Monday, January 28, 2008

on a roll...

the speeches just keep getting better...

if you're in Kansas tomorrow and can make it to El Dorado or Kansas City, you can see him live. not since the 60's has a presidential hopeful visited Kansas... so go be a part of history. and happy Kansas Day!

our life, chapter 33

Yes, we've reached yet another turning point in the Meg and Eric saga... our first night apart in almost 6 months. Wish us luck.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Real LA!

That's right...alas (which I always think sounds like, and therefore sometimes substitute it for, "at last"), we are in Louisiana; Eric temporarily for now, me permanently. For now. ;)

On our 20-hr. trek down from New York, we drove through Hershey, PA (we could NOT smell the chocolate in the air, by the way), which was quite exciting (esp. the roller coasters made out of chocolate!), stopped in Clemson, where we got to sleep at Amy & Michael's for 3 hours (after driving through the night!) &, even better....VISIT with them too!!! Amy has always done good things for my soul, but to share good times with our lifetime male specimens is just awesome. We had a really great time...Clemson ice cream and all (they have their own dairy, so students make and sell the ice cream...brown sugar vanilla/dark chocolate chip combo is HIGHLY recommended!).

I don't think I've ever gotten home from Clemson before 10:00 or so, and this time was not an exception. We got here at 12:30am, unloaded the NON-sto n go, filled to the brim (i.e. shoes stuffed under the seats!) rental van, got a few hours of sleep, then headed to N.O. to return the van. And no, we did not return it to the truck place instead of the car place and consequently get subtly reprimanded by the Budget attendant, why?

Since then, we've both been in our own little versions of earth-heaven, me spending time w/ Michelle & Maia, Eric spending time in hurricane seminars. What can I say, we're a good balance. ;) Eric heads back to NYC on Sunday evening....hopefully not for TOO long!

p.s. I'm glad I don't use parentheses too much (i.e. every (other) word).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Whitney Nagy, is that you????

Well at this rate, my dear kindergarten best friend who had the coolest log-cabin house ever (that I still sometimes envy), I wouldn't be surprised. All kinds of people that I was NOT planning on seeing this soon after being back have popped up, and I am so thankful!

So we got back to NYC on a Monday, & had a wonderful few days catching up with (i.e. eating lots of bagels & pizza with ;)) Ryan & Mary. THEN Christina Harris (who I'm starting to think couldn't care less about Roy) came up for the weekend, which was an AWESOME surprise. We got to stay with Liz, my old roommate, for a few days, & now have been at Alli's for over a week I think (thanks Alli & Anish!). This past weekend I got to head down to Philly, where I had much needed Janet Iafrate time. And that's not it folks!!! Tomorrow morning, I'll see my old Clemson professor (not that old...about 34ish) & friend w/ his son, just at the airport while I'm picking up our rental van. AND THEN, we're detouring through Clemson to see Amy & Michael (after which we'll see Michelle & Maia, and my parents of course in Slidell, and possibly the McNulty clan the following weekend!!!)!!!!! This is of course not to mention seeing some past volunteers, my old (not that old though) colleagues, my great friend Farida, and my counselor!

Holy moley!!! I'm so freaking lucky!!!!

And needless to say, it's been a really smooth transition, given all this good catchin' up stuff over the past few weeks (Tues. marked one month since we've been back in the U.S.). But it is kinda sad closing this chapter of my life, saying goodbye to some really incredible friends, our church, NYC in general. I'm a bit nervous about being "settled" & not quite as busy as I've been here...we'll see. But life is good, and I feel hopeful.

So go ahead Whitney, you just keep reading your's not like I'm looking straight at you from the other side of the subway car. Pretend you don't see me...for now. Soon enough, we'll cross paths again.

JVC nostalga

While procrastinating during the time that I should be making my poster for AMS in New Orleans next week, I came across my old JVC mass emails that I archived on my old webpage at OU. They should be worth a laugh or two, if anything for how much I've changed (and not changed) since then.

Speaking of change, I've been hearing a lot about this Facebook thing... what do you think?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Those darn Billikens...

Can you believe it? A few days ago, my alma mater, the Billikens set a record for the least points ever scored in a Division 1 NCAA men's basketball game. At least since the introduction of the shot clock. Final score? GW 49, SLU 20.

Ugandan impacts from the Kenya crisis

Here's the latest that we've heard from our friends in Ruhiira, our village in SW Uganda - a region that relies almost completely on overland trucks coming from the port in Mombasa, Kenya for fuel supplies (among many other necessary goods) - and thus is very much tied to the fate of the unrest in Kenya.

The situation has mostly died down as far as fuel shortages in Uganda, but at this time last week in Mbarara - which is the town in which the Ruhiira project office is located - gasoline was going for prices as high as 10,000 Sh/L - the equivalent of about $21 USD/gallon! And we're complaining here about $3! As you can imagine, this basically shut the country down for several days until armed guards could accompany the fuel convoys through to the Uganda border.

In a sign of the larger effects of the situation in Kenya on the rest of East Africa, the East African Commission (which, yes, also includes Rwanda and Burundi) has officially called the recent Kenyan election flawed. I guess Museveni (the Ugandan president who is also currently president of the EAC) finally got a clue and realized that he couldn't gain any more political points by backing Kibaki. (Last week, he basically sold his support of Kibaki for about 24 fuel trucks worth of fuel... talk about desperation).

Pray for Peace.

The universe - in braille.

In general I like to read the occasional interesting update email from NASA - but this just seems fascinating. Imagine: how could you visualize the amazingness of a picture of the milky way galaxy if you've never seen ANYthing ever before? NASA just published a book about the universe in braille.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Not to be impartial.... but....

If you don't get goosebumps listening to this...

I think comparisons to MLK and JFK are fair.

Chaos in Kenya continues

We're entering about the third week of the post-election crisis situation in Kenya, and although the situation has eased a bit, it's still volatile and the current perceived stability is very very tenuous. Effects of this crisis have rippled across East Africa, including back to the village in Uganda where we spent 3 of the last 5 months of our lives. (post to come on this topic) The opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, (who has the support of the poorest Kenyans and many marginalized ethnic groups) has accused the current president, Mwai Kibaki, (who represents the dominant tribe) of vote rigging. International observing groups from the AU, US, and EU have said vote rigging probably occurred on both sides, and the only way forward would include power sharing followed by a new election. In the last week, both sides have offered to meet the other, but only subject to conditions. Odinga has called for massive nationwide protests, while Kibaki has ordered police to breakup any rallies that formed. It's a mess.

Here are some news articles, including one from Uganda lamenting Kenya's descent into chaos and its impact on the rest of the East African community, an article about how tourism in Kenya has suffered in what is a normally stable country, and a behind the scenes look at how economic inequality, not just tribalism, is behind a lot of the tension.

My coworker at Columbia, Judy Omumbo, with whom I shared an office at the IRI before we left for Uganda, is a native Kenyan. I got to speak with her a bit this week about how her family has been affected by the chaos over the last few weeks. (Luckily, she left Nairobi the day before the flawed election results that sparked the worst violence were announced) She said that although her uncle has been threatened their family has been safe.

Can you imagine having to worry about your safety or the safety of your family, just because of their race, or beliefs, or gender?

A quick update of the state of the campaign trail

For those of you so inclined...and I know you're out there...primary season is picking up. Since we last spoke, Hillary and McCain, the two underdogs coming out of Iowa the week before, won New Hampshire. This throws everything and every expectation out the window. There are no front runners in either party. Now who knows what will happen next, but for sure it will be interesting.

By just about all accounts, this is one of the closest, most meaningful, historic primary seasons ever (especially since it's the first presidential election since 1928 with no incumbent running - and we can thank God and Dick Cheney for that). The simple fact that we are facing a Democratic race between the first woman and the first African-American to run, and a Republican race that includes a Mormon, a Baptist preacher, a former POW, and a thrice-married former NYC mayor...who would have thought this to be possible just 10 years ago?

It's hard to stay neutral throughout this process, but I'll try. I honestly do believe that everyone should be as informed of a voter as possible. If I can help that process then, great... but my opinion will probably slip in at times too. =) Here are some sources I've been following:

The CNN/YouTube debates (Dem/Rep) held back in the fall were so exciting as a sign of the future of American politics. Voter involvement, activism, and grassroots participation at every step.

I've also been following the presidential election "prediction markets" at On this site people are investing real money in "futures" that correspond to the percentage chances each candidate has of winning the election. The more money is invested in a particular candidate, the more that candidate's "stock" goes up. It's capitalism at its best. Studies by Iowa State have shown markets like these to be even more accurate than direct opinion polls at predicting outcomes.

And if you haven't done it already, take the Presidential Candidate Quiz we have up on our links section down the right hand side of the page. You may be surprised. I know Meg was. (Mike Huckabee all the way, right Meg?) But the cool thing about this is quiz is that they break down each candidate's position on each issue (like, at least 25 issues, complete with quotes from speeches, etc.) and rate where you stand in relation to them.

Good luck, and if you have a primary coming up in your state, please vote! Especially this year, every state is important.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Tree of Life


In the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, about a ten-minute drive west of the French Quarter on the south side of St. Charles Street, there is a park and a zoo named after John J. Audubon. The main drive through this park is essentially a semicircle. If you view this semicircle as the bottom half of a clock-face, and drive around the outside until you come to about 4 o'clock, you will see a massive live oak tree.

As poetic as "The Tree of Life" sounds, its real name is "Etienne de Bore", after New Orleans' first mayor Jean Etienne de Bore, at whose wedding the tree was planted. That was back in October of 1792, making the tree over two centuries old. It is a Live Oak, or quercus virginiana, and thus retains its coloration all year. These mundane facts should not color your perception of the tree; it's bigger than these words.

The first time I was ever in New Orleans, this tree was introduced to me as "The Tree of Life" by Ken, and Josh, Jay, Jason & I all came along to see it. As soon as its clearing came into view--a clearing which is home to many large trees--there was no question of which tree we were there to see. It's simply massive. It sprawls through one's sense of space; it alters one's entire perception of the word "tree."

The trunk measures over 26 feet in circumference; if it were circular and you knew pi, you could estimate its mean diameter. The main lower branches extend out for at least 30 feet before touching the ground... and having rested their airborne bulk on the earth, give in to their tropisms and arch upward again and continue to grow outward. The exposed parts of the root system look like a giant wooden carving of a lava flow, and rest like a broad skirt around the base, easily covering a circle more than 20 feet in diameter. Beards of Spanish moss grow from every available crevice. The area that it covers in shade must be comparable to a baseball diamond, but Abner Doubleday himself, having seen this tree, would concede that the Tree of Life deserves the space far more than a sandlot.

The tree--of Life, Etienne de Bore, whatever you call it--is bigger than its strictly physical presence. Even if you've seen pictures, I doubt you will understand what it is. Like so many other things, it simply must be touched to be understood.

Could this tree be in our future? I sure hope so.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Congratulations Green and Barack Obama!

Yes, with a stunning 38% of the vote, the color green was your clear choice as favorite color over the last 4 months. Ironically this was the exact same percentage that Barack Obama had last night in Iowa - winning the first official voting in the race for the presidency.

In Swahili, 'Baraka' means 'blessed', and I'm sure Obama is feeling very blessed today.

Here's David Brooks' take on what happened last night.

In related news, take a second to vote in our new poll, about where you want 1000strings to go from here.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Reflections on our first 3 weeks back

Happy 2008, everyone! I hope that you all had an exciting New Year's Eve. We spent ours (and hours and hours :)) in Times Square (actually about 15 blocks from Times Square ;), and it was surprisingly quiet, and not nearly as overwhelming as I've heard. It was nice. I guess we just haven't had enough once-in-a-lifetime experiences lately. ;)

It's been an exciting time for us, getting to spend time with our families and now our friends in New York, though there have been a few shaky feelings in our re-adjustment.

For instance, on the last day of 2007, we had a layover in St. Louis. As we were waiting for our flight, just a few seats down from the American Airlines rocking chair (seriously!), we saw a group of U.S. marine/army/some type of military men come to our gate. A little confused but not too concerned, we didn't really think much of it. Then they were gone, but a group of people began to gather together to look out the window, toward the plane we were about to board. We joined, just like any good rubber-necker would, and sure enough the group had moved outside & were in a little formation next to a mini luggage carrier with American flag flaps hanging over the sides. At the same time that their hands met their heads in a salute, a ~6-ft. long rectangular white box descended from the airplane on the luggage belt. We guessed that this person was being returned from Iraq, but are not positive. We watched for a few minutes. It was really sombering (that really is the best word to describe it), especially as we boarded that same plane.

Also, while we were still in Kansas, we made a little trip to Sam's Club, a store that I have always loved....I mean, massive amounts of clothes, jewelry, tv's, and blow-pops all within 10 cash registers of each other, come on!?! This time, though, we both were taken aback a bit. Considering the lack of resources in the places we've been in the past few months, it was just hard to take in, much less justify, 67 candy bars being sold in one package, not one but TWO loaves of bread in a country where most families have 3 children rather than 8, and free "samples" of food (something that's supposed to be a basic substance that most people don't choose but just take what's available) being passed out. So many choices and so many luxuries that our new friends cannot fathom...I think I'm glad for them in that sense; I'm not sure if we're any better for all the excess. (read Jared Diamond's recent NYT op-ed about consumerism in America)

And finally, of course, the unimaginable, heartbreaking situation in Kenya right now. I think it is really hard in general to hear about what newspapers are saying could be the beginning of a disaster (as if it's not already), but my heart hurts exponentially more thinking about the friends we've made and the streets we've walked on in this more developed of developing countries. I feel so helpless in my "I guess we can only pray" response, but until I know of something more tangible, I plan to do that a lot. Please please join me in that. We cannot have another Rwanda.

I think these are examples to add to the "this world hurts, is joyful" philosophy, because with all this pain that happens and is intrinsically a part of love and us and the world, a growing amount of hope, peace, and joy joins in. I want to be a part of that in new, creative ways every day.