Category Archives: Today

Who, what, where, when, why

Top-off

I decided to go the pay-as-you-go route for a Ghanaian cell phone. That’s what everyone does. First after finding every store closed last Saturday I ended up at a Vodaphone place and asked for a SIM card with some amount of time on it. I learned they call it a chip here, and then you buy little scratch of cards with certain denominations to add money or “Top off” your card. You can top off your card in the store or buy the scratch-off cards from little kiosks of even guys sitting on a chair under a big umbrella (red for Vodaphone) like the guy a half a block from my house. My friend Nana’s sister told me most people have chips from all of the companies and top off according to which company has the best deal at the time. Vodaphone now has a bonus 2 for 1 credit going for the next couple of months. Buy 10 cedis worth of time which expires in about a 3 months, and get 10 cedis worth of time which expires in a week. (I’m finding 10 cedis is a little over an hour of calling to the US, which, at the current conversion rate is about $6.67, so it’s about 10 cents/minute.) At another time MTN will have a deal where it’s unlimited calling to another MTN phone, and some other company will come up with another deal. I’m glad I have an unlocked phone. Meanwhile, someone should design a little SIM card/chip wallet so I’d be able to keep all my chips straight (including my USA T-mo one).

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Traffic

When my un-air-conditioned car gets here I am not looking forward to driving certain places and certain times of the day. I have never seen traffic jams like this—it’s worse than the north side of Chicago. In comparison Chicago traffic actually moves. It’s also more like Rio, where there are four lanes of traffic in a two lane road. Yesterday we were on a two-lane street with three lanes going north and one going south. (And the outer “lanes” are scary given that the edge of the road is a two foot wide by five-foot deep trench for water run-off that sometimes doubles as a urinal.) I suspect I’ll be living in first gear and melting in the car and will have to freeze gallon jugs of water for the 45 minute 2-mile trip to the grocery store. Or maybe I’ll tag along with someone who does have air conditioning. Or maybe I’ll just start walking with my little red wagon until I get hailed by a purple and yellow taxi.

Welcome to Accrabatics

In January of 2010 amidst a “mid-course correction” (my friend Carl’s positive spin off of the usual “crisis”) I learned that a long-held dream to join the Foreign Service was still and option, and I decided to put feet on the dream.  I studied for the exam for two months, took it and passed it in March, wrote a series of essays (relying on some pretty tight editor friends) in April, received an invitation to the Oral Assessments (OAs–very involved interview/evaluation) in June, worked with some great fellow candidates to prepare for the OAs throughout the summer, took and passed the OA on September 7th (with several great folks that have either finished training or will soon start), uncharacteristically flew through medical and security clearances (not without thinking I had had or was having a heart attack in the process), had an offer on November 10th, sorted and weeded and packed out my worldly possessions acquired over several decades, and started training on Valentine’s day 2011 with the 159th A-100 class of Foreign Service Generalists (FSO — O meaning Officer) for the United States Department of State.  Many weeks of training later, I landed in Accra, Ghana for my first posting as a consular officer–almost a year to the day that I learned I’d been invited to the OA.  I’m still reeling.

Accrabatics are my impressions of being a new FSO in Accra, Ghana.

Christmas moment

Cap’n Jack’s ChristmasCap’n Jack on Christmas morning, thanks to Santa Paws.

The slideshare embed isn’t working, so for the series of pictures go to . . .

http://www.slideshare.net/guestfa2d43/capnjackxmastreat

Ghosts of Christmas Past

I got my tree yesterday, one that smells like a tree. I figured if it didn’t smell like a tree I should just get an artificial tree and scented oils. It’s more expensive but one of few things I do for me. Single and living alone, I still deserve a Christmas tree and a houseful of decorations.

My friend Virginia helped me this year, and took her job seriously. I laughed as she told me where certain ornaments would go–several of them, she insisted on the mantle instead of the tree. I’ve never decorated my mantle with anything other than the cards and a couple of candles. Now I have lots of little scenes of animals and snowmen and Santas.

Christmas mantle 1Christmas mantle 2Christmas mantle 3Christmas mantle 4

Then my friend Mary came and I let her put the Virgin Mary ornament on the tree. Virginia and Mary are appropriate names for this time of year!

Memories merge at this time of year. Each Christmas becomes every Christmas and I’m every age I’ve ever been with every person I’ve ever known. From a 1989 Christmas letter:

This year we got a real Christmas tree and have decorated it with lights and ornaments from around the world and around the generations of our families. As the sky darkened this afternoon we sat and listened to Paul’s high school choir’s Christmas album and just looked at the tree. Our own tree. Not our parents or siblings’ or friends’ or parents of friends’ or schools’ or churches’ tree. It was a comforting as well as scary feeling of rootedness. New tradition grafted onto lots and lots of old ones from around the world and around the generations of our families. And I smiled.

And another from our Merry-Christmas-we’re-getting-a-divorce letter in 1992:

Ritual is salutary. Each year the sights and sounds and dramas of Christmas take me back to every Christmas before. I remember who I was with, where I was, and what I was doing. I remember the interminable Christmas eves of childhood, and the interminable Christmas eve when I traveled by subway, train, airplanes and car from Germany to Brussels to Chicago after my term in Italy. I remember the first snows during reading period or exam week in college that somehow broke the stress of the time. I remember Christmases with my dad, now gone for two years, and Christmases without him. This year I remember Christmases with Paul, in Chicago or Mexico or Minneapolis. We developed our own rituals over the years that are as much Christmas to me as the Jackson Five Christmas album has been for most of my life. I remember because we are celebrating our last Christmas together.

So this year I visualized the metaphor, tessellating photos of my trees of Christmas past and present into one giant everytree, as this Christmas becomes yet another giant everyChristmas. Amen.

Tessellating Trees

. . .

Do(ve) nothing

Maintaining balance

Ice laced stairs
Deceptively beautiful ice-laced porch, 12/12/07

It’s been really icy here in Chicago lately. I’ve spent quite a bit of time sliding along in shoes-as-skates trying not to fall. I was talking to my chiropractor, Dr. Johnson, today and he said “The best way to maintain your balance is to be dedicated to your direction.”

After a moment I said “You know, that’s actually a wonderful metaphor.” He told me he hadn’t thought of it that way–and he didn’t really seem to think that way even after I mentioned it. I think he deals more in the actual than the metaphor, which is probably a salutary thing for a doctor. I, however, am a poet, and a mathematician, and an artist, and all deal greatly with metaphor.

Fire mazeMany people ask me– especially now in my unemployed state, and at other times when I was looking to move into something new–“What do you want to do?” And, you know, I rarely can answer that question with a vocation or even a specific job. My 22 year old idealism is still active at 44, and I want to do interesting, creative, and challenging work, with interesting and creative people, that makes a positive contribution to people’s lives or the world.

That doesn’t narrow things down much, and, as you may remember from a few posts back, I don’t want to define myself by “not”s, either essentially or experientially. So obviously I was slipping around a lot on the icy option-laden surface my life, having a heck of a time trying to maintain some balance.

Last year, as my most recent vocational struggle was beginning, my friend David Rapier told me, “Backup plans are called backup plans because they may you back up.” So I detached the tether and I am now taking the time I need to sync with my internal compass, choose a direction–be it in process or destination–and move forward.