2011, marshmallows and barbs

Huuummmm. I wrote this after ushering in 2012, but left it filed under ‘drafts’ and never bothered to edit it for coherence. Might as well do it now that I’m on spring break.

* * * * *

So we’ve moved on to a new year (we’ve moved on about 15 days ago, actually), and I’ve not had any desire to write one of those silly new year posts urging everyone to make the new year an amazing one, live life to the full, love yourself, etc. etc.

I see the date every day, I know it’s 2012, but…. really? How did we get to 2012 so soon?

I started off 2012 with a very dramatic, very eventful night. One that involved getting lost in the city all alone, chasing a barefooted friend down a busy street, being threatened by an angry cab driver, sitting down in the dead of winter in nothing but a cocktail dress, and having the police come over to tell us that we’d better **** or else they’d ****. Those darn po-po, going around bothering people on new year’s eve.

I thought there was no way, absolutely NO WAY that any year could top 2011 in terms of drama, craziness, eventfulness. Judging by the way 2012 started, and the things that have happened since, maybe I’ll be proven wrong.

2011 had been ridiculously dramatic. I had the best of times, and the absolute worst of times.

2011 was chockablock with contradictions.

On the one side, I travelled a lot, I explored places whose names I can’t even pronounce (Djurgården, Stokholm), and it was the longest I’d ever been away from home; but on the other hand, I’d never been more aware of and more fired up about Malaysian news in my entire life as I’d been in the past year. For the sociology major and political studies student in me, reading about the rallies and demonstrations signifying an awakening taking place in my home country but being 13 time zones too far to participate is like being 10 years old and having a rainbow-colored lollipop dangled in front of you, close enough to think you can touch it, but just a little beyond reach. So excited to be far away from home, but so wanting to be home at the same time.

I spent 5 months of 2011 in one of the most developed countries in Western Europe. My room decor consisted of wood and white — anything that was not Ikea wooden furniture, was Ikea white-washed furniture. Everything looked so sterile! I had my personal bathroom, and my room had automatic shades. Automatic shades!

So white, so sterile

But so comfortable!

Less than a month later, I found myself in one of the most under-developed regions in a Western African country. Dust colors everything in my room a shade of brown. The floors were peeling, the walls were stained. I shared two toilets with about 10 other people. Oh did I say toilets? I mean buckets.

My room is to the left, where the brown door is. The door to the toilet is straight ahead, next to the woman in sarong who’s fetching water.

Dirt-stained room

For the first 5 months of 2011, I had food that required a delicate, discerning palate to appreciate — wine was abundant, French cheeses were enjoyed daily, and I had foie gras more times than I really care for.

Traditional French savory crêpes (galettes)

Traditional Norwegian reindeer stew 

Traditional Italian gelato

Then for 2 months after that, carbohydrates and starches reigned supreme. Rice, noodles, root crops. Rice, noodles, root crops. And then more rice, noodles, root crops. Sometimes, they were pounded and molded into balls. Pounded cassava balls, ground maize balls, pounded rice balls, all served with stew. If I was lucky, I’d have some meat. If I were really lucky, I’d have some vegetables. Meals were often a large plateful of one general taste. No sophisticated taste buds needed. And yet, they taste SO GOOD, so good! Within a month, one of the women groups that I visit each week told me I put on weight.

Kenkey — fermented pounded maize (corn) balls, with bean stew and fried fish

Waakye — rice & beans, with noodles, pounded cassava and a spicy stew. Super delicious, wonderfully filling, and for only 5 cedis (RM8)!

TZ — pounded rice balls, with groundnut soup

Europe versus Africa comparisons aside, 2011 was rich with contrasts of the more personal kind.

In 2011, I experienced emotions at the two extreme ends of the spectrum. I have been so joyful that I danced and leaped to a song in my head, so happy that tears fill the rims of my eyes, so ecstatic that I could feel my rapid pulse at the back of my throat, could hear it thundering in my ears. I have also been so sad that I bawled my eyes out with my friends in the next room completely at a lost as to what to do; I cried hard and loud, I couldn’t talk, could hardly breathe, my sobs echoing around the apartment like a bell chime resounding through town.

I’ve experienced both love and hate. I felt the bliss of being loved, both tenderly and intensely. But I’ve also had my first ever real fight with a friend. It was a fight involving loud voices and finger pointing, and a lot of baseless accusations that stemmed from irrational, uncontrollable anger, a fight that ended in weeks of tension and silent treatment. (This anger and the above-mentioned sadness were from separate events though.)

In the past year, I’ve had moments of intense aliveness. When I was up in the mountains in Norway, with one of the world’s greatest fjords spread before me, an intense feeling of utter bliss washed over me. It was from an acute awareness of not merely existing, but being alive and living; an electrifying realization that this world is fucking beautiful, and I’m actually alive to experience it; I’m actually ALIVE in this world (Descartes philosophy on existence, anyone?).

Intensely happy. Swinging in the mountains. 

Buying a postcard, taking a walk, and realizing, holy shit, that scenery is right in front of us!

5a.m. sunrise in the fjords — wonderfully tranquil moment

Lunching on a cliff overlooking the islands of the Stockholm archipelago in Sweden

But in that same year, I have also tangoed with death’s cousin. I’d been sent to the ICU, had a head CT scan done, and been told I almost went into a coma.

Like I said, it was some of the best times, and some of the worst.

The old cliché that life is full of ups and downs and twists and turns have never been more true for me. But hey, I’m still alive and well, and I’ve earned a pretty crazy story to tell.


… But I think I’ve had enough drama in 2011 to last me the next 5 years.


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