Umbrellas and Rain

It rained yesterday.

Teeny tiny drops of rain that turned into some steady streaks for a couple of hours and then ended, not even enough to let the dust and sand settle. The smell of the dust was in the air later when I walked out, along with tiny pools and streams of rain water that had yet to dissipate into the ground.

When I was growing up in Nouadhibou, rain was a big deal, mainly because it occurred so rarely. Although, to be fair, we did have some heavy rain a few times during the 14 years, which had flooded our backyard, our school, and our town overall, unequipped for such large and sudden amount of water. So when it did rain, school was out of question, and my sister and I hurried outside in our garden to play with the unsteady drops of rain, and most importantly to give a little taste to our rainbow-colored umbrellas of what they were actually made for.

I don’t know why my parents bought us those big colorful umbrellas during our first and last visit to Korea. We may have insisted, but that had rarely been an effective strategy for our parents after all. Maybe they thought it would be funny to see us twirl around under the rare rain. Maybe they felt a little sorry for us for not experiencing the full extent of seasons. Whatever the reason may have been, we loved those umbrellas. Sure, looking back, they must have looked god-awful. But back then, they were so big, so colorful, and so special. They even had little tags where you could write down your school and your name, and we did, although we knew they would never leave our front door.

Alas, unsurprisingly, our umbrellas never came to quite fulfill their purpose in life. But they died serving us well for other purposes, sacrificing themselves for our tent-building endeavors alongside their faithful companions, chairs and blankets.

I now hate rain, obviously – you have much more meaningless concerns once you grow up, such as having your shoes, socks and clothes all wet, not bumping into other people’s wet umbrellas and raincoats, and avoiding puddles of water. But once every now and then, especially as I was sitting in my room, watching the feeble rain hit the sand and listening to the constant and regular sound of water landing on can roofs, I remember the two little girls laughing and dancing around barefoot with their umbrellas, to whom staying dry was the least of their concerns.



What to expect when you’re not expecting

What to expect when you’re not expecting.

I think this was the title of a movie -rather a disaster I hear- starring Cameron Diaz and Elizabeth Banks. Although I am in no way of ‘expecting’ as the movie indicated,  I do think it serves as a perfect subtitle to my trip to Dakar.

What was I expecting indeed? Getting lost from the airport to my airbnb place. Not being able to step one foot outside the door without being called ‘Chinois!’ or ‘Amigo!’ or ‘Ching-Chong’, like my 14 years of living in Nouadhibou had taught me, yet never accustomed me to. Being utterly unaware of how to find my way in town. So many concerns and anxieties, besides the main question ‘Does my research question actually make sense IRL?’.

What I was not expecting however is the wave of familiarity and memories that overcame me when I saw the little bit of the city from the plane. The lack of skyscrapers, the overwhelming presence of neutral toned colors – sand, tranquility, monotony – the flat houses invading one another on narrow streets, the occasional minarets, the vast parcels of destitute lands, and the multitude of cars – everything that I had forgotten, that time had tucked away in the further corners of my box of memories, came back. Granted, Dakar was not my hometown per se, it is actually a much more developed version of good old Nouadhibou (especially 20 years ago), but it didn’t matter. I could still recognize bits of my childhood in this West African capital.


View of Dakar from the plane.

Once in the city, I realized memories come in other forms than visual ones. It was not just the sight of ’boutiques’ that seem to have just popped out of nowhere from pieces of metal. It was more than the frequent horses (donkeys in Nouadhibou) dragging the carriages. It’s as if all my senses had been awoken by this trip back ‘home’.

It’s the heat of the scorching sun on your skin and in your eyes. It’s the smell and taste of the exhaust fumes from the run-down vehicles that constantly tingle the back of your throat (whoever thinks Africa is the land of pure air and nature blah blah has never been to African capitals). It’s the sound of the clip-clops from the horse carriages. It’s the sound of the distant, yet awfully close, call to prayers five times a day. It’s the tingle of the sand on your feet, it’s the struggle of trying to walk in that sand everywhere you go. It’s the constant thrill you get trying to cross a busy intersection, looking left and right, without the help of traffic lights – will you make it this time as well or will that car run you over? It’s that laugh and not-quite-shaking, not-quite-slapping of hands when you say something funny with your friends. It’s that smell of a mixture of piss and food gone bad from the heat and time that linger in the corner of every street.

It’s the feeling of finally being at home after all these years, something I have never been able to feel from the many instances I landed in Seoul, South Korea, the land of my passport.

Gosh, Africa (not to generalize), it’s good to be back.


Records of memories (Collector of memories #1)

What is the difference between a hoarder and a collector? I would think that a collector keeps things that have certain values, sentimental or monetary, instead of piling everything that comes in hand. But if the hoarder actually feels and believes that everything he/she gathers has sentimental or significant value, who’s to say he/she is not actually a collector? And if a collector feels like there’s an item he/she just can’t let go, doesn’t that make him/her just as compulsive as a hoarder? Do you draw the line when the act of accumulating stuff completely takes over your life?

Before leaving for the States, I’m about to organize and box away my precious belongings that I can’t take with me. That way, if Mom and Dad were to move apartments or use my room, they can have more free space and won’t make the horrible mistake of throwing away things they thought was useless but actually wasn’t (although they wouldn’t, I think we’ve scared them enough on that point that they know it’s safer to keep things when having doubts). I’ve already packed one large box, and still have one middle-sized (hopefully) to go, and it is in such process that I came to wonder about my predisposition to…hoard collect.

As I opened my drawers, I was first faced with my academic history. I’m not talking about score reports, which were actually used when applying to universities, so they would be categorized as ‘actually useful’. I’m talking about my drawing/activity book in kindergarten, my homework notebook in elementary school, and my high school papers and exam sheets, stacked, of course, in separate plastic folders with labels on them.


My activity book in kindergarten. Drawing short lines in color in the ‘coquillage’ (shell) and coloring the fish.

Separate sheets from first grade. I remember wondering what the heck an 'anorak' was and why anybody would need to wear that huge and thick of a jumper, as a kid knowing only of the sunny days of Mauritania.

Separate sheets from first grade. I remember wondering what the heck an ‘anorak’ was and why anybody would need to wear that huge and thick of a jumper, as a kid knowing only of the sunny days of Mauritania.

My notebook of 'poesies' in second grade. We used to stand in front of the class reciting those poems...

My notebook of ‘poesies’ in second grade. We used to stand in front of the class reciting those poems…

My French notebook in 4th grade. No, I didn't choose a specific page that had full scores solely for this purpose, haha.

My French notebook in 4th grade. No, I didn’t choose a specific page that had full scores solely for this purpose, haha.

Then came the stack of diaries, ranging from ‘drawing journals’ of when I was 5 years old, to diaries starting with ‘Dear…’, where the name of the journal keeps changing over the years, filled with how much my sister annoyed me and how Mom and Dad would only take her side, with the finishing touch of the more recent journals, not as regular as they used to be. I guess that’s one of the things I’m thankful to Mom for, for instilling the discipline and the fun that is writing; pushing us, and then, encouraging us to record our daily mishaps and … most of the time, just… well, stuff… I can’t find a better way to describe the entries of three or four lines that talk about what I ate and how tasty it was, or how I played a new game with my friends. Of course, the entries would get longer and (I think) more interesting with the years.

Diaries from first grade to about 4th or 5th.

Diaries from first grade to about 4th or 5th.

As the good Asian daughter and studious child that I was, my diaries from the above period always have two separate entries for each day, one in Korean and one in French. A plan to make me retain the first and study the second, only imaginable from an Asian mother, I think.

But as the years pass by, the diaries underneath are longer entries, going on for pages at times, in only one language at a time, depending on my mood.

I remember writing about a certain boy when I was in 6th grade or something. A few weeks later, going back, I was so embarrassed at the idea that I would be embarrassed when I would perhaps see it later, when ‘I grow up’, that I began erasing all of his names… replacing them with his simple, one-letter initial. And this is how this crush will remain… a simple letter of the alphabet on a piece of paper.

Sometimes, an event was so memorable or had made such an impact I was under the absolute certainty I would remember it for the rest of my life, and would only write about my ‘feelings’ ensuing from it. Naturally, today, I read it, and have no idea whatsoever I was referring to. I now make sure to write down all the details.

There is also, of course, my Buffy the Vampire Slayer period, and my tiny Tweety diary (see underneath for said diary) is filled with transcripts of the episodes… What Buffy said, where she was when she said it, Angel’s response, and how his brooding and dark look was breathtaking. Ah, yes, the good old days. Some things don’t change. 🙂

Diaries ranging from 6th grade to present day.

Diaries ranging from 6th grade to present day.

And of course, let’s not forget my agendas (planners/schedulers), a whole new world I was introduced to a couple of years before coming to Korea. I had my uncle ship me those agendas from Korea, since there was no way I could find them in Mauritania or anywhere else. One of the many things I am grateful to Korea is its extensive set of pretty stationary items. Koreans sure know what attracts teenagers and in my case, adults, with simple stuff as cute pens, stickers, notebooks, and the list goes on.

My agendas, in chronological order, from bottom to top, which I started around 1999-2000.

My agendas (schedulers), in chronological order, from bottom to top, which I started around 1999-2000.

Next list of hoarded collected memories coming up.