fierce attachments

a mother-daughter blog about the fierce attachments in our lives… title inspired by Vivian Gornick's wonderful memoir

Category: unexpected adventures

thanksgiving in jail

by caitlin meredith

razor wire fenceIn September I started teaching a journalism class at the county jail here in Austin. The homework assignment I left the students with before Thanksgiving was to write a review of something they experienced either in jail or in their past: a TV show, a movie, a concert. I gave them five minutes of class time to get started.

One woman started hers about a fancy hotel she’d stayed at in Dallas called Hotel Zaza. She talked about the lobby, the decorations and the high thread count beds. The woman sitting next to her also evaluated beds, but her review was of the psychiatric unit of the County Jail. That promised to be a much more interesting subject but unfortunately class time ran out before she could read beyond her first paragraph.

When I came back this Wednesday I got to hear their final drafts. They were great. The woman who had written about the psych unit had been transferred to a rehab program so I didn’t get to hear hers, but the others entertained with sharp commentary on cooking and singing reality shows. The real standout, however, was a review one student wrote about spending Thanksgiving in jail. With her permission, but without her name, I’m sharing it here. Read the rest of this entry »


absence makes the stomach grow fonder: food variety deprivation, fantasy and phenomena in the humanitarian aid worker life

by caitlin meredith

meal of desperation: canned fruit cocktail with a side of canned tuna

Food cravings are a motherfucker. After a few weeks of being in the field with the same slop every day, my gastronomic fantasy life takes on a bigger and bigger portion of my conscious and unconscious mind with debilitating consequences. I’ve been through this cycle enough times now to recognize the signs and symptoms, which I will presently share with you.

(In a future post I’ll talk about REAL food problems in refugee camps that will put my indulgent indignation in proper perspective, but for now I just need to whine.)

But before I get into the Meredith/Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Varied Food Deprivation, however, let me give you a small snapshot of what kind of culinary context I’m referring to. Let’s take my recent time in South Sudan as an example. Read the rest of this entry »

what do I have in common with Julia Roberts? how being a dog owner is like being a celebrity

by nikki meredith

I have never been, nor will I ever be, a celebrity — not even for Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes.  But I maintain that having a dog shares some of the features of celebrityhood and if you walk around with two dogs, you’re on your way to being a super celebrity.

When our dog Alice was a puppy, I was astonished by how many people stopped to ask about her. And it wasn’t only people I encountered on the sidewalk or the hiking trail. People in cars would pull over, roll down their windows and shout out questions. Some actually parked and got out of their cars to ask about her.  Well, I thought, everyone loves a puppy. Read the rest of this entry »

the path not taken: a mother and her aid worker daughter

by nikki meredith

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, 

And sorry I could not travel both…

 Robert Frost

“Mom, please tell me….if it’s going to be too hard on you, I won’t go.”

Caitlin and I were sitting outside at Emporio Rulli, our neighborhood Italian Bakery drinking tea on a shimmering fall day. She was scheduled to leave soon for Darfur where she’d be working as an epidemiologist with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The news from the region was dreadful.  In a pitched battled against settled farmers, an armed militia group known as the Janjaweed were on a rampage, burning down villages, killing men, raping women. Children were starving.  The year she was scheduled to go, the fighting had reached a peak and the conflict was then considered one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world.  I got a knot in my gut every time I thought of her embarking on that particular journey but there was more to the story. Read the rest of this entry »

shitty in pink: lady aid worker conquers night time latrine visits

by caitlin meredith

My feet but NOT my pink Crocs!!! Borrowed from a friend!

I have one key piece of advice for female aid workers on their way to Africa: once you get there, get a potty. This might even be more important than my earlier advice about underwear. Displaying your undies  in full view of your boss only happens once a week – the potty issue comes up every night.

Nighttime elimination first became an issue when I worked in Darfur. Read the rest of this entry »

love triangle in south sudan

by caitlin meredith

Timoty belongs to the Maban tribe. When he was 15 one of his lower teeth was removed, as is the custom for teenaged boys in that community. He is not part of the love triangle.

Both of my translators were an hour late for my morning meeting with the 40 outreach workers. When Timoty and Anur  arrived – after I’d been desperately (and unsuccessfully) pantomiming a short message about which teams needed to fill out new HR forms for the past 45 minutes – I asked them where they had been. Anur explained that their friend had become sick in the night and they had to bring him to the traditional healer.  Had they gone to the hospital first? No.

This was more than a little defeating for a couple of reasons. The first, of course, was that I had lost an hour of my meeting. The second was that a large part of the training on Saturday was about how to convince the refugees to come use our health services before going to the traditional healers. We were all on board: Sick people should come to the hospital. Yes!

But that was Saturday. Read the rest of this entry »

first days in jamam refugee camp, south sudan: a photo essay

by caitlin meredith

MSF plane that flew us from Juba, landed on Adan air strip

my tent is the third on the right – every morning I expect a bugle boy wake up but none so far

Stefanos, the Nigerian feeding center nurse in the forefront. Prominently displayed compound clothesline in background. Don’t look for my knickers. Haven’t tackled that project yet. 45 people, 2 “shower” cubicles, just to the right of the clotheslines. Make it quick. Read the rest of this entry »

a beginner, forever

by caitlin meredith

Growing up, I took ten years of beginning tennis lessons. Whether it was sleep-away summer camp, a junior high elective or after school enrichment at the public park, I never advanced to intermediate. This wasn’t due to a crippling lack of athleticism – I could scamper around the court and hit the ball well enough – I just preferred the beginners’ classes. The guppy-level teachers were always smilier and cuter than their gruffer, more advanced counterparts. The intermediate coach expected you to remember what to do with your right shoulder when you served; the beginner coach was just thrilled you showed up.

Tennis isn’t the only endeavor I’ve sought out but had low-to-no goals for. Read the rest of this entry »

the challenge of being a writer who doesn’t write

by caitlin meredith

You, like many people, might have some preconceived notions of what writers do. Chief among them, I presume, is that writers write. I would like to correct you. This is not always the case. I, for instance, am a writer who does not write.

You might be thinking this sounds great. I get an official occupation  – “writer” – but don’t actually have to do anything to earn it, leaving me with oodles of time to goof off and really live. But you are also wrong about that. What you don’t know is that being a writer who doesn’t write is very, very time-consuming. It’s actually such a full time job that there isn’t any time left over for writing.

This brings me to the existential question all non-writing writers are routinely forced to confront: Where the fuck did all of the time go? Read the rest of this entry »

the cats of my alley

by caitlin meredith

From my office window I have a front row view of the backyard wildlife. Mostly, the scene is dominated by squirrels. The way they leap from limb to limb in the canopy of pecan trees makes me feel like I’m at preview night for the Mighty Flying Squirrel Circus. My fists clench as I hope for the successful completion of a particularly daredevil maneuver, sometimes wanting to rise for an ovation in awe of their acrobatics. My fists clench for other reasons too, though. As the tender fruit starts emerging from the branches of the fig tree in the center of the yard in early summer, too young and small for me to yet pick, I watch in horror as the squirrels razor their tiny teeth into one after the other of the bright green pearls. Those days I wish my backyard was a shotgun shooting range, not a circus tent.

Other than the squirrels, blue birds and bright red cardinals flash and flurry from the trees to the grass and I once even saw a possum rooting through my compost heap in the middle of the night. And then, of course, there are the cats.

Read the rest of this entry »

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