A Slice of Americana, Pt. I

February 9, 2016 § 2 Comments

My layover began in the Midwest. Between the flight from London* and the one taking me home to Washington State, British Airways gave me roughly 16 hours to spend in the City of Wind. In some way 16 hours was more than enough. In other ways, not at all. When we last parted ways, Chicago was nearly as happy to see me leave as I was to go. Neither of us looked back and now there we were.

Apart from a completely busted suitcase, judgment from two male custom guards on the amount of items I’d brought back, and a lingering annoyance from the flight that just was, my American return was an easy one. Outside the international terminal awaited my very first roommate and best friend with Dunkin’ Donuts in tow. Throwback #1 to our early Chi-town days as poor art students at UIC, barely into our twenties and still very much wet behind the ears. The donuts were of course stale, having been acquired on an “If-it’s-free-its-me” basis from a nearby franchise. That didn’t stop us from destroying them all the same. Minus the custard ones, naturally. Those are sick.

With limited time, hunger and exhaustion on our side, we bypassed the skyline and headed straight for West Loop. My obsession with teriyaki salmon was still running it’s course, so we opted for a sushi joint in Little Italy. The irony. The meal wasn’t nearly as good as the one I’d had at Hashi Izakaya in Berlin just two days before, but the company was top notch. Coincidentally, the eatery was just across the street from last Midwest flat I (briefly) called home. So began the quest.

From there we stalked our first apartment, a basement unit next to a Catholic church in Bridgeport. My second place we didn’t dare venture. It was a bad neighborhood and I hadn’t realized it until it was too late. East Garfield Park. There wasn’t anything but fast food restaurants, gas stations and liquor joints. At the announcement of Obama’s (first) win, bursts of gunshots rang out in celebration. My last night there, I awoke to shouting: in the center of the two-lane one-way street that passed in front, an old skool Caddy lay flipped on its side. How that came to be I haven’t the faintest idea, but evidence showed that it careened into at least five other cars paralleled parked before it ended up so. Six men surrounded the car, its light still shining. “Hurry up, Get out the car!” they yelled at whoever was still side. “The police coming!” I quietly retreated to the back of the apartment to my room. Completely alone in the two story walkup (the 1st floor tenants returned to Lithuania months prior and my roommate–a magnate for burglars since the day she moved in–was visiting home), I kept myself hidden in the dark that night, drowning in fear and anxiety.

Before long–a short nap and a shower later to be precise–it was time to leave. I bade farewell to my friend’s partner, the Yin to her Yang, duck-taped the living hell out of my suitcase (throwback #2 to our first shower curtain which was comprised of large garbage bags carefully cut open and taped together; always whatever we could to get by) and was off. Little did I know that it would be the last I’d see of him. Rudy’s life would tragically come to an end months later. My homegirl’s grandmother would lie to rest just a week after.

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Grandma B. & Rudy 

 

After my first stint in the 3rd Coast circa 2004, I returned in 2006 to finish my degree at a small private university in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Whilst there, the Dutch-descended family of my friend adopted me in as one of their own. Occasional getaways and holidays I couldn’t make it home were spent in Holland, MI. If not her mom’s classic MGD, you’d often spot us putting around town in her grandparents cherry red jeep, always with me at the wheel. Their trust in and acceptance of me never ceased to amaze me. That lovely, loving bunch. Of him, I’m left with the memory of his muffled musings that night and her responding giggles. Of Grandma B, her bidding us a safe travel, giving us a hug, and asking us if we have enough food to take home. May these souls both rest in peace.

——-

*The Heathrow-O’Hare flight: In which seats were switched, antiperspirant wasn’t worn, my items were borrowed, and I had to get up every half hour for my lush row mates, alternatively. One whom was a gangly thing en route back to Minneapolis from a business in Frankfurt, who kept leaning into my private space and asking me personal questions in great attempt to chat me up. “Are you traveling with your husband and family?” he asked in a manner I suspect was supposed to equate coy but equaled gross. My response was truthful but curt. Bathroom break yet again. And upon returning, dude spilled red wine in my seat and I cut him down. Not another peep. In fact, he bolted from the plane without so much another glance in my direction and went for the furthest lane at customs. I almost felt bad.

The Short Farvel

January 27, 2016 § Leave a comment

I hadn’t noticed it at first, but at some point during the journey from Macedonia back to Berlin a seed had fallen somewhere in the back of my mind. The menac project had kept me preoccupied, so while I could feel something happening, it wouldn’t be until the quiet days after that I’d notice something beginning to grow.

The ideas started of fragile and meager, as seedlings do; possibilities that could very well come to be or easily perish. Some did, but the ones that remained continued to grow. Strongly at that, into unwavering suggestions. Interestingly, these suggestions fed not on what reserve I had of hope, but off the energy I’d been expending into my life in Berlin. As they grew bigger, I became increasingly detached. Done before I knew I was.

Taking stock of my two years in Deutschland at that point, I was certainly better off than I’d been at the beginning, but not close to where I wanted to–or could-be. And I had a sneaking suspicion that, living there, I wouldn’t ever be. As I was coming to terms with the realization, an expiration date appeared on my flat agreement. This made the decision easy.  I didn’t want to move again, but “if I had to,” I said to myself, “it’ll be into my own place or out of the country.”

The instability that is freelance journalism meant that independent living was out of reach. And while I believed it was possible to replicate the happy home life I was leaving behind, the thought of going through that process again and being at yet another’s mercy made me sick to my stomach. Never again. This left me with one viable option. The very outcome my subconscious had long alluded to: 2 months, 6 parcels (4 large + 2 small), and 6 suitcases later, Joyous Abroad found herself happily seated on a British Airways flight out of Germany.

menac

January 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

I try to schedule a day of seclusion for every day on non-solo travel as a generally rule of thumb. Me needs to process and recoup. To re-Joyce, if you will. But there was little time for that; a new project was afoot. Perhaps if I had, I might have recognized it sooner…

I’d received a message during Week 1 of PGLI Macedonia from friend on the European Youth Press board (EYP) about an upcoming endeavour. If you recall, EYP is the organization the holds the European Youth Media Days (EYMD) in conjunction with the European Parliament (EP). I never wrote about it, but I’d invited back to the 2014 session in Strasbourg, France to participate as a workshop facilitator. Ironically enough, the topic assign to me was “Future of the EU.” In true American form I made a poster for it featuring a Delorean. (Yes, I’ll consider a throwback post.)

The upcoming project had nothing to do with EYMD, but with menac (the Middle East North Africa Committee), a group striving to enhance the voices of young journalists and media-makers across Europe and the MENA region, and to promote intercultural dialogue and the development of a better contextualisation of the respective regions. They needed final outcome packing.

The Rethinking Journalism 2014 Conference

The weeklong session took place in (East) Berlin, although I would have packed up again and taken off abroad without a second thought. It brought together 30 participants from Algeria, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegonina, Egypt, Germany, Lebanon, Lithuania, Latvia and Tunisia. The group of young media makers attended received training on peace journalism and conflict sensitivity via panel discussions, guest speakers and hands-on practicum. At the end of the session they were to submit a final project. That’s where I come in. I was asked to design and compile the completed works into a final publication for online and network distribution. And so I did. After a dizzyingly stressful week of labour, the magazine was born..

A beaut, isn’t she? The magazine can be perused online here  (or copy and paste: http://issuu.com/joyousworks/docs/rethinking_journalism_magazine). Do take a look. Everyone worked very hard.

The 7-day event fittingly ended on the International Day of Peace. As much I’d wanted to stick around and kick back with my comrades, Joyous Abroad was on the move.

A Jamaican Celebration of Independence

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Across town in  the uppity center of West Berlin, the Jamaican Embassy was gearing up to host their “Folk Meets Opera” event at the Maritim Hotel. It was to commemorate the nation’s 52nd Anniversary of Independence. What that entailed, I hadn’t the foggiest idea, but there would be food and that was good enough for me.

But Joyce, you clown, how do up you end up at these things? You wouldn’t be the first to ask. It just so happens that the Adventist Network is a vast one filled with interesting people leading extraordinary lives. You may recall Medi, the pint-sized interior designer, and perhaps A.C., a recorded classical pianist and talented artist whose husband happens to conduct an Argentinean philharmonic. Then there’s D., second-in-command at the embassy whilst stationed there. At one point she was Chargés d’affaires ad interim (interim ambassador)Pretty fancy and important, but not enough to stop me from conjuring ways to test her diplomatic immunity. While I was never secretive about my mischievous intentions, I never did manage to think of anything good. Also, she drove one of those vehicles with the steering column on the right side. It was always disconcerting.

I realize that many of you aren’t privy to my Facebook page, so I’ll recant the event for you. Really, I don’t so much have a choice. I arrived at the venue in true bag-lady fashion roughly an hour early and took a cup of tea with a friend in the lounge. When the doors opened, foreign service people, dignitaries, expat community members alike filed in two-by-two to be greeted by Her Excellency and husband. Slightly disheveled and carrying one too many bags, I attempted to put my best foot forward and quietly moved on. Inside, my homegirl, smartly outfitted and playing every bit the part of a dignified hostess, flittered about expertly. At my state she laughed and shook her head; I hadn’t yet put my bags down. “Have you met Ambassador yet?” she asked with a thick accent I always amusing, yet comforting (the Jamaican accent reminds me of life in Miami). I confessed I did so quietly. This dissatisfied her and she turned me on my heel and marched me over to do it again. We waited until the remainder of the queue had entered.

“This is Joyce.” she said, “She’s been designing all sorts of pretty things for us.” (It’s true, half true for that particular event). To which Madam Ambassador responded, “I knew who you were” and gave me a hug. The kind gesture left me somewhere between partially ashamed and mortified. I’d only given my first name and it appeared I had some sort of reputation that preceded me. Not a doubt in my mind she was told I was special.

Notable Notables

I’ll end with the mention of a couple participants I meet during the conference. They’re babies, still wet behind the ears, and yet the contributions they’re made to the world so far are astounding.

At barely 5-feet, Aya Chebbi is a force to be reckoned with. A native of Tunisia, Aya is an award-winning Pan-African feminist activist and blogger fighting for gender equality. (Her bold activism has gotten her banned from entering Egypt.) Last summer she was invited by UN Women to speak at the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York (video link here). It would be one of many talks at various organizations she would give in 2015. Visit her website, blogspot, and Facebook pages.

Mohammed Elshamy is an interesting one. A photojournalist based in Nigeria, one cannot imagine the things he has been through and seen, particularly the plight of the refugees and the ebola crisis. And yet during our week Berlin, I’d noted that it was often joy and mischief that contorted his face. Mohammed’s images, both stunning and gut-wrenching, can be seen on his Facebook page and website.

 

Here, Alive

January 4, 2016 § Leave a comment

I asked my mom what she wanted for Christmas and her request contained one item: that I write in my blog. Despite being privy to the going-ons of my life, she insists its necessity; gossip fodder for her and pals at work. She recently confessed to “stumbling” upon some of my old elementary and middle school journals. Decency would have insisted she leave them be, but nosey folk and mischievous rascals stay eager for news to pass on. Instead she took my observations to work to share with the gals in ICU. Sinvergüenza. I like that she really has zero shame about it and that I foresaw this happening and decided off the bat never to write anything too personal in it. Jokes on you mom!

For those of you who emailed after my well being and whereabouts: I’m here on planet Earth and I’m alive. Thank you for inquiring.

The last you heard from me, I was splashing about in Lake Orhid, having been one of 70 participants selected to attend the Preparing Global Leaders Institute 2014 session in Macedonia (FYROM). In between romps in the lake and boat rides over it, late nights in Struga, day walks in Bitola and Orhid, play time in Skopje and more ice-cream consumption than I care to admit, my fellow comrades and I underwent 14 days of intensive training in diplomacy and global leadership, primarily through lectures by (Dr.) Sam Potolicchio (whose intimidating bio can be read here), with sessions by foreign service officers/dignitaries, field specialists, educators and businesspersons scheduled throughout. The session concluded with a formal graduation ceremony held at the Macedonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The trip however didn’t end there.

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Graduation, Macedonia 2014

With two days before our departure, Australia and I decided to squeeze in a side trip. Our choices were Sofia, Bulgaria and Thessaloniki, Greece. We decided on the latter. With the help of new friends I met at the main SDA church there in Skopje, I was able to secure our tickets for the first bus out the next day.

Greece

Thessaloniki from Skopje takes roughly 2 hrs and 45 mins by car. By bus, 4.5 hours. When we arrived we headed straight to our hotel, the Capsis Hotel Thessaloniki, located a convenient 4 blocks away. The plan was to drop our items and head out, but travel and social exhaustion struck us like a ton of bricks and nothing sounded better than sleeping. So sleep we did. Famished and desperate for a well-balanced meal* we meandered into town that evening. Day 14 concluded with a fine dinner at a charming restaurant somewhere in the center of the city. A congratulatory gift to ourselves.

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Thessaloniki, Greece as seen from Capsis Hotel

Our goal was to chill at the beach on Day 15, but given that Thessaloniki’s a port city, a decent swimming beach would have been at least an hour away, two for a really good one I’d been told about. So we played tourists instead.

To maximize coverage of the ancient biblical city, my homegirl and I opted for the Hop On Hop Off Tour. According to the website, we were went by the White Tower, Archaelogical Museum, Agia Sofia, Agios Dimitrios, the byzantine Castles, Arch of Galerius, Aristotelous-square and the Port. While I remember seeing a majority of these, the strongest memory I can recall was me concentrating on not to passing out from the heat. Did I mention how hot Greece in August was? It was hot as s### hot; the devil farting out hell fire and brimstone hot, and it was sucking every ounce of life right out of me. (I’ve never been one for hot weather. My body doesn’t like it, I’m personally not fond of it and I don’t know how to dress for it–see images above. Give me rain, snow and gloom any day.)

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At the end of the tour we managed to stagger our way to a some shops where purchases were made and then hoofed it back to our hotel. The rest of our afternoon was occupied with swimming and smoothies at the rooftop lounge (which I recognize sounds mega bougie :/), episodes of the Mindy Project, and re-packing for our bus ride and flight departure.

——-

*While I appreciated the vegetarian meal options provided during the session, by the end of it my system had hardened into lead. A good three months would pass before I was able to look at a piece of bread/starch. That’s also how long it took to lose the weight I put on.

Departures

The thing about traveling as a single female(s) is that sometimes you have to, as my pal Hallie from Down and Out in the EU so colorfully puts it, “chin-check a mother #%@&#^”. While sorting out our reserved tickets, I had the great displeasure of standing before a fellow who had zero regard for my personal space–conveniently as soon as there were no longer any other men around– to the point where he was all up in the transaction I was conducting with the service rep. The bus driver also wandered over at that precise time to nosey. Dudes caught the wrong ones that day and they found out real fast. Not one cast a glance our way the entire drive back.

Afterthoughts

I had only the faintest idea of what to expect going into the program. By the end of it I was left completely blown away. If I had to describe the experience in one word, from the organizers (Angela, Ivana, Dimitar, Arben and Emilija) to the curriculum and my peers from around the world, “remarkable” would be it.  Little did I know what effects it would have…

 

 

Lake Orhid

August 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

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They came out of the nowhere it seemed, giggling and splashing about. There were five of them between the ages of six and ten. Little merpeople. I was with two other gals wading waist-deep in the lake, one from Australia, the other from Sweden. We didn’t see them coming, but all of a sudden they were in front of us smiling, their gleaming, sea-foam-colored eyes on me in particular. The other gals said something, but the sea-children remained fixated on me. They uttered something, I couldn’t understand, but I sensed their curiosity and beckoned them forward. They retreated, all but one. The (b)older of them all. Slowly she swam closer, and when she was within mere feet, I stretched out my arm her. She paused, and then slowly her little hand emerged from out of the water, she stroked me arm. It was like she was touching the statue of David. The she smiled. The gals had been watching the scenario in total disbelief. One of them asked me a question about it and I turned around to respond. Seconds later I felt little hands touching the back of my head. “Wow.” was all she said in a nearly inaudible whisper.

Destination: Macedonia

August 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

After a plane transfer and a bus ride, I’ve arrived safely and sound in Macedonia (map), which will serve as home for the next 15 days. It’s random, but I’m here to attend a summer institute on global leadership and will be one of 80 or so young adults from around the world attending.

Grandpa & Grandson: Thick as thieves

Thick as thieves: Grandpa was on his way to Bucharest with his half-American grandson and was having trouble contacting his worrying daughter that they were alright. I stepped in and made two new pals.

I confess off the bat, that apart from Macedonia being formerly part of Yugoslavia and situated in the Balkan region, I really didn’t know much about it. What’s really surprised me thus far, is: A) how common English is here + how well it’s spoken, and B) how much it reminds me of SE Washington State. Although Alexander the Great Aeroport is far more cosmopolitan than Pasco International, when it was to my back, the hills in front could have easily been “Snob Hill” or Rattlesnake Mountain, and for a few seconds, I thought I was home.

Skopje from the Hotel Continental

Skopje from the Hotel Continental

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The Archaeological Museum of Macedonia

Today Skopje, tomorrow Struga.

Pescado Frito

July 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

As I get older, I’m finding that there are certain things I just can’t forget/get over/would prefer not to live without: some normal (going on drives in my little VW Jetta); some random (the time I out-alpha’d a bully–story below); some universal (mom’s/grandma’s–for some dad’s/grandpa’s–cooking). So far I’ve curbed my need for driving with riding my bike. The memory of the kid easily fades into the dorsal regions of my mind (or brain as the word requires). But when it comes to the edible mixtures of my mom, the struggle is real.

Over the past few years, I’ve learned to prepare a couple things here and there and for the most part I’ve made do. But as “alright” as my dishes end up, they hardly ever compare to hers. (Who’s cooking ever really does, though?) Still I try. Inflicted with a craving for Nicaraguan-style pescado frito (“fried fish”) I could not shake, last weekend I tried.

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Mr. Fish

Now, I’ve never touched whole fish before, I’ve never bought one, nor have I ever cooked one entirely by myself so this experience was entirely new. In many ways I have ignorance to thank for it, because if I had the fore knowledge of what I had to do, I wouldn’t have. I knew that they “gut” fishes, but not that they don’t always “scale” them during that process. My assumption was that when you buy a “clean” fish from the seafood section, all of that is already done, but that it wasn’t meant that the scales were edible (after being cooked). (They are not BTW, and eating them would be the equivalent of consuming the feathers of a bird.) My fish was gutted but not scaled. Imagine my dismay when it dawned on me that I’d have to pluck this fish.

Generally I tremendously despise and loathe touching wet/squishy/greasy things of the food variety. (Dirt/soil, and mechanical parts coated with oil, however, doesn’t bother me). But the craving wasn’t going to satiate itself, so I forced myself to do it. The kicker: it really wasn’t that bad. What really shocked me was that I almost enjoyed it. I hated cooking chicken the few times in my life I actually did, and could only gingerly touch the raw meat having run it a couple minutes under hot water firs. But this, not at all. Curiosity overrode my fear, and I did it.

Proof. I learned that scales like to fly and jump.

The evidence. I learned that scales like to fly and jump. Had scales all over me.

You’ll note that I said I tried this last weekend. Proud as I had been of my self at the time, I was reluctant to boast to quickly for fear I would end up making my self sick. You laugh, but it has happened before. A failed attempt at making hash browns:/

The prize

My Prize

JOYCEY AND THE KID

We were between 11-13 years old, standing in the alley way directly behind my house. It was a summer day, sometime during high noon. I say bully, as he was to some, but he was more the pesky neighborhood kid who wasn’t quite sure I was one he could push around. He’d slugged me for reasons I no longer remember, then took off down the graveled-path in a full sprint. The hit momentarily caught me off guard, and by the time it registered, he was a good 20 feet away and counting. I’m sure in his mind he was Scot-free, but I wasn’t going to let him get away with it. It would set a bad precedent. Calmly I reached down, grabbed a half-dollar-sized crab apple, and then launched it (#likeagirl) at the fleeting perpetrator. Somewhere between 30-40 feet, it pegged him square in the back of his head, which stopped him dead in his tracks. When he swung around, disbelief colored his pre-pubescant face. I smiled, and just as calmly as I picked up that fruit, I flipped him off and then happily skipped away. I made one parent proud that day, and it wasn’t my mother or the Lord.

 

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