Return of dreams

As far back as I can remember, dreams came easily to me. Every night, beginning in early childhood, I would land in a vivid scenario with a well-developed  plot and few if any fantastic elements. As a lonely child, I dreamed of having different parents and living in a house with a white-tiled bathroom, a happy mother and a VCR. I also dreamed of burned farmland and fishermen drowning in beer-colored waves.

In my teens and early twenties, dreaming became a hazard of my field of study, and then of my profession. My mind began constructing my dreams of whatever I read, watched or agonized over during the day. When I was studying the UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for my international law class, I was shot at point-blank range by paramilitaries and bled to death on my grandmother’s favorite rug. When I was working in Bosnia, I stood trial for war crimes and squirmed under the judgmental gaze of tribunal interns. During the nights of my time resettling refugees in Upstate New York, I was recruited into an Afghan civil war militia and froze to death alone in a bombed-out building during the winter of 1994.

Happy dreams were few and far between then, but compensated for their infrequency by brilliantly outshining anything I had experienced in my waking life. They fulfilled not only personal-life wishes for romantic love and belonging, but also desires for large-scale, history-turning progress. In one shimmering dream, I attended the ceremony marking Bosnia’s integration into the European Union.

My dreams stopped for the first time early this year, when I moved to Afghanistan to work. Sleep became a pool of black quicksand I fell into at night and during long car rides. It became an off switch. Instead of feeling relieved, I was disturbed. Reality had finally overtaken my imagination. My hands and feet touched the places I had visited so many times in my mind. I picked up old shells from the floor of the building I succumbed to hypothermia in as a teenage militiaman.

About a month ago, the dreams returned at full volume with the strong antibiotics I began ingesting to reclaim my body from two raging bacterial infections. Now, I dream mostly about the forking paths before me, and along them the alternate futures that share a single commonality: they all remind me that life is short and impatient, and this will be another winter of hard choices.

Inspiration for this post courtesy of Natalia Antonova, who just wrote a lovely little post about sleeping and dreaming during turbulent times.

Dreams and Nightmares

I’ve had extremely vivid, plot-driven dreams for as long as I can remember. This means I get to experience wonderful fantasies, but also terrible ones.

The past few nights, I’ve had nightmares.

In one, I am standing in an underground room with no windows, fluorescent lighting, and dark blue carpeting on the walls. There is a conference table in the middle of the room, and people are standing around it. A meeting of some sort has just ended. I am standing in a corner, by myself, arms wrapped around my chest. Through a speaker, I can hear the sounds of the outside. Birds, people talking, kids shouting, cars, music.

Suddenly, there’s a soft whoosh. Then silence. The kind of silence that does not exist in the real world, except for the profoundly deaf.

Everyone in the room looks up, as if the ceiling knows something, and then at each other.

A feeling of resigned dread rises up from inside me. So, it’s here, I think.

Now, I’m on a plane. Fading light pours in through the windows, and I gaze out into the same sherbet sunset that wall-papered my remote childhood.

The plane tilts and the view changes. There it is, hanging in the horizon, the ultimate symbol of irreversible mistakes:  the mushroom cloud.

Bits and pieces

I’m in the very early stages of planning a short documentary about refugees resettled in my city. It’s an extra project I didn’t expect to be doing this spring, but I think I can squeeze it in, probably where sleep is supposed to go in my schedule. Maybe I should give up blogging. Wait, no, blogging keeps me sane and helps me organize my thoughts.


Here’s an example of how living and working abroad in a development/human rights protection/post-conflict situation changes how you view the world:

Every time I see a black H2 Hummer cut off a city bus here, I don’t think: “Overcompensating suburban dad,” I think, “Local arms smuggler?”


And speaking of overcompensating, I checked my spam filter today, as I do every once in a while to make sure no work emails got lodged there by mistake, and saw a penis-enlargement advertisement with the subject line: WOMEN WILL BE YOUR RESIGNED SLAVES!

Um, wow. FAIL.