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Sleepy penguins 

Cute animals have always been an obsession of mine. I’m a cat lover at heart, but something about aquatic, flightless birds planking mini-rock formations is just so adorable.  When I found out that the Kirkland House spring formal dance would be at the New England Aquarium in Boston, I couldn’t say no. The formal attire seemed to fit in perfectly with the tuxedo-adorning penguins.

 

This was the first formal where I ditched the boyfriend and went with all girlfriends: a reunion for the group of us that had known each other since year one at Harvard. As tribute to the coming end of four incredible years, my freshman roommate Anita wore the same dress as she had to our freshman formal.

My freshman roomate, Anita, & I

The troupe of all eight of us arrived together and we were immediately enamored by a loan seal attempting to get our attention. I wondered whether the fishes would be kept awake by the loud music at the formal, but saw as we wandered inside that the dance floor was held outside on the deck, providing a beautiful view of Boston waterfront all to the sounds of a student DJ spinning out tunes.

All the group ready to head to the aquarium 

The penguins slept soundly inside and fishes of all sizes and colors whirled around us in the main lobby, providing a glowing show among the silence. Even as my last undergraduate formal, it was one of the most memorable.

 Love-Bird Penguins 

~Natalie

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Visitas Weekend has finally come! Every April, Harvard opens its gates to the admitted students for a jam-packed weekend full of diverse events, great food, and incredible conversations. This is an important weekend because the admitted students have to make the decision of where to spend their college careers. It’s an exciting time of college exploration and finding out if Harvard is right for you.

My favorite part about this weekend is meeting the Admitted Students- or as we call them at Harvard- the “Pre-Frosh.” Current students get the chance to host Pre-Frosh in their dorms during Visitas in order for a chance to see what it’s really like to go to Harvard. Hosts are also there to provide any kind of advice, guidance, or past experiences to help the Pre-Frosh make their decision. I signed up for 3 and I can’t wait to pick them up and show them around once they get here!

Another one of my favorite parts of this weekend is that Presencia Latina falls on the Friday of Visitas. Harvard’s Presencia Latina is a spectacular Latin Arts Showcase where groups from across the Harvard, Cambridge, and Boston communities can come together to celebrate the Latin culture. I really hope some of my Pre-Frosh can make it to the show! I was at Dress Rehearsal last night until the early morning so I know the show is going to be a great one, as always.

Another reason why this year is so special is because Presencia Latina has reached it’s 10th Year! That’s an entire decade of Latin Arts. I really appreciate that Harvard gives us the resources and space to celebrate a culture that means so much to me and I know that we’ll continue sharing this beautiful culture for years to come! That was one of my concerns about coming across the country to college- I thought I would lose my culture. Luckily, Harvard provides a ton of opportunities to celebrate the culture you grew up in as well as learn of the diverse set of cultures that make up Harvard’s student body. This weekend will be unforgettable.

To get a look in to what last year’s Presencia Latina looked like, check out this video!

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Good thing Yale never engulfed Vassar because then I’d have to dislike (understatement) Vassar through association.

This past weekend, my two friends from Vassar kicked off their Spring Break with a Harvard visit! It was my first time hosting people sophomore year, but my itinerary hardly changed. As a freshman, I hosted a ton of prefrosh (prospective/accepted students) from random kids the Admissions Office introduced me to, all the way to close friends from science camp. In great efforts to sway them in the direction of Harvard, I showed them around campus, forced tourist pictures in front of the John Harvard Statue, and even broke out of the Harvard Bubble with a mini tour of Boston.

Busy, busy! Just let me be ubiquitous please!

Showing people around my favorite places in Cambridge is easy (Science Center, Annenberg, Berryline, etc.) but trying to appear as the master of Boston proved to be more difficult and included interviewing friends from the area as well as a ton of Googling! One of my favorite Harvard characteristics is how campus life feels like a harmonious mesh of urban and suburban culture. It’s a shame that most students’ hectic schedules prevent us from taking advantage of Boston, but I definitely use every hosting opportunity to exploit the city’s pleasures!

First stop: the waterfront. When I think of Boston, I never think of water. Yet, I’m surrounded by the beautiful harbor and Charles River constantly. The harbor is ~500 feet from the T (subway stop) and always calm and peaceful. My friends and I lucked out because the sky was gorgeous although it was still SO cold (California girl speaking here).

Boston Harbor at sunset

From the harbor, it’s just a short walking distance from Faneuil Hall – a great place to people-watch, shop, eat and even see local street performers!

Faneuil Hall

I like to end the tour with a big bang: Mike’s Pastries. This place is legen…wait for it…dary, LEGENDARY. They have the best cannolis I’ve ever eaten and their usual out-the-door line says enough. Even though I hype this place up so much in my head, it never disappoints!! The crispy and flaky texture of the shell which envelops a creamy, yet light ricotta cheese is unparalleled in this and any other dimension. Seriously.

Mike's Pastries in the North End of Boston

For centuries, people have been repeating one word three times: location, location, location! I’ve finally figured out the reasons behind their redundancy – the need for tremendous emphasis! Harvard and its unique and generous opportunities are beyond both phenomenal and amazing; I could type about this forever, but since I still have a pset and a midterm hanging over my head, I’ll just illuminate that one of the more admirable characteristics of Harvard University is its location. Wedged in Cambridge among other top universities as well as successful companies, Harvard fosters a delightfully diverse environment students can thrive on.

My current environment is all the Housing Day hype! Tomorrow is Housing Day!! Basically,

Pfoho's Polar Bear studiously taking notes

freshmen are getting sorted into various upperclassmen houses and as upperclassmen, it’s our duty to make it known that our respective house is the best. We strive to conquer this endeavor by wearing our house mascots everywhere – and yes, this includes lecture – as well as releasing housing day videos!

 

Check out Mather’s official video for Housing Day 2012, a spin off of the hit sensation taking over Harvard campus by storm:

 

May all current and future freshmen win the Housing Day lottery with acceptance into Mather!

 

 

 

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Everybody’s been saying that this is a mild winter, and maybe they’re right.  But it still seems freezing and grey to me, and I’ve definitely had the January Blues.  Last week, I woke up early and looked outside my window, only to see a completely frozen world – there was white ice on the ground, an opaque grey sky, and leafless trees dotting the street.  Everything looked the exact same color, and I felt a sinking sadness in my heart at the bleak sight of winter.  So I did what any normal 21-year-old would do – I called my parents on the phone and cried.

But this story has a happy ending.  After my phone call, my parents were so worried about my wellbeing (SAD is a true phenomenon!) that they sent me a sun lamp, and it came in the mail only two days later.   Now I use it in the mornings when I’m checking email: a simulated sun on the desk beside me.  And it has actually helped!   My roommate and I also decorated the living room with a tropical/Bohemian flavor, so we can pretend it’s summer all year round:

Well, everyone on this blog has been raving about their courses for the spring, and since I’m also thrilled about mine, I’ll mention them briefly.  First, some backstory: My roommate and I are both in the humanities (she’s into photography and I do English), so a lot of our classes have been theory-based over the years.  But that’s not just characteristic of the humanities – my friends who are government or economics majors encounter an almost equal number of classes full of theorizin’ and philosophizin’.  The idea is that when we get into the real world, we’ll be able to practically apply these complex frameworks of meta-knowledge.  While that might be true, I’ve been increasingly attracted to classes whose content is facts-based and has a more direct, unambiguous application – classes that are oriented toward a practicum of some kind.

The first exciting one I’m taking is called The African City.  Contrary to many opinions, Africa is full of more than savannah, grasslands, deserts and jungles.  This class focuses on the urban centers of my most beloved continent.  We’re learning how to use Geographic Information Systems, which is a kind of data mapping system that employs Google Earth & other topographical maps.  Using GIS technology, you can get an immediate, visual representation of data spreads like population density across Africa, or sites of armed conflict. For this class, we each pick one city that we really care about, and we research that city for the entire semester.  Each week, we’ll be focusing on maps of different kinds – transport routes, cultural flows, ethnic & linguistic groupings, and lots more.  I’m so thrilled about this class because my city of focus is Dar es Salaam – a city that I hope to live and work in someday.

Another great class I’m taking is called Africa & Africans.  When I first came to college, I definitely didn’t expect to be studying Africa in school.  Africa was just my home, and I wasn’t even sure it should be a school subject!  But that was totally naïve, and I’m realizing how unfamiliar I am with a part of the world that I love dearly.  This semester, I’m taking a class on the history of sub-Saharan Africa over the last century.  It’s taught by Caroline Elkins who just happens to be an expert on post-colonial Kenya, so I’m in good hands.

The final class I’m super excited for is called Creative Nonfiction – it’s a writing workshop where we get to improve our journalistic writing.  I’ve already taken one writing workshop at Harvard, which was probably my favorite class of all time, so I’m looking forward to the follow-up.  And as I mentioned above, I love that the skills from the class are immediately applicable in a straightforward way.

One more little story before I sign off — last night, I went to see a band called Augustana play in the city, and they were wonderful.  I adore loud shows because the music shakes everyone in the audience in the exact same tempo; I always imagine that our hearts have been transplanted by the bassline, so we all have the same heartbeat for the length of the song. Anyway, the band has a song called Boston, which made everyone happy, and it portrayed this city in a pretty light.  And then on the T ride home, the subway was crammed with exhilarated Bruins fans, who had just won the game 4-3.  I was the only one on the subway not wearing a Bruins jersey, but in that moment, I think I felt just as happy and proud of Boston as everyone else.

 

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#auldlangsyne

Greetings from the endless haze of naping, reading, and snacking that is otherwise known as my life during J-term (winter break)!

Since New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are fast approaching, I thought it would be fun to share some of my Harvard/Cambridge related resolutions with you all.  I’m usually not very good about sticking to my resolutions past the first week of the New Year, but maybe sharing this list in a public forum will help hold me accountable.

Happy New Year!

1. Stop buying food in Harvard Square during dining hall hours.

I made a nasty habit of eating non-HUDS (Harvard University Dining Services) meals last semester, and it really took a toll on my bank account balance.  In the beginning it was harmless.  I started off with a mini cup of frozen yogurt from Pinkberry (coconut yogurt with granola and honey, if you please) here and there, but the next thing I knew it had escalated to a regular sized burrito (buffalo chicken!) from Boloco’s with a nutella milkshake multiple times a week.

I love the food in the Square, and I’m not willing to sacrifice all of my little indulgences.  As a compromise, I think that I could stand to stay away from these treats when the dining halls are open.  Especially since eating in the dining hall is free, so it’s a money-saving alternative.

2. Spend more time in Widener.

I love a good study space.  Freshman year I lived in Canaday, so I was all about getting my work done in the Canaday basement, Cabot Science Library in the Science Center, and Lamont Library.

This year (my sophomore year) I decided to switch things up.  Since I live in Pforzheimer House (Pfoho) in the Quad, it doesn’t really make sense for me to study in the Canaday basement or Cabot Library anymore.  Last semester I went to Lamont whenever I wanted to get work done on the River, and I would go to the Pfoho Library (Pflibrary) when I wanted to be productive in the Quad.

However, towards the middle of the semester I stumbled into the Loker Reading Room (and the Atkins Reference Room) in Widener Library, and it was a total game changer.  Widener is a striking building from the outside, but the interior is absolutely stunning.   Plus, people that go to Widener generally mean business so there’s this peer pressure to be productive.

The Loker Reading Room and the Atkins Reference Room

3. Take the time to explore Boston.

Whenever I am home and catching up with my friends and family, people always ask me, “How’s Boston?” and I am never able to give them a legitimate answer.  I tell them that Cambridge is amazing, but I can’t tell them anything about Boston-proper because I rarely venture out of the Harvard bubble.  In fact, the only time that I step outside of Cambridge is when I feel the need to hit the shops on Newbury Street.

It’s a shame that I haven’t taken the leap, because there are some things that I am dying to do in the city.  Here are a few:

a. Have a picnic in the Common, the city’s oldest public park, on a sunny afternoon.

b. Spend an afternoon in the Museum of Fine Arts (especially to view van Gogh’s Houses at Auvers).  I’m not actually that much of a visual arts enthusiast, but after I spent last summer in Barcelona I came to appreciate the calm of a good museum visit.  I especially want to take a look at Houses at Auvers because I visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York last year and saw The Starry Night. I just thought the texture of the painting in person was the coolest thing, and so I want to take a look at another van Gogh.

The Starry Night

The Starry Night

House at Auvers

House at Auvers

c. Visit the Massachusetts State House.  My favorite part about the tours that I give (as a member of the Crimson Key Society) is learning about the architecture and the history of the buildings on campus.  I really want to get a good look at the Massachusetts State House because Charles Bulfinch designed it.  He’s the same architect responsible for University Hall in Harvard Yard.  He’s also a Harvard graduate!

 

Massachusetts State House

Massachusetts State House

University Hall

University Hall

d. Take the time to visit the New England Aquarium.  I don’t have any pets or anything, but for some reason I love zoos and aquariums.  Since I’m from Northern Virginia, I visit the National Zoo in D.C. and the National Aquarium in Baltimore a lot.  I’m ready for something new!

Honestly, the list could just go on, and on, and on.  The point is that there are a million and one things to do around campus, but I need to make a conscious effort to see what Boston has to offer as well.

4. Go to office hours.  Undergraduate professors and teaching fellows hold regular “office hours”, during which students are welcome to stop by and get to know their professors.  The idea is to make the faculty accessible so that students and faculty members can build strong relationships outside of lecture and section.  I’ve never really taken advantage of office hours.

Every semester, I tell myself that I will go, but the second that I get busy I use my schoolwork and other commitments as an excuse to opt out.  It’s really a shame and a waste of a great opportunity.  This spring I intend on attending at least one office hour session for each of my classes.

5. Take a class pass/fail.  This is probably the trickiest resolution, and I’ll most likely put it off until next fall. There’s no sound reasoning behind this one.  I’m really just curious to see how it would effect the way I learn and treat my assignment.

I think that’s just about it.  Those are my Harvard-related resolutions for 2012! Hopefully posting them to this blog will keep me honest in the coming year.  Wish me luck and discipline!  Hopefully you’ve had the opportunity to reflect on 2011 and come up with some resolutions of your own.  Here’s to an exciting new year!

 

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Although I thought I’d have lots of free time this week, I’ve been really busy with all of the crazy things I’ve been doing. Today I can relax a little bit, though my French Final is tomorrow and I have to start studying some Conditional Tense (grammar is not my favorite thing in the world, to put it lightly). So now that I’m almost completely recovered, I can start reflecting on the wild week behind me!

 

Last weekend, I did the usual: music. On Friday night after band practice, I went out and supported my entryway-mate, fellow band-member, and other friends at the Opportunes-Krokodiloes jam at Sanders Theater. It was completely AWESOME, of course, because they’re all super talented; I got chills too many times to count during the two hour set. Afterwards, I went out with my friends to a get-together at the Co-op, an alternative housing system at Harvard. In the morning, I powered out some work in preparation for the week ahead. Saturday night, I tried to buy tickets for Spring Awakening at Club Oberon, where some of Harvard’s shows take place, but it was sold out, so I ended up staying in and watching Crazy Stupid Love. (Mmm…Ryan Gosling.) It was the first movie I’ve watched at Harvard, since the premiere of Money Ball at AMC Loews in Boston when I met JONAH HILL! (That was a fun time. Things you do here…jeeze.) Anyways, I rented the movie through iTunes, putting my $100 promotional deal to good use. I went out again that night, but not for too long, because Sunday was my big day!

Why, might you ask?  It is time to talk about my band, The Nostalgics, in greater depth. I have definitely talked about them before, but I have yet to dedicate a FULL PARAGRAPH (or two) about them! You may recall that we won the Battle of the Bands back in October. This guaranteed us a spot at the Five House Formal on December 4th, which happened to be this past Sunday. We’d been working really hard to get as tight as possible, and by the time Sunday afternoon swung around, all twelve of us (Burt, Charles, Noah, Ben, Will, Jack, Patrick, Rachel, Alex, Leah, Nick, and I) were feeling pretty confident. After all, we were about to play at The House of Blues, otherwise known as the best music venue in New England. After having taken the Green Line to Fenway, we met up at said venue at around 4 pm for soundcheck. After struggling to find an entrance (yeah, don’t ask why), we entered the GIANT music hall (three stories! balconies! a raised platform for the drums on a five foot-high stage!). We soundchecked quickly, ran upstairs to check out our Green Room (the place where cool backstage people get to chill), and headed off to Bertucci’s. It was Ben’s 21st birthday, so we splurged (not really) on unlimited soup and salad, as well as these great warm rolls. (I don’t know if I like very many things better than a piping hot roll to sate my hunger after a long day.) Then, it was time to head back and get ready to play.

After our opening act and a quick pre-gig ritual, we were ready to head on stage. I can speak for the whole band when I say that we were blown away by how packed it was. Thirteen-hundred students filled the hall, dancing to our crazy tunes as we ripped through our set. It was indubitably one of the best experiences of my life, and definitely the best experience I’ve had at Harvard. I wanted to stick around to dance, but I had a paper due early that morning, so I trucked back to campus to work, my ears still ringing from the epic sound system.

 

My band, The Nostalgics, playing at the House of Blues!

When I turned on my computer that night, however, I discovered that I had to prepare a few things for The Crimson’s Grand Elections the next day and night. I ended up only sleeping two hours, which has only happened two other times here (don’t worry, I normally sleep for 7 or 8 hours), but I saw my first Harvard sunrise! Check it out.

 

Canaday in all of its Morning Glory

Monday was a whirlwind of Photojournalistic activity, which ended with a secret ceremony in which I was elected a Junior Editor of The Crimson! Never again will I have to wait outside of The Crimson’s building, as I have swipe access! Plus, when my photos are published in The Crimson second semester, “Crimson Photographer” will be next to my name. Holla! I returned to my dorm room at around 11:30, my excitement fueling the final push on my French composition, which I’d be presenting in the morning.

Earlier on Monday, I decided it was time to finish the project I’d been working on. No, it wasn’t for school; I’d been messing around with iWeb in order to develop a website for The Nostalgics, and for some reason, my server wasn’t able to verify the site. I called my dad in NYC, asking for help, and he hooked me up via an alternative server. At 4:30, the site went live, with a few kinks and useless links, but it worked! I ironed out the problems, and you can check out the finished product here. It was my first time working on a website, and it was a very fun and satisfying way to end my afternoon.

I woke up to nasty weather on Tuesday, making it even more difficult to exit my cozy canaday bed. However, I convinced myself to take the short walk to Boylston Hall, which is definitely one of the nicest buildings on campus. There’s a lot of open beams, light, and foreign languages– all the things a potential Romance-language/Visual and Environmental Studies/Mind-Brain-Behavior concentrator could ever desire! There I met with my funny professor for my Oral, which lasted half an hour, and was really interesting. We ended up talking about democracy in Iran, based on conclusions we could draw from the movie Persepolis. Afterwards, I went to Loker Basement, where my band quickly ran over a few songs, a cappella, which was hilarious. That afternoon, I quickly printed out my final Jazz Composition, sprinted to the Music Building (where I’d never been…embarrassing), and turned it in right on time.  Then I could relax. For a bit.

Let’s skip over some of the boring details (mainly because I don’t remember them, even though it was only a few days ago…hey, I’m sleep-deprived). Tuesday night was Eliot Formal! I got my classy clothes on, went over at 6 to soundcheck and set up, and ate a quick meal at Adams, which was the first time I’d eaten dinner there. Then I trucked back to Canaday in the rain to finish my review worksheet for French and rehearse some of my lyrics. YAY! After returning to Eliot, we played for twice as long as the Five House Formal, which was really fun and gave us time to expand and be more creative. We totally killed it, finishing our first-semester gigging season on a high note.

Eliot D-Hall, pre-dancing. Doesn't it look like The Nutcracker?

Wednesday was the first day that I actually did any reading! I had class at 10, in which one of my classmates played a song on his cello about Pierot, the famous fictional French clown. (It was absolutely beautiful.) From 12-3, we had our final Jazz session, where everyone’s compositions were played by a full band in Sanders Theater, which was a special treat. Right after that, I headed over to the Science Center to the review session for LPSA. I’m almost done with all of my classes except for that, which is really scaring me; French will be done at 11 AM tomorrow, and then it’s all Biology and Chemistry from there on! My next post will be from back home in Vermont, where I can truly rest and prepare for my favorite holiday of all time.

Happy atypical reading period!

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The encircling 1am darkness was subtly interrupted by the dim lights of a New York City subway underpass. Up the stairs stumbled two Southern Californian 19 year old females struggling with the forces of rain, wind, and heavy suitcases. A scheduled 8:30pm bus arrival became a midnight arrival due to rain and natural Thanksgiving traffic. These unforeseen, unfortunate circumstances left my roommate and me at Penn Station flipping a coin to determine if we should take the uptown or downtown train. Maybe leaving for New York City for Thanksgiving break 25 hours after a wisdom teeth extraction was poor planning on my part, but am I glad (retrospectively) that I did it?

 

From the Tuesday night until Sunday morning of Thanksgiving vacation, my roommate and I conquered New York City. We shamelessly stuffed ourselves in Little Italy and Chinatown, tapped into our domesticated sides at the grocery store to create a wisdomteethless-friendly Thanksgiving dinner, watched the Macy’s Day Parade live, saw The Lion King on Broadway, and were approached by countless people soliciting money and/or directions – an extremely immersed experience if I do say so myself.

Times Square

Ice Skating in Central Park

Personally, Thanksgiving break has become an essential necessity like water or oxygen. It is perfectly placed between the second (or third) wave of midterms/papers and before final semester exams. This vacation teaser allows you to resuscitate your sleep depository and mentally prepare for looming obstacles.

Being born and raised in San Diego, California, I feel an innate inclination towards urban settings. That’s why one of the strong benefits of Harvard University is its location. Not only does Boston offer a great skyline and a delicious array of cultural restaurants, but Boston also offers unique opportunities in practically any industry you can think of (i.e. business – Boston Consulting Group, medicine – Massachusetts General Hospital, non-profit – Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program). Yet, Boston doesn’t feel like a giant, overwhelming city. If that’s the atmosphere you’re looking for though, New York City is just a short bus/train ride away. I love the fact that I can take advantage of both majestic cities during my undergraduate years!

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As usual before an interview, my body temperature was high, my confidence was low, and my brain was fluctuating between clutter and utter emptiness. When I got to the interview room, I nudged open the door, tripped on the carpet, and gave a sweaty handshake to the three interviewers.

“Have a seat,” said the dude in the middle. I did.

“Why do you think you’d be good for this summer position?” he asked, flashing me a vaguely patronizing smile.

The interview should have been a breeze. I was trying to go to Botswana to teach English, and I had a lot of great answers to his question. For example, “I’m an English major,” and “I’m familiar with Africa” – those would have been good answers. Instead, I treated my interviewers to a series of Um’s, Uh’s and Likes, before launching into a modest plea: “Well, I’m not great at teaching, but I do love kids! Well, what I mean to say is, I like teenagers.” They stared at me bleakly, and I felt my soul shriveling up into a little ball of defeat.

That was last semester, and that’s how all my interviews went. I know Harvard kids are supposed to be great at interviews, but I like to think of myself as an interviewee-in-training. I applied to a kabillion summer programs (well, three or four), and got rejected from all of them. As summer got closer and closer, I wrung my hands and thought, What am I going to do? Everyone else will be saving the world and/or interning at prestigious institutions. But about three weeks before summer began, the African Studies department sent out an email soliciting kids to apply to fully-funded language programs in Africa.  I applied on a whim, and the rest is history.  I had the happiest summer of my life on the Kenyan coast, studying Swahili through Yale’s summer program.

This past weekend, my roommate and I planned out a walking-tour of the Cambridge/Somerville area. We spent Thursday night on Google maps, designing a long route through the city, choosing cafés and landmarks to see along the way. I’ve had the chance to see a lot of Cambridge already – a concert here, a meal there, a grocery trip to Whole Foods. But my sense of spatiality is underdeveloped, and it’s hard for me to visualize how those different locales are related to each other. Every café, shop, park, club and alleyway that I’ve visited are just atomized places in my head, connected by a mysterious network of streets.

Our walking-tour actually went pretty smoothly. My roommate was in charge of the route and kept referring to the maps on her iPhone. We walked through plenty of classic New England neighborhoods, strolled by some train tracks, and admired some graffiti. At different points during the walk, we’d emerge into an area that I recognized – somewhere we’d been before – and amazingly, it fit into my mental map of Cambridge. As I recognized more and more places, a cohesive scheme of the city began to emerge in my head. (“Holy cow, this is Porter Square!”) It was weird and satisfying to finally understand how all the places connected.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that sometimes things don’t make sense until way, way later. Sometimes the events of your life will seem really random, and disappointments will feel absolutely crushing and nonsensical. But I think that eventually the pieces fit together into something kinda unified, something kinda beautiful.  So keep trying risky things, keep applying to programs, keep going to interviews even if your pulse rate gets dangerously high.  Keep moving along.  In retrospect, all the failures and dead ends usually make a lot more sense.

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November is probably the most crowded month for Harvard kids.  We start referring to our iCals with growing frequency, trying to fit every single activity (including eating and sleeping) into a 24-hour matrix that feels far too small.  I mean, Free Time is never a readily available commodity on campus, but it goes completely out of stock in November.  The shelves of Free Time are empty, and the Free Time vendors just shrug their shoulders and say, “Come back next month, and we might have more in stock.”  So I’ve learned that sometimes, during the most crammed weeks of the semester, you’ve gotta steal your Free Time – seize any hours of freedom that you can find!

In that spirit, I rode the T into Boston on Thursday night, to see the Blue Scholars perform at the Paradise Rock Club.  The Blue Scholars are a dynamic musical duo from Seattle, makin’ smart folk hip-hop since 2002.  Sabzi is an Iranian DJ/producer, and Geologic is a Filipino rapper – and together, the dudes are pure magic.  The Blue Scholars use their music to treat relevant societal/generational issues, and I admire the intentionality manifest in their art.  Here’s one of my favorite songs by them, Cinemetropolis, the title track from their new LP:

 

I was lucky enough to attend another nourishing event this weekend (one that filled my tummy and my heart).  On Saturday, the Harvard African Students Association held its annual Fall Feast, which is always one of the best events of the semester.  Students and groups of various African affiliations lend their time and talents to recreate classic dishes from their home countries.   The array was stunning – jollof rice, stews, curries, shawarma, corn-mush, chicken, samosas, plantains – and by the time we got halfway down the line, our plates were spilling over with African delicacies.  We had to go finish our first plates before we could sample the second half of the buffet.  It was a true celebration, and everyone jokingly heralded their hometown food as “the winning dish.”  All the proceeds from the event went to buy food for Somali refugee camps, so they were selling these sweet T-shirts:

I felt kind of weird buying a shirt that said “Fight the Famine” while surrounded by such bounty.  But I think that’s the strange tension that many of us live with, especially as Americans.  We should still enjoy and appreciate things like parties and good food, knowing that they’re undeserved riches; but at the same time, we gotta stay keenly aware of the areas of great need that are sometimes starkly juxtaposed to our own comfortable situations.  It’s a complicated dynamic, and one that I haven’t totally come to terms with yet.  I could only be grateful for my blessings while I chowed down on hometown chapatis for the second time this month.  In honor of that unlikely statistic, here’s the official Chapati song by the Kenyan artist Man Ingwe:

 

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This weekend, I tagged along with my roommate to Boston’s annual Vegetarian Food Festival.  She’s a vegetarian and I am not.  But I was lured in by the promise of hundreds of free samples of exotic health-foods: granola bars cut up into little squares, crumbs of 85% dark chocolate, sprouts, quinoa, some magical ‘unsaturated’ tree oil from Venezuela, hummus samplers, and some not-potable chocolate protein shakes.  All these delicacies (and more!) were displayed upon tables in their healthy glory, curated by very healthy-looking individuals.  Among the attendees of the Veggie Fest, I encountered the usual surplus of beards, suspenders and shoes made of natural fibers, as well as a surprising hat made of tree-bark, and some buttons that said “Give Peas a Chance.”  Because I was dressed in really pedestrian attire, I bought this sweet T-shirt:

I felt okay buying this shirt, because whether I wear it ironically or in earnest, it’s sending pretty much the same message out on da streets.

At one point during the Fest, I noticed some chapatis at a faraway food stand.  Chapatis are flat, greasy discs of bread that resemble tortillas, except they come from East Africa.  I’m always craving some greasy Tanzanian carbohydrates, so I made a bee-line for the table.  As I got closer, the banner behind the stall came into view: Taste of Kilimanjaro.  I couldn’t believe it – Tanzanian cuisine for sale at a Boston veggie fair!  Any true array of Tanzanian fare would include a large component of kuku choma  (scrawny pieces of charcoal-grilled chicken, cut into vaguely identifiable pieces and dipped in thick salt).  But since it was a Veggie Festival, I loaded up on beans and chapatis, and enjoyed a true Tanzanian lunch.  I even got to chat with the chefs in Kiswahili.  Since they’d been living in Boston for fifteen years, their pure, grammatical Kiswahili was inflected with American sound and cadence.

Later that day, I Skyped with my parents, who live in Kenya.  They informed me that the city of Nairobi was hosting its annual Barbecue Fest that very same day.  Apparently, all the city’s leading meat companies and “grilling houses” were showcasing their best meats downtown, offering taste-samples for a price.  That’s the kind of irony I love — the polarized food-fairs of my two distant homes, vending totally distinct flavors (both cultural and gustatory).

On Saturday, we had a mini snowstorm, and I was worried that winter had arrived prematurely, but it looks like autumn will be here for a few more weeks.  The trees around campus are all quickly losing leaves, and I like how they revolve slowly and come to rest on the ground like a warmer and more colorful strain of snow — my kind of snow.

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