Shrill: Notes from a loud woman

If you have a vagina, you should read this book. Also, if you have a penis, you should read this book. If you have something in between or have added or subtracted to it, you should also read this book.

Because this is a book that everyone should read. Shrill: Notes from a loud woman by Lindy West.


As an American, my country embarrasses me. I left the United States 13 months ago and while I should have seen this coming, I lived in my own privileged bubble. And now, it appalls me. And I hate to admit it, but I’m glad I’m gone. I know it was the easy way out. Which makes this book and the conversations Lindy West is having all the more important.

Instead of trying to review this book and tell you what I loved and why I loved it, I’m merely going to let Lindy’s words speak for themselves. And while I think these excerpts are powerful in and of themselves, putting them in the context of the book in its entirety makes them breathtaking.

On being fat:

“So what do you do when you’re too big, in a world where bigness is cast not only as aesthetically objectionable, but also as a moral failing? You fold yourself up like origami, you make yourself smaller in other ways, you take up less space with your personality, since you can’t with your body.”

“If you really want change to happen, if you really want to ‘help’ fat people, you need to understand that shaming an already-shamed population is, well, shameful.”

“As a woman, my body is scrutinized, policed, and treated as a public commodity. As a fat woman, my body is also lampooned, openly reviled, and associated with moral and intellectual failure. My body limits my job prospects, access to medical care and fair trails, and—the one thing Hollywood movies and Internet trolls most agree on—my ability to be loved.”

On being a woman:

“Women matter. Women are half of us. When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time—that moves the rudder of the world, it steers humanity toward conservatism and walls and the narrow interests of men, and it keeps us adrift in waters where women’s safety and humanity are secondary to men’s pleasure and convenience.”

“The most significant source of my adolescent period anxiety was the fact that, in America in 2016 (and far more so in 1993), acknowledging the completely normal and mundane function of most uteruses is still taboo…The taboo is so strong that while we’ve all seen swimming pools of blood shed in horror movies and action movies and even on the news, when a woman ran the 2015 London Marathon without a tampon, photos of blood spotting her running gear made the social media rounds to near universal disgust. The blood is the same—the only difference is where it’s coming from. The disgust is at women’s natural bodies, not at blood itself.”

“My abortion was a normal medical procedure that got tangled up in my bad relationship, my internalized fatphobia, my fear of adulthood, my discomfort with talking about sex; and one that, because of our culture’s obsession with punishing female sexuality and shackling women to the nursery and the kitchen, I was socialized to approach with shame and describe only in whispers. But the procedure itself was the easiest part. Not being able to have one would have been the real trauma.”

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Halfway Heaven

I know…it’s been an atrociously long time since my last post. But I’ve been busy! We had our Mid-Service Conference (and medical – all good) in Addis for a week and a half, and then I went on a journey up north for another week and a half. I’m finally back at site and I’m exhausted. It’s going to take a few days – or a week! – to get a blog ready about Northern Ethiopia, so be patient.

In the meantime, I know you were wondering why I hadn’t posted a book review lately (and by that I mean I’ve only raved about two books so far, both by Cheryl Strayed). But a friend recently mailed me a book called Halfway Heaven by Melanie Thernstrom (along with American candy – just in case you guys were wondering what a good friend looks like!) and I haven’t been able to put it down.

The book is nonfiction and it’s about a murder at Harvard that took place in 1995. An Ethiopian immigrant, Sinedu Tadesse, killed her roommate, Trang Phuong Ho, also an immigrant from Vietnam. The book is fascinating because the author (an investigative journalist) travels to Ethiopia to try and understand Sinedu’s upbringing and how that might have played a role in the tragedy.

I did little (to no!) research/reading about Ethiopia before I came here, because I didn’t want to come in with preconceived notions. Instead, it’s been a “learn as you go” experience. But now that I’ve been here 16 months, it’s interesting to compare my views of Ethiopia with others who have been here.

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Wild: from lost to found

You know that feeling you get when you read exactly the right book at exactly the right time? I got that feeling this week while reading Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. She’s a Minnesotan writer and I’d wanted to read this book for months, but I was just too busy in the months leading up to my move to Ethiopia.

And then I got here and had an urge to read every dystopian novel I had brought with, telling myself that Wild would be the perfect first book to read once I was on my own at my permanent site. I was right. I felt such a kinship with the author even though we went on incredibly different journeys over 15 years apart. It was still comforting knowing that we probably shopped at the same REI store in Minneapolis and that neither one of us could ever have guessed how profoundly we would be changed by our adventures.

There were so many passages that stayed with me long after I turned the page, but the ones I listed below are phrases that have actually passed through my own mind at some point in these last three months in Ethiopia. So if you want a glimpse into my head, here are my thoughts, put together much better than I could have ever done:

“It was a world I’d never been to and yet had known was there all along, one I’d staggered to in sorrow and confusion and fear and hope. A world I thought would both make me into the woman I knew I could become and turn me back into the girl I’d once been. A world that measured two feet wide and 2,663 miles long. A world called the Pacific Crest Trail.”

I found this especially fitting because I just survived PCT – Peace Corps Training. And though our PCTs took roughly the same amount of time, they were vastly different experiences. But it wasn’t until I read these words that it really sunk in why Peace Corps had become so important to me: I thought it could help turn back the clock to a time when life was simpler. A time when I could trust easily, love easily, a carefree time when I didn’t have so many questions. I joined Peace Corps because I wanted to help others, but also because I felt like I had lost myself over the last few years and thought that I could find myself again if I was given a fresh start.


“At which point, at long last, there was the actual doing it, quickly followed by the grim realization of what it meant to do it, followed by the decision to quit doing it because doing it was absurd and pointless and ridiculously difficult and far more than I expected doing it would be and I was profoundly unprepared to do it. And then there was the real live truly doing it. The staying and doing it, in spite of everything.”

This is essentially what passed through my mind on repeat my first two weeks in Ethiopia: this is ridiculously difficult and I’m unprepared. I had romanticized what it would be like to be in Peace Corps and I was confronted with more hardships than I initially thought I could handle. Luckily, I met some incredible people along the way who helped me see that I was strong enough to stay and see this through.


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