Archive for June, 2015
I am sitting across from my doctor. He is on the phone with an international disease hotline and looking through a catalog of diseases that you could use to club a giraffe silly. He is making lots of disconcerting sounds one hates to hear from a doctor: “Oh,” “Hmmm,” “Fakt? Really?” and “Ohhhh.”
I take this interlude to study the To Do list in my notebook and wonder if I have lost my mind. At first, Ethiopia was the perfect holiday destination. It encompassed some of my favorite aspects:
1. It was adventurous.
2. It was exciting.
3. It was six months away.
But now, Ethiopia is a week away and I have a lot of things to buy, medicines to aggregate, shots to have, advice to get, and bits to organize. There’s definitely a “Holy crap, I’m going to sub-Saharan Africa in 7 days” feel to my daily life. Everything I buy now is connected with this trip.
The doctor hangs up the phone and lets out a long breath like this: “whoooooo.” It turns out that on top of the three other inoculations I have gotten, I need a typhoid shot. He gives me a twenty-minute lecture on water safety, sun safety, food safety, heat safety, skin safety, and bug safety. He sends me to his nurse so he can “make a list of things I need at the pharmacy.”
His nurse and I are old friends at this point, and we engage in small talk as she prepares my vaccination and I strip out of my shirt. We move with the practiced air of a long-married couple getting ready for bed. She asks about my cat and then plunges a needle into me. She slips on the miniature Band-Aid and stamps my yellow inoculation passport. When it’s over, the doctor hands me a list of prescriptions and other needs and sends me to the pharmacy.
“See you next week for tetanus,” he says as I leave.
“See you. Tell Bela hello,” his nurse says.
At the pharmacy I say something like “Hello. I am going to Africa soon and now I need all of these medicines,” and I hand her my list. The woman in turn hands me a number and tells me to come back later so they compile everything. I step out onto the quiet Vinohrady street, very aware of the safety here in Prague. Chances are that no mosquito is going to give me malaria, no water will give me typhoid, and the sun won’t burn through me like a snowcone. I get on the tram and wonder just how different my surroundings will be in a week.
I am sitting in my office and trying to read an article but I have found that my eyes don’t want to work with my brain. I am lounging. Dangerously. My body having achieved the consistency of overcooked asparagus.
It gets worse. I realize after a while that there is a line of drool attaching my lip to my right forefinger.I am the textbook definition of listless. Other synonyms might include vague, dormant, inert, mentally fatigued.
I look around. Fortunately, my languidness has gone unnoticed, as my colleagues are in the same condition.
When I get a call from the U.S. after 10 o’clock at night, my heart instantly starts palpitating. I am filled with questions and immediate worry. What’s happened? Is everyone OK?
My dad. “Hey Dame.”
Now that we have ascertained that I am not getting bad news, I am wondering what’s on his mind. It’ll come soon, as the old man has never been known for employing the subtlest conversational segues.
“So, how was your day?” I ask.
“Pretty good. Hey, we’re going to Atlantic City when you’re home!”
There it is.
Tweak a few points about your dad and you probably have my dad. He falls right into those “dad categories.” He loves fishing and baseball, refers to “pants” as “slacks” and thinks Mötley Crüe is a skin condition. He has the fashion sense of a blind nihilist, he’s infuriatingly stubborn, and was the Supreme Court disciplinarian in the household. His religion is pens, and there are two perennially clipped into his shirt pocket or – if it has no pocket – his collar. I have never once seen him dance.
I am doing wall sits. There are no words to convey how much I loathe this activity, but I am doing them. I am sweaty and angry, trying to come to grips with the fact that I am now a guy who does wall sits in his bedroom on a Wednesday morning. I am guided by the voice of my computer, who ticks away the eternal time for which this terrible exercise must be executed. Then it’ll be on to the next terrible exercise and then the next.
I suddenly realize that I have been doing wall sits for far longer than the allotted 30 seconds and I finally glance at the screen to see that she is ticking through my 10 second break.
I am furious.
I scramble over the bed and throw my face on the floor in order to do the pushups that the computer is just now ticking away at, telling me in her mocking way that I am behind on my exercises. I am now thrown off and every exercise becomes more difficult because of my frantic attempt to breathe, keep up, and be angry all at the same time.
I look up at the computer, and she mocks from her perch in the armchair, mouth agape, smiling. She knows.
Candidates must pass a language test and a ten minute interview. As each candidate walks into the room, I can’t help but feel a little envy – to be young, in university, and looking forward to travelling and studying abroad. Fantastic. Ten minutes later, as the candidate walks out of the room, I am generally overflowing with one of three emotions:
2. Abject irritation
It’s 8:25 pm, I am at home, and still wearing pants.
Don’t freak out. If you’ve ever read this blog, you know that pants at night normally signals some sort of emergency that requires visiting firemen or an asbestos reader.
If you, like me, harbor a long-held hatred of pants, you might think it’s a special occasion, unrelated female company or colleagues over for dinner.
I am wearing pants and have been home for 6 hours. I’ll explain…before my anti-pant friends disown me.
For many moons the first thing I did upon arriving home was strip off my pants. The. First. Thing. If I was carrying four bags of frozen goods into the flat and found that the cat was on fire, I’d strip out of my khakis before smothering her in frozen peas. I’d spend my days post-work in pajamas and lounging on the couch like an Egyptian goddess. Uh, I mean, god.
But it wasn’t all comfy sunshine and cottony rainbows; there were some issues. In the first place, it occurred to me that I was spending like 80% of my week in pajamas. If you’re not a mental patient or 94 years old, that’s a lot. And while I fall into neither of those demographics (shut up), I began to feel like both.
Whenever I decide to take a trip somewhere, it becomes my world to some extent. Like many travelers, I try to learn as much as I can before going somewhere in order to enhance the experience.
So, recently, my world has become Ethiopia. I read about it, watch documentaries about it, and scan the news for bad things about it. Reading my travel guide and having just finished a travel narrative, Lure of the Honey Bird, I am learning an awful lot about my next travel destination, which I chose in search of a good adventure. And in terms of that, Ethiopia will not disappoint…maybe frighteningly so.
Ethiopia is very well-known for its archaeological sites. The country is simply teeming with history and people flock to the rock-hewn churches, mystical cities like Harar, obelisks, and monasteries. And I will soon be one of them.
One of these is a 6th century monastery called Debre Damo. It’s on top of a flat-topped mountain (the actual Debre Damo), known for its manuscripts, and has never been visited by a woman. Even female animals aren’t allowed up there.
Oh yeah, and it’s only accessible by climbing a leather rope up a sheer cliff as monks help you with a goat-skin harness tied around your waist.
Since reading about this I have been assaulted by visions of several monks dragging me up a hill as I collapse into a juicy bag of sweat and tears. Moreover, since reading that while entrance to the monastery is 150 Birr, the goat-skin harness is an additional 50 Birr, that vision has included the monks bringing me halfway up and then demanding their 50 Birr before they bring me the rest of the way. I guess these monks know how to turn a Birr in this joint.
It seems that the people who write about Ethiopia mention the wildlife in a very casual manner. Oh and some hyenas disrupted our lunch in Harar and we were forced to shoo them with brooms and sticks before dessert.
I am trying to walk up the sidewalk, but there are two old Czech women in front of me doing their magic. Old Czech women are capable of taking up 98.6% of any area in which you are trying to walk, including sidewalks, doorways, and steps.
I am frustrated.
While hemming and hawing, an Obi-Wan-ish voice croons “Go forward.” And I listen. Oh, I don’t do anything bad to the old ladies, I just go decisively forward, and soon find myself clear of the babas. Later, I try to place the Obi-Wan source of that advice and realize that it came to me a hundred times a week on a muddy rugby field in Pittsburgh twenty years ago.
Then I go into a nostalgia hallucination involving blood, mud, singing, beer, and boots. When I come back to, I wonder how many other bits of life advice I took in playing rugby. Here’s what I come up with.
When I visit the US in the summer, I revel in the differences between the Czech Republic and the US. But it’s not long before I miss my adoptive country. Now, anyone who has been to Prague knows that there are many things to miss. I mean, there is the castle, the river, Naplavka, and Czech women, who I would wrestle Apollo in pudding for.
While I do miss those things when I’m away, it’s not what I really miss about Prague. It’s the little unique things about her, the things you see or deal with on a daily basis and learn to love.
One of the things I miss in summer is the pubs. Not just pubs, pubs are everywhere, but Czech pubs. By this I mean a waitress so grumpy that it seems she’d rather set your pubic hair on fire than serve you a drink. Dogs sitting beneath the next table sniffing at your calves. Bartenders with mullets or rat-tails smoking cigarettes and bringing your beer before you ask for one and marking it on your table’s slip.
It’s damned special.