October 21, 2009

I could still get Dengue Fever!

Omen or not, I fainted at the Infectious Disease Clinic today. During (or after) the third shot, I felt the blackness racing up my spine. I thought about saying something to the nurse, but nothing came out. Instead, a reckless dream of flashing lights and Cambodian marsh whizzed before my rolled-back eyes as I slumped off the table to the floor. The unconscious bliss was interrupted by the reality of low pile carpet and a rampant sweat. The nurse posed the question Are you okay as though it was normal for people to just fall off things and collapse in a puddle of sweat. When I realized where I was, what had happened, and the horrible feeling all over my body I was so disappointed. I was hoping that the last time I fainted was a fluke, and that this time would be a glorious show of my mind-body control. Not at all.

On the bright side, I got the big three: typhoid, Hep A, and a tetanus booster, out of the way. From the ground, the possibility of yet another shot (the flu shot) made me wish I had hit my head on something on the way down. I lie there, staring up at the ceiling, wishing that unconsciousness had lasted a little longer, for now I was shaking and sweating to a miserable heartbeat as the nurse took my blood pressure. She brought me a root beer to calm my shakes, and brought Takeshi in from the waiting room. The combination of root beer, my boyfriend, and overwhelming embarrassment took me over the edge: I hunched over the blue barf bag and with awesome precision, unloaded my breakfast and the root beer into the little blue bag as Takeshi made awkward small talk with the nurse.

Thoroughly inoculated, though not against influenza, I was wheeled out of the clinic in a rickshaw--I mean--a wheelchair. Rolling past the patient waiting in the lobby, I enjoyed the pure anguish on his face as I feigned another bout of nausea.

I'm going to have to be a little tougher if I want to conquer the Mekong.

October 15, 2009


I am a woman of habit, a creature of routine, a lover of the predictable—and yet, as I spoon three heaping plastic spoonfuls of ground coffee into the filter just as I do every day at the Writing Center, I feel a surge of spontaneity (in a one-way ticket to Cambodia kind of way). I feel the muse bubbling up beneath my fingernails and the imperative need to express some inner revelation of values and life-things in readable form. Because of my schedule commitments (and lack of revelation), I will not quell my desire to hide next to a latte at Barista’s and write until the blisters on my fingers make it an impossibility. I will not use my soon-to-expire frequent flyer miles to jet of to Hawaii for the weekend. I won’t even deviate from my usual hazelnut creamer.
However, I will type like a fiend until my first appointment arrives, or until this unpredictability of sorts fades into the usual, the blasé, the choking normalcy of a fifth year in Kearney.

October 11, 2009

Perkins: Sunday Morning

Thoroughly greased from our Perkins indulgences, Takeshi and I stand up at the same time as the nosy woman across from us. She butts in, "My granddaughter and I were playing a game guessing who people were and what they do," She paused and looked Takeshi over. "You must be college students," she grinned, anticipating a small victory.

Trying to be friendly with her underestimation, I corrected, "Actually, he's a professor."

Embarrassed, but not deterred, she stammered, "Well, you look so young, I mean, I thought you were probably a student, but please forgive me. You must be very smart. You know, I'm married to a recently-retired professor…" She continued rambling about Takeshi and her husband as we clogged the pressurized artery of Sunday morning Perkins. Much to my chagrin, the next phrase I remember was, "And he'll make such a nice husband for you," she said with an unnecessary wink. I thought of my Women's Studies classes, my liberal views on gender roles, and my general disdain for people who can think of nothing better for me to do. "Professors make great husbands." She had no interest in what my life plans were, what I was studying, or even in my relationship with Takeshi. Once we finally made it to the cashier, Takeshi had to explain his whole career and life goals to this obnoxious woman as I stood there, happy wife. "Keep a hold of this one, he's a good catch," she advised me with another wink as we parted ways.

This conversation was archetypal of the rural Nebraskan patriarchy which I have been fighting since arriving at UNK. The traditional gender role assignments to which I have unfairly pinned all Nebraskans, are often pushed onto me as though I'm in school for no reason other than meeting a nice husband. I'd rather die. It's as if by saying (or not saying) those things to me, that woman was exposing a dark secret.

Hey, your Nebraska is showing.

October 9, 2009

Friday Morning Excuses

My life will never be easier than this. As I sit at my laptop, coffee nearby, I watch my roommate's black lab convulse on the floor, rolling back and forth over a tennis ball trapped beneath her back. Her mouth open, legs splayed, she looks possessed. Her white teeth gleam with saliva, and the taut skin around her eyes reveals her inner wild animal. Her name is Beya, and I think we have a lot in common. Our days consist of sleeping, eating and trying to get exercise. Our bathroom time is scheduled, and it's hard to keep anyone paying attention to us.

For us, life is pretty dang easy. Save the language learner's equivalent to water-boarding, absolute use of case, I don't have much to worry about. Yes, once I have memorized the specific and correct (well, correct to someone) usage of no less than 30 German prepositions, each of which belongs to a specific grouping of prepositions, I will be ready to conquer the free world.

Cursing the evil man who composed our German book, I've been thinking a lot about a video we watched in the Writing Center called "Writing Across Borders." Aside from the plethora of helpful hints and strategies for working with ELL students, this video offered the first accurate description of English articles (a/an/the, etc.) that I've ever heard: Articles are simply to show who is a native speaker and who is not. Not only do I believe this whole-heartedly, but I also think that many elements of language are constructed to damn language learners to a hellish study that yields marginal results.

Since the dog and I don't have many responsibilities, I have enough free time to ponder the importance of articles, prepositions and many other seemingly trivial aspects of language. It's amazing how little of a language that you actually have to know to be understood. With my two months worth of French vocabulary, I feel confident that I know enough to get myself in trouble. Unfortunately, an increased knowledge can also be problematic. A practical decade of German studies has shown me that I still don't understand how to use the right adjective ending, nor the correct preposition for colloquialisms (that's an entirely different issue of location, age, and formality…different day, different blog).

Perhaps the irony of all this is that native speakers are guilty of many a language sin, and in fact, these infractions are generally worse than non-native speakers'. So, here's to missing articles, ill-placed commas, sentence fragments and faulty organization. If it weren't for language mistakes, I wouldn't have anything to study, think about, or talk about with students at the Writing Center.

October 6, 2009

Static Electricity

I detest the arid cold of Nebraska in the Fall. I hate waking up like a crunchy leaf and blowing off to class with bloodshot eyes and chapped lips. I can't stand the little scales that peel off my face, leaving vulnerable pink epidermis to fend for itself.

The dry air is, however, the perfect conductor of static electricity. And at five o'clock in the morning, deep under the covers, my fingers become electrodes, sparking mini lightshows. When I pull the micro fleece blanket away from the sheet, a variable electric storm brews, flickering the tiniest lightning bolts and zapping my skin. It doesn't hurt (except when I super charge!), but it feels like a little electric butterfly looking for nectar on my skin. This control I suddenly have--the power to be electric--must be what Benjamin Franklin felt when he tied the key to the kite…wait, is that a real story? Maybe I'm more like Arnold Palmer, golf club outstretched as the cumulonimbus clouds roll in, just waiting for lightning to strike.

That's figurative lightning, right?

To be safe, and to save my membranes from an untimely demise, I bought a humidifier.

October 1, 2009

Wind and Nebraska: a love story

Today I was reminded of perhaps the best thing about Cambodia: 100% humidity with no wind.

In Nebraska, wind doesn’t blow—it howls through even the smallest crack; it harangues innocent bystanders with blustery battery. The big sky of the plains provides no shelter from the violent air movement. Autumn in Kearney is like stepping in front of an industrial fan, a full-throttle jet engine, and a dehumidifier all at once. I’m being pushed, pulled and all together desiccated by the cursed wind gusts that scream down from Canada on a daily basis. The hair I spent the better part of an hour styling is now whipping around my face, sticking to my lipstick, and mostly blinding me as I lean into the wind, trying to get to class. By February, my knuckles are so cracked they are bleeding, and the rest of my skin has the texture of deer jerky, which by the way, is really tasty, and a great winter survival snack!

Wind has always puzzled me because I can’t see it. I can see what it does to other things, and I can feel it’s prickles on my face, but I can’t see it. I suppose there is some metaphor I could make here, about life and challenges, but I’ll let wind stand on its own today. From a meteorological standpoint, I suppose wind is nothing more than air moving towards areas of lower pressure. From a Nebraskan standpoint, the winds usually dictate what’s coming next. A warm southern wind means nice weather, westerly winds usually mean clear skies, north winds mean it’s gonna get real dang cold (“where’s my coat at?”), and easterly winds, well that’s probably a tornado, so you better run outside to see it. Nebraskans are like living farmer’s almanacs, storm chasers, and grammatical magicians all at once. Who else knows when the last October with less than an inch of snow was? Who else thinks the tornado sirens are a perfect soundtrack to Mother Nature’s version of “Twister”? And, who else can hang a preposition off of any sentence and be considered correct?

I love Nebraska, don’t get me wrong. But between the wind and the speech patterns, I’ve gotta move soon. Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be back someday to find out where my proverbial coat is at.