Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rain, Rain . . .

Am I the only person who likes rainy summer days? They remind me of summer camp. For some reason, my memories of summer camp are mostly of sitting in my tent, listening to the drum of rain against the canvas, or trudging through the hot, humid aftermath in a sticky raincoat.

I think I also like the excuse to stay home and be lazy. When the sun is out, I feel like I should be out or I'm wasting the day. But when it's raining, I feel like it's okay to camp out in front of the television, take a nap, read a book in bed.


Do you have a person in your life who just always brings you down? Someone who just has to rain on your parade, criticize everything you do, and bring up every mistake you've ever made?

I do.

And unfortunately, she's not someone I can just excise from my life.

How do you handle that person?


I'm starting to get closer to my departure. My condo is in shambles at the moment: boxes stacked everywhere; piles of things that I really should sort through before I pack (but I have a feeling that I'll wind up tossing them into a box that will be ignored until the next time I have to move); more piles of books and magazines that I "swear" I'll get to read in the next 12 days; lists of things to do, to get, to remember.

On the bright side, I'm making fun discoveries---like the L.L. Bean gift card that I unearthed from the craft closet yesterday and the CDs that I found in one of those boxes of "things to be sorted" that sat unsorted in the storage closet for three years.

My mother is coming next week to help me pack and clean. My plan is to give her a set of boxes and a room to pack each day, while I go into work. Then, I just don't have to deal with any of it.


I'm getting my hair cut tomorrow. I was going to go super short. Like Felicity-post-breakup short. Hot showers are few and far between in Malawi, and trying to wash long, thick hair in a cold, bucket shower is an exercise in futility. Short hair would be way more practical.

But I think I might be wussing out. For one, I do not have Keri Russell's bone structure. I am not so impossibly beautiful that I can carry any hair style. And I recently unearthed a photo of myself from last summer when I had chin-length hair. It was not a good look for me. (Why didn't anyone tell me?!)

What say you---Should I be brave and go short? Or should I stick to a moderate, brushing-the-shoulders length (and hope that my new solar shower solves the problem of how to wash it)?

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I have way too much stuff.

I decided to tackle the office this week, which meant going through the filing cabinet, the piles of papers and journals and books, the two big closets, and the top of my desk.


So far, I've carted off about three bags of trash, taken an overflowing armload of paper down to recycling (with another pile started), found several boxes that I never unpacked from when I moved in more than three years ago, discovered three old cell phones (with various accessories), filled a "to donate" box, spent an entire day punching holes and putting things in binders, and kicked up a storm of dog hair and dust (gross!).

And, yet. The office doesn't look any better than it did before I started this project. I think it may look worse. I have so many things, and I don't know where to put them. Which is why they've been sitting in piles.

And I haven't even opened the craft closet yet.


So what did I do this afternoon?

I bought more stuff.

I'm starting to stock up on what I'll need to take to Malawi. Today was a trip to Target for toiletries. I'm trying to be more conservative than I was when I first went and packed enough to survive nuclear holocaust. Seriously, I'm still using some of my stockpiled supplies from eight years ago.

So I'm trying to be more reasonable and remember that I can get most things there, even if I have to travel a bit to get them or compromise on what I think I need. Even so, I'm starting to accept that I'm not going to make my goal of packing in one camping backpack (and a mid-size tote bag for my carry-0n). I keep reminding myself that I have to schlep whatever I pack from Lilongwe to Zomba---on a minibus---and then from the bus depot to where I'm staying. Less stuff equals less grunting and sweating and generally making a spectacle of myself as a spoiled Westerner. Still, some things are more easily, more cheaply, and more reliably bought here.


I'm also debating how many tech gizmos I need and/or want to take with me. I'm definitely taking my netbook. I bought it a year ago with fieldwork in mind. And I will actually need it for fieldnotes. I tried doing my fieldnotes by hand last time I went; it was an utter disaster.

My family is getting me a Kindle for an early birthday gift. Yay! Not packing books will hugely lighten my load.

I think I'm going to get a Live Scribe pen. My roommate at the Fulbright orientation gave it a raving recommendation, and it does seem like it will simplify organizing and transcribing my fieldnotes. And I needed to get a new digital voice recorder anyway, because I haven't seen the one I bought two years ago in, well, two years. So . . . .

My biggest debate is whether to invest in a digital SLR. I have a digital point-and-shoot camera, and I have a film SLR. The digital point-and-shoot works . . . okay. It's slow and tends to oversaturate with the flash, but I get decent enough photos. The film SLR takes great photos, but I'd have to pack a ton of film and then hope that the film doesn't get ruined by the heat and dust and multiple x-ray machines and so forth. The digital SLR would take much better photos without me having to lug around film (and pay exorbitant fees to get it developed at a good photo shop---I wouldn't want to trust the drug store photo lab with my film).

Actually, I think I talked myself into it as I was typing that last sentence.

And I can justify it as a research tool and as necessary for ensuring that I have good-quality photos for my future book (based on the dissertation). But still . . . $700 is a good chunk of my research allowance (and about half of my normal monthly income) and other things are starting to add up. On my credit card because I haven't been able to get the last piece of documentation I need to get my grant processed.

If I do decide to get the camera, I'm deciding between the Nikon D5000 or the Canon EOS Rebel T1i. The Canon is the best-selling camera and got higher marks from Consumer Reports, but my film SLR is a Nikon, so I might be able to swap out the lenses between the two. Any thoughts, opinions, or experience?

Friday, July 02, 2010

Friday Five: Malawi or Bust!

I bought a plane ticket for Malawi. I leave on August 15 (which means I don't actually arrive in Malawi until August 17).

No changing my mind now, I suppose.

My departure date is a bit of rare self-confidence. My prelim exam is on August 2. So I haven't given myself any wiggle room in case things go horribly wrong.


And those prelims . . .

To review, for those not in my department, the preliminary exam consists of three literature reviews and a proposal. I have one of the literature reviews (on the political economy of development in Africa since the 1940s) completely finished, ready to turn in. Another one of the literature reviews (on the tradition of the Western "helper" in southern Africa) should need just one more round of revisions, plus adding in a couple more readings that my co-advisor sent to me. The third literature review just went back to its committee member for the next round of feedback. I'm praying that she doesn't savage it. Or tell me that I need to do more reading. The proposal is written, but needs revised.

I'm getting there. And I've got until next Friday to get there. I was supposed to be there today.


I am so looking forward to next Friday. After I turn in these papers, for better or worse, the exam is largely out of my hands. I'll still need to put together a ten-minute presentation to explain my proposed research and how these three reviews fit into that research. But other than that, I can finally kick back, guilt-free, for a few weeks.


Or I can start packing up my place. I've got two renters who have signed a lease, starting August 6. Which means I have to be out by August 5. Which means I really, really have to pass my prelims.

I've already started cleaning out closets and packing out-of-season clothes. I could probably start boxing up books and craft supplies, but that means admitting that I won't read all the books that I've been meaning to read or finish all the projects I've been meaning to do before I leave in August.


I'm excited, though, that I'll make it to Malawi in time for my friend's wedding. And I'm ready to get the research done. I thought about delaying my departure until later in August or even into September, but as I've discovered with my prelims, I am highly influenced by the laws of physics: Once I'm at rest, I stay at rest unless acted on by a great force.

I need to get there, get it done, and get out of grad school.