Thursday, October 8, 2009
Sunday, October 4, 2009
There are no actual classes at Cambridge.
There are lectures, which anyone can attend, at any point, anywhere. As one grad student noted yesterday, "They say you can even go to the medical one where they cut up bodies if you want." Of course, I responded. Of course I want to go.
This is Cambridge. Wow. (All the pics included in this post are leeched from google. I didn't take my camera with me running. I have been a touristy failure. FAIL.)
School hasn't even officially started and already I know it will challenge me in entirely new ways. The course structure is unlike anything in America. Instead of sitting in classrooms with 20 other students, I will be sitting in "supervisions" with a peer, a professor and my paper. Wow.
My room is slowly but surely coming to. I found bed sheets and towels between meetings yesterday. Brian took me to buy a phone and showed me the nearby Cambridge Market. "It's not quite a farmer's market," he explained as we walked by fruits, cheeses, vegetables, food stands and soap vendors. "But it is here every day."
Last night I attended the graduate student movie-and-popcorn affair instead of the Cambridge Fresher's Fancy Dress (costume) J for St. John's party and pub crawl. This will undoubtedly surprise those back home, who know I love my ale as much as I love my mathematics. ... and my late nights... and spiders.
Meeting other graduate students instantly humbled me. One was studying Babylonian languages. Another was working on his post-doctorate examination physics. Me? "I'm from Omaha, Nebraska. We have corn."
"Try this. It's kettle corn. It's sweet. Not salty." Yes, I did bring kettle corn to the graduate mixer. And yes, I did force that darn corn on unsuspecting graduate students from all over the world. They ate every last kernel.
After a somewhat rough night of sleep, I forced my cold bones out from under my now-sheeted blanket and pulled on my running shoes, preparing for my very first Cambridge jog. Although the cold temperatures made moving difficult, once I was out running along the river, nothing could stop me.
Rowers out for early morning practice
Cambridge is a beautiful place to run. I gave up on my map immediately, as few of the streets are actually marked and my sense of direction has always been terrible. Instead, I just headed in one constant direction. I passed rowers slipping along the river, their breath rising in the cold morning air. Weeping willows nodded sleepily into the water.
Bridge of Sighs, which is in the middle of St. John's campus
The sun was just rising (because yes, thank god, there is sun) and occasionally I would move through little bubbles of orange-lit warmth. For a while I trailed a couple who had an unleashed scottish terrier trot-trotting perkily alongside.
Scottish Terrier, a la Lady and the Tramp
My run finished at the market, where I bought a bag of farm-fresh apples with the currency of the Queen. I found a cup of black coffee and sipped it as I walked back to St. John's. At 9 a.m., church bells began to till and chime loudly, echoing off buildings and crashing through alleyways until the music came from all around.
This is my home. For two years, this is my home. It may be cold, rainy and heavily-accented, but it is my home.
I am so lucky.
Side notes: I ran by Abbey Road. I think I may pick up rowing. The activities fair is on Tuesday, so I'll know more then. Brrrrr.
Friday, October 2, 2009
I am here. Finally. I am finally in England. Goodness knows it took a dramatic force of effort these last couple weeks to make the old show happen.
Proof I am still alive... and that my room needs sprucing.
Long story short, there was some difficulty obtaining my visa. My first application was denied, which resulted in many tears, gnashing of teeth and all around stomping of feet. I haven't been so frustrated in over a year, not since handling all the logistics of Leia in the legal system after mum's death. Suffice to say that sometimes, bureaucracy is a bit awful.
View from dorm. Most freshers have family helping them move in.
Thanks to amazing efforts by both Cambridge and Creighton, my second visa application was rushed through the system. A process that is supposed to take upwards of three weeks took three days. I have some pretty amazing people behind me.
Another view from Ye Olde Dorm
So! I got my visa. Then I got on the plane. Then I got back off the plane, because the first flight I booked (which technically was the second. First one was scheduled to leave weeks ago) had some sort of mechanical plane hooblah nonsense. At the risk of electrocuting us, the pilot recommended we stay grounded for a couple hours. That meant I missed my connecting flight to Chicago.
Third time's the charm, though. I finally caught a plane out of Omaha, travelled to Chicago, ate copious amounts of veggies in the process, hopped on another flight, watched a really awful movie (transformers? Why did I think I'd even remotely enjoy that?) and arrived in London.
Flying over the city made me grin, feeling like a little kid popping into Hogwarts and High Fashion all at once. I hopped a coach (BUS!) to Cambridge, half-dozing as the sun rose over ridiculously green grass. A cabby took me to St. John's propper.
Bed area needs serious help. No sheets. Nuffin :/ YET!
I walked through the entrance, tugging and pulling two years worth of luggage over uneven cobblestone. A scottish man looked at me from behind the desk. "Ello!" That's when he started to speak fast and I ceased to understand. Accents are interesting.
Fortunately, Brian Biggs (last year's winner of the Davies-Jackson) is smart... smart enough to realize how absolutely exhausted, bleary and generally incoherent I would be at this point in my journey. He left a note with Sir Scottish Man that said to contact him upon the arrival of one Miss D.D. Mercer (me. That's how they write my name here. D.D. ... eee.)
My bedroom view
Energetic and equipped with college know-how, not to mention arms made strong from rowing, Brian helpfully guided both my bags and me around campus. I was paraded through a series of rooms and filled out a good many forms. Library card, gym membership, buttery card (aka dining hall, I think), first born child, I signed for it all and was handed pamphlets of What-To-Do-TODAY in return.
There's a lot to do today.
I'm headed off for a formal dinner this evening, followed by a wine 'n cheese with some grad students, a chilling-at-the-college-bar with some undergrad students, and possibly a movie night with some international students. As a Davies-Jackson scholar, I fall into all and none of these categories at once. I'm thrown somewhere between. It's confusing, but as Brian mentioned earlier, it's also pretty amazing.Now that my luggage is tucked safely behind closed doors and I have napped for an hour or so, I feel ready to embark on the next step of my Cambridge journey. I need to start decorating my room stat. It's as simple as dorms can be. Any suggestions?
My current closet situation: all over the floor.
And here's a random highlight of my day: a little surprise was waiting for me in my pigeon hole (mailbox). Someone annonymously wrapped up a book on baking tarts, with a postcard saying 'Welcome to Cambridge.' I wonder who...
I think I'm gonna like it here.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Getting excited about all the Halloween displays already out
Welcome to Nebraska. Home of Arbor day. Home of GO BIG RED Husker football. Home of... Well, shoot. Let's just call it home.
After flying for roughly 32 hours, I was grateful to see Lisa's ever-chipper smiling face at the airport. She kindly ignored my unshowered-girl stink and herded me outside, baggage in tow.
"The air." I gasped. "You can smell the air. It has smells."
Lisa smiled politely, laughed a bit, and popped me into the car. We were off. I was in Omaha.
For those of you who don't know, Omaha is the nation's 40th largest city (oh thank you, wiki, for completely irrelevant facts). Founded along the Missouri River, it's tucked into the quaint 'n charming great ol' American midwest. There's lots of grass, cows, corn, cows, corn and huskers. That's Omaha.
Now imagine this. Times a million. That's Nebraska on game day. Thanks internet!
What wiki and Omaha's visitors website fail to capture is the true charm of this little place. Before leaving for Doha, I was spoiled. I expected that there would be fat squirrels chasing after my Clif Bars (a la Creighton University) and women chasing after my newly-purchased shoes.
Beautiful mural located down in the Old Market
Having lived in the Middle East, I know such assumptions are ill-founded. What is here in Omaha really is unique. My first morning back, I went on a 2.5 mile walk to the much beloved Super Target. I couldn't stop grinning. The grass was green, bright and dark and smelling freshly of earth. There was a sky, one blue with almost stupidly fluffy clouds, not bleached by a harsh desert sun. Birds chirped. Crickets and cicadas whispered from the corners, all creating the swooping sound of nature. An occasional breeze brought the slightest hint of autumn's chill right up against my face.
Enjoying Jason's Deli with one of my favs :)
Since then, I've gone on many of these long walks. My initial intense wonder (what I imagine using acid might be like?) has faded into something more constant and quiet: absolute adoration. Omaha truly is a beautiful place. With its rolling green hills and its four seasons, with the leaves of trees already tinged with reds and berries, with its farms crouching close at the city's limits, it drips its own unique splendor.
Part of the Labor Day parade: Tractors
Another charm of the big ol' Nebraska, and Omaha in particular? There are women. Women in the stores. Women in the streets. Women with their lil babies screaming at the grocery store. ...nix that last one. But there are women. After spending three months in a region where ladies are few and far between, I am constantly struck by the wonder of seeing gals out and about. Suddenly, I'm not a rarity, an oddity. I am just one of many others, and I am perfectly a-ok with that.
Part of the Labor Day Parade round II: Cars with singing fish
I love being back. Bet you couldn't tell.
Having only three weeks in Omaha before shipping out to Cali has made my time here both extra precious and a bit sad. Everything I so adore (read: Jason's Deli, Whole Foods, good people) will soon be gone. For the first time in a very long time, I feel like I finally have found a home. Thanks to Creighton, my close friends, my professors, and all those other amazing individuals (you know who you are), I have a little niche that is mine, a place where I feel not only comfortable but also loved.
Marco loves a lil lovin'
Rather than dwell on the sad aspect of my imminent departure, I've been spending these last couple weeks enjoying my favorites. I've visited several farmers' markets (both here and in Lincoln). I've seen friends out the wazoo (which gives me a great excuse to eat at all my favorite places, especially because they've usually been willing to drive my car-less tush around). I've even popped up to Creighton a couple times, riding in with Lisa. I still love Creighton. Go there.
Downtown. Pic from internet.
So that's Nebraska. I'm heading out to Cali in just two days, and from there I'll be wandering across the pond. It's crazy to think that in less than two weeks, I will be in England (if things with the visa work out, knock on wood, cross your fingers, kill a leprechaun).
I'm glad that I have a home, and that it's here in Omaha.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
I can't believe it's over.
3 months, ninety days, endless experiences all beneath the melting desert sun, and it's over. I'm back in Omaha.
I arrived only hours ago after roughly thirty-three joyous hours of traveling through the wonderful creations that are airports. Dante knew nothing of the circles of hell. I've got him beat... but that's a story for another time.
My last days in Doha were fantastic. As Ramadan commenced in full swing, I found myself striving to savor those last niblets of all my favorite Qatar things. The ABODE gang took me to Thai Snack, where I gorged myself on melon dipped in curry sauce, fried morning glories and of course papaya salad. I will miss that.
Sweaty and stuffed outside Thai Snack
For my final Thursday night, those crazy ABODE staffers threw a surprise going away party. They said we were going to watch the exorcist. Resigned to scary-movie-viewing (I hate horror films), I showed up at Bryce's apartment with popcorn and peas. Kath met me outside with a grin. "You scared?" This from the girl who gets goosebumps watching daytime TV.
"Of course!" I exclaimed, following her up, up and away into Bryce's apartment. We all know how this story ends. Crowding in the hallway were all the people I had come to know and absolutely cherish during my time at Doha: Bryce, Tessa, Megan, Del, others. "SURPRISE!" They shouted as I walked inside. "Surprise!"
Megan, me, kath and Joyce (an amazing person/writer/MISS YOU!)
"We made vegetarian food," explained Kath, showing me the impressive array of goodies. Bryce prepared Indian dishes. Kath cooked up some puppy chow and chopped vegetables. ("I knew how to cut cauliflower because you showed me," she noted. "I hated it.") Megan whipped together her famous guac, and Tessa repeated the created-by-mistake hummus Lebanese seven layer mexican style dip, which tastes far better than it sounds.
Poor Salah: promised movie time, equally surprised by surprise party
"And we made bloody maries because they are veggie too," added a grinning Miss Flood.
Half the snack table. YUM.
I spent the remaining days in the company of good friends, relishing the sun, sand and all that I would soon leave.
Then it was time to go. They took me to the airport, this unexpected family of mine, Bryce and Tessa and of course Kathleen. We hugged and I almost couldn't let go. I'm not ready, I wanted to say. I could stay another nine months, I could keep on writing and living with Kath. I'm not ready.
Kath pushed a note into my hand and slid a bracelet on my wrist. I've never been one to cry when appropriate, so the tears I felt in my heart weren't quite there on my face. Suffice to say it was hard to walk through that awful security checkpoint and commence my long journey back towards H'omaha. I'm not ready.
Shisha partner, and so much more (liason? Sister? Both? Mobile?)
Now, sitting in bed hours later waiting for the sun to rise, with the smell of autumn mixing with the scent of clean bed sheets and bottles of my untouched perfume, I realize just how much I grew to love Doha and the people there. The opportunity was amazing. Fresh from college, I was allowed the chance to work as a full time staff writer for a nine-year-old magazine. My editors gave me freedom to pursue my own stories and guidance to keep me on track. I lived in the Middle East, a land so entirely different from anything I'm used to that still my head is reeling. And I met some amazing, amazing people... people who have again reminded me just how great life can be when you let those certain individuals in.
Already little things about being back in Nebraska are surprising and astounding me. The soda cans open with a pop-top lid. The air is scented with grass and trees that will soon drop their leaves. The sun is still hiding and it's after 5:30. There are no women in abayas, no men in thobes. Wow.
Reverse culture shock, here I come.
For as much as it hurts to leave behind ABODE and the fantastic people I met there (here's looking at you, KK), I am ready for my next adventure. California looms just weeks in the future. Until then, I plan on fully indulging in the charms Omaha has to offer. It'll be nice to see old friends, enjoy my own room, and spend time with Lisa. I want to visit the farmer's market, Whole foods, book stores, my old high school, Creighton...
After that? Cambridge. A new life. A new run.
...speaking of run, I think I may sneak off right now and go for one outside. I can do that here. It's not 120F. Wow.
I'm back in Omaha.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
It's crunch time.
I am talking 10 days until I leave. 10 days until I hop on another flight, bounce to Paris, bound to Omaha, visit folks there, trek to Cali, then head to my new home at Cambridge. 10 days and counting.
Sometimes, the ironic vegetarian in me likes to kiss one of the many weird dead animal pellets lining the alleyways of the Souq. ... Like this.
I feel like I'm doing a Top 10 music list of Doha. Playing today? Possibly puppies and kittens (with the Qatar animal welfare society, which I might be volunteering at/interviewing/exploring for the sake of animal shugah). Early morning workout with Kath and our good friends the above-40-rat-pack (as I've named the same four men who are there every day, bright and early, with me. The sole female.)
...one of those men likes to take a conspicuously long time getting water when I'm stretching and my tush is in the air. The cooler just happens to be located near the stretching mats. Hmm.
But anyways! I am powering through Qatar. There's so much I want to see before I go, and so much I simply want to re-enjoy. It's a bit terrifying to realize my days will no longer be filled with things like this:
Watching Kath work her magic in the fashion world
Del biting Kath's butt... yes, there are many butt bites here at ABODE.
Ego-crushingly gorgeous new friends (seriously, Divya. Where's the justice?)
And what about my favorite places to eat, like the $2.50 hummus and tabouleh delicious goodness i adore from the Villagio food court?
Even Kath loves the hummus. See? Happy face.
There are so many amazing events coming up in the cooler (read: Below 120F, 68% humidity) months that I'll be missing. The Doha Tribeca Film Festival, for starters. ABODE attended a premier of one-minute movies in association with the DTFF. Unfortunately, Kath and I arrived a bit late (I had another event. ... I went to a book club.) and missed the showing of the movies. We did meet some pretty awesome filmmakers, young people, and general hipsters.
Young! Artsy! Female! Film Festival!
I guess what I'm saying is I'm a bit sad to be leaving so soon. It's bitter sweet. I realize my time here is up, and that I'm moving on to a whole new, amazing adventure. Only I've spent these past couple months doing what I love (writing), guided by an amazing editor (that's you, Tessa), surrounded by pretty fantastic people (not my dumb roomy. .. . or the absolutely horrible photographer/editor-in-chief/whatever-title-it-is-now) and working for a fantastic magazine.
It's a 22-year-old journalist's dream.
P.S. Ramadan is just around the corner! It starts whenever the new moon decides to appear, so any day now. Apparently the government has ordered all grocery stores sell around 150 products at market price (?!!), which means eggs, breads, etc will be significantly cheaper. All in the spirit of giving. I can't wait, wait, wait to see what happens.