Sunday, June 1, 2014

In which I fail utterly

Ethiopian macchiato: the gateway drug
As I stared into the half-full cup of creamy coffee, I could only think: I had failed.
Abysmally. Tragically. Pathetically. Just one more day to go, and I still had not succeeded at the task I had set myself back in March:
I was still horribly addicted to coffee.
India is primarily a tea-drinking country. You can get coffee there, of course, but you can’t get it on every street corner for 4 rupees (about 7 cents) like you can tea (chai). I’ve tried to decrease my consumption now for weeks, but I kept returning to it. I thought that when my flatmate moved out, taking the coffee maker, it would force me to switch to tea, but I would wake up in the morning to find myself halfway down the street to Starbucks. When I told the barista that I just wanted a plain, medium coffee, he laughed.
“My flatmate took the coffee machine!” I said.
“Oh no. That sucks. Room for cream?”
Now, the day before I leave India, I was at a diner called Java Jive with my third cup of coffee halfway empty in front of me, and the waitress asking if we wanted more.
Yes,” the three of us chorus as we eagerly nudge our cups closer to her.
Screw it. I might as well enjoy the coffee now and be extra-miserable as I come off my caffeine addiction later. Maybe the misery of the caffeine let-down will be relatively indistinguishable from the misery of jet lag.
My companions are Sean and Anlam, the two other members of my department cohort. Tomorrow, I leave for India; in July, Anlam leaves for Germany; in August, Sean leaves for Malaysia. While I return in a few months, the others will be gone for a year or longer, finally setting off for their dissertation research. My research is just exploratory.
The conversation meanders comfortably over our fresh cups of coffee.
“We should probably clear the table,” Sean said, glancing around at the groups waiting for a table.
In the parking lot, we hug and promise to write.
“You’ve been an awesome flatmate,” I tell Anlam.
“You too.”
“It’s been a good place.”
“Yeah, in spite of everything.”
She laughs. “Yeah.” “Everything” includes the cockroaches, broken plumbing, obnoxious neighbors, poor climate control, and the incident with the shattering glass door knob. I’m fairly certain Anlam would add my propensity for playing Irish music loudly, the thump thump of in-room swing practice, and my clumsiness after I wake up early in the morning. (I don’t develop the ability to walk without hitting things until about 9 am.)
“Take care.”
“You too.”
Sean I’ll see tomorrow, and so our parting is brief. But I still feel a twinge of loss, the end of an era. I’m not good at good byes. I walk back to my car and go over the couple remaining things I have to take care of before I take off tomorrow—one more run to the storage unit, a quick run to school, another email…
But what I really want right now is another cup of coffee.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Questions I Imagine Someone Might Ask

You may be thinking, Oh my gosh! Flush the sanitation blog has returned! Finally, I can get my acerbically-written commentary and trivia about toilets and poop! My life is now complete! Or, potentially, you’re thinking, Hey, I was trying to get to a toilet fetish website, why the heck am I on this person’s blog?

In either case, dear readers, you will be disappointed. I am not returning to blogging on sanitation in the way I did before. Sanitation will be a part of it, because it’s what I study, but I am using this as a platform for a personal blog, so interested people can keep track of where I am, what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it. (Hi mom!) It’s a bit like a mass e-mail, but longer and less personal. Some of it is also a self-indulgent writing exercise to keep my writing brain limber and to remind myself how to write for normal people. (“No, ‘hegemony’ and ‘panopticon’ are not normal words, Jen.”)

So, after that unnecessarily long introduction, let me tell you where I am, what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it.

At this moment, I am sitting on a beanbag in my apartment at a desk I constructed out of two cardboard boxes, a yoga mat, and the inside shelves on a bookshelf that I demolished yesterday. I am still in Atlanta for a short time yet—I would count the exact days on a calendar, except I am afraid it will cause me to scream and start packing at midnight or frantically scanning books. I leave June 2nd—I leave the math up to you. In the meantime, I am slowly selling, packing, and getting rid of the bits and pieces that have made up my life in this particular abode.

I have lived in this place for the longest I have lived anywhere since I moved out of home for college, and as I look up at the now-blank walls, I cannot help but wistfully sigh. But there is plenty to loathe about this place too; just this day, I gently steered a man who was inquiring our leasing office away from renting a property. (“You do not want to live here. Cockroaches, termites, ants, and the shower I had in rural Ethiopia was better. Seriously. Just don’t.”)

Since people don’t ask me very many questions, I don’t really have frequently asked questions. So I’ll just write Questions I Imagine Someone Might Ask.


Q: Where are you going?
A: India.

Q: Unlike many Americans, I have a slightly more nuanced knowledge of that subcontinent’s geography/I know how to use basic map resources and care enough to do so. Where in India?
A: I fly into Hyderabad to visit some dear friends from when I studied abroad. From there, I will take a train to Delhi, and then from Delhi, I will take a train to Bhubaneshwar.

Q: Wait, why are you doing this?
A: I just finished my third year at Emory. I spent two years in the anthropology department, working on my doctoral program in anthropology, then one year getting my masters in public health. Now, I am finally done with coursework and I can enter the stage of my doctorate where I can do my research. This summer is the exploratory bit for that. I am going to network and assess the feasibility of doing my dissertation in the two different field sites I’m considering.

Q: You mean you aren’t done with school yet?
A: No. I’ve got a while. Leave me alone.

Q: So what are you doing while you’re there?
A: Lots of talking, exploring, looking around. I am interested in the politics and economics of sanitation, so I’ll be talking with representatives from NGOs and the government who work on sanitation issues, trying to get a baseline read on what’s going on there. Why is the sanitation situation so bad? How bad is it? How is it measured? Who is trying to improve it? What has been tried before? What is being tried now? What are the justifications for these approaches?
This is sort of a basic, bastardized summary of what I’m doing, but it’ll serve.

So, I hope, imaginary someones, I have answered the questions you might have. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask. I’ll be updating this sporadically.

Back to packing!