Deforestation à la carte

"This country so heavily worships paper that I'm surprised you're even allowed to flush your used toilet paper and not have to file it away somewhere for reference."

Photo by Natasha Otrakji

Answer for question 4402.
Have you ever had a penpal or email-pal? How did you find this person? Was it a good experience? Did you get to meet your pal in personal eventually?
In high school I had one in Brazil - a friend from elementary school - and one in Britain. This was back before the Internet, so we sent each other mixed tapes, lengthy letters, photographs, etc. I remember the first time I ever called England; my first thought was that their phones ring funny. On my first trip to Europe, I spent two weeks with the English girl and her father. We ended up not getting along at all like we thought we would, but I do not regret the experience.

More recently, I met someone online and we messaged non-stop for months. This time I jumped on a plane to Morocco and spent 5 weeks traveling with her. Things ended up badly between us, but for entirely different reasons than with the gal in Windsor. I do not regret that experience, either, and feel lucky to have been able to meet such diverse and interesting people throughout the world.


They Tried to Make Me Go to Rehab and I Said, Yes, Yes, Yes

Those of you who have been following for a while know that I have been struggling with alcohol abuse for some time now. For years, I was in denial, claiming that it was just to have fun; then it escalated into something more. A year and a half of alcohol moderation counseling involving a doctor, a social worker, a nurse and a psychoanalyst have finally gotten through to me that it is time to take action. I don't know if I necessarily want to give it up for good, but the only thing I can say about my current situation is that alcohol occupies much too room in my life: it basically structures my day, makes me constantly broke and not do half the things I want to because doing them is taking time away from drinking.

So, about a month ago, I finally told them I would be willing to go into rehab for a while. In France, it generally starts with two weeks in the hospital in case you go into withdrawal and then they send you to a rehabilitation center that they think is best suited to your needs for anywhere from a few weeks to a year. In my case, they thought about possibly sending me to the mountains to one that focuses on sports. That is all yet to be determined.

In the meantime, I had to quit earlier than planned because, quite simply, I can't afford alcohol at the moment and am not about to start stealing to get some. Plus, I had kind of a scary three days at the beginning of last week. I felt dizzy and confused, was sweating all the time, had really wobbly legs and would shake uncontrollably. They at first thought it was some sort of nutrition imbalance and prescribed blood work. Later that afternoon, after I had even had my blood drawn, but before we got the results back, I got a call from the nurse to tell me to absolutely not change my drinking habits until further notice because the doctor said it sounded like withdrawal. I was shaking so badly at the lab that a woman had to hold my arm down so the other one could take the blood. I do have to say, she did an awesome job, there was not a mark on me afterwards. Immediately after that, I went to my friend's shop, had a couple of beers and instantly felt better. The results confirmed that it was withdrawal. I must have changed my habits just enough to where my body didn't understand what was happening.

They wanted to put me on Valium again, but the last time I took Valium, I wound up in the ER for the night because I fucked up and had a few drinks. What I'm on now is basically the same thing but for one molecule's difference. It's purely psychological for me to not want to take Valium again. Suffice it to say, I have nearly made it through the first 72 highly crucial hours. The first two days were easy, today I chain smoked, drank about 15 cups of tea and ate at least a pound of candy because my body is now seriously craving the sugar I was getting from the booze.

Tonight I needed to pick something up from Bart's apartment, so he told me to meet him at the bar to pick up his keys so I could go get it. He got me an Orangina and we chatted for a bit, but my god it was hard sitting at that bar, staring at the countless bottles of booze looking right back at me. It was the first time I had set foot inside a bar since Monday. I resisted temptation, which wasn't all that hard since I don't plan on ending up in the ER again. It wasn't so bad once we moved out onto the terrace, where at least I could smoke and not be staring at shelves of alcohol calling my name. I do not, however, have any plans to start hanging out in bars again anytime soon.

The road ahead is long, but anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

Beauty Products That Come Out of a Goat's Butt

Argan oil is all the rage in France, sort of the equivalent to coconut oil in the U.S. It is produced exclusively in Mogador, in the west of Morocco. This is literally the only place in the world these trees grow, I haven't yet researched why, but I will put myself to the task of finding out. Wikipedia talks about the harvesting process but they fail to mention a crucial element: the fact that argan oil is born out of goats' butts. The goats climb up into the trees and eat the argan and something about their digestive process helps extract the oil. When people harvest it, they basically dig it out of goat poop.

I have recently begun using argan oil and find it hilarious to know that I am putting something that came out of a goat's butt on my face.

How We Carry On
Tomorrow is her 40th birthday. I just spent a fortune to go back to reclaim it as my own. I have lots to say about that trip, but I'm still not ready to tell the tale. Every single person in my life hates her. It has been almost two years, yet I still can't let it go. I h ave never in my life felt such a connection with someone, so I recently pushed her away because I couldn't handle the unreciprocated feelings any longer. I am glad I went to Morocco on my own; I had a lovely time, but when I fall asleep with my security blanket in the form of a Moroccan sweater that still smells of sheep, I fall asleep remembering the time we played hide and seek in the dark of night in the Sahara and I hid in a donkey cart. It's like they say: you can take the girl out of Morocco but you can't take the Morocco out of the girl.

Now all I can do is hold on to those memories because that is all they are.

What To Say?
So, I've been sitting here for days trying to figure out what to write. I've been gone a while. I got my visa, I got my douchebag former employers to fork over a check, I went back to Morocco, and France is trying to get me a job in writing or translation or something. The dude was also a douchebag, but whatever. I'm really sad because I finally started writing again in Marrakech and then it all left me. I really thought I was on a roll, on my way back, but I pretty much just feel like everything I do sucks. Having severe depressive order also sucks and is dragging me down at the moment, but I thought going back to Morocco would inspire me again. Instead, it just ruined my bank account.I know I sound like some whiny privileged white American but when I get my writing legs back, you'll hear all about it.

"Dumbing of Age" Seen Through Hedgehog Eyes
lesbianhedgehog of Age 2014-04-18-secularmedia

A few days ago, my partner in the lifelong pursuit of beer and interesting things to read, bart_calendar presented us with a piece on a webcomic called "Dumbing of Age."

He'd already been going on about this thing for a couple of days before that but I didn't pay a whole lot of attention because I don't generally like comics or graphic novels. Then one night at the bar he mentioned that it was about a super religious home-schooled girl's freshman year of college at "The University of Indiana" and also mentioned that (homo)sexuality is, obviously, a thread throughout the story.

For those of you who do not know, I was born and raised in Indiana, so I became intrigued by this, mostly because I wanted to find out it the story takes place in my home town (which, it does not) and so I gave it a whirl, not expecting to be sucked into this vortex that has taken me down memory lane and reminded me why I worked so hard in high school to get scholarships and get as far away from there as possible. Since I now live in France, I guess I did a pretty good job.

I have now been out nearly half my life and I will gladly shout it from the rooftops. That, however was not always the case. It took me a long time to get to where I am today. I chose to share this particular panel of the strip because I was laughing at the idea of "Hymmel the Hymnal," a singing songbook, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks: David Willis is not even making most of this stuff up. Like Joyce, the upbeat Bible thumper, I grew up in a nondenominational Christian church.

The Churchmouse Choir

The Praise Kids, the singing songbook and his church mouse choir all really exist. I was one of the church mice and was even one of the singing books once. It's amazing the things we choose to block from our memories. I had completely forgotten about these annual performances in front of the congregation and it took me a good 10 hours of reading the strip to put two and two together: that I was practically Joyce. Ok, I wasn't quite as extreme as she is but I initially thought I shared in many of her beliefs such as no premarital sex but THAT I came to figure out was because I was just against sex with boys period.

Everyone in my home town went to church, some more wholeheartedly than others, but everyone went. In high school I dated boys because I thought that was what I was supposed to do, although I had had a nagging thought in the back of my head for years telling me that's not what I wanted. In order to quell the nagging, I reminded myself that I was a good Christian girl and that I couldn't possibly be gay. That didn't work. Once I got 1000 miles from "home" and into the "secular community" I began to listen to that voice.

Even within the confines of a small liberal arts college, it took me a good two years to accept who I really am. I was still going to church and up until that point in my life, all the religious doctrine I had ever heard stated that homosexuality is a sin. It took me 8 years to tell my parents and, even then, it was kind an accidental slip.

I guess my point in all of this is that, although the story is far from finished, I am enjoying remembering what those first months of college were like for a gal from rural Indiana and that, no, Mr. Willis is not making most of this stuff up.

#JeSuisPolicier: It Seems the French and American Police Forces Have Swapped Places
The French police force is traditionally not very well respected in France because they participated in aiding the Nazis deport Jews and other "non-desirable" citizens during the nation's collaboration in WWII. The police are generally seen as those who inhibit freedom. Cobblestone-throwing against authority figures has a very long history in this country, from the Revolution to the Paris Commune of 1871 to May 1968.

I loved and lived with a French riot cop for four years. The stories of public disdain she came home with were astounding. This past week, three police officers, one of whom was Muslim: #JeSuisAhmed, were shot and killed. Police are sometimes killed in the line of duty here, not nearly as often as in the US, but it still happens but this is the first time the French people are finally starting to have respect for their line of work. The public now seems to be rallying behind those who serve and protect.

Now that the French police are starting to get recognized for what they do, I find the American flag on this officer's sweatshirt ironic in light of everything that has been happening in the US lately. It feels like the two nations have swapped their opinions of their respective law enforcement bodies.

#JeSuisCharlie: Uneasy In Montpellier (France, not Vermont)
In case you don't have a television or cannot access the internet, in which case good luck reading this, you probably know that these past several days have been a shitshow in France: a killing spree targeting a magazine promoting freedom of speech fueled by jihadist intention, a second shooting targeting a police officer in the suburban trains, both parties running around Northern France armed with AK-47s and an RPG thrown into the mix. The tension on Day 2 throughout the nation was already incredibly high since there were multiple attacks and no one had been caught. Day 3 both parties involved decided to take hostages within hours of each other, which obviously only heightened the tension already felt throughout the country.

Day 3 late afternoon: Enter DrunkExpatWriter who came tearing into the shop where I was helping out a few hours after the second group of hostages was taken to tell us that they were clearing out downtown Montpellier because someone had taken a hostage from one of the city's busiest shopping streets. Less than an hour before that, there was a bomb threat at the train station. Virtually the entire city was in a panic with posts on Facebook to stay home and away from the city center. That combined with two hostage situations already in progress in Paris, I can assure you, one of France's biggest party cities was a ghost town on a Friday night. No one dared leave the house.

It turns out that the hostage situation here did not have anything to do with what was going on in Paris but for the first hour, no one had any way to know that. The police, who had been on red alert since Wednesday, immediately evacuated the area but no one knew exactly why. It was a reasonable assumption to think that the situation was linked to Paris. In the end it was just some random maniac running around with a gun, which oddly, people here seem to find reassuring. I don't really see how that's any better other than their desire and will to kill may have been slightly less than those who were hunted for 48 hours. It's still not very reassuring though.

France's reaction to the attacks has been on two different levels. Within hours of the news about Charlie Hebdo, someone coined #JeSuisCharlie, as many of you may know. The magazine developed its trademark over the years, at first referencing the popular Charlie Brown in connection with the publication's penchant for publishing editorial cartoons and also settling on the final name after Charles "Charlie" De Gaulle's death in 1970.

Solidarity in France is a big thing. In fact, it is practically their mantra, which is why they are on strike half the time. It is a socialist country where they believe in fighting for everyone's rights and sticking together. The catchphrase #JeSuisCharlie makes perfect sense in this context and is the French way of stating that we are all equal to express our freedom of speech, the apparent catalyst to this event, and that those who perished could have been any one of us.

Montpellier is a city known for its parties. People here like to drink and partake in other forms of inebriation in quantities I have never seen anywhere before and I lived in Paris, a city more than 20 times its size for 7 years. What I have witnessed in the past few days is astounding. After the initial attacks, there was a running joke that 66 million people had a hangover the next day. People have been drinking. A lot. It's hard to balance the desire to stand united against adversity and the desire to drown our silent fears.

Tomorrow throughout the nation is the marche républicaine, a march to standup for our rights regardless of race, religion or color. Let us stand strong and united in this tumultuous time.



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