06 October 2011

the weather is here, wish you were beautiful.

I'm migrating to Tumblr in honor of my recent relocation to sunny Majuro. Check out http://thejduce.tumblr.com for the new Pandora's Box.

14 September 2011

a new chapter.

My dissertation is submitted and I've returned my books via suitcase to the library. I'm officially (most likely) never going to be a student again and, barring a disastrous dissertation, will soon be the proud owner of a master's degree from Scotland's oldest university. Freedom!What's next, you ask? Well, I'm glad you did. I'm moving to Majuro, Marshall Islands to work as the Program Administrator for a national youth health organization! Yes, that's right - a year on a small atoll in the middle of the ocean. Can anyone say 'seafood fest'?

But first, I'm off to Bra, Italy (in Piedmont) for...wait for it...a cheese festival. Yes. I will be attending an event that includes something called 'The Great Hall of Cheese' and 800 wines to sample. It seems a fitting way to depart for an atoll without the space, soil, or vegetation to feed livestock to produce milk to make cheese. My life is absurd.

In honor of this exciting new phase of my life, I'm going to retire from Blogger and migrate over to Tumblr because I feel like I should take more photos and Tumblr seems friendlier for that. Plus it's time to embrace new technology.

So look out for more pictures and less rambling. Okay, probably the same amount of rambling, but hopefully I've grown pithier and wittier over the years. So for future adventures abroad, check out the new Pandora's Box, soon to be filled with gluttonous photos of cheese. And then the ocean. And possibly even me working, but let's not get too crazy.

16 September 2010


We went on an adventure last night and strolled around the Old Course. Gorgeous!

As a bonus - photos from last month's trip to the South of France.

13 September 2010


Well, it's been a month. I've found a job, spent a week and a half in France (tres delicious!), started work, changed my computer to a UK dictionary, officially registered as a student, and started running (?!) again. And I love it. St. Andrews is rapidly becoming one of my favourite cities (okay, towns) in the world. The people are incredibly friendly, even if I'm not entirely sure what they're saying (a major challenge when taking drink orders in a loud, crowded pub), they're as nuts for dogs as I am, and the scenery is breathtaking. My running path takes me along the Old Course (near the hole with the cute little stone bridge), then along the cliffs to the castle ruins, past the old church and cemetery, through the harbour, on the path above the "beach," and back home through a quaint residential neighbourhood and town centre. (There are many, many words with screwy British spelling. This is going to be tricky). I'm going to take photos this week, I promise. The beach is especially amusing. The weather's been gorgeous for Scotland - 65 and sunny - which isn't exactly sunbathing weather. But, that's still a beautiful day, so families venture out to the beach in coats and the kids splash along the shore in rubber boots while their parents drink coffee on the sand.

This feels like a newly liberated phase of my life. After a spontaneous decision to confess long-repressed feelings before leaving the states (and a second follow-up weeks later, just for good measure), I've realised that certainty is more valuable than hope. And the hope was just a lingering vestige from a time and place long since gone by. Let's just hope I haven't also torpedoed a valued friendship in the process. I'm staying out here on this emotional limb - it feels good. I'm in love.

As for this blog, I'm going to try to keep it up while I'm here, but am still working out some sort of theme to keep me on track. I'm too poor (and uncultured) to review all the whiskeys on offer here and I think my grades might suffer if I venture onto a "try every pub in town" project, but I'll think of something. In the meantime, happy college football season to everyone. I've already met my first Gator here (the Gator Nation is everywhere!).

26 July 2010

Gone, but not forgotten.

It's been almost eight months since I left Ethiopia and not a day has gone by where I don't think about my time there. It's virtually impossible to articulate what Assela means to me, but suffice it to say that it's never far from my thoughts. (Admittedly superficial) case in point: yesterday's near-tornado weather has left us without power for nearly a day and a half, but I'm still fixated on the fact that I got a ride out to Maryland so we could work today, during which I also charged my computer and am now amusing myself with Netflix. The fact that my neighbor, who's within wireless router distance, appears to have power, is an issue for another day. I, unlike many of my neighbors, am fully-prepared for two evenings of no power. I was in desperate need of an occasion to catch up on my knitting.

But returning to my original point - Ethiopia. I only spent a brief week or so with Chris and Jess, the lovely couple who took my place in Assela, but that was enough to be certain they were good people. One of my final projects was an attempt to find funding for a disabled cooperative that wanted to start a poultry farm. A Finnish NGO that I approached has apparently dropped the ball on actually paying out their grants, so Jess and Chris took matters in their own hands and have submitted an application to Peace Corps Partners, a grant program that enables PCVs to fundraise for projects outside of their assigned sector. If you're looking for a noble, worthy charitable cause to which to donate, then look no further than Abdiin Halaalissuu. I met them at the perfect time in my service - shortly after my herb garden project fell apart when the women discovered they'd have to work - and AH restored my faith in Ethiopia. They were so positive, and yet so realistic about the project. They incorporated as an organization and applied for a permit for land entirely on their own before they ever approached me about help finding start up funds.

The fact that the Finnish funding never came through during my tenure was one of my big regrets from Ethiopia and I'm so grateful that Chris and Jess have stayed involved with AH. Please read up on their project here. Every little bit helps - when dealing in birr, even 10 dollars is more than most families have to spend in a week. Aside from initial chicken and feed purchase, the majority of the funds will go towards building a proper chicken coop with a fence so that the group can raise chickens and harvest eggs en masse without risk of their chickens escaping or being eaten by local hyenas. The disabled have few rights in Ethiopia and are often sheltered or exploited by their families. The thirty people in AH who had the courage to come together and attempt to support themselves deserve a fighting chance. Every little bit helps, so please consider donating.

Donate Here

If you have any questions about the project, please don't hesitate to email me at jducey(at)gmail(dot)com. Thanks for your support!

24 June 2010

the world cup.

Being here in DC for the World Cup is a strange sensation. Despite the age-old stereotype that Americans couldn't care less about soccer, people here are interested - bars were packed for the USA v England game, crowds gathered in Dupont Circle to watch on an outdoor screen (someone bothered to get the permits for that. Sure, he was an immigrant, but still - he expected enough people to turn up to make it worth his while). My personal favorite was the gang of men dressed in Revolutionary War uniforms marching through the circle and waving a giant flag.

But the best part? All the psuedo-political discussions of this rising trend in American interest in soccer and where it's going. Why we don't like soccer as a nation is an old topic (my personal theory: draws). Americans like dramatic, at-the-buzzer victories (like Donovan's goal), winners, and gloating. We'll happily sit through long, boring games with only fleeting moments of action (baseball, anyone?) or fast-paced/limited scoring sports (hockey?) as long as we can taunt our friends afterward. Otherwise, what's the point?

But as to why we're on board today and whether or not we'll be after the finals...here's an excerpt from Slate's "Dispatch from the US's Amazing World Cup Win over Algeria:"

Soccer may be the only sport left that allows us to be exuberantly and guiltlessly patriotic, which is perhaps why some progressives have trouble supporting the U.S. team. We can get away with such outpourings of nationalism because, in soccer, we're not a superpower. Imagine dressing up like Captain America and screaming your head off at a USA-Algeria basketball game. Not cool. But American soccer fans do scream. They bedeck themselves in flags and elaborate costumes. A national team game now looks like a cross between Carnival and a Revolutionary War re-enactment. And, thanks to Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, and the rest of the U.S. national team, this wacky party will roll through South Africa for at least a few more days.
This is why I love the Olympics - unbridled, good-natured patriotism. Even Foreign Policy is in on the fun, suggesting that our attitude towards new sports is based on how well our team is doing. The Olympics are a great example - how many people cared about competitive swimming before Michael Phelps started collecting gold medals like discarded pennies? It's a bandwagon phenomenon - sure, no one knew Landon Donovan's name on Monday, but that doesn't make his goal any less thrilling or the victory any less sweet.
In this approach, the casual sports fan is using a strategy of "rational ignorance" -- i.e., not caring until the team is sufficiently successful. This is the kind of thing that political scientists tend to understand, but sports and politics junkies reject as somehow not representing true fandom. But it is how most people think about most things in life most of the time.
So true. But back to work for now. Despite not watching a single qualifying match leading up to this game, I'll be in a bar on Saturday afternoon, decked out in red, white, and blue and cheering for my country.

01 June 2010

Freedom, compassion, adventure, and "Africa."

I remember the first time I saw African dance. I was a freshmen at the University of Florida, taking a modern dance class on a whim. Our guest teacher spoke only French, and I'll never forget her standing in the center of the room, doing the same movement over and over while each of us placed our hands on her sternum and back to feel how her breath flowed with the movement. Even without a language barrier, words cannot describe the fluidity of dance. I didn't dance much after that semester, instead dedicating my spare credit hours to mastering Arabic, but that moment stayed with me.

Four and a half years later, I found myself in the banquet hall of a government hotel long past its days of questionable glory in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. Nine months of paperwork and planning had led to my arrival in Ethiopia in October 2007 as one of 43 Peace Corps Volunteers working in HIV/AIDS prevention and control. The first volunteers in the country since the late 1990s and the first health volunteers in the program's history, we were bursting with idealism and excitement about diving into a new culture. Twenty minutes into our orientation, after discovering that the Amharic alphabet has 231 letters and "thank you" has seven or eight syllables, depending on how formal you want to be, we wondered if we'd ever be able to communicate, let alone begin to understand this new home of ours.

But then the dancing started. Ethiopia is home to some 80 tribes, each with their own languages and dances, but the eskista seems to span ethnic divides. Done almost exclusively with the shoulders, it lacks the spirited leaping I later found in Uganda and the lightening fast feet of West Africa. Instead, it is an organic motion that looks simple until you realize you've never isolated your shoulders like that before. But it is in this deceptive simplicity and repetition that you find eskista's charm. Anyone can do it (albeit with varying degrees of skill). One by one, all 43 of us tentatively joined the circle, mimicking our language teachers' motions. As they smiled and nodded their encouragement, we caught each other's glances across the room, shrugged, and threw ourselves into it. Suddenly, Ethiopia didn't feel so foreign. So what if we couldn't pronounce half the alphabet or read a street sign? We could dance!

Dance remained a stabilizing force throughout my two years of service. Sure, I eventually learned to read the language and eat with my hands without looking like the rejected aftermath of a Jackson Pollock studio session. But dance was always there to build a bridge when words only widened the cultural barriers, whether smoothing over the inevitable awkward moments when discussing my marital status (or lack thereof) or when making friends on an isolated island in southern Uganda. Like the chocolate cakes that became my trademark, dance brought me closer to my community, creating common ground when my atheism, independent streak, and disinterest in domestic bliss and motherhood brought only bewildered stares.

Bushara Island, Lake Bunyoni, Uganda

For a ballerina raised in a carefully planned suburban community, African dance was a window to a new world where passion abounds and "wrong" answers are in short supply. To me, African dance is about freedom. Freedom to dance as you see fit, to let out a ululation or shout if so moved, to embrace your body for what it can do, not what it looks like. The perfectionist in me still loves ballet - that sense of constantly striving towards a goal, the concrete rewards for improvement, a tangible, measurable standard by which to be "the best." But African dance is something else entirely - the drum circle is like a diary, a place for dancers to pour their emotions without judgment.

Today, that's what African dance means to me. A place to tell my story, whether joyful or sad, without the added burden of words. I may or may not have stumbled into love in the Arsi Mountains, but I certainly found compassion and an unwavering patriotism for the American values I hold dear. The complicated emotions Ethiopia provokes in me defy rational or verbal explanation. I'm still resentful of the adjective "African" to describe anything but a landmass. The "African" dance I've experienced here at Dance Place bears no resemblance to the eskista of my Ethiopian days. But the spirit remains the same. It's a way to commiserate with others, to dance united despite our different paths to the circle. A place where participation matters more than skill. But most of all, African dance is a trip down memory lane, to the life I led, the friends I made, and the lessons I learned in a small mountain town in Ethiopia.

Meskel (finding of the true cross) celebration, Assela, Ethiopia

25 May 2010