Arrival in Siberia: The Pizza Pilgrimage, part 1

We left our hotel room at 4:20 am to catch a 6:45 flight to Novosibirsk in Siberia.

IMG_1542

I have been following the delivery pizza place, PizzasInIzza, for quite some time on Instagram. When I ended up with a Russian visa, it became a joke. I’d ask, “Can we go to this Russia pizza place?” And that’s how I discovered it was in Siberia.

But we came anyway.

I have flown more than 7,000 miles for a pizza. Of course, we flew Aeroflot domestic from Moscow to Novosibirsk. On the plane, a local woman asked why I was coming to Novosibirsk. I answered, “Pizza.” She became quite confused. She asked if I had business here, if I ran pizza restaurants, if I had friends here, if I was a student (at my age?). She got even more confused when I said I was leaving tomorrow. She thought her English was failing.

In the end, she offered to see if her son could give us a ride into the city from the airport. We declined. So she helped us get a taxi instead. She wanted to make sure we weren’t ripped off.

IMG_1550

On the ride in, the taxi driver tried to talk to us, but we don’t speak Russian and he didn’t speak English. We passed a variety of interesting little houses, perhaps best described as colorful cabins. The only American brand I saw was a Harley Davidson dealership. If it weren’t on the other side of town, I would get my dad a t-shirt.

Gas prices appear to be ridiculously cheap, but this is Russia. They do have oil.

We passed what appeared to be a dog obedience class. And an equestrian center where people were out riding.

I also have learned a couple letters of the alphabet. The funny little O with the line down the middle makes an F sound. And it’s in the word coffee. The distorted pi that makes an L sound. The P makes an R sound. And the C makes an S sound. And there’s a lot of N’s facing all sorts of directions that make vowel sounds.

Nerd news: Poverty in Djibouti/France vs. Islam

July has brought much excitement into my nerd camp. It started with a call for proposals on H-net Africa for the second edition of Sage Publications’ Encyclopedia of World Poverty. They needed someone to write an updated entry on the Republic of Djibouti, only 900-1000 words so I thought I’d take a go. I emailed the editor. It bounced. Twice.

I quickly went into journalism stalker mode and found another email address. I apologized for not using the listed email, but she didn’t mind and thanked me for my persistence. The Djibouti entry was indeed available, but as I have no Ph.D. I could not write the article without a friend, with the appropriate academic credentials to co-author.

I reached out to my beloved friend, former college peer and in some ways my role model, Annette Varcoe. She’s interested in 19th century American history, I believe areas like temperance, suffrage, and other stuff I can’t even remember. She has no interest in Africa, or the postcolonial age, or the colonial influence of France on exotic locales. Yet, she speaks some French, has an interest in women’s/gender issues and shares my type of nerdiness. Poverty, and perhaps even more so in the developing world, has a great impact on women so there we found our overlap.

The beauty of this proposed project rested in the fact that I had researched the basic statistics on poverty in Djibouti during my capstone project for my international affairs seminar at Lafayette College. I merely needed to update the facts, condense relevant info into the required format, send it to Annette, accept her feedback, and add her name.

We had three weeks to submit. I think we polished seven drafts in five days. We haven’t heard from the copy editors yet, but it was a great collaboration and we worked well together. We also pulled ridiculous amounts of scholarly info on Djibouti not quite connected to our project but stuff that crossed our mutual interests. You know a friend is special when you’re emailing PDFs on female circumcision to each other…

From that experience, I reflected on my need for my own Ph.D. It’s on my list of things to do, but hey, so is “de-clutter the house.” I think the Ph.D. is more likely to happen. I figured I’d bold send an email to _the one person I would most like to study under_ because really, what did I have to lose? I will refrain from naming the person or the school, both are amazing, because I don’t want to find myself embarrassed if when he meets me and thinks I’m an idiot.

Yes, I said “when he meets me.” He not only responded to my email but said to contact him again in September so we could arrange for a visit to campus. At that point, we could discuss my previous work and my future plans.

Finally, today, after taking a week to focus on my health (short version: gained weight and lost some physical strength/balance after breaking my dominant hand this winter) and with that on the right path (talked to my doctor! lost five pounds! feel less achy and clumsy!), I received even more “Good News for Nerds.”

The apparently unstoppable Ally Bishop asked me to drop by her class “Topics in Multiculturalism” to present France as a case study in “Multiculturalism and Religion.” I will be talking about “French vs. Islam” as an avoidance of multiculturalism in favor of unyielding universalism and the roots of the what I would term Muslim discomfort in the colonial empire. This is the backdrop for the laws of 2004 and 2010 which outlaw, respectively, headscarves in schools and face coverings in public.

Exciting stuff for a nerd, right?

Expressing Visions

I had an opportunity at the end of January to explore a position in the fine arts field, using my words to promote their art. That gave me the opportunity to spend some quality time with my scanner. I reconnected with several pieces from Lafayette College magazine.

I wrote this piece on senior art projects and even had a photo featured. (Bottom photo on the second page.)

express vision1 express vision 2

Then there was this feature on Gregory Gillespie working with Lafayette College students.

gillespie

Editorial: Bad Behavior of Bethlehem School Board (2007)

When we launched the Lehigh Valley News Group, the Lehigh Valley branch of Berks-Mont newspapers (a Journal Register entity), I served as managing editor for the five new newspapers and the one previous-existing, The Saucon News. In addition to managing editor duties, I served as editor of the largest of the new papers, The Bethlehem News. We headed into a territory that had been abandoned by my previous employer (Chronicle Newspapers, a division of The Morning Call, a Tribune Company newspaper). In addition to those Chronicle weeklies that had just closed, most of our proposed territories were also served by The Press weeklies, an entity that still continues today.

I attended the school board meetings of the Bethlehem Area School District. After more than five years of covering the Phillipsburg School District, the differences between the two boards fascinated me. Bethlehem was a larger school district, had more schools and more students. But let’s just say the people who sat on the two boards were also different. I’m sure everyone had their good intentions, but the interactions on the Bethlehem board were often tense.

I wrote this editorial after one board meeting where the disagreements between board members, and their unwillingness to move forward after a vote, scared not only me but also drained the color from the superintendent.

BASD board behavior

BASD board behavior

I vowed never to be a journalist but life disagreed

My first appearance in a daily, 1994

My first appearance in a daily, 1994

In 1994, I hadn’t even declared a major yet. After three years of high school journalism, I had taken a college-level journalism class and had some experience writing features for a local weekly. I accepted a job as a freelance “stringer” for the Newark Star-Ledger. I traveled across Warren County, New Jersey attending municipal and school board meetings. Then I called the editor on the desk and read him my notes.

This was before cell phones and filing by internet. (I’m a dinosaur!)

It was brutal. They always asked questions to which I never knew the answers. They paid well, but the editors often reduced me to tears. One nice editor offered me advice. Call before you leave the site. Make relationships with the people at the meeting and ask for a number where you can reach them. (I also was polite enough to ask how late  could call.)

I hated it. I vowed I never wanted to be a journalist.

Funny, how life changes…

The article in the photograph is the result of my reporting. While it’s not an official byline, it’s my first appearance in a daily newspaper.