Monday, February 26, 2007

Nervous Breakdown on Aisle Three

Like I need any more reasons to avoid eating. For quite I while I have been irritated by my neighborhood grocery store, but only now has the anger subsided enough for me to write about it. At first I was charmed by Sainsbury's (whom I now refer to as Evilburys) clever way of labelling "yogurt" and "healthy yogurt," you know, because there is a difference. But little did I know it was a clever distracting ploy to keep you from noticing there is NO logical organizational system to their store. More often than not, I literally have to walk up and down every single aisle, looking for what I need because it isn't with similar food products. Would sugar be by the "baking products?" Oh no! It would be with the coffee and tea. Chocolate sauce? Perhaps by the ice cream? Nope, that's where the bullion and ketchup is (of course). With the aisle of chocolate bars? Afraid not, that is where you can find granola bars(I kid you not). Oh! There is the chocolate sauce, by the shaving razors and candles! Can someone PLEASE explain this to me? Ask a store employee you say? Well, after you HUNT ONE DOWN (I swear, if they see you walking purposely towards them, they turn and speed walk the other way) they rarely are helpful. I've actually had two different people tell me "I don't know" and walk away. Really? In Safeway you had to put your game face on and develop a method of grabbing things without breaking stride, because the minute you paused, they would swarm you like yellowjackets who smell my fear "Ma'am, can I help you find something?" I have had to develop a system to survive what Bevis referred to as my"supermarket rage." I could either ask for help right away, or I could search the entire store on my own, but I didn't have the patience to do both. On three different occasions, I've searched front to back looking for items (chicken broth, cornbread mix, and cocktail sausages) only to give up and decide to ask next time I was at the store, because at that point if I had to put up with a sullen store employee, I would have bludgeoned them with a "digestive biscuits" roll. Oh, and for the record, liquid chicken broth and cornbread mix do not exist here. And cocktail sausages are in the "party food" aisle, not with the sausages, duh!

I found my British Green Bean!

My last year in Seattle, I was blessed by an amazing coffeeshop, run by two amazing women who loved God and people with all their hearts. It was less than a block away from my flat, and it soon became the place where my friends and I would congregate on evenings and weekends. I even modified my work schedule a bit so I could grab coffee when they opened, because a latte is a latte, but a latte with a huge hug and a giant "Lynnie!" is a fantastic way to start the morning. I was determined to find a similar coffee shop here, where I could comfortably study and relax, get a good cup of coffee, and feel like part of the neighborhood. I thought I found one in Brockley, but it is smokey and they play Bjork a little too much for my study tastes.
About a month ago, there was a notice in my church bulletin that a christian cafe and art gallery was looking for volunteers to work behind the counter. I immediately emailed my interest, I thought I could reach down and access my old barrista experience at Scooters (and pray they don't do hotdogs), combine it with my love for the Green Bean, and as a result have a reason to get out of my flat and hopefully find a new community in return. I wasn't ready for a job, I still had classes and I was still struggling with making time for academics, so volunteering seemed to be a good balance. I didn't receive a response, so I kinda shrugged it off....until this weekend.
I got a phone call over the weekend, and since I was available (because, honestly, when am I not available?) I agreed to come by on Monday to check it out and pitch in. It is called House Cafe, in Camberwell (about a 15 minute bus ride away), which on the main floor is this fabulous, well lit cafe, and underneath will be a gallery space. It is run by a couple, employed by a nearby church with the vision to be more connected to the community while encouraging emerging artists (sound familiar?). Thrilled, I threw on an apron, got a quick review on the wonders of the espresso machine and I was back in the game. I think I've interacted with more people in the last four hours than I have in the last two months combined, it was fabulous. Within 2 hours into arriving, they offered me a job. I guess they were impressed with my mad foaming skills, or maybe because I actually looked for things that needed to be done rather than waiting to be asked. Either way, the plan had always been to hire a staff but were depending on volunteers until they could find people who were a good fit (they've only been open 3 weeks) and they asked me to stay on. They will pretty much take me for as many hours as I want to work, and when I want to work. Heck, I would have worked for the free sandwich, but...what an answer to prayer. Actually, it was a prayer I wasn't even praying. I assumed I wouldn't look for a job until after spring break. Isn't God good? Originally the plan was to be a file clerk, usually hours are flexible, and it quenches my insatiable thirst for organizing. But if you think about it, making coffee isn't too different. Foam milk, pull shot, rinse, repeat. And I have great (Christian) coworkers and friendly customers (well, fingers crossed). I couldn't stop smiling on the bus ride home, which I think is the first time that's happened since arriving in London. Well, finding out I was able to go home and on a plane less than 12 hours later was, but that was more like I couldn't stop crying I was so happy, so first time for uncontrollable smiling. And the best part, I don't have to ask, "would you like onions and ketchup with your hotdog?"

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Politic of the British Hand Dryer

There are two kinds of hand dryers in London. One is the push button kind, that stays of for a timed period and then shuts off automatically. I kid you not, every single one of these types, throughout London, is mounted extremely high on the wall. Now, I am not necessarily a short person, I am an even 5’5” so I know this isn’t really just a perspective thing. The problem with this, is that if you have to lift up your dripping wet hands higher than your elbows, you get water that runs down your arms. And in my option, that defeats the purpose of hand drying, for now your shirt cuffs are wet as well.
The second kind are the motion censored ones, that activate when you stick your hands under and turn off when you take your hands away. The challenge with these ones is that you have to stick your hands directly under, with as little space as possible between your hands and the dryer for it to activate. This alone wouldn’t be a problem, but there is a hard plastic flap in front of the dryer which swings downward (intended to direct the hot air towards one’s face). The position of your hands directly under the nozzle puts your wrists right up against this plastic flap, and if you do as much as bump it (as one is prone to do when rubbing one’s hands together to hasten the drying process) it flips down and you get a blast of hot air in your face. I don’t particularly put a lot of time in my hair styling these days, but it still shocks me a little to be blasted without a moments notice. I have yet to encounter a hand dryer in this city that does not fall under one of these two categories. At Goldsmiths they actually vary by building, so it is not rare for me to think through strategically about my rest-stops based on whether I am wearing long sleeves or not. I know there are many, many reasons why I hunker down in my room for days at a time, but I am positive avoiding wet cuffs and heated air blasted in my face are high on that list. God bless the (recycled) paper towel.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I'm sorry, can you hold? I have Palestine on the line...

Today I was able to participate in a truly unique opportunity. About a month ago, I was asked by one of my professors from last term if I'd be interested in participating in a pilot program the Sociology program is starting up, in an attempt to create a academic bridge between Goldsmiths and academics in Palestinian universities. The test program is joining with fellow masters students and PhD students at Goldsmiths (most have ties with the Soc. program) and having three video conferences with masters students in Palestine. The intention in the beginning is to open up a line of communication, for Goldsmiths students to interact with Palestinian students and learn more about their experience studying under occupation as well as an opportunity to get non-Western perspectives on similar areas of research and such. The hope is also to provide the university with academic resources that they don't have access to (lectures, journals, etc.) due to travel restrictions. Today was the first meeting. Even though the topic was "getting to know you," I was still extremely anxious. First of all, I know nothing of Palestine. The smatterings of images in my head are from headlines I would hear on NPR occasionally. Secondly, I find I still get extremely anxious before times of interacting with my academic peers. I feel really inadequate and ignorant, which actually was the very reason I chose to participate. This was something I would be completely unprepared for, and would stretch me.
It was a fascinating experience, we had some time to hear from the students themselves about the challenges they face in order to study at the university (checkpoints, military raids, power shortages, working full time to survive). Even through the camera, you could hear and see the passion they had for their studies, and they were just as interested in hearing about our fields of interest as well. In some ways, we did get a small taste of what it would be like, for our connection was broken more than once, due to power cuts.
It is really fun to be a part of the beginnings of something that could be extremely powerful. The Goldsmiths staff who have been involved in this from the beginning have really high hopes for what this academic "exchange" can look like. For me, I am always intrigued in how opportunities for cross-cultural discourse can be developed. I am eager to see what emerges from this beginning. And it is pretty fun to be able to say, "Yeah, I was talking to Palestine today...."

Monday, February 05, 2007

No more playing in the chicken coop for me....

Last Thursday, Molly and I were talking about how disconnected we feel to American news, and news in general. We were discussing the difference of "media hype" that we've noticed here in London, and ended up laughing about how huge the Bird Flu was in the states throughout last year, and yet we hadn't heard it mentioned once here in London. The very next day, in my seminar, my lecturer started coughing violently and said "Pardon, I've seem to have caught a nasty cold, either that or it's the bird flu." I slowly shifted my chair away from him.
I eagerly awaited Molly's homecoming that night, to tell her of our powers of foreshadowing but alas, she could do me one better. She had heard on the BBC that evening that Friday morning over 1,000 turkeys had mysteriously dropped dead in SouthEast of Britain, and after a quick web search, we discovered that indeed, it was due to the deadly "humans might catch it if they play with poultry" strain of avian flu. We quietly considered each other, not sure how much of this turkey tragedy we should feel responsible for. The American frenzied reaction bubbled up inside of me, and for a minute, I regretted having chicken the night before. Finally, I looked at her and said "You know what I never hear talked about in the media over here in the UK? About how I would get a million dollars randomly in the mail....."