Last night I made the strangest salad I think I’ve ever made. It may also be the best-tasting salad I’ve ever made. The salad contains shredded cabbage, cucumber, red pepper, red onion, strawberries, sesame seeds, and fresh mint, topped with a dressing made of sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, garlic paste, tamari, and ground pepper. And this, my friends, is one reason I enjoy cooking for myself.

Spring has arrived in C-U, and I couldn’t be happier. I sat on my porch for a few hours yesterday accompanied by sunshine, a stack of academic reading and one very juicy clementine. By the time I walked home from school, however, the first storm of the year was rippling across the sky, and I just beat the first fat drops of rain. This morning I woke up to the cool and grey and damp that characterized my mornings in Paris, and I sighed and smiled and burrowed back down into the covers.

You know, I knew that I needed a vacation, but I don’t think I knew how badly I needed it until I got home. My skin is better. I feel healthier. I nearly killed myself with work before break, but now I can just stay on top of things instead of playing constant catch up. All of these are good things.

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I’m home, and glad to be back in my own bed though I’m not sure I’m glad to be back in the States. There are things about France that I’m missing already. The transportation total for yesterday was six trains, one bus, and one plane – and a whole lot of coughing as I’m sick again. France was wonderful, Oday was wonderful, the food was wonderful, etc etc etc. I promise I’ll write more soon.

In about 24 hours my first matter of business will be du cafe et un paquet de Gauloises rouges, along with checking the following things off the lists:
3. spend a week in paris in the springtime.
8. take a vacation.
16. visit oday in france.

On Wednesday I came to the calm realization that I was going to fail out of grad school. I packed up my books and laptop and headed to the office, where I was assured that no one actually fails out. I’m not sure if that’s comforting or not. Either way, I am about 100% less likely to fail out now than I was two days ago, having just finished the midterm that has literally sapped all my energy and enthusiasm for the last week. I have never needed a break more than I need this one. In three days I will be in the air over the Atlantic, en route to Paris, where I hope to spend a great deal of time drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, looking at art, and generally doing nothing. A very small part of me wishes that I had a travel companion, but the rest of me remembers how much I’ve revelled in my previous solo adventures. It will be wonderful.

a heart as big as the world

i don’t even know where to begin with east st louis. the weekend was an exercise in frustration and bonding. i had a terrific time with my classmates; conversely i am so frustrated with what we failed to accomplish.

i don’t know how to describe to you the devastation and decay we saw this weekend. beautiful old homes across the street from burnt-out, boarded-up, condemned ones. stray dogs everywhere. on every corner a failed business, a condemned home, a vacant lot filled with trash and stripped-down cars. a city that has lost 25% of its population in the last 10-20 years. a city with almost literally NO industry, save that which is creeping back in. this was the first time i’ve been on a tour that included ten minutes about the gas station and how the community fought to bring it in. the woman narrating the tour told us that for a long time you couldn’t order a pizza in east st louis. next week she will lose her job because her outreach organization has to downsize.

our job was to refurbish computers to be given to local families whose children had gone through a computer training course at one of the community centres that houses a lab set up by our professor’s class a few years ago. we came with vans full of equipment and were met with an additional uhaul of donated computers. friday was spent organizing and inventorying all of these donated machines, making sure that each had a hard drive, modem, disk drive, and a cd-rom drive. small groups broke off to do surveys of the sites where they will be doing follow-up work in april – a local library the size of my apartment, a church group, another community outreach organization. it was disorganized from the get-go, with the people in charge off on the site surveys and the rest of us figuring things out as we went along. by five we were exhausted but stayed up late playing cards and drinking cheap beer in our professor’s room, laughing and getting to know each other now that the semester’s half gone.

today – today was different. having inventoried the computers, today we set out to image the hard drives and prepare the computers for distribution. none of us knew how to image, save the two volunteers. again we were learning and flying by the seats of our collective pants – and then things started going wrong. drivers were missing. disk drives didn’t work. hard drives didn’t work. IDE cables broke. promises for equipment were made that grossly outstripped anything we were capable of, even in our wildest imaginings. oh, and did i mention that i had/have no voice? at two, after scrambling to get work done, after half the group not getting lunch, we had five computers to give out. five out of the promised twenty-eight. five. we couldn’t believe it. after all the work we’d done for the last two days – five. and the kicker of it all was that one family sent its members in separately, and so took home three computers. so after all the work done by twenty plus people – three families got computers.

we drove home tonight exhausted and demoralized. there is such a need, and our part was already so small – and to have the end result be even smaller? it broke my heart. i know our efforts were appreciated, and i know that the computers we left behind will be finished by other volunteers and given to the remaining families – but five? that’s it? that’s all we could accomplish in two days’ work? i just – i think i’m too tired to really be coherent about this right now, but i’m really frustrated. i wish i – we – could do more.