These Brighton-ites are nearly as crazy as Minnesotans.

Today it was bright and sunny out, but darn chilly – or at least I thought. Apparently, it doesn’t matter that I was wearing long pants and a sweater and was cold. If it is sunny out, people will walk around town in tank tops, shorts, sandals – showing off their summer wardrobe that hasn’t seen the light for the past 6 months. They even flock to the beach, and strip down to their bikinis and even bras if they’re desperate for some sun on their pasty white skin. Some fools even brave the water! Mmm, not me. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the South African weather on my recent trip down there. Or maybe my blood has thinned from my time in the ridiculously hot Sudan. But I’m sticking to my sweaters for now.


back to school

I hate that sick-in-your-stomach feeling the day before the end of a holiday. Unfortunately, mine ended up lasting about 4 days. I got bumped off my incredibly oversold flight from Johannesburg to London (via Nairobi and Amsterdam), and had to stay in Jo’burg for another two days. Could have been worse – they paid me $300 and put me up in a posh hotel room. And at least Nick was there to keep me company. But, still – it stinks to have to prolong a goodbye. Once you get all packed and ready to go and you’re at the airport, you just want to go and get it over with. Instead, you get stuck in limbo.

I made it back to good ole’ Brighton this morning after over 24 hours of traveling. I am ready to not see a plane again for a good long time. Doubt that will happen.

I had an amazing time in Cape Town – this was my fourth trip down there, and I feel quite at home there now. It was about the most laid back, relaxed vacation I’ve had in a really long time. Well, except for that term paper hanging over my head (blech).

Now it’s back to school. Only a few more weeks of classes, then dissertation time. GULP! Scares the crap out of me.

my cell

People tell me how lucky I am to have been allocated my room in the University-run apartment complex where I live. Most days I’d agree. It’s a bit bigger than the other 5 rooms in my flat. I have a great sea view – I can sit at my desk and stare out at the waves and watch the seagulls float past. We’re up on the 6th floor so we get less of the considerable street noise. I’ve decorated it a bit, so it feels kind of homey.

But some days it feels more like a prison cell than anything. While it is larger than most, it is still tiny – I can sit on one side of the room at my desk and prop my feet on the bed. On tantalizingly sunny days like today it is brutal to sit inside and feel the sun on you, wishing you were outside enjoying it. And hearing people out partying on a Saturday night while you’re in reading yet another article on empowering society can be so depressing. Outside of my two days a week I am on campus for classes, I spend most of the rest of my time here in my little room, working (or at least thinking about how I should be working). It’senough to drive a girl mad.

strange sights

Walking home late on a Saturday night recently, I couldn’t help laugh. I was coming back from a late night at school, and was the pathetic girl wearing tennis shoes and a backpack instead of a hot pink mini-skirt, shiny pleather stilettos and other oh-so-80s accessories (the dress code of Brighton on a weekend). The electronic display on one of the double decker buses heading into the town center carrying a load of party-goers flashed something unusual. I had to look twice – yep, it was for real. After showing the buses final destination, it changed to say ‘Disco Decker’. I wonder if the passengers knew they were on a true party-mobile. And did the driver’s boss know he was having so much fun at work?


The entire city of Brussels smells like waffles and chocolate. Mmm. I was in serious sweet overload after I was there last weekend for a friend’s birthday. Swore up and down I’d never eat chocolate again. I lied.

Brussels has a reputation of being a terribly boring city. I completely disagree. While it may lack the tourist attractions that draw people to other parts of Europe, it is a truly fun city. It reminds me of DC in a lot of ways – it has a very transient, international population, many drawn there because of work in the corporate headquarters, EC offices, UN commissions and the like that the city houses. It seems like it would be fairly easy to meet and become part of a community there – everyone is from somewhere else.

I literally got on a plane, and only then asked myself ‘what is there to do in Brussles?’ I knew nothing about the city. Did you know Brussels is the home to the Art Nouveau movement? My fav, by far. Despite the soggy weather, I was in heaven just wandering around looking at the fantastic architecture.

We literally ate our way through the city. I haven’t been in such good restaurants, cafes and bars for quite awhile. Its amazing what a good exchange rate can do for your social life…it was amazing not to wince every time I saw a menu. God bless the Euro. I would be the size of a house if I lived there.

My friend who I was there with is a Development person, too, and shares a love of markets and the more colorful side of cities. We wandered around the part of town that’s home to the huge Congolese diaspora, where you can find all sorts of bizarre looking vegetables, wax cloths and hair weave shops. We also traipsed through the Moroccan market, which is where I would go to get all my fruits and veg and things, it looked so fresh and was cheap as chips.

As I expected, my French is still pretty miserable. I understand everything, but speaking…another story. It didn’t help that I actually spoke Spanish more than anything else most of the weekend. We went to an amazing tapas place one night, a Mexican restaurant another, and there are tons of Spaniard/Latinos around. Who’d have thought?

Road Rage…

Though I am a slave to public transport (no car), I have recently had more than my share of road rage episodes…

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve lived in the US, but am I crazy in remembering that pedestrians usually walk on the right hand side of the road? There are sometimes those near-collision moments, but the default is always to the right, so you mostly avoid hitting each other.

I assumed that in the UK, as they drive on the left, that they would also walk on the left. Wrong. Ok, so I revised my hypothesis, and started walking on the right. Just as many run-ins. And they’re not the friendly “shall we dance” moments when you jump back and forth trying to pass each other. People get mean. I got sworn at by a little old grandpa the other day for not getting out of the way. And this is a regular occurrence.

I started noticing the swerving patterns I have to take on my walks – dodging strollers, bikes, shopping carts, joggers, and the oldsters. There is simply no method to their madness. It must take me twice as long as it would if I were walking in a straight line. So just getting from A to B becomes an obstacle course, and it’s amazing if you can do it without being shouted at for being in someone’s way.

Drives me mad. I think my expectations of ‘order’ in the UK were way too high. I am trying not to let road rage get the best of me – I don’t want to become one of those enraged pedestrians.

how odd

I see the oddest things here in Brighton. A few days ago I was out for a jog along the waterfront. I was running past a very swank looking guy (very, very slowly…if it could even be called running!). He had spiked black hair, wore a very Euro turtleneck sweater, and had a cell phone that appeard to surgically connect his right hand and ear. And under his left arm was…a tambourine.

Minis- the car. I didn’t know that there were also Mini pick-up trucks, and station wagons. True. I’ve seen them with my own eyes.

And today, on my normally mundane bus ride to campus, we passed one of the many funeral homes that line London Road. In front of one was a horse drawn hearse. The horses were wearing black cloaks, and the whole carriage was decorated in fairly gaudy carnation-like flowers. And then I saw the leopard print casket buried in all the flowers. And the photo of the woman who, I presume, lay in the coffin. I didn’t even know leopard print was an option. I’ll have to remember that.

learning to think again

Ok, so I jumped on the bandwagon…then fell asleep. I think it’s that old problem of looking at a blank page – you just don’t know where to start! So I’ll start with something that’s taking up all my time lately – academia.

I’m smack-dab in the middle of my ‘advanced’ degree, probably the most advanced one I’ll ever get. I can’t imagine doing a PhD. I think I’d be one of those ‘ABDs’ who could just never finish their dissertation. It’s such an open-ended process, and I have realized over my 16 years of formal education that I am a serious deadline person (read: procrastinator). No matter how hard I try or how early I start, I just can’t turn in a paper more than an hour (max) before it is due. I am always so envious of my classmates who turn their work in a week early and then just sit back and relax as the rest of us panic. But how do they know that they’ve made it the best they can? Here’s my usual scenario: the day before it is due I am still frantically finding new sources, looking for just the right quote or idea. Then the morning it is due, I am tearing out my hair to figure out how to fit all that info into my word limit. I think somewhere subconsciously I must love the adrenaline rush that last few hours gives, but at the time it is pure hell.

Grad school isn’t really what I expected. I am spending much less time learning ‘how to’ do things, and spending much more time deconstructing what I learned in undergrad. Part of that is the difference between the US and UK traditions. I am only now realizing that my BA was really a very one sided view of International Relations and Politics. I can’t at all remember learning anything about ‘critical theory’, or some of the more radical views of IR. Of course, I went to school in Washington DC, and then worked for USAID projects for 5 years, so I was completely indoctrinated. Not that I disagree with everything, it’s just that now, at Sussex (notorious for its radical nature) I am realizing that I have to learn a new language of critique. It’s fascinating, but my cynical side asks how much I will be able to use these new ideas when I go back to the field…so much of development is ruled by these norms and ideas associated with ‘neoliberalism’. I am just trying to enjoy the learning and thinking…I know I won’t be able to have this luxury when it’s back to the crazy life of jumping through hoops for donors