Lucia has something to say

Monday, April 30, 2007

Loo, Privy, and Powder Room

Always using my time (cough) wisely, I settled in to page through Toilets of the World. I expected the developing world ones, which I’ve seen (and smelled) in person all too often, would be the most interesting. But they’re not.

Skipping all the interestingly shaped and patterned bowls and urinals, here are some of my favorites.

The Whiskey Café in Quebec is a rare urinal wonder. For men, they’ve got the stream of water on a metal wall, described as “a rare treat” and “soothing.” But for women. There’s the L’urinette, a frightening urinal which looks like a cross between a torture device and a vacuum cleaner. No, thank you. I’ll be over here in the corner with my legs crossed. (Anybody been there?)

There are a lot of outhouses hovering over the end of piers in the San Blas Islands. I especially like the photo captioned “An unsuspecting snorkeller swims right under the toilet.” Big fun for the locals.

I’d include the throne at the now defunct CBGB in NYC, in a nostalgic sort of way. RIP.

I’m liking the pop-up urinal in Soho on Charing Cross Road in London. During the week, unsuspecting walkers stroll over a manhole cover, but come Thursday night, up pops a 3-urinal contraption for the weekend.

And then there’s the Hong Kong jeweler who took Lenin seriously when he said toilets should be made of gold to remind the world of capitalist warfare. He built the world’s most costly bathroom, with gold fixtures, a gold toilet brush, gold toilet paper holders, and TWO (count ‘em TWO!) solid gold toilets.

Got any great additions?

Sunday, April 29, 2007


Late December 1997. We went to build an autonomous school. To haul concrete block. At Oventic Aguascalientes II, a Zapatista run space in Chiapas. We arrive 5 days after the massacre of 45 indigenous Las Abejas on December 22, 1997, by paramilitaries.

Muddy, rainy, foggy. Every meal--beans, rice, tortillas, coffee. Tortillas, coffee, beans, rice. My clothes and boots wet and stiff. We sleep on hard wood bunks. The rain blows in all night. Soaking us through.

The massacre changes our plans.

We travel to Polhó to deliver humanitarian aid to displaced refugees. For hours, they told us their stories. To be documented. What happened to them. For the world to know. Paramilitaries came and fired guns. And raped. And killed their daughters and sons, their husbands and fathers. They ran. They hid.

On New Year’s Eve, we gathered with the Zapatistas. The veterans of the armed January 1, 1994, attack on San Cristóbal de las Casas jog in with wooden guns and torches. Glowing in the dense fog. They made several laps shouting "Zapata Vive" before coming to a standstill in front of a stage. Surreal.

On stage Zapatista leaders gathered to give talks. Punctuated by fireworks. When the ceremony was done, we danced. In the light mist. With the Zapatistas. A Mexican newspaper from the next day has a photograph with the caption "Zapatistas and their supporters celebrating the New Year."

We barely laid down on our hard bunks, dizzy from the celebration, when we were called together again. Commandante David told us that paramilitary forces might attack the camp that night. We would have to evacuate under cover of night on foot. "Es un orden." "It's an order." With urgency, he whispered, "Preparate! Preparate!"

We gathered a few things together. And were given a can of tuna, so we had food if we were separated. Ropes were laid out for us to hold, to keep us together in the night. They divided the women and men. We waited. For hours. For the signal. To leave in the night.

It came. I took hold of the rope. We move like a lurching caterpillar from the auditorium and onto the road. We climb up a steep, muddy trail. Armed Zapatista soldiers with radios guard our column of evacuees.

We slip and fall in the dark for about an hour. Long minutes, trying to move quickly and quietly. The mud sucks me in. Up to my thighs. And Zapatistas come to pull me by the armpits out of the mire. And we keep climbing. Until we reach a group of houses in the mountains. The women are put into a house, and the men under huge sheets of plastic outside. The thwap, thwap of helicopters overhead. Helicopters and planes. With infrared equipment. They knew where we were. The big hot spot on the top of the mountain.

The house was small, and we had our knees pulled into our chests all night. It was cold. There was no sleep. The women bonded instantly. We talked about how we were afraid. And we cried cold tears. The urge to straighten my legs became overwhelming, but I dared not move.

The night passed. Without incident. We hiked down the mountain. And got on the buses. And it was over. A tale I am glad to tell without a more dramatic end.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Kabul Beauty School

Another woman. Steps into another culture. And marries a man. With whom she can hardly communicate. She's from Michigan. An English speaker. He's Afghani. And like in The White Masai, she wants him to behave like men in our culture. To nurture. To cuddle. To be there for her. For me. This substory is the hook. Not the beauty school. I know there's a movie too. I haven't seen it. And don't know if I will.

Add: QT reminded me too that she is his second wife. He has a first wife and a handful of children living in Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Thank you to Maggie for honoring me with a Thinking Blogger Award.

Here's what she kindly said:

Lucia - because she takes me beyond my little world and reminds me that this earth we live on is huge and full of people and small in relation to human needs. I love her travel stories and her way of questioning even every day occurrences from a different point of view.

Which, when she put it through Gizoogle just for fun translates:

Lucia - because she takes me beyond my little world.
Lucia - coz she takes me beyond mah shawty world.

In truth, nearly everyone I'd pass this on to has gotten it in one way or another already. I have been wanting to say, though, that I love getting to know all of you. (No, I haven't been drinking. I know that sounds like a sloppy Sally Field award acceptance speech.)

Which brings me 'round to this morning when I read Gary's post on Potter's Blog where he asked the question, "Why do we read Potsblog?" He said,
For some reason, a selection of nice people visit each day. It is a mystery to me.
It's a mystery to me too. Not why people visit his blog. But mine.

So to shamelessly borrow his idea...

Consider yourselves a focus group: Why do you visit Lucia Has Something to Say?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


I love to soar. I live to soar. Moments when I am absorbed. And time stands still. When I’m creating art. Or standing in the wind. Or jumping in the swell of ocean waves. There was a time when I was in the back of a motorboat on Lake Kivu in Rwanda, when I spread my wings wide. And riding in the back of pickup trucks gives me great joy.

I want to hear about the things that make you soar. Because maybe they’ll make me soar too.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Muddied Colors

Homeland Security. Has muddied beautiful colors.

Yellow. Sunshine. Joy. Happiness. Energy. Elevated. Significant risk of terrorist attacks.

Orange. Enthusiasm. Creativity. High. High risk of terrorist attacks.

Red. Strength. Passion. Determination. Severe. Severe risk of terrorist attacks.

Pink. Code Pink. I love it that Code Pink has thrown itself into the color coded alerts. Compassion. Calm. Neutralizing violence. Code Pink is a women initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement that seeks positive social change through proactive, creative protest and non-violent direct action.

Me? I wanna be pink.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Just Say Yes

I often say no. I'm overextended. Looking for free time. And the only way I often can manage is to say no. No, I don't want to go. No, I cannot speak at that event.

But I've been thinking about Danny Wallace. He was bored. Sitting around at home. And wondered what would happen in his life if he said yes to every question anyone asked. It's an interesting experiment. It led him to make money, lose money, meet interesting people, brush with sketchy situations.

I'm thinking, "What would happen if I did this just for a day?" Would I have a vinyl siding salesman who happened to call that day come to give a quote? Would I wind up at a conference I had no intention of attending? Would I take on tasks that would cause more stress? Would I buy a lottery ticket prompted by a grocery store clerk's question? Would I meet people I otherwise would not have met? Would my car get washed because of the question at the pump? It's an interesting idea to play with. What do you think would happen if you said yes to every question you were asked in a day?

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Perusing the pop section at the library, I saw it. The book. The origin of my tattoo. Trademarks of the '60s & '70s. Page 87.

Daiwa Corportation
Gardena, California
Fishing reels and fishing rods

I had completely forgotten it was in reverse. The negative of what is now on my skin. The book says, "[The sunburst's...] many symbolic abstractions reference the center of the universe or the soul...,and the circular shape suggests permanence, warmth, and comfort."

I love this tattoo.

Permanence. Warmth. Comfort.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Living in the Material World

I keep this photo on my desk. It’s from the book Material World: A Global Family Portrait. The book has portraits of “average” families from 30 countries. The photos are taken outside their homes with everything they own.

This is the Yadav family in India. The six of them live in the 344 square foot home behind them. They have a bed. Pots and pans. A bicycle. The father said his most valuable possession is that framed print of a Hindu god he’s holding. They don’t have savings. In bad times, they go without food.

My house is small, at least by American standards. It’s about 850 square feet. Like most North Americans, we have a lot of stuff. A lot.

Out of all this stuff, I’m not sure what I would identify as my most valuable possessions. Do you? If you had to identify three of your most valuable possessions, say the three non-living things you would grab if your house was on fire, what would they be?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Reading Magic

Swirling. Delicious. Leaving a sweet taste in my mouth. I love the magical realism in the books of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Amado, and Laura Esquivel. I’m pleasantly lost wandering the fictional Colombian village of Mariquita in Tales from the Town of Widows by James Cañon. The men are gone, swept away by guerrillas. No fathers. No brothers. No sons. A “magical whorehouse” moves from place to place. A local priest volunteers for a “Procreation Campaign.” A sliver of the moon and the current of the river carry me along.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Swept Away

For no apparent reason. I've been swept away. In a flurry of making beaded jewelry for a couple of days. Amethyst. Amber. Beach glass blues and greens. Calling. Put us together and make bracelets. The tide comes in and goes back out. Circular. The bead goddess beckons. And I follow.
"Life is a train of moods like a string of beads; and as we pass through them they prove to be many colored lenses, which paint the world their own hue, and each shows us only what lies in its own focus."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Day of Twists and Turns

Some days head off in unexpected directions. I woke up at 4:00, to get to the airport around 5:00 for a 6:00 flight. When I checked online, there were the dreaded words...flight canceled. I called the airline. "They're sending a bus from here to Milwaukee," the clearly weary agent said. So, I headed to the airport to take a bus. To catch my next flight.

The ticket counter was empty. I asked about the bus. "Oh, that left at 5:00. I can rebook you for tomorrow morning, and as a little token for the pain in the ass we've been, here's a voucher for $75."

Thinking I'm going nowhere until tomorrow morning, I head to work. My boss calls. "Have you looked at the prices of other tickets on other airlines, so you can get here today?" Well. No. I didn't think of that. I didn't actually know that you could buy a ticket and then fly a couple of hours later. Guess what? You can.

I bought another ticket, went to the airport. My boarding pass chirped in the machine. The desk agent whirled around and asked, "Are you willing to sit in an exit row?" Sure. So I'm luxuriating in the leg room, and someone comes to my seat. "Lucia?" "Yes." "You've got a seat in first class. Here's your boarding pass." "Bonus!" I say. One of the benefits of being a frequent traveler. Out of 16 first class seats, I'm the only woman.

So after flights through Detroit and to Baltimore, and a drive in a zippy rental car, here I am, in the exact center of nowhere Maryland. Where we have offices and a warehouse.

True confession o' the day:
I looked and looked for a tattoo design I liked, and then when I was looking through a book of corporate logos, there it was. Believe it or not, it's a slightly morphed version of the Daiwa company logo. It's a sport fishing company. Anyway, I got it from Brian at Capitol City Tattoo on Willy Street.

At Last

Quick. Easy. Painless. Not a great photo. Back of right shoulder/arm. About an inch and a half in diameter. Still a little red. Happy.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Tattoo Kismet

I think I’ve got a case of bad kismet. I have tried to get this tattoo four times now. The first time, they sent my packing because they said the artwork would blur together in the middle. The next time, the woman in California and I couldn’t work out a convenient time. Still in California, I tried Rawviolet in Santa Maria, California. Awesome big tattooed women there, and they couldn’t get me in for two weeks. Last night I showed up at 9 pm and found that I was there on the wrong night. Maybe they weren’t auspicious days. Now I’m supposed to go tonight and it’s snowing like all bejeebers. If it doesn’t happen tonight, I’m taking it as an omen.

Add: The deed is done. The guy was great, and I'm happy. Will post a pic soon.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Water Water Everywhere

I was thinking about water after reading Gordo’s blog a few days ago. He was speculating how much water it takes to brew beer at home. He heard that commercial breweries use 100 litres of water for every bottle of beer.

When I come home from trips, I often turn the faucet on and off, just because it’s astounding to me that the water always works. On. Off. On. Off. Just. Like. That.

I came across some facts about water today in Developments magazine. I did not know that producing stuff takes loads of water. It takes 11,000 litres to make a pair of jeans and 400,000 to produce a car.

Washing, flushing, watering. That’s where most of our water goes. Down the drain. Into the earth. We only drink about 4 litres a day.

I found these numbers interesting. This is the number of litres one person in each of these countries uses in a day.

Ethiopia – 5
Kenya – 41
UK – 104
US – 595

Do the math. That leaves us using 100 times more water every day than someone in Ethiopia.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The White Masai

I just finished The White Masai by Corinne Hoffman, and the book has left me flummoxed. Speechless. Weirded out. Imagine standing on a street corner in Mombasa and seeing a Masai warrior and dumping everything in your life to be with him. Someone you don't know. Someone who you can't even speak to. To go live out in the bush in a completely foreign culture. Imagine the times you've been in the grip of an obsession with a person, but instead of shaking it off or letting it pass, you followed it. Here's a woman who really mixed up lust and obsession with love.

The book gives intimate glimpses into Masai culture, but it also reveals this thing European women do all over the world on vacation. Most have short flings with the indigenous locals. But some? Some stay. When I lived in Otavalo, Ecuador, I can think of a Dutch woman, a French woman, and others who had married indigenous men. I understood it to one extent. Men from Otavalo look really fine. Once I was having lunch with a friend and her fork clattered to her plate. "Did you see that guy who just walked by?" she asked. "Yep, honey, get used to it. They all look like that."

She certainly has a story to tell, but in the end, I didn't like either of them. Her because her decisions didn't seem very smart, and "her Masai" because he turned into a scary jealous man. Blah, blah followed her heart. Right into the dung hut.

How We Spend Our Lives

I was reading Amusing's post The Great Beyond. She says:
At a certain age, I think death begins to affect you more personally than ever before.
I think about the length of life, probably every day. Using her words, I've been bumped up in line. My parents are gone. They died at 50 and 65. Those ages are in my head as "the end."

A few years ago, I was at a meeting in Hanoi with nearly all Asians. When a speaker asked how many of people thought they'd live to an old age, they all raised their hands. I didn't. Many of them live in countries like Bangladesh where the life expectancy is shorter than it is in the U.S. And yet, I'm the one with my hand on the table. (I'm having deja vu. Maybe I've written this on my blog before.)

The net effect of thinking about how life doesn't go on forever is good. It makes me want to buy a kayak this summer. It makes me want to get that tattoo. It makes me want to see the world. It makes me read this Annie Dillard quote every day:
How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives.

Tattoo update: Tomorrow night. Last attempts fell through, but I have a definite appointment at 9:00 tomorrow. I will post a photo.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Gambler

Know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em. Kenny Rogers. The Gambler. I must have heard it a hundred times in Rwanda. In restaurants. In cars. Over dirt roads. I remember pulling into the airport parking lot, and we were all belting it out one last time. They’ll be time enough for countin’, when the dealin’s done.

It didn’t make sense to me. Rwandans love this song. But then this morning I heard a story on NPR. About how Kenny Rogers. And The Gambler. Are hugely popular in Kenya. Along with tunes by Dolly Parton. Like Coat of Many Colors.

And the story helped me to understand. Why 1970s-80s country ballads. With iconic characters. Like The Gambler. Are popular in East Africa. If you think about it, agriculture-based African societies can relate to songs about farm life. And people living in very poor circumstances, can understand a song about a coat sewn from rags.

My coat of many colors
That my momma made for me
Made only from rags
But I wore it so proudly
Although we had no money
I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me.

It you're interested in listening to the story Country Music in a Far Country, it's here. And, in a case of great minds thinking alike, the photojournalist who was in the car, headed to the airport at the same time, blogged about the same thing here.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

My Pajamas Were In Cambodia

I love Cambodia. I adore the temples at Angkor Wat. Buddhist monks in orange robes wind through stone Khmer complexes. And I like Phnom Penh, but it’s impossible not to see that the country is poor. People waited outside my hotel at the dumpster to pick through tourist trash. There are roads in the city that aren’t paved, and there are many more motorcycles than there are cars.

I wasn’t in Cambodia with my pajamas. They were there without me. They were sewn there. By a woman. In a garment factory. More than 295,000 people are employed in the factories, subcontractors for familiar brand names. Levis are made in Cambodia. And clothes for The Gap, Old Navy, Ann Taylor.

Based on some statistics from the Asian Development Bank, I’d estimate that the cost of making my pajamas in Cambodia was about $8.51.

Here’s how I broke it down:

Materials (flannel, thread, buttons, elastic) $5.53 45%
Labor $1.28 15%
Overhead (factory space, utilities) $1.53 18%
Profit $0.18 2%

An entry level worker makes $45 a month, which, in truth, isn’t bad compared with China or Vietnam. That's $2.25 a day if they're working 5 days a week. They may be working 6. It’s enough for a couple of people to live decently in Phnom Penh. More than the average per capita income which is $380 a year. Most of the garment workers are women. Many who migrated from rural areas to find work. Most have only a primary school education. For every 3 boys that go to secondary school, only one girl goes. There aren’t a lot of job options. Agriculture. The sex industry. The factories.

In school and at home, each of these women learned how to behave through a traditional code of conduct–Srey Chbab. They learned to be quiet. And sweet. And submissive. To be at home when not at school or work. To focus on their husband and their children. When Srey Chbab extends into factories, women become silent about demanding their rights and about reporting abuses.

Sometimes I just like to think about where my clothes came from.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Election Day

I stood in line after work. To vote. For mayor. And state supreme court judge. And the city council and school board. My voting venue is pleasant. The city’s botanical garden. I was in a line of 25 or so, with more gathering behind me. I pass yellow sample ballots posted on the wall. And announcements about garden clubs, orchid sales, and volunteer opportunities. A big window framed budding vines. Soon. Soon spring will really be here. I get to the table. I appreciate the elderly poll workers, there with their Election Day Manuals, but I do wish they would move a little faster. I get my ballot and head to a blue voting booth with spindly legs. If I lean while voting, it would certainly crash to the floor. There are cords connecting them, one to the next, to bring electricity to small lights. I finish. A machine sucks in my ballot. I’m done. I pass people in line with babies and head into the drizzle. A dog waits. The daffodils are close to bursting. And I voted.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


One of the benefits of spending time in other cultures is that it clears the window into our own. I’m sure you can think of times when you’ve had ah-ha moments out of your element. Sometimes close to home. Sometimes far.

When I travel, our culture of consumerism comes into sharp focus. We buy more than any other culture in the world. (With the possible exception of Australians, who are quite likely equal to North Americans.)

The time spent shopping around the world may balance. If you live from day to day, for example in Africa or Southeast Asia, without a refrigerator, shopping for vegetables at the outdoor market takes time. The tomatoes are here. The carrots are there. And there’s visiting to be done.

Much of our shopping falls into the category of leisure. We entertain ourselves by buying more clothes for our overflowing closets. We buy things that advertisers have convinced us we need.

There’s a balance I try to achieve in working in a fair trade non-profit which sells products. Part of me wants to say, “Stop buying so much!” and the other part says, “But, if you’re going to buy anyway, at least make wise choices. We’re fortunate to have a lot of options - buying socially responsible, green, ethical, fair trade, organic, local.

I want to learn more. Tell me about your ah-ha moments and about how you deal with the challenge of living in a consumer society.