The Real Dar >> a letter of hope and a plea for acceptance

Dear Dar es Salaam,

I’ve been living here for 2 months now, and part of me feels like my life has been a make-believe world. I’m not going to lie, I’m struggling a bit coming to terms with this sudden lifestyle-of-the-rich-and-famous living of which has been served up on a silver platter. This lifestyle that includes hired help, roof deck soirées, barbed wire fences, and a yacht club membership. While it’s not completely unnatural to me (a point that scares me a bit), and of course it’s quite nice to have someone work our garden so we don’t always have to, it’s not real, not in the scope of where I’m living. But you know that.

Bagamoyo Beach

Side of the Road

So when friends from home ask, “how are you doing?”, it’s with a genuine smile but much hesitation when I say, “I like it here”. Sure I’m settling in, but I have a feeling that I might never really experience the real YOU, nowhere near as real as I experienced during my time in China. And that saddens me, that I can live in a place and call it my home, yet never really know its substance and its inner-workings.

I’m learning, though, and seeing, and observing. It’s taking awhile to see, but I’m seeing little things. For example, the fist that you hold in the air. A fist wound tight and held palm forward, in place of a wave sometimes, or simply as a gesture of recognition. To allow me to pass in traffic. I can’t yet hold my fist up in the same way, with the same amount of effortless finesse, but I’m sure after two years I’ll be throwing my knuckles up with the best of ‘em.

It’s an American fascination, perhaps, to immediately expect to understand and acclimate to a culture, to blend in, and to be recognized as “one of them”. One of you, actually. While I’m starting to come to terms that this won’t be fully possible in my two short years in Dar es Salaam, I hope to at least gain a more than just a glimpse into this city and this country, much more than a kind, yet distanced, fist in the air will tell me.



This weekend, on my first trip out of your city, I drove along 75 kilometers of the real Dar es Salaam. The Africa that scholars, novelists, economists, and peace corps volunteers describe so much better than I am able to. It’s the real Africa, the Africa that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Blood Diamond so often mutters, so succinctly, with the three letter acronym: T.I.A.; This, Is, Africa. I kept saying it to myself in the car as I drove down the long stretch of highway. This Is Africa. This Is Africa that keeps passing me at 100 km per hour while I’m driving at no more than 80. Pole pole!, or, slow down!, please!!!


All traffic critiques aside, This Is Africa, that lives in poverty, surrounded by community, plagued with disease, swathed in fabrics, rich with history. It’s an Africa that has separated us from them, me from you – out of obvious wealth differential, cultural disparity, and a more subtle yet deeply subversive historical context. Damn you, colonial expansion!

Anyhow, I drove past a vast valley of shacks and shanties along that long stretch of Bagamoyo Road, where many of your residents call home. The topography was not unlike my home state of California – a stretch of highway road, dropping down to a barren valley of homes speckled with dry greenery, dusty footpaths, and a view further out extending and dropping into a blue and expansive ocean.

dar highway views

And while I arrived home Sunday afternoon thankful to be connected to wifi once more, thankful to have access to my filtered water and icebox and collection of too much stuff, I thought of the scenic likeless between my home state and that strip of highway that I witnessed. And wondered what other likenesses there are between myself and my new home. Hopefully, really, it is with GREAT hope that I have, I’ll be able to recount other likenesses, more personal likenesses. It’ll be a challenge – between the crime and the how-many-different-levels of how I simply don’t fit in here. But hopefully, I’ll see the real Dar in these next two years.

Respectfully yours, with a fist in the air,


Marriage, it’s like riding a bike

Today marks my one-year wedding anniversary. Well, technically, it’s my one-year marriage anniversary, because for me, a wedding and a marriage were two very separate events that happened about 10 months apart.

Married in China-1

The Diploman and I got married in Guangzhou’s Civil Affairs Bureau No. 3 last June. As is part of the story we both tell today, we had to rush to dragon boat practice afterwards, and because the translator had taken so long with our documents, neither of us remembers very clearly exactly what vows were read.


I’ve learned a lot about myself this past year, and a lot more about this relationship that I thought I knew so well already. Marrying someone is like riding a bike. I know, I know, they say everything is like riding a bike these days, and in the end only riding a bike is like riding a bike. But hear me out.

Married in China-2

You’re on training wheels for what seems like forever, and finally one day, after you’ve thought about it for awhile, you take them off. You ride. omgeveryonelookatmeimriding!

It’s new and exhilarating when you’re on two wheels. You fall off, a lot, at first. There’s some skinned knees and some scratched elbows. There’s a lot of bruised egos, a lot of figuring out what exactly is the best approach to stay on course. There’s a lot of wobblying around, but then you find the payoffs are huge. You get to go fast, you get to be free. Most of the time it’s great, but then you’re reminded that it really sucks when you fall. And there’s never an easy fall, mind you – there’s always pavement and gravel stuck in your skin and ooof, it’s so hard.

But you and your bike, your trusty bike, it takes you places. It takes you on adventures. Sometimes down a wrong turn or two, but somehow you always end up at home. You get to know how it moves, you push its limits, you find new friends because of your bike. Your horizons are expanded, you can see more of the world, and you start to understand new things. Because you know how to ride a bike, you know you can do other things, as well.

The diploman has had his bike since he was sixteen – it’s his trusty (and rusty) yellow Diamondback mountain bike. One of the pedal straps is missing, there’s a lot of paint scratched, he wore through the brake cables this past year, and in the end, he’s really the only one that can ride it because he knows exactly how it works.

Married in China-3

I can only hope that, if bike years are converted to human years, he’ll keep me around just as long.

It’s alive!!!

Screen Shot 2013-04-10 at 2.26.12 PM

I’ve been working on a few things these last weeks, none of which are paying me any money. It’s okay, the DiploMan and I have a deal: He makes the dolla-dolla-bills now, and I’ll bring home about a million $$ per year by the time he retires at the ripe young age of 50.

One of these projects I’m very excited to share with you is my personal writing and photography portfolio. I wanted to make sure to get it done before I moved to Africa, and though every single piece of writing hasn’t been uploaded, it’s completed in terms of layout and content. Over the next month I’ll make sure all my photo and published pieces are up-to-date. In the meantime, it’s live today, so check it out!!


Taking Action

action is the foundation

I find it hard sometimes (okay, lots of times) to focus and to take action. It’s daunting when you realize that your own success truly lies in your own hands, that you don’t have any co-workers/bosses/corporate/bureaucracy to blame your failures on. Because let’s face it – it’s so easy to blame someone who’s not yourself. And when at some points success lies stagnant, it just makes the process of shooting for that tiny bullseye of success so much harder to aim for.

It’s really the small stuff, the daily reminders, that keep me going. It’s the randomly doled compliments that I get on my writing and photography, even if I have a moment of denial because it’s usually a compliment from friends. It’s the occasional writing job I stumble upon, most often unpaid but then sometimes for a loot, for blogs and magazines around this big big big world. It’s the people that I meet, and connect with, that are making it all worthwhile. It’s the women who I encounter who I can’t help but be in complete. utter. awe. at their drive, dedication, and self-made accomplishments, and inspire me to do the same. It’s the blogs that I read that keep me updating my own blog, even though I think my life is a snooze right now. It’s the artwork and the design ideas that I get from local artists and unknown design firms that make me smile, like the image at the top of this post.

This simple little piece of artwork is currently my desktop image.  I used to have a picture of oysters from Maine, but I’ve been needing an extra push of confidence these days so I’ve changed it up a bit. This little diddy was said by Picasso, I think, but frankly I’m sure anyone who’s ‘made it’ in this world has given this sage piece of advice.

Check out the blog The Fox is Black for more great desktop wallpapers. The Diploman has this fun image on his iPhone.

Girl Meets Food…meets me

Hey guys, this weekend is looking bright and sunny in DC. The Niners are making a run for the Superbowl this Sunday, it’s a Holiday on Monday, PLUS the Inauguration is filling the town with all sorts of events and fun stuff for visitors and locals alike. Go! Get out! Have some fun this weekend!

GMF logo

Or if you decide to hole up, then take a click on over to check out Girl Meets Food, an irreverent and witty guide to DC’s dining and lifestyle scene. I’ll be contributing to their already rockstar roster of writers starting….well, starting soon! I’m on it, I promise!!

Happy Weekending!

Living in the Moment; Being Thankful on Thanksgiving

DC Chinatown

A photo of DC’s Chinatown, the most contrived Chinatown I’ve seen


We’ve been back since June, and it feels like FOREVER ago that we were in China. Oh, how quickly we forget! My bank account, on the other hand, serves as a daily reminder that we’re back home.

It’s been interesting getting back into the swing of things back here in the states. Some expats joke about effects of counter-culture shock. When you’re so used to living abroad that things at home – the simplest things – make you feel like a fish out of water. For some people who have lived abroad for decades, it can be the simplest things: speaking English on a daily basis, not being the important American at the bar, or even street-crossing etiquette (ie; Americans’ adherence to it vs. South Asia’s disregard of it). Though it’s a bit on par with the whole “First World Problem” joke that’s been circling the web lately, there’s certainly some truth to it.

Beautiful Washington Monument

Something’s been on my mind a lot lately, and it’s spurred getting notes from friends abroad about their travels to exotic places. I find myself, suddenly, wishing I still lived in China, wishing I could be on vacation this Thanksgiving, and wishing I lived in a cheaper place so I could save more money to do more things.

This has been the hardest thing about coming back to the states from living abroad, when every second is a new moment and every location is exotic. It’s been hard to blog even, when there’s not a wrinkled street vendor selling steamed buns on every corner, or weird dried goods at the market. It’s been hard to find topics to write about when my days consist of writing at the computer and then working at the cheese shop and then watching a movie with the DiploMan.

But whoa, reality check – I shouldn’t need to be an expat living abroad to feel special or important or go on cool adventures or experience new things. We don’t need to pack up and travel and share photos of exotic beaches in order for our friends and family to think we’re important, or for me to feel accomplished for that matter. We don’t need to have mind-altering experiences in order to be creative, and we don’t have to fight a third culture in order to live in the moment and have new experiences.

Fall in DC

DC on a beautiful Fall day


And thus with a newfound spark, I’m off to New Orleans today to spend a lovely five days exploring lots of new things. First a Thanksgiving Feast tonight with some lovely ladies and gents, all whom love food. We’ve got lots planned for the menu, including a classic New Orleans-style oyster and cornbread stuffing. This weekend, we’ve got some city seein’ to do plus reservations at Root and Cochon.

I’m thankful for these new experiences at home, and thankful that I’ve got friends to share them with. Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are!!