressed” African.  When I asked some of my Kenyan contacts if they ever experience depression, they looked puzzled and retorted, “You mean like, if you’re sad? Like if someone dies?”  I tried to explain that depression could mean someone is just sad all the time, for apparently no reason at all.  It was a difficult concept for many of them to grasp, and the more I tried to explain it, the sillier it sounded.  Yes, there are people who are just sad, for no apparent reason, even though they are well fed and healthy, have jobs and decent family support units.  It’s kind of absurd, when you’re forced to explain it out loud.   

The more I travel to Africa, develop relationships with individuals and understand the underpinnings of 2nd and 3rd world living conditions, the more I’m coming around to the idea that many of our Western societal ills are fabricated and artificial.  Maybe depression is what happens when people have too much time on their hands and start feeling sorry for themselves.  Most of the Kenyans I know live in rural areas with no running water or electricity.  Their exposure to outside media is minimal and they are primarily consumed with finding a way to feed, clothe and educate themselves and their family members.  Who has time to sit around and be sad?  It’s perfectly acceptable to be sad at a funeral, but other than that, tears are for babies.  I’m no doctor, but I suspect some cases of Western depression could be treated with a quick dose of Get-Off-Your-Ass-and-Do-Something-With-Your-Hands medication.

I’m willing to point the finger back at myself here, too.  There are times I’ve wallowed in self pity and taken journeys to “find myself” (whatever that means) or sort through my really tough problems, like how my job is sometimes annoying and that the long German winters make me sad.  Yeah, it’s a hardship to bundle up in my ankle-length coat and boots and make the bitterly cold trek to my less than always stimulating day job in my company provided car.  It’s tough, let me tell you.  Sometimes I even have to do paperwork I find irritatingly beneath my qualifications and boring. 

I recently visited the www.depression.com  website and read, “Depression is not something you can just ‘snap out of.’ It’s thought to be caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals, along with other factors.   Like any serious medical condition, depression needs to be treated.  Take charge of your depression, one step at a time.”  If you let your eyes wander to the bottom of the page, you’ll quickly realize this website is maintained by GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.  Which brings up another angle to this issue, that depression and the treatment of it is a proverbial self-licking ice cream cone.  Drug companies convince us that we need it, that it’s a condition beyond our physical control, and so we medicate ourselves and continue to fund the pharmaceutical machine.  I wonder what’s next on the medical forefront.  Medication for laziness?  Maybe laziness is also an imbalance of brain chemicals.  Or what about my temper?  It would be convenient to blame an anger problem—or any negative emotional tendency—on physiology.    

Before I start to sound like I believe that depression is completely made up, let me interject that I think those sad, negative emotions are very real.  There are times when I’ve felt depressed, and I know it can be extremely hard to wrangle yourself out of mental distress.  However, I also believe those feelings of sadness and despair surface when humans feel disconnected and lack a sense of purpose in their lives. 

As technology advances, humans simply have less to do.  It’s not just the modern housewife who has benefited from inventions that eliminate back breaking chores like washing clothes and cooking.  The modern business and office equivalents to the washing machine and stove are high speed computers, Smart boards and teleconferencing.  In some cases, you barely have to get out of bed to work a full day of “work.”  So with minimal housework at home to accomplish and more automated services and processes in the workplace, what’s left to do?  To the average Westerner, that means trying to make more and spend more money on goods to give us something to do in the “spare time” that is comprising more and more of our lives.

Just the other night a friend reminded me about the general themes in art during and after the advent of the Industrial Age.  As machinery began to take over many of the time consuming tasks previously performed by people, humans had more time to sit in the house, get bored and paint—very depressing paintings.   Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  Even as I’m writing this, I’m looking outside my home office window watching people aimlessly roam the streets of Stuttgart.  Why? They have nothing else to do on a Sunday.  They are so desperate for some fresh air and exercise that they content themselves to peek inside the windows of shops that are closed, no doubt scheming about how they can spend some of the money burning a hole in their pockets, to have something to do tomorrow.  It’s all very sad.  I’m happier to see groups of old men getting together every week in the local pubs, laughing and exchanging stories over beers.  At least they maintain consistent human contact, another commodity that seems to be lost in this Technological Age.  Increasingly even our “socializing” time with each other is becoming less social.  Among the Wii and Rock Band marathons, movies, concerts and bites of food, how much are we really saying to each other?  Are we really connecting?

Again, I’m no medical professional, but I’ll just throw out the idea that lack of human connectedness is making modern humanity sad.  It’s our own form of poverty, the absence of real human relationships.  What we might have gained in the modern world with technological feats is no match for the feelings of identity and comfort that come along with having a sense of place and purpose in a community.  My Kenyan friends might deal with HIV/AIDS, food shortages and economic hardship on a daily basis, but they also have a strong family network and tight human bonds to get them through tough times that would cause the average American or European to spiral into the pits of despair.  There’s no local psychiatrist chair to rest upon and dredge up possibilities for why they might be struggling emotionally; instead, there’s old fashioned work therapy.  Nothing like a 4 mile hike to school to clear one’s head, or a few hours digging up sweet potatoes or taking the cows down to the river for water to provide a sense of perspective.  Life goes on.  It’s hard, but this too shall pass.  At the end of the day, my African friends go home to others who all depend upon each other to survive.  That dependency—once scorned by independent women like me who dreamed of a world in which I could do everything by myself—may in fact be the necessary ingredient for human sanity.   Remove human dependencies, and what do you get? Divorce, broken families and friendships, chronic job dissatisfaction, geo-bachelors and bachelorettes and lifestyles that center around the value and happiness of individuals—individuals who eventually find themselves taking anti-depression medication to cope with all that hard earned personal time on their hands.  

If I could, I’d round up all of my depressed friends and coworkers and take them to Africa with me the next time I visit.  I’d wager after a couple of weeks of working with kids who just appreciate the squeeze of your hand and a smile, or milking a cow for an old widow or literally walking miles in a Kenyan’s shoes, they might be a little happier.  It certainly works for me.

The next day was Saturday, which we spent in relative relaxation.  We awoke, walked outside to splash some freshly warmed water on our faces and put our contacts in our eyes. Once I could finally see, I noticed how everything around me shimmered in the morning dew.  The air was moist and clean, with a faint tinge of smoke from the fire wafting through the small kitchen hut window.  Roosters crowed, some cows mooed, a hen and her four chicks daintily pecked around the yard for food scraps, and a skinny kitten skulked around the perimeter.

I went up to use the latrine and took notice of it in the daylight.  Peter is so proud of this latrine, which I helped him build over the Christmas holiday.  About 12 feet by 5 feet, the latrine is broken up into three sections: two for toilet use and the other solely for bathing.  The pits for toilet use are dug at least 20 feet in the ground to ensure maximum… hygiene.  It will take his family a long time to use up this latrine, especially with two toilet areas.  The bathing area has a cement floor with a drain that also leads to a large pit below.  Otherwise, the small building is very bare.  No shelves (they would come in handy!) or any other amenities—mainly because it’s located outside where animals can potentially investigate and disturb.  However, we were able to convince Peter to put up curtains for the toilets and the bathing section.  Although the area is generally very private, it helped having that extra layer of modesty and protection!  Despite what people might think, this set up is actually very clean.  When bathing, you simply wear flip flops and wash directly out of a basin.  A large canister of boiled water is provided, and you scoop out the water you need.  Washing my hair was a bit tricky in this fashion, but I only washed my hair twice that week (much to Jordan’s dismay…) to avoid the awkward situation altogether. Plus, hair washing uses a lot of water!   As for the toilet, well, you certainly can’t dilly-dally.  I suppose you could, but you will only last as long as your quadriceps allow, since you are basically hovering over the pit, strategically positioned so as not to “misfire.”  As long as you keep a steady supply of wet wipes and hand sanitizer on hand—which I did at all times in my cargo pockets—you’re totally fine.  I rather liked not making too much of a production out of bathing and using the bathroom, to be honest.

Another wonderful thing I love about living in this fashion is the lack of mirrors.  I brought one small mirror with me just in case, but I hardly used it.  It’s amazing how quickly you forget about yourself and stop caring so much about your appearance when you don’t have mirrors everywhere!  At home, I have at least five mirrors: one right by the front door, one in the big bathroom, one in the small bathroom and two full length mirrors in the wardrobe room.  There’s no escaping vanity!  But at Peter’s, I didn’t take notice or spend time on inconsequential things like a hair out of place or lack of mascara.  It was a great feeling, to just jump out of bed, throw on some clothes and get going!  I could concentrate on more important things, like breakfast.

Breakfast at the Kisirkoi home is always good.  On this day we sat down to hot tea (which they made without milk, special just for me), an egg omelette and buttered bread—quite a feast!  I’ve never been much of a breakfast eater, but I managed to eat everything to be polite.  We talked with Peter and Margaret briefly in the living room, then made our way to the banda, a round, elevated outside seating area, to relax even more.  Peter filled us in on the farming projects he and the family have been tackling for the past two years.  In addition to paddocking his 6.8 acres to rotate crops and feed the cattle, Peter created two large fish ponds with the intent of raising and selling tilapia, which is rare in Transmara.  He installed these fish ponds completely on his own, and his resourcefulness continually amazes me.  For the full effect, we took a walk down to his ponds to see for ourselves.  He showed us the original spring he tapped for the water source.  The area is very lush and bushy, and he figured that the large plants were drawing from a good source of water below.  So, he just started digging!  Once he established enough water was there, he dug two huge ponds off to the side of the spring to capture the water once it was released.  Once the ponds were dug, he undammed the spring and let it fill up the two ponds.  When the ponds were full, he dammed up the spring again and bought some fish.  He started with just 14, and now he estimates the ponds contain hundreds of tilapia!  They are still very young and require some more growth, but he hopes within the next six month to start selling them at the market. 

Peter has been so successful with his home projects that his accomplishments have reached the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture.  Three representatives showed up at his compound a few days later for observation, and they asked if they could host a field day there in May to demonstrate some of his techniques to other local farmers.  Peter and Margaret were so thrilled and honored by this recognition, and it set into motion plans for getting the compound ready for the big day, when they expect to have over 100 visitors at their home. 

After walking around Peter’s compound and taking in the magnificent views surrounding his home, we trekked back to the banda and had a very filling lunch of brown beans, sakuma wiki (kale greens) and rice.  As always, I enjoyed the vegetarian fare very much.  I was absolutely stuffed afterward!  Jordan and I read a little bit, completely taking advantage of the much needed lazy weekend for us, although I did feel a little guilty that day just hanging around.  During my last stay in Kenya I filled every moment with work, rushing all over the area talking with women, girls and community groups.  I was determined this trip to slow down a bit, but even so, I felt a bit restless and anxious to interact with the school children. 

Later that afternoon we took a hike to the top of Peter’s hill for some of the best views in all of Transmara.  I had been to the top before, but it never gets old.  I knew Jordan would love it.  We trudged up the now familiar stretch of trail lined with gorgeous blooming plants and trees, winding our way to the clearing.  Out of the foliage, we could see rolling green hills in every direction.  We continued to hike upward until we reached the very top.  I felt the same stirring inside of me as the last time I stood on this ground, a beckoning and calling of sorts to plant my feet right there and set down some deep roots.  I couldn’t even speak, I was so overwhelmed with the beauty and magic of that hill.  I could tell that Jordan felt the same way, as he lay back on the soft grass in the shade of the tree grove and just took it all in.  We didn’t speak for a long time.  Peter, Margaret, and three of their kids were with us, and although they had probably made this hike many times before, even they were content to just sit and stare and enjoy the scenery.  It was at this point that Jordan and I started making plans.

I noticed Jordan staking out territory on the hill with his eyes.  “Who owns this piece of land?” he asked Peter.  Peter said he didn’t know but he would find out.  I asked if he thought it was for sale, and Peter just smiled and told me that everyone has his price.  I was also reminded of the relatively cheap price of the land: only about $1,000 per acre!  That’s a steal.  At that point Jordan started getting really excited, whispering to me hurriedly about all the ideas he had for landscaping and home building and fencing and farming.  I couldn’t help but laugh.  This was exactly how I felt when I visited this hill for the first time.  We talked and talked about our future place, imagining elaborate floor plans and eco-friendly designs that would serve as environmental benchmarks for the fledgling community.  I knew we were starting to get carried away when we began discussing how the prominent tree on the slope could be decorated during the Christmas season.  But it was a fun mental activity that continued to consume our thoughts and daydreams throughout the trip.

As we arrived home from the hike, we took a short cut through the Kisirkoi shamba, or family garden.  Peter suggested we find some sweet potatoes for dinner, and immediately everyone started digging up the soft, dark soil in search of them.  I pried a large branch from a tree and started digging around the plants Peter told me probably contained ripe potatoes.  Sure enough, a small sweat later, I had three in hand!  It felt so wonderful to feel the cold dirt between my fingers and forage for fresh vegetables just out of the earth.  My mouth started watering in anticipation of eating them.  Next we found some ripe bananas for dinner, which would be mashed much like potatoes and seasoned similarly—one of my favorite Kenyan dishes.  We arrived at the house filthy but in great spirits.  I wouldn’t be able to get rid of that dirt under my fingernails for almost a week!

Jordan and I took quick baths and then took seats by the kitchen hut to observe the Kisirkois in cooking action.  It’s an impressive feat.  On one side of the hut are the fire pits, with clay mounds on top to hold pots of various sizes.  Holes are cut on the mounds to allow the fire to heat the pot.  They have cooking down to a science.  They gather water, boil it down as needed, and set it aside for later use.  Then they peel, sort, cut and dice the vegetables.  Simultaneously, others are stoking the fire and preparing seasonings.  Once the fire is ready, they start cooking the food on different “burners” at various temperatures.  By this time the sun is usually starting to set, so the kitchen is getting really dark and kerosene lamp is lit.  Also around this time the hen and her chicks are getting cold, so they move into the kitchen hut for warmth.  They are so cute.  The dinner preparation takes anywhere from an hour to two and a half hours, depending on what’s being made.  When chipati is on the menu, it usually takes longer.  Each chipati, or tortilla-like flat bread, is hand tossed, flattened and cooked on a flat metal plate.  It can take a while to make enough to feed ten people! 

After dinner, Jordan and I took the opportunity to share some of our gifts from home with the Kisirkois.  We brought a hodgepodge of Western delights with us, from Tony Cachere’s Cajun seasoning to Girl Scout Cookies.  We included drink mixes like Kool Aid, Crystal Light and Gatorade and packed a plethora of candy.  The biggest hit of the evening was the beef jerky.  At first they were very suspicious of the odd looking bits, but after they chewed them for a while, they seemed to like it.  Joshua, Peter’s oldest son who came home from college just to meet us, beamed a huge smile with his peppery-jerky mouth and simply said, “I like meat!”

Indeed, the Maasai like meat.  But I’ll save that story for later.

When I stepped outside the Nairobi airport on 28 January, my nostrils were immediately filled with the familiar scents of the city: car exhaust, dirt, and the smell of something that I can’t exactly put my finger on but is definitely Kenyan in all of its attributes.  Riding downtown, horns were honking, taxis lurching, and as the buildings and people whizzed by I was content to lie back in my seat smiling and take it all in.  It felt like home.

The last time I was in this city was December of 2007, right before the Kenyan elections that set into motion the political unrest and violence from which it’s taken the country almost two years to recover.  Even now, there is an unsettling current underneath the seeming peace that causes many Kenyans to shake their heads and worry about the next election in 2012.  In their minds, the peace is only temporary.  However, to an outsider unscathed by the partisan and tribal clashes, everything was fine.  Kenya was just as wonderful as I remembered.

That first night went by quickly, with just enough time to check into the hotel and crash out after a long day of travel from Germany.  My boyfriend Jordan and I were so tired we didn’t have the energy to explore any Nairobi nightlife and opted for a full night’s rest instead.  When we awoke, the morning light was infectious.  After months of enduring an unusually cold Stuttgart winter, we were energized by the sunny weather.  We enjoyed a leisurely hotel breakfast and then eagerly walked the warm, bustling city streets in search of an ATM, a cell phone charger and some local phone credits to last us for our week abroad.  

Instantly I was back in “Kenya Mode,” a term I’ve coined to describe my drastic change in attitude, outlook and overall behavior when I am back in this place.  Perhaps it’s the adventure of simply being in Africa, or knowing that I don’t have to be a slave to my Blackberry for the next week, or maybe that I have no certain schedule ahead of me, instead just heeding the call of whatever strikes my fancy or interest.  Whatever it is, it’s wholly liberating!  I was pleasantly surprised to witness Jordan, a newcomer to Kenya, slowly falling into this mode as well.  At first he was very anxious about my crossing the street (Kenyans drive on the left side of the road, so it’s not always intuitive for Americans to look the correct direction!) and would protectively put his arm in front of me or hold my hand or shoulder as we traversed.  He insisted on walking on the sidewalk closest to the road, gentleman style, and instinctively pulled me toward him when he saw potential thieves or thugs or anyone who was deemed unsafe to get too close.  I found his protectiveness endearing to a point.  This was how he always treated me, even back in uber-safe Deutschland.  However, I gave him the Africa lecture again, about how I had to be able to be free and adventurous and experimental here, and if that meant falling out of a tree and breaking my arm, or daring to walk 5 blocks with 20,000 Kenyan shillings in my pocket, then so be it.  We could be a couple here, but we also had to just be chums sometimes.  So he, reluctantly, backed off and started to relax.  This was his vacation too!  Eventually even he was making small talk with the street vendors and interacting with beggars.  “It’s okay to say no,” I told him. “Just be nice.”

We visited five electronics stores before we found a charger to match my outdated mobile phone—Who would have thought even here the technology would have advanced so much in two years’ time? A few of the shop girls chuckled when I inquired about the part I needed.  “No , we don’t have that here.  Try Ebrahim’s place around the corner—he carries all sorts of OLD things.”  I had almost resigned myself to buy a new phone entirely when we stumbled upon a tiny electronics shack that carried the right part.  We took that as another good omen for the trip.  So far, we were fairing pretty well: Our flight from Stuttgart landed in London with enough time to change planes, even though we were almost an hour late taking off due to lousy weather; our leg from London to Nairobi went off without a hitch; all of our luggage arrived safely with nothing misplaced or stolen; we exited Kenya customs and the airport in record time; to our surprise, the hotel had arranged a car to pick us up at the airport, without our asking; and the hotel room at the Hilton was simply perfect.  With the phone charger in hand, we were 7 for 7! Now it was time for a Tusker.

Tusker, if you aren’t aware, is a brand of Kenyan beer.  It’s my favorite because its logo contains a cute elephant, and the brew is also rather tasty.  We found a local Irish Pub (indeed, one can be found in every nook and cranny in the world!) and watched about an hour of football (read: soccer) before it was time to catch our next flight to Transmara.  It was only my first few hours back in Kenya, and I already felt like a new person.  A more centered, perfect Celena.  The Kenyan brand of Celena that is laid back, energetic, creative and ready for any challenge.  I could sense Jordan looking at me quizzically from time to time.  Who is this girl?? He’s used to seeing me uptight, stressed, incessantly talking about work and ranting occasionally about a host of hot-button topics, worrying about my hair, throwing mini tantrums in front of the wardrobe mirror as I try on outfit after outfit in utter disgust…  Now here I was, wearing a slightly wrinkled t-shirt, pants and flip flops,  no make up, hair in a pontytail, laughing and relaxing with Tusker in hand.  I had told him before about this personal Africa transformation, but until he saw it for himself, it was pure fantasy. 

It’s funny how things—things that would normally be considered ridiculous—can become normal and routine just by a change of time and place.  We encountered many of these things during our trip, such as our rides on the small prop plane that took off and landed on dirt airstrips in the middle of nowhere.  What would the Force Protection folks say about this?!? we would tease each other every once in a while, nervously laughing.  We asked the same thing as we bounced along an uneven, rocky road in a careening, top-heavy van for three and a half hours en route to Kilgoris, and even more so the following morning when both of us hopped on the back of a motorbike, sans helmets or any protective gear, for the 15 km trek to school!  Ah, Africa!

I loved flying over the Mara, the beautiful expanse of land Kenya shares with the Tanzanian Serengeti.  I would have loved it even more had I not experienced—for the first time in my life—motion sickness; even still, the visions of the Rift Valley geologic formations were breathtaking.  We could make out small manyattas below, circular Maasai dwellings that house people and protect their cattle from lions and would-be thieves.  As we began our descent toward Kichwa Tembo, we saw groups of antelope and elephants near the landing strip.  Gradually they meandered away, barely fazed, as we touched down.

After our luggage was unloaded from the plane, we were met by the Kisirkoi family.  Peter Kisirkoi is the headmaster of one of the primary schools where I taught during my last stay in Kenya. Over the past couple of years, Peter and I have worked together on multiple community projects with the Maasai in Transmara, and he has become a good friend.  We stayed with Peter and his family for most of our trip, about 20 km outside the small town of Kilgoris.  When they greeted us, there were introductions and hugs all around.  They had all heard of this mysterious Jordan, but now they were meeting him for the first time.  Peter presented Jordan with a traditional Maasai shirt, decorated with silver and multicolored beads.  Jordan laughed out loud as the family started dressing me in traditional female Maasai attire, wrapping a red decorated skirt around my waist (over my pants) and tying a red cape around my neck. Then came my headdress—a large band of colorful beads around my forehead—and a giant necklace that came down almost to my knees.  What a sight!  Especially to the gawking tourists at the airstrip who were waiting for flights back to Nairobi.  This was a very strange display, for sure, and even more incredulous that we were getting in a van with these people and taking off to god-knows-where in the bush! 

I probably should have prepared Jordan better for the ride home.  I knew, having survived these remote Kenyan dirt roads the last time, that it wouldn’t be a very smooth drive.  He wasn’t expecting the constant bumping and jolting nor the precarious tilting as we navigated some of the um, tricky parts of the trail.  Not to imply that Jordan is a tenderfoot (although I did jokingly refer to him that way a few times), but he is normally a very level-headed, safe fellow.  He drives the speed limit, takes pride in being prepared for every occasion and always has a back up plan.  Let’s just say he was kind of out of his element in the bush, at least in the beginning.  I noticed his eyes darting around, looking for emergency escape routes and devising alternate courses of action in case of disaster.  He eventually just gave up and gave in to the magnificent views surrounding us as we made our way out of the Mara.

We made it home that first night at Peter’s just after dark.  Fortunately we had our headlamps handy to strap on and wheeled our luggage up to the top of the hill where the Kisirkoi home resides.  We settled in our designated room and joined the family outside while they cooked and prepared some tea.  Immediately we were impressed by the intense moonglow; the moon was full and so bright we hardly needed the lamps outside to make our way around the compound.  Secretly I was a bit disappointed because I was looking forward to viewing the sparkling African night sky—a splendid display of stars that reaches all the way down to the horizon in every direction. It’s amazing what the lack of light pollution can do!  I would get my wish a few days later, when the moon waned.  I would have to be patient, like with everything else here.  Patient for my tea to brew, for my food to simmer, for my bath water to be drawn and heated, for the welcome greetings and post dinner speeches and for the time for my head to finally hit the pillow, after a long-awaited, absolutely wonderful day.

Avatar Worlds

I’m sure many people by now have seen the movie “Avatar.”  I watched it a few weeks back, in 3D no less!  The colors and animation were amazing, as were the story (if a bit predictable and preachy) and the cast of characters.  It’s definitely one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time.  I left the theater feeling alive and also with a tinge of sadness that I didn’t live in that beautiful world.

I read a week or so later that many moviegoers were experiencing “post-movie depression” after leaving the show.  Bloggers everywhere were leaving dejected and bitter comments about how boring our world is by comparison and the sense of let down they felt when they returned to work the following week.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to have his or her own bird to fly around instead of being stuck in a 2-hour commute on the Washington beltway driving a Nissan Sentra?  Or running around barefoot on moss-covered tree limbs the size of sidewalks enjoying the fresh air and sunshine, as opposed to being cooped up in a windowless office 8+ hours a day in a stuffy suit?  Magically suspended mountains? Oooooohh.  Grown up sized tree houses?!?  Aaahhhhh.  Flourescent flowers that guide your way in the darkness?!??  Yes, yes, yes!  Crummy old Earth… We don’t have anything that cool. 

But aside from the special effects and bright colors and awe inspiring landscapes in the movie, something else hit home for me: the idea of belonging to a people and a place and feeling a sense of purpose.  And I don’t mean a purpose in the spiritual sense, but in the day-to-day, get your hands dirty and know that you accomplished something kind of way that seems to be missing from modern life.  I’ve been lucky enough to have experienced that sensation a few times in my life, albeit under interesting circumstances.  The first few times it happened during military deployments, when I was focusing 100% on the mission with few distractions.  I didn’t have to worry about paying bills (automatic bill pay) or keeping in touch with friends and family (you get a pass when you’re at war, I guess), or making appointments for the salon (the “Moustache March” tradition is apparently not just for males…), or anything that was normally a source of stress or on the To-Do list in the “real world.”  I worked, slept, ate and exercised–that was it.  And it was pure heaven!  Aside from the killing and destruction uprange, of course.  The simple life has a way of bringing along with it as sense of peace and contentment that you can’t experience in the middle of the rat race.

Similarly, I experienced the same kind of zen when I volunteered in Kenya a couple of years ago, except this time my living conditions were a bit more austere.  I didn’t have electricity or running water, I had to walk most places, I was on a meager vegetarian diet and used every single one of my muscles every day!  My fingernails were always dirty, I had to keep my hair pinned up with a scarf because I couldn’t wash it frequently, and body bathing was intermittent as well… By any standards, it wasn’t glamorous!  But to me, it was delightful.  Every morning I woke up, splashed cold water from the bin on my face, threw on some clothes and was ready take on the world!  No make up or hair routine to slow me down, no waiting for the coffee machine for artificial energy, no traffic jams… It’s amazing what you can accomplish when “work” is right outside your hut door.  And every night, after collapsing into bed completely exhausted, I rested my head on my pillow feeling completely satisfied, knowing I had accomplished great, worthwhile things in just the past several hours.  Day after day, night after night it was like this.  It was difficult to go home!

I have a theory that our human brains have evolved faster than everything else, and other parts of us are lagging behind.  Although we have amazing technology at our fingertips, I believe there’s something still very innate and primal about wanting to feel the sun on your face or smelling pine trees or swimming in the ocean.  The lack of human connection alone is probably the cause of more suffering in our modern world than we realize.  One week in Kenya felt like two months in “real time” because we enjoyed and took advantage of every minute of a day; we conversed with each other all day long, not taking breaks to get on the computer to read email for hours or watch TV in silence; and took the time to listen–really listen–without any other distractions.  I felt so close to people I had just met days before, simply because the QUALITY of our time together was so much better. 

I’ve spent years of my life “hanging out” with people, and I hate it.  No, I don’t want to “hang out” with my boyfriend on a Friday night in a noisy bar and exchange a series of sound bites in between actual bites of food because we’re rushing to make a show…  I don’t want to “hang out” with my best friend window shopping or trying on clothes together at the mall… I don’t want to “hang out” at a concert  and smile at each other, nodding to the beat of the music for three hours… Can’t we do better than this for the people we care about?  I’m tired of it.  How about, for a change, we turn off all electronics in the house–heck, maybe even all of the electricity–and just TALK?  You know, the old fashioned tradition of speaking one sentence after another until they start to form paragraphs, and then we do this back and forth for a couple of hours until we feel like we’ve figured something out, or reached another level of understanding with each other?  To make it more interesting, we could even introduce some wine into the mix (in vino veritas…).  I bet if couples forced themselves to do this with each other at least 3-4 times a week, we would have less divorces. 

Since I returned from Kenya two years ago, I’ve fallen back into some of my bad habits.  I sheepishly admit I watch at least an hour’s worth of TV/movies every night, if not more.  It also didn’t take me long to get back into the morning hair-and-make up routine that plagues my existence.  Why does using eyeliner and a blowdryer have to look so much better!?!?  I find myself feeling as if I’m going to DIE without a weekly dose of fudgecicles… It’s all so ridiculous.

Thankfully, I’m returning to Kenya again this week to make myself useful and hopefully get my priorities back in order.  Because if we don’t have an “Avatar”-like world to enjoy, at least we can try to create special nooks in smaller spaces, right?  At least for short periods of time, I can live simply… and completely.