LaDy ReaLz comes to Zambia

Okay. It’s official. After this weekend, I’m absolutely convinced that living in Lusaka is the greatest place to live in the history of the world. Now, don’t get me wrong. All of your respective cities have their appeal. However, as far as I knoe, absolutely none of them have been the location of the most epic international dance battle of all time.

There were about twenty million things that made this Saturday afternoon event phenomenal, but I’d just like to list six.
1.) From what I gather, three American dancers named Rampage, Outlaw, and LaDy ReaLz (correct capitalization of name edited after visiting her beyond words awesome myspace space) were flown to Zambia with the intention of creating some improved Zambia-US dance relations (cause, I mean, things were getting pretty testy…) over the course of a week.
2.) All of this goodwill would culminate in a three hour dance battle in some random basketball arena. For those unfamiliar with the concept of a ‘battle’, you should visualize two people taking turns trying to demonstrate their dancing superiority and then allowing the roar of the crowd decide who was superior.
3.) Wilmer Valderamma was in attendance. Okay, this isn’t true. But seriously, can you imagine a more perfect life moment than seeing Wilmer Valderamma be the emcee for a US-Zambia dance battle?
4.) The free event was sponsered by the U.S. embassy. I found this to be incredibly awesome for no other reason than it meant that the crowd was a delicate mix between early 20-something Zambians and 50 year old married American couples who could not have looked more awkward or out of place if they tried.
5.) Of the three American dancers brought here, one of them was awful. I mean, absolutely horrific. I spent like half of the event just astounded by the idea that she would be the representative chosen. (Was there a tryout for this international relations event? If so, who judged the tryouts?) Yeah, I’m calling you out LaDy ReaLz.
6.) Uhm. Seriously. There was a dance battle featuring American dancers in Zambia. It was like my own personal live viewing of UPN’s Dance360. Just an incredible combination of surealness and unintentional comedy (and, to be fair, there actually was some good dancing as well).


Germany / Namibia Parallels

I would just like to state for the record that I am keenly aware that I spent the last six months in a blog coma. I am keenly aware that I have missed golden opportunities to write about several insanely amount trips, wax poetic about my man-crush on Chad Pennington (side note: If people aren’t seriously convinced about my Pennington/B-Roth Corollary, I don’t know what to say.) , or cover all of the day-to-day occurrences in Lusaka. I am keenly aware that my blog readership has been dwindled down to like three people and some creepy dood who does searches like ‘dood + tacoooo + Zambia + blog’ on Google. I am keenly aware that this recent overuse of the word ‘keenly’ is incredibly annoying and probably just making things worse. I’m sorry. That’s just how I roll.

I knoe I’ll never be able to make up for those lost six months, but I want to at least try by providing a small, previously unknown tidbit about one of the places I visited, Namibia. So, a brief background about the trip:

Around Christmas time, I realized that absolutely all of my friends and colleagues were going to be out of country around Christmas time. I had originally planned on spending the holidays in Lusaka (a surprisingly serene, albeit slightly depressing, experience my first year), but allowed myself to be talked into taking a 10-day tour on Namibia. This involved taking a 24-hour couch bus from Zambia to Namibia, an experience I really wouldn’t suggest anyone do on a frequent basis. Beyond this sadistic exercise of depriving myself of sleep and making myself miserable at the very beginning and very end of my vacation, the trip was really awesome.

Since I imagine most of you will probably never experience Namibia firsthand, I want to take this opportunity to give a brief synopsis of the country. You knoe, just in case you ever find yourself in some random situation where some random dood starts getting all irate and will not calm down until you demonstrate an advanced knowledge of Sub-Saharan African countries. There are three things you need to knoe about Namibia:
(1) it is located on the Tropic of Capricorn (as evidenced by the picture of me and Mackenzie ‘thugging it out, Christmas-style’ on a road marker),
(2) there is a boatload of sand (as evidenced by the picture of the sand dunes),
(3) and it has a very strong German influence (as evidenced by this picture taken of a bunch of German people at the greatest New Years Party ever).

Theoretically, you could have learned all of this from Wikipedia. However, what you will never see referenced is how similarly their modern culture parallels Germany’s culture. Now, if you are like me, you have a limited knowledge of Germany. In fact, going into this trip, the only thing I knew was that ‘Germans love David Hasselhoff’ (side note: Thank you, Norm Macdonald, for your years of dedication towards making all Americans better informed.) I had expected that, since Namibia was so strongly influenced by Germany, they too would love David Hasselhoff. I was actually wrong. I was troubled by this until I discovered that the Namibians still have an infatuation with a German-American, however their choice is a lower-profile person who would accurately reflect the broader Germany-Namibia relation.

So, it is with great pride that I inform you that…

Namibians love Matt Hasselbeck.


Espanol Miercoles

During my three years in graduate school, I was ridiculously lucky to be sharing an office with my friend, Siobhan. In lieu of doing lame stuff like studying, Siobhan and I made the conscious decision to spend the majority of timing distracting each other with the most pointless, random stuff ever. From the creation of a three-person band called Lemon Lime Fun Dip which included Freddie Prinze Jr. and songs about pirates written through the perspective of ducks (side note: Can you imagine how huge we would be given all of the stuff going down in Somalia?) to mini-bat homerun derby to Gogurt Fridays (an appropriately titled event where we ate a tube of Gogurt every Friday), we came up with some phenomenal ideas.

One of the classics, however, was Espanol Miercoles. Inspired by the fact that Siobhan’s mother was a Spanish teacher and my dissolution regarding my ability to speak Spanish, we decided that all communication between officemates on a Wednesday needed to be in Spanish. Every week, Espanol Miercoles would play out the same way. We would great each other (HOLA! COMO ESTAS?), attempt to ask a follow-up question, fail miserably, and spend the rest of the day throwing out random words in Spanish (QUISIERA TACOS! DONDE ESTAN MI….come se dice…Casella & Berger textbook.)

Sadly, I graduated and moved to Zambia and thus effectively ended Espanol Miercoles. I spent the next 18 months resigned to the fact that era of my life was over.

However, about two months ago, I found out that I was going to get to attend a conference in Portugal for work. This was going to be my first time ever going to a place where English wasn’t the primary language. I had this great vision that I would be thrown into an environment much like those simulated environments every Wednesday; I would be forced to communicate in a language I never had to use.

It was only appropriate that I would be arriving in Portugal on, you guessed it, a Wednesday.

Okay. Let’s stop there for a moment. It’s at this point that it’s absolutely critical that I remind you of two things: (1) that I have much more confidence in my ability to speak Spanish than is justified and (2) despite their similarities and my convincing myself that they are practically the same thing, Spanish and Portuguese are two completely different languages.

Okay. Let’s resume. So, shockingly, my plan didn’t work perfectly. The negative feedback came swiftly. The first indication that my plan may not play out as I planned came when I requested a ‘fish’ meal on the Portuguese flight from South Africa to Lisbon; I was given beef. Because I don’t expect anyone reading this blog to be an expert in the Portuguese language, the word for fish is ‘pescada’ and the word for beef is ‘bife’. PESCADA. BIFE. Let me tell you something. Those words aren’t similar. It wasn’t good that she gave me beef instead of fish.

I am happy to report, though, that there is one lone highlight where my high school Spanish saved the day. It was my very last day in Lisbon. I had just spent the entire afternoon doing touristy stuff and I still had three hours to kill before my flight left. I decided to go shopping. This actually was a critical activity because clothes shopping options in Zambia are extremely limited. I was down to one pair of jeans and all of my shoes had noticeable holes in them. I needed more clothes.

I went into this store and was immediately greeted by this Portuguese dood. He’s of course talking really fast.(side note: I am very happy to say that I think a disproportionate number of people actually thought I was Portuguese. With my dark complexion and phenomenal Spanish accent, I would go so far as saying I am more Portuguese than many of their residents.) I paused for a second, thinking of a reply in Spanish for a question I didn’t even understand, and eventually muttered with some Spanglish. Demoralized, I started to give up and asked him ‘English’. He replied ‘not really’, and so I expressed that I knew a little Spanish and that we could go from there. I proceeded to communicate effectively enough to find and purchase two new pairs of shoes and a new pair of jeans (quick side note: If you ever try to buy Euro-style jeans, be aware that people there prefer tight clothing). The best part of the shopping excursion came as I was heading to the cash register and noticed a pair of boxers…with carrots on them. CARROTS! ON BOXERS!! YES!!

For most people, the highlights of Portugal are the breathtaking vistas, the historical richness, or the delightful Fado music. How come no one ever mentions the carrot boxers?


Second Annual Thanksgiving Embassy Run

Last year, I created and executed the absolute greatest Thanksgiving tradition: a time-trial run to the American Embassy from my home. As documented in this blog entry New Thanksgiving Traditions, the premise behind the run was simple: Thanksgiving was a day of giving thanks and there were few things I was more thankful for then being within running distance of American sanctuary while living in a foreign country.

I was not, however, thankful for my pitiful results. I clocked a pitiful 25+ minute time and essentially guaranteed that I would be in a boatload of trouble if some random doods started chasing me and we're cool with taking 10 minute walking breaks.

A lot, however, changed in the last year. As evidenced by the first paragraph, I'm using colons alot more in my writing. I'm not entirely sure how that would influence my endurance or my ability to run faster, but it is different and thus noteworthy. I've also exercised more in the last 12 months than I did in the previous 12 months. Sure, 'more' deserves an asterisk consider my physical exertion has been limited to: going running twice, played ultimate frisbee three times, and doing one forty-five minute hike. I've also returned to drinking four sodas a day (interestingly, these use real sugar instead of corn syrup) and I'm starting to disagree with everyone who says soda is bad for you.

The results of today's run suggest all of these life changes have had an impact. I completed the run in a quasi-respectable 19 minutes, 43 seconds. A 5+ minute improvement. I'm almost 100% positive no one in the world has ever dropped 6 minutes off their 'How long does it take me to get to an embassy' run in just one year.

Unfortunately, the other exciting part of the tradition, 'How many taxis will honk at me?', resulted in disappointment. Only two drivers completely disregarded the fact that I was wearing exercise gear and was running and tried to get my attention to see if I needed a ride. This is a marked decrease from last year and I hope the trend was an anomaly. Taxi drivers should always feel free to honk at me.

I'm also disappointed that the tradition isn't catching on. When proposing the idea to fellow ex-patriates, I was greeted with feigned interest and condescending remarks but no commitments to join me. I can't be the only person who thinks this is a good idea, can I?

Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy your effing turkey while I debate between Hawaiian Pizza and Indian Food takeout as my holiday meal choices.



Mr. Feeney: Okay, moving right along. Mackenzie, what is Mark's favorite fish?

Mackenzie: Uhm...penguin!

Mr Feeney: No, I don't think you understood...

Mark: BAM!!!!!!

Old El Paso Taco Mix.
Lemonade flavored Mike and Ikes.
Over the course of the last year, I've perhaps dedicated a little too much time, energy, and blog space discussing just how absolutely astonished I've been with the variety of commercial products are available in Zambia. Of course, absolutely none of them are manufactured here. Time after time, I check the packaging to see where they are made and the answer is inevitably the same....South Africa.

Let me tell you something. If you are frequently exposed to a sequence of events like the following:
1.) Wahooooo finding stuff I used to eat in America!.
2.) This tastes even more delicious than I remember!
3.) Where is this from?
4.) Oh. South Africa.

it's an unavoidable reality that you are going to establish a Pavlovian response where you associate 'South Africa' with 'greatest place on the face of this planet'.

Unless you are an absolute moron (everyone should mentally picture me discretely gesturing at my brother, Mike), you can probably figure out where this is going: Mark took a trip to S.A.

In vintage Mark fashion, this trip was pretty much the antithesis of a well-planned, well-organized vacation. There was essentially no preparation involved. On Monday, an organization-wide e-mail was distributed informing everyone that no one would be required to work on Thursday and Friday. A sequence of e-mails was immediately exchanged discussing a gameplan to take advantage of the four day weekend. The idea of a Cape Town, S.A. trip was suggested and originally shut down (Hypothetical question: If I were to say that my reason for originally saying no is because I had planned a 'High School Musical' marathon day where the first two were watched on DVD before going to the theater for HSM3, would that make me lame AND creepy or just creepy?) , but eventually plane tickets were booked that same night. With a guide book in hand and no sleeping arrangements made, my favorite cab driver Bruce drove us to the airport early Thursday morning.

The game plan was simple. Take advantage of the fact that Cape Town had a developed economy and take advantage of its proximity to water (subtle brag time: wahoooooooo getting an A+ in 6th grade social studies!).

Cape Town really has a lot of offer culturally, historically, and athletically. It's been the most critical port city for one of the most important shipping routes since the 14th century. Up until the early 90s, it was engulfed in the absolutely uncomphrensable social and political system known as apartheid. Nelson Mandela was imprisioned on an island a mile away from the city. It has amazing outdoors opportunities with the famous Table Mountain located in the actual city.

I plan on discussing all of these as little as possible. Rest assured, we did experience these unique aspects of CT. We went to musuems. We drove to Cape Point and saw the Cape of Good Hope (random fact: CoGH is the southwestern most point of Africa, but not the southern most). I even channeled my inner-Seattlite and went on my first ever hike (side note: A Nalgene bottle was involved, butI was not towing it.) It's just that I'd rather discuss more important things.

Things like food.

Highlight #1 of the trip for me was the three nights of seafood (including one sushi night) and one night of Mexican food. Historically, these are not my favorite foods. However, after a year of living in a landlocked country with (shockingly) a very, very small Mexican population, cravings for things you can't normally have kicked in. At the risk of using too strong of a word, my burrito experience was close to euphoric. Okay. That was too strong. It wasn't euphoric. The point is, though, the food was ridiculously, ridiculously good.

Things like shopping.

Highlight #2 of the trip was the shopping. On the last day of the five day trip, we went to the shopping mall. I had just two things on my shopping list. A new thug cap (my previous thug cap mysteriously disappeared after an amazing four year run of making me look thuggish in spite of my all-GAP clothing attire) and new socks. The last year has been an absolute revolution about the advantages of a washing machine. Prior to this trip, I didn't own a single pair of socks which I was not embarassed to have someone else see. I had little idea prior to arriving in Lusaka that socks would deteriorate so quickly when they were being hand washed and hand dried. Every sock had either holes or was so faded that they had to be turned inside out. So...I bought THIRTEEN new pairs in Cape Town.

Things like penguins!!!

Highlight #3 is the event which led to the picture included above. It's not enough for C.T. to have four lane highways, city lights, a plethora of socks, mountains, and two effing oceans. It also has a colony of penguins. PENGUINS!!! Just a few weeks ago, I was on a safari. At dinner, people asked what animals we saw and like the jerk that I am I responded with the last animal I expected to see during my stay here, "penguins". Little did I know they actually lived in close proximity. PENGUINS!!! I'm still giddy.

I don't care what maps say. Cape Town isn't in Africa. It's a Utopia.


Medical Students as Friends...A Solid Idea.

I would just like to state for the record that having friends with a medical background in an environment where one is more prone to various diseases and illnesses is one of the greatest unexpectd perks since moving to Zambia. For the record, I do not say this necessarily because I’ve actually contracted any of these various diseases and needed their assistance. Actually, it’s been the complete opposite. I’ve been healthier since I’ve moved out here than in the year preceeding my arrival. I haven’t even had any noteworthy GI problems. This is kind of surprising because I’ve started turning to street vendors and shady grocery stores to supplement my diet more and more frequently. So, I’m actually getting nervous I’m too healthy. I keep on waiting for that random day when I wake up and realize I have ebola. I’m not going to lie. That’s not going to be cool.

Anyways, the fun part about having friends with a medical focus is that it’s very easy to get them riled up. Among the self-diagnoses I’ve proposed to them includes diabetes and osteoporosis as a result of an increase consumption of soda (real diagnosis: shoulder pains caused by stress), scabies as evidenced by small red itchy dots on my hand (real diagnosis: microcuts from grinding metal bottle caps deep into my palms) and my personal favorite of tuberculosis (real diagnosis: a cough). It’s always fun to have them give real explanations as to why I don’t have these diseases and yet still insist that I am right and they are wrong.

The other real fun thing about doctor friends is saying things like “My job results in me saving hundreds of thousands of lives. I can’t imagine something as unfufilling as only saving about 100 lives a year.” or “is it difficult to sleep at night knowing that your contribution to society is meaningless in comparison to what I do every single day”. They LOVE these statements, especially when they start to realize they are true.
So, yeah, the only major health scares I’ve had are the result of being lazy (not exercising) and stupid (who would have thought that grinding a bottle cap into my hand would be a bad idea).

Who would have thought?