Posted by: fullandbye | April 19, 2011

Erev Pesach

Erev Pesach, 5771.

Pesach in Peace Corps is always a little weird. I’m not really wandering or in exile. Nor am I exactly home. This year I’m the quasi-wandering Jew!

I could write some long expository post on the nature of exile and diaspora, being as I am in a nation that (for better or worse–itself a contentious issue) considers itself a part of the African Diaspora.


Instead I’m going to be pithy and offer a deep thought from the bush: given that my phone here is one of the most popular models sold throughout the tropics (Sub-Saharan Africa too, not just the Caribbean), why oh why does the auto-text dictionary recognize the word “igloo” but not the word “mango”?

Speaking of which…it is mango season! 100j bought a bag of a half-dozen No.11’s. My market lady gave me another one because she loves me. Also, bless their hearts, the PCMO’s sent me not one but TWO dispensers of dental floss! I feel so privileged. And so indecisive! I now have the choice between waxed and unwaxed floss and I find almost nothing more paralyzing than menial choices between essentially fungible products–you should see me trying to buy orange juice in the US. I’m such a wreck that I usually ask a “sensible mom” type to help me out.

And while I’m waxing philosophical on the topic of floss (heeee heeeeee!) what does one call a single retail unit of floss? A spool? A box? A dispenser? Spool seems to work, but the spool is inside the dispenser, and the dispenser is necessary to cut the floss into reasonable lengths. But if you say “dispenser” it seems to imply some fancy, faux-marble aftermarket thing from Brookstone or a Skymall catalog. This is something to ponder. This is, after all, a night for asking questions.

Chag Sameach, everyone!

Posted by: fullandbye | April 1, 2011

Truce is Over

I have a pretty peaceful relationship with the various animals (toads, lizards, and most insects) that share my house with me. Mosquitoes I hunt with a vengeance, and animals that are major disease vectors (rats, mice, kids covered with snot) I make a point of keeping outside the house.

But spiders, crickets, even cockroaches have been mostly tolerated. I figure that my house is an ecosystem, and while I don’t encourage their presence (house is kept extremely clean, no food left out etc.), I certainly let them live so long as they do not bother me. I like the idea of peaceful coexistence, so I initiated a truce not only with the more compelling vertebrates, but also with the less compelling exoskeletal creepies.

This all changed this evening.

As it was:

I was in the bathroom, going about my evening toilette, and I noticed a sizable cockroach on the North wall, maybe ten centimeters down from the ceiling. No issue. None at all.

Being a creature of habit, I typically begin at the far end of the bathroom (the shower) and move from there to the toilet, and from the toilet to the sink. Shower. Toilet. Wash my hands. Brush my teeth. Floss. Face wash. Shave if I want. Go to bed. A simple, enjoyable routine, right?

Wrong. At least, not tonight. Everything was going well. I had gone through everything up to the final face wash (no shave tonight), and the cockroach had not moved an inch. Finally, after washing my face, the moment before turning to the door where my face towel hangs…


I know it is April Fool’s Day. I swear i am not making this up.

Fortunately, my mouth was not completely open. Also fortunately, I had enough air in my lungs that an extremely rapid exhalation (a reverse gasp…a psag!) was enough to expel the cockroach from my maw, and with a frenzied batting motion I knocked that villainous knave from existence.

I then made a series of noises that, although possibly mistakable for medieval Dutch, i will not even attempt to phoneticize here.

Never in my life have I been more overjoyed at having mouthwash. I am happy I did not have any organic solvents lying around because I’m not sure I could have resisted the temptation to gargle with something stronger. I gargled with listerine for as long as I could stand it. Then I used the last remaining drops of household insecticide to spray around the top and bottom edges of the room.

Truce is over between me and the cockroaches. I’m against collective punishment as a matter of principle, but I’m going to make an exception for exoskeletal species that go for the mouth.

Posted by: fullandbye | March 28, 2011

Various, as usual.

Blogging in Peace Corps is haaaaaard. (not really. I have no good excuse).

Things are going well though. I went to Michigan in late December to officiate the wedding of one of my best friends. A greenhouse in Northern Michigan is a beautiful place for such a wedding. The evening was simply lovely, and the decorations were in a style I dubbed “Great Lakes Provencale” (I love drinking beer and wine out of mason jars!). The entire trip was a wonderful time.

my favorite moment of the night

How I was trusted to officiate a wedding i will never know. The picture even makes it look like I knew what I was doing (although I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth).

Then mom and my stepdad came to visit in late January. Having them here was nice, although a bit stressful at times (“No mom, we are NOT paying 300j for six grapefruit. Where did Allan go?”)

Then I went to the group 80 close of service conference. This was really weird because
1) Having transferred from Ghana, I’m not exactly a part of group 80 and
2) I’m extending for 7 months (pending medical clearance) and was therefore in an entirely different headspace from the rest of the people there.

So COS conference was bit of a mindfuck, but I’m still glad I went.

Projects are moving along. I’ve introduced a few farmers to moringa cultivation for pig feed. Rising global commodity prices are starting to affect life pon di rock in myriad ways, and a couple pig farmers are pretty keen on trying just about anything that could curb their reliance on imported feed.

The trail to the falls is still a problem, although last week I took some people from Jamaica Social Investment Fund up the trail to see the washout to the upper falls and we talked about options. With how steep the slope is, and how unstable the soil is, they might find it more practical to instead build up from the lower falls rather than down from the rim of the upper falls. I drew them several schematics and we said we would stay in touch. Apparently there is renewed interest in tourism promotion in the Rio Grande Valley, and with some investment, Nanny Falls could be an amazing attraction. We’ll see what happens.

Work at the school is going well. I’ve actually got computer classes scheduled every day this week, as well as my usual literacy tutoring on Wednesday and Junior Achievement on Friday. Busy week.

Temperatures have also started to rise again. Oh dear. The cool season was delightul, but I’m excited for mangoes, avocado, guinep, and clothes that dry in one day.

I also may have inadvertently ordered a case of honey to my supermarket today. They have been out of honey for near on two months, and my supply is getting critically low (when I go through honey withdrawals the results are not pretty). In any event, the number of S&S farms is on the honey bottle, and I called them just to ask if there was a shortage. The conversation then proceeded thusly:

Raz: Afternoon, is this S&S?
Man: Yes. S&S.
Raz: You make honey?
Man: Yeah, we make honey.
Raz: Has there been a honey shortage recently?
Man: No shortage. We have honey.
Raz: Ok, well, Kamlyn’s and Kamal’s supermarkets in Port Antonio have not carried your honey for several weeks. I was wondering it there was a shortage in winter or something.
Man: No no no. We’ll send some out to Kamal’s.
Raz: Well, I don’t represent Kamal’s. I’m just a private citizen who really like honey. I’m not even a citizen of this country, even though I especially like the honey here.
Man: No problem, we’ll send some out.
Raz: You might want to call the store first to see if they…***click***

I really wonder what chain of events i’ve set in motion with this call. Without a call from an official buyer to discuss pricing, invoices etc. I wonder if the honey will even be delivered? I certainly hope so. If this technique of simply calling up suppliers whenever the store is out of something I like manages to actually get that product on the shelf, then I can see numerous shopping experiences getting a whole lot better. I need to get the number of the tofu company.

Posted by: fullandbye | February 2, 2011

Hi Sammi

Hi Sammi!

Posted by: fullandbye | November 3, 2010


skhizein (σχίζειν, “to split”) and phrēn, phren- (φρήν, φρεν-; “mind”)

I’ve never had much cause to use the word “schizophrenia” in any sort of clinical sense. But I find the etymology incredibly powerful. Split mind. Split mind. I’ve been of a bit of a split mind of late.

Years ago, I lived right across the street from a fire station. I love fire engines and fire trucks. This station even had a ladder. Such wonderful vehicles! They are all red and shiny and loud and wonderful. The five-year old boy in me rejoiced every single time I heard the bell in the station ring and saw the rigs zoom out into the street. But the twenty-something year old man in me always felt a little bit guilty. Fire stations go into action when someone calls 911 and someone calls 911 when something is seriously wrong.





Like this. Several times a day for two years.

We are almost at the end of Hurricane Season 2010. Even though I’ve had a keen interest in weather since I started sailing in 2004, I have never paid as close attention to Tropical Atlantic weather as I have this year.

So far, Jamaica has really dodged the bullets pretty well. This season has been active, but with the exception of Tropical Storm Nicole (depression 16 until it passed over Jamaica) and some slop being dragged behind Hurricane Richard, Jamaica has remained lucky. This might soon change.

Over the past week or so, I’ve been keeping a really close eye on Tomas. Tomas organized very quickly over this past weekend and initial tracks had Jamaica squarely in its sights. The tracking forecasts proved wildly off though, as a combination of stalled forward motion and unfavorable conditions caused the hurricane to be downgraded to a tropical storm, then a tropical depression. The system also was forecast to veer sharply North and then Northeast from its westing trajectory. This makes Haiti a target.

As I write this, Jamaica is on a tropical storm watch but there is a lot of uncertainty in even the most conservative forecasts.

Here is where I am of a split mind.

Tropical Cyclones are the most powerful events found in nature. With staggering efficiency and scale, they convert solar energy into forces that are practically beyond imagination. They also destroy crops, ruin livelihoods, and kill people.

But from a naturalist’s perspective, they are absolutely gorgeous. They are so organized, so crystalline, and so powerful. Such exquisite beauty. Lethal beauty, but still exquisite.

I’ve now witnessed the damage that even a relatively minor cyclone can do to a nation. The current forecast trajectory that has Tomas grazing Jamaica and then strengthening before nailing Haiti fills me with sadness and some anger. I’ll be fine no matter what, but I know that this is not the case for everyone. Not by a long shot.

This statement is true: Nature is a splendid creation even when her creations are lethal. But the truth in this statement causes my mind to be in conflict with my soul. I do not doubt for a moment that beauty is truth, truth beauty. But maybe it is the case that sometimes beauty, truth, wonder, and sadness are all part of the same experience.

So here I am, of split mind and split heart. Waiting for the weather and wondering what comes next.

Posted by: fullandbye | September 22, 2010


After a very long day of travel following a wonderful whirlwind fortnight in Philly and Alaska to see my mom and brother, I checked my email last Tuesday and discovered that a favorite professor from the University of Washington had died the previous day.

As I flew on a red-eye from Anchorage to Minneapolis the night before getting this news, I could look north into the Canadian interior and for a few hours I was privileged enough to see a really strong aurora dancing in the night. I now associate this awesome spectacle with the passing of this friend and mentor.

There is a saying I really like, attributed to the mishnaic sage Yehoshua ben Perachia (Nasi of the Sanhedrin and reputedly a teacher of Jesus). It goes,

“Find a mentor. Acquire a friend. And make it a habit to judge every person favorably”.

Ran was a mentor, a friend, and one who lived in the habit of judging every person favorably. An enormous part of my undergraduate experience can be attributed to a ten minute interaction I had with him the first time I met him.

I had just transferred to the UW after fleeing theatre design conservatory in New York. It was my first quarter and I was taking a class on the history of the university as an institution. The TA for that class also happened to be the Honors program advisor and I decided to go to her office hours because i had a question about an assignment. Her office was in the Honors Suite but this is a big and confusing place. I wandered into the suite and wandered into an office that had an open door. Sitting at a desk was a kindly, very professorial looking man and on the table next to him was a copy of the New York Times.

“Well, hello!” he said to me.
“Hi!” said back.
“Have a seat.” So I sat.
We then had a very engaging conversation about the news of the day (Slobodan Milosevic’s trial was just getting underway at the Hague). After ten minutes Ran asked me if I was in for an advising appointment and I told him I was actually looking for Jeanne. He had a big laugh and pointed me towards her office across the suite. Before he did this though he invited me to join the Honors Program at the UW, saying I would be a good fit. This was an unexpected gift that left me speechless.

This gift proved to be the foundation of an undergraduate experience I cherish more than I could ever describe. A truly priceless gift. But Ran was like that. He saw so much potential in everyone and he just exuded kindness and generosity from behind his sagacious, kindly face. The best teachers are those who teach us how to live, and Ran taught by example that this world can use all the kindness it can get. What lesson could be more important?

I had ample opportunity to tell Ran how appreciative I was for the opportunity to join UW Honors, and I hope and believe he knew how much he meant to me. But there is another lesson in this that I am just beginning to appreciate, and one that is really valuable as a Peace Corps Volunteer: small interactions can have enormous outcomes.

I think that the best mentors realize that rarely will they get to fully appreciate or understand the extent to which their efforts make a difference. Peace Corps Volunteers, especially those of us who work in education, sometimes wonder whether our efforts mean anything.

But they do. They must.

A month ago, in preparation for a conference on homelessness being hosted by Dr. Rhodes (founder of the Port Antonio homeless shelter), I had spent all day working with some other volunteers to spruce up the shelter. We had spent all morning grunting and swearing at a massive steel grate that had been taken off a door for painting and simply would not fit in its old place. Moods were not bright and we took a break.

One of the staff members at the shelter has a daughter named Jolene. Jolene is sweet, smart, and sometimes a handful. As the other volunteers and I took a break and drank our glasses of water, someone noticed that Jolene was about to throw a plastic wrapper down the hillside atop which the shelter sits. Someone told her not to do that, and like the precocious little girl she is, she immediately responded with “why?”.

This was a moment to be seized.

So I sat Jolene on my lap and we had a quick lesson in biodegradable and non biodegradable waste. We made a quick list of things that grow, and then a list of things that do not grow. She grasped quickly that things that grow in nature can also fall apart in nature and dissappear and this is why there is so much plastic on the ground but after mango season is over the mango pits disappear.

I had bought some guinep earlier in the day, and Jolene asked me if she could have some. I gave her a handful of guinep and asked her what she would do with the pits when she was done with them. She reasoned that guinep grows and so the guinep seeds would eventually disappear and so it was ok to throw them down the hillside. I told her she was absolutely right and then challenged her to a guinep-seed spitting contest to see who could spit their guinep-seed the farthest and we played this game until the guinep was gone.

I think that when you assume the role of a mentor it is a little like picking up a dandelion puff and blowing the seeds into the wind. I will not be around this island long enough to fully appreciate if this little lesson on ecology has made much of a difference, but I really hope that this little dandelion tells her friends and they tell their friends and so on, down the line.

Likewise, I was one of thousands of dandelion seeds that Ran blew into the wind. And here, almost nine years after meeting him and with the sadness of knowing i will never see him again, I hope I honor his legacy each time I make a friend, mentor or am mentored, or find it in myself to judge someone favorably.

Posted by: fullandbye | September 9, 2010

Erev Rosh Hashanah

Erev Rosh Hashanah, 5771.

I tend to get even more contemplative than usual around this time of year. I think some part of me is still on the academic calendar. Perhaps I simply find autumn a fitting time to reflect. Perhaps the Jewish calendar resonates within me more strongly than I realize.

I like to think it is a combination of all of these things.

A year ago on Erev Rosh Hashanah I was cooped up in Accra, in the final few days of the limbo that began when it became apparent that i could not remain in Ghana. Well I remember the anxiety of waiting to hear if Jamaica had come through as an option, or if I would return to site, or if I would be medically separated and return to the known unknown of life in Seattle. At that moment I was frankly in too weird of a headspace to adequately reflect on the year passed and the year to come. I did not get a chance to fully sanctify the transition. These things happen.

This year I am grateful to consider my life stable, settled, and happy. It took the better part of a year to dial in my Peace Corps service but this struggle is something to be grateful for too.

There is a concept I have been thinking about recently. A lovely phrase called “Tikkun Olam”. This translates to something like “the repairing (tikkun) of the world (olam)”.

I was planning to write some big expository post on serving overseas, and on the benefit that can come when we make it our business to live our lives as though ever person in this world is deserving of equal consideration. This topic merits a series of Tikkun related posts but but to be quite honest, much as I would like to write something like this, I am not sure I can wrap my head around this concept enough to even begin.

Besides, I am in the USA right now, and something happened today that has thrown my thinking about this topic into sharp relief.

Peace Corps talks a lot about Reverse Culture Shock. My brother and i are visiting my mother in Alaska right now, and life here is certainly different. The streets are huge and well paved. Cars are neither falling apart nor filled with live animals (plenty of dead deer rolling in pickups though), and I am not sweating bullets every hour of every day.

I thought I had experienced a bit of reverse culture shock. I was wrong. Roads, cars, even the weather is hardly a shock to one’s system when compared against the social rules that hold us together. And stateside the rules are different indeed.

As it was.

I was in the library in Anchorage to see some art and look at the gorgeous building. As I was walking up the stairs in the atrium at the entrance, a little boy (maybe 4) who had been flying a paper airplane down the stairwell tripped on the stairs and tumbled down a few steps. He began to cry immediately and his mother was nowhere to be found. His older brother came running over and asked to look inside his mouth. Discovering that no teeth were missing and no blood was inside the mouth told his wailing brother “you are not bleeding”. At this point the little guy sobbed “yeah, but I am hurting”.

It was too much. Kid was holding his hand (he fell on his wrist) and was really inconsolable. I knelt down to look at him, and when he walked over with his arms outstretched I picked him up and said “hey little man. I know you are hurting just now, but you will be ok. Ok? Think you can hold it together for a bit?”. He looked at me, big eyes still teary and nodded. “There we go. You’re being being really brave.” The kid nodded. “Alright, let’s go find your mom, ok?” Big nod again.

At this point, the kid’s mom appeared at the bottom of the atrium. Our eyes met. She looked at me strangely, and I put the kid down and he ran to his mom and brother and I walked to my mom and brother. The whole thing could not have lasted more than 30 seconds or so.

“Raz. What were you doing?” My own mother asked me as soon as we were out of earshot.
“What do you mean? That kid was upset. I told him he would be ok and he stopped crying”
“Raz. Do you pick up random kids in Peace Corps?”
“Of course. Shit, in Ghana they would not even wait. They would just climb up on me whether I liked it or not. But in Jamaica I play with random kids all the time. Why?”
“Raz. You can’t do that in the US. You take a huge legal risk the moment you do something like that.”

And with that, everything fell apart.

i joined Peace Corps because I found it impossible to ignore the rest of the world. It took this experience to make me realize the extent to which we have built a society here in the United States in which we routinely ignore each other.

Kids playing on stairs will inevitably fall. And when they do, it sometimes takes an adult to tell them that they will be ok for them to believe that they will be ok. There is nothing weird about this. Until my mom reminded me, I had completely forgotten (not sure if I ever knew) the extent to which we have created a world in which extending kindness to a little kid is a risk. And this concept is unbelievably weird to me right now. How have we broken the world so completely? A world where an extension of goodwill towards a sobbing little boy carries legal risk is a world that is badly broken. I don’t even know where to begin.

So my thought for this Erev Rosh Hashanah is this: if this world is to be repaired, we need to actively facilitate trust and generosity of spirit enough that the good in people can find its natural expression. Our humanity must be as unencumbered as possible if we are to live up to our full potential as people. And it starts on the smallest of scales.

I wish I had something more profound to offer. But this will have to do.

Shanah Tova v’metukah l’qulam.

i wish you all a sweet and good year.

Current time: 12:05, Alaska Daylight Time. 9 September, 2010.
Current Outside Temperature: Too fucking cold.
Current Location: Mom’s apartment in Anchorage, AK.
Current Beverage: Gascon Malbec, 2009. Argentina. Nice inexpensive bottle.

Posted by: fullandbye | September 1, 2010

in philly

I’m in Philadelphia visiting my brother for a few days before the two of us go up to Alaska to see our mom for a week.

It has been pretty great being here. Full of reverse culture shock and sorta difficult at moments. But also full of serendipity, great interactions with known and unknown people, some wonderful museum time, and delicious beer.

This evening the Barnea boys had a sundowner on the rooftop deck of the apartment. It was pretty winning.

I'm forever blowing bubbles

view from the roof

Posted by: fullandbye | August 25, 2010

moving large objects

About a month ago, my closest neighbors up the valley (a delightful couple named Jesse and Josh) had their close of service and returned stateside.

They gave me dibs on their papasan chair and I would have been a fool to not pounce on the opportunity to own such a comfortable piece of furniture.

There was one problem though. How to move a papasan chair from their house to mine? You see, as the john-crow flies, our houses are perhaps two miles apart. The trail is very steep singletrack at the beginning and end, but the bulk of the journey is a pleasant amble on (deeply pocked) doubletrack road. It is maybe an hour walk.

Taxis do not run between our communities. I could have taken two taxis home, but this would have been expensive, would not have saved any time, and would be vastly less hilarious than simply walking with the chair strapped to my back.

Fortunately i have here in my possession a frame backpack, lots of line, zip ties, and Irish straps. If there is one thing that sailors are good at (besides bullshitting, drinking, and swearing) it is coming up with ridiculous hacks that involve tying knots and lashing things together. I was in luck!

First I wrapped up the cushion and shoved it in the bag.
cushion wrapped up

Then I attached the base of the papasan chair, and then the bowl on top of the base.
assembling everything

Everything secure, it was time for this kludgy solution to see the light of day.
out the door

I was extremely pleased with myself.
it is a nice look

And thusly I proceeded home.
homeward bound

On the way I had to cross a very narrow pedestrian suspension bridge and this proved a bit of a challenge. I also met a farmer who found my situation so hilariously delightful that he gave me a pineapple. Farther down the road I found a man who was willing to rent me his donkey for the remainder of the journey, but I was perfectly happy with everything on my back. Farther still I met some youth and we took cover from a rainstorm and talked about music. Finally I arrived at my site and my community had a great laugh at my return. Not only did humping the chair two miles between towns save me time and money, but it turned into a moment of cultural integration too! What a splendid day! I even had a comfortable place to sit at the end of my endeavor.

Posted by: fullandbye | August 20, 2010

reflective–on words and kisses and socks.

Birthday was wonderfully low key. As happened last year in Nkwanta, the weather was incredibly stormy and rainy so much of the day was spent indoors or scurrying around the gushing streets. This weekend is a little get-together at Long Bay for a small group of volunteers.


Spent the morning yesterday at the homeless shelter in Porti struggling to replace a massive steel grate across the front door. The grate was removed to allow painters to spruce up the door jamb but once it was taken out the steel sprung out and warped and it was an absolute beast to replace. Disaster. I also spent some more time with the response volunteer who has just been sent to Porti to work with the football association.

And now…a deep thought from the bush: Eating a salad in the dark gives a surprise with every forkful. Even if you made the salad.

Leaving for a two week trip stateside next Monday. Excited. Nervous. I will get to wear woolly socks when I am in Alaska and this alone is cause for celebration. This thinking about wool socks led me to revisit Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to My Socks” this morning. Such exaltation in ordinary small things. Kisses are also exalted smallness. I think that Neruda poems are about the closest thing to kisses that language can become.

Head is awash with some thoughts on love, representation, and artifacts of identity. Be forewarned: some abstract and convoluted entries might find their way here as soon as my thoughts become crystalline enough to start stringing words together.

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