travel

Christmas In Africa – 1974

69-620x310My first Christmas vacation in college I had a memorable plane trip on my way to Africa. I was to fly from San Francisco to Minneapolis to Nairobi and meet my parents for a two-week camera safari. I had made my flight arrangements through a travel agent in New York and understood that I would change planes in Geneva.

I arrived in Geneva at seven in the morning and went to the transit desk. They told me that I could go into town or get a room at the airport if I wanted because the flight didn’t leave until midnight that night and then they also mentioned that I was wait-listed anyway. What??? I had not looked closely at the ticket. There I was in Geneva, Switzerland. I had a $20 traveler’s check to my name, and I was wait-listed on a flight that left at midnight. There was nothing I could do but wait and see. I spent all day dozing on airport seats and reading my book. I didn’t eat anything because I figured I should save my money and anyway, I was too nervous. It came time to check in for the flight. I went to the gate and they told me I would have to wait until everybody else had boarded the plane. It was agonizing as I watched hundreds of people boarding.

I kept seeing myself stranded in Geneva, eating out of the vending machines and spending Christmas by myself in the terminal. I would have to spend the night in the airport. How would I let my parents know where I was? Finally the airline called the stand-by passengers to the desk. They told me there was one seat left but I had to go downstairs and get my seat assignment. I raced down the stairs but there was nobody there. I waited a while in a panic and then I ran back up the stairs and told them there was nobody down there. Finally a woman got up and said she would go get it for me while I went through security again. As soon as I had my seat assignment, I ran all the way to the plane. I was scared to death they would take off without me. When I reached my seat, I buckled my seat belt and broke into tears of relief.

I arrived in Nairobi the next morning and there was nobody there to meet me. I went to the bank and changed my $20 traveler’s check and figured I would have to take my chances with a taxi. I went out to the parking lot and there were lots of taxis lined up but no people around at all. While I was standing there trying to figure out what to do an airline steward came walking up and I asked him if he knew how I could get a taxi. He said he didn’t know but it wasn’t safe for me to go anywhere in a taxi. He asked his captain if they could give me a ride.

I arrived at the hotel in an airline minibus and rang my parents’ room. No answer. I rang our friends’ room. No answer. I walked all around the hotel lobby and outdoor area. When I returned to the lobby there was my mother sitting on the couch.

She took one look at me and said “What are you doing here?” At this point, I was exhausted, broke, hungry, confused and frankly, a little pissed off. “Thanks, mom.” I said. She replied calmly, not knowing my state of mind. “Your father is out at the airport looking for you”. Communications got really screwed up somehow and they thought I was coming in on a flight from Rome. I wish I could say this was an unfamiliar scenario, but travelling the million miles that I have, this kind of thing happened all the time.

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Kenya was wonderful. We drove around several game parks in Kenya and camped in tents. The tents were fairly large and had cots in them with mosquito nets and a bucket in the back for the toilet. There was a communal dining hall where everybody sat on benches and ate family style.

We were driving through a park just at dusk one day and we came upon a lone baby zebra. The game warden was with us and he seemed upset. We asked him what the problem was and he said the zebra would be dead by dark. He said it must have been separated from the rest of the herd somehow and now it didn’t have a chance. We asked if maybe we could take it with us or help it in some way and of course there was nothing we could do. That was just the way things worked: the world was one big food chain, but it was heartbreaking for me to witness it in person.

We crossed over into Tanzania and went to Ngoro Ngoro, a huge volcanic crater with a large plain inside where wildebeasts, flamingoes, hyenas, lions, rhinos, hippos, and monkeys all co-existed. It had a very prehistoric, eerie feel to it. The only way to get to it was in a four-wheel drive jeep creeping over the edge of the volcanic rock that completely surrounded the area. As we were driving across the middle of the plain we came across a family of rhino. Rhino cannot see very well but they hear well and have a good sense of smell. We were down-wind from them but the noise of the engine must have taken them by surprise because they turned and started to run right at us. The driver immediately turned off the engine. The rhinos froze in their tracks and we did too! Pretty soon the rhinos turned and started to walk away but then changed their minds. We sat perfectly still for about 20 minutes while the mama and papa rhino had a quickie and the baby was the lookout.

Another day at another park we came up behind a herd of elephants that was just crossing the road. There was an auntie at the end and she turned and started running towards us, ears flapping and trunk trumpeting. She took our driver by surprise. He shoved the car in reverse going full speed backwards in retreat. When we were a safe distance away, and the elephants had moved on a little we approached them again. This time when they charged us, the driver just gunned his engine. The elephants were afraid of the noise and backed off. When we returned to camp that day, we were told that it was becoming rarer and rarer to be charged by animals because they were becoming too accustomed to people. That was somewhat good news but really bad news in the larger sense of things.

On the way back to Nairobi we camped at the foot of Kilimanjaro. None of us were adventurous enough to climb it but we enjoyed having it as our backdrop.

On my way to Treetops

On my way to Treetops

We spent New Year’s Eve at the Outspan Hotel. From there we took a bus to Treetops, a famous salt lick with a hotel originally built in a tree. It burned down and has been rebuilt, but as you walked along the corridors you could still see branches coming through the walls. We arrived in the afternoon and had to trek in from the bus. Everybody had tea up on the roof. The baboons were really gutsy and came up and tried to steal women’s handbags. We had been warned about them. At night, animals came for the salt and so there was lots of activity. My friends stayed in the Queen Elizabeth suite. Elizabeth was staying there when her father, George the VI died, in 1952.

 

 

 

My Burma memories in photos

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I am re-posting from Eclectic Global Nomad

I was wandering around the National Gallery of Art the other day and stumbled across the exhibit “Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1852-1860.” Since I was born in Burma was immediately interested. I walked right in without reading any of the preamble and just started looking around. Many of the photographs were from Amarapura, the capital from 1842 to 1859 under King Tharrawaddy which is now part of Mandalay.

After the Anglo-Burmese war of 1852, the British annexed a part of Burma. This was the second of three wars. The third war in 1885 resulted in the British taking over the entire country. In 1855 Lord Dalhausie, the governor general of India, went on a political visit to Burma.

'The East Gopuram of the Great Pagoda' 1858, Linnaeus Tripe

- See more at: http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/burma-memories-photos/2014/10/14#sthash.1VzbRUPr.dpuf

College Bound

The Kremlin, Moscow

The Kremlin, Moscow

My son was born in the US state of Minnesota. We were living in Russia at the time. Our first challenge was getting him a passport. We took a bunch of photos of him lying on a white bedspread. He would not be still so we had to work fast. We came up with a few we thought might work and went off to submit our forms. They were rejected. The photos were no good. They had a place in the building where we could try again. I held him up over my head so I wasn’t in the photo and more pictures were taken. Finally we came up with one they accepted. My thought was, he would look completely different in a couple of months so what difference did it make?

At seven weeks I boarded a plane bound for Moscow. It was a 12 hour flight with a layover in Amsterdam. Luckily he slept most of the way and the real up side was he proved to be a ticket to the head of the line at customs. Easiest arrival I ever had.

Dancing in the rain in Switzerland

Dancing in the rain in Switzerland

Over the next six years I dragged him all over Europe. At eight months we went to visit a friend in Finland. We took him with us to see the movie Braveheart and he slept right through it. At 10 months we visited family in the US. At 18 months we went to Helsinki. Later we spent time in France, Italy, Switzerland and Holland. We took a road trip across the Rockies to California. At one point we were sitting in a restaurant in Amsterdam. It was late and we were enjoying a nice meal. There were two men at the table next to us. One of them leaned over and asked, “does your son always sleep at restaurants?”. I looked over and he was fast asleep with his head on the table. My answer was, “Yes he can sleep anywhere”. And he did.

The electric train in St Petersburg

The electric train in St Petersburg

I had some challenging plane trips during his terrible two period but otherwise he was a good traveler.

My childhood was much the same so I didn’t really think anything of it. Children might not remember the details of their early travels but they absorb the experience. They understand they are in an unfamiliar place and need to act differently. They hear people speaking different languages. They learn all kinds of things. I can vividly remember being six in a hotel room in Tokyo and seeing television for the first time. What struck me was I could not understand it. They were speaking a language I did not understand. I grew up speaking five languages, how could it be that there were more?

On a Carousel in Paris

On a Carousel in Paris

 

So my child learned to adapt and adjust and deal with things he found unpleasant. He went to a Russian school and hated it because he was the “different” one. When he returned to the US and went to school, again he knew he was the “different” one.

 

“Although the length of time needed for someone to become a true TCK can’t be precisely defined, the time when it happens can. It must occur during the developmental years – from birth to eighteen years of age. We recognize that a cross-cultural experience affects adults as well as children. The difference for the TCK, however, is that this cross-cultural experience occurs during the years when that child’s sense of identity, relationships with others, and view of the world are being formed in the most basic ways…… no one is ever a “former” third culture kid. TCKs simply move on to being adult third culture kids because their lives grow out of the roots planted in and watered by the third culture experience.”

From Third Culture Kids by David C Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken

After returning the US, my son had other challenges – adjusting to five different schools, his parents’ divorce, and his father’s death. His experience in Russia and traveling around Europe gave him unique tools to cope with these things. His father’s family was Russian and he now embraces his heritage with a balanced view. He knows the hardships that people endure there but he also knows about their rich culture and has memories of the wonderful people who helped care for him.

Nations Friendship Fountain, VDNK, Moscow

Nations Friendship Fountain, VDNK, Moscow

 

 

Now, as he goes off to college he will have new challenges to face. My main challenge in college was adjusting to my passport country and people I knew little about. My son is better prepared for the transition. He is comfortable with diversity and a wide range of people. He will do well.

 

 

Dinner on Lake Como

 

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I recently spent a week in a villa on Lake Como in the Italian Alps. On our last night we had a local chef come in to cook us dinner. He was the brother of the villa’s owner and worked for a restaurant in Bellagio. He suggested a menu made up of local foods and, with a few adjustments to our group, we eagerly agreed.

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Lake Como is in the Lombardy region of Italy and is known for its risottos and polentas. They boast a wide variety of cheeses and the fish in the lake is abundant. We watched people fishing just outside our villa and it took them less than a minute to catch something. Normally fish would have been on our menu but some in our group couldn’t eat it.

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We started with a typical Antipasto of meats and cheeses including mortadella, salami, mushroom pate and local cheeses accompanied by a local white wine “Le Calderine” from the Angelinetta Winery in Domaso.

 

 

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The next course, we were told, was a local peasant dish called Pizzocheri. It was a pasta made with buckwheat flour. The chef and his sister hand rolled it into fat wormlike noodles. These were boiled and finished with cream, herbs, walnuts, and cheese. This was the dish we all liked the least. It was heavy and a bit sour. We all thought it might have been better if it was cooked a bit longer but having nothing to compare it to, we couldn’t be sure. Most of us could not finish it.

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Our main course was roast pork shank with porcini mushrooms and a polenta cake. The pork was magnificent. It fell off the bone and melted in your mouth and the mushrooms were the perfect accent to the dish. We asked if the mushrooms were fresh, they were so delicious, but were told they were not in season. They had been preserved locally in jars. A “ca del Mot” red wine from the same local winery accompanied this dish.

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For dessert we had frittelle stuffed with apples and raisins. These are deep fat fried yeast risen pancakes similar to a doughnut and sometimes called Venetian Doughnuts. The frittelle were served hot, dusted with sugar and cocoa and drizzled with honey. They were quite good but kind of heavy on top of a heavy dinner.

 

 

 

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The grand finale was the Grolla. It originated in a region to the west of Lombardy also on the Swiss border, the Valle d’Aosta. It is a drink that requires a special container, or Grolla, the cup of friendship. It is carved out of one piece of wood and has openings for each person at the table to drink out of. The saying goes that the people who drink from the same Grolla will be united in eternal friendship but everybody must drink from their own opening and the entire contents must be finished.

The traditional recipe is one cup coffee and one cup hot grappa and a spoonful of sugar per person, add an orange peel, a lemon peel and light. When the flame burns out, let it cool a bit and start drinking.  I’m not sure this recipe was followed exactly but the drink was delicious and we enjoyed it very much.

The Glamorous World of Air Travel

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(I am reposting this from my Eclectic Global Nomad blog)

A couple of months ago I took a trip and found that my boarding pass said “TSA Pre-check”.  I didn’t notice it until the official at security told me I could take the fast lane. It meant I didn’t have to take my shoes off or pull anything out of my bag and I could wear my jacket. I breezed through security. It made a difference. I had known about it for a while but people told me I had to apply for it and it took forever. For some reason they just gave it to me without asking. I didn’t question it but I did wonder why.

– See more at: http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/glamorous-world-air-travel/2014/06/01#sthash.sYFm8EHu.dpuf

 

 

 

Memories and Speeches

Lake Lugano

Lake Lugano

When I was sixteen I went off to boarding school in Switzerland. My parents were living in Nigeria. My roommate traveled from Tanzania. My best friend’s parents were living in Tokyo. Walking down the hall in my dorm there were people from Saudi Arabia, Germany and various US cities. In a couple of weeks I will be going back to stay in the new dorms of my old school for a big reunion. I will see several of my old dorm-mates. We will haunt the old stomping grounds reliving old memories and making new ones.

One of my tasks for this reunion is to write a speech. I am having trouble sitting myself down and focusing on this task. Do I draw on the memories of particular events from those days?

Duomo, Florence

Duomo, Florence

The time Kelly saved my life at the Duomo in Florence. I didn’t know I had vertigo but turns out I did and he took my hand and guided me through it. The trip to Dachau and how quiet everybody was on the bus home. Leaning to drink warm beer at the HofBrauHaus in Munich. The other great thing about Munich was we saw our first McDonald’s in Europe and became “American” for a weekend. In Venice we got around on water buses and discovered a small disco. Plus a pigeon landed on my head in St Mark’s Square. Hiking up the side of a mountain just to lie in the grass and stare at the sky. Instigating “all school skip day” that stuck as a tradition.

Traveling through Greece having to hear about every single ruin by the side of the road and never getting to listen to rock and roll music. Taking a cruise through the Greek Islands and being bombarded by wet toilet paper rockets in the hallway outside the girl’s cabin. Listening to boring lectures about the mosaics of Ravenna and Giotto’s Chapel. Wishing there were horses in the square in Siena.

Palio Di Diena

Palio Di Siena

 

Or do I talk about the overall experience of living with an exceptional group of people, teachers and students alike who influenced the rest of our lives.

We were taught to be independent, curious, adventurous, supportive and respectful. We were only 16 or 17 and we traveled the world on our own without thinking twice about it. We would seek out art and architecture wherever we went. We enjoyed each other’s company, had fun together and sometimes tolerated each other. We became a family.

And now many many years later, we are still family. We have a unifier that brings us all together. That time in Switzerland made us all different. We experienced something together that other people could never understand. It was our unique world and we came out of it as a unit. So when we meet each other now, even if we didn’t know each other then, we immediately have a connection. We have a common ground to work off of. In some cases it was a jumping off point to forge new relationships. Even now the family continues to grow.

Or do I just tell a story and thank everybody for coming. Of course all memories are subject to change and embellishment. I could probably make something up. But I won’t. I will keep it simple and short. Who wants to listen to a speech when you are sitting eating French food on one of the most beautiful lakes in the world?

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On another note, I am going bi-coastal.  My Baltimore Post Examiner blog, Eclectic Global Nomad has been picked up by the Los Angeles Post Examiner so you can find me in both.

Guatemala and El Salvador

Antigua

My mom and I in Antigua. Great glasses, no?

When I was five, I was in a plane crash. After that I was terrified of planes. When I was six we had to travel from Burma to the US and then a year later we moved to Mexico City. I did not get on another airplane until I was twelve.

My first plane trip in many years was in the first class section on a PanAm flight from Mexico City to Guatemala. We were the only ones in first class so I got to be kind of chummy with the flight attendant. Toward the end of the flight he asked me how I liked the flight and how I felt about it. I thought that was kind of odd and didn’t know what he was talking about. Apparently my parents had briefed him on me and my troubles with flying, and so he had made a special effort to distract me. By that time I had blocked out the whole thing and had no recollection of there being any problems. I just wondered why didn’t fly more and why we took such long boring road trips everywhere.

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan

 

In Guatemala, we rented a car and drove up the mountain to Lake Atitlan. Volcanoes surrounded the lake and the lake itself was a collapsed volcanic cone. Since I am off to Lake Como, Italy in a few weeks I want to add this quote I found from Aldus Huxley – Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.

On the way up the mountain to the lake, we saw people lying by the side of the road. We didn’t know if they were dead, passed out or taking a nap. It was very odd. We later found out that the previous day was payday and they had done their celebrating and not quite made it home. Apparently it was a familiar site in the countryside. We also went to Chichicastenango and to Antigua. This was major earthquake country. Antigua was the original capital of Guatemala but in 1776 there was such a bad earthquake they moved the capital to where it is today – Guatemala City. Antigua was surrounded by three volcanoes.

There was a new part of Antigua and an old part. The old part was all ruins. It was an eerie place. It was once a major city that tumbled down and was left there like a memorial. We stopped at a small restaurant and ate our meal in the yard. There was a group of musicians that wandered from table to table. We could see laundry hanging at the end of the lawn.

San Salvador

San Salvador

From there, we continued to El Salvador. I don’t remember much about it except one night in San Salvador we were staying in a high-rise hotel and I was sleeping on a cot. The building started to sway and my cot started moving across the room. All I could do was laugh. I was used to earthquakes in Mexico so it was not out of the ordinary. It wasn’t any laughing matter really since earthquakes can be devastating but being twelve and riding around on a cot, there really wasn’t much else to do. One thing I realized years later was earthquakes are very loud. They made a noise like a truck or a train. I don’t ever remember hearing that as a child.

 

 

She Wore White Linen – Chapters 1-3

IMG_04741. She Wore White Linen

Stepping off the airplane the air was thick enough to cut with a knife.  She choked on her first breath, faltering for a moment, the second one came easier.  She was dressed in white linen, fitting for the tropics.   Or so she thought.  She had not taken the dirt and grime of an African city into consideration.  She was not going to a vacation resort but one of the bustling capitals of the Dark Continent.  Having never been in this part of the world before, she had no idea what she was getting herself into.  She was to find a completely alien world.

As she saw everybody pushing and shoving to get through immigration, she began to realize it would be some time before she arrived at her destination.  Passports were being waved in the air and the rank smell of people who were obviously unaware of soap filled her nostrils.  She tried to keep her composure but decide she must stand her ground if she ever wanted to get out of the airport.

Finally the immigration man took her passport.  She smiled at him using all her charm hoping it would speed up the process.  It did not.  He tediously filed out the necessary forms and stamped everything several times and then he leaned down and gruffly said,  “Make your way to the Health Counter”.

There being no through passage, she had to fight her way back through the crowd and around to the next stop.  Her vaccinations were in order and again she fought her way to the luggage area.  There, young boys descended on her asking to carry her bags.  Being laden down with a coat, a carry-on bag, and her purse, she agreed to let them.  They had to dig through the pile but finally all her luggage was accounted for.

As she approached the gate, an official asked if she had anything to declare.  She could not think what he meant and said “No”.

On the other side of the gate, a mob was stretching to see the people inside, looking for a familiar face or an easy mark.  Several men asked her if she wanted a taxi but she paid no attention as she was also stretching to see a familiar face.

Her dark brown eyes relaxed as a man in khaki shorts and sandals came up to her.  He kissed her on the cheek and asked about her trip.

“Long and crowded” she answered, “I am exhausted.  And I can’t believe this stifling heat!  How do you stand it?”

“You will get used to it, ” Ian replied.

“And the smell?”  Karen asked.

“You will get used to that, too”, he said, laughing.

 

IMG_04742. Introduction to Africa

She hadn’t seen her brother in two years.  He looked well.  Tan and thin.  He was a little taller than she was but not much.  They shared the same brown eyes but he had lighter hair.  Maybe from the sun.

Ian was living in the bush, working on some contract related to the US Embassy.  He was probably some kind of spy.  She did not really know what he was doing.  But he seemed to like it.

They piled into his rugged white Peugeot sedan and headed off into nightmare traffic.  It took them five hours to reach their destination, a large village north of the city.  Getting out of the airport was a challenge. The road was thick with traffic.  The piles of trash along the way were fermenting in the sun and the smell of urine and rotting garbage was strong.  She could see the open sewers, green with slime and naked children playing along side them.  Music was blaring and people were shouting and singing.  It was a noisy crowded mess of humanity.

She was glad to finally arrive at Ian’s bungalow and unwind with a glass of wine on the porch.  Her time was so messed up she could not really think.  She just went with the flow.

“Sorry but I have accepted an invitation for us to go out tonight.”

“What?”  Karen asked, surprised.

“It is the Christmas Pantomime and then a light supper at the a friend’s house.  It will be fun.  You can sleep through the pantomime.”

“Fine.”

IMG_04743. What she left behind

Karen had left the Boston winter behind.  It was December and she should have stayed to spend the holidays with her boyfriend, Josh, but she could not bear another day in that city.  She needed a break.  She had worked hard for two solid years to receive a Masters Degree in journalism.   It was her dream to travel and write.  Then she spent the next six months looking for a job with no luck.  The market was saturated and there was no interest in somebody with no experience and no real conviction.  She knew she wanted to write but she was not sure what she wanted to write about.  Not politics.  Not crime.  Not flea markets and farmer’s markets.  She wanted to write about exotic people and places.  She was a dreamer.

So she told her boyfriend she needed a break and was going to Africa to visit her brother for a few weeks.  He was not happy about that.  He accused her of being cold and heartless.  She thought he was probably right.  She should have been more caring and attentive but frankly she did not care.  She wanted to move on.  To get on with her life.  Not sit in Boston making babies the rest of her life.  She had stored her few belongings with a friend and she doubted she would go back.

There was a small expat community in the village where Ian lived and many of them were British.  Hence the Christmas pantomime.  As a girl, she lived in India and was very familiar with the pantomime.  Pantomimes were musical comedies usually based on children’s fairy tales. Expat communities around the world would write their own scripts incorporating individuals in the community in the jokes, sometimes off-color ones. She was looking forward to it.  It would bring back fond memories.

They arrived just in time to take their seats before the curtain rose.

The story was Jack and the Magical Palm.  It was very funny, full of twists, turn and innuendoes.  Many of them, Karen did not understand but she fully enjoyed it anyway.

As they were getting up, a young man came up to greet Ian.

“This is my sister, Karen, who just arrived today from Boston for a few weeks.  Karen, I would  like you to meet my good friend, Alex.”

Karen stood transfixed.  It was not that he was the most gorgeous man she had ever seen, although he was handsome, but he had such a presence, she was immediately drawn to him.  She had to ask Ian to repeat his name.

“Hi, nice to meet you”

“Nice to meet you.  I know Ian was looking forward to your visit.  Will you be staying long?”

“I am not sure, a couple of weeks.”

“Good, then we will see more of each other, I am sure.  Sorry but I have to run, I volunteered to help with clean up.”

Ian introduced Karen to a couple of other people who did not register with her at all and then they left for their dinner party at Ian’s next door neighbor’s house.  They were a young couple with a young child and were not up to going to the pantomime.  Karen and Ian arrived a little after nine and the child was sleeping so all was quiet.

“Hi, this is my sister Karen.  Karen this is Sarah and Joe.  Joe and I work together.”

“Welcome!  It is great to meet you.  We have heard a lot about you.  Come in!”

Sitting on the screened-in porch, Karen enjoyed the cool evening breezes.  The supper started with humus and pita bread.  Karen was delighted as humus was one of her favorite foods.  A comfort food.  She was tired.