Thursday, May 1, 2008

Next Fall ;)

I usually don’t write a post just for a single day, but this is a special case. Wednesday, I woke up and went into work. I was surprisingly refreshed, but did my best to avoid seeing people as I was not in a social mood. I spent the morning editing my pictures and stopped by Susan’s to say hi on my way home for lunch. I took a nap after lunch and was thankfully able to pull myself out of bed again at 3:40-ish. I made a store list, prepped a little for Wired on Thursday and then I went into my office. It was at that point that I got the email I had been waiting for.

The verdict is in, and I am officially going to Stanford in the fall. I was not chosen for the Weidenfeld Scholarship. There were no tears, just a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and a rather unpleasant sinking feeling in my stomach. I would be lying to say I’m not disappointed. I kind of feel it was cruel joke for God to bring to Oxford, let me fall in love with the place all over again, and then say… nope, just kidding. The funny thing is I felt like everything had gone so well. Like I said I wouldn’t have done anything differently, so I can’t say I am upset with myself in any capacity. I tried my best. I obviously wasn’t what they were looking for and that is okay. I still feel like I am destined for Oxford at some point in time, but I guess the timing just wasn’t quite right yet.

Anyway, the truth is I couldn’t be happier to go to Stanford. It seems that is where I'm supposed to be, and now I can view the Oxford trip as simply wonderful and unexpected blessing. So following the reception of the scholarship outcome, I was able to finalize everything else. I am going to room at Stanford with my friend Sarah Moore. I thanked the professor I met at Oxford and delivered the news I would not be at Oxford in the fall. I also emailed the Stanford people with the positive message that I would be there in the fall and was surprised by a lovely response from one woman saying she was sorry for me that I didn’t get the scholarship, but also delighted, even though it might sound awful, not to have to wait a year to have me at Stanford. That was the kind of response I needed. What a journey this graduate school stuff has been?! Both physically traveling all over the place, and emotionally going from the depths of despair (gotta love Anne Shirley) to the pinnacles of happiness. I am happy to be set for the fall and happier to be going to Stanford. I am ready to be in one place for a while and I can’t think of any place that would have suited me better. Besides, I left it all up to God and I don’t think he makes the wrong choices.

“I know the plans I have for you, " declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but is the Lord’s purpose which prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do and your plans will succeed.” Proverbs 16:3

Anyway, at 6:00pm I called it a night. I went and grabbed my bike and headed for the shoppette. I was able to find everything on my shopping list and went home to make dinner. I made a great pasta dinner with a spinach and cream cheese sauce. It was great. The recipe is definitely a keeper. You can find it online here at RecipeZaar is my favorite online recipe site. Try it, you’ll like it.

Susan and I toasted my plans for Stanford and enjoyed a great meal. She brought over some salad that went great with the pasta. After dinner, I borrowed Susan’s hard drive, made some popcorn, and watched the movie Juno. Well done is all I can say… I haven’t really taken the time to analyze it for the deeper meanings, but it is quite enjoyable to watch. I can see why it got such great reviews and won all those awards!

That is all. You can expect the next update in a week or so. Hopefully, this has given you enough to read for a while. It took me long enough to write, that is for sure! Sorry it is coming all at once. That is what happens... p.s. here's a shout out to Raj, who helped me cultivate my love for English culture!

Enjoy the all pictures as well!

Respectfully yours,

a.k.a. the wearied traveler...

Pictures from the fairytale land of Oxford...

Weidenfeld, Oxford, and a side order of bread... What?!

My time in Oxford was, in a word, magical. I don’t know how one can walk the streets of those hallowed halls and not feel a tingle in their fingers and toes. It is beautiful. I wasn’t sure I made the right decision applying to Christ Church College, but in fact I did. Walking the grounds I know I would be happy there. I am actually on the bus on the way to the airport! (It is 4:22am) They have outlet plugins on the bus, which is amazing :) Boy am I a far way from Africa. It is kinda of crazy to go from of the absolute poorest places in the world to one of the richest!

So my flight from Burkina to London was uneventful. Leanna picked me up at 5:30pm and dropped me off at the airport. I was there and just waited around for two hours. When I first arrived I decided to check out the VIP Salon which was conspicuously located in one corner of the single room waiting area. I didn’t know who it was for and figured, hey, maybe there is no one checking and I can just do whatever I want. Well, that wasn’t quite the case. You are supposed to have a business class ticket, something I did not have. However, I learned that I could pay 5000CFA to use the room and you just two drinks and some snacks. I debated it, and if I truly was in a place to call myself VIP I probably would have plunked down the cash and enjoyed the comfortable chairs and table bowls of peanuts. But, since I am on a budget and need to not be frivolous at this point in time, I opted to sit in the layman’s area. It is nice to know though that you can buy your way in the VIP area…

I tried to sleep as best as I could. There was the infernal layover in Niamey as before… I really hate that. It just feels like we are sitting there for no reason. I know, I know they are refueling, adding luggage, adding passengers, ect. but it is still annoying. I ended up watching the National Treasure sequel which was interesting, but in hindsight I probably should have simply slept.

I arrived in Paris and the hour and a half I had to make my connection proved to be just enough time. At Charles de Gaulle you have to go through customs in and out just to change planes it is really a terrible system. Anyway, I made my connection and the flight from Paris to London was a whopping forty-five minutes which doesn’t give one anytime really to use your electronic devices, not that I have one anymore since I lost my ipod… sad. I slept the whole time I was on the connection. Once my bum hit the seat bottom and I put my earplugs in and covered my eyes, I didn’t wake back up until I could look out my window and longingly look at London from my window seat on the right side of the plane, strategically picked so I could have a sweet view during the descent. At Heathrow I got through customs, picked up my bag, and was at the bus loading point in less than forty minutes. That should be a new record. I got the 8:30 bus to Oxford and met two other Weidenfeld Scholars taking the same bus. Both of them were very nice; one American and the other from Jordan. We talked quite a bit during the hour plus journey.

When we pulled into Oxford, it was a beautiful sunny Friday morning. It was a rarity I am told. I was afraid my memories and fond feelings of awe and splendor would fade the second time I saw the University. However, that was not the case. I was equally as enchanted this second time around. The first order of business before going to the business school that would serve as the base camp for the weekend, I popped into the post office and mailed all the Paris postcards I had been saving. I also had to mail several packages for Rosie and Anna, two English girls living in Burkina who help me with bible study :) Can I just mention I actually enjoy the English postal system, some people may disagree, but I think it is quite organized and logically run. AND, my grandparents received their postcard 3 days after I posted it. That is impressive! From the post office I caught the 35A bus to Templeton College/Said Business School/Egrove Park. I met one of the program representatives, got my name tag, folder of information and my room key. I found my room and boy was I glad to ditch my bags! At this point I haven’t really slept yet, but there also isn’t much time for such an expendable activity. In my room by 11:00am I had about 2 hours before lunch. I should have napped. But I couldn’t. I had all sorts of stuff to figure out with the extra day I had to spend and finalize arrangements to visit with professors. I was lucky enough to get in touch with my Mom online. I just had to talk through everything so I could make a clear decision about what to do! Not having heard from the family I had stayed with before, I booked a room at a hostel for Monday night. I wouldn’t end up using the room and am yet to know if I lost only the seven dollar deposit or if I had to pay the whole price of the room.

Lunch was incredible. I would soon learn all the food was going to be stellar quality! The assortment of cheeses as really quite impressive… Anyway, I really enjoyed lunch, but couldn’t linger all that long after the meal because I needed to get to the science area to meet with one of the professors. I donned my running gear and headed to the bus stop. I saw the bus go past on my way to the stop and consequently had to wait another 15 minutes for the next bus, ugh! I figured I was going to be super late for my meeting and was getting pretty anxious. Turns out, the bus was really speedy, once it came, and the walk to the building from the stop wasn’t too terrible. I got there at like 2:33pm. I walk in and tell the receptionist I was waiting for so and so and she said he wasn’t in yet and wouldn’t be in for another half hour or so. It was 45 minutes before he came. I was luckily able to rest my eyes while reclining on padded window seat. The only discomforting thing about the whole situation was there was a warning sign that the panels behind the bench contained asbestos. That bit of information was a bit disconcerting! Anyway, the professor finally arrived and I had a very nice meeting with him. It lasted longer than I had predicted, but it wasn’t a problem. From the Science Area I ventured to run back to Templeton. It was a lovely run. Very relaxing… My favorite part was the discovery that the main bridge you have to cross is called Folly Bridge. If that isn’t a fated name, I don’t know what is…

The run back took me less time than expected, but longer than I had allocated since I got distracted by the shops along High Street. Back at the room, which was really really nice by the way; internet, a nice work area, private bathroom, cable and a plush bed, I took a shower and then took a nice little nap. It was only like 30 minutes, but it felt like hours had passed. I love it when that happens!

That night was the formal dinner. At first it was a bit awkward as everyone was trying to get to know one another. We had to repeat ourselves about a million times answering the questions, where are you from, what do you want to study, ect. At the dinner, there were several speakers. It was great to observe their different styles. After being in toastmasters, I am always interested in seeing how people speak in front of groups. The dinner lasted until 11pm and I was really tired. I had met a ton of new people, hadn’t really slept on Thursday night at all and knew I had a written test in the morning. So I went to bed.

Saturday’s breakfast was great. The only not so great thing was the written test that was looming over the morning. At 9:00am, we all assembled in a room and had one hour to write an essay response to the prompt “What are the virtues and vices of democracy? Answer in relationship to your country of origin.” Well, great. I am not a political scientist nor do I pretend to be. But I answered the question as best as I could. I put together a pretty coherent essay with three virtues and three vices which come as a result of the virtues being twisted by the imperfections of the system. I had given it my best effort and that was all I could be asked to do. I was grateful I didn’t freak out, and was able to sort through my thoughts and plan something I was proud of creating.

The interviews started right after the exam. My interview, however, wasn’t scheduled until Sunday at 1:45pm, the last possible interview time. I could have let that upset me, but I didn’t. Instead, I took a nap after the exam on Saturday. I woke up to go to lunch. As I mentioned the food was something I didn’t want to miss out on. And actually Lord Weidenfled sat down at our table near the end of time and so I got to say hi and ask my Lolita question. Score. I wish I could have stayed longer, but I needed to get the 2:03 bus. I politely slipped away and then headed into Oxford to attend part of an apologetics conference my friend Vince was helping out with at his church. His church is right across from Christ Church College where I would be if I got the scholarship. I sat in for the last 10 minutes of a planned talk and then got to be there for all of the very interesting Question and Answer session. I got to meet a bunch of really nice people at the church! It seems like it would be a nice fit for me… Anyway, after that I wanted to go get some Ben’s cookies so Vince and I headed over to the covered market and partook of the best cookies you will ever find! From there we walked to Christ Church College, because I wanted to have another look around. We tried calling our other friend Christian, but he didn’t pick up his phone. Then, as fate would have it, we literally ran into him as he was leaving the gardens with his friends. So he said goodbye to his friends and joined Vince and I in the master’s gardens. The amazing thing about Oxford is that it looks very old, which is it, and somewhat foreboding, which it is… But behind these stone walls there are all these hidden secret gardens! They are so pretty. I think it also helped that the weekend I was in Oxford, there was wonderful weather. So the three of us just kind of sat around in the gardens and caught up on how life was going. I got to ask a bunch of questions about Oxford which was very helpful. Vince and Christian both went to Princeton which is how I know them :)

We parted ways about 6:00pm. I had to get back for the second dinner, this time informal… Lovely. It didn’t last nearly as long which was great! The only downside was there was no assigned seating so it felt a bit like junior high in the lunchroom on the first day of school. Not pleasant, let me remind you. After dinner they had tea and coffee and chocolates. Yum! I got to bed much earlier and was nice and refreshed on Sunday morning.

Sunday I had a great breakfast and tried to keep myself busy and not thinking about the interview. I read for a while in the morning. Still trying to finish up Lolita. I went for a run at 11:00am. It was great. I brought my not-ipod mp3 player and was able to listen to a very timely sermon and inspiring music as I ran along the Thames. I think I may broken the mp3 player though… it doesn’t respond when I press the buttons. I wonder if some sweat got inside and messed up the controls. Again, I would just like to point out I feel like I am cursed when it comes to music, and by that I mean cursed in using portable music players! After my run I showered up and ironed my black jacket. I got dressed for my interview and headed downstairs. I had to wait a good 30 minutes, but that was okay. I was expecting it.

I walked into the interview room and was surprisingly at ease. I was able to answer their questions to the best of my ability. I had prepared as best as I could. I was not totally at a loss except for the stupid weaknesses question. People were coming out of the interviews traumatized, but I didn’t feel that way at all. I gave it my best shot and would probably do the same thing again if I had the chance. The interview didn’t last as long as I had expected which was somewhat troubling. I was getting all sorts of smiles and what felt like positive responses. I left feeling pretty good about things…

I sat down for lunch, by this time it was well past 2:15pm and I was starved. I couldn’t eat much right before my interview as I didn’t feel like I was hungry and didn’t want to mess anything up. Lunch was great, and afterwards I packed up my stuff in ten minutes and walked to the bus stop so I could go on the walking tour of Oxford. I wanted to stay in my room at Templeton another night, but they said that wasn’t possible. Instead, I would crash at Vince’s place on the extra couch they have in the basement. I didn’t want to come back and get my stuff so I would have to have my bags with me for the tour, but I didn’t really care. I was planning to stash them at the church since I was going to go to the 6:00pm service there anyway.

Well, turns out that the church was locked. My plan was foiled and instead I had to lug my luggage through Oxford as we learned all about how old the colleges were, how so and so went to this college and how many books are in the library, ect. It was tiring and I was glad when it was over. I was also quite dehydrated. During the church service I felt a bit light headed. Luckily they had drinks and donuts for sale in the foyer after the service so I paid my 1 pound and felt much better after refueling a little bit. After the service a group of people went out a place called All Bar One. It was really cool. Most of the people only ordered drinks, but I hadn’t had dinner and was again, need I point out, starved! I ordered a wrap which was a great choice :) We stayed until about 10:30pm and then called it a night. Back at Vince’s place, I cancelled my hostel reservation planning to stay in Oxford for Monday and not deal with the hassle of getting into London for a less than 24 hour stay. I was also thinking the Oxford was looking pretty promising and was banking on being able to head into London on the weekends next year… Anyway, I slept like a rock and morning came all too soon!

Monday morning I walked to the science park and met with the professor at Oxford who knows the professor I will be working with at Stanford. He helps run the Water Science, Policy and Management Program. It was great to connect up and learn more about the program. After the brief meeting I stopped at a gift shop and bought a magnet and a bookmark; a wise use of 1.80 pounds if you ask me. From there I walked the 20 minutes back to Vince’s place and headed out for a run. My legs were done for before I even started! It wasn’t a long route, but it took me forever because I was running so slowly. But how could I stop? And the surroundings were so beautiful I couldn’t help but enjoy myself even though I was in a non-negligible amount of pain.

Once back, I showered quickly and walked into the center of Oxford and met up with Christian for lunch. This time the journey took about ten minutes longer because I couldn’t walk as fast due to the fact I was exhausted! I would also like to point out that the weather all day was really schizophrenic. It would rain then be super sunny. Cloudy and the sunny, then rain. Anyway, Christian is in St John’s College and it was great to have a meal at a real college in Oxford.

After lunch I ran some errands picking up random things people had requested I bring back for them. I got a 1GB flash drive, a map of Southern England, a London guidebook, some red tissue paper, and some pens to give to my coworkers as gifts. Turns out they were fountain pens… yikes. But what can I do, so I am going to give them to them anyway, even though they may be entirely useless. At least they look pretty! I also took some photos and found a couple of neat pieces of clothing and a necklace at a great second hand shop I had been eyeing since I first drove past it on the initial bus ride from Heathrow to Oxford… From there I walked to the ice cream place on St. Aldate’s. Wow. That is all I can say. The ice cream was phenomenal. And, was able to taste the flavor before I bought it. Score.

I ate my ice cream on the way to attending the first Weidenfeld Speaker’s Series event. The title was something like “Are Revolutions Contagious?”. It was very fascinating. It lasted like 2 hours, plus another 1 hour of question and answer. I took a ton of notes, not because it was especially interesting. It was good, but not enthralling… I took notes because if I didn’t I would have been fast asleep and that was not something I wished to have happen. I didn’t know too much about Central and Eastern European history so I was lost in some of it, but still enjoyed what I learned and it made we want to go Google a ton of different topics which I think is a good thing.

After the talk there was nice little reception. I ate a bunch of cookies, again quite hungry. From there I went to dinner with a couple of the other candidates. I didn’t want to spend a ton of money so I ordered the soup, that and as I mentioned I had just eaten a bunch of cookies. However, when I ordered the soup and bread, the server thought I meant a side order of bread and brought me more bread than I wanted. The bread was as much as the soup and had to end playing 7pounds for my dinner of soup and bread… That is like 14 dollars. I was ticked off. If I had wanted to spend 7 pounds I would have ordered a pizza or something legitimate. Not good. Anyway, I left the dinner earlier than everybody else because I had to walk back to Vince’s place. It was 10:20pm when I left the restaurant and 10:45pm when I finally made it back. I had said I would be back by 10pm so I felt kind of bad, but it wasn’t a big deal. Next time, one, I will not order the soup, two, I will just go home. I learn new things everyday. I just thought it would be nice to hang out with the Weidenfeld people some more. It was nice, but I think I had hit my limit and the bread fiasco did not help the situation.

Back at Vince’s I packed up my stuff, yet again, and made plans for the morning. I got to sleep all of 3.5 hours from midnight to 3:30am, when I had to get up and walk to the bus stop to get bus to get to Heathrow for a 7:40 flight. I got there in no time, but spent 40 minutes in line at the Air France counter. It was ridiculous. And I would like to point at this point my body officially hates me. I haven’t had regular meals for two days and the food I have been eating hasn’t been all that great for me… I was a bit queasy. I finally checked my bags in and got through security. I tried to track down something for breakfast, but was only mildly successful. I didn’t have a long wait at the gate which was nice, and the flight from London to Paris is a brisk 45 minutes. However, my plane touched down in Paris at 10:10 local time, leaving me 50 minutes before my flight was scheduled to leave. I have the Paris airport. I think I have mentioned that before, but let me reiterate. Thankfully, I didn’t have to go in and out of customs as I had on the way over. After a good twenty minute walk from one terminal to the next, and a short delay at security, I made it to my gate as the plane was boarding. Thankfully, it wasn’t the last call like my time through Paris. But still. Once, just once, I would like to feel like I have things under control as I am flying through Paris.

The godsend of the whole trip was that I was able to sleep on both of my flights. I was done for. I did wake up for the meal and after the meal watched I Am Legend before falling asleep again. The plane made a stopover in Niamey, Niger. I hate just having to sit and wait on planes like that. But alas, there wasn’t much I could do about it was there. So I dosed in and out of consciousness. I was so happy to be parked in Ouagadougou. After the landing we taxied for what seemed like forever. I was not doing well and really needed to get some fresh air off of the plane. I had a similar feeling getting off of the bus that morning. My poor body had been through a lot of flights in the last month and wasn’t too happy about it… I went through customs without a hitch this time. Last time I had filled out my landing card in pencil and had to redo it. I wanted to yell at them that if they wanted it in pen they needed to indicate it somewhere on the card. BUT it is Africa. It wouldn’t have made a stinking difference.

Leanna picked me up from the airport and we went back to her house. I had offered to help her decorate the cakes for prom and was happy to spend some time with her. She Skyped with her sister and I emailed my parents and took a shower before we got down to business on the cake. The theme for the dance was Fire and Ice so we made flames and icicles growing from opposite corners of the cake. It turned out very well. Afterwards we invited Ben over to share a smaller leftover cake that I had decorated to look like an Easter egg. Go figure. Leanna drove me home and I wanted to sleep so badly. However, I had to greet the new lady who was staying at my house. Things just keep getting more and more complicated, eh? Anyway, to my relief she is very kind and I was able to talk to her for just a few minutes before politely excusing myself for the evening.

So that is it. My travels have officially come to a halt. It is a bit of a let down and I wonder how I will readjust to life in Africa. I feel it will be as hard as I first imagined it would be. With only two months left I feel like it will be struggle to concentrate, but I am going to pray it all works out. Somehow it usually does…

Brief stop at home in Burkina...

So I don’t remember all that much about the 3 days I spent back in Africa before heading out for England. I know on Tuesday I went work and did as much as I could do. I greeted all my co-workers and stopped in to see Professor Maiga. I know that doesn’t account for the several hours I spent sitting my office, but frankly I don’t know what I did to pass that time… Oh well. I was a bit worn out and leaving on Thursday there wasn’t much I could dive into and get back out of before then. Tuesday evening Ben and Leanna came over. Ben brought pizza and Leanna brought salad. It was nice to catch up a little and Leanna helped me pick out clothes for the interview and stuff. We also had a nice girl talk about all the stuff that has been going on over the past two weeks!

Wednesday I went to work at 7:00am. Go Sara! I wrote a bunch of emails, but then ended up heading to ISO to meet Leanna at 10:30 to help her figure out Prom details. Prom would be Wednesday April 30th, the day after I was scheduled to get back. I offered to take the pictures and was planning on it until the last minute another girl said she wanted to do it. I was okay just having a chill evening at home. Anyway, we figured out a great design for the picture background and also planned out an idea for how to decorate the cake.

From there, instead of going home I went to Leanna’s and did a load of laundry and chilled out. I also planned for bible study which was at 3:00pm that afternoon. It was nice to see Rosie and Anna again and to lead bible study! Geez, it had been a good two weeks and I hated to feel like I had abandoned the girls… The study went well. Oh and fyi, it is really hot in Burkina right now. I missed a good chunk of the heat by being in the US for the most part of April, but man oh man. It is a new level of hot. Wednesday night I worked out and then tried to get my life in some semblance of order.

Thursday I got up and started packing. I went to work and had like a million emails to send. Luckily, I got through them all and even ordered the bus ticket I needed to get from the airport to Oxford. I had lunch at the cafeteria because I had very little food at my place and like to no time to eat. I went out and picked up a few trinkets to give as presents to Vince and Christian if I ended up seeing them. That afternoon I worked out and then after I showered I saw I had missed a call from Nicolas. Apparently, the people from Ghana had arrived. At this point, I had 40 minutes before Leanna was picking me up to go to the airport. I told him to come by my office in 10 minutes. I shoved everything in my bag to finish packing and went to my office. They took longer than 10 minutes and I had only 20 minutes to talk to them when they finally arrived. It was great though. Making the connection with the two people who work with the ceramic filters in Ghana was very helpful. They were able to see the experiment set-up I have and were able to give me new faucets and brushes to clean them with. The meeting was brief, but I was happy they came, even though it added some stress for me.

I made it back to my house just as Leanna was about to call me and find out where I was. We loaded my bags into her car and we were on our way to the airport!

61 Photos of Paris. Enjoy!

Monet's Gardens, Russian Symphony and 300Euro Air France Voucher... Oh the adventures of Paris!

To quote Sabrina, “Paris is always a good idea.” I had a wonderful time exploring the city of lights. Normally people think Paris is for lovers, but visiting by yourself can be awesome too!

My plane landed and after getting my luggage and passing customs it was only a short time before I was on a train headed for the Gare du Nord. My urgency would result in one minor incident, that I wouldn’t realize until later that night. Alas, I left my ipod on the plane! I do not have such a good track record with keeping a hold on these little buggers. Here’s the other issue… When I got on the plane I first had to kick someone out of my seat who had the middle seat, but was obviously hoping to have mine. Anyway, then I go to put my bag under my seat and the girl sitting ahead of me has her bag under her seat instead of the seat in front of her. Well, this kind of makes sense because she didn’t have a seat ahead of her. Instead, there was the section divider. Anyway, anyone who has flown their fair share of flights knows that the benefits of not having someone lean their chair back on you is offset by the fact that you have to stow your carry on bag in the overhead bin. Well, I kindly asked her to move it and she wouldn’t. She said she would wait until the cabin crew told her that it was my storage and not hers. At this point I was not so happy, I mean really… So I went and told the cabin crew the problem and they made her move her bag. That was all fine and lovely, but the whole time the guy who had to move from my seat was kind of glaring at me. This situation didn’t improve as to my horror I realized my backpack was too big to fit under the seat! What is one to do? I had officially ticked off both of the people around me and now had to shove my bag into a place that was far too small for it. Let me tell you, things were not looking good. So I try and settle in and reassure myself I did the right thing by making the girl move her bag… It was rightfully my space! Regardless, my ipod ran out of batteries during the flight and since I was half asleep and there was no chance I was getting to my bag again, I left it lying in my lap. That was the last time I remember seeing my dear, sweet, cute blue ipod :( What happened after that is a mystery. Did it fall on the floor and I didn’t see it in cleaning up my area? Did it fall in the crack between the seats? Did my resentful neighbor swipe it from me while I was in the throws of sleep? Did I accidentally wrap it up in the blanket and not see it? The possibilities are endless, but all I know is I should have made sure I had it before I stepped off the plane. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but at least it wasn’t my passport I lost! That would have been catastrophically bad, but I also would have probably figured out sooner that I had left… so… Anyway, I also wonder if losing my ipod was bad karma kicking me in the butt for being the jerk and making the girl move her bag. I could have easily put my bag up overhead, next time, my friend.

I digress, back to the train. I got the station and headed for the Metro. I found my hostel without a problem and was very impressed and pleased with my choice! Check in wasn’t until 2pm and I had arrived about 8:30am. I originally considered venturing out, but then instead opted to grab some of the free breakfast they had out and use their wireless internet to take care of the million and one things I had hanging over my head! I ended up keeping myself busy until at least 3:00pm. I checked into my room, changed into my running clothes and hit the road. I ran along this amazingly scenic canal and around a science amusement park. Very French. After washing up, I struck out for the Pompidou Center. It was about 5:30ish I think, when I left… I planned to walk the two miles or so to get there. That was an awesome idea except for the fact I didn’t have a map and went the wrong way to begin with… I ended up spending an additional forty five minutes walking through town. I managed to find my way by consulting the ever present maps outside of the subway entrances…

I made it to the museum and discovered to my great amazement that Wednesday nights from 6-9 there is free admission for young adults between 18 and 26 years of age! So I saved my seven euros and enjoyed the modern art exhibits even more reveling in my good fortune of getting in for free ;) In case you are curious as to what is special about the Pompidou Center, let me enlighten you. It is known as the inside outside building. All the stairs, escalators, piping, ductwork is all on the outside of the building. It is crazy cool to look at. Very modern art looking, effectively reflecting the essence of the museums contents.

Being close to 9 o’clock I opted to take the metro back. I had to switch lines a couple of times, but made it. I got back to the hostel and ate dinner which consisted of a sweet tuna salad I had picked up on the walk back from the nearest metro stop. I worked online a while again and then called it a night.

Thursday morning I got up and headed right for the Musee D’Orsay. I wanted to get there close to opening time. I succeeded, but was very disappointed to learn that the workers were on strike and only the first floor was open. Well, that certainly would never do, so I determined to return on Saturday and instead go to the Musee Rodin. Rodin was a famous sculptor and the line to get in to see the exhibits was wrapped around the corner! But had no other alternatives, so I waited… It was worth it. I wasn’t a huge fan of sculpture art before and am still not totally won over, but I can definitely appreciate it more. The only bummer of the day was that it was a bit cold and I had worn a skirt and so I was freezing! I went back and had a late lunch/early dinner. I worked on fixing up my pictures from my grad school visits and otherwise wasted time on my computer. When I finally pulled myself away it was about 30 minutes before dusk would set in. I had to snap out of the computer screen daze so I went for a quick run. Just the medicine the doctor ordered! I felt much better afterwards and headed to bed pretty early that night...

Friday was lovely, simply lovely! I ventured out of the Paris city limits to visit Monet’s Gardens in Givery. The train ride was nice. I had left pretty early and so was grateful to rest a bit. You can take a bus from the train station to the gardens, but I decided it would be more fun to walk the 6km instead. On my way I stopped at a grocery store and bought a picnic lunch. The guidebook had warned that there was no picnicking in the gardens and the town wasn’t so friendly to it either, but I didn’t care… tourist food is ridiculously overpriced, so I was willing to gamble. The walk was very peaceful, and I had my camera out taking all sorts of pictures! There was one point where I thought I was lost, but thankfully I wasn’t. I didn’t know how I would find the gardens, but I shouldn’t have worried because once I hit the town limits, there were tons of tourists all over the place. Besides, I learned the village was quite small and so even though I didn’t know exactly where I was going I could wander through the whole thing in very little time at all. I did finally find Monet’s house and Gardens. The gardens were breathtaking. However, the number of tourists did detract a bit, but who am I to talk. I was one adding to the numbers! Monet’s house was interesting. It was fun to imagine this genius of a painter walking around in the same rooms. The rooms by the way were painted these very bright colors. I asked the workers if they were the original colors and they said yes. Of course their have added coats of paint over the years, but the original colors were preserved. I’m talking bright yellows, blues, rose and green. Definitely a painter’s house! I would also like to note that the wooden Japanese bridge in the water lilies garden has been replaced by a replica steel version and they have done nothing to try and disguise the very industrial look now. I have to say, the painting are prettier than the real thing…

After visiting Monet’s crib, if you will, I changed into my running clothes then found a bench and had my picnic lunch. There was not a problem with that and I think that was the one thing the guide book has been wrong about so far. After lunch, I read for a while and then walked to the American Art Museum to see if could leave my bag there while I went running. Sure enough, the guard was sympathetic to my cause and let me use one of the lockers. I got to go running on one the nature paths up through the hills… It was amazing; definitely one of the highlights of the day trip. I kept on thinking I would wake up and all of this would have been some crazy dream. But no, it was all real and I couldn’t get enough of it!

Following my run I picked up my bag and made a quick retreat to the bus to get back to the train station. At the station, I tried to change in the bathroom, but it was a public toilet thing, they have them all over France… it looks like a little kiosk, but you push a button and the door opens and it was all wet on the ground. Not from, well you know, but instead because I would soon find out there were jets of water that spray from the floor to clean everything. I was standing inside trying to figure out how to make this situation work and then all of the sudden the cleaning jets came on and I was like “AHHHHH!!!” Then the panic set in of not knowing how to get out. Luckily I found the button on the inside that opened the door and hastily put that incident behind me. I was a bit shaken up, but the whole thing was hilarious. Foreigners! I caught the train back to Paris and was finally able to change out of my nasty running clothes at the main station where I paid .50Euro to use a restroom that didn’t attack me with jets of water!

The next thing on my agenda was the Salle Pleyel. The Russian National Symphony Orchestra was playing that night and I was going to try and get one of the last minute discount tickets. Well, I showed up a good three hours before the show to find out the procedure. I learned I should come back in an hour and then wait for another two hours in line… I decided to go take a few pictures of the Arc de Triumph, which was down the street, grabbed some food for dinner, and then made my way back to start “queing” as they would say in England. It was a long time to wait, and I was pretty tired. But I read my book a bit and enjoyed talking to a few of the other people in line. I did end up getting a ticket. So for $33 I got to see the Russian National Symphony Orchestra. They were incredible. I actually liked the first and last pieces the best. It was amazing because of the sound was just so clear and precise. I used to think that music was music and there wasn’t a huge difference between performance groups. Boy did that night prove me wrong! I can fully appreciate and discern good classical music now which is very cool. The only thing I was not so happy about was how tired I was! I had some trouble staying awake and so that made it a bit difficult at times, but none the less I wouldn’t have done it differently. You only have a chance to hear the best of Russian musicians perform in Paris once…

After the performance, I walked down to see the Arc de Triumph at night. It was lightly misting which just added to effect of awesomeness. From there, it was about 10:30pm, I hopped on the metro and went back to my hostel. It was a loooong day!

Saturday, I woke up and repeated the beginning of the day on Thursday, where I headed to the Musee D’Orsay. This time I did actually get to go in. The museum was cool, but since I hadn’t gotten to bed very early the night before and since I woke up early to get to the museum before the crowd, I was hurting. I kind of wish I had just slept in and muscled through all the tourists later on in the day… Each day of traveling you learn something new. I wasn’t too impressed with the collection at the museum. They were supposed to have this huge impressionist section and it was kind of weak if you ask me. It could have been because I was so tired and was always looking for those benches in the middle to sit down and rest. It also could have been the fact that even though I was there early, there were still a ton of people milling around which is super annoying. But again, I was adding to the numbers so I can’t complain.

After the so-so museum experience I decided to take the metro to La Defense, which is the modern business district. It was super cool; very futuristic. They also have this larger than life modern art rendition of an arch which is absolutely HUGE! Mind blowing really. There is a whole pedestrian mall area that is in the center of all the business buildings. There are no cars around and so it is really trippy in that way. It makes me think of iRobot, or that 5th Element movie. I tried to mail the postcards I had written out, but the post office closed a half hour before I got there. Bummer! Instead I found a grocery store, grabbed a cheap lunch, picked up snack for my bible study girls and a bottle of wine to bring back as a gift for Susan. I ate my lunch under the looming shadows of the arch. I also saw two girls eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and drinking Star Bucks. I was totally looking forward to some ice cream so I decided to ask them where they bought it. I wasn’t sure if they were French or American. There were so many Americans in Paris it was kind of ridiculous. I think I overheard more English being spoken than French! Anyway, I politely went up and asked them in French if they speak French or English. They looked at me like I had three heads and said English was okay… But they were clearly French so I asked them in French where they got their ice cream. They pointed me in the direction of the mall entrance and I thanked them. But MY GOODNESS! What effrontery… when I simply inquired about the ice cream! I mean really is that degree of standoff-ishness really necessary. (Roll my eyes…)

Anyway, I succeeded in procuring my ice cream. Unlike the US you cannot taste the flavor before you order and I got the brownie cheesecake which was less than stellar, but I still tried to enjoy it! Following my time at La Defense, I got back on the metro and journeyed back to my hostel. phew! I got back and decided to nap, and then run… And then head over to Montmatre for the free tour. It was a crazy plan, but it worked! The nap was refreshing, short, but much needed. The run was nice and to the point. I took the metro to Montmatre and found the free tour group. The young woman leading the tour was great. She was in theater school and so, as you can imagine, very animated. P.S. The tour was in English. It was technically free, but the convention is to give a tip at the end. I did tip her, but I was really close to not having enough money left so I didn’t give her as much as I would have liked. I also really wanted to buy one of the fake Pashmina scarves, but I refrained which was good because the place I went to dinner didn’t take credit cards and so I would have been way up the creek without a paddle. For dinner I went to an amazing place that serves salads with hot fried potatoes on top. It is truly a salad of the Gods. I refer you to this lovely blog page which corroborates my opinion of this fine gastronomic establishment. (Scroll down about three-fourths of the way... look for the name Le Relais Gascon, the name of the restaurant.) I actually got a table for one and sat and ate my salad alone. It was one of those landmark experiences: Going out to eat by yourself. It is not something I would like to do frequently, but I am glad it is not something beyond my abilities.

I should have gone back at this point, but the draw to see Paris from the Sacre Couer way up on the mountain was too strong. So, I steeled myself up for the many hundreds steps to climb and was duly rewarded by an amazing panorama of Paris at night. The Eiffel Tower was lit up and there was an impromptu band playing on the steps entraining a large crowd of tourists, poised to bring in a large income of tips judging by the excitement and size of the crowd they had drawn. After taking in the sights I descended the stairs and rode the metro back to my hostel. When I got back I repacked all my stuff. I would have to leave very early the next morning to get to the airport. Everything was ready and I climbed into bed. Terribly tired and yet so happy with my four day Paris adventure. I would do it again in a heart beat! I would also like to mention that I finished reading the Biomimicry book I had started a while back… It was very fascinating, but the middle was really slow going. After finishing that book I commenced reading Lolita. Talk about a whacked out book! The guy who founded the Oxford fellowship was the first to publish Lolita through his printing business a long time ago. I figured that since I would be meeting this guy, maybe I should read the incredibly controversial book he published.

Sunday morning I got up and went to a short run. I knew I would be sitting all day and didn’t want to feel like a slug. After I showered and got ready to go, I brought my bags downstairs. I didn’t have enough money left for the train to the airport, so I left my bags with the receptionist and went to the ATM down the road which was kind enough to work with my foreign ATM card. This is something I was having a big issue with. Anyway, I was overcome with dread when the machine wouldn’t work. I tried the next one down the street and had the same problem. What is one to do! So I went back, grabbed my bags, I was running late at this point, and took the metro to the main station. I figured something has to work out. Well, transferring from the Metro to the airport line there was no where to buy a ticket… So I got on, there was another girl from the hostel with me, and we rode to the airport. No problems. I got to the end of the line where I was to get off and thought to myself, what providence that I didn’t have to pay. Except that I took the escalator up to the exit and wha-bam there were the turnstiles to exit and surprise surprise you needed a ticket… I looked around and there were no ticket machines in sight, and no employees either for that matter. I am not going to write anything incriminating, so I will leave my next actions to your imagination. Let’s just say I was not the only one in my position and some of the turnstiles seemed to be malfunctioning. Regardless, I made it to the ticket counter in plenty of time ;)

As I was waiting in line to check in, an Air France employee asks me very slyly if I would like to make some money. First off, it kind of creped me out. If it wasn’t an airline employee I would have probably been inclined to walk the other way at a very determined pace. But then I realized they were probably looking for volunteers to take a later flight and they would be compensated. So I got past the initial odd comment and found out my hunch was correct. And well, since I didn’t have anything especially pressing to get back for I took them up on the offer and earned a 300Euro voucher and had my own nice hotel room and nice meals taken care of for the next day. I also spent another hour trying to track down my ipod, but it was to no avail. Unfortunately, I think it is lost for good. At least I hope someone is enjoying it! (Okay, so I have lost two ipod shuffles, isn’t about time I FOUND one…)

The little extension to my trip was great. The only two major downsides were that the hotel did not have free wireless and the woman working at the desk of the hotel was unnecessarily mean. She was so jerky about the internet stuff and unhelpful with the telephone. I went to the hotel next door to use the phone card I had received and was able to contact Leanna to let her know the change in plans. To add insult to injury both of the neighboring hotels had free wireless. I was ticked. The good thing was the lack of distractions. I was able to get down to business and write my Weidenfeld Fellowship Motivational Statement. I was super worried I would get back to Burkina and not be able to focus on it. Well, problem solved. I also watched iRobot, inspired by my visit to La Defense. It was great. I was able to go running the next day and enjoyed a great lunch the first day of amazing potato soup and a hamburger. What’s not to love.

Monday I headed to the airport for take two of traveling back to Burkina. I had to wait a long time in line to check in my bags and ended up having to scarf down my last free lunch. Instead of being sensible and getting a sandwich on the go or something I went to a sit down place and ordered something for real. Bad choice. I was so anxious the whole time and ate my food so fast I got heartburn. Again, another lesson learned. The only thing that made it worth it was the ice cream dessert that was covered in whipped cream. But again I had to eat it in like t-minus 3 minutes so not quite as enjoyable as one would have hoped. After my lunch fiasco I high tailed it to my gate, but realized I had forgotten I had to wait through the customs and security lines again. Grrr… I was getting pretty nervous now. I hate Charles de Gaulle Airport. I constantly feel like I am going to miss my flights! Anyway, I made it though and took the tram; yes I had to take a TRAM, to my gate. I was so relieved to be on board that plane. The flight was uneventful and since I had already lost my ipod I didn’t have to worry about losing it twice… I did manage to keep all my important documents with me which is saying something.

Leanna and Ben picked me up from the airport. It was so great to see them both again! Being back in Burkina for the next three days felt very weird, mainly because I knew I would be leaving again very soon. Back at my house, I was able to give Leanna the stuff I brought back for her. Susan also stopped by to say Hi which was nice :)

I went to sleep that night happy to be back in my own bed. But to be honest not all that stoked to be back in Burkina Faso. Hopefully, that would change.

Duke, my family and Hannah Montana! You get the best of both worlds...

The flight to Raleigh from Chicago was uneventful and much more pleasant than the previous one. Besides, Ryan and I watched Hannah Montana and listened to music together so what more could one want. When we got to Raleigh, Uncle Glenn and Aunt Ruth picked us up. We went back to their house and I slept more soundly than I have slept in a very long time… I didn’t get up until about 10am the next morning.

Saturday started off with a nice run with my Dad and brother through the historic Oakwood neighborhood. I was dying though. Truly and honestly I had spent the whole day yesterday traveling and hadn’t been in the same place for more than a few days. Taxing to say the least. Getting my legs just to pick up my feet was quite the chore. After running, a shower and a great breakfast the crew headed out to peruse the local flea market, a beloved pastime of my family. Besides two used books, which I could have probably done without, the only other items whose draw was strong enough to get us to part with our money were some great socks. I needed some new socks so it was prefect. Random, but good. Oh, and an aside is that there was this very convincing lady trying to get my Mom to by some Himalayan salt. It was supposed to be detoxifying, blah blah blah. The lady was quite the saleswoman and for a moment she had me going, but then I snapped back into reality when she said that one person she knew went to California for a detoxing treatment and on the way back, just in the airplane and through the airports, the friend had reabsorbed 247,000 toxins. That is BS if you ask me. That number is completely arbitrary, how on earth could you know something like that. I would like to see that list of those 247,000 toxins, thank you.

On the way back we stopped to grab some lunch meat to make a small snack, which inevitably turned into much more than that. So after our not so small afternoon snack it was about 4:00pm and everyone was about as far from wanting dinner in the next few hours as you can get. So my Mom, Dad, Ryan and I headed off to run some errands for me. I needed new running shoes, underwear, and a few other things that have since slipped my mind. The running shoes turned out to be more troublesome to locate that I originally had anticipated. First of we tried to find a Sports Authority. We had an address and a phone number, but the store was no where to be found. We even looked it up and it was listed in the phone book, so it must have closed or something, but man was it frustrating! So instead we went to Dick’s sporting goods. (Maybe that used to be the Sports Authority…) Anyway, Dick’s is way too expensive. I wanted shoes that I didn’t mind trashing and leaving in Burkina because that is what was going to happen. So we sojourned on to Target to pick up the other random things I needed. Afterwards, just before calling it a night we stopped at Kohl’s and to my delight found a pair of shoes that worked. Unfortunately, the box didn’t match the shoes and so we didn’t know the price and couldn’t find anymore shoes of the same style. We were going to just try and see if the lady would notice they were in a different box, but thought better of it. Turns out the shoes only cost $12. Talk about a steal! Oh, and my Dad found a pair of really really nice Asics, like their newest shoe but on clearance, clearly a mistake, for $24. They were just a hair too big for me but we bought them anyway for one of my Dad’s runners. A $100 pair of shoes for $24; that you can’t pass up. We got back to the Sappie House pretty late, actually, and had some pizza with Uncle Glenn before Ryan and I watched some Hannah Montana to finish off a very splendid day.

Sunday started with a lovely Skype conversation with Leanna. I missed talking to her and so it was nice to be able to catch up, even if it was only for 30 minutes. I grabbed a quick breakfast and then we all headed off to the Duke chapel for the Sunday service. We got there nice and early. Oh yes, and let me tell you to our surprise it was Alumni Day. SO the place was crawling with people! The service was okay, I hate grading church like this was an A- or a C+ sermon, but there has to be some reflection and everybody has their own preferences. I thought the choir was amazing. I wasn’t super taken by the liturgy, but I was still able to worship. Towards the end of the service I noticed this girl kind of sobbing to herself. I felt this overwhelming need to go say something to her. I didn’t really want to, but I know when I am being called to do something and so I took a deep breathe gently pushed pass my father and went over to say hi this is woman. I simply introduced myself and asked her if everything was okay. Apparently she was an alumnus and had sung in the choir so being back just brought back a bunch of memories for her. She indicated she had no prayer requests and we parted ways, but she did say my saying hi to her made her day. That wasn’t really my purpose I was just being obedient to what God had placed on my heart, but it was nice to hear.

After church we toured the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. I got my picture in front of the sign covering the end of the name so it was simply the Sara Gardens :) The gardens were a nice idea, but I guess everybody else thought so too. There were a ton of people around and it was rather distressing actually. The gardens were beautiful, but somewhat hard to enjoy through the throng of people. So after getting our fill of nature we got back in the car and drove back to Raleigh. Arriving in Raleigh, Glenn gave us a short driving tour of the downtown area which was quite interesting. Once we were home and things were settled down again I made a few phone calls to friends. It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon! Afterwards I went on a short run with my Dad and after a quick shower, my Mom, Dad and Ryan and I struck off again on our own, this time in search of a Walmart. Leanna had given me a short list of things they could use in Burkina and I thought I would oblige. The Walmart trip was surprising brief. I sometimes think Walmart is a sort of time warp. You walk in and can walk out 45 minutes later and it feels like only 5 have passed. Have you ever had that experience? Anyway, we had a little more time left and I was hoping to get to a book store. So Ryan, being quite clever, used google info via cell phone to locate a bookstore. We had to call Uncle Glenn for clearer directions, but it all worked out. The place we found was a Borders and I was able to replenish my stock of reading supplies. The new books added to my collection are Lolita, White Man’s Burden, The End of Poverty and Utopia. I was quite pleased by my selections. I used to cringe at paying full price for books, but now that I actually like what I am reading and hope to start a nice book collection it is rather satisfying going into a book store, finding what you want to read, granted that you already know what that is, and buying it.

When we finally returned from shopping round two, we all went out in search of Mexican food for dinner. I still wanted to have real Mexican food, a rarity in Burkina. However, the place we walked to closed at 8:00pm on Sunday, so we were out of luck. After walking around a bit we at last we settled on a sports bar slash grill place. We made the most out of it and things greatly improved after Uncle Glenn got them to turn the music down a little so that an actual conversation could go on… The one thing I didn’t like about the place was that if you wanted to substitute something else for french fries you had to add another one to two dollars to the price of your meal, even though a side of lets say potato salad actually costs less than french fries on the menu. That really frosted my cookies. So in my own little way I rebelled and ordered only a bowl of soup. The soup was pretty good so I can’t complain and the company was superb so again, lemonade from lemons…

After dinner my Mom and I went for a walk since we hadn’t really gotten a chance to talk talk because of all the activity going on. We walked up and down the street and it was great to flesh out how I had been feeling about grad schools and life in general. When we got back I made us some stove top popcorn and again Hannah Montana was the chosen evening entertainment. That night we only lasted through one show since everyone was wiped out!

Monday was my official visit day at Duke. I got there about 9:15am and didn’t leave until 3:30pm. It was nice that they had a whole schedule made up for me. I met with five plus professors. Each for between a half to a full hour! It was crazy. I was so beat by the time I walked off the campus. Just a bit overkill. The nicest part of the day was getting to tour the campus and have lunch with two current graduate students. They were very nice and helpful with offering honest information about the graduate program and how it is run. Just two quick notes. One professor started off her meeting with me by telling me she had emailed me and I had failed to email her back. Where do go from there? So I apologized and tried to move on. I honestly hadn’t remembered getting her email, so she looked it up on her computer and told me the date she sent it! Turns out later I did remember getting it. But it was a totally random email. She never identified herself as a Duke professor and simply asked if I had made a decision for graduate school or not yet. I seriously thought it was a grad student who had been recruited to check up on admitted students and see if they had any questions. So the fault is not all mine, the email could have been a bit clearer. Secondly, another professor I met with literally talked non-stop. I couldn’t get a word in edge-wise! It was ridiculous… and not to mention I was super tired and really struggling to hold back my yawns. However, my will power sometimes could not overcome my body’s need for endorphins that yawns kick out.

After the final meeting, my parents picked me up again and we went for a very early dinner to an authentic Mexican restaurant in Durham. It was really good. I ordered a Burrito which could have easily fed two people. Which it ended up doing because my Uncle had the leftovers for dinner :) After dinner we stopped by a goodwill store to pick up a suitcase for me to use to bring things back with me. $8.00 later I was owner of a rolly suitcase that I was confident would make travel through Paris much easier. From there we headed to the airport because my family was leaving to go back to Chicago. It was so great to spend with them. I really do have a great family. As my Mom was saying goodbye, crying, she asked me if I was really happy. She said I seemed really happy, but she just wanted to make sure I wasn’t pretending. I was able to reassure her that I was truly and honestly happy. In fact, I was the happiest I have been in a long time during those ten whirlwind days. I totally blocked work out of my mind and was about as care free as I have ever been! Awesome.

I drove the car back to my Aunt and Uncle’s house and we had a chill night. I packed up my stuff and when my Aunt Ruth got back we went out in search of some ice cream. It was close to 10pm so we were lucky to anything open still. We were headed to Ben and Jerry’s when my Uncle spotted an Indian restaurant that he promised had amazing ice cream. I was skeptical, but we gave it a try. After convincing the owner to serve us, they were pretty much closed up, we enjoyed a quick cup of ice cream. It was really good. Very different. Refreshing, light and nice. I think a monster chocolate number from another place would have not made me sleep so well or not feel so good on the plane the next day; so, the Indian ice cream plan worked out just great! Before I turned in for the night I talked my friend Carolyn on the phone. I knew it would be one my last chances to catch her and it was great to reconnect. She is at med school and LOVES it! That was awesome to hear!

Tuesday morning I got up and tried to accept Stanford’s offer for admission. They had gotten back to me saying that if I got the Oxford scholarship I could defer for a year and the same financial package would be offered. Talk about amazing. Anyway, there was a problem with the server. The department had forgotten to register my application as admitted so I couldn’t log on! Quel dommage! (What a shame!) so I spent a lot of the morning fretting about not being able to go to Stanford and losing the financial support. Because of that I was hesitating declining the other schools. I mean what if I couldn’t end up at Stanford and had to go to MIT? Anyway, I wrote up the emails to all the professors I had visited. The decline ones were the hardest.

I called the Stanford people as soon as they opened which wasn’t until 10am our time because of the time change. Well, we were supposed to leave at 10am so we were a little late heading out. We got to the airport in fine time. I said good bye to Aunt Ruth and thanked her for the amazing hospitality they had extended to us. Back to the acceptance dilemma, I left messages for Professor Hildemann and Professor Davis at Stanford letting them know the situation. There wasn’t much I could do at that point, so I chilled out and figured I would tackle it again once I got to Boston and was waiting for my flight to Paris. I called and talked to my Grandmom for a few minutes before leaving Raleigh and promised to call back from Boston so I could talk to my Grandad. That was a promise I was able to keep and it was so nice to talk to them both on the phone! It was a short conversation, though, as my flight was already starting to board… The flight from Raleigh to Boston was great. It was a very small plane and not full and the woman I sat next to was really nice. Talkative, but not overbearingly so… We had a few interesting conversations. Turns out she works for the Department of Defense. Nice. That just sounds intimidating doesn’t it.

At Logan airport I paid the $8 for internet and officially declined the MIT and Duke offers for admission. I was able to reach Professor Hildemann who said she would be able to take my email as confirmation of my decision and they would go into the system and make all the necessary changes. Phew. I was also able to email the thank you notes to the professors who took the time to meet with me. I really did appreciate it! With that I signed offline made a few quick calls to friends, my grandparents and then my Mom letting her know the acceptance has been registered and that she should start getting used to the idea of California ;) I tried to board the plane while talking to Annie on the phone, but the stewardess didn’t like that so I had to say goodbye… I shutoff my phone for the last time and stepped on to the plane that would shortly whisk me away from my homeland and onto four days of adventuring in Paris.

Stanford, Stanford, Stanford, Oxford, Stanford, Stanford… (a bit like duck, duck, goose ;)

Getting to the San Francisco airport I checked my email one last time to any last minute instructions and then caught the shuttle to Stanford. The driver was really nice, but more importantly during the ride was able to call and talk to Cassy. She is doing so well! I miss her a ton and it was so nice to hear her voice. She and I lived together for three years! crazy! Anyway, I got to Stanford and found my friend Sarah’s apartment. She had left a key for under the mat. I was able to shower and get ready in time for Professor Davis to come get me for dinner. She picked me up and had with her two students she is currently advising. We went to a great Thai place. It was a very nice start to my visit :) After dinner Amy, one of the students, went with me to a lecture in a series called troubled waters which was put on by the department I would be in and I got a chance to hear three different professors talk. It was great! However, I didn’t stay the whole time but ducked out after the first few questions in the Q&A time mainly because I was about to fall asleep right there in the chair. I walked back to Sarah’s and called my Mom. She had been asleep so we didn’t talk long, but I did want to let her know I was there safe and had a nice time the first night.

In the morning on Wednesday I met with Amy in a more formal manner. She showed me around the building and we talked about professors, requirements, ect. Then I was able to sit in on an indoor air quality class which was interesting. After the class and before lunch I had just enough time to check my email. To my surprise, I discovered that I had been shortlisted for the Weidenfeld Scholarship at Oxford. This was huge news, but came at a very odd time indeed. Here I am falling in love with Stanford and all of the sudden Oxford is back on the map! Now what? Well, I accepted the invitation to attend the interview weekend and then figured out how to talk to the Stanford people about it. I also called my Mom about in hysterics with glee… I pulled it together and went to the next activity on my schedule which happened to be lunch :) Another grad student took me to lunch which was really fun. He was quite nice and has very similar research interests so we had a lot to talk about. Not to mention the food we got was great.

I had most of the afternoon free and so I went to the library and worked a bit on my paper for my thesis advisor who happened to be on sabbatical at Stanford. Talk about great timing. Anyway, for dinner I met up with my friend Mike from Princeton. We actually ate at one of the undergrad dining halls. I can’t complain though. They had amazing salmon and I welcomed the buffet style service ;) Sarah joined us as well for dinner which was great. Afterwards, she helped me do some laundry and we saw some other graduate housing options. Stanford has really nice facilities. And the laundry is free. (well, I am sure it is paid for many times over in the tuition, but you don’t have to think about every time you want to wash your clothes…) That night I turned in early. The time change makes talking to people on the East Coast at night rather challenging.

Thursday, my second day at Stanford was just as enjoyable as the first. In the morning I went running with Sarah. She showed me a great run up into the foothills. Sarah was leaving that morning to fly to NJ and visit some friends, but I was able to stay in her place while she was gone which was so nice of her. After quickly showering and eating a very nice breakfast with Sarah I was off to attend a course taught by Professor Davis, I really like her style, by the way. I had lunch with another Sara, one of the students from the first evening’s dinner. We ate with a bunch of other grad students in what they called “Lunch Club”. You sign up and then everyone takes turns making lunch for everybody else. I would also like to note at this point, if I end up at Stanford I will likely become a vegetarian or something resembling one. It is kind of inevitable. It seems like many of the students here are vegetarian. We’ll see how long I can hold out against the California influence. After lunch I met the civil and environmental engineering department chair, who it turns out advised one of my favorite Princeton professors when she was in grad school! Small world! My final appointment for the day was with Professor Davis. It was great to talk to her and I am happy about getting to work with her. I think it will be a good fit my interests and personality. She was also really excited about the Oxford possibility and has contact with a professor there as well. If I get the scholarship I will be able to defer Stanford for a year, get a Master’s from Oxford and then head to Stanford. If I don’t get the scholarship I can come straight to Stanford. Not bad options. Before going back to Sarah’s place I met with my thesis advisor and we went over the paper we had submitted and the changes I had made. It was great to get to talk to her and I glad I had such a positive experience with all of that stuff last year. She also introduced me to another professor there who teaches an advanced statistics course. It was nice to make that connection through someone else, as I will probably be taking one of her courses and now I know her.

I made it back to Sarah’s apartment and only stayed long enough to grab my camera. I walked around the campus taking pictures! Stanford is so beautiful. It is really quite astonishing! While photographing I saw an advertisement for the Stanford Art Museum. It wasn’t far so I decided to wander over in that direction as I was taking pictures. Fortunately for me it was a Thursday which meant the museum was open late and I could still go in. They have an extensive collection of Rodin Sculptures which were interesting to see, and I saw a special exhibit of Winslow Homer, Fredrich Church and some other guy about American landscapes. Funny thing is though, as I am going through I realize that everything is surprisingly familiar. That would be because I saw the same traveling exhibit when it was one display at the Tampa Art Museum. What a small world it is indeed! Anyway, to finish up my account of Thursday I decided to try and take one of the Stanford buses back instead of walking. I figured I should try out the public transportation system if I was going to go there. Well, turns out I took the bus in the wrong direction and ended up at the Palo Alto transit center. There I had to wait 40 minutes for the next bus going back. Needless to say it took about an hour and fifteen minutes for me to get back when if I had walked it would have been 20/25 at the most. You live, you learn. Besides I got to call and talk to my friend Lillie while I was waiting so all was not lost.

That night I turned in early, knowing I would be getting up early to run before Sara, the super nice grad student, was going to drive me to the airport. Originally, I was planning on taking the train which would have been fine, but it is only a 45 minute drive and Sara insisted that someone drive me. It was such a nice thing for her to do and I really appreciated it. Not having to haul my bags around and getting there in plenty of time to just relax was great. The run I went on Friday morning was also great. I ran a loop around the campus which was about 4 miles. I was toast afterwards. Traveling was really taking a toll on me.

My flight to Chicago, was in a word, unpleasant. There was a family with two little kids behind me and they were super hyped up. The kids were feeding off of each other’s antics and why the parents didn’t split up and divide and conquer is beyond me. And the two other people in my row were super sourpusses. I was very happy when that plane touched down. I was even happier though when I found my parents at the airport! I got to hug my Mom, Dad, Jordan and Ryan. Mom, Dad, and Ryan were coming to North Carolina with me, but Jordan had some other obligations. However, it was great he was able to come and spend some time at dinner with us. That meant a lot to me. At dinner, I unloaded all my Africa souvenirs and had fun sharing stories as fast I could get them out! Jordan headed home and the rest of us boarded our plane.

Cell phone, MIT, and the freedom trail… tales from my MIT visit

Even though I would like to dive right in with a retelling of my adventure tales from Paris I would be remise not to go back and fill in the details of all that happened during my US trip. So let me start there… When I finally arrived at Logan International Airport in Boston I got my bags and made my way through customs as quickly as possible. I found the taxi stand area, but ducked into the bathroom for a moment to change my outfit into something more fresh and appropriate for the MIT reception I was heading to. I had the name of the building and directions on how to get there. I figured no problem, any cab should know what I am talking about. Well, that was a wrong assumption and I paid dearly for it. After getting a cab who would accept a credit card, which wasn’t too hard, I watched as the fare meter ticked higher and higher. I had planned on spending like $20-25 on cab fare to get to MIT, however, this ride cost me a whopping $33. Ouch. And to add insult to injury the cab driver didn’t know where he was going and kept asking where to go and I couldn’t answer him but simply repeat the directions I had already given him. So I finally had him drop me off at one of the nearby MIT dorms and went inside to ask. I ended up walking about 300m in the misting rain to actually arrive at my destination. Needless to say it was not most pleasant welcoming I home I have ever had. Oh, and to make you aware of the full extent of this cab drivers rudeness wait until you hear this. I gave him my credit card to pay. I was a bit frazzled at this point and forgot to write in a tip. No problem, though, I thought, I have two dollars in my wallet and I will tip him in cash. Well, the driver gets the receipt and flippantly says, “Thanks a lot, you know this will cost me 8% to cash.” “Excuse me” I reply. Is there a problem? “Oh, no, no problem…” he retorts. I tell him if the tip is the problem I was planning on tipping him in cash, if that would be okay with him. He seemed a bit ashamed and I continued to tell him, thankfully I had such clarity of mind, that he has made this trip extremely unpleasant for me. With that I got out of the cab, thankful to be done with that mess. You know in Burkina Faso I stop a taxi ask him how much the fare will be to such and such a place, he tells me and if it is a reasonable price I get in and that is how much I pay. And they generally don’t get lost. Even though I am sometimes squished in with 3 other people in the back seat I was never as uncomfortable as I was in the US taxi. Thanks buddy. Oh and cab fare in Burkina, on average, about $0.60, cab fare in the states lets not even go there…

Well, besides my storybook cab driver horror story, I did make it to the MIT reception in time to catch the end of the socializing and attend the dinner. I should have been a bit more intimidated, but I had just gotten off of a plane. It was freezing cold and wet outside and all I had to wear on my feet were flip flops. I was so happy to walk into the right building and see the crowd of people that I didn’t care about what entrance I would make. I asked the man at the desk to guard my bags, which he happily did, and then moseyed on over the large room bustling with a crowd of young and old people. The young people being the prospective students and the old people being the professors, sorry profs, no offense. I found a woman you looked kind of secretary-ish and introduced myself, bingo! She immediately remembered my name and warmly welcomed me. I got a name tag and she went to introduce me to several people. But as we were standing there, I looked over and who do I see but a familiar face from Princeton. A friend in the 2007 CEE program whom I knew from countless courses, ect was at the open house to check out MIT as well. What a joy to see someone I knew! You could not wipe the smile off my face. I met with other professors and was introduced to the students who were hosting me. Both girls were very kind and friendly, they didn’t fit the typical MIT student mold I had formed in my head which was refreshing. They had also just both been to Africa so we had great stories to share and they could totally relate to what I was saying! As the reception wound down, I got a chance to talk with Susan Murcott, the woman at MIT who works on the Point of Use water treatments. She and I clicked right away. She was lovely. We talked quite a bit and as we were leaving she proposed I come quickly to her office, a detour enroute to dinner, and she would show me some things from the presentation she gave earlier in the day. It was incredibly nice of her. I felt like the exchange of information and interests that followed was happening at light speed. There was so much I wanted to tell her about the work I have been doing and so much she wanted to tell me about the program. We ended sitting next to each other at dinner which was great. It was a wonderful chance to fill in the blanks left by our harried conversation from before.

For dinner we went to a Chinese restaurant, yum. I should mention I borrowed a girls phone to call my Mom to let her know I was safely in the US and she was so happy. She pretty much wouldn’t stop giggling and saying oh yeah. Finally she calmed down and I assured her I would call again to talk tomorrow once I figured out the phone business. After dinner I walked back to my host’s room with another girl who was staying there. Logic told me to go to bed, but I was too hyped up and so instead I went online and checked out stuff for paris, things to do in Boston and prices for phone plans. The pay as go stuff was going to cost me an arm and a leg and I really wanted to be able to catch up with my friends while I was here so I started seriously considering instead a one month plan which comes with the benefits of nights and weekends, ect. When I did finally turn in I slept quite soundly. I just didn’t think about the time zone changes or what I would normally been doing at any given point in time and that seemed to work pretty well.

Saturday morning I got up and met another prospective student for breakfast. She and I by happenstance stumbled upon a fantastic breakfast place. I can’t remember the name, but it was on a side street off of Massachusetts Ave across from a Middle Eastern place. I had an amazing meal of chocolate chip pancakes! They were even better than the ones I used to get at Frist, so that is saying something… We talked about grad schools and it was really nice to hear her perspective on things as well. She was pretty sure she was going to go to MIT, but thought I would really like Stanford. Interesting. After lunch, I went to investigate the phone situation. After consulting a Radioshack about the pay as go plans I ventured over to a T-mobile dealer. He also recommended their pay as you go plan because I would only be here for two weeks, but then I explained how much I wanted to use my phone and he finally came around to the idea of a month-by-month plan. Those are usually for people with bad credit, but whatever, it was suiting my needs. I would get 300 anytime minutes, unlimited nights and weekends, and unlimited calling to 5 people I chose. The package would put me back $40, but the guy wanted $20 for the SIM card. I was like, what!? So I start talking to him about how my family has T-mobile and if there are any customer loyalty plans, ect. And it finally comes up that he might be able to sell me the SIM card for $10. Now that is more like it. I tell him nonchalantly, trying to hide me extreme feeling of satisfaction, that I will take it. Unfortunately he asks his coworker if he thinks the $10 thing would be okay. The kid says that the store buys them for $10 and so maybe I could pay $15. To this I replied, well, since we already discussed and I agreed to $10, I would rather pay $10. The guy working with me obviously didn’t want to get in trouble with his boss, so even though I point out that although they wouldn’t be making a profit on the card, they would be getting my contract signed in the store and that should be something, he wasn’t going to budge. Honestly, I think he would have let me walk out without buying anything which would have been terrible salesmanship, but just my luck, at that moment, the manager walks in and saves the day. He okays the $10 SIM card sale and I am soon, after signing several papers and swiping my long dormant credit card through the machine, the proud owner of a T-mobile plan that will allow me all the joys of cell phone usage for the next 10 days. I guess all that bargaining I am doing in Africa has really paid off already!

As I left the store, I immediately called my house and talked with my Mom and brother. It was so great to hear their voices over a clear connection. Unfortunately, my battery was not holding up under the cold weather so after regaling them with story of cell phone victory, I said goodbye and promised to call later when I recharged my battery. Upon ending the call, to my delight, I spotted a Goodwill store across the street. In need of some warm clothes and starved for real thrift store shopping I gleefully entered the mecca of used goods. This place had two major things going for it; one, they take credit cards, and two, they have a ton of brand name clothes that appear nearly untouched. I spent about an hour combing through the racks endlessly impressed and in awe of the bounty which exists in this country. I had a similar moment of awe earlier, as well, as I walked through Walgreen’s and was met by an impressive display of every color flip flop imaginable and a cosmetics selection which spanned the length of the store. The thought of, “Is this all really necessary?” crossed my mind, but was fleetingly beat out by my happy acceptance to be back in the land of plenty. Enjoy life where you are at. If that is Burkina and you have nothing, or America where you have too much at times, make the best of it and stop being all philosophical about it. I took my own advice and happily soaked in as much as I could of the society I had been absent from for six months. Anyway, my goodwill shopping trip was a huge success. I acquired a cashmere sweater, black pants, a long sleeve gap shirt, a running top, khaki adventure style capris, and two very classy dress shirts all for the low price of thirty-nine dollars. What a deal!

High off my latest purchases and not ready to call it a day I struck out in search of the other thrift store whose address I looked up online. It was a place called the Garment District. The clothes were a bit pricier, but the selection was much better and whole experience much more upscale. Unlike the goodwill store, there were no singing homeless men wandering the aisles. Not that that bothered me, in fact, it made me feel kind of at home as such odd behavior is rather common place in Burkina Faso… After taking my time and trying on countless jeans, skirts, tops and shoes I settled on buying a pair of jeans, two skirts, two tops and two pairs of shoes, one pair of black prada dress shoes, oh yes I went there, and one pair of white strappy designer sandals. With my plunder in hand I headed back for the dorm where I was staying. As I walked along the river I was happily imagining myself living in Boston, sailing on the Charles, promenading through Boston Commons. The dorm was a good 25 minute walk back. But thankfully the sun had come out and made it a pleasant stroll. I got back to the dorm and called my friend Robbie to set up dinner. I had contacted him the night before, but we hadn’t firmed up any particular plans. I wanted to go running so we settled that I would run, shower, and then call him when I was on my way up to Harvard Square. I ended up running with one of the girls who was hosting me. She was really nice and it was great to get to ask her all sorts of questions… we also kept a similar pace which made running nice. We ran up and down the Charles River. It was very picturesque.

We finished up running I showered and put on some of the spoils from my earlier shopping trip. I wore my new black pants, blue cashmere sweater and prada dress shoes. My friend is at Harvard law and I wanted to play the part appropriately. I think I did okay :) We ended up a tavern called John Harvards. I had requested either something authentically American, or deliciously Mexican. American it was and I got a fantastic hamburger with a side of excellent soup instead of fries, as is my normal preference. Following dinner we headed over the local Mexican place for some margaritas. It was a nice idea, but I forgot to bring my ID, (why would I need that silly old thing… oh right there is a drinking age in the states. doah!) and I was carded, denied a drink, the first time in my adult life actually. I guess there is a first for everything and so we changed plans and found a swinging tea joint and ordered tea infused hot chocolate. Sounds gross, but let me tell you it will knock your socks off. At about 10pm I decided the best way to get back given the hour and my lack of familiarity with Cambridge streets, was to take a taxi. Ten minutes and eleven dollars later I was back at the dorm. Since it was the weekend I picked up my phone and called my friend Annie, Katha and then my Mom. It was great to hear their voices and reconnect :) I went to bed about 1:30am planning to get up at 8:00 to meet my friend Sandy for church and brunch in the morning on Sunday.

The 8:00am plan was ambitious, probably too ambitious as I look back upon it in hindsight. I hit snooze one too many times and ended up having to call my friend and we arranged to go to the later service at the church. Instead of going to the early service and getting brunch afterwards, we would eat before church and then part ways after the service. I made my way over to Newberry Street where she lived and we found a very nice Italian place that served up some very impressive waffles. Expensive yes, delicious, you bet! However, more important than the food was the excellent conversation. It was so great getting to see Sandy and talk to her about Africa, she had worked in Botswana for the summer and we were able to discuss some very critical issues that are important to both of us. She seems to be doing really well and enjoying life which is such an encouragement to see. After the morning meal, we went to Trinity Church. It was a lovely service and just nice to be back in an English speaking church.
Following the service Sandy went back to get some work done for classes and I wandered over to Boston Commons. It so much reminded me of Hyde Park in London, always a welcomed recollection, indeed. I made it to the information center just in time to pay my $10 and join the tour of the freedom trail. The tour guide was great, but the group was so big it was slow in going. AND it was freezing outside! We didn’t walk all that far, but ended at Quincy Market. I went inside to warm up before I voyaged back to the dorm. I took the T, the Boston subway, to get back since the thought of walking for an hour in the biting wind honestly made me a bit queasy. Back at the dorm I got online and wasted away my time as usual doing who knows what… For dinner Kelly, one of my hosts, was making omelets and offered to make me one too :) They were really good! We had a nice talk about MIT which was really helpful for me in gathering more information. I again talked to people on the phone until the wee hours of the night and hit the hay exhausted.

Monday morning I got up and went running with Robbie. We ran along the Charles River and around the MIT campus because even though it is less than a mile from Harvard he had never seen it! After the run I grabbed an amazing Boston bagel from a shop in Harvard Square and took the bus back to MIT. I quickly showered and headed over the office buildings to meet with Professor Adams. He was very amiable and answered all my questions. We also grabbed lunch in the student center which was nice because the run made me quite hungry and the bagel wasn’t holding me over for long…

After talking with Professor Adams I was able to see a couple of PhD students, one of whom recommended I stop over and talk with the director of the technology and policy program since my interests have a wide range reaching all the way to policy. She was wonderful and we were able to work out the program of my doing a double major master’s degree and possibly working towards a PhD. However, I hadn’t applied to that program and there would have to be a lot of maneuvering in the next few days for it to be a possibility. Because I really liked the idea of being in Boston and just the East Coast in general where most of my friends are, I wrote the necessary emails to get the ball rolling. Things were looking promising, but it just felt like the whole time I would be fighting the system. And as technical as MIT is, they seem surprisingly unorganized! You tell me…?

My official visit day finished up with my using the computer in one of the Sloan Business School buildings to reserve a shuttle to Stanford the next day, confirm subway, train, and bus times to get to the Providence airport and finalize plans for where I was going to sleep that night. After spending 3 nights with the MIT girls, I felt like it was time to go. So I contacted two of my crew teammates and was able to stay at Devan’s apartment. The only hassle was porting my bags about a mile plus from the dorm to her apartment. My bags were not packed well and were getting pretty heavy. However, the pain was worth it. I had so much fun and Margaret, the other teammate, came over for dinner and cookie baking as well. It turns out Princeton was racing Radcliff the next weekend and it is customary for former teammates to indulge the current team members with all sorts of treats for after the race. Devan made an awesome roast, with veggies and an outstanding beet salad. It was really quite gourmet, and she makes it all look so easy! She had a super cool fold out chair that I slept in and I said goodbye that night before we turned in for the night because I was leaving at 5:15 in the morning to start making my way to Providence.

My alarm went off and the only thing getting me out of bed was horror that coursed through my veins at the thought of missing my flight to San Francisco. So I walked the 7 minutes from Devan’s apartment to the T station, and caught a subway train to South Central Station. There I bought my ticket to Providence and got on the train in time to relax a little before we pulled out of the station. 45 minutes later the train pulled into providence and loading up my bags in the least awkward way possible walked across the commons to find the bus station. I got there in time to take the 7:15 bus that stopped at T.F. Green airport. The fare was only $1.50 and I was pleased as punch that all the transfers went as well as they did. I got the airport, checked in and went through security. I was at the gate my 8:15am, approximately 3 hours after I left Devan’s place and over two hours before my flight was going to leave. The reason why getting to the airport was such a challenge was that the first direct bus from Boston left at 8:30 getting me to the airport at 9:30 which was cutting it too close for my liking for a 10:25 flight. Regardless, everything worked out and I was able to get online, after paying an exorbitant fee, and reserve my Paris hostel, get Sarah Moore’s contact information for Stanford and email my parents to let them know I was okay… The flight was fine. I slept most of the way to Chicago fading in and out of consciousness. The layover in Chicago was a bit trippy. To be there and not be going home felt odd. I did, however, get lunch at PotBelly’s subs which made my day. The flight to San Francisco was great. I had a row to myself so I stretched out and slept slept for 4 hours. Exactly what I needed to make sure I made a good impression at Stanford when I finally got there.