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Leveret in the Corn

November 16, 2012

By Gemma de Choisy


My backpack has been to Uganda. (I haven’t)

The TSA stickers on my Kelty trail pack are stamped ABB – Addis Ababba – that means John must have had a layover in Ethiopia before flying back to the States from Uganda last Spring. John is the husband of a friend, Keisha, whom I met  during the year I moved to Virginia, a place I had never been before. I moved south right after graduating from college, right before I picked up a copy of Eula Biss’s Notes from No Man’s Land at a Barnes and Noble in the only mall worth shopping at in Roanoke.

John and Keisha are both back in Uganda now, saving mothers’ and babies’ lives with nonprofit health care, photographing and filming, but my backpack is lying on my kitchen floor, empty. It’s used to being that way. I got it as an early graduation gift in 2010, and it stayed like that for what feels like forever: unused, pristine. “I’ll hike when I get out of school,” I said but I never got around to it.

On Saturday, my backpack is going to Australia. (This time, I’m traveling with it.)


I’m not the only one leaving the US for Australia on Saturday, I’m one of eleven students in the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program who will fly into Melbourne on Monday, in preparation for the 2012 Bedell NonfictionNOW conference, hosted by RMIT.

The conference will run from Wednesday November 21 to Saturday November 24. Apart from attending the event and mingle with other writers I get to contribute to the conference blog, thanks to a staggeringly generous donation from Barbara Bedell.

Dear Ms. Bedell, next Thursday on Thanksgiving, at the NFN rooftop barbeque, reflecting on the panels on Radio Nonfiction and Contemporary approaches to writing Memoir, I will be thanking you and all philanthropists like you. Because yours is a gift I can’t begin to appraise.


Last week, it rained for six straight days in Iowa City. In Melbourne, they had sun. I have only three cities programmed in my phone’s weather app: the city I live in (today: 37°F and sunny), the town my dad lives in (Glastonbury: 40°F and soggy), and the city I’m going to.

It’s 19°C and cloudy in Melbourne today. On Monday, the forecast is for 21°C and a cloudless sky. On Tuesday, it will be 28°C.


To Pack and Wear:

2 skirts

1 pair of shorts

3 T-shirts

1 dress

Dr. Bronner’s soap

SPF 75 sunblock

mascara, lipstick (red)

To Carry:

College sweatshirt

Laptop and charger

2 notebooks, mechanical pencil, extra graphite refills

Reality Hunger, David Sheilds

Things that Are, Amy Leach

?????? (find a third book)


Passports (both UK and US)

This is an appropriation of a list that was taped inside Joan Didion’s closet door for a few years. This list has been taped to the wall above my kitchen sink for two days. Didion packed to dress for anonymity; I’m packing for ease.

I’m also packing as a dual citizen.

I’m American-born (Beaverdam, Wisconsin: Home of 16,000 Busy Beavers…) and American-raised, though for a while I lived with my Dad in the UK, where I also hold citizenship and where that side of my family has lived for generations.

Which means that I am also packing some colonialist baggage.

It cannot be unpacked in the single week I will be spending in Melbourne; it weighs noticeably more than the restricted 20 kilograms of checked luggage.


The third book.

You tell me. I’ll be in the air for 23 hours. What should I be reading?

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