Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Insights from Olivia

Olivia last spoke with me in the entry "International Bright Young Thing" in November of 2012: 

Now, almost two years later, she shares some of her thoughts about college and life.  She has just completed her second year of university studies at Kalamazoo College in Michigan.

As always, Olivia amazes me with her empathy and with her courage.  

How do you feel now that you have completed two years of university?
         My first thought is, I am growing up so fast! I feel like I graduated from high school just yesterday and now I am done with two years of university. Two years of college have been a wonderful experience of growth for me. I don’t know if it is the kind of education I am receiving here at Kalamazoo College or the environment but I feel like over the two years I instantaneously question everything , in other words I think more independently about things and I am more careful about letting my prejudices and beliefs affect the way I look at things. I also have a clearer understanding of the issues that are important to me such as reproductive health and infant mortality. I am looking forward to educating myself more about them and how I can use my education to address or contribute the efforts aimed at addressing them.

Have you selected your major? What made you make this choice?
              Yes, I am biology major with a concentration community and global health and a minor in English. Honestly I have always been fascinated with biology (it doesn’t matter what kind). I always feel like there is something new to learn in the discipline. It is the excitement of uncovering something new. However human biology appeals the most to me. Learning about how we are engineered to carry out certain processes and the tiny bits that make up an entire human being is very intriguing for me. In my freshman year I was hoping to double major in biology and business with a Chinese minor but part of it was due to the fact that I was afraid a biology degree alone wouldn’t be very useful for me after I graduate from college. However I realized that these four years are a chance for me to focus on studying the things I really like and be the best I can be at them. I also love writing and analyzing literature so I decided to minor in English as well.

You have recently joined your school’s newspaper crew; will you be working as a writer? What topics do you hope to cover?
            I actually joined the college newspaper (The Index) at the beginning of my sophomore year. At first I just wanted to write for the paper but as time went on I felt like there were a lot of stories I wanted the campus community to read about in ways that they never have. My first story was about the bombings on Westgate mall in Kenya. I wanted to collect multiple opinions about the issue so I interviewed visiting students from Kenya, an English professor, the college President and a couple of other staff. So most of my articles are intended to sort of present multiple views on issues. I also cover public health and social justice issues. In addition, I wanted international students to be part of the ‘college’ newspaper so I worked with another International student to start a column for international students which featured stories of certain international students and their experiences at Kalamazoo College.

You seemed to be organizing a rally for the #BringBackOurGirls campaign at Kalamazoo. Can you talk about how the rally went?
           I didn’t organize the rally but I think it was part of the mother’s day rallies that were going on in different cities across the country. I noticed there was one in Kalamazoo so I wanted other students to attend the rally so that we can all stand in solidarity with the girls. I just couldn’t help feeling that I could have been one of those girls and the least I could do is empathize by creating awareness of such an unfortunate incident.

 Why did you work to organize this and how do you feel about the results?
         I was able to get a few students to come with me downtown for the rally. I feel like it was a genuine gesture from those who organized it but it could have gone better in terms of focusing on the main point (which was the girls in this case) instead of their captors.

 Have your views on education changed at all in the past two years?
Definitely, I feel like 80 percent or more of education happens outside of class. Most of the things I have learned in the last two years can be attributed to the interactions I have had with people and the events I have attended. I also think an open mind is very important to learning or education. I know this may sound cliché too, but am more confident that education is a great investment and I can’t explain how privileged and grateful I feel for getting an education.

 What are the perks and pitfalls of being an international student at an American university?
I’d say the flexibility in the education curriculum; I get to take a lot more classes outside my major which I think is great. I know this because every time I talk to some of my friends back home about let’s say an anthropology paper I have to write they are like ‘I thought you are studying biology’ haha. I appreciate that because then I learn about other things. The pitfall I guess is that it’s far away from home.

Do social media help you keep in touch with people in Uganda, Ghana, etc?
Yes, I text my friends in Uganda quite often on facebook and I think I am closer to my family because of the various forms of social media.

Are you still hoping to participate in a study abroad program?
I still want to go China for study abroad but I can’t right now for personal reasons but it is still something I am considering and hopefully I will get to go there some day.

 Have you been watching the World Cup? Are you American peers getting excited about the games?
I have watched a couple of games, there are not many people on campus right now but I guess my surprise is the general atmosphere especially in Kalamazoo. Watching world cup is a tradition back home. I just have memories of people coming together to watch games and celebrating. However here it doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

Friday, May 16, 2014

My Breather Moment

Through the magic of Twitter, I happened upon a cool new project called BREATHER.  It's a program created by Julien Smith that rents out little rooms in big cities for short breaks.  

…and when I say short, I mean hours - not days.  Yes, I've rented a private room by the hour in the middle of New York City.  When I told my friends about it, they suggested I'd be wandering into a no-tell-motel…but so far this seems like a sweet little sanctuary in the midst of midtown mayhem.

The studio I've just settled into has a Mad Men styled sofa, an enticing jar of Tootsie Rolls, and a clean, white table set-up for productivity. The mayhem of 36th Street is buzzing below me, but I feel quite relaxed. The 60's color palette is soothing and the whole place is making me wish I had a private office to wander into every day.  

Breather seems like a great idea for freelancers or performers who have to come and go all day.  It's definitely better to chill out in a serene environment like this than it is to kill time in uncomfortable coffee shops or diners.  At $25 an hour, it would be a perfect place to hold a little meeting.

As for me, I'm going to grab one of the magazines perched behind the couch and enjoy a little time to myself.

For more info about Breather, take a look at their website: http://breather.com

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


I am a a terrible cook.  It's one of those truisms I just can't deny.  I've burned rice more times than I can count, I've baked brownies so repulsive they refused to come out of the pan, and my homemade meals frequently inspire last minute calls for outsourced pizza.

Despite all of this, I continue to believe in miracles.  

That is why, while visiting Morocco for the first time, I made it a point of taking a two-day cooking class in Marrakech.  

As a vegetarian, I figured it would be worth my while to master a flavorful couscous or learn how to produce an edible tagine.

Admittedly, the course I took was not particularly challenging. Most participants seemed happy to treat the program as a joyful way to socialize and nibble on delicacies while learning a bit about local recipes. 

Because the class began with a two-hour shopping excursion through the souks, it offered tourists a fantastic way to become familiar with vendors and traditions, but it probably was not a serious chef's cup of mint tea.

In fact, two of my classmates complained at the end one session that all they had learned was "how to slice vegetables".  

For me, this was higher level stuff.  I'm pretty sure there are rules about shapes and sizes of certain slices, but I've never understood how to meet the standards.

I've always been most intimidated by tomatoes.  Whenever I try to dice one, it turns into a mushy mess.  

The woman in the following photo taught me how to properly slice lovely, red chunks onto my carving board.  She did this while speaking Arabic and only once rolling her eyes in frustration.  

She and her colleagues also led us through the ritual of adding all-important spices to each dish.  It was this process that gave me an insight into the culture.  Moroccan's combine intense heat with tangy twists: the pop of ginger in one bite is matched by sweet sprinkles of star anise and cinnamon in another.

At the end of each day, we had collectively created a four-course meal that celebrated all of the flavors of Morrocco.  Through the development of a series of salads, hearty tagines, lightly seasoned fish, and delicate desserts - even the most bumbling among us felt like true chefs.
On my second day (and with a lot of oversight) I managed to make a really tasty vegetarian couscous. Nothing was burned, no one made weird faces when they bit into it, and there was no need to order take-out.
Even my teachers had reason to celebrate!

If you are an aspiring chef, or even someone with knife skills and confidence in the kitchen, this just may be the experience you are looking for.  You can sign up for a class at soukcuisine.com

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Souks of Marrakech!

I recently cashed in a bunch of frequent flyer miles and took myself to Marrakech, Morocco and Paris, France.  Among my adventures included a two-day cooking class that gave me a great insight into the souks of Marrakech.  

Below are some photos of the vendors, bakers, and tantalizing treats that make-up one of Africa's most fascinating markets:

The Baker

The Pharmacist

The Tomato Seller

Raisins, Dates, Apricots, Peanuts, Almonds, and more!


And More Olives!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Back on the Blog...

After a semester of teaching (and grading essays and more essays), I am finally back to the blog!
Updates on Paris and Marrakech to follow...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

From Godot to Glover - Eight Days in The City That Never Sleeps...

New York, of course, is a theatre lover's mecca.  From the splashy stages of Broadway to the far-reaches of Brooklyn, there is always a show for someone to see and an event for another to create.

That the performances and opportunities are never limited to traditional plays or confined to regulated spaces is what makes this city's offerings so vibrant.  For those of us who live here, the options are (honestly) endless.

In the past eight days I have seen a masterful dress rehearsal, one lavish Shakespearean tragedy, a dance showcase that left me breathless, and (while making my way home from the dentist) I found myself surrounded by costumed characters at the West Village Halloween parade and on a crowded subway train.  

If you are visiting the Big Apple on October 31st, you don't need to spend $100 on a plush Broadway seat.  Just cough up $2.50 for a Metro card and watch the drama unfold.

Brandon Stanton's subway shot best summarizes the Halloween
street theatre of New York.

If you do have time and money, however, there are some performances that are well-worth your investment.

Photo: Tristram Kenton

One of the standout moments of my unscripted and inspiring week was attending the dress rehearsal of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot". Under the direction of Sean Mathias, this version of the absurdist play stars Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart.  The two "Sirs" (who are pals off-stage) are fun to watch, but Mr. McKellen's charming interpretation of a vaudevillian hobo seems to echo the true spirit of the playwright. The actor who really held my attention, however, was Billy Crudup. Playing the slavish role of Lucky, the 43 year old actor was unrecognizable and seemingly ageless. He disappeared beneath a bowler cap and a mop of sheet-white hair, and he nearly stole the show. 
If you are in Manhattan and you want to see a worthy production of a masterpiece, get your tickets here: http://www.twoplaysinrep.com
I was less impressed with Ethan Hawke's turn as Macbeth.  His shouts a murmurs overwhelmed any nuance the actor could have brought to the role. I attended Jack O'Brien's interpretation of the bloody spectacle with 100+ students, parents, and teachers from the school where I work.  On the whole, I think we were collectively impressed with O'Brien's clever re-imagining of the witches (men playing women who manipulate and shape-shift their way through the drama) and Anne-Marie Duff's aggressive Lady Macbeth. The play is in previews at the Lincoln Center. http://www.lct.org/showMain.htm?id=223

Photo: http://visionaryartistrymag.com/2010/11/

Last night I took the 2 Train to Flatbush for a one-night dance showcase at Brooklyn College. Savion Glover, a tap phenomenon since his childhood, is now the reigning master of the form and with a resume that includes lead roles on Broadway and in film, he's a seasoned star.  In a show called Stepz, Glover shared the stage with a group of talented tappers, but his subtle prowess was mesmerizing. He doesn't seem to have a center of gravity - he simply floats and pounds and skips and shuffles and sweats and smiles his way across the stage.  He's taking the hoofers on tour this month, catch him if you can! http://visionaryartistrymag.com/2010/11/savion-glover-transforming-lives-through-tap/