Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Book Review - Skippy Dies, By Paul Murray

I have to admit that I’m still struggling with whether or not I like this book. Living in Ethiopia, your selection of possible reading material decreases significantly. As a result you learn to read books that you normally wouldn’t bother picking up back home. This book happens to be one of those books, for me. This book was one such book. I chose it for the simple fact that I have a friend we affectionately call Skippy, and the title of the book says that “Skippy Dies”. I figured, I might as well learn how and why Skippy dies.
I’m not giving anything away by saying that Skippy Dies. As a matter of fact, he dies in the very first chapter of the book. Subsequent chapters, until 2/3rds through, are all of the events leading up to Skippy’s death, told from the point of view of several different characters. The last bit tells of the events thereafter.
I would read a little, dislike it, and then put it back down, thinking that I would just stop reading it altogether. But, for some reason, I kept going back to it. I hated the way it made me feel most of the time. But, I couldn’t help but be curious how events would unfold for these characters. I wanted to know who would get what was coming to them.
There were only two characters I actually liked, Skippy, the love-sick, self-conscious, focus of the story, and his fat, nerdy pal Ruprecht, who is obsessed with alternate dimensions and donuts. All the other characters were, well, either idiots or deusch-bags. Maybe that is part of the problem I have with this book. I want everyone but Skippy and Ruprecht to suffer. It elicits vengeful thoughts in me. When everyone had to lie in the graves they dug for themselves, I was happy about it. I’m not accustom to being happy about human suffering, no matter how much I don’t like a person. I know, I know, it’s just a book, but somewhere out there there are real kids going through some of this crap, and I’d hate to think that I would wish them anything but the best of luck.
I’m coming to the realization, as I write this, that the story line was just a little too realistic for me. I like to check out of the real world for a while when I read. There are too many drugs, too much cheating, too many people treating each other badly, too many people feeling sorry for themselves, too much selfishness, in Skippy Dies.
Even though I’m not happy with how the story made me feel, I have to say that it really is a well written book. After all, I did end up reading it all the way through. I like his writing style, I liked the flow. As I read I started thinking that it would make a pretty good movie. I came to find out that it is indeed being made into a movie, or has been already. I’m not sure. I think I could handle the movie version better.
I guess I should mention that the story is set in an all boys high school in Ireland. A few times you take a visit to one of the teacher's houses, an all girls school, a donut shop, and the home of the girl who Skippy professes his love to. I could also mention that there are a couple of messed up love stories. 

This isn't much of a book review, but that's okay seeing as I have hard feelings towards the story and it's inhabitants.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Mouse I Hate Loving

Last night I kicked out a little mouse that had been living in my room.

About a week and a half ago I woke up and found that a mouse or rat had eaten a hole in one of my bananas. I thought, "oh, great! That's what I need right now." Upon further inspection I came to the conclusion that it was a mouse, and not a rat, based on the little tiny turds I found. I thought "alright. A mouse isn't as bad as a rat." Which is true, but I was still uneasy thinking that it might be scurrying around my small room causing little mouse mischief and, god forbid, infesting my things with fleas or worse. When you are a foreigner living in Ethiopia, little biting bugs of different sorts are the bain of your existence and without a washer and dryer this means little bugs are a bitch to get rid of.

As I was fretting over a flea infestation it suddenly occurred to me that I'd woken up the night before feeling like there was something crawling over my leg. I'd fallen asleep immediately after as I thought I was imagining things. Maybe I wasn't. Eww!

But I didn't know if the mouse had come and gone, or if it had found a home somewhere amongst my things. I decided to give in another night to see what would happen. Sure enough, the next morning I found more evidence in the form of more little mousy poohs. So, I tore my room apart and did a total scrub down.

As I pulled my wardrobe away from the wall the little thing shot out and ran under my bed. It had found a hidey-hole to live in the gap behind my wardrobe in an old shirt I thought I'd thrown on top of the wardrobe but had actually fallen behind. Well, the good thing is I found it's house, the question then became how to get my little roommate OUT.

I finished cleaning my house and did my very best to due away with any and all possible mouse houses. Every now and again when I got quiet the mouse would come out from under my bed a little and then shoot back under as soon as I moved. I decided to give it some privacy, hoping that while I was gone it would come out, find that it had nowhere to go, and then leave the way it came in, from the gap under my door.

When I came home I looked around, checked under the bed, and didn't find anything. "Good." I'm thinking, the little guy has gone away. Job done. I fall asleep that night with ease, knowing that no little critter will be trying to share my bed at night. The next few nights come and go and I'm at peace knowing my house is safe from the mouse that was once in my house.

But then,

night before last I hear little scratching sounds coming from somewhere I can't quite identify. CRAP!!! I think, I've been had. I stay up as late as I can, flashlight in hand, lights off, waiting for the little guy to make his move. I fall asleep.

Last night though, at 1:38 in the morning, I'm awakened by a god awful tearing sound. I turn the light on and stand up, but the mouse was too fast. I see that it had been trying to eat a hole through the tarp that I'd been shoving in the gap in the door, but there is no sign of the mouse. I didn't see where it ran off to. So, I turn on the dim little flashlight on my phone, put my glasses on, turn the lights off and lay on my bed, waiting, waiting, waiting......

There! Right there on top of my cabinet. Movement. I disappears and reappears at the door. I shift my head just slightly and it stops dead in it's tracks, perks up, and just sits there like a statue. I can see it's shiny little eye in the dim, blue light of my cell phone flashlight. I wait to see what will happen, still. It determines it's safe, so it moves to the gap under the door, paces a few times, and goes out into the night. I stand up, flip the light switch and shove the folded up tarp into the gap to prevent the tiny creature from re-entering. I am quite satisfied with myself and relieved to have done away with the little creature once and for all.

A minute later I hear it outside the door, chirping. Wanting to get back in. Scared to be outside, alone, in the dark night where it could be gobbled up by any given predator......and suddenly I'm a little sad. A little guilty. I kicked out my roommate with no explanation. My little tiny roommate that wanted nothing more than a safe warm place to sleep during the day.

I don't let it back in, of course. I get a drink of water and go back to bed where I sleep soundly, but still......I feel guilty.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Jesus Camp and the Crazy Guy

            One of the things I pride myself in is being able to think about and analyze my experiences, especially when it comes to those that might lead me to make quick judgements that may or may not be accurate. It's easy to jump to conclusions, but it takes a skill and patience to consider that there are other possibilities, other ways to think about any given situation. Here is an example;
The other day I was watching a documentary called “Jesus Camp.” The title, I feel, pretty much tells you what it’s about. Basically if follows a few kids and a church leader throughout an Evangelical, summer camp for families, geared towards creating child “soldiers for God” or “Christian wariers.” I think the films goal was to inform the audience so that they can decide whether or not this hard core indoctrination of children in the Evangelical church is a good thing, a bad thing, or neither. I won’t go into detail regarding my thoughts on all of it because it would take too long and would be better suited to it’s own blog, but I will say that after watching I was pretty much bewildered and concerned.   That being said, I do recommend it, but I also suggest you watch it with someone you can discuss it with, specifically someone you trust to discuss religion with.
Okay, now on to the point ...
So I’d just watched the film and had all this God stuff roaming through my head. I mean, I was really thinking about it. I had to meet a friend for dinner so I put my shoes on and headed out, still thinking on the matter. I turn the corner to the main street, walk a few meters, and I see this fella, obviously homeless, making a bee line right for me. I think “oh, crap!,” but I am accustom to beggars so I keep walking, thinking about Jesus Camp, and planning on ignoring the guy like I usually do. But when he reaches me he says “ I am a wise man. I am knowing of God.”
                I couldn’t help but giggle a little bit because, how fitting, that as I am thinking about all things religious I get a crazy guy telling me he is wise and knows God. I think it’s coincidental and funny, and I am happy that his first words to me were not “Give me money.” I say nothing and continue to walk, smiling to myself, waiting for him to get bored and leave, but he doesn’t. He continues to keep pace with me. “ I am a wise man… blah blah blah… I am a very wise man…  blah blah… I am full of wisdom…. Blah blah blah… I am very knowing of god…blah blah” and then, suddenly, he says “I can make you pregnant.”
 “Okay, that’s enough of that!” I think to myself and I tell him, in Amharic so there is no misunderstanding, that I’d had enough and to go away right now! I expected him to ignore me and continue to follow me, which is usually what happens, but he didn’t . He said “Okay. Thank you. Bless you. I love you” and he walked off in the opposite direction. “Whew!” I say to myself. “What a relief.”
 I continue on my way, and then get to thinking about everything again. I mean, really, he could have meant “I can make you pregnant” in two very different ways. He could have meant, and this was the thought running through my head as he was following me, that he could literally, make me pregnant.  Having lived in this country for almost two years, I was no stranger to random dudes wanting to plant their seed in my garden, so to speak, of course this was a natural solution to come to. But then, what if he didn’t mean it literally?
What if he meant, that he could make me spiritually pregnant? Maybe he wanted to fill me with the love of God and share all the secrets of the world with me. I mean, after all, he was a very very wise man and he was very very knowing of god. For all I know he was trying to enlighten the religion-less, heathen, ferenji girl and bring into the every loving light of the good lord and savior. For all I know he was exactly what he said he was and he wanted to make me pregnant with knowledge. I  mean, it’s possible, right?
Possible, yes, but not probable. Most likely he did want to have sex with me and impregnate me with his God blessed sperm. He was obviously off his rocker. I couldn’t help but think that maybe if he’d been born in America to a wealthy family he might have been able to start a cult in which dozens of vulnerable, misguided, young women are led to believe that his seed might produce the next messiah. He wasn’t though. He was born poor in Ethiopia, and without the benefit of drugs that might set him right.
The point is, there is more than one way to look at things in the world. Sometimes the alternative to immediate judgements are less anger-inducing and more thought provoking, if not flat out comical. Beats getting pissed off about not-so-fun experiences.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Grant Update #2 and Material Donations List

I would like to thank all of the generous people that have donated to my Peace Corps Partnership grant. When my counterpart and I originally applied for the grant I thought, for sure, that it would take much longer to fund, thusly making my stay here in Ethiopia a bit longer than I’d planned. However, the donations have added up quickly, and I’m very pleased to announce that, as of March 22nd,
$2,722.50 out of the $3,202.50 needed has already been raised! That means there is only a mere $480.00 left to raise!
Thank you all so very much.
With the end of fund raising in sight, I’ve begun to plan the training I will be giving to the local Kindergarten teachers and teacher’s aids. I’m happy to inform everyone interested that I’ll also be able to include school supervisors in the training, giving them the information they need to be able to make sure their KG teachers are utilizing the skills they’ve learned. Without the grant, this whole project would have been much harder, if not impossible, to accomplish.
I’ve been asked several times if it is possible for people to make donations of materials rather than money. The answer, of course, is yes. I’ve created a basic list of items that would be most useful and beneficial. If you are considering sending material donations, there are a few things to consider before you do so.
v  It can be quite pricey to send packages here so avoid too many heavy items, consider a smaller package, or get together with a friend to share the cost.
v  No electronic items! Electronic items are subject to very ugly taxes. It can be up to the amount the item is worth, so if I can’t afford the tax, the post office will not release the package or any of it’s contents to me.
v  If an item you are sending is not on the list below give some thought to whether or not it is a sustainable item. For example, if it breaks, how easy will it be to fix? Can it be used over and over and over again? If it’s a toy, can it be washed easily by hand? Does it require other components or parts that may not be available here?
I will gladly accept any and all donations, but if you have any questions about whether something you’d like to send is appropriate, please don’t hesitate to ask me. You can contact me via this blog, or if you are a Ravelry user, you can send me messages through there. My name on Ravelry is OneSquareBird. If you are a member of the Doubleknit podcast group, there is a thread dedicated to my project in which you can ask me questions as well.
Okay, the time has come. Here is a list of items that we’d love to recieve. They are in no particular order.
1.       Books -                
a.       Hard, cardboard books.
b.      Simple picture books with few words.
c.       ABC books
d.      Any pre-school and/or KG appropriate books
2.       Colored pencils
3.       Big Crayons (no regular sized crayons please. They break too easily and don’t last very long.)
4.       Pencil sharpeners
5.       Blocks, tinker toys, linkin’ logs, etc.
6.       Easy puzzles
7.       Memory games
8.       Hi Ho Cherry-o board game
9.       Small smocks or aprons (for KG aged kidlets)
10.   Wooden toys
11.   Outdoor toys (such as digging toys or dump trucks)
12.   Posters that can be used for educational purposes (such as the feelings poster that you often see in pediatric offices)
13.   Imaginative toys such as animal figures or people figures (please make sure they can be cleaned easily with soap and water. Stuffed animals are a bad idea as they are likely to get very dirty and there are no washing machines here.)
As I said, we will gladly take ANYTHING you’d like to send whether it’s on this list or not, but please don’t hesitate to ask whether something is suitable before you spend the money to send it.
Much love, and much thanks! Until next time!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Grant Update #1

For those of you who have donated to my Peace Corps kindergarten project, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I was hoping to post an update before now, but my other projects must be seen to as well. Now that I have a few minutes, I thought I’d update everyone on how the grant is going, and I must say it’s going quite well.
The grant requested $3,200 and we have already raised more than half of that thanks to all of you generous donors.
I recently gave my counterpart, the man with whom I am founding the kindergarten,  a little computer training so he can check the Peace Corps donations website and track how the grant is progressing. We’ve made him a happy man.
Thanks again everyone! I’ll continue to post updates.

Monday, February 25, 2013

My Peace Corps Grant (PCPP Grant)

After a long, detailed process, my grant to fund a Kindergarten and Kindergarten teacher training for local teachers has been approved by Peace Corps!
The money raised will fund a quality kindergarten for low income families who cannot afford to send their children to other schools. It will also fund a training workshop for Kindergarten teachers at each of the public schools in my town.
Kindergarten is a relatively new idea here in Ethiopia. It’s only been in the last few years that schools have begun KG programs. Most schools only have one KG classroom, educating approximately 20 students each, leaving most families with only two options, 1) Pay high tuition fees to send their children to private schools, or 2) Don’t send their children to school at all. Unfortunately, most families can’t afford to send their children to private school, leaving many school aged children without the benefit of early education.  It’s very common, at least in my town, to see these 5-6 year olds on the streets, alone, or even taking care of younger siblings, while their parents work.
We all know the benefits of early education. We all know how crucial it is, and how success in Kindergarten can mean success throughout a child’s education. That’s why I’m asking for your support with this project. Not just monetary support, as I know times are tough for everyone, but support by spreading the word to others.
The Kindergarten will serve 30 students this year, and will expand to serve 60 students next school term. The grant will provide the funding to make repairs and improvements on the school compound, provide teaching materials for the teachers, toys and games for the students, a computer for record keeping and teaching aid creation.
One of the goals of every Peace Corps program is sustainability. The grant will fund the acquisition of a small Suk (shop) whose proceeds will continue to fund the school year after year. It will also fund a training workshop for every KG teacher in each of the public schools in my town, thusly improving the quality of education for thousands of students.
“Why is the training workshop so important?” you might ask. Well, I’ll tell you. At the moment, KG teachers are only required to have one year of training before being certified to teach Kindergarten.  The quality of education is very poor because these teachers do not know how to teach and begin teaching without experience. If the teacher cannot succeed in teaching, the students will not succeed in learning and they will carry that with them throughout their professional and educational careers.
Donating money to any cause can be iffy, as one is never quite sure how money is being spent, or even if the money is getting to those who need it. If ever you wanted to donate but never did for fear of corruption, now is the time to donate without anxiety.
The grant was approved by the United States Peace Corps after a very lengthy, very detailed, planning and writing process. Every dime is itemized and is expected to be accounted for. I’ll be blogging this itemized list on an upcoming blog, so you can see for yourself how the money will be spent. I’ll be posting updates every week, internet permitting.
Here is how you can learn more and donate;
2. Enter my last name ‘Wymer’ or my project number  ’13-663-004’ in the search box.
3. From there you can click on the project name to read more, or you can email the Peace Corps directly with any questions about donating, how grants are selected, or about Peace Corps in general.
4. If you find my project worthy, DONATE!!
5. Share the information! Spread the word! Help educate my kids and teachers!
Every dollar goes a really long way! Please don’t be afraid to ask me any questions. No question will go unanswered. I want to make sure you feel good about where your money is going and how it’s being used, so here are the ways in which you can get a hold of me.
You can contact me by;
·         Leaving a comment on this blog
·         On Facebook.  I’m ‘Berdette Wymer’
·         On Ravelry. My Ravelry name is OneSquareBird. If you are a member of the Doubleknit Podcast group on Ravelry, there is a thread dedicated to my project. (Thanks Erin!)
·         By email at littlebirdbk@gmail.com
·         Or, if you’re friends with my mom or sister, you can get in touch with me through them.
I’ll be posting updates and more information on my blog, so keep checking in. Until next time, here is a photo of the KG students I’m currently working with. If the grant is fulfilled these are the very students who will make up my Kindergarten’s KG II students next school year. Until next time…..!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Top 10 - Things I want to do upon my return to the U.S.

With my COS (completion of service) looming in the near future, I’ve been thinking a lot about the things I want to do most when I come home from Ethiopia. A few of these things may not mean much to readers who haven’t lived in places where these things aren't possible or available, but they are things that I have missed doing for these last two years. They are things that creep into my dreams, usually very frustrating dreams in which I still cannot do these things. But, now, with the end of my service in sight, I’ve begun to think more seriously about how to go about resettling into my life in The States. This is a list of the top ten things I have planned to do when I get to go home.
1.            Eat Super Nachos from Mi Pueblito – Super Nachos with everything with Al Pastor and tomatillo salsa. Either Root Beer or Dr. Pepper to drink, with lots of ice. On the next trip I will have shredded chicken enchiladas, and after that, two ceviche tostadas with a side of guacamole. In my humble opinion, Mi Pueblito (in the Park Falls plaza, near Walmart, in Ukiah, Ca.) is the only place to eat fresh delicious Mexican food outside a Mexican Household.
2.            Drink a non-fat, no-whip, iced, hazelnut mocha, at Starbucks and knit for no less than three hours. Realistically I will probably have two or three drinks during this Starbucks knitting extravaganza. There is coffee here in Ethiopia, of course, and it is really really good, but there is nothing like a Starbucks Iced Mocha, and I desperately miss sitting there, knitting, without people staring or pointing or inviting themselves to my table. Oh yes, to be drinking a delicious drink and knitting with a delicious yarn, in public space, without feeling like a dancing monkey. This then leads me to #3.

3.            Knit with bulky and/or super bulky yarn. I don’t know yet what the project will be. Maybe the Burberry Inspired Cowl by Julianne Smith or Sylvie by Mari Muinonen but either way I demand bulky yarn. After two years of knitting and crocheting with fingering weight yarn and small needles, I’ve got a major hankerin’ for some big-ass yarn and some big-ass needles. Oh, the wonderment that is thick, delicious yarn. This brings us to #4.

Sylvi by Mari Muinonen

Burberry Inspired Cowl by Julianne Smith

4.            Dive head deep into my yarn stash and knit it down so I don’t feel quite so bad about going on a yarn buying spree. I’m not going to force myself to knit my entire stash before I go on this spree. That would be cruel. I am, however, going to go through all of it and either pair what I’ve got with projects to cast on, or give it away if I’m not feeling it anymore. I’ve been listening, these two years in Ethiopia, to the Doubleknit and Stash & Burn knitting podcasts, unable to get my hands on my own stash. The stash burning mojo has accumulated and I’m ready and itchin’ to tackle the stash!

5.            ROAD TRIP!!!!!!!!! I want to spend some quality time with my siblings. Nothin’ like hours in the car together and stops at low budget roadside tourist traps to get to know each other a little better. This trip will start by collecting my younger brother and sister and end in Seattle where our older sister has grown roots. I’m also hoping that our older brother will be able to come and play too.
6.            Cook cook cook cook cook! I miss cooking. Now, I can cook here, and do cook here, but the ingredients and tools are very very limited. I want to cook whatever my heart desires with a real stove, oven, and all of my kitchen toys that have been locked away in storage while I’ve been in Peace Corps. “Who will eat all this food?” you ask. Well, my friends of course! I’m planning on having my friends over and near me for quite some time. They’ll be more than happy to eat the banquet I will provide. Part of the fun in all this cooking is going to the grocery store. I do miss a proper grocery store. Isles and Isles and thousands of choices!
7.            Have a Twilight Saga movie marathon. The plan is to watch all of the movies leading, of course, to the very last one which I will not have seen yet. This marathon will also include lots of food, lots of friends, and most likely a little liquor as well. Can’t ask for much more!
8.            Spend a full weekend, Friday through Sunday, on the coast. I want to sit on the shore with my feet buried in the sand, and knit, snooze, eat, read, etc. Fish’n’chips at Captain Flint’s in the Harbor (Fort Bragg, Ca.) is also part of the deal. They make the only coleslaw, in the world, that I actually like.  I’m not sure if this excursion will include others. I think it’ll depend on how I feel at the time.
9.            Spend a few quality days in San Francisco with my pals. I miss them so! I may include an adventure to the Winchester Mystery house. No, it’s no in SF, but it is in the bay area and I think my friends would be down for a day trip. It’ll be nice to be able to do this before I have to return to a regular job as I’ll be able to sleep in, stay up late, and traipse around San Francisco at a leisurely pace without having to worry about getting a bunch of stuff done before such and such time. I think I’ll do a ghost tour, and maybe even a little visit to Alcatraz.
10.          Create works of art. I don’t care what I’m using or making as long as it’s artistic. Knitting, quilting, painting, drawing, decoupage, paper arts, photography, cooking, baking, etc. I want to make as much art as possible with all of the tools and materials I need at my very fingertips and shops nearby to get what I don’t have. Woo hoo! I love art! Let’s hear it for uninhibited self-expression!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The ten items are not by any means in any kind of specific order.  They’re simply the things that are priority for me. Obviously some are going to be more expensive to complete so the time it takes in which to fulfill my goals will depend on how far and long I can make my budget stretch. Fingers crossed! At some point, sooner rather than later, I know I’ll have to buckle down and get a job and a car, especially if I’m planning on a road trip, but for now I’m focusing on the free time I will have to reacquaint myself with western life and reconnect with my friends and family.