Thursday, December 10, 2009

And my thoughts turn to...

Leaving Hawaii behind with my new ukulele in hand, I'm thinking about all the things I have to look forward to. Playing "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" on the uke for mom and watching her eyes glaze over a bit from nostalgia, cooking some practical and hearty Dutch dish for David (reading "Julie&Julia" has put me in the mood), bobbling babies, looking for part-time work, renewing my residency permit - the list is long, believe me. It ALL makes me happy - there IS a purpose to my life after all. Now, I just have to while away the minutes between meals and happy hour for the next 4 days. David should be in Los Angeles as I'm writing this, settling in to his parents' house to recover from jet lag.
There are a few final activities scheduled these last days. A staff/faculty "party" (a very loose use of the term, believe me!) tonight, logisical pre-port tomorrow, the alumni "ball" on Saturday, Convocation on Sunday. What with packing and all, I'll probably survive. I should work on posting the rest of my neglected journal entries! Maybe tomorrow....

Monday, November 30, 2009

Japan - the 21st century

Nov. 20, 2009
6 AM
Writing with a hazy sunrise view of Mt. Fuji on our port side - worth the early morning wake-up indeed. With two hours left to travel up the waterway to the port in Yokohama, there are already signs of industry all around, both on the shore and at sea. Half the population of the US crammed into a country the size of California, and much of that mountains. And I've been thinking California has too many people! But even with all those smokestacks and port cranes in the way, Fuji's a beautiful sight. Reminds me of Mt. Rainier.
Japan, which I think of as hyper-modern, heartily embracing the future of civilization, or, at least, one version of that future. We'll see how that impression is confirmed or not.

Later the same day

Experiencing a new culture and country is so much more fun if you have an "in" - Kevin and I go WAY back (I think he graduated from Evergreen around '86), and he's lived in Japan for about 20 years now, marrying a lovely woman named Ayumi about four years ago. The two of them bought a house in Chigasaki, located not far south of Yokohama on the coast, in a popular surfing area - Ayumi surfs!

Kathleen and I are having SO much fun already. After meeting up with Kevin in Yokohama, we took the train directly to Kamakura. The first order of business was lunch in a tiny restaurant recommended by Ayumi, after which, suitably fortified, we headed to one of the city's many Shinto shrines and then the Hase-Dera Temple. Things we're learning - Shinto has shrines, Buddha has temples. Sake is blessed in Shinto shrines. The impressive large wooden structures are built with no nails. You can buy little white strips of paper with fortunes on them - if you get a bad fortune (which happens often, I hear), you can tie it up and hope the gods see fit to change it.
If you get a good fortune, you can keep it if you like. There are also wooden pieces for sale on which you can write your own wish and tie it up at the temple. We saw one specifically directed to SAS - that was sweet!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Last Day in Vietnam

The last full day in Vietnam I spent exploring Ho Chi Minh City on my own, first stop the War Atrocities Museum. Surrounded by studiously note-taking but cheerful Vietnamese school kids, I stood in front of the photographs and cried. Cried for our violent responses to fear, mis-guided interference in a country's right to self-determination, needless loss of life, general degradation of human goodness and spirit. On leaving, I thought a walk through the Botanical Garden would be just the balm my soul needed - wrong! As is often the case, the Botanical is combined with the Zoological Garden, in this case full of unhealthy animals in dirty pens.

I did run into a valiant group of SAS students, trying desperately to keep track of a large group of deaf Vietnamese children running amuck through the zoo. Not an easy task!!
Once outside the Botanical Garden, I made my way to the city Post Office, a beautiful French colonial building with the usual prominently placed portrait of Ho Chi Minh. Once back outside the Post Office, I happened on a Dutch couple, offering to take their picture. I really have seen Dutch in almost every country we've been to so far!

Can Tho, Mekong Delta area

Wed. Nov. 4 2009

So far, Vietnam is a lovely place - relatively modern, clean, safe, and full of lush beauty. Today's Mekong Delta trip has been relaxed but interesting. Fascinating how the Vietnamese seem to be so practical, using every byproduct for something - fuel, fertilizer, path coverings, etc. For instance, in today's demonstrations of extracting salt, making coconut candy, and popping rice in hot black sand, the fuel used to stoke the fires was always rice husks, which they have an abundance of.

This trip was a good choice for me - even though it's still clearly designed for tourists, we're not surrounded by thronging hordes, the villages are real, women holding babies smile shyly from their doorways as we walk by on the muddy pathway through the dense delta vegetation. So much more fun to shop in a tiny village, assuming (perhaps incorrectly) that the money will go directly to those making the product. It was fun finding more Christmas stocking stuffers here - cocunut candies I'd watched being made, for instance!

Our hotel in Can Tho is quite upscale - the dollar still goes a long way in Vietnam. Breakfast, included with the room, is a wonderful combination of Eastern and Western, with your choice of, for example, French Toast and croissants or fish soup with assorted Vietnamese condiments.

This area is noted for its floating markets and fruit orchards. We motored through hundreds of boats literally bursting with bananas or pineapples, yams, or cabbages. Apparently, these are wholesale vendors. On our little sight-seeing boat, we had a plentiful supply of local fruits to try - fresh coconut milk, rambutan, dragon fruit, dragon eyes, monkey finger bananas - I liked all of it, though the notorious Durian was conspicuously absent. I think they assumed, probably correctly, that we wouldn't easily get past the initial stink of the thing.

When we stopped in one of the Delta villages for lunch, we were treated to a performance of Vietnamese folk music, including singing, which I enjoyed much more than I would have expected. I had memories of finding Korean folk music almost impossible to listen to, but I was an intolerant teen then, and this just seemed charming and not all that strange anymore. Back in Ho Chi Minh City, I followed up on a restaurant recommendation, The Blue Ginger, because it included live folk music. Now THAT was magical! I went out the next morning and bought 4 CD's!
Speaking of shopping, I have actually enjoyed shopping here. Good prices, really friendly people, not unbearable pressure, and fun goods - I'm looking forward to Christmas! Oh, and the traditional Vietnamese dress, the Ao Dai, is perfect for me! Small upper frame, and right where the lower bulge starts, an all-forgiving slit on each side - Very comfortable.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

At Home in Vietnam

Nov. 3, Mekong Delta

Jungles on both sides, little fishing boats, passing tankers - we're heading up the river toward our "home" for the next five days, Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. Our first communist country. Terry Bangs, a faculty member who served in the airforce flying bombers and supplies out of Tuy Hoa (Dad was also based there) tells me it was a bit of a jolt passing a Vietnamese ship proudly flying the "enemy" flag. Another reminder that we actually lost that war (which, by the way, is known as the American War to the Vietnamese). Yesterday in the Global Studies class (which the entire shipboard community is expected to attend), a statement was made which struck me: Vietnam has moved past the war much more quickly than the US has. I have no way of knowing if that's really true, but it certainly makes me think. Vietnam has a long, fierce history of battling for its independance - the American War wasn't the first or the last, probably. But the US experienced the kind of inner division over the war that scars a national psyche, AND we, the all-powerful, lost that war. When we played music chosen by the student panel during Global Studies, it all came back in a rush - we were so proud of our resistance to the war - I'm still proud in fact. The voice of a generation: For What it's Worth, Ohio, Give me Shelter.
I had hoped to be able to visit some of the areas where dad was stationed from '64-'67, but it's apparently not all that easy to get there in a limited time and Tuy Hoa was hit hard last week by the typhoon which has caused largescale flooding. Too bad!
Now that I've had some time on shore in the city, I have to say that Vietnam surprises me. It seems so clean, calm, and friendly. Funny, to feel so at home so far away from home. I've been thinking lots about all the wonderful Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Thai people I've had the pleasure of meeting since the streams of refugees began arriving in the '70's. All those families who made their transition to life in the US by staying a while with mom and dad - my life was enriched, my world expanded by each of them. Makes me really miss Nareth, who first moved in with mom and dad when he was a teenager after a long time in a refugee camp. A special person to our family, he recently died after a long battle with cancer. Although I didn't travel to Cambodia, his home, on this trip, people who did go said it was an amazing and beautiful country. Next time!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dalit Village Overnight, India

Oct. 27
6 am
From the landing where I slept (loose translation of the word!) in a small Dalit (untouchable) village south of Kancheepuram.
Up for an hour after finally giving up trying to catch naps in between shifting my weight around to find comfort when there's nothing separating me from the hard concrete but a thin bamboo beach mat. Ox carts have been passing by since the wee hours of the morning - really, since 2 or 3 am! Now that it's getting light, villagers wander by returning my waves with a sudden smile and a wave. Arriving here last night after dark, we were immediately caught up in absolute festive pandemonium, or so it seemed to us anyway. Everyone in the village was waiting for us, with flourescent lights strapped up to trees, plastic chairs arranged in front of a make-shift stage, and children thrusting out a hand to shake, chanting happily "Hello! How are you? I'm fine thank you!" Every villaer wanted to shake our hands. As we began what turned out to be a complete parade around the wide circular route through the village area, some of the men would periodically shoo away the children and women because, apparently, they were slowing things down too much. There was a schedule to keep!

Periodically, we would stop in front of a cluster of thatched huts, a wick floating in oil would be lit and passed in circles in front of us to the frenetic beat of drums, water was splashed on the ground, a leaf was placed on the dirt in front of us with the flaming wick placed in the middle, and we would be urged onward. This happened at least 10 times in the course of the parade before we arrived back where we started. Eddie, our trip leader, was then bedecked with a HUGE garland of flowers and we were seated in chairs with women and children on the dirt surrounding us, more villagers standing outside of them. Let the show begin!
And what a show - dancers with elaborately sequined parrot headdresses, dancing horses on short stilts, fire breathers and jugglers, martial arts demos, hip-hop dancing and acrobatics, all in our honor. Then Eddie and I, as trip leaders, were called to the stage and presented with small trophies and silk scarves ceremoniously draped around our shoulders.
As soon as the show ended, the villagers were hustled off and we were loaded back into our vans for the short ride down the road to our "compound" - the walled concrete complex where we would spend the night. But first, just one more ceremony! This one was quite lovely - Dalit nursing students joined us in a big seated circle, each of us holding small clay vessels of oil with a flaming wick. A meditation led by the director of the Dalit re-training center about letting our lights shine in the world, after which we all placed our lights in a tight circle in the dirt to see what a strong light they created when put together. Wonderful!
After eating our pitiful boxed dinners packed by the ship, we unrolled blankets on the floor while the village men attempted to manually wire a couple of flourescent bulbs and 2 very rusty, clanky fans. Here's a photo I took the next morning to give you some idea of the town wiring state.

Power goes out on a regular basis here - in the last village it just wasn't even turned on til 5 or 6 in the afternoon. There was one waterless squat toilet which many students couldn't talk themselves into using (creepy concrete cubicle, no light, spiders), but there was at least a trough outside with cold running water for washing up.

The sleeping rooms were stifling, so I moved my mat to the landing of an outside staircase, where I could stand up to look over the walls of our compound at villagers going by, if I was so inclined. That was a good decision - not pestered by insects (bats flew constant guard overhead), I was much cooler and always love the chance to admire the night sky. Although real sleep was not possible, I did relax, listening to music from my iphone to drown out the voices of our Dalit guards, who talked loudly until late into the night - guess they couldn't sleep either!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Child Labor Bridge School Overnight

Oct. 25
Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu

With such a massive proportion of India's population living on less that $1 a day (estimates vary, but generally agree on at least 25%), the existence of child labor should come as no surprise. And before getting too self-righteous about it, I reminded myself of the situation in the US not more than a hundred years ago, when poor families also ended up sending children to work in factories under horrible conditions. That said, it is still a terrible situation, but this SAS trip gave cause for optimism. The RIDEINDIA organization was formed in 1984, initially focussing on the widespread use of children as laborers in the silk industry. At that time, more than 40,000 children worked in silk factories - today, the number is 4,000! Progress is being made. The school we visited acts as a bridge school for children between the ages of 5 and 15 who are transitioning from the world of work to school. They can't go straight to normal classes, being essentially illiterate. We visited with 2 very different groups of young students: the first group had been silk workers, and were now in school full-time, the second were still working in rock quarries, and only attended the bridge school sporadically. This little girl was particularly engaging, I thought, grubby as can be, and still works in the quarry hauling out whatever rocks she can carry in her basket after the dynamite goes off.
A huge hurdle, of course, is the situation and attitude of the parents which, in the case of quarry workers, is not good. Desperately poor, many families are essentially indentured, having borrowed money at some point (typically to pay for something like a wedding, or to support an addiction to drugs or alcohol), and then offered the work of every member of the family to pay the interest on the loan.
Apparently, a record number of these quarry children actually came to school the day we arrived - they don't see all that many Westerners, although there are regular groups of volunteers from a volunteer Jewish-American group that work with the school periodically.

India, Day 1, Chennai

Oct. 25, 2009

India - people, people, and more people! Packed into auto-rickshaws made for two, I've counted eight! Motorcycles much more common than personal cars, also carrying entire families, lots of bicycles, jam-packed buses, crowds walking, homeless randomly sleeping anywhere, in the middle of a sidewalk or tucked into a corner, so thin you don't notice them at first. Chennai (Madras) is such a hodge-podge, a true patchwork quilt of buildings. Tiny ramshackle shops are crammed right up against "real" buildings, entrances to buildings are swept and litter-free while the areas between are awash with litter; old carts, bicycles, etc. sit abandoned where they are, sometimes relaxing enough to appear almost intentional, like street-art.
On first venturing out from the ship, I was pleasantly surprised, having been so thoroughly prepared for the worst. No mobs of beggars greeted me or followed me down the street, only mild haggling was involved with our taxi driver (he did, however, ask for more than agreed on at the end of the trip - we just didn't pay it), and my feet and shoes looked none the worse for wear at the end of the day - the layer of grime was easily removed. Air pollution here is bad - anyone with even a slight tendency toward asthma is resorting to inhaler use. Even our sealed cabins on the ship are affected - I have had trouble sleeping with the strong smell of diesel and soot in my nostrils.

To live happily in this environment, it looks to me like Indian people operate on the philosophy that you put energy and care into creating your own personal environment of beauty and perfume that goes with you everywhere. So, every woman we see is carefully groomed, dressed in colorful saris or kurtas (tunic tops with loose-fitting pants), adorned with jewelry, and often wearing thick aromatic braids of jasmine in their hair. I never get tired of watching the women here, and feel a bit sad that we've become so careless when it comes to personal appearance (or, more accurately, I have!)

A word about the animals here, in particular the cows. Don't know if you can make it out, but the animals pictured below eating garbage are actually young calves. We've seen goats in a number of countries apparently acting as the first level of garbage disposal, but this is the first time I've seen cows in the same role. They're not getting much nutritional value, judging by the jutting ribs. My conclusion is that being deemed "holy" in India doesn't entitle you to much, certainly not extra food.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

1 Day to Chennai

Oct. 22, 2009

First impression of India, before even getting there, supplied by the ship's crew. They're busy taping down cardboard to completely cover the carpet. Apparently, they have to protect it all from the filth of India. We've been warned to wear our least valuable footwear, with the idea that we will want to throw them away once we've left. Wow!
One thing this journal lacks so far is observations of typical behaviors, activities, the pace of living. For instance, in Ghana the foot traffic is constant and omni-present - people walk everywhere, slowly but surely making their way, most often with huge loads balanced confidently on their heads - firewood, wide metal bowls of water, stacks of eggs, fresh fruit to sell, you name it. Our guide there told us they start practicing with empty containers at a young age - 3 or 4.
In South Africa I also saw a fair amount of walkers, mostly men, but also a lot more cars on the road. Since it's so much more developed than a place like Ghana, there were more traditional "business hours" so there was an ebb and a flow. Not so much walking in Mauritius, lots of cars, and the locals packed the public buses, which were free to students and seniors. Did I already say that somewhere? It'll be interesting to see what the story is in India.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mauritius, Tropical Paradise

Anticipation was high coming in to Mauritius. The crossing from South Africa was long (6 days) and it was mid-terms for the students, so many were looking forward to a real break, and what better place? The first view didn't disappoint - classic volcanic island dramatic landscape, protected harbor with new, nicely developed waterfront shopping area (modeled after the port we just left behind in Cape Town!) We were ready for island paradise!

I started right off with a bang by going with the SAS City Orientation tour to the Botanical Garden in Pamplemousse. Alley's idea of heaven, you know. On disembarking from the bus, birds sang out an enthusiatic welcome, and our guides got started immediately introducing us to strange and wonderful tropical species of trees, many of which I've never seen before - Jackfruit, Sausage trees, the Talipot Palm with leaves easily up to 3 meters across(!), which only blooms dramatically once after 60 years, upon which it heads into a slow decline and death. What a drama queen!

I was just as delighted with the amazonian water lilies (also gigantic, with long wicked thorns on the underside to discourage nippy fishies) and the lotus water garden, sniffing crushed leaves from the camphor trees and admiring the yellow fruits of the nutmeg trees along the way. This was on the Dutch East Indies Spice trading route after all! Rubber trees I've seen before, but the wax palm, though diminutive, was new, and I never get tired of huge banyan and baobab trees - Lovely!
The rest of the city tour was unremarkable, and I won't bore you with that. That evening, a Dutch friend, Carola, was celebrating her birthday, so a small group of us went out to a fine dinner (octopus curry - yum!) on the waterfront, singing both Happy Birthday AND Lang zal ze leven for good measure. Sure have enjoyed the regular opportunity to speak Dutch on this voyage - who would have thought? The day was rounded off by a festive water taxi ride back to the ship, with an entertaining side-trip to one of the numerous Chinese fishing boats in the harbor to drop off a number of Indonesian workers. They were clearly struck by some of the lovely long-legged blond students in our SAS group. Cute!

Day 2

Île des Deux Cocos trip

After a quick (1 1/2 hour) drive down the well-maintained (in stark contrast to Ghana) highway running right through the center of the island, the forty of us participating in this trip were loaded on to a couple of glass-bottomed boats for the 5-minute ride out to the tiny Île des Deux Cocos. I was trip leader (which, by the way, entitles me to a refund of 1/2 the cost of the trip!), so I had lots of gear to carry. On the boat dock, I got so excited by the crystal clear waters and the tropical fish we could already spot, that I fumbled for my camera, lost my balance for a minute and then, plop! dropped my towel in the drink! It sank immediately, a bright blue mass clearly visible 4 feet down, eventually rescued by one of the boat chauffeurs. Did I feel stupid!!
However, the rest of the day was idyllic - beautiful white sand and black volcanic rock, welcoming drinks, snorkeling in the nearby Marine Reserve among the coral reef which circles the island. Lots of fish - zebra, parrot, angel, trumpet and more. The coral was beautifully shaped, some spreading like fungus in the forest, others a mass of delicate branches where the fish seemed to be playing hide and seek. Sadly, the coral was uniformly colorless, grey or white, indicating that it's dead or dying. Very sobering!
Quick side-note: one of the young children on the bus taught me a new verse to "The Drunken Sailor" (we're trying to think of appropriate punishments for some of the students who get drunk to the point of alcohol-poisoning in port). It goes like this:

Now, THAT would be a punishment!

Once back at the ship, Kathleen (fellow staff) and I went back out with two goals - find Wifi and check out the local Hindu celebration of Divali (Mauritius is predominantly Hindu), the festival of lights. It looked grim at first for internet - the only internet cafe was PACKED with students and no more Wifi connects were available (this was a first for the poor little cafe). So we wandered through the waterfront, which was full of locals, live music, dancing (Indian) and lights. Fun! There was free Wifi at a spot on the sidewalk in front of a cafe, but it just felt wrong to be sitting in that row of SAS folks staring intently at a glimmering screen with such a rich cultural experience happening all around us, so I quickly packed up the computer and watched the singing and dancing instead. Much better!

Once that was over, we made our way to the nearby 5 star hotel, where free Wifi was available in the lobby. Over drinks, I was able to ichat with David AND Skype Dustin and Courtney - hooray!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Catching up on S. Africa

Oct. 5
De Oude Meul Guesthuis
Stellenbosch, S. Africa

I'm here in S. African wine country with Stepanka and Kathleen, friends from the ship. My first impressions are that the country is beautiful, complex, and a terrible mess. However, the feeling of the moment is, at last, a truly lekker cappucino!! Our guest house is fine, but I think I'd happily spring for the extra 100R ($12) next time to stay down the street in the Stellenbosch Hotel.
Since yesterday was Sunday, we weren't able to rent bikes and the wineries were all closed. So we did a bit of the town historical tour (Cape Dutch architecture) and then found a lovely place, The Wijnhuis, where we were able to do a wine tasting with a delicious cheese plate! (We miss good cheese on the ship - security won't allow us to take cheese on board.) Later, we had dinner at the Fish Market, which was also great - nice atmosphere, with one of those conveyor-style sushi thingamabobs. Sushi in S. Africa - who would have thought?

Here are some first impressions of this area: in regards to Cape Dutch architecture, I find it simply pretty, plain, very Calvinistic, not surprisingly. The whole region seems pretty fiercely Afrikaans, with the University touting itself as the only Afrikaans language university in the area (or the country?). It was also interesting to hear Arno, the owner of our guesthouse, tell me that he thinks Dutch sounds much harsher than Afrikaans. Maybe so. I did find the Afrikaans people to be somewhat loud and boorish (boerish?? :)
When we were discussing a route to take through the vineyards on our bicycles, Arno got a concerned look on his face, advising that the direction we had originally mapped out was not safe, running as it were too close to a township. And since the crime stats here are so high, we, of course, had to heed his advice. So, we took a very short ride out towards the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, stopping after only a few kilometers for a wine-tasting and cellar tour. I was having some kind of strange, unhappy anxiety attack (just worried about being away from David for so long, I think), so I didn't feel like drinking. It's just good I did the tasting in town earlier, so I at least knew that I'm not a fan of pinotage, the only truly S. African grape cultivar.

Oct. 8, 8 am
on the dock next to the Nelson Mandela Gateway
Cape Town
Kim wrote me this morning, wondering why my blog entries are so short. Thinking more about it, I realize that simple recitatations of my little 'adventures' just aren't all that interesting to me, and I haven't felt like I had the time or inspiration, honestly, to do more. I almost feel like my thought processes don't function on their own - I need someone to bounce them off of. Since David and I have finally been able to connect here on a daily basis, some of my thoughts about all this are starting to take shape, albeit a bit vague at first.
So, what is driving S. Africa and where is she going? Our views from the past 6 days are so fragmented and obscured by typical tourist activities, but at least I've got some basics. This is a strikingly beautiful area: awe-inspiring mountains, white sand coastlines, fertile valleys, abundant flora and fauna. Also, it's resource rich - diamonds, gold, bauxite, etc. All this results in centuries of land-grabbing attempts by the Portugese, Dutch, and British. With the aboriginal bushmen and all other African blacks exploited and enslaved as just another "resource" of the area. So, now that there's at least SOME attempt to recognize the rights of the majority black population, it all becomes very complicated. White residents complain that "their" blacks (they really do say this!) are lazy, don't want to work, and feel they should just be given land. As opposed to blacks coming here from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Namibia, all of whom, by account of various white Afrikaners, are industrious and hard-working. Reminds me of comments I heard over the years about Native American people living on reservations. It does seem to me that, no matter what the setting, simple "hand-outs" don't work. Centuries of illiteracy, poverty, poor self-esteem, forced break-up of family and community units require much more than land and money to rebuild. Education, training, emphasis on family and shared culture would be a better starting place. And working to generate improvement initiatives from within the community itself.
A student at dinner last night told me about his day spent working on a house being constructed in a township by Habitat for Humanity. The home was being built for a deaf couple with 4 children. The local coordinator of the project is from the township and still lives in a shack with a leaking roof, in spite of the fact that he has worked on homes for dozens of his neighbors. According to the student, this black African feels there are just too many whose needs are greater than his own. Certainly doesn't sound like he's lazy or lacking in motivation. Could be the exception, I suppose. But I think there's a lot of reason for hope here. It'll just take time, patience, and compassion.

I learned some interesting facts on yesterday's safari at Inverdoorn in the Kahoo Wilderness. First, there is a cheetah rehabilitation program in effect because male cheetah's have defective sperm, making successful breeding very difficult. Female cheetahs need to be slim and active to ovulate, but males kill off sperm cells if exercised too much!! Hmmmmm.....
There is a phenomenon in Africa called "canned lions", where lion cubs are raised in small cages to maturity so they can be briefly released into a controlled area and "hunted" for sport. This is illegal, so lions rescued from this must be fed and protected - the lions we saw on our safari were 3 of these, and can't ever be re-released to the wild.
Giraffes eat the leaves of the sweet acacia tree, which is covered with 2 to 3 inch long, nasty-looking thorns. The giraffe has some kind of amazingly well-adapted long tongue to deal with this.
By the way, ostrich burger is delicious! I hope most of you can see all my pictures on Facebook - posting to this blog is just too time-consuming, I'm afraid!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Cape Town, S. Africa

What a beautiful morning to greet Cape Town! Don't know if you can make it out, but the new football (soccer) stadium built to host the 2010 World Cup is visible behind me - quite the landmark! I'm looking forward to hearing strange-sounding Dutch like language, cycling through wine country, and enjoying the show of spring wildflowers on Table Mountain. Exciting!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Volta Eco-Adventure Day 1

Sept. 23, Ho, Ghana
Chance Hotel

Today was by FAR the best day of the voyage so far, even considering my sore butt from 9 hours (fortunately not in one stretch) in our cute little Korean(!) bus on bumpy, often un-paved roads. Ghana - lovely, honestly friendly people, lush vegetation, fascinating villages of mud huts that look perfectly comfortable, somehow.

We traveled about 5 hours in the morning on terrible roads through beautiful scenery to the trailhead for Afadjato Mountain, near the Togo border. We did have one stretch break when we had to all get out and push our bus out of a muddy pot hole! The hike was STRAIGHT up - no switchbacks and about 850 meters (more than 2400 feet) gain in an hour - KILLER! I came close to not making it, but persevered in the end - yippee! And coming down was actually OK for me - my knees didn't bother me, and I didn't fall (luckier than others). The view, as expected, was grand, with Ghana on one side and Togo on the other.

Once safely down, we drove another 2 hours to the Agumatsa Forest Reserve, where we hiked a blessedly flat jungle trail, crossing 9 bridges in 45 minutes to arrive at spectacular Wli Falls. The falls were unlike anything I've ever experienced - 60 meters high, steep cliffs on either side, somehow creating gale-force winds directly in front of the falls. You have to back up through the pool towards the falls, since the spray felt like driving sand on your skin and the face is too tender for that. I didn't get very close to the falls - punishing! But completely exhilirating. The cliffs on both sides of the falls were covered with fruit bats. Thousands. Some flying, most hanging, upside down, the way bats do, you know. The forest we hiked through is full of tall bamboo, rustling in the breeze, scattered coffee trees loaded with berries, bananas and their larger cousin, the plantain, philodendron, palm, and lots of trees completely unfamiliar to me. Giant millipedes and tiny fire ants in a thick stream would cross our path periodically, and brightly colored butterflies were everywhere. Two students from Honduras said it reminded them of home.

I should point out that, although we spent a LOT of time on the bus, that was also an important and enjoyable part of the day. Sam Ametewel, our guide, taught us basic phrases in the local Ewe dialect (all signage is in English, and many speak English, but not with each other). We learned:
woezo - welcome
efoah - How are you?
emefor - Fine
Akbe - Thank you
va mijo - let's go
en ko de - what's your name?
We also learned a wonderful folk song from the region, which is essentially about knocking on the door of the king's palace, asking permission to enter (I think!). It goes like this:
Afi naii fiapemela, do ago
Afi naii fiapemela, do ago
Ago name, Ago name
Fiapemetor Ago!!
Ago name, Ago name
Fiapemetor Ago!!
Sam also regaled us with folk legends about the warriors of a town near Tafi Atome, the story of the sheep and the goat on the bus, and how the original tribes of Ghana were tricked or cajoled into leaving their original homes high up on top of flat plateaus to descend into the lowlands. He also clearly explained the colonial history of the area (Ghana is surrounded by French-speaking neighbors), and the nature of the somewhat arbitrary boundaries between countries. Apparently, the Ghanaian educational system has begun pushing students to learn French as a kind of good-will gesture to its neighbors.
One other important thing to point out about the trip thus far: These people are, in general, strikingly beautiful and almost unbelievably friendly. Children not only wave enthusiastically as we pass, they jump, shout, laugh, sing. People everywhere bid us "welcome", ask our names, extend a hand, and teach us their wonderful handshake which ends in a mutual snap of the fingers. They're curious to know what we think of their country. Only rarely does someone ask for money, even though they obviously have little, and even when they do, it's done quietly and with some dignity. Impressive. On a final not - not a single MacDonalds (or any other international chain) in sight!
Sept. 24
The second day of our big Eco-Adventure didn't disappoint either! During the 1 hour morning drive, we rehearsed our song some more, after Sam suggested that we sing it as soon as we got off the bus in the village of Tafi Atome. Which we did, much to the apparent delight of the guides who met us there. Once we realized there was a school across the field, we asked if we could sing it for the school children - what an experience! The kids sang with us, clapping in time, then sang it a few more times by themselves, speeding it up a bit, ending with us joining back in. For me, that's about as good as it gets!
Energized by this whole experience, we were then guided through the mud-huts of the village, watching as a woman prepared a meal over an open wood fire, observing teenage boys weaving intricate designs to create the colorful patterns that identify Kente cloth, learning about daily washing routines. The ever-present pygmy goats were here as well, but not running loose as they were elsewhaere. Everything was very clean. Apparently, sweeping the entire village is the first routine of the day. Then our guide led us into the forest, an area that is now protected by law. Calling to the monkeys, the guide headed to a densely shaded area (those monkeys are no fools - it's HOT out in the sun!). At first I could only see the palm branches moving, but finally I was able to spot the monkeys. They are a rare form of the Mona species and are only found in the jungle area around this village. As I held up a banana, one of the monkeys sped down a branch and, hanging on with his tail, reached out with one hand to hold on to my finger, while quickly peeling the banana with the other hand. Easy to see why we're so entranced by monkeys! Apparently, these monkeys actually come into the homes of the villagers every morning and evening to eat with the families before heading back out to the jungle. All in all, an unforgettable experience!
Miscellaneous facts:
Names of children I met: Ezekial, Immanuel, John, Moses, Gideon (60% Christian in this area)
Crops of Volta: Papaya, yam, corn, rice, pineapple, banana, plantain, mango, casava (used to make fufu), palm (used to make palm wine).
Woods: Teak, ebony, mahogany
Pulmonaria trees here are planted in cemetaries and are called "forget-me-not" trees.
Roadside signs worth remembering:
Use a condom every time you have sex! (Ghana is hard-hit by AIDS)
God Bless furniture work shop
Home Base Bar
Treat your Bed Nets here (anti-malaria)
Time Tells Cafe
Fear Not Book Shop
Prince Nab & Dab
Do Not Urinate Here!
Shine your eye (on a taxi - means "be alert")

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Students LOVED the Africa music selections played from my iTunes library before and after Global Studies this morning - Ali Farka Toure and Habib Koité & Bamada. Both hail from Mali - seems I don't have Ghanian music. Anyway, I've had to rely a lot on my personal music library, since the world music faculty who's supposed to get appropriate music to me is just SO disorganized! (Sean, wish you were here.) So, many thanks to David for helping me to broaden my musical tastes!
My current feelings about this ship environment are that this is a kind of mini floating colonial empire. The passengers (almost all American) are surrounded by quiet, smiling crew in pressed uniforms are all from other countries, and address us as 'sir' and 'ma'am', polishing and vacuuming and folding toilet paper ends into neat triangles, serving us food and drinks, turning down our beds magically. They're not allowed to 'fraternize' with us, but I still know that sweet Jeffrey is from India, and misses his wife and 10-month old son, and that he just discovered that he may be on the ship a month longer than was originally contracted - bet his wife won't be happy about that!
I don't know what to expect from Ghana, besides malarial mosquitos, beautifully colored clothing, and dangerous drinking water. I'm hoping to find music - street music would be fine. Looking forward to the Volta river and my 'eco-adventure' trip the second and third days.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fes, Ancient capital of Morocco

Sept. 11, Friday
On the train to Fes

After a challenging morning, we're well in to our train trip to Fes, the ancient capital of Morocco. Last night was late, starting out with a nice gathering at Rick's Cafe of Casablanca fame (created only about 5 years ago!), but ending on a sour note due to confusion about some belongings left unattended by students from the ship. One of those times when you try to do the right thing only to have those you were trying to help blow up at you. So, I started this morning tired and a bit discouraged. Then Joyce and I missed the 8:15 train by about 5 minutes, which meant a 2 hour wait for the next with nothing in the neighborhood open. We were able to find a bad cup of coffee in the Hotel Ibis next door, and at least sit out the bulk of our wait in relative comfort.

We're riding 2nd class, which is quite nice. The two women next to me are reading Koranic verse (Friday is the high holy day) - it is time for the midday prayer according to Naima, our wonderful guide for the city orientation yesterday. I can't help but be impressed by how much prayer and Koranic text are a part of everyday life here for so many. I'm glad we're here during Ramadan, even if it is inconvenient for us non-believers!

Later, same day.
We've settled in to our little hotel, Batha, only to find out that almost everything is closed on Friday afternoon. Holy day. The bartender at our hotel is reading Koran and chanting in between sparse orders - it's hard to interrupt for something as vulgar as a beer.

The concierge recommended taking a taxi up the hill to the five star hotel Merinides - good idea!
Joyce and I are sitting on a lovely veranda with a panoramic view of Fes with its medieval wall surrounded by cemetaries. We're enjoying that Moroccan staple, mint tea, while listening to the growing thunder - we could witness a grand storm, if we're lucky. Ahhh.... the big drops are starting. Funny, rain is just not something I associate with Morocco!
What fun! We watched it coming, and then it hit. Torrents of rain, lighting and thunder, big winds. The veranda flooded, big potted plants fell over, we had to move indoors. Very exciting!

Sept. 12

We ended up waiting literally 2 hours at the hotel last night for taxis to start running again after the "breaking of the fast" meal at sundown; in the meantime, we were befriended by a very nice Moroccan man,Taibi. Turned out he was staying at our hotel, having had the view at the Merinides recommended by the same concierge. He speaks a smattering of English, some Dutch, French, and quite a bit of German. We shared a taxi (20 dh = 2.50) back to the hotel, then he took me on a brief walk into the beginning of the Medina, which was quite calm on a Friday night in the middle of Ramadan. We had a good conversation about religion and Morocco's past and future. Nice to get to ask questions from someone living here.

Back in the train, first class this time (working air conditioning). 165 dh = $27 Joyce and I did manage a tour of the medina for 3 hours. It was pretty exhausting. Although I really liked our guide, Samira, she clearly works on commission - we BEGGED out of the embroidery and pharmacy sales pitches, after suffering through 5 others. I HATE sales pitches, no matter what country, no matter what language. Don't get me wrong - I wanted to buy a few things, but I so hated being corralled and harrassed, I only ended up buying a simple blouse (which I desperately need) for WAY too much. Sigh.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Port of Casablanca

And what a port! The ship is pulling up next to HUGE cranes - we could reach out and touch them. coming into port an hour ago, already the contrasts are striking - first, crossing a clear line in the water - on one side, the greenish-blue clear waters of the Atlantic, on the other, silty-sludgy beige water full of garbage. Then there was the escort of the fishing boats, rusted and well-worn next to the sparkling priviledge, wealth and size of the MV Explorer (that's our ship). Finally, the striking sight of the Hassan II Mosque, soaringly beautiful, with nothing but the relative chaos of the industrial port area around it.
Oh, and it's cloudy and misty - COOL! (literally)

On a personal note, I've finally found a travel partner to Fes, thanks heavens. Joyce is a bit older than me, is a life-long learner on the voyage, and has lived under very adverse conditions recently for some months in Bangaladesh, where she worked for a non-profit teaching English. After being told a number of times that a woman traveling alone in Fes is NOT a good idea, this is a big relief.
We watched a documentary film last night titled "I love Hip Hop in Morocco" - great introduction to youth culture in the country. Nice to think my bit of French will definitely be useful here! (Much of the film was in French.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Spain Photos Test

I'm trying to link my photos posted on Facebook to the blog. If any of you are not on FB, I'd love to hear if you're able to follow the link OK - from what I can tell, you should be able to.

Leaving Cádiz, Spain already!

These port visits will really be nothing more than a taste, a vague impression. Four or five days, particularly when divided into various “trips”, can’t be anything else. I was hoping to come up with a way of being less of a tourist, but that’s just not really possible – I am and will be a foreigner, an observer.
So, that said, Spain strikes me as an easy, fun place for us Westerners to visit – what a surprise! (Just joking) It’s been good to glimpse contrasting environments, from the busy streets of Seville where I joined throngs of tourists at the Alcazar, to the protected nature reserve of the Grazalema Park, and back to the local beaches of Cádiz. Although I honestly generally hate the idea of big tour buses, it is actually wonderful to have a good local tour guide who uses the travel time to tell you all kinds of interesting things you’d never get from the guide books. For instance, I asked why there were so few bicycles in flat Cádiz (where the traffic is TERRIBLE and the territory is small) and so many more in Seville, and he answered that the local governments are very different in the two places. Right-leaning Cádiz won’t fund the infrastructure needed to create bike lanes, whereas the leftist Green party in Seville has managed not only bike lanes, but a strong system of rental bikes (like in Paris and the Netherlands). Fascinating!
This south coast of Spain has omni-present moorish and roman roots, with Islamic, Christian, and Roman forms mixed even within the same structure, yet I haven’t run into a single obviously Muslim inhabitant. I’m curious. Leads me to believe that expulsion of Muslims must have been quite violent and final. The Netherlands looks so much more diverse.

I'm trying to post some of the pictures to Facebook, and link them here, but the ship system is VERY slow this evening, so be patient!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Water, water, everywhere...

It's interesting being out to sea for a stretch. I have worked a bit to quell feelings of being trapped with no escape, and it's a wonder to me that I can be completely out in nature and yet never go outside - how is that possible? I'm now making a special effort during my classroom rounds to take the few outside routes that are available to me. Today I had my first real "break", sitting on a lounge chair in the sun on the pool deck, listening to student conversations around me liberally laced with sexual innuendo - fun. My job is coming together, faculty are getting the hang of classroom systems so I can relax a bit and spend time looking forward to our arrival in Cadiz, Spain in 2 days. Then only one day of travel and we're in Morocco! Let the excitement begin! I PROMISE more pictures soon.
Fun dance last night (I provided the sound support) - basic disco, but students dressed in "mashed" outfits - mixed up, underwear outside, mismatched shoes, you get the idea. Very fun, and I dressed up as well to sit in the media booth. So far, it's a bit disappointing that the faculty and staff don't seem to know how to have fun - is that really what happens as we age??

Sunday, August 30, 2009

First Class Day

Sorry, loyal followers, but no pics today. First class day, and it was busy but good. I DO know how to provide classroom support to faculty, that's for sure! Guess that's why they hired me. I just have to figure out how to communicate better with the AV crewmember from the Ukraine, Anatoli. SWEET guy, but the language barrier! Sign language? I'm just not sure.

We've had bigger waves today, enough to throw unsecured things like glasses to the floor of our cabins. But I love watching the horizon appear and disappear from the big ring of windows in the Fac/Staff lounge. I also love the rocking feel in bed at night, but it doesn't help me sleep! Hard beds, getting older, and no David, it's a sleepless combination!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Official Day One from Nova Scotia

After some grueling experiences with the work side of this experience having to do with no real training being available and a disorganized work site (my ex-colleague Raoul would be APPALLED), I shrugged it all off this morning to enjoy a picturesque bus ride through Halifax to Point Pleasant Park. Clear blue skies, pleasant temperatures, clean salt waters with beautiful rocky shores - just what my tattered nerves needed. Walking back to the ship later, I found that the rest of the 510 students had been processed and boarded. It's a whole different ship! So now, we're really ready to do this together.
The ship left Halifax at 17:00 (ship-board time) in bright sun and a brisk Canadian wind. As soon as we left, I realized I'd forgotten to buy a mug - there are no cups available on the ship in between meals for coffee or tea! This is part of the "green" campaign, although I think it would make more sense not to wash my sheets every single day. I've smuggled one from the cafeteria now til I can get one of my own.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Class Consciousness

Semester at Sea is a set-up for focusing on contrasts, particularly when it comes to questions of class and privilege. Visiting cities in Africa, India, and Asia would have been different enough from my lower middle class American existance, but ever since stepping on board, I’ve been completely pampered and coddled, just to further the gap. I’m not allowed to carry my own food tray to the table – there’s always an extremely polite, sweet young man from another, invariably poorer, country there to whisk it away from me while I follow obediently behind. And my room is made up not ONCE a day, but TWICE! This picture shows how my bed has been “turned down” for me every evening. Yeesh! Make them stop! I can’t help but wonder how much they’re being paid (I would assume not nearly enough) to leave family and friends behind for months at a time to turn down the beds of spoiled Americans. Do they know this doesn’t happen to us in our normal lives?

Aside from that, our journey continues with good food, bad coffee, and somewhat infrequent laundry service, which may force me to do some dreaded shopping once we land in Halifax (tomorrow). Oh, and I get my four work-study students tomorrow as well. Looks like I’m going to need them!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sailing, sailing, over the ocean blue!

After a night's weary travel on a red-eye flight from Seattle, it woke me right up to actually see the ship for the first time. Quite impressive, if I do say so. As you can see, I managed to pack pretty light for my 3 1/2 month trip - we'll see if I forgot anything crucial. So far, so good.

Only faculty and staff boarded here in Norfolk. Big orientation meeting followed our check-in, and I connected on my own with the "other" on-board media guy, who is from the Ukraine with limited English skills, and has only been on the job for a month and a half! This could be more of a challenge than I thought. However, it really is a whole lot like my last job at Evergreen, with less sophisticated equipment. Today is more general orientation, and it looks like tomorrow is my only "real" day of hands-on training. Luckily for me, the last guy to have this position left a DVD - how considerate is that????

My state-room is great! 5th deck, big window, two beds, desk, bathroom, plenty of storage, mini-fridge. Pictures soon.

Friday, August 21, 2009


So far, with not quite 2 days left, I've just casually been tossing items into my bag - tomorrow I get serious, really! Lisa brought me the perfect travel skirt today - wrinkle free, ankle length, simple, light, cool. Although there's no chance of truly "blending in" with most of the populations we'll be visiting, my goal is not to offend too deeply, if I can help it. So, relative modesty, which honestly suits me fine.

I had a travel consultation with the Thurston County Health Dept. nurse a couple of days ago, which does make me feel a bit more prepared. Ended up with Hep-A shot in one arm, Typhus in the other, and both too sore to sleep on for one night. But peace of mind! And I go armed with malaria and dysentery medicine. On my friend Zena's recommendation, I also picked up grapefruit seed extract to help with my touchy intestinal system. Hard to enjoy traveling when you don't feel good, as my sister-in-law, Kwan Sook and I discovered some years ago in Thailand.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

3 days left

The most interesting thing about the Renton SAS get-together was the number of folks who have gone on more than one voyage - virtually all attending that reunion have. Hmmm..... there must be some experience there worth repeating, don't you think? However, a couple of women there managed to scare me a bit by saying that media techs had to stay on board in port (to repair equipment and such). BUT, I was told specifically that I was not "on duty" in port, so I have to assume that things have changed. Guess I'll find out! Apparently, the key word on the ship is flexibility.

I like to think I'm flexible.

Friday, August 14, 2009

10 days to go!

With extra pages in my passport for all those entry/exit stamps and visas for China, India, and Ghana (which cost a whopping $450 through a processing service recommended by the ISE folks), seems like I'm good to go. Oh, right, I've still got to pack! So, packing for a 3-month trip around the world, just where do you start? I'm wondering in particular about things like gifts to host families, small things to give to children in the poorer countries we'll be visiting (I read pens might be good) - any suggestions?

Tomorrow is a get-together in Renton for Semester at Sea folks, both past and current, so I should be able to get some ideas there. I'll be getting on the ship in Norfolk, VA on Aug. 24th, training for my new position while we're "under sail" to Nova Scotia, where the students will embark on the 28th. I'm very excited, but not feeling frantic or particularly stressed about it all (though you might get a different story from David!).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

First training Webinar

A true sign of the times - my very first official training as AV Coordinator for the upcoming Fall 09 Voyage of Semester at Sea will happen via the web. Handy for me, since David and I are in Whittier, Ca. visiting his parents. Today's session covers boat safety - probably not a very exciting topic, but it's still fun for me since it's just proof that this is all real, and in just a month's time I'll start this journey around the world - amazing! If you want to know more about Semester at Sea, visit the web site at

David is not going to be meeting me in China and Vietnam after all. He's ended up traveling a lot this year, and it would be too difficult to afford either the time or the money. So, yet another long separation for the two of us - sigh!

A little background, for those of you who don't know. I applied for the job via the web site about 3 years ago. All staff and faculty positions are listed there, and the entire application process is completed electronically. I was told relatively quickly that I qualified for the position and would be put on the register for future voyages. About a year ago, I received a phone interview by one of the deans, who then said I seemed to be a good fit, and would I be available for the Winter '09 voyage? Although I said yes, it wasn't ideal, since David and I would have JUST been reunited following my retirement from Evergreen in November. Fortunately, another qualified candidate particularly wanted that voyage since their spouse was teaching on board at that time, so I ended up being interviewed again for the Fall '09 voyage, and Voila!