November 2008 Reflection

“I wish I could live life in horizontal,” I moaned to Erin Rhoda, a fellow Mitchell, while lying in bed with a stomach bacterial infection that seemed to have a keen sense of direction. Over my three days in bed, I tried many things to keep myself entertained in this horizontal bliss: reading, detailing a “When I Get Better” to-do list (without a pen and paper…a disaster), counting the number of columns on my radiator, trying to find the perfect word to describe the color of my walls, making up scenarios for the drunken screams right below my window, playing the “Is that Indigestion or Do I Need to Vomit?” game… As you can see, the past seventy-two hours have been action-packed and thrilling!

Needless to say, life in horizontal has been drab inside my apartment room, despite its spacious comfort and lovely views of Trinity. But it has given me time to think – a dangerous thing, some would say!

I came to Ireland with no expectations. Culture books can only capture a fraction of the truth of a place. Regardless of what I read, however, I was convinced that this country, which, to me, represented a new beginning and new stage in my life, would be nothing short of wonderful. And I’m glad to write that the one expectation I had has been met – brilliantly.

First, let’s start with the Mitchell group: the most caring, unique, and incredibly accomplished group of men and women I’ve ever had the honor of meeting and forming friendships with. In a short amount of time, we’ve created a bond that extends from drinks at the pub to girls’ weekends in Wexford to maintaining a support system for any matter. Adam and I have supported each other’s labors through National Science Foundation grant writing for our PhDs; many a great conversation about the Indiana capital punishment system has been shared between Andrea and me. Vicki, our Naval Academy graduate, has given me a perspective on the US election that I never would have considered: “Whom would you elect as your next boss?” And who would have thought that just 9 weeks after meeting Erin, she’d insist on cleaning up the stomach flu vomit from my bathroom because I was too weak to wipe it up myself? That’s not just friendship – that’s the Mitchell bond.

And let’s not forget about my classmates in the M.Sc. Environmental Sciences program. On the first day of class, I met eleven new classmates who would eventually become another great support system and a consortium of craic-finders here at Trinity. Waking up for 9 am chemical analysis class is just a bit easier because I know Barrie will be there cracking jokes about …well, everything, and Aoife and Cathy will be the voices of reason in the back corner when the lecture seems to be going off track. Lorraine will always accompany you to the Java City when you’re in the mood for a mocha and Irene, our physicist, will ask the lecturer the question that everyone has on their minds. We’ve been literally knee deep in Tolka Estuary mud, sorted through samples that smelled like rotten eggs, stayed in the labs long hours measuring milligrams of this and moles of that, and because of it, we’ve celebrated together every Friday after a big project is due. It’s my other family here in Ireland, and I’ve been so thrilled that they’ve taught me the lingo and accepted me as a friend who just happens to be from America.

Not everything got off to a great start here, though, and I’m happy to say that it was nearly unavoidable, so please don’t look into this trying to place blame. The Mitchells had arrived back at their universities after our orientation weekend, and in our exhausted states, Erin and I quickly decided that going to bed early was the best option. However, nearly two minutes after we said our ‘good night’ to each other, I politely banged on Erin’s door to show her what I just discovered all over my body: over 200 mosquito-like bites. When she opened the door, she went into “Mom Mode” (as I call it) and searched through her medicine bag for anything to soothe the itchiness (she’s been to Ghana…of course she had some remedy for this!). We tried to think of explanations: allergic reaction? mosquitoes? bed bugs? I’m sure you’re thinking: “Bed bugs! Aren’t those a thing of the past?” Unfortunately, due to the increase in travel throughout the world, the frequency of bed bug incidents are on the rise. But, no fear: only about 50% of people who are bitten actually show signs, making these bugs difficult to track and exterminate. If you have sensitive skin like me, the chances of showing off your glamorous bites are pretty good.

I slept on the other bed in my room, which Lara Janson, another Mitchell, had slept on just prior to our Mitchell orientation. (Unfortunately, Lara called me days later explaining the same symptoms to me; she, too, had been consumed by my room’s bed bugs!) Nothing could be done until the morning when the Accommodations Office was open. However, when I strolled in at 9 am showing off my bites, immediate action was taken. I said good-bye to my belongings which would be stored at -40ºC for 48 hours. I then said hello to €300 to purchase new clothes and toiletries for the next three days. My room was quarantined and I was moved to a different dorm for a week. My saving grace was prescription-only antihistamine tablets (probably made for horses because of their incredible size); these turned me into a normal person who happened to have 200 bites all over her body that were more potent than mosquito bites. During this time, I was even asked out on a date by a very handsome Irish ambulance driver, so maybe bed bugs can work for you too!

Since I’ve been here, pleasure reading has been a constant companion to my studies. I just finished Alice Sebold’s Lucky, as well as David Sedaris’s Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. Both have become instant favorites, obviously for very different reasons, given their content. I’ve also had the pleasure of babysitting three lovely girls of one of our benefactors, Lawrence Flavin, formerly of Quinlan Private. When I was putting them to bed, they were asking me about the stock market crash in America; I told the girls that I certainly wished the American economic situation was a fairytale. But, as Erin would describe him, our beacon of light and hope for the future has come – Barack Obama. The Mitchells and our guests had the privilege of attending the US Embassy Election Night party at the Guinness Storehouse. I’m not sure I want to see Wolf Blizter’s face at 100x magnification again on a big screen, but the excitement in the Storehouse was palpable…as confirmed by the incredible amount of lager that was consumed that night.

What’s my favorite thing about Ireland? It’s not the cobblestones, or the buildings, or the accents (although these all are close seconds). Ireland is its people, and they’re lovely, and warm, and welcoming (except at the bank during lunch hour). And to appreciate this isle, I can’t live life horizontally, which means I’ve got to kick this stomach flu to the curb and get back to being vertical…it’s the only way Dublin operates!

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