Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Educators to Enemies

In recent days I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the presidential primaries. As an Obama fan, I must admit I’m feeling a bit crestfallen by the way things are going. But more than anything I’ve just been fascinated about how this whole thing is playing out. The news media of today isn’t your momma’s news media, and it seems to be playing a very different role than it has in the past. It seems to me that they’ve gone from reporting on the differences between the candidates to actively fomenting dissent among them.

It was pretty awful to watch this last debate, in which the would-be leaders of the country were directed to attack each other with questions like "Specifically, what are the issues where you, Senator Obama, and Senator Clinton have differed, where you think she has sounded or voted like a Republican?” Aw snap, thems fighting words, are they not? It also happened to be the first question of the debate.

The debate that followed was not about the issues, but about the ratings that conflict could generate. It was the first of it’s kind, a Democratic Presidential Berate. The media made our leaders dance, and they had at each other like attack dogs. Responding to that first question, Barack seemed hesitant, but that just made him look petulant when he did dig into the heels of his rival. Edwards, the trial terrier, was vicious and merciless. I’ll bet he scares small children. He certainly scared me. Kucinich, ever relaxed, just smiled.* The next day plenty was heard about how vicious the other candidates had been to Hillary, but I didn’t hear much mention of the fact that they’d been directly asked to do so.

I remember just a few years ago I used to get so upset about Fox news because of how they sensationalized everything. That plague seems to have spread pretty quickly, and all the news networks seem to have dumped their integrity for ratings. That’s sad, but I didn’t find it quite so disturbing until now. CNN’s doing the next debate, and they’re advertising it as if it were a boxing match, claiming that this time the gloves are gunna come off.

So far I’ve only mentioned the Democrats debate, but the last Republican Debate was hosted by Fox News. Not that there was a great deal of difference there. The Republicans spent all their time attacking Hillary too.
Fox didn’t seem too upset that the candidates weren’t focused on the issues, either. In fact, they often accepted Hillary insults in place of valid answers to questions. For instance Guliani was asked the question “on a lot of the social issues, like abortion and gay rights and gun control, that there's not much difference between you and Clinton. Is there?” He responded via rant on how much he dislikes Hillary Clinton. Bravo.

Question dodges don’t get you far in a real debate, but that’s an A+ on Fox News. And in all fairness, with a question like “There’s not much difference between you and this lady we all find intensely distasteful, is there?” what sort of answer could they have been hoping for?

Politicians have been dodging questions since the beginning of time, so responses like Mr. Guliani’s aren’t really so surprising, but debate questions that sound like they were written by Jerry Springer are. Oh, ha, Jerry used to be Mayor of Cincinnati didn’t he? I guess he’d be over-qualified to write these questions now, come to think of it. But you know what I mean – these questions were written by mobs of eager instigators, not news reporters.

Regardless of what you think of the candidates in the race, it’s hard not to think that the media isn’t doing their best to bring out the worst in our nation’s leaders. I’m saddened to see that they’re succeeding so well at it, but I wonder how it will work out in the longer term. Next election season, will candidates continue to play the networks games and walk knowingly to whatever ‘debate’ MSNBC sets up? Or will the candidates be more careful in setting the terms next time?

This seems to me like it’s setting some interesting historical precedents. I guess these are being set all the time, what with modern technology interfering, but the idea that this could be a trend that continues well into the future sends chills up my spine. A media that broadcasts Black Hawk Down and an actual war with the same goals in mind – ratings – is starting to scare me more and more.

*He also thickly criticized all the other candidates positions and the institution itself, but in his usual friendly manner.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Time of Change

In the last two weeks a lot has happened in my life. I went to Canada, for one - though it was fun to see miles turn to kilometers and all it was certainly more about seeing the people: Jinx, Sarah, Maria, Jason, Baby and of course the birthday pup: Corky (Maria's terrier, the reason I went to Canada). I also went to the Getaway, the annual weekend-long gathering of folkies, though I wasn't quite in the singing mood that I could have been, I did get a good chance to catch up with my brother.

But those events sort of take a back seat to greater changes. When I set out to Canada (starting with a greyhound to Cleveland) on the very first day I received an email from my Peace Corps country director that led me to think that I could not only be returning to the Philippines, but that I might be doing so to work on exactly the project I wanted - something which was better than my best case scenario. I immediately offered to extend my contract an additional year if this could be set up.

The last day of my time in Canada I received an email regretfully informing me that this would not be as possible as hoped (the position was going to take too long to set up, if it could be set up at all), and effectively closed the door on Peace Corps in my life.

So there's that. I'm here to stay folks. I'm sure that won't surprise many people at this point, but it was sort of a surprise to me after I had begun preparing myself for the next big trip. But truthfully, I feel nothing so strongly as relief at having a final decision. As hard as it was to step on the plane and leave for Peace Corps, keeping my life in this continuous stasis since July has been much more difficult.

Obviously it's now time for me to take the next step, and that's the change: I think the next step is law school. This is a real change in direction for me, and it's bound to surprise a few people, but I feel pretty certain about it. I don't want to be a defense attorney or any lawyer you see on TV - I think that's what steered me away from the idea when I was younger (I remember heavily considering the career of Lawyer when I was in HS). But if I want to continue helping people, there are many ways to do so as a lawyer (after all, isn't that what people think of when they think of lawyers?). At this point I'm thinking of advocacy work or throwing my lot in with an organization like the ACLU, but the idea's still fairly new in my mind.

Everything's still disorganized, I'll not pretend otherwise. But my thoughts are starting to get ordered. We'll see how these first steps go. I need to hunt out scholarships and such, and if anyone has tips for that I'd love to hear them. I think they're pretty sparse for law school, but they must be out there. There are signs I'll have my car back before long, and now that I know I'll be in the country three weeks from now, figuring out greater employment should be less prohibitive.

Fun times we live in.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Strange Days are Coming - Peace Corps

Do you ever get the feeling that the universe is fucking with you? I do. I get that feeling a lot. Honestly, if my fascination with religion has been driven by any one thing, it's been by this feeling, which has come and gone through different times of my life. A feeling that while the universe may be made up of many components and people all functioning separately from me, their arbitrary interactions with my life and their timing frequently seem planned from the start. And this is such a time of my life. Boy howdy, I don't know what to make of it.

But enough of my crazy. That's not what you came here to read. What did you come here for anyway? Well there's more I haven't told you of my life. Actually there's alot more. But I'm going to talk about the question I get asked most - "What's the deal with Peace Corps?"

There's a reason I haven't answered that before now. Because it's complicated. I think about a month ago most people stopped believing me when I told them I couldn't make any long term plans because I was waiting to hear back. I mean, I've been waiting for over 3 months now - 1/4 of a year. How long am I honestly going to wait?

Well here's the thing: when we last left our hero, he was stranded, dead in the water, unable to get a letter of medical clearance from his neurologist, who refused to write him a letter of medical clearance until November at the Earliest. Roughly 5 weeks ago, I decided to write him a note - because I felt he hadn't properly understood the gravity of the letter I'd asked him to write for me, or what effects they had on my life. Unfortunately he was on vacation so it took a while for him to get back to me -- but I was absolutely right. He conceded and agreed to at least discuss the matter with me (which I am fairly certain means that I can convince him to write me the needed letter, because I don't need it to say much).

So I'm medically cleared to return to the Peace Corps.


But it's late in the game now. Really late in the game. The next step is to contact my Country director-so that's exactly what I did. Unfortunately, the quick reply I received to my email is that my country director was gone, and would not return for more than another 2 weeks.

Now, 2 weeks is normally a reasonable time period to wait. But I have to admit, in this case, I've had a difficult time not thinking that "Well that's it. That's that last straw. I don't want it to be, but how can I take another?" On the other hand, the email was sent, inquiries were made, I assume he's going to respond. And depending on how he responds, no matter what sort of despair I feel right now, that might vanish. My life might be turned on it's head tomorrow.

And I mean that, because my country director is supposed to return to his post tomorrow. Though how quickly I can expect a response, I've no idea. But this whole Peace Corps thing has been dangling in my life, unresolved for an unbearable amount of time. And I really, really hope that it's about to get resolved one way or another.

On a side note, I should once again make mention, for anyone who doesn't know me well enough: I love Catholics, and I love Catholicism. That's why I'm so hard on them sometimes. I take strong disagreement with the church on MANY issues - I mean I'm honestly not sure I'm a Christian myself, so you can see where I might have some reservations. But there are too many people out there villainizing the Catholics in particular for me not to say this: several of the finest people I know are Catholic, and take their faith very seriously. I don't mean to insult that. I admire that, even if I have strong disagreements on the cosmology of things.

The Catholic church takes a lot of flack. Some of that (such as not adequately punishing priests who molest children) is deserved. But truthfully, I think they get more than their fair share, and it borders on hate-speech sometimes. That sort of message bothers me, and I really want to make sure I'm not spreading it. So I just wanted to mention that, in case I came off as overly harsh before.

Wish me a good week folks, it's sure to be a long one.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Free Until they Cut Me Down

It's been a while since I've written much here - and I realize that. Life has been slow, but steady. That is to say, spectacular amazing events have not been regularly occurring, but as usual, my life hasn't suffered from too much boredom here. I managed to see a Mountain Goats concert that was pretty awesome.

JD was a little bit off his musical game that night, I thought, but he had a really good stage presence and loads of energy that sort of spread to the audience. He announced several times that he was playing a song in public for the first time (one he said was unpracticed and off-list, but it sounded great), and I just plain lost count of how many times I announced he was going off list. He more or less winged the show, which was kind of fun and, like I said, lowered the quality of the music a little bit. But really, the mountain goats have played with so many different people and instruments over the years that for him to go on stage with just one other guy, he really has only a small fraction of his repertoire that he can play "just like on the album". On the other hand, that was also kind of cool, because it meant I got to hear old songs played really different ways -- for instance he played Diludid on his guitar, whereas on the album Sunset Tree the melody is driven by several furious violins. I prefer the album version, but it was really cool to see JD play it on the guitar.

So anyway, that way fun. I met up with Leerie (a friend from high school who I hadn't seen in years - but a very cool person nonetheless) and Glenn (also very cool, but I'd seen him more recently than Leerie). And I ought to mention that the opening band, the Bowerbirds, were also really good. They had an accordion. Of course I liked them.

I was all set for that Iron and Wine show the next week, I really was. Unfortunately, I was in New York for that Iron & Wine show, attending the funeral of a distant relative Joey, who chose to take his own life.

Now, to say that I didn't know Joey well would have been a great understatement. I can't recall how many times I met him, but twice is my high estimate. If I had passed him on the street, I probably wouldn't have noticed it - embarrassing to say, but probably the truth. But I do recall the first time I met him - he seemed like a nice guy and an impressive person. I'm sorry he felt such a terrible need to get out. "Tragedy" is a word without enough power behind it sometimes. But I hope he can take consolation in the fact that at his Catholic funeral, the priest announced that Joey had gone to heaven - and if he was a good enough man to make the Catholic church reverse their stance on suicide, he must have been a very good person indeed.

In all seriousness, I think religion ruined that service for me. Not because I didn't like the priest - actually I loved his service. I suspect I'd like the man. But when a Catholic priest declared that Joey was in heaven, I couldn't help it, I began to imagine Catholic Heaven. Was Joey the first suicider to get in? If so, he must have felt very honored when he arrived. Are people being retroactively let in? And if so, are they bitter from their time spent in Catholic Hell? This is the sort of dumb shit I thought about at Joey's funeral. If you think that sounds like I'm being a dick and making fun of another man's beliefs, then you have me only half right -- because I seriously don't understand what that priest believed, let alone what he was preaching.

Then came the time for Communion, and a friend asked me if I wanted to go up and take communion. And you know what? I did. I felt like it would be a show of unity in a time of sorrow and loss -- remember that even if I didn't know Joey well, I was surrounded by family. But as soon as they pulled out the stuff for Communion and started the opening ritual I was suddenly fiercely offended to be at a Catholic funeral. Why? Because the Catholic church doesn't want non-Catholics taking Catholic communion. Simple as that. Therefor, to hold Catholic communion at a public funeral felt horribly exclusionary to me - this sense of exclusion applied to an act traditionally expressing unity. Maybe it was unjustified, but I felt insulted.

Now, I'm willing to bet less than a quarter of the people who did take communion were Catholic, and I'm equally willing to bet that the Priest might have felt that non-Catholics should be allowed to take communion, if only during circumstances like these. But none of that mattered at the time, because I knew that the infallible church, directly driven by the indirect voice of god, WOULD object. More, it would have been an insult to the Catholic faith to ignore what I knew was their objection. But unfortunately, all this pent up anger and frustration (doubtless more driven by the tragedy of Joey's death, and the surrounding sorrow than by the church) led me to an outburst when I was asked if I would go take communion with this friend, and I said just two notches too loudly and five notches too sharply "The Catholic Church Kindly Requests That if You Don't Believe That Stuff Over There Actually Turns into Flesh and Blood inside Your Stomach, you Should Stay Seated for Communion".

And that was at a funeral, 2 rows from the front. No one said a word to me, then or afterwards. But I really felt I'd embarrassed myself as soon as it slipped out. That was definitely not the right time, Allan.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Major ChAnges * Cluster FucK

The internet is an amazing thing, truly it is. And last night it changed my life in a way I really hadn't anticipated.

You know, I've heard more than one doctor complain that they really hate the internet - they keep having patients who read about diseases online, self-diagnose themselves, and come into the office thinking they know more than their doctor. "::cough cough:: I think I got the black lung". Now I'm sure that sucks from the doctor's end. But personally, I'm a patient, and last night, as I surfed the internet in hoped of finding another person, any person, who suffers from the same peculiar migraine symptoms that I do, I discovered something kind of mind-blowing: I really don't think I suffer from migraines at all.

Well ok, I DO suffer from migraines. Occasionally. But that's not my issue, not the great foe in my life, and last night I discovered that I thought I'd been fighting the wrong one all along. The Grand Pu-Bah I've been battling is actually known as the "Cluster Headache". Now, he doesn't sound quite as cool or dramatic as "migraine" I know. However he does commonly go by the nickname "suicide headache", but don't worry -- this is only because people have been known to kill themselves to escape the pain. Now, probably if you don't actually suffer from them, the subtle differences between a cluster headache and a migraine will probably escape you, but to me the differences are not small. It opens up a whole new world.

Physiologically speaking, migraines and cluster headaches are very similar -- in fact the treatment I've been receiving for migraines is perfectly suitable for cluster headaches as well. However, while that treatment has been ok, and it seems to be reducing the number of cluster headaches (dubbed "cluster fucks" from hear onwards, so pardon my Canadian) I get in a given month, the medication I have doesn't reliably do much for the pain once I DO have a cluster fuck.

However, recognizing that I suffer from cluster headaches opens up a whole host of new treatment options that hadn't previously been considered. Of course, it's entirely possible that they will be just as frustratingly ineffective as past treatment options have been - pain treatments aren't really known for their effectiveness among pain sufferers. But it's something. And there's a particular treatment used for cluster headaches - oxygen treatment (the equivalent of having a home oxygen bar!) that could be worth exploring.

Most importantly though, it explains things in a way that pretty much discounts medical abnormality. Cluster Headaches would explain so much that I've been trying to understand since my migraines first struck - symptoms I've heard of no one else having, and that no doctor can explain to me or recall any other patient having. Symptoms that kept me up at night, worrying what the hell could be wrong with me. Because when I saw that list of symptoms for cluster headaches, my world just sort of snapped into place. It all just made sense.

For the sake of these migraines, I have seen 3 Neurologists, 3 ENTs, had 3 CAT scans, an MRI, and an EEG. I've had surgery - primarily because my ENT thought that my migraines were caused by Sinusitus. This turned out to be false (although I probably suffer from chronic mild-moderate sinusitus, and who the hell knows how that's contributing to all of this, but I'm starting to think that the matter has been exaggerated to me in the past).

Have past Doctors known about this or had their suspicions, and simply never told me? I'm not sure. If so, I'd prefer not to know that. I really don't want to harbor that sort of hatred against someone - because there are lifestyle changes that I could have made that might have helped me as a cluster headache sufferer, that I knew nothing about. If they had known they ought to have told me. If they didn't know, then they ought to have known.

I do know that it seems like my 2 hours of online research may have done more for my personal health than any doctor or specialist I've seen (or surgery I've had), even though that research was practically free while my neurologist costs me $70 / visit. Last time I saw him, I handed him a piece of paper vividly describing my symptoms, and although he is supposed to be one of the best neurologists in the dc area, he didn't mention a thing to me about "cluster headaches".

Personally, I suspect he didn't really read it. But that's alright, what's a few more "suicide headaches" to put up with, right? Inattentive jackass.

The sad thing is, I think it's a dysfunction the health care system, not with my doctor(s). If I ever have children, their doctor may be downgraded to the role of "prescription writer". Because really, what the fuck else are they good for? All the information they tried to learn from their fancy texts books, but actually forgot somewhere along the line (just like I did 3 days after every test I took in college) is available somewhere on the internet, and probably discussed in greater detail among people dealing with the issues.


Well that was a rant, wasn't it? But by God this could be a very good thing

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Attention Suckers / Music Lovers / Music Loving Suckers

The Mountain Goats, September 20th @ The Black Cat
The Mountain Goats, September 21st @ Sonar (Baltimore)
Iron & Wine, September 29th @ the 9:30 Club

These are both bands that have my eyes wide in anticipation of their arrival. Two of my favorite bands in a single month! But, you see, lacking a single local friend who really shares these musical tastes, I will need to either make new friends or find suckers.

If you're the slightest bit interested, or even interested in being interested here's some info.

The Mountain Goats is basically a guy named John Darnielle. He's been recording in a huge variety of styles and subject matters for 16 years, but mostly these days his music tells a story. Sometimes those stories are biographical, sometimes they are fictional (he just recently began doing biographic concept albums), but what draws me to him is the combination of wit and blunt emotion that he combines in his songs. For instance he made an entire album centered around his childhood relationship with his abusive stepfather. Now does that sound like the most whiny piece of emo music you can imagine listening to? But he actually does it without managing to sound the least bit self-pitying, and I consider it a pretty wonderful album.
Anyway, Youtube has a little selection of Mountain Goats videos, if you're curious
Dance Music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddxbQbqjHhw
This Year: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYCzDhaRV60-

Iron and Wine is basically a guy named Sam Beam. His music typically strikes people as being really soft and melodic, almost unbearably so. The first time anyone hears an Iron and Wine album, their first inclination is probably to fall asleep. But the gift of Sam Beam is that the first listen is a trick of the ears: Underneath the sweet melody he's able to keep an underlying current of very real intensity that, personally, has come to blow me away over repeated listening. The third video link I put up isn't one of my favorite songs of theirs, but it's the only one that ever came close to being popular (technically it's a Postal Service cover) so I figured I'd try and lure you however I could ;-) .

Jezebel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a39YktBYSbU
Free Until They Cut Me Down: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=360M4a9dong
Such Great Heights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZYhgG32pn8

So there it is. I repeat, if you have any interest at all
The VanBone wants YOU
To come to a club with him.
Let's do This

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Bringing Allan Home

My journey to Cleveland was haphazard, but reaching Cleveland was in some ways, like reaching home.

No, that's not really an accurate thing to say. It's an overly simplistic metaphor for something very complex I want to express. It wasn't at all like home. Jinx lives in a duplex with her mother - I've never really spent time in her house before.

But ever since I've returned from the Peace Corps I've had this recurring feeling that I'm doing more than seeing the places and people I used to know again - I've felt as if I literally haven't been Allan for some time now. And now that I'm home, I keep feeling these fierce urges to pour through old letters and belongings, through anything that had meaning to Allan. In fact, I've completely taken apart my room searching for old writings, letters, gifts, anything to remind me of things I've left in my past. I never meant to forget.

And I've forgotten a lot. But the memories come back. And one thing that I discovered that weekend (and here's the piece where what I'm ranting about connects back to the beginning) is that there are, beyond question (to my mind anyway), certain people who are just so essential to who I am that that without them, I am not the same person. I guess that's something lots of people know instinctually. We know some of our friends can be bad for us, and some of our friends are good for us. Especially in romantic relationships we're all familiar with situations where you have to tell a friend "Leave her, she's no good for you!" But... I felt as if this were a radical change. By the time Jinx, Maria, and I dispersed that weekend, I left with a piece of myself I didn't have when I'd arrived. And more than that, I felt refreshed.

I know that sounds odd, and more than a little melodramatic to write. But in fact, I don't think my words fully convey the full weight of truth and conviction I mean them with. The Allan who existed in Cleveland that weekend didn't all arrive on the same greyhound. That's puzzling, but I'm glad to have him back.

It probably helps that we all feed each other's memories when we gather. We've known each other for too long, we see each other too seldom, and the memories we do share have been so intense. So they were more than happy to share in my memory digging fervor; in fact we spent the last night listening to old tapes we had.

You see, when we were young and stupid, we bought a bunch of hand-held tape recorders. We thought they were so cool. And every time the three of us (there were 5 of us then) would get together, we would just tape record EVERYTHING with the idea that many years later we would be such bloody sentimentalists that when we got together we'd have nothing better to do than to sit around listening to what we were doing and saying when we got together a decade ago. And we were right on the mark!

I'd spend more time talking about what we did for Jinx's birthday weekend, but the truth is, it was who I was with that counted far more than what we did. For the record, we visited tea houses (I got to try clotted cream, which I did not particularly care for), watched bad movies, ate cake, And surfed the waves of lake eerie. On Jinx's birthday the four of us took a bottle of wine to an empty field to watch the Perseids fall (ghetto, I know, but we make do ;-). Sadly, I don't think anyone got a direct look at a star (though I'm certain I saw a nice one out of the corner of my eye. Jinx thinks it was just a giant firefly skimming across the atmosphere at subsonic speeds). On another evening we tried to make it to a bar and... failed utterly. But it reminded me of our endless walk at Ocean City, and I smiled.

It was a... really great visit. I guess I have to leave it at that. Seeing Maria and Jinx again felt like coming home to myself and ALSO seeing two great friends. And getting to know Sarah (who I realize I haven't mentioned yet) was also really cool. I felt like I knew her much better than I had any right to. If you want to see pictures of said trip, you'd best blame her

I think this rambling drivel has been allowed to go on long enough. Honestly, why do you people read this stuff?

PS: Please. Please. Don't quote drew carey when responding to this post. I'm pretty sure I already know what ditty you're humming to yourself.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Wanna Take You For a Ride - Greyhound!

Now for anyone who hasn’t been blessed enough to ride greyhound in the last few years, I feel you ought to be informed: ride greyhound – you probably won’t enjoy it, but chances are, you won’t forget your experience! For me, I’ve taken greyhound twice in the last month, and both experiences left me with more stories than the actual visits I made.

My first greyhound experience began with a taxi cab driver who spent the whole ride on the phone to his ex-wife, pleading with her to let him see his children again after 2 years. Over the course of the ride, it came out that his ex-wife’s hesitancy was probably related to some experiences with crack the man had had, but those experiences were behind him now (or so he assured his wife). This has absolutely nothing to do with my trip, but I think it really set the mood perfectly for what was to come.

There are two buses that leave daily from Lexington, KY to Cleveland, OH. Now, if you look online, that’s not what their website says. Their website says there are 3. But one of those buses is marked “transfer” and magically arrives in Cleveland 45 minutes before the other. That bus doesn’t, in fact, exist. But greyhound still lists it, just to confuse any customers that might want to use their service.

Confused customers might want to call the station. Clever move! But those customers would find that Greyhound, as always, is a step ahead! First, to confuse such customers, there is one number listed for their station on the greyhound website, and another completely different number listed in the local phone book. No matter, because anyone dedicated enough to call these numbers will find that neither one actually answers the phone, or even bothers with an answering machine to detail things like hours of operation, addresses, or bus times. Silly bits of information like that, that modern businesses often wish to present to their customers. Additionally, in their local phone book, where they list this phone number, seemingly disconnected from a working phone, they list no address. To a bus station.

Can I repeat that? In the Lexington, Kentucky phone book, Greyhound chose to list the phone number, but NOT the address of their local bus station. And they don’t answer that phone. This is why, incidentally, my taxi cab ride was necessary.

Anyway, back to my actual trip. As I said, there are 2 busses that leave for Cleveland daily: one bus departing in the morning, one about 8 hours later. I arrived in the morning, purchased my ticket, but when I tried to board I discovered they had overbooked the bus by about 15+ passengers. The driver never really explained this to us in so many words. He just sort of stopped the line of people from boarding the bus and said “Ok. Can’t take anymore folks. The rest of you are going to have to take the next bus, or else you can stand in the aisles. ‘Course then you’re ridin’ at your own risk.” He never did say a word of explanation about how we all came to have tickets to get on his bus, or why they had sold us these tickets. At that particular time, I didn’t ask - I was overwhelmed with the sudden desire not to wait around that bus terminal for additional 8 hours (or arrive into Cleveland at 1am for that matter).

So it was that I sat in the aisle for the first 2 hours of my trip (until our first major stop). It really wasn’t that bad. But what I found comical is that they have a similar practice in the Philippines. The difference is, when they overload a bus in the Philippines they have plastic chairs that they set down in the isle for passengers to sit in, and if you ride on greyhound you have to sit cross-legged on the fucking floor until a seat opens up.

So basically, what I’m trying to say, in complete seriousness, is if you want to find a better run bus line than greyhound, try looking in some 3rd world countries. You’ll find them. Easily.

Then there was my bus returning from Cleveland to DC. From what I could tell, they overbooked that bus so massively that they had to split it into 2 busses. I was on the second bus to depart – 2 hours late. I think the difficulty was in finding a bus driver, who, when she finally arrived, seemed quite disgruntled. She just might have been the least friendly bus driver I’ve ever had. One customer was loudly discussing his dis-satisfaction with another. Not in a belligerent or angry manner mind you, more with an amused “once they’ve got your money you’ve got no leg to stand on” resignation”, but he made no attempt to keep his voice down. He must have offended the driver, because she asked him if he needed to get off the bus.

This driver proceeded to get lost at every stop along the way, including getting hopelessly lost for about 45 minutes in Pittsburgh (during which time she also hit a sign). Now, if by chance any representative of Greyhound should read this, I’d like to make you an offer. I recognize that we are living in an age of technology. I have multiple friends who have their very own hand-held GPS devices, which would have directed my driver out of any one of these messes. However, I do recognize that these devices are not cheap (I certainly don’t have one yet) and bus drivers certainly aren’t known to be rich. I guess greyhound can’t afford to provide it for them yet.

All the same, GPS is really overkill, isn’t it? If ever I do ride Greyhound again, I would like to personally offer to pay an extra 20 cents on my next greyhound ticket to cover the printing cost of Mapquest directions. Now, I realize that this might only cover the cost of directions to one or two stops, but surely we can find a second person willing to donate 20 of their cents too? Or maybe someone could sell a cigarette and we could print the whole route out?

Anyway, I was supposed to have a 2 hour layover in Pittsburgh. Instead they held the bus I needed to transfer to there at the station a whole half an hour for me (to their credit!!).

And the final leg of the journey? Well it might have been quiet, but it wasn’t. I ended up engaged in two conversations with two very different people over the course of the journey. First, I sat next to a middle-school teacher from Pittsburgh. Now, I’ve been on my share of bus rides in my life, and I’ve seen lots of people start of conversations with people they have randomly found themselves next to. I’ve never been the sort of person to do that. I keep to myself. But this one day seemed to be an exception, and though I couldn’t tell you her name, I got along really well with this elderly middle school teacher. Probably it was her sense of humor. We talked about half way from Pittsburgh to Maryland. At that point, she got off and I ended up sitting next to my second conversationalist.

My 2nd conversationalist (conversationalist #2) was about my age, maybe a little younger, black, in a suit jacket, and I’ve come to believe he was mildly autistic, schizophrenic, and obsessive-compulsive all together. I know that’s a pretty impressive list to put together, but he was a pretty interesting character.

He would break long silences with questions like “What does your pillows smell like?”
[Pause] [humoring pillow sniff] “Feathers”
“Oh.” [Pause] “From here it smells like hair gel” (It smelled like absolutely nothing).

Or he would say things like “I was thinking the other day, do you think it’s possible that the government could have raised us from birth to work for them, only we wouldn’t ever know it?”
“Uh… I think that might be possible. But I don’t think so. That’s a scary idea.”
“Nah. I don’t believe that.” [Unsure eye shift] “That’s crazy. I don’t think that’s true.”

And over the course of the ride he told me that the day before he had been riding going the other way, but he had been kicked off the bus (he didn’t say why and I didn’t ask) and discovered that pizza places won’t deliver to the bus station, and he described certain places around the area, but in a way that made them sound like they might be imaginary. Certainly parts of his description were, like stairs that you didn’t want to go down very quickly, because they sucked you down.

The truth is, he was definitely the lighter side of crazy, but I liked him. He seemed like a personable guy. I think the funniest part about the whole thing was when he asked me what I did for a living, and I ended up telling him about my peace corps experience. His response was an almost instant, amused “Off alone in some hut in a jungle on an island? Nah, I don’t believe that”. Although I did convince him pretty quickly I think, there’s something really funny about a schizophrenic man refusing to believe what you tell him.

Anyway, I got home. And thanks to Greyhound, I’m not likely to forget my travels.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Tramp, keep on a-trampin'

Today I’ve been home for 2 months.

Yesterday, I sat outside and remembered what it was like, the first time I returned home. Not when I returned 2 months ago, but 3 months ago, to visit. The first time I’d been home in over a year, and how strange and perfectly normal everything seemed all at once. Memories like that don’t strike me when I call to them. They come unbidden, disorienting my thoughts and concentration. Coming home that first night held several currents of emotion for me, particularly in my side yard where no side yard had been when I left for the Philippines. This made the yard something of an oddity – the rest of my house seemed more or less how I had left it, as did the people. I think a lack of evidence had my subconscious mind convinced that I had never really left. Peace Corps was no more real an adventure than Dorothy had, only I had aswang (mythical flying bat people) instead of flying monkeys, and malaria prophylaxis instead of ruby slippers.

Yet here, this side yard was bothersome. It poked a glaring hole in the “the last year an a half didn’t happen” theory my brain was espousing. A nagging thought was gradually shoving upwards into my consciousness: This new house resembled the home I’d left, but could not be mistaken for the same place.

And last night, in the side yard, that feeling of having returned home but also to a somehow strange place trickled through me again. Memories of that first night tugged at me, begging for attention. It was only 2 months ago guys, what’s so urgent?

Since the last time anyone’s read anything here, a lot has happened. I went down south to North Carolina to stay with my brother and cousins in my grandma Joan’s beach house for a few days, and naturally I had a great time catching up with family. I hadn’t seen grandma for a matter of years (she’s been busy being MAYOR!!! And the rest of us have been busy being losers and living far far away), and of course I haven’t spent time with my cousins or aunt in a while.

Then I helped David move up to the UK. That was a fun trip, one which began with some sort of bird (perhaps a vulture or raven) trying to either dive bomb or land on our car as we sped along on a busy interstate.* I’d never been to Kentucky before, but I will say this: they have plentiful horse statues, voluminous sacks of rice, and overwhelming walmarts. And, seemingly out of left field, the fortunate man has an Irish-style pub within walking distance of his house. I can only assume the UK placed it there out of respect and anticipation of his arrival.

I’m not sure what to say about Lexington, Kentucky. I have a feeling, like many college towns, it’s different now that college is in session. When I was there, it was, for all intents and purposes, a small town. It was hot, and things were slow, but the campus was slowly starting to move, preparing for the school days ahead, the area was like water slowly rolling just before the boil.

After I had helped Dave move in, I ended up at the Greyhound station, bound for Cleveland. Jinx was, after all, turning 25 in a matter of days. And how long had it been since I’d seen my cousins in Cleveland anyway?
Oh, right. A year and a half.

*Miraculously I feel fairly certain the bird survived his final landing, although for how long I couldn’t say

Saturday, July 21, 2007


These days, the currents of life seem to be passing me by faster than usual. Or is that slower? I'm not sure. All I know is that I've lost the ability to tell. Recently I've been looking back to the beginning of my weeks and thinking "Really? That was just monday, was it?"

I took up work as a misc office worker for DSA for roughly 4 days. That was fun. Got some files in order, managed to accomplish some feats that I thought might have required greater skills with computers than I possessed. I'll be back at work doing that again soon enough, no doubt but meanwhile greater duties come first!

At the last minute, against all the rules, I had the gaping hole in my jaw filled by a dentist and followed my parents to nantucket like the dutiful son that I am. To help with the manual labor and stuff, you know. The sort of thing a son can't get out of.

I left for Nantucket about a week ago, and I've been here about 5 days now. It's been grand. I've been kayaking, and really enjoying it. Every day until today, come to think of it. There's something wonderous about traveling in such a fragile, but mobile manner over the water. And drifting on a pond is really a different experience when you're literally drifting just a matter of inches over it. It's more interaction.

I saw seals in the ocean the other day. I've never seen seals swimming in the wild before - didn't even know there WERE seals on nantucket. But there they were, right out in the tide, so close in we could easily have been swimming with them.

When my father first spotted one, I thought it was a person. A seal head bobbing up and down looks remarkably like a persons head, and I was all getting concerned until I noticed several more heads. Then I assumed it was several people swimming together, and I was relieved, when actually it was a great number of seal swimming together. The most I counted at one time were 8, but I'm sure there were at least 10, I just couldn't count them together because they were always diving and never together.

They were so close. So incredibly close, much closer than any dolphin I've ever spotted. In fact, I don't think they could have gotten any closer without the waves smashing them on shore. I'm quite certain they were staring at us too. Actually they followed us down the shore after we lost interest in them (or lost interest in standing there staring at them in the wind), and it seemed to me that they would edge closer when they thought we weren't paying such close attention to them. It was... really quite an experience, and an entirely unexpected one.

So that's where I am now folks. Kayaking, enjoying the company of family, seal watching, and actually managing to be vaguely productive too if you can believe it. Hope everyone out there is doing so well.

Long days and pleasant nights,

Friday, July 6, 2007

Here I exist - p5 - The Joy of Homecoming

So the last four entries have been sort of despirited. Couldn't have come off very well. But let's be honest here for a minute - I'm back in America: Land of Milk and Honey! When I haven't been on hold, lost hopelessly in some bureaucracy phone maze, I've been having lots of fun, and just generally happy to be home.

I landed 6 nights ago, and in that time I've eaten great mexican, sung heartily in a pub, seen quality fireworks displays, gone to the beach (well it was sort of a beach), gamed until 4:30 in the morning. It's been good, even in the midst of everything else, to be home.

It looks as if I'll be around for a while, no matter what happens. My best case scenario places me here for a month and a half, and of course my worse case scenario never sees me back in the philippines. It looks like I'm going to be doing some part time work for DSA to get some extra spending money, and that will be good. If I don't go home... well my options are many. But it's early for such thoughts.

Long days and pleasant nights everyone,

Here I exist - p4 - The Sinuses

Now I've got the trick of trying to figure out how best to deal with my sinus infections. The first step, all on its own, is a tricky one - seeing an ENT. In order to get the Peace Corps to let me see an ENT, I need the neurologist (the one doctor the peace corps had decided I DO need to see) to recommend that I see an ENT. He's already done that. BUT as it turns out, he needs to do so in writing, also saying the reasons he wants me to see one, and what he expects an ENT to find. And I need to fax that to some guys, who will then approve or disapprove it.

Then there's what I want. Do I want to pursue this sinus issue right now? I'm afraid that if I do, it will vastly hinder my chances of returning to the Peace Corps. Or will it? If I am successful in actually getting the surgery, well I'm not sure if that really would hinder me. Because my medical issues would be solved, right? And I'd be much happier, especially if it helped or solved my migraine issues, which at best current hope could simply be diminished.

Of course this all hinges on what an ENT has to say. I certainly want that second opinion, regardless of what that opinion is. Honestly, their opinion could heavily impact my life just now. Hope I find a good doctor.

Here I exist - p3 - The Neurologist - Center Stage

Even before I arrived home, I took the advice of my health officer and arranged my appointment with a Neurologist. As luck would have it I was able to see an excellent neurologist at the soonest plausible date! He didn't tell me much unexpected - but he did say that he wasn't confident my sinus issues were causing my migraines, though he felt they might be making them worse. Might be.

In any case, this man is the key. My perception of things is that the best chance I have of appealing this decision and applying for reinstatement is to find an effective treatment for my migraines that I can live with, and to do so as soon as possible. He is an excellent neurologist, and he's convinced me to give Topomax a chance, as well as Imatrex (ironically a combination of treatments I was already getting while I was in the Peace Corps).

So I've got this treatment now, and another appointment in early august. I'm keeping a migraine calendar for him and hopefully, next time I see him, he'll be willing to write a letter saying that I'm healthy enough for Peace Corps service - a letter that should fuel my reinstatement. Unfortunately, this puts me back in the Philippines by mid-august at the absolute earliest.

And of course there are hitches in a plan like this; ie I need medicine. And when I dropped my prescriptions off at the pharmacy, I quickly learned that my new peace corps insurance doesn't know who I am. Not the pharmacy services branch anyway (they're being paid by a company, who's paid by another company, who's paid by another company, who's paid by peace corps, or so my phone calls have informed me). But that was days ago, and as of this afternoon, I think that's been solved. I'll find out soon.

Here I exist - p2 - The Dentist

I arrived in America last Friday evening, disordered mind and body all. 4 days before I left, I expected not to see home for another year. Until I touched down in DC I don't think I believed I would. I had everything with me; everything I could humanly fit into my 3 bags. Half my things still sit on the shelves of my nipa hut, where Apol, my landlord, is graciously allowing them to stay until I know more about my situation.

The day before my flight, a tooth filling that peace corps had put in back in January came tumbling out of my mouth. Peace Corps had their dentist hastily fill it, and recommend me a crown (this was the 4th time they had filled this gap). That new filling fell out on the plane home, broken off by a tough but tasty English pastry. So I've got a gaping hole in my gums at present, that needs to be taken care of in addition to my other medical problems.

But getting my tooth work has proved difficult. Peace Corps Philippines didn't give me the paperwork to see a dentist, and Peace Corps Washington hasn't received anything from them on the subject, nor have they received my medical records (which typically take 30 days to arrive). I can't wait for 30 days with this gaping hole in my mouth. Thus I have a problem which I get to make my 2nd phone call about tomorrow.

Here I exist - in the center of things, off to the side

Sometimes there is too much to write. Occasionally too much has happened, event-wise, to keep the interest of the writer, let alone the reader. It's not uncommon for a person to be so overwhelmed, emotionally, that the person cannot sort all those emotions out themselves, let alone write them out (though perhaps that can help). Sometimes bad luck and good luck seem so frustratingly intertwined that you can't complain about the one without renouncing the other.

Let's start with my arrival home. That occurred last friday afternoon. Two days later, my mother had a heart attack.

The glorious thing about my mother - well one of many - is that she doesn't like the sort of attention these issues attract. I arrived home to see her heading into my room to lie on my bed. "What are you doing?" I asked her, surprised that she would go to MY room to lie down.

"Oh, I might be having a heart attack. I'm just going to lie down in your bed for a while" she told me, in much the same tone she might have used to inform me that she had been considering cheeseburgers for dinner. Honestly, I'm thankful for that, because I think her attitude in just that minute was what sustained me calmly through the whole ordeal.

She was in the hospital for 2 nights, and on the 3rd night she returned. They don't have a lot of answers for her about the cause - she hadn't been at risk for it. She seems perfectly happy and able , though she's taking it slowly as she's been advised to do. I'm glad I'm here.

I try to imagine getting a call in the Philippines "Your mother's had a heart attack". I can't imagine it. I can't. So when it comes down to it, the knee deep pool of post-peace-corps-feces I feel like I'm wading in seems to drop substantially in thickness. But I'll talk about it anyway, given that it's essentially enveloped my life.

Lets make that a mercifully separate entry though

Monday, June 25, 2007

An Unexpected Plot Twist

I'm going home sooner than expected. Much sooner. I ought to be home before Sunday. Maybe by friday. I've been medically separated - meaning I am not to be returning to the Philippines.

I got the call this morning, from my medical officer. It was an unbearably brief call, but not so brief that the glass path I've been following wasn't shattered. Peace Corps washington reviewed my request. They've denied my surgery on the basis that they don't believe my migraines are related to my sinus condition, but they do feel my migraines are serious enough to take me home for good. They want me to see a neurologist.

Odd, that. They knew about these migraines when I applied, and I still got through medical screening ok.

So 15 months into my service, now past the half way mark, they seem to have retro-actively decided that peace corps service isn't for me. It's bullshit, and I have every intention of appealing. Living so close to Peace Corps national headquarters might help, but we'll see. They want me to see a neurologist. That's fine. I've already had an EEG, an MRI and two CAT scans. What else can they do?

In any case, that's how things stand. As of this morning, my medical officer gave me 2 days - extra time, she told me, for closure. Not that in 2 days time I can say goodbye to my 2 host families, my center, my neighborhood and Marianne AND pack my entire house. It's not even enough time to pack my house. 'Time for closure'. I'd take it for a joke if I didn't know so well that she was serious. I've already spent day 1 consoling Marianne. Tonight and tomorrow will be big days.

I'm coming home folks. You'll be seeing me soon.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

It's been a While

First off, let me declare, for the world to know, that rumors of my death have been grossly exadurated.

I'm alive, though I'd like surgery.

When last we left our hero, I had returned from America. Most international planes fly into Manila, and it was in Manila I became trapped by medical issues. It's a long, and not particularly interesting story, so I'll make it succinct.

I stopped into the peace corps office. If you'll be in Manila it's really just polite to see the staff that devote all their time to you, even if you rarely get to actually see them. While I was there, I mentioned to my medical officer that my migraine meds weren't being effective. Since I've arrive here, they've shifted meds on me a few times, hoping something will stick, so I thought they might have something new I could try. Eventually, something has to be effective, right?

Well they wanted me to see a dr about the issue while I was there. I did, and the dr told me to have an MRI. There's another few days in Manila. The MRI (thankfully) showed a completely normal brain, utterly devoid of tumors or other nasty business. But what it did show was a serious sinus infection. Now, this was hardly a surprise at this point. Anytime my sinuses have been examined they have been seriously infected, as far back as I can recall. This was allegedly due to my deviated septum for which I had surgery a few years back.

Well they sent me next to an ENT specialist, who was in the middle of a long rant about how these things are completely normal, when he stopped mid-lecture and looked intently at my scan. "But... this is different" he said.

He examined my nose and told me that my previous surgery for a deviated septum had been a failure, and my septum was deviated again. Then he went on to say I might have another, unrelated, sinus issue. He wasn't sure, and he wanted a CAT scan. But first, he wanted me to take 10 days of antibiotics to clear out my infection.

So I got my meds, and they sent me back to Guimaras (where I hadn't been for roughly a month at this point, since I'd just come back from America). However, my cheerful reunion was only about 10 days long before I hopped a plane back to Manila for a CAT scan. This made the Big 3 for me: I've had a CAT Scan, an EEG, and an MRI since I got here.

The CAT scan showed roughly what I think my dr had expected it to. For one thing, it showed that sinus problems are basically built into my nose at this point. My sinuses can't drain, bacteria feeds off of the stuff thats in them, and BAM you've got a bad infection. In fact, I took my CAT scan just a few days after I ended my antibiotic treatment, and it was already infected again. We're talking about a constant, predictable, unavoidable sinus infection that I've probably had... well... forever I guess.

As I'd been told before, sinus infections are linked to migraines. I just happen to have perpetual severe sinus infections, and perpetual, severe migraines. Could be a coincidence, and doctors can't promise that getting rid of one will rid me of the other. But it seems to me that it would be quite a coincidence if the 2 severe problems, known to often be related, just happened to be unrelated in my case. Also, when I was taking those antibiotics to kill the infection, it definitely had an effect on my migraines, in some interesting ways that I won't get into.

The doctor has recommended surgery for me, Endoscopic Sinus Surgery, basically creating a hole in the structure of the nose through which my sinuses could drain. My previous ENT, in America, villianized my deviated septum, while my secondary problem, a subtle structural abnormality in my nose, went un-noticed and un-treated. And of course my septum surgery didn't succeed, it seems.

So now I've entered into a whole new arena. It's hard to take when a doctor tells you that you need surgery. And for about a day, before I was able to discuss this with Peace Corps, I was a little bit intimidated. Now that I've discussed it, that feeling has passed. If I want this surgery, I may need to take some great pains to pursue it before Peace Corps will approve it.

Peace Corps doesn't authorize many surgeries inside your country. I suspect this is because, as our medical care provider, they would be liable if someone flung an accusation that they were subjecting you to untrustworthy medical care. Therefore, if I have this surgery it's likely to be in DC. But of course that brings in a dozen other complications - cost of the plane ticket, significantly longer disruptions from our work at site, jet lag, and of course the significant possibility for many surgeries: that the patient won't return to his job at all.

For these reasons (and this is only to the best of my understanding, not from official sources) Peace Corps is reluctant to do any surgery that might be considered "un-necessary". This is my worry. However, it takes a while for them to make a decision. I returned home from America almost a month ago, and I think I've spent more time in Manila than at my job. But as of yesterday, I'm back on Guimaras. They sent me here to wait for an official response from Peace Corps. Ultimately, the man who will decide whether i need this surgery is an expert who will never examine or talk to me. This makes me uncomfortable.

But I'm resolute. Since returning I've had a renewed sense of determination, and I've divided it two subjects: First and most obvious (as the subject of most of this writing) I'll get that surgery. I've lived with these migraines far too long, and my sinus troubles as well. If they can't cure it through medicine, than they will find another solution. I'm fairly certain this is a requirement of denying my surgery. Short of putting me on antibiotics all the time (which I'm certain is not an actual option), I don't see what alternative treatment they can offer.

Second: My work. Coming home was depressing. I've accomplished markedly little in my year on the job. Mostly because no one seems to know what to do with me, I suspect. But I've used my time in Manila to have long discussions with Peace Corps staff, who are now planning a rather serious intervention. I like my center, it's an interesting place to work. I like my co-workers, they're good, intelligent people who know what they're doing for the most part. The only thing I lack is a particularly useful function there. That will be solved. Unfortunately my first issue distracts me from the second by no small measure.

In any case, that's where I am now. That's my life. I'm waiting to hear back and find out how easy it will be for me to get my surgery, and planning out some change (still vague for the moment) at my center. Hope everyone out these has had a pleasurable, if not easy, time since I left. I know it's been difficult for some, but hang in there.

Long days and pleasant nights all,

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Interesting Fact

In addition to treating migraines, Topamax is also used to treat Obesity, Bipolar disorder, Infantile Spasms, Epilepsy, Alcoholism, and Post-Traumatic Stress disorder.

One of the listed side-effects of Topamax, occuring in .1%-1% of users is: Suicide

Whoa, now there's a pill.

The Medical Train Rarely Makes a Stop

So I'm back in Manila again. Jet-lagged out of my mind again. I had a great visit to America, a surreal visit too. I'll write more on that later, when the remainder of my thoughts catch up to the body that lost them somewhere over the pacific.

Rachel got married (to Howard, to be more specific - and he seems like a good guy), I got to catch up with good friends, and somewhere between the cheese and the good beer I managed to gain a few lbs. But that's not the reason I'm writing this.

When I touched down in Manila I figured I'd probably get a few things done while I'm here and head back to site Thursday or friday. One of those things on the list was to talk to my medical officer about getting new migraine medications - since my imigran hasn't been of great help. A part of me hates to complain about such things. That part of me has fallen into some sort of Learned Helplessness trap that feels these migraines are inevitable, that no medications will ever work particularly well, and that leaning against a wall for 4 hours, with my legs wobbling, my knees shaking, and my head screaming is just something I ought to resign myself to and take with dignity when it comes about.

Except there ARE effective pain meds out there. I know there are. They're just quite heavily controlled (or illegal) and thus haven't been made available to me. I've become determined that I will work this system, however long it takes, and eventually they will have to give me something that works. I'm sick to death of expensive, bullshit medications that often don't do anything for me when I take them. For $10 / pill you would think they could give you something that works half the time (though of course Peace Corps is shouldering that cost for the moment).

But I digress. The point is, among my goals was to talk to my medical officer about this, and today I did. She sent me to another Migraine dr, who changed my meds to something new, and put me back on a daily dose of Topamax.

Funny enough, I used to take Topamax. I didn't find that it helped much, and I stopped taking it after less than 4 months. I got scared about the severity of what I was putting in my body. Reading the label on my Topamax, it told me that if I were to suddenly stop taking the medicine, I would risk going into seizures. Now think about that for a second. Whatever you're putting in your body is so addicting that your body could actually go into seizures if you didn't keep taking it. Wouldn't YOU be terrified to read that on your headache medication?

Well that was cleared up by my doctor today. Evidently Topamax is an anti-seizure medication, and the label I read was assuming that the patient was ALREADY PRONE TO HAVING RANDOM SEIZURES. Sort of like those fast food cups that say "Caution: Beverage is extremely hot" on the outside, even when filled with ice cream. They just don't bother tailoring the instructions on the medication to the ailments of the patient anymore. This upsets me greatly - just another indication that we're all McPatients in the world of medical fast food - but I guess I won't take it out on the Topamax.

I'm still rambling away from the greater point of this entry is - jet lag and a personality prone to rambling are a bad combination. The greater point is that the doctor also decided I ought to have an MRI, which means I'll be staying here in Manila until Monday, Tuesday, or possibly later.

I'm slightly annoyed at the delay, but frankly I feel safer with every new test they give me. When I experience a bad migraine, it really feels all wrong - like some gear turning in my head must have cracked. It's nice to be told that nothing is wrong with me. I've had a CAT scan and I've had an EEG both test me as perfectly healthy, but that doesn't change that "broken" feeling a bad migraine gives me. So the more times I hear "your test results are perfectly normal", the better I feel. Here's hoping I hear that again soon.

Long days and pleasant nights all,

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

A Further Anecdote - Why I don't wish to be hospitalized again

Checking in for my hospital stay began, as it does in the states, with Triage. The nurse there asked me for my symptoms, life story, and took my vitals. This would all have been business as usual, but as she came to the part where she listens to my heart she took an exceedingly long time.

Perhaps she sat there, stethascope pressed to my chest, for more than a minute before she removed it with the slightest of frowns. "Anything wrong?" I asked her.
"No" she answered hesitantly, "but... do you have any heart troubles?"

This brought about a brief pause from me. "I certainly hope not." And I ended it there, waiting for her to explain. But she didn't, she just set about nervously on her paperwork until I interrupted her with my silly question

"Why do you ask?"
"Well", she answered, looking up from her paperwork, "A normal heartbeat is between 60-80 beats, yours is 57." And that was that.

Later in the ER, a nurse came into take my vitals. He listened to my heart. He listened long, and hard, and his listening ended with a troubling frown. "Anything wrong?" I asked him.
"No... well... do you have any history of heart troubles?" he asked me.
"No. Why? Is my heart beating unusually slowly?"
"Yes, it should be 60-80 beats per minute, and yours is 57." And on that note he walked out, looking troubled.

Perhaps 10 minutes went by before the doctor walked in, and with a roll of his eyes put a stethascope to my chest, listened briefly, gave a slight nod, then turned to walk briskly out. As he did so I called his attention back "Anything wrong?" I asked him.

He paused to give me an amused, conspirative look "My nurses both think there's some problem with your heart, but they're wrong. There's another noise in there that was throwing them off, your heart is perfectly normal." And with that, the doctor turned and strolled impatiently from the room.

Shortly after he left, the previous nurse that had come in to check on my vitals came back, put his stethascope to my chest, and nodded sagely to himself, as if suddenly something made more sense.

Then he, too, left me to myself and my ER booth filled with mosquitos.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Dry Run - The story of How I Got Out of Dodge

These last few days... these last few days have been days to remember. Or to forget. Perhaps I'd best remember to forget them.

April 20th, the day after my birthday, I woke up in Antipolo feeling sick to my stomach. I think I've mentioned this before. Well, Wednesday, April 25th, I still felt sick. The symptoms were unfamiliar to me, but I was certain I knew what I had: intestinal parasites. So certain was I, that I told several people, including my parents, that this was my ailment before ever seeing the doctor.

I went to Iloilo city, I saw the dr, he gave me meds and told me to come back on Saturday for a follow-up. I took the meds, I felt better, shouldn't that be the end of the story? Well it wasn't. Not by a long shot.

Although the medication had given me several days of decent health, I woke up that Saturday feeling ill again. When I told this to my dr, he was concerned. He decided that something must have been passed over in my last fecanalysis and made me take another.

Now, it's not pleasant to think about, and I won't go into great detail, but for the record I would like to remind everyone that a fecanalysis, AKA pooping in a cup, isn't great fun. It is nasty and frustrating to take one in America. But here in the Philippines, even more so. They give you the cup in the lab, the hospital bathroom is next door. This would be nice and convenient, except that the hospital bathroom lacks toilet paper and it lacks soap.

So you leave the hospital, go across the street, buy TP, buy soap, and return to the grungy hospital bathroom with a single stall that has no lock, and in between informing your fellow bathroom visitors that there is already someone in the stall (while you hold the door closed to keep their entry at bay) you try and figure out what the cleanest way to capture your own feces will be.

Fun times.

Anyway, that was the second time I had to do it that week, which is why I felt compelled to my rant. But completed it I did, I waited a few hours, and brought the results to my Dr, who was kind enough to inform me that there was blood found in my sample.

What does that mean? Well he had a few theories, but he didn't know. He wanted me to stay in the hospital that night so that they could "prepare" me for a colonoscopy in the morning (for you kids, that's the operation where they attach a camera to the tip of an unfortunately large hose, and insert it into your colon in a most unpleasant fashion).

This was saturday the 28th, 3 days before I had a plane bound to manila, my first stop on the way back to America. To say the least, I was not happy. But Marianne was with me, and agreed to be my Kasama. This is the best news I have to report regarding the last 3 days.

So they held me there saturday night, they "prepared" me for my colonoscopy. Sunday morning they woke me up bright and early to perform the procedure. "what were the findings?" You might ask? Well Sunday morning, I could not have told you, nor could my doctor, on account of the fact that I had been incorrectly "prepared" for the procedure and the camera could not see everything the dr needed to see.

So, the first time was something of a "dry run" (a little diarrhea humor there). I was to spend another night in the hospital. Having insufficiently "prepared" me the night before, the dr was not pleased with his staff, and took it out on yours truly by means of laxative-overkill.

The next morning, April 30th, one day before I was to embark upon the first leg of my trip to America, I was woken up bright and early to have the procedure perforned again. Just as unpleasant as the day before. But this time we had results!

And the results were *drum roll* Nothing Wrong! Nada! The Doctor's official opinion was that the initial test results were "false positive for Occult Blood Sample", meaning that I was entirely well and my entire hospital stay, all the "preparation", both those times they had to put me in adult diapers following the camera-insertation - well that was all really just one big misunderstanding.

By the way, time to go home and pack. Everything. Tonight.

So I had missed my last day of work over this (my last day of work before my vacation at least). I was sleep deprived, probably dehydrated, definitely stressed, and any of these or all of them might be why, by the time I reached home that evening, I had a terrible migraine.

But I had to leave 7am the next morning, and I had to be packed before then. I had been gone the last 2 nights, and hadn't begun my packing. Thus it was that I spent my night in the slowest and most excruciating packing efforts of my life. The night went something like this: I would go inside, pick 3 things up, put them hurriedly into a suitcase (the slightest effort and movement caused me head to pound 5X harder). Sometimes I would actually throw them into the suitcase, not caring how they ended up, then I would go outside to my porch for 5-10 minutes of leaning against the wall with my eyes closed, waiting for the pounding to decrease so that I could go back inside and pack some more.

I've had worse migraines, but never a worse-timed migraine. It effected my stomach, so I could neither eat nor drink. So I stayed dehydrated. It kept me from sitting / lying down for most of the night, so I stayed sleep deprived. Did I somehow become less stressed? I should say not. But gradually, sometime in the night, the migraine faded.

I woke up very disoriented at 6am, but at least my migraine was gone. And proudly, I write this to you from Manila. That's right, I made it here. I sure hope everything I need is packed, because there's no going back now. I'll be getting on another plane in less than 48 hours. What can I say about all this except "If it pleases you, sir, I'll have a Guinness"?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mad Maudlin Goes on Dirty Toes to Save Her Shoes From Gravel

April 20th I woke up feeling bad. Not depressed bad, fever bad. And for the next 6 days, right up to today, I've been sick with some travelers bug I've never experience before. It's the sickest I've been in my 14 months here, but really not that bad. I was convinced that it was some form of intestinal parasite, worms living in my digestive tract. But yesterday tests told me I was wrong. They gave me some meds. Today, I think, it's finally subsiding.

And here I am, back at site, I've completely lost track of what I never expected to: my swiftly approaching trip home. Today is April 26th. 5 days from now I need to be in Manila with my packed suitcases, ready for my trip. 7 Days from now I'll be in the air. In 8 days I'll be home - and I still can't believe that's actually true.

But it is true. And I'm not remotely prepared. But in 5 days, I'd just better be.

See you folks soon,

Mad Tom was so Disdain-ed

The following day, on Thursday, April 19th, I had officially lived through a quarter century. I feel hesitant to mention it now, even moreso then. In fact, it was on that day that every media source we turned to first started claiming that Julia had not endured a hiking accident, but had been murdered. That was news to us. Horrible news. And on that day, it was quite clearly not an appropriate time for me to have a birthday. But have it I did, and Ross and Tim (fellow volunteers from my area) even made a special effort to see that I enjoyed it. They're good friends.

Grief is a funny thing. Even the worst grief comes in spurts, and occasionally subsides, leaving even the deepest mourner a little numb but often able to experience and enjoy life (something which many will feel guilty about later). As I mentioned before, I wasn't a deep mourner. I was effected by the situation, and certainly by the atmosphere of grief and shock, but I still enjoyed the day.

We went to starbucks. I had a iced triple grande mint mocha. It cost a small fortune in pesos, which Ross covered. I watched a movie, "300". That night, we had a few beers and played Scrabble. Things were ok. I had all these plans for my birthday, which all went out the window. But things were ok. I didn't discover it that day, but waiting on the internet for me was the sweetest surprise I've received by email: a video of my young cousin Bea singing happy birthday to me.

In the days that followed, in small groups and with different people, with Marianne, and Anna, and Erin, I got different parts of my plans in. It was a successful, if sobering revolution around the sun.


I've been trying for some days now to find a way to follow my last post. Time and again I've come up with nothing. These last days have been busy and they have been crazy. They have not all been awful, but they've been an awfully mixed bag. I will start with the awful though.

I arrived in Manila the day of my last entry. Gathered there were 40-some volunteers. Julia had been missing 8 days. For those fortunate enough to have known her well, there were phases to go through. Shock, denial, rage, numbness. Not knowing is a terrible thing. Others, like myself, were less certain where we fit in. Personally, I barely knew her. I exchanged a few emails with her, met her twice. I hadn't been entirely uneffected by her disappearance - she was one of us. But to be in a group with her closest friends and comrades I felt vaguely out of place, like a fraud. Imagine cutting your finger just a little bit, just enough to need stitches, and walking into an ER full of people shot in the gut. That's when you know - you're not injured. Sitting there, waiting to be seen, you'd feel kind of dumb being there at all.

The next day was the big day. It was the meeting central to the trip - where Director Tschetter and our Country Director Karl Beck would talk to us about what happened, what they knew, and what was being done. They were right in the middle of the meeting - gesturing to a map of where they were currently concentrating their search efforts, when the call came. The police had found a body.

One moment we were immersed in fear and discussion, the next moment brought a pause; one tiny second of complete disbelief before sadness boiled across the room like an angry wave. First the gasps, then the sobs, all in unison. I've never in my life experienced a moment like that, and I couldn't ever forget it. For myself, I was in a state of shear disbelief, and for the life of me I can't explain why. The moment just seemed so impossible, so improbable.

In retrospect, I agree with the psychologist Peace Corps brought in to speak with us - it was better it happened that way, when we were all gathered together in one place. Honestly, it seemed such a brutal moment at the time, but I keep going back to it, and I can't imagine a better way for everyone to have been told the horrible news.

At that time, we were being reassured it was almost certainly a hiking accident.

That wasn't how things turned out. As it turns out, she was beaten to death. With a wooden pole. Possibly by several people and probably for money.

But I won't write much on that. The subject is delicate, the facts aren't all in. Will I offend someone by writing on it? It was a deeply offensive act. How could I not?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Chilling days in a warm climate

8 days ago now Julia Campbell went missing. Since then we've had search teams, peace corps has posted 2000 flyers in the area, and offered a 500,000peso reward ($10,000) and still nothing. She was last seen hiking alone.

It might be easier to be optimistic about this if an American girl drew less attention. But if people had seen her, they would remember her. They're probably gossip and exadurate about her, and by sunset half the people in the area would know that an american girl was visiting. That's what happens when an american visits a small filipino community. She should be easy to find.

Right now I'm on my way to Manila, where there is a 3-day meeting regarding this. Peace Corps Director Tschetter arrives in country tomorrow for the meeting. Frankly I'm not sure what this meeting will be - will they be trying to comfort us? Trying to make a show of unity? Will they lecture us on safety and security? I don't know. I guess I'll find out.

I didn't know Julia well. I met her a few times, and she briefly worked with me as an editor of the Kwan. But I hope we find her. I lit a candle for her the other night. I Woke up in the morning to see Julia's candle replaced by a puddle of dried wax and a saucer scarred by burn-marks. I confess, the gesture offered me little comfort. But I hope.

Today, as I prepare to leave for this gathering in manila, my spirits have been further dampened to read about the shooting at VA Tech, which effectively dwarfs the situation that has been occupying my thoughts and fears these last days.

And it makes me think of Iraq, of Africa, of Lebanon, and reminds me that tragedies such as this aren't new. They've always been present and on a massive, sickening scale. Sometimes they just seem closer and more personal than others. Being reminded of that, well that can almost feel worse than if tragedy was new to the world.

Anyway, this is just a ramble. Stay safe everyone,

Friday, April 13, 2007

Tickets Have Been Purchased

Yes ladies and gentlemen, I know I've been saying I'm coming home for this wedding for some time, but until today, it's just been speculation. I've been madly searching around to find the best price on tickets, because Rachel had the gumption to get married at peak season. Honestly, how do I live with such self-centered friends?

just kidding

Anyway as the title of this post suggests, my search is at an end, and it's something of a happy ending. I found a ticket $250 less than I thought I was going to have to pay, and THEN I called my parents to tell them that my tickets are booked, and they tell me about my birthday present: they're going to cover half my ticket. That's alot of money, and I think it's pretty much indisputable proof that I have the best parents on the planet.

In any case let me get to the details. I'm leaving this country on Thursday May 3rd and after 1 1/2 hours in Guam, and an hour in Texas I'll be arriving home early in the afternoon on Friday May 4th. All in all it should be a 20-some hour flight (hard to calculate exactly - the ticket gives departure and arrival times, but time zones mess that all up)

Then on May 21st I'm doing the same thing in reverse.

So this means that roughly 20 days from now, just under 3 weeks, I'll be back home. Extremely exciting and incredibly hard to imagine.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Food I Miss

Originally this was in response to a note from my mother, regarding the food I hope to eat when I visit home. What a dangerous topic! But I went on a mouth-watering tangent and decided to post it here.

Ah, home tastes. There are so many. I miss good beer, cheese, and coffee dearly. And "cheese" encompasses so many things, doesn't it? Fresh mozarella, cheddar, munster, cream cheese, cottage cheese... I miss milk dearly too. And yogurt, I miss yogurt. Even the instant coffee we have here would be much better with some real milk in it.

In addition to beer, there's also no decent affordable wine here, and the crappy wine is as expensive as good wine ought to be. No good bread either, though I've recently discovered some wheat bread that's actually not half bad! But while it's not half bad, it's not 3/4 good either.

I've had in my mind a thick, juicy hamburger with swiss cheese and avacado. I've been craving that for more than a year now.

But I also miss alot of the variety of home, all the foreign foods we eat. Particularly Mexican and chinese foods call to me. You can find Mexican here, but it's not made by mexicans. I've found good Thai food here though. But Burmese? Ethiopian? Mark's kitchen (which I couldn't easily classify)

I miss decent pasta too. I mean, they have pasta here, but as easy as it is to find, there's only one meal ANYONE seems to know how to cook with it: Filipino birthday spaghetti. It's a birthday tradition to cook spaghetti thusly: cook up the pasta, pour on premade tomato sauce from a pouch (they have fresh tomatoes here, but people I've talked to actually feel home-made sauce is extremely inferior to cheap stuff from a vacuum-sealed pouch). The sauce already has sugar added, but usually people add more. Then they cut up a few hot dogs and throw those in. And voila! You have traditional birthday spaghetti! Oddly enough, people are very impressed when I tell them I know how to make spaghetti.

Anyway, the point is, I miss good pasta too.
Oh, and I intend to eat nothing with MSG in it. Everything I eat here has MSG.

Holy Week on Guimaras

I feel good today. I couldn't tell you why, but I do. It's not the sort of thing I question.

It's the holy week here in the Philippines (presumably in America too), and in the Philippines that's no small event. There are a variety to religions here, but Catholicism is certainly the most prominent; to the point that public schools actually force their students to mass on occasion. Ross, who works at a school, brought this up to a teacher.

Ross: "But don't you have freedom of religion in this country?"
Teacher (completely serious): "Yes, but we have freedom of Catholicism"

I've heard Catholics in America talk about the Philippines, and their sentiments were something to the tune of "yes, they're Catholics, but they're not REAL Catholics". I'm not sure where that attitude comes from. Perhaps because on almost every house in the country you will find an outside wall where there is a cross painted in chicken blood (during training we were advised that if we moved into a new house, and we failed to make such a cross, our neighbors would do it for us without asking - it's bad luck not to, and they don't want any part of that bad luck). Given that Catholicism was brought to the country by the Spanish, who allowed the church to rule over the country as tyrants, I think their devotion must be particularly strong. They even go to church more than your average European Catholic - both on Sundays and Wednesdays.

But their At any rate, my point is this: the country is currently absorbed in the activities and festivities of this week. Guimaras is actually host to a large event, the re-enactment of the crucifixion.

This time last year, before I had been told that Guimaras would be my home, I made the visit for Holy Week. On Good Friday the boats leave Iloilo city, but rather than bringing you to the port, the deposit you on the side of what just barely doesn't qualify as a mountain. At the top of the mountain is the biggest cross I've ever seen, and it is visible from anywhere in Iloilo city that you can get a clear line of site.

The hike up the mountain is supposed to represent the personal sacrifice of Jesus. This is a popular event, and last year it was so crowded that the hike up the mountain moved at a snails pace. I never knew a mountainous trail could be so crowded, but this one was. People from all over the world were there, and as a result we were packed on this trail like a can of sardines climbing up a mountain.

You would take one step - very careful to keep your balance on the uneven terrain (after all, if you stumbled you were likely to send a few people screaming off the side). Then you would wait. And wait. Maybe 5 minutes would pass. Then the crowd would surge very slightly forward, and you would take another careful step.

Once at the top you not only get to see the giant cross, but you also have the privilege of buying a festive belt from a man who will try to charge you quite a fee, despite the fact that you clearly went to a great deal of effort to get to his shop.

Off in Jordan, the re-enactment takes place. Jesus is led down the path, carrying a cross and being viciously whipped by Roman soldiers. This happens just outside the mayor's office, leading me to believe that he is a supporter of the crucifixion - you would think that's a dangerous endorsement to make just before elections, but the man has guts. The whole presentation struck me as oddly disney-esque last year, in a way I can't quite explain. I'll take pictures this year, and maybe you'll understand.

Now with that particular tangent complete, long days and pleasant nights everyone,

Friday, March 30, 2007

It's Been - One Year Since You've Looked at Me

A picture taken from my bedroom window. I think someone down the block just didn't tie him up very well

At the time I'm writing this it's 11:30am in the Philippines. That's exactly 12 hours difference from the bed in which i slept just over a year ago. It's been 1 year and 9 days since I left that bed.

For as far back as I can recall, at the end of every year I have been struck with the odd notion that the year had passed so swiftly by; every year seems to have been more hurried than the last. But on this year anniversary the sensation is even stranger: while the memories from one year ago still seem vivid in my mind, as recent memories often are, they also now seem alien to me. I do feel like this year has passed quickly - I remember times when I felt today was an eternity away. I recall the thought "1 year. Can I really make it one year?" Shortly before Thanksgiving, I was even decided: No I could not make it a year. I was going home. I'd be home for Thanksgiving. The great block of time I had to pass through seemed so immense and enormous, like some massive foreboding mountain in my path. I never left, and a year has passed. Now I've made it this far, I can't recall how it could ever have seemed such a big deal.

It's strange to remember back one year. The memories are still fresh enough that I can recall them with ease. But my state of mind was so different. In some ways I have trouble identifying with that person. He knew nothing back then: he understood no language, none of the culture. He had no idea what to expect of this country, of his work, of the people here. His immediate future was almost entirely unknown. I remember some of ideas I had of what it would be like - of course I knew that I had no idea, but I couldn't help but imagine. Those fantasies seem so silly to me now, more like jokes. Peace Corps told me there was a 50-50 chance I wouldn't have electricity. I considered buying solar panels and all sorts of things, I questioned whether it would be wise to bring a laptop. Of course, now that I'm here, I've never met a volunteer who has no electricity at their site. I should have known better than to trust government intelligence.

Of all the strange and unique aspects of my service, the most unexpected was this sense of distance I have from my life in the US. I feel like I've undergone some change in identity; this wasn't an entirely unexpected feeling, but the nature and origin of that change is far different than I expected. I've been removed entirely from my old life, not just from my surroundings of a 1st world country, but also from my family, my friends, and in some ways my past. It's as close to starting an entirely new life as one could imagine - except that this life will come to an end 15 months from now.

Without my friends and family, in very different company, I realize how much of my identity is social. I'm a very different person in the company of most Filipinos. I've always been a person that people, when the first meet me, have a difficult time understanding. In a new culture, with the language barrier, that's magnified 10x, and I end up behaving differently. My sense of humor is far more mild, my whole personality more sedate. I do have other close American friends here, the other volunteers, but they didn't know me before. Most of my life my close friends have mostly suffered from a social oddity of some sort, nerds, goths, straight-edge, Doomcrows (arguably it's own category), my friends have always been a strange bunch. I'm friends with almost all of the volunteers in my area, good friends with many of them. But they're mostly not people I'd expect to make friends with. And most importantly: they didn't know me before we journeyed half a world a way from my homeland. I had to make my identity anew with them.
My host grandmother, she's quite a character. She's old enough to remember hiding from the Japanese soldiers as a girl - if you were caught you were killed. In the 2 months I lived with her, I never did figure out what that is that she's doing in this picture, but she seems to do it all day long every day. I think she's shelling mongo beans, but I really don't know.

I guess the point I'm making through all this rambling, is that I never knew how much of me wasn't carried around in my head. In this new, radically different environment, with new friends, I feel so disconnected from my past and from my old life that sometimes my memories feel more like dreams. In their life, every person has their own distinct dramas and traumas, their own successes and failures that remain in their mind as something powerful and important. Each person has their own fears than loom over them. I've gained so much distance from those things, that when i recall them, I feel silly that these things ever evoked such passion and fear from me.

I've emphasized the social aspect, but the environment has just as much significance. I walk into the houses of some people in this country and think to myself "my god, these people are filthy rich". By and large, the house of my parents would put it to great shame. In other words, my innate understanding of wealth has been radically changed. I try to imagine going back to my parents house, and how strange that thought seems. On one hand it will be hard not to be awe-struck by the luxury. Screened windows, hot running water, a bath, A/C, 2 floors - I haven't seen a house like that in over a year. If a house has any one of those things, the family strikes me as rich. To have all of them and to live in that place seems - my imagination can't really grasp it.

At the same time, how could I really return to the house I've grown up in with a sense of awe? It's home. The feeling of home is practically the polar opposite of awe. That's a feeling of warmth, security, predictability. You can't "make yourself at home" in a place that seems in-credible.

It will be interesting for me to return home this May. Actually I'm so excited by the prospect i feel like the next month and a half ought to be kind and just sort of skip by me. Of course I'm excited for Rachel's wedding - to see a good friend make such a major life change is hard to conceive of. One of the reasons I felt a need to come back for this was because... well it will be weird when I return home no matter what. But to return with something so radically different as Rachel married, and a mother, well that seems like more change than I can miss.

Of course, I'd be lying if I didn't say that seeing my other friends and family didn't play heavily into my decision. That old Allan i feel so disconnected from - I miss him. I miss my life, my friends and my family. So many volunteers I've talked to feel like after Peace Corps, their old friends will probably have moved on, and that they'll need to find new ones. Perhaps I too will find new ones, as I seem to every year. But I've always been blessed with such close-knit friendships that I honestly I haven't spent one second worrying that my friends won't be there for me in the future.

Ok, in the case of the Doomcrows, I DO worry. Mostly because I know they WILL be there, possibly with spite and pointy objects. But at least they'll be there.

I guess I should wrap up this long-winded retrospective. On a side note, it truly sucks to be sick when you live alone. Especially when you have no fridge or potable water. Currently I've got a devil of a cold but I've still got to make it to the town for food and water. Then I'll have to make my sick-self some food. Bleh. Take care everyone, I hope to see you all soon,
Two Caribao bathing in the stream. I thought there was only one when I raised my camera to take the picture. The other one eagerly popped his head up for the photo op.