Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Overnight (mis)adventures

So, I got a good night’s sleep in the hostel right? Um. Yeah, about that. The aforementioned ‘lost in translation, in a cab’ reference? So. After David left me in the good hands of the Kowloon station concierge, I assumed it would be a snap to get directions to the hostel. Come to find out that the hostel was in Kowloon City, not near Kowloon Station. No worries! It’s only a fifteen minute cab ride. Hooray!! As the rain begins to really pick up, I climb into a cab, looking forward to a shower of a different nature and a nice bed. The cabbie insists that he knows where the address of the “hostel? Yes, hostel ma’am!” is.

Twenty minutes later, I am growing concerned. The rain is really coming down, and we are in a super residential area. I am scanning for anything resembling a hostel, not really sure what I am looking for given that I have never stayed in one and the only pictures online were of the interior rooms. We round a corner and the cabbie pulls to a stop. Looking satisfied, he points to the sign to our right: “General Admittance”. Shit. “Here ma’am. Hosptal.” Oh double shit. It’s now 2:30am, and I am not interested in sleeping at the Kowloon City ER. And I’m down to my last $60HK (about $6.50US). And the meter is at $58.

After a rather tense discussion in very, very broken English (his) and very, very apologetic yet pleading English (mine), as well as what definitely sounded very much like the Hong Kong equivalent of “fuck you lady” (him again), I convinced the cabbie that we should NOT attempt to find the address driving around, that I did not have a cell phone to call them to get directions, and that I really, really did want to go the airport, we agreed that he would accept US dollars and would take me back to Hong Kong International. Thus, that’s how Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, Harry Potter and I spent the night- along with about 50 other sleepy travelers- tucked into a surprisingly comfortable padded bench in Hong Kong International (seriously, go buy a sleep sack. They are super handy).

My plans this morning were to head to the Ngong Ping 360, a suspended cable car that passes the Giant Buddha and goes to the top of a peak where you can see the entire city and harbor below. However, at 7am, as I stared out the vast windows of the airport and considered if I really wanted to dash out for the planned adventure despite the heavy rain, I swear to you, at that very moment a large crack of lightening emblazoned the sky directly in front of me. That, coupled with looking at the MTR map and coming to grips with the fact that I would have exactly 13 minutes to get to the top of the cable line and back- a feat which in all likelihood is probably not possible- I made the decision to hang in the airport for the morning (more Coach, Tiffany’s, Tumi, Hermes, etc. Don’t worry Will, nothing spent here but time).

I wavered in my conviction once, deciding I was being ridiculous and should just go explore! I marched to the Travelex counter to exchange a bit more US$, and as I pulled out my purse, the memories of 3am outside the ‘hosptal’, sweating and swearing, came back to me and I decided that my morning was better spent with a juuust a bit less adventure, given that my true destination is still a plane ride and a tight connection away. Having zero time for unexpected- and highly probable- screw ups on the MTR just did not sit well with a $1,850.00 non-refundable ticket. I handed over my remaining HK$ to the agent, got my $4US back (Wheee!) and turned to the train ticket counter. I still had one leg of an $18US ticket from the airport to the MTR, and it wasn’t going to do any good in my purse for the next who-knows-how-long till I return to Hong Kong. I bustled over to the train counter just in time to see a woman about my age reach up to begin to purchase her ticket from the automated machine. “Hey, are you buying a ticket?” I touched her sweater and she spun around. I handed her mine. “You’re like the nicest person!” she said as she thanked me.

Not really lady. The only reason I didn’t have to sleep in an MTR station last night is because someone went out of their way to hand me a bit of assistance. I’m just paying it forward.

Hong Kong day two: not so much

Next stop: BALI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Last train to Kowloon

***Please note: if you are my mother, please do not read the following without taking a Valium/glass of wine/oxygen. In fact, you can just skip to the happy ending.***

Speaking of comfort zones: after finishing up my Greek Salad and rice in Lan Kwai Fong (What?!? I did have to eat! It’s not my fault there was not any local cuisine and it was too late to metro somewhere else!) I headed to the MTR station in time to catch the last train to the hostel I was supposed to stay at. “Supposed to?” you ask? In my next post, I’ll tell you a little story about getting lost in translation. And lost in a cab. But first, divine intervention, public transit style.

So, after dinner I catch the train to the station where I think my hostel is. This was the fourth time I was taking the MTR, and I was feeling pretty comfortable with the system. Everything had English subtitles (thanks, Colonialism!) and was extremely well-lit, clean, and filled with teenagers on their own. I figured if their parents felt safe with them on the MTR at 1am, mine could deal too. My sense of familiarity and confidence soon deflated, however, as I could not find anyone to tell me where the hell the correct line was to get to my stop. I could see the stop on the map; I could see the correct line. I could not, however, find the right line to take in the three story level station. So I’m running from one level to the next and back, any shot of looking the cute girl needing assistance blown by the fact that I am drenched in sweat (and the fact that I’ve been wearing the same yoga pants for 24 hours), and my desperation to find the right train is increasing with every announcement- growing in frequency- that the last train to such and such stop will pull out at 6 minutes to 1 o’clock, 4 minutes to 1 o’clock, 2 minutes to 1 o’clock. Shit shit shit. Where was the right train?? The whole MTR system was about to go to sleep, and I had visions of myself having to do the same on a bench in the station.

My friend Ginny’s voice sounded in my head, “God’s brought you this far…” I improvised a bit and ended the thought, “She’s not going to drop me on my ass now.” I got on the train that the station person I asked had directed me to- a train I had just gotten off of three minutes prior because, according to the map, it was going in the opposite direction of where I wanted to be. But, frankly, I was out of options and thought some divine intervention might take place.

It did. And its name was David. Sitting next to me as I frantically scanned the map, trying my very best to not look like the sweaty, lost tourist that I was, I overheard the two men next to me speaking in West-African laden French. Taking a chance, I asked the guy closest to me if he knew English and if he knew if this was the right train. Twenty minutes later (after I sized him up to make sure I could take him in a fight if he tried to go all Silence of the Lambs of me), this young man, father of one, DJ by night at the only African club in Hong Kong, was walking past his apartment and insisting on walking me to the right place, not leaving me until I had a clear view of the concierge. As we shook hands, I thought about all of the internal tug-of-war I had to go through to have this little human moment- one person helping another, just because. Not only did this guy not know me and not have to walk fifteen minutes past his apartment once we learned we both needed to go to the same stop, he was on his day off and it was 1:30am. I’m a nice person and all, but I’m not sure I would walk fifteen minutes out of my way in drizzling rain, about a million percent humidity, and 90 degree heat in the middle of the night on my day off to help someone.

While he certainly went off the beaten path to lend me a hand, I also had to depart from my usual path to accept the hand he offered. As a general rule, I am terrified of accepting help from men I don’t know. This is probably a pretty natural side effect given that I study rape about 80 hours a week, but it makes for rough waters when you REALLY need a hand and the only ones around happen to belong to someone with only one Y chromosome. The whole time David and I were walking, I was thinking about all of the ways that he might be plotting to kill me. Frankly, if he wasn’t about six inches shorter and a good twenty pounds lighter than me, I probably would have ended up sleeping on the MTR. All those damn forwarded emails that your girlfriend sends you “because this email might save your life!” where it tells you (again) to immediately start and pull out in your car when you get in it, to always look in your backseat before getting in, to not stop if someone keeps blinking their lights at you (“it’s a gang initiation! They have to kill someone to get in, and that’s how they signal you! Don’t you know?!” screams the judgmental email)…all of this is so, so deeply seeped into my consciousness at every level that I can’t help but imagine all the little bits I will be chopped into whenever I am in a situation with an unknown male. Yes, this is sick. And so is all of the shit messaging that goes into making women feel this way. Rant over.

Anyway. My main point is this: I am traveling to challenge myself to push my boundaries, and in my mind what that meant up until last night was to be away from my partner for an extended period of time, be in a developing country (no hot water!) for four weeks, and make friends with students from other countries. Challenging my internal ‘OH-MY-GOD-I’M-GONNA-DIE’-ometer didn’t really occur to me as something that I wanted to challenge. And while I’m certainly not going to attempt to switch it off completely (don’t hide in my backseat as a joke.Seriously. I will see you and I will shank you with a shiv in cold blood) I am grateful that I had a moment of complete desperation where the options presented to me: 1) sleep in the MTR station or 2) trust a male unbeknownst to me, made me reconsider my scared-shitless policy towards men in one-on-one situations.

I am not sure how this will carry forth in the future, but I’m happy it happened.

Adventures in Xenophobia: How to travel without seeing anyone from where you are visiting

After much fun at the night market- part of which included meeting a couple who live not one mile from me in Alexandria- I headed to Avenue of Stars, a walkway right along the waterfront. It was late, around 11pm, and starting to rain, so the waterfront was sparsely populated but still had a nice humming crowd to it. Young couples making out under umbrellas, high school age kids comparing fashion choices, merchants hocking photos in front of the harbor, the late night latte crowd at the Starbucks (naturally), and one slightly damp grad student from George Mason.

Once it began to rain in earnest my meandering gained alacrity, and I headed for the ‘night life’ district, Lan Kwai Fong, recommended by the Tourism Board site and echoed by the opinion of the Cathay Pacific flight attendant (who very graciously ignored the fact that I had my backpack in front of an exit window with my feet propped up on it. Thanks pal!) After a VERY steep walk up the hill from the MTR station, I learned an important lesson about ‘nightlife’ districts: drunken assholes are drunken assholes regardless of what country you are in. Although I am a non-drinker, I do enjoy going out with my friends to bars and bopping along to music, making (lame) jokes, and generally holding court with my friends. A night at Brickskellar (no, I will not call you by your new name, my darling friend), however, is very different than what I am talking about by ‘night life’ district. Lan Kwai Fong: Hong Kong::Hard Rock CafĂ©: DC. I can best sum up the experience thus: I had headed there for dinner, hoping to meet young Hong Kong folks out for a fun night and at least get to do some people watching, possibly even join a few more loquacious revelers for a drink.

Once up the hill (panting…and at this point any hope of ‘glowing’ rather than sweating was really past gone), I walked the block of bars and restaurants in search of Chinese food. After two loops around the block, I figured I would at least settle for Asian food. This was not about finding the ‘perfect’ dish; this was about not being the asshole that goes to Hong Kong and eats at Burger King (note the picture from breakfast. Ahem).

Seriously though, this is my point about ‘night life’ districts- they don’t represent anyone who actually has a life in the place you are visiting!! I saw many Australians, English, French, some Swedes…but the only people who appeared to be from Hong Kong in the area were the folks staffing the- yes, I’m serious- three Irish pubs, four Indian hookah joints, two burger joints, one American diner, and many, many overpriced bars. I did not find ONE restaurant serving local dishes. Not one! And here’s the real rub: It’s not like I was super hankering for a particular type of food (it’s all steamed fish & veggies to me, folks)…it’s that I joked with Will that I would have a burger in Hong Kong just to be an “Amaarican”. We both laughed about the people that go to another country just to do their best to avoid the locals (makes me think of a certain private island we cruised to earlier this year).

I’m traveling to challenge myself to experience new things and get out of my comfort zone just as much as I am to study with my professor. Hopefully in Bali it will be a bit, er, less challenging to challenge myself.

Mind wandering as I wander.

So, landed in Hong Kong well rested, 200 some pages into Harry Potter 7- which I had been promising myself I would get to as soon as finals ended, um, five weeks ago (thanks Melissa for the nudge!)- and headed out for fun in Hong Kong. I had 17 hours to while away, and I was rarin’ to go. First stop: Temple Street Night Market. When I was in Cambodia on the Mason Center for Global Education program there this January, one of my favorite places was the night market in Phnom Penh. Live ‘American Idol’ style karaoke competitions AND cheap t-shirts? Yes please!

Being the good nerd that I am, I had hit the Hong Kong Tourism Board’s website over breakfast last week and mapped out what I wanted to do. The night market was great, bustling activity, which I found after traversing the crazy MTR (metro/subway) stop closest to the market. When I hear night market I think, ‘locals, tourists, inexpensive local cuisine, knock off purses, screaming children, street performers,’ and me, profusely sweating. Coach, Gucci, Prada and Zara do not, however, readily come to mind. And yet, stepping out of the Kowloon MTR stop, I stepped into Tysons Corner II: Hong Kong Edition. Toto, I think we’re back in D.C. After escaping the Elemis mall which sits upon the Kowloon station, I hitched a cab to the night market. I found out (much) later that night that it was walkable…more on that to follow in upcoming posts.

The night market was bustling, fun, and filled with haggling customers and shopkeepers alike. One of the things that struck me as most different from my experiences in the markets in Cambodia was that the shopkeepers were 1) not accosting me to look at their wares, and 2) not super interested in haggling (which, I admit, is my favorite part…that and talking about the deal I scored, which is no doubt about triple the actual value and nonetheless still probably taking huge advantage of every member of the production chain. Capitalism. Le sigh).

So here I am, making my way through the long, one street market, taking in the cheap plastic goods, fake watches, knock off Hermes and Jimmy Choo bags, and wonderfully embroidered Chinese silk scarves and bags, and I am really having a chance to look at things and let my mind wander. In Cambodia walking through a market was a constant dance of avoiding engaging with a shopkeeper until I knew if I wanted to buy something, being pressured to buy something (often many somethings) that I didn’t have any interest in, all while trying to stay in motion so as to avoid being thronged by children carrying naked infants asking for money.

If this sounds insensitive to the struggles of the local merchants and underserved populations, it probably is. I come from a (often too) well-fed, luxurious, (mostly) safe area with enough of everything. Contrasted with about 97% of the world, I have not one problem, and trying to avoid being run over by children clamoring for “one doooooollar” (as Dr. Fuertes would say) is really fairly shitty of me, given the wealth and privilege I enjoy. Yep. It is. And I also came to the conclusion a few years ago when a friend worked for a homeless shelter was that giving a few dollars to each and every person I met in need was far less helpful that using my skills and talents to turn the larger tide. Sooooo…that’s a long way of saying, while it is perhaps shitty of me to think it, I really enjoyed getting to wander the market last night and let my thoughts wander with me.

It always shocks me when I land in a new place- especially somewhere so far from home- I keep thinking to myself, ‘wow, one minute I was home, so real beneath my feet, and now I’m on the other side of the world’. This foreign place that yesterday seemed so, well, foreign, is now beneath my feet, as real as home was yesterday. Perhaps this sounds dumb, but really, it amazes me that we can move from country to country with such ease and intermingle with people from all over the globe. I was grateful to have the time to let my mind mull over this as I browsed.

Well endowed goods on Temple Street. Good for company. No judging: James Franco says it's ok.

And here we go

Greetings from Hong Kong! By the time I actually post this I will be in Bali (God willing, fingers crossed)…but wanted to put my thoughts down before hitting the next leg of my trip.

Weeks of prep, months of fundraising (THANK YOU GMU Dept of Sociology and Anthropology, Center for Global Education, Global Affairs, Point of View Foundation, and School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution!!!), and years of a certain fiancĂ© of mine cajoling me to ‘get outside my comfort zone’ culminated with my departure for Bali yesterday…well, I guess technically two days ago since I’m 12 hours ahead here…anyway, June 27 I took off for Hong Kong, were I spent last night and in which airport I am currently being serenaded by an elderly gentleman hacking painfully loudly.

The adventure really began the day before, when my sister picked me up from my house to head to our mom’s. After much cooing over my beautiful, clever little niece*, Mom and I headed up to New York for me to fly out of JFK the next morning. With the help of not one, but three GPS devices, we managed to avoid any traffic (also it was midnight when we hit the Verrazano, but let’s give some props to technology for helping us avoid the massive parking lot on the Garden Parkway). Once on Long Island, we headed to the least sketchy hotel I was able to find in my grad stipend price range. The aforementioned technology promptly grew mutinous, and we ended up in an industrial park with a gated entrance. Several wrong turns later, we resorted to the old fashioned ‘OH! Look! There it is!’ method and pulled up to what appeared to be a just fine Econo Lodge. I went to pick up the keys and, when I asked the front desk guy how bad the smell was when he informed me he was not able to give me my requested non-smoking room, he ‘helpfully’ told me that “I wouldn’t want to stay in there. Just being honest, lady.” Greeeeat. Thanks.

Eight hours, one sketchy hotel room, and one fabulous catch-up breakfast at a diner with my aunt, uncle and cousin, we were off to JFK. I am super anal retentive about getting to airports on time (a lifetime of tardy trauma to overcome: my mom told me over breakfast that when I was little I asked her why when we went to the airport with Dad we walked and with her we ran), so I was at the check-in line a full three and half hours early. Good things come when you show up early: one of the customer service reps was walking down the check-in line asking people to go out on the later flight in exchange for biz class upgrade and $400 cash. Um. I want to go to there.

And so I tried. I volunteered, but ended up being put on the original flight- complete with a free lunch and $100 on-board credit to spend on duty-free goodies (ridiculously overpriced Bobbi Brown make-up, here I come!). She also bumped me to an extra leg room row, which I had been able to purchase for extra for my return flight but there had been no room when I tried to upgrade outbound. Holy legroom Batman, I will always and forever pay for that upgrade henceforth on all flights over 8 hours. I pulled out my new sleep sack (for sketchy hotels…I feel like this product is going to be playing a leading role in this trip, as it has already accompanied me through my lovely NY hotel, my flight, and last night reading Harry Potter from 3am-7am in Hong Kong International Airport- but I get ahead of myself), propped up my feet on my backpack, took a big sleeping pill, and didn’t wake up for 10 hours. Bliss. (On a slightly related note, I really, really, really love my niece…and I was also really, really happy to not be the lady in the next row who had two toddlers with her. Biological clock? Hitting snooze again.)

One leg of the journey down! Adventure (and likely a few hilarious mishaps) ahead! Next stop, Hong Kong overnight!

*smartest baby in world. And no, I am not biased. So there.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Feeling grateful

I had a really beautiful conversation with a dear friend the other night that is still rattling around, and the more I think about it the more grateful I am for the truth of it. We were talking about my work, and he was saying to me that he thinks sometimes my life focuses too much on trauma. I told him that he was missing the point: my work- and my life- is not about the fact that traumatic things, namely sexual violence and an abusive relationship, happened to me. It's about the fact that the miracle of RECOVERING from those things is happening. My life is not about going back to being shamed in the corner for shit for which I am not responsible. It's about reaching out to others who are still cowering there and pulling them into the light to join me in recovery- be it from food, from sexual violence, or from self-destructive behavior that so often follows sexual violence. So, so grateful.

Sometimes the most beautiful things grow out of mud and muck.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mulling over Moscow

Greetings cyber-land friends. June has proven to be a catatonic month so far. May was packed full of DF (dear fiance, for those of you keeping score from home) graduating law school, a WONDERFUL and well deserved vacation in the Caribbean, and one other little thing...oh, yeah, finals for the first year of grad school. Whew.

So now I'm coming up for air after holing up in my home for a few days, hanging out with my little niece, then gradually working my way back into society, one sleepy and hung-over-from-semester coffee date at a time. In the midst of my post-semester recovery, I'm also getting prepped to head over to Indonesia for the summer with my mentor, the ever brilliant Dr. Leslie Dwyer. I'm beyond excited, and really looking forward to the trip.

To be honest with myself, the excitement I feel for the pending Bali adventure didn't really begin to bubble up until I knew for certain I was going. DF and I made a deal that I could afford it if I was able to get the majority of the costs covered. With a specific financial goal in mind, I kicked the decision to my Higher Power and said that if HP wanted me to go, make it really, REALLY clear with the easy flow of abundant financial resources. After meditating a bit and a great little nap, I had an awesome idea pop into my head (thanks HP!) and began to ask around for funding. The money just flooded in, and by the deadline I had exceeded the dollar amount necessary to commit to the trip- God saw fit to kick in a little extra, which was good because I tend to be really, really dense when it comes to looking for signs.

There is this song we sang at church camp (eeek...just so you know, I don't affiliate as a Christian anymore, but have a look of respect if you do. Disclaimer over.) growing up called "Subtle As a Truck"...condensed, the song discusses the multiple times in the Bible- for example Pharaoh and the Israelite where river turns to blood, frogs rain from the skies, and babies die- where God does a little divine messaging via less than subtle signs. My HP tends to work in, thank you God, less than brutal fashion, and usually leaves me what I call 'divine nudges' in the form of gut feelings, conversations with friends, songs coming over the radio that say exactly what I need to hear, and ideas that spontaneously pop into my head while meditating. I have been given an amazing opportunity to go study in Moscow next spring, from mid January to mid May, and I am trying to get a read on what my HP has in mind here. I keep hoping for the subtle as a truck (only not quite so violent) sign that will be blazing YOU ABSOLUTELY SHOULD/SHOULD NOT GO BETH. Like, perhaps I'll drive by one of the three dozen churches in Old Town and they'll have one of those signs out front advertising the sermon and it will say "BETH, GOD CALLED AND SAID YOU SHOULD GO TO RUSSIA." Nothing so far, and I have been past quite a few in the past couple of days. And, to be honest, even then I would twist it around and convince myself that it was another Beth they were directly that at. Like I said: dense.

So here's what I have been getting since I kicked this over to God for realsies. I was going around and around in circles in my head with 'what do I want, what should I do, what's the right thing, etc' and I finally got in the shower- where I do my best thinking- and told God the decision was in Her/His court. I'm done, I'm spent, and I'm making myself nuts. So I asked for it to be REALLY clear by the day I have to commit.

This was yesterday, and let me recap what's happened so far. The day before yesterday I got a call from my cousin and we chatted about how one doesn't have to go into grad school with a list of particular outcomes in mind- in fact, going in being open to the fact that you may be guided in a totally different direction than the one you had in mind at the beginning can be an amazing thing. What I really came to through the conversation is that you can't make decisions based on what may or may not happen during a given experience, because doors are going to open to you that you don't even know about or can even dream of until you are willing to take a leap of faith into the unknown and trust that you will be caught. That night, DF and I had a conversation about his experiences traveling abroad last summer that made me further consider the fact that I can trust that good things will unfold simply as a result of me being willing to get out of my comfort zone, to push past what I know today and leap into the unknown. There are wonderful things there, too. Then yesterday, right after earlier referenced spiritual shower, I was in the car and this song came on with this chorus about how "it's bigger than this", talking about faith being about more than what we have in mind, because we can't conceive all that the universe/God/Buddha/Great Spirit/WhatHaveYou has in mind for us.

Some sort of energy shift happened when this came on, I swear all of a sudden the excitement I have been waiting to feel about Russia flooded over me. I tend to use my emotions as a barometer to make decisions. If something feels right, and brings me excitement and joy and enthusiasm, that's my cue from HP that I'm on the right path. If something brings up anxiety or sleepiness, that's usually a heads up that I need to back off and reconsider- the emotional equivalent of a DangerDangerWillRobinson signal (no judging, this is working for me well, thank you very much). Up until this song coming on, all I kept feeling every time I thought about the Moscow opportunity was ambivalence. No excitement, no fear either, but just this 'eh' sort of tepid thing. Not so good for navigating off of.

Something about the lyrics of this song resonated with a conversation I had with a friend the day before. She had told me to consider what was best for my recover from my eating disorder- could I keep up my recovery while in Moscow for five months? This question had been rattling around in my head for the past day, and the lyrics of this song grabbed onto the question and put it in a different light: my recovery is not just about not eating a shit ton of bagels. Avoiding sugar and flour has been the taproot of my recovery, but, for me, that's simply the foundation upon which I have built a better life. Once the food is out of my system, I can get these divine nudges, use my intuition, and, last but not least, not be a huge- literally and figuratively- bitch all the time (yay!). So, yes, not eating sugar and flour is part of my recovery, but it's only part of it. If my whole life was about food, or lack of food, that would not be a life at all. My recovery is bigger than that- it's about doing the work that I do around creating better rape intervention policies, about sharing with other survivors that their lives can be defined not by what happened to them in the past but by what they choose to do with their futures. There's a great book by Susan Brison, Aftermath, where she talks about her recovery from rape specifically in regards to reconstruction of 'self' once you come to grips with the fact that the rape has decimated who you conceived your 'self' to be prior to the assault. Brison says (paraphrasing) that the nice thing about having to rebuild who you are is that you get to decide what to include. I have decided that one paramount aspect of my new 'self' that I have fashioned in the process of my recovery has been the passion I feel for fostering discourse (rousing rabble might be a more appropriate term) around how rape victims are perceived. OK. This is part of my recovery too, just as important as the whole food bit. Challenging myself is part of my recovery. My life is not going to be about sitting in one place trying to maintain homeostasis because I am afraid I might screw up or be uncomfortable or be awkward (that's a guarantee anyway) or sound stupid (ditto) or whatever.

A friend told me yesterday, as we were discussing the whole Moscow thing, that many people's greatest fear is of dying. My greatest fear is of not living- really sucking the marrow and living. I'm not afraid of dying. I'm afraid of dying before I get done all of the things I feel I am supposed to do in this life (and I don't necessarily buy the whole 'only one life' thing, but that's a different topic). I want more than anything, as I am rocking in my chair at age 96, that I have seen the world, left a mark for the better- the mark that my HP lead me to create- been an influence for good and for peace. Facing death, I want to feel like I have known life.

Before this turns into a Bon Jovi song, let me say this. Studying abroad in Russia or staying in DC, either way next spring will present amazing opportunities and challenges where I get to enjoy life, grow, challenge myself, and contribute. But I can't help but begin to think that perhaps going is what I am supposed to do. The divine nudges are starting to add up. Last night I ran into a friend in my study group who helped me talk out the logistics, right after meeting with someone who suggested I wait and see how HP handles the logistical hurdles and use those outcomes as a benchmark to see if things fall into place the way they tend to do when I am meant to do something. Then last night a friend asked me to coffee this afternoon. When we met up today she told me straight out that she thought I should go- walked through some ideas on how to keep my recovery from the food in order, and reinforced the whole 'it's bigger than this' thing I've been pondering. She said the question is not "why go", but "why not go?" I am beginning to agree.

Why not go? Because I'm scared. Of what? Being lonely? Not speaking the language? Being away from DF and my dog? Being (really, really) cold? Not fitting in? Check, check, check and check. And yet, none of these seem like good enough reasons to not go for it. Someone else reminded me that there is no such thing as a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I agree. I could go to Russia another time, another way, for another reason. And yet, as I begin to really feel about it, the 'why nots?' are beginning to outweigh the doubts.

There is this great episode of the West Wing where President Bartlet has to decide whether or not to stay an execution (not totally synonymous to my decision, yes, I know). Bartlet's director of communications comes to him with input from his rabbi and tells him to stay the execution. Then a Quaker political operative tells him the same thing. Then his boyhood priest arrives right as they are putting in the needle, and tells him a parable of a man caught in a flood who hears a radio announcement warning of the impending danger, then has a man come by in a rowboat to offer help, then has a helicopter come by to rescue him once shits' creek has risen. All three times the man says God is going to save him, and he'll pass on the offer, thank you very much. When the man drowns and gets to Heaven, God says, "I sent you a radio report, a helicopter, and a guy in a rowboat. What the hell are you doing here?" Bartlet didn't get a Mack truck, but he did have a lot of friends coming with input and guidance.

Much as I am still hoping for a truck-esque sign, in the 30 hours since I told God I was on the look out for any and all guidance that makes this decision clearer, I have gotten a song, then a feeling of excitement that is usually a tell-tale indicator of good things abrewin', then I ran into a friend totally out of the blue who offered really good counsel, then had my coffee date friend- whose input I regard as gospel because she is truly wise- tell me outright that she thinks I should go. The waters are arising, my friends.

I'm supposed to make a final decision by July 1. Should you see any rowboats or helicopters, send them my way. I'll be on the lookout til then.