Dear Sleep Apnea Guy

The first night in a new apartment is pure terror.

I’ve switched abodes about eight or nine times, and it never gets any easier. As I get ready for bed on day No. 1, avoiding half-completed Ikea furniture and boxes I’ll never actually unpack, I contemplate the rather hefty decision I’ve just made. One of my greatest fears is that I’ve unknowingly moved in next door to a punk band or a drug addict or—worse—a new family.

We’ve been spared the punk band in Lima, BUT our upstairs neighbors have a baby, wear high heels in the house and at least one person has a terrible case of sleep apnea.

The baby and the man/woman wearing heels, I could honestly do without—it’s Sleep Apnea Guy I’ve come to appreciate. This gentleman retires at around 9 p.m. every evening and is still asleep when we rise at 7 a.m.

At first, his sudden starts and stops were a morbid fascination. I’d lie awake at night, holding my breath every time he caught his. Then, after a week or two, it was annoying. Either our walls are incredibly thin or this guy was locomotive loud. (Knowing Lima, probably both.) But, after nine months, the sound is almost lulling. His snorts blend into the car sirens, random shouts and faint music that soundtrack my dreams. However, for the past week, Sleep Apnea Guy hasn’t been snoring/gasping/wheezing. And I miss him.

Dear Sleep Apnea Guy,

We’ve never met. I’m the female voice shouting in English at the male voice to heat up the pasta for dinner. Hear that slight, valley drawl? Yup, that’s me!

I’m sorry I haven’t been a great neighbor. When I first moved in, I kept meaning to stop by and bring you guys some brownies. But then I didn’t know whether you liked brownies or perhaps you were on a diet or maybe you’re cursed with a nut allergy. Anyway, things got unnecessarily complicated and then three months passed. After that I figured I’d let too much time elapse. And, well, #awkwardturtle

But even though we’ve never chatted face-to-face, I feel like I know you! Your presence in apartment 703 is very integral to my being. Without your snores, I can’t fall to sleep. And lack of sleep means I’m the female voice shouting in English at the male voice in a slightly crazy, high-pitched shriek brought to you by Insomnia. Yup, that’s me!

Perhaps you’ve gone on a business trip? Taken a vacation? Went to bake a casserole/wash your hair/walk your dog and never came back? Whatever the reason, I miss you and hope you return soon.



P.S. I noticed your baby is sleeping through the night now. Congrats!

P.P.S. Your roommate’s clog dancing lessons are really paying off. Let me know dates/times for the next recital!

The Jealousy Test

I was born in December, and it’s a cumpleaños I find stressful. The fact that people are gonna shout “HAPEE BURTHDAY!!!11” this week, wish me “MURRY CHRISSMAS” in two weeks and then just days later exclaim “HAPEE NEW YEARZ!” induces all kinds of anxiety.* There’s too much going on. Too many people expect too many smiles and too many heart-to-hearts and too much happiness and…

December is just toomanyfeels.

Christmas ignites a fierce longing for my hometown—the simplicity of the countryside, the beauty that is California, the comfort that is family. It’s an emotion that’s raw and all-consuming, but because ImnotmovingbackMOM, I don’t like to admit it. Christmas forces me to concede that home life isn’t all that bad and, WORSE, wonder if I’m missing out. So I bah humbug holiday movies and glare at the produce when our local grocery store blasts carols.

Hey, the best defense is a good offense.

Then there’s New Year’s Eve. Whoever invented New Year’s resolutions is right up on my mierda list with adult acne, expensive haircuts, and that dude who decided women should wear high heels. The end of another year means everyone reassesses their life choices, and introspection isn’t exactly easy without your favorite ice cream on hand. (Who can afford the calories? Resolution No. 1 is to eat healthier. BLARGH.)

I think my birthday is really what tips things over the edge. Like every person, ever, I’ve started to consider my own mortality. Plus, I recently found a gray hair. #nocomment

This year, in a brave attempt to stave off whatever emotional rollercoaster December has in store, I took the jealousy test. During the jealousy test you think about all the successful people you know. If you feel pangs of jealousy when you conjure up their achievements, you should consider making those your own goals. And, lord knows, I love setting goals. It makes me feel immensely better—a simple, yet effective way to get through the holidays. Eyes on the prize.

So I thought about my friends who have won awards for their hard work, and how amazing that must’ve felt and how talented they all are.

I considered the brilliant people I know at the WaPo, ProPublica and Scientific American and the important work they’re doing.

Then I let my mind wander, and a woman I’ve only chatted with two times randomly popped into my head. She’s barely 30 and has already been to 37 countries. Maldito, that’s amazing!! I want to be this woman.

If this were a BuzzFeed quiz, I’d hit “enter” and a sensational headline with way too many cat photos would pop up. If it were an actual test, I’d get it back with an A+ (’cause that’s how I roll). But since it’s a very light and non-scary form of contemplation, I can be excited. I can make lofty goals and then plan out my daysweeksmonths to meet my objectives.

That is, if I survive December.

*I guess most people I know are soused for these events.

That Time I Walked Home in a Sports Bra

Walking home in a sports bra probably wasn’t a good idea.

If it had been night and if I had been walking alone, it would’ve been a very bad idea. But it was noon on a highly trafficked thoroughfare so I figured *shrug.

In this order, the men of Lima bestowed upon me: 1 proposition, 2 whistles, 1 kissy noise, 3 honks. All in the timespan of about 10 minutes.

When I stepped out of the shower at the gym, I realized I’d forgotten my shirt. En serio? Ugh. And though I’ve squatted in forests and taken weekend hikes without bathing, the thought of getting back into that grimy shirt made my skin crawl.

Growing up, my aunt used to quip, “Horses sweat. Men perspire. Women glisten.” My sudoriferous glands beg to differ. After getting off a treadmill, I could wring out my T-shirt and provide water for the entire drought-stricken West Coast. I sweat like a Coke bottle at an August barbecue. Like a turkey on Thanksgiving. Like Chuck Norris on his way… wait a second, Chuck Norris has never sweated a day in his life. #nevermind

In other words, I’m a beast.

So no way in hell was I getting back into my dirty clothes. Thus, the probablywasntagood idea was born. I guess I should’ve expected the unwanted attention. I guess I’ve learned my lesson?

Or, here’s a thought, all the jerks out there could stop being such big pendejos and leave a dama alone. She forgot her shirt and just wants to walk home in a sports bra.

My Big, Fat, American Feet

My monstrous toes have ruined everything.

In Peru, I’m a giant—and not the Jolly Green Giant who smiles down from the frozen produce aisle—we’re talking fi-fi-fo-fum status. At 5-feet-7-inches, I tower over most Peruvians, both men and women. This comes in handy at markets or fiestas or bar fights, but it’s absolute hell when I’m shoe shopping.

My big, fat, American feet make it almost impossible to buy shoes in this country. And that’s a problem because the whole point of being a third-world ex-pat is so you can buy a whole bunch of inexpensive, unique clothing that you then wear to brunch in America. Basically.*

As I’m not exactly the most fashion-forward individual (I’d rate myself one step above a color-blind Canadian logger who still lives with his mother), I was looking forward to the new status my feet would confer. So, here’s how things were supposed to go:

Ohmygosh, I just LOVE those! Where DID you get them?” immaculately dressed Brooklynite would squeal, pushing aside her waytooexpensive bloody mary and abandoning her perch at the bar in a waytooexpensive UWS eatery in order to examine those beauties just a li’l closer.

“Oh, these? I got them in Lima, as you do when you live in Latin America,” I’d reply suavely. That’s right girl-whose-hair-always-looks-nice, MIC DROP.

This one exchange would make all the traumatizing mold, all the food poisoning and all the crazytimePeru worth it. BUT NO. The universe has cursed me with sausages for digits.

So in Peru, businesses tend to segregate themselves depending on what they sell. That means that all the shoe shops are on one block. For a whole afternoon, I poked my head into one store after another and asked for size “cuarenta o caurenta y uno.”

One woman in pointy high heels had the decency to shake her head woefully. But the rest of them?

They laughed. And laughed. And chortled. And did that smirky thing where your head tilts a little and you kinda snort. Yeah, that.

Lo siento mundo para mi patrimonio italiano! *le sigh Anyone know a Canadian logger who’s looking for a flat-footed friend? I need to commiserate.

*Joking, guys! Joking!

That Time I Tried Salsa Dancing

I didn’t know my hips existed until I took a Zumba/salsa class in Peru.

I mean, I guess I had an inkling that they were there. I’m a pretty clumsy person so as long as I don’t fall down a flight of stairs, I figure everything is doing its job and leave well enough alone. But hips exist in a BIG way here, and when you wiggle ’em a little to the left everything looks just right.

I woke up early for the class and made it to the gym in time to claim a chunk of floor space in an inconspicuous corner—right behind the mirror so I wouldn’t trip but right in front of the weights so I wouldn’t trip anyone else. The dancing started off easy enough, in that there wasn’t any dancing. We stretched for about five minutes.

Needless to say, I was a pro. *shoulder brush*

Then our instructor turned on the music, cranking up the volume until the melody was so loud it hurt. He spun around to face his eager disciples, and his pelvis popped in a way that put Patrick Swayze to shame.

If you’ve ever missed your exit because you were staring at the larger-than-life abs of a hunk selling NEWEST GADGET while zooming down the highway or found your eyes lingering on the cover of a trashy romance novel while you were justlookingforthesciencesectionJEEZE, then you’ve seen my instructor. That man was able to get a whole room of women to twirl and high kick and do bendy things with the flick of a wrist. It was impressive.

Salsa is such a gorgeous, fluid dance, and the people in my class are good-good. I’m not a fan of stereotyping, but I’m pretty sure there’s something in the water here because, dang, all these gals can move!

Needless to say, it was the perfect Latin American cliché.

Then there was me—the perfect norteamericana. I’m a head taller than anyone else in the room. Suddenly, I’m very, very conscious of my sickly pallor. I’ve always made fun of my own whiteness, but dayum! It’s like Captain Crunch and the Trix Bunny decided to get it on, and snap, crackle, POP—a gringa was born.

Then there’s this thing called “undulating.” I won a writing award by using the word in sixth grade. Low bar for success, I know, but I’ve been oh-so proud of my mad skillz ever since. Unfortunately, in Latin America “undulating” isn’t word, it’s a concept, and knowing the definition in my head was NOT helping when it came to my hips.

Needless to say, white girl CAN’T dance.

Then a miracle happened. My dance instructor hunkered down over the playlist for a tad longer than normal. When he stepped away, I recognized the song. All those late nights practicing in front of the mirror came right back to me.

Soulja Boy exploded from the speakers, and I killed it for three, glorious, glorious minutes. While these brilliant dancers balked at hopping around on one foot and waving their hands in the air, I had already mastered what every frat boy can do in a drunken stupor. (Thanks WikiHow!) It was amazing.

Needless to say, I’m going back again next week!

Journalism’s 60:40

The love-hate relationship with my job has always been a solid 60:40.

For a long time I accepted my low income as par for the course. If it meant I could follow my passion, I didn’t care what I was paid. Or, at least, I didn’t care enough to seriously look elsewhere. I was doing good journalism and that’s all that mattered.

But I don’t get paid for quality. I get paid for page views. I get paid for click bait.

Right now I’m trying to sell a piece about a horrible injustice that’s afflicting children in South America (being vague on purpose, sorry). It’s probably the most important story I’ve ever reported. It’ll take at least two weeks of work to do the article justice.

The most I’ve been offered is $400—including photos.

Is this whining? No. I’ve been lowballed more times than I can remember. It’s a tough game, and you have to be tough to play it. But when stories about makeup and weight loss net me $1k and stories of actual importance reach a high of $400… You have to take a step back and reconsider your career path.

Recently I’ve been taking questionnaires and soul-searching (ugh!) and reading books. If I’m going to leave journalism, I need to find a new occupation. And therein lies the problem. What will I do? Every, single quiz tells me I should be a reporter. All my soul-searching and book reading just confirms it.

I love my profession, but 60:40 isn’t an acceptable ratio any longer.

A friend of mine and brilliant news guy, Yuri Victor, gave a talk at Poynter recently. He outlines some straightforward and amazing tips on how the news industry can reinvent itself to avoid burnout and retain talent. I hope They take his advice.

peru, cemetery, flowers, day of the dead, day of the living

Day of the Living

Philip Bloudoff’s grave is hot in the summer, the shadow of a nearby tree just missing its mark. His tombstone was glaringly white when we buried him. I’m sure it’s a different color now, the grime of an agricultural community staining the nooks in half a dozen rose impressions. My grandfather wouldn’t have liked the roses, but he would’ve nodded approvingly at the dirt.

Two of my cousins are buried in similar cemeteries, but I’ve never seen their graves. When someone dies before their first kiss, their final resting place becomes less about remembering who they were and more about mourning who they could have been.

I try to honor them each daily by conjuring up their respective faces when I cook three-bean soup, see a turtle or play cards. It’s the little things. But I’d like to do more. I love the concept of Day of the Living.

On Day of the Living, November 1, families trod through Lima’s dusty slums to the even dustier Nueva Esperanza Cemeterio. It’s said to be the biggest or oldest cemetery in South America, but Limenians have a tendency to exaggerate. (A fish was always THIS BIG.)

They gather en masse to celebrate their lives and their families. They wash and paint the graves of loved ones. They light candles, say prayers and leave offerings of food and drink.

I saw children wrestling over graves, and tiny babies sucking on bottles. Food vendors shouted their wares, and musicians ad libbed theirs. It was noisy and smelly and colorful, and I wished it were my yearly tradition, too. What better way for your loved ones to remember you than by enjoying life together?






Nueva Esperanza, Lima, cemetery

How to Deal With Diarrhea (Because Important)

The significant other didn’t want me to write this post. He protested loudly and prolongedly last night as I thoughtfully made notes. The female parental unit (who taught me the diarrhea song!) would also advise against hitting “publish.” But, I’M DOING THIS FOR YOU, GUYS, so here it goes.

If you make the trek to Peru from the United States, your weak, little gringo stomach is probably going to hate you for a bit. And your intestines? Well, those suckers are about 30 feet long collectively, so when they’re ticked off, you’re definitely going to know. They don’t call it “Montezuma’s revenge” for nothing, y’all.

Nobody wants to talk about diarrhea (except these guys) because, well, who wants THAT kind of imagery floating around in their noggins? Any way you slice it, diarrhea is the worst, and—in some cases—pretty dangerous. Unfortunately, odds are you’re going to get it at least once while traveling. If you live in Peru (or any third-world country, really), you’ll have it multiple times.

Here’s how to handle this crappy situation:

BEFORE You Go, Things You Really Ought to Know

Eat foods that will please your intestines. Repeat after me: “When my intestines are happy, I’m happy.” We all need to start paying more attention to our innards—especially ones that cover so much real estate!

You don’t want to start a trip on the wrong foot so avoid foods that you know upset your digestive system. Start taking prebiotics/eating foods that have prebiotics several weeks before you leave. The science on this changes all the time so ask your doctor for recommendations!

Stock up on Pepto and Tums before you leave. It’s difficult to find U.S. quality in Peru. And get chewables whenever possible—they work faster.

Also make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date. You can get a lot of gnarly bugs via contaminated food and water.

(Ladies, if you’re prone to infections down there I’ve got you covered. Insertable pills—oral pills don’t work well!—containing one or more of the following are helpful for warding off illness: Lactobacillus brevis and Lactobacillus salivarius and Lactobacillus plantarum. Avoid anything with Lactobacillus acidophilus because apparently it’s not effective. I wrote an article about this one a few weeks ago so it’s relatively up-to-date, but check with your doc!)

You’re Gonna Have to Poo so Don’t Neglect the Loo

Yes, your foray into the wonders of diarrhea is just beginning! Assume that you’re going to get it at least once. How awful would it be if you had to go through the process while in a gross bathroom?

When you’re apartment hunting (or hotel shopping!), the loo is top priority. The majority of toilets I’ve seen in Peru don’t even HAVE seats so consider yourself ahead of the game if you’ve got one and it’s latched on correctly.

If you just love the apartment, but the bathrooms are dingy, ask your landlord to fix it up before you move in. This is a simple and reasonable request!

When it comes to hotels, ask to see the room before you check in. This is a standard practice here, and no one is offended.

Hey, Gringo, Let’s Be smart! Don’t Eat at That Food Cart!

Adventurous eating is awesome. You cannot truly experience a country without sampling its cuisine.

But please be smart about your food choices. American tourists are already the butt of SO MANY jokes. If y’all keep making me look bad, I’m gonna go “Soy de Canada.”

Go to a nice restaurant and order that guinea pig—don’t eat it off the street.

Avoid anything that’s not cooked or peeled (unless you’re at a really nice place). Salad that’s not washed in a cleaning solution is especially dangerous. #LifeExperience

You’re Feelin’ Kind of Slow, and There’s Grumbling Down Below

Have these on-hand at ALL times: Tums, Pepto and Immodium. Check your purse. Are all three accounted for? What part of havetheseonhandatalltimes did you not understand?!

When Your Stomach’s Feeling Sick, And You Need Help Real Quick

Peruvian pharmacies sell LOTS of medications, including antibiotics, without prescriptions. This is great for travelers because who has time to find/visit a physician while on the move?

But, be warned, the pharmacists at these counters are not highly trained like in the U.S. If you’re buying medication do not expect them to know what you need. Always look up the generic drug name and dosage beforehand. Write it down on a piece of paper, and give it to the pharmacist to avoid any confusion.

Before you leave the pharmacy check to make sure the pills are correct, and keep your receipt. You do not want to accidentally take bad medication.

Don’t Suffer Another Bout, Just Get Up and Throw it Out

Your intestines are on fire. Was it the chicken? That burger? The salad?

If you have any leftovers THROW THEM OUT. For someone like me who absolutely hates waste, this was a problem. But it’s always better to just chuck possible offenders than make yourself (or someone else) sick once again.

When You’re Sitting on the Pot and You Really Think You’ve Got…

Check out this Jezebel article “You’ve Been Pooping All Wrong.” Yup, there’s a right way and a wrong way. And when you have diarrhea, you better poo correctly. Seriously.

If Your Intestines Are on Fire, and the Sitch is Rather Dire

If you’re in pain and losing lots of bodily fluids, go to the hospital. For about $100 they can hook you up to an IV and pump you full of great medications that will take care of your food poisoning problem. It’s much better than waiting it out and potentially hurting yourself.

Got any other Pro Tips? Share ’em with me! Always happy to talk health, prevention and, more specifically, poo.