Wednesday, May 06, 2009


It was a warm December night at the RC12 refugee camp somewhere near the southern Chad-Sudan border. The sun was beginning to creep down the sky as Joseph leaned against one of the scattered temporary floodlight poles near the edge of the camp and watched Ben play soccer. The breeze blowing through the valley stirred up the dust in little tornadoes on the slope lifting the southwestern region of tents up slightly above the rest of the camp. Because of the higher elevation, this is where the Red Cross housed most of their volunteers and gave out rations.

For fear of increasingly assertive attacks from the Sudanese Janjiweed militias into Chad, that corner was covered with camouflage mesh canopies and none of the brown tents in the camp bore the Red Cross insignia…that red cross may as well be a target for any militia hoping to disrupt relief efforts in the area. The Red Cross manned their tents two to three days out of the week, and the Peace Corps, which gave the soccer ball and some other small toys, checked in weekly. Though the help wasn’t much, it was still help—and that’s all that mattered.

To the north, there was a water reservoir where the women would gather every Tuesday morning to gossip, sing and wash what clothes they could in a common basin before the limited wash water became too soiled to actually do any good. Their chatter sounded like a thousand larks. Joseph couldn’t imagine what they could talk about that vigorously for that long…then again, what else was there to do in this camp?

The tents that composed the camp seemed to represent the lives of their occupants: scattered in each direction, tattered, torn and missing various parts. The rake that had brought all of these leaves together had not been gentle or kind. Joseph had brought what was left of his family three years ago to this place from Darfur. To be anything but a Muslim in Sudan, especially Darfur, may as well be a death sentence waiting to be carried out.
Ben, his only son, had been a lucky kid since birth. In the war ravaged Darfur, Ben’s mother, Sarah, died in a raid on their village. Joseph had been out in the fields, and could not reach his beloved wife in time. Ben would have died as well had it not been for the Red Cross doctor who appeared like a guardian angel in the aftermath. Ben lost his arm that day. The bones in his forearm were splintered beyond repair, and with no proper hospital for miles, the doctor was forced to take the arm at the elbow. Had Ben not survived the surgery, Joseph would have followed his wife and son soon after. Joseph had been devastated by Sarah’s sudden departure but at the same time envious. Envious that she no longer was oppressed, no longer had worries of waking up to a gun to her head or a knife at her throat. Envious that she no longer woke up each morning and wondered if she would survive to go to bed that night.

Joseph had moved on, or at least tried to for Ben’s sake. He remarried so that Ben would have a mother in his life, he moved to Chad so Ben could have a chance to escape the hell of Darfur—his whole existence was for Ben now.

Joseph glanced back at the children. Ben passed the ball down the makeshift pitch, and his teammate scored. Raising his arms, he ran to the boy that scored and hugged him. They looked at each other, laughed and ran to the other end of their field. His missing arm meant nothing here, he was treated just like the rest of the children. Disfigurement from the militias was commonplace. Ben’s smile was electric—and contagious. Joseph found himself smiling. Ben was a special boy. In the midst of all of the pain and suffering, he found a reason to be happy, to smile.

Just having that soccer ball was a reason to give thanks. The camp was one of the more fortunate ones. Being in Chad, the Janjaweed hadn’t yet discovered this little group of tents lost in the desert, this gathering of defiant ‘infidels’ as they were called in the Khartoum regions of the north.

There was movement by the Red Cross tents. Volunteers were setting up tables and were lugging out heavy pots. Evening rations were being prepared for distribution.
Supper, yet another miracle that was given to the refugees here.

“Ben! Time for dinner. You can come back out later if it’s still light out.”

ø ø ø

Justin was almost finished wolfing down his second steak; oblivious to the looks of disgust he occasionally received from Hope when he crammed so many fries into his mouth that he was very well close to gagging. Hope gagged for him.

Being grounded for the umpteenth time, Hope sat glaring a hole alternately through the center of her untouched food and various table mates, occasionally breaking her statue-like posture to reach for a sip of water or adjust a stray hair.

Tim, the newest man in a seemingly endless line of boyfriends after Bill (Hope’s father) walked out, sat ignoring the half eaten medium steak and cold fries before him waiting politely for everyone to finish. He glanced at Hope and smiled, she grimaced, flipped her hair and looked away.

Molly couldn’t stand the silence anymore. In the 20 minutes since the four of them sat down, hardly a word had been said. After three weeks of casually dating, Molly finally had asked Tim over to dinner to meet her children—and they hadn’t said a word.

“Justin how was your Saturday? I haven’t seen you all day”

“If vath okay I gueth, Tham and a fe-”

Hope curled her upper lip and grimaced. “Finish chewing you pig,” she said as she replaced her water glass.

Swallowing, Justin took a drink as well. Continuing, “Shut up Hope, it’s not like you know what eating is like anyway.”

“Oh, you little bra-“

“Justin! That was rude. And Hope’s right, don’t talk with your mouth full.”

Rolling his eyes at Hope, Justin turned back to Molly. “Anyway, Sam and a few of us went to American Adventure and raced go karts.” Leaning back in his chair folding his arms behind his head and smirked. “I won two races.”

Hope flipped her hair over her shoulder and crossed her arms. “Ugh, that place is such a dump.”

Justin raised an eyebrow and sat up in his chair. “Yeah? Sort of like Gloria’s house…but you can’t ever seem to leave there on time.” Cocking his head, he said, “Oh, I forgot, how was the Next Top Model Marathon today? I’m so sad I missed it”

“Mom, Justin is the one that tore up the siding in the back yard, not some guy vandalizing our house.”


“Well Hope and her friends are the ones that broke the ceramic goose on the mantle.”


“Justin sneaks out every Wednesday night to play craps down the street.”

“Hope drank all of the vodka in the cabinet and filled the bottle back up with water.”

“THAT’S ENOUGH!!” Molly pointed at the stairs and looked at Justin and Hope in turn. “Both of you. Rooms right now! You will both be hearing from me later!”

Justin rocketed out of his chair, upending the fries on his way up. He swept the fries off his polo, leaving bits of salt all down the front. “You know, I don’t even know why we dressed up. It’s not like he’ll last long anyway.”

Molly threw her napkin down on the table and pointed again. “ROOM! NOW!”

A furrowed brow, squinted eyes and pursed lips was Justin’s answer as he turned and bounded up the carpeted stairs two at a time. At the landing, he turned left and disappeared with a slam of the door. The Yield sign hanging there fell and toppled down to the landing, the clatter muted by the carpet.

Tim cleared his throat. “Hey, Molly, it’s ok if I use your bathroom right?”

Molly reached for his hand. “Yes, I’m sorry, it’s past the stairs on the left.”

Tim got up and walked briskly past the stairs and to the left.

Molly watched him go and turned to Hope. “I said both of you”

Hope flung her arms into the air with an incredulous look. “What did I do? I’ve been stuck in the house all day! I can’t use the phone or watch TV and you made me suspend my Facebook for the weekend!” Hope looked down the hall and back to Molly. “I got so bored I even did all of those ridiculous chores you made me do to ‘Get ready for Tim and the dinner tonight,’” she said loudly.

Leaning forward Molly frowned and cocked her head. “As I remember, you kept me up all night Thursday night wondering where the hell you were.”

Hope shook her head. “I already told you! Gloria and I lost track of time,” she said as she looked away.

Molly threw herself back in her chair with her own incredulous look. “Hope, you came home at 2 – a – m on a school night! You didn’t call or tell me where you were, and when you left all you did was shrug and tell me to mind my own business.”

Hope looked Molly right in the eyes. “It’s true! Mind your own damn business every once and a while!”

Molly hit the table so hard it shook the glasses and stood up. Leaning over the table with one hand amidst the glasses, she held up her index finger. “ONE! I am your mother. TWO!” Molly held up a second finger. “That makes it my damn business to know where you are going, who you are going with and when you will be home. THREE!” A third finger. “Don’t ever tell me to mind my own business. This is my house and you can and will live by my rules!” Molly sat back down. “You won’t be getting Facebook back for a while,”

Hope looked up. “What?!”

Molly continued. “and you aren’t going to homecoming with Mike, or with anyone for that matter…you’re going to be here that night.”

“But I’ve already got my dress and he has dinner reservations at the Pier!”

Molly tilted her head. “It’s a dress Hope. Wear it some other time. And reservations can be cancelled.”

Looking at the table, Hope stood up slowly, ensuring that her skirt stayed just so. Pushing her chair out, she turned and walked up the stairs slowly, surely, silently. She too reached the landing, stepped carefully over the misplaced sign, and turned right, disappearing behind her own door.

Molly put her head in her hands. Hot tears began welling up, but she held them back. She had company still. She took a deep breath, stood up and walked around the table to Justin’s now empty seat and reached for the bowl the fries had previously occupied, missed, fumbled and finally clutched it.

Tim, upon hearing the door shut upstairs opened the bathroom door slowly and walked back to the table. With a sigh, he picked up his plate and walked to Hope’s side emptying his leftovers onto her plate and stacked them.

“They’re not always this bad you know.” Molly wiped her eyes with a spare napkin.

“I hope not for your sake.” Tim reached across the table, avoiding the greasy platter in the middle, and grabbed the other two plates.

“Don’t you remember being that age?” Molly set down the repopulated bowl of crinkle fries.

“My brother and I fought all the time.”

“I guess.” Tim shrugged. “I just don’t remember my fights with my brother being so cruel,” He tossed a stray fry into the bowl.

Molly reached over and pushed in Justin’s chair. Her shirt exposed her belly for a second before she pulled the hem back down. It was fairly warm in the room, but she had goose bumps.

Taking another deep breath—in the nose…out the mouth—Molly reclaimed the bowl of fries and turned toward the kitchen.

Tim emptied the plate waste into the platter. “Well, I guess every sibling pair has a different temperament.” He smiled, picked up the platter and plates and followed Molly to the kitchen.
She pulled the cabinet door under the kitchen open and slid the trash can out. She emptied the bowl and turned away. “Yeah.”

“It’s over now though.” Tim emptied the platter into the garbage. Molly was still standing in the same spot, hugging the bowl as if it were a small child.

“I remember when Justin was 3. He fell off his trycicle and cut his knee. I heard him crying. When I came outside Hope was holding him and waiting for me. They used to care for each other.”

Tim slid the bowl from her arms and placed everything in the sink. “They still do. It’s funny how they show it.” Tim put the stopper in the drain, started the hot water and squeezed some green soap into the sink.

“But, you know,” Tim turned. “I’m not sure if your kids need another source of stress at the moment.”

Molly leaned against the counter and with her palms on the edge. “What do you mean?”

Tim sidled up next to her against the bar with his arms crossed. “Molly, let’s be honest here.” He nodded towards the stairs. “I don’t think they took too kindly to me being here.”
“Well yeah, but” Molly hugged her chest, “it’s the first time they met you and it was a long day.”

Tim put his hands in his pockets and looked away. “I think there was a little bit more to it than that.” He walked over to the sink and turned off the water. Turning back, he said, “Hey, let’s face it. It’s been what three weeks?” He looked at Molly for confirmation.

Her eyes were already red. She sniffed and wiped her eyes as she nodded.

“It was fun, but it’s pretty clear to me that there are some issues you’ve got to take care of here. I can’t deal with all of that baggage right now.”

Molly looked down and after a second, back up. “You don’t even want to try?”

“Look. I had quite a bit of time to think about this in the bathroom. I’m about to get really busy at work. I don’t feel like I would be as available to you as a boyfriend should if you had another one of these bouts with your kids. You would want to talk to someone about it and I just won’t be able to be there.”

Molly traced the grouts in the kitchen tiles and looked out the window. The red and yellow leaves in the yard were blowing in a chaotic mess. The yard seemed to have turned into a mess of red, yellow and orange. “That just seems like a cop out to me Tim.”

“Take it how you will, but it doesn’t change anything. Your kids need you more than you need a boyfriend.” Tim crossed the kitchen one more time and drew Molly to his chest, surrounding her with his arms and whispered into her ear, “Get things right with your kids and then we can talk.”

Tim walked to the door and turned. “You have my number, call me when you’re ready.”
He opened the door and closed it behind him. His steps became more quiet as he walked to his car. The car door made a muted thud as it closed. The engine came to life with a purr.
It got quiet as the car left. The only sound to be heard in the house was the occasional sob as Molly sat on the floor and cried.

ø ø ø

I made a few changes from War and Peace

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Lois and Clark have nothing on this!

So I just had a major break through in my web-authoring career.

All semester, I have been working with PC to make a site for Good Hart Bible Church. Until now, I was using HTML and CSS to make the 'twas a very basic site. I then implemented JavaScript in a Photo Gallery. I used LighBox, so it's not like I all the coding from scratch...that would be time and life-consuming...but I did have to go through the code and adapt the JS set to what I was doing. That was an interesting experience to say the least.

All was going according to plan...until PC decided that he wanted a different color scheme...2 days before a module was due anda week a half before the final site was due. I had to come up with a new color scheme and logo layout in 2 days...this process usually takes weeks.

But I did it and rolled with the new stuff. I was doing pretty good too. I then stumbled upon my next hurdle: making the contact forms requested at the beginning of the year. This was all in PHP and, up until tonight, I had absolutely no experience with PHP. Luckily, I had gotten a really cool program for Macs called Rapidweaver a few weeks earlier from JMullens. It's like DreamWeaver, but it practically does it all for you. One of the many things it does is make PHP forms that spit out emails to a person...exactly what I wanted to do.

I created a site in RW and built a Form. The only problem with RW is that it mothers the user a little bit too much. It took me forever to figure out how to view the workable code of the form and figure out which files I actually needed out of the seemingly endless files RW created for my faux-site. Finally I did and I set off on my quest to discover the secrets of PHP forms.

Only then did I realize that AFS does not allow PHP to function. I have discovered the limits of AFS...and that is PHP! Desperate, I scrapped my brain for any possible solution to this problem.

Remembering that JMullens has his own server which hosts sites for some extra clients, I called him in a panic. He was able to set me up with my own partition and FTP where I was able to host and test my PHP forms. It worked beautifully.

About 20 cups of coffee, 1 Menna's Break, seemingly endless headaches and 1,000,000 screams later, I am happy to say that I have successfully made 2 functioning forms that send emails containing the feedback of submitted forms to a predetermined eMail address. The forms have contingencies for successful submissions, failure to complete all required fields, a SPAM deterrent, check boxes indicating a users want to stay anonymous, a telephone call or email reply and a reset button if the user needs to start over. All of this was done while adhering to the template used throughout the rest of the site. Aside from the FavIcon changes and the change of URL (which cannot be helped), the user cannot tell the difference between the form pages and the rest of the site.

To most any other web author, I'm sure this is nothing new and I'm basically telling the world that I discovered electricity today, but to me, this is a monumental occasion. I learned basic PHP on my own...that's pretty freakin good

It's this time of year

Ok, so it really is that time of year yet again...pulling hair because there is so much to do, wondering where the last 9 months of my life went, wondering how the hell I'm going to get everything know, finals week.

It's been fun and I have learned so much in the past year here at State. I'm ready for it to end, but at the same time, I wish it would keep going. Alas, it really is down to the last week before RHA kicks me out of my room and I go to a better place (Abbot and Division). </ nostqalgia >

Now, for the final push