Living Abroad: Travel or Life?

I just read “Paris I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” by Rosecrans Baldwin, and have been really wondering: if you are somewhere for an extended stay, when does your status change from traveling abroad to living abroad?

Baldwin’s book is fantastic.  Having worked and lived in foreign countries, I could completely relate to his excitement, pain, disappointment, and joy.  And his writing is a pleasure to read; I found myself laughing and cringing alongside him and his 18-month adventure living and working in Paris.

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Beyond a doubt, Baldwin lived in Paris.  I’m just trying to figure out what the milestones are that made his stay there living, and not an extended business trip.

Is it going to the doctor?  I’ve had to seek out medical care for myself and others in foreign locals, none of which I’ve lived in.  So, it can’t be that.

It is having a flat of his own?  I’ve done the extended stay in houses and flats.  But those trips were definitely vacations.

Every milestone I think of, I can think of a time I did that activity somewhere that I wasn’t remotely considering a home.

So, what is it?

I’m starting to think it’s intangible.  It’s a state of mind.  If you think of someplace as home, then it is.  Can it really be that simple?

In my heart, I believe I have lived in two foreign cities: Prague and Buenos Aires.

I did a study abroad in Prague for the final semester of my senior year of college.  And, my time there really felt like living, not traveling.  I studied the language.  I made a bunch of friends.  I fell in love.  I traveled away from Prague, and felt like I was returning “home” when I returned to the city.  I found local gems in hidden nooks and crannies where I bought pastries in the mornings and beer in the evenings.  I mapped out my favorite running paths.  And, maybe most telling, I spent a lot of time not doing much at all; just being.

I went to Buenos Aires for a couple months for work, and also felt like I was living there, not visiting.  I had a metro card, learned to speak Spanish, locals became good friends, and again, after traveling around the region, always felt like I was coming back “home” to Buenos Aires after the trip.  I danced the tango, drank gallons of wine and coffee, went to fútbol matches, and bought an amazing collection of Prune purses.  And my god did I eat: empañadas, pizza, lamb, steak, pasta, cheese, dulce de leche…

I felt like home while I was living in both cities, and now, when I go back and visit, I feel like I am visiting an old friend.  In fact, I have taken friends to both cities, and excitedly tried to show them “My” Prague and “My” Buenos Aires.

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But, one of the truths about living somewhere and not vacationing there, is that your version of the city may not be so exciting to a tourist.

It’s not about the bells and the whistles when you live somewhere.  It’s about the core.  The rhythm of your morning coffee at your favorite café, figuring out just where to stand to get into the metro the fastest, finding the little club that hosts your favorite local bands. It’s about the heartbeat of everyday life.

Love Letter To Mali Part VII: A Broken Heart

I started writing my love letter to Mali back in September.  My heart was already breaking for all the people I met, and those I hadn’t met.  I was already anxious for the wellbeing of the rich cultural sites and Islamic texts.

In the interim, things have gone from bad to worse.  As I wrote each subsequent chapter of my love letter, things continued to deteriorate.

NYTimes Photo of Mali troops

NYTimes Photo of Mali troops

I have heard from someone I met while I was there.  He asked for money.  He has had to move his whole family from Timbuktu to Mopti.  Thank God they are all safe, but he has no way to get money to feed them.

I am paralyzed by a sense of impotence.  Sure, I can wire him some money.  But, as soon as my focus broadens just a smidge, I am paralyzed again.  How can sending a few dollars to one person help the situation at all?

And, to be completely honest, there is a part of me that worries about how my money would be spent.  I only spent a few hours with this person.  What if they are somehow on the wrong side of things?  Or, in such dire straights that they are forced to support the wrong side?

As I struggle with my own tiny dilemma, the world is struggling with the bigger picture.  How do we save the Malians?  How do we save the historical sites?  How do we prevent the militants who have taken over from using Mali (and Algeria and Libya) as a home base to spread terror across the region, and the world?

It is a frightening time, and a perilous situation.

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As I sit back, paralyzed, impotent, ashamed, and watch it unfold, I continue to send my love to Mali and its people.

Ethiopia Part I: Oh, So Much To Learn..

I have been fascinated by Ethiopia ever since I learned about Lucy, the ancient human ancestor found there.  When I was a kid, I wanted to be an archeologist.  Or maybe an anthropologist.  I struggled between the two, but in either case, I knew I wanted to go to Ethiopia.

And, when I finally did, it was even more magical than I had anticipated throughout my youth.

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My guide, Dereje, was fantastic, and did an extraordinary job explaining the rich culture and history to me.  I have never before felt so much knowledge flowing forth at me, at such a rapid speed.  And I enjoyed every second of it.

Mostly, I think the fire hose effect was because I knew so little.  I imagine if I had never studied the Roman, Greek or Ottoman empires in school, my visits to Italy, Greece and Turkey would have been similarly overwhelming.  But, when I went to those countries, I had a strong basic understanding in place, and the visits therefore served to fill in the missing pieces, explain the nuances, and add the lively details.

In Ethiopia, it was wholly different.  I didn’t know anything.  Dereje had his work cut out for him.

Let’s start with the basics.  Did you know that Ethiopia is on a calendar eight years behind ours, and starts in September?  Or that they follow a 12-hour clock that starts at dawn instead of midnight, and ends at dusk?  So 7:00 AM in East Africa Time (EAT) corresponds to 1:00 in daylight hours in local Ethiopian time. 12:00 noon EAT is 6:00 in daylight hours, and 6:00 PM EAT is 12:00 in local time.

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Wow I had a lot to learn!

Like, the fact that the Nile starts in Ethiopia.  Dereje and I hiked to the Blue Nile Falls to see the start of the Nile River.  Having already been to Egypt, this meant even more to me to see where the river begins.

blue nile falls

To get to our hike and back, we had to cross the Blue Nile via boat.  On the way back our boat (a rickety metal canoe powered by a rusting motor) had a musician onboard to serenade the passengers.  He asked my name, and he understood me to say “silly” instead of “Cindy”, which I didn’t correct.  So, for the boat ride, as well as the walk back to the van during which he followed us, he kept singing “…..Silly……Silly, Silly Silly….silly….silly…”  which was pretty silly to me.

crossing the river

I also didn’t know why so many African flags have the same colors as Ethiopia.  Apparently, since Ethiopia is the only African nation that wasn’t colonized, when they each won their independence, the other nations took inspiration from Ethiopia’s flag.

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Oh, and I also learned that the whole Jamaican Rastafarian movement is named after an Ethiopian king.  He is the same king that was the first black leader to visit the (Nixon) white house.  He landed in Kingstown and a 4-year drought ended, which was part of legend in Jamaica about an African king.

And he took 2,000 Jamaicans back to Ethiopia with him and gave them all land.  When he was overthrown by the military in the 70s, a lot of them left, but I guess there are still a few hundred.

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The King’s name was Haile Selassie, and you can hear him mentioned in a lot of Reggae music.

You would not believe the wad of cash I had in Ethiopia.  I traded 3 $100 bills for like 50 bills of Ethiopian money.  They had to give me a rubber band!  And, I had to break some of those bills into smaller denominations as well.  It reminds me of the Shel Silverstein poem “Smart” about the boy who trades his dollar for five pennies.

Smart

My dad gave me one dollar bill ‘Cause I’m his smartest son, And I swapped it for two shiny quarters ‘Cause two is more than one!

And then I took the quarters And traded them to Lou For three dimes – I guess he don’t know That three is more than two!

Just then, along came old blind Bates And just ’cause he can’t see He gave me four nickels for my three dimes, And four is more than three!

And I took the nickels to Hiram Coombs Down at the seed-feed store, And the fool gave me five pennies for them, and five is more than four!

And then I went and showed my dad, And he got red in the cheeks And closed his eyes and shook his head – Too proud of me to speak!

-Shel Silverstein

Well, class, now that we have finished Ethiopia 101, stay tuned for my impressions of the actual trip, itself!

 

Lietuva Part I: It’s In My Blood

My dad was born in Lithuania (Lietuva), and escaped with his family during World War II.  Although my dad sports a classic Chicago accent, his parents never learned English, and I spent many days of my childhood listening to the grown-ups speaking Lithuanian, while my sister and I ate Lithuanian food and were spoiled with wordless affection.

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I think it is because of this time that I don’t flinch when I find myself spending hours surrounded by people speaking to each other in languages I can’t comprehend.  I have become pretty adept at following conversations through body language, tone, and facial expressions.  Sure, understanding the words is a plus.  But it’s often not needed.

I recently heard Ruta Sepetys speak at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference, and I was blown away.  Let me say, first, that I think the whole audience was in awe of this dynamic woman.  But, on a personal level, she shares my relationship with Lithuania.  She, too, is the daughter of immigrants.  She, too, had family who was displaced, exiled, and killed in the war and post-war.  And, she, too, grew up not speaking the language, but being surrounded by its music.

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After her speech, I immediately downloaded her book, Between Shades of Gray, and devoured it.  It is an important story for me, for my family, and for Lithuania.  But, it is also an important story for all of us to be reminded that there were atrocities committed in World War II beyond those horrors architected by Hitler.

Though the eyes of a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941, Sepetys reminds us that Stalin has even more blood on his hands.

Climbing Kilimanjaro Part II: The Arrival

When I arrived at the airport in Kilimanjaro, I could not believe how absolutely easy immigration into Tanzania was, considering I needed to purchase my visa there.  Visits to a U.S. post office are more time-consuming and painful than this experience of entering an East African country.

Upon leaving the airport after the simplest border control in recorded history, I found myself in the familiar position of standing with my bags on a cart, looking around for someone who had my name on a sign.  And, no one did.

I pushed my cart against the wall so I was out of everyone’s way, and dug through my backpack to find my local contact’s information.  When I called, she reassured me that the driver would materialize momentarily.  So, I sat on my cart, turned away taxi driver after taxi driver, listened to my “Africa” playlist, and relaxed.

I watched as patches of Westerners walked through the doors, into the glare of the Tanzanian sun.  Backpackers looking for cheap taxis, tour groups looking for shuttle buses, tourists looking for their prearranged drivers.  A lot of them were resonating with a palpable stress I recognized.  I am sure I looked like that in Bamako when my drivers failed to immediately materialize. (read the “Love Letter to Mali” series for the first-hand account!)

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Here I was surprised to realize I was not worried at all.  I shrugged, and continued to watch the parade of nations.

It was funny to see all the different nationalities, and how they were dressed and acting, given where we were.  The Russians were obnoxious, in sequin tank tops, spike-heeled snakeskin boots, drinking vodka from canteens, loud, and over the top in every kind of way.  The Brazilians were only a little less extreme than the Russians, and the Italians were only slightly better than the Brazilians.

The Brits were uptight and frumpy, complaining and looking hot and uncomfortable.  The South Africans were only a little less extreme than the Brits, and the Americans were only a little better than the South Africans.

The French looked appropriately relaxed and on-vacation; they were dressed comfortably but sharply, and, especially by comparison to everyone else, presented an attractive package.

When I finally found my driver, he was terrific.  We had a super rugged safari vehicle, and as he drove me the 45-minutes to my hotel, he told me about the local area.

hottie driver in kili

I loved my driver’s accent.  I loved his eyes.  I love that he insisted I sit next to him in the front seat.

So, I already loved Tanzania.  But, I don’t think my attraction to The Hottie Driver can explain why I instantly felt so comfortable and at home at Rivertrees hotel.  It is a gorgeous old farm estate on many acres converted into a charming hotel.  I spent the afternoon sitting in the open-air restaurant drinking coffee (they freshly roasted and ground the beans for me).

I decided to go for a run through the grounds.  I followed the river, and wound my way among the cabins and dense trees, with monkeys in them.  While I was walking to cool down, I started to fantasize about living here.  I felt like I am home.

After my shower, I looked in the mirror at my back, and was shocked at the giant red welts.  I had just arrived from Ethiopia, and had been attacked by tse-tse flies yesterday.  Under normal circumstances, I would be alarmed enough at what I was looking at, but I was even more freaked by the realization that I was about to set off on the Kili climb with some kind of allergic reaction.

I called reception.

“Does the hotel have a doctor?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Great, I have weird welts on my back I’d like someone to look at.”

“So, you want a doctor?”

“Yes.”

“OK, I’ll send one over to your room.”

“Thanks.”

That was so easy.  Ten minutes later, there was a knock at my door, and someone arrived with a power adapter.

“Ah, I don’t need an adapter, I want a doctor.”

“Ah, I don’t have one of those, maybe you can call reception?”

Eventually I stopped freaking out and adjusted to the fact that I just had some bug bites.  So, I took Benadryl and quit my worrying.  Mostly.

To distract myself I strolled over to the gift shop that had beautiful beaded jewelry.  I started to pick out gifts, but my mind was aflutter with thoughts of The Climb — so I gave up and just browsed.

“Can I help you?” asked Gretchen, the resort manager, who was manning the register.

After chatting for a few minutes I decided to show her my back.  “So, I’m sure it’s nothing, but I have these bites.  Can you take a look?”

“Sure.  OH MY GOD.  I mean, ok, I see.  They are tsetse fly bites.  Yes, these are quite inflamed.”

“How many are there?” I asked.

“Ah.  Well, let’s see.  I can see at least sixteen distinct bites, maybe more.  Some of these look quite large and could actually be two bites that are swollen together.  You poor thing.”

“Should I be worried?  I am going to start climbing Mount Kilimanjaro tomorrow, and have to wear my rucksack and all.”

“Really?  Tomorrow?  Ah.  Well.  No.  No, not at all.  You’ll be fine.  I’m sure.  Just fine.  Just a few bug bites, right?”

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I smiled nervously, both relieved and a little freaked out.  I told her I’d be back after my trek to get some jewelry, and I headed to the restaurant for my pre-climb briefing.

The President of the hiking company soon arrived to deliver the pre-climb briefing, and introduced me to my head guide, Frank, who was all dimples and muscles.  The President explained that while Frank and I were climbing, he would be monitoring us from town and arranging any emergency evacuations.  First thing they told me is that I was the only one doing the climb.  That meant all of the food, equipment and personnel were for me. I was so embarrassed to have a team of twelve men escorting me on just a week-long trek.

The briefing went something like…

“Make sure you eat a lot.  Eat until you are full.  Then keep eating.”

“Oh, ok,” I laughed.  “I usually am a pretty good eater.  That shouldn’t be a problem.”

“I’m not kidding.  You need to consciously stuff yourself at all meals.  Your body will try to tell you it’s full.  Ignore it.  You need more calories than your body thinks you need.  And more water.  Your body will use up to three times as much water as normal.”

“OK.  Got it.  Eat and drink.”

“Yes, nonstop.  At least six liters of water a day.  In addition all the liquids we will serve you at meals.”

“OK.  Check.  Imbibe.  Ingest.  Got it.”

“The golden rule is ‘Pole Pole.’  That means ‘Slowly Slowly’ in Swahili.”

“It is like you are telling me to do all my favorite things.  Eat and drink tons.  Move as slowly as possible.  This climb is up my alley for sure.”

The President didn’t laugh.  “It is important that you keep your pace slow in order to avoid stressing out your body while it is trying to adjust to the altitude.  Because, if you do get altitude sickness, you will be sent down.  There are no second chances.  We take safety very seriously.”

“Right, as do I.”

“OK.  So you will be in charge of your day sack.  You can put the rest of your gear in one duffle that the porters will carry.  Any questions?”

“Actually, yes.  So, I have these bites on my back.  I’m sure they’re nothing.  But I’m a little worried my day pack may rub them raw.”

“OK.  Let’s take a look.”  So, I turned around and lift up my shirt.  “Oh My God!  I mean, OK.  If they are irritated by your pack, he’ll carry it,” he says, pointing to Frank.

“Thanks.”  Frank and I looked uneasily at each other.

The President and Frank conducted a thorough kit check of my gear and I unsurprisingly passed with flying colors.  I had already proven to myself that when it comes to adventure travel, I have the shopping part down pat.  After arranging the pick up time in the morning, they left.

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Holy cow.  Now that it was about twelve hours away, I was starting to get a little nervous.  And, I was definitely more nervous knowing that I would be doing this alone.  What if I didn’t make it?  That meant the whole crew would have done all this for nothing.  But, I was more excited than nervous.  I couldn’t believe I was finally going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, a life-long dream.  Literally.

Stay tuned to Part III for the climb…

Happy New Year!

How do you mark a milestone?  Like a birthday or New Year’s?  These are important events in our culture that we celebrate with friends and family.  The passing of a year in someone’s life, or in our collective lives.

How do you stop one from bleeding into the other?

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Years ago, my friend Ellen and I decided that instead of celebrating NYE with a party, champagne and noisemakers, we would travel.  That way, we could remember how we capped off each year from a distance, and move forward to launch the next.

So far, we have traveled for every New Year’s since we made this decision, often with other friends joining us.  Our trips have taken us to:

Costa Rica

nye costa rica

 

Dublin

nye dublin

Key West

Lake Tahoe

Las Vegas

London

New Orleans

New York

Scotland

nye scotland

Sydney

nye sydney

The Bahamas

nye bahamas

This year we went to Romania, to visit Dracula’s castle and stay in an ice hotel — you know, the standard way most people celebrate the turnover into the new year..

nye ice hotel nye dracula

Each of these trips is more memorable than any New Year’s party could possibly be.  For us, life is about experience.  Celebrating the new year and toasting the passing one is about honoring the experiences we have had in the past year, and anticipating the ones we will have in the coming one.  And doing that while in the midst of a travel experience, one full of new sights, sounds, feelings, and more, is the most fitting way for us to really feel the potency of change.

So with that, Happy New Year to all! Here’s to making 2013 a year full of stepping out of our comfort zones, and searching out new experiences, whether they be abroad, or right here at home.

Climbing Kilimanjaro Part I: Getting Ready (…To Die!?)

 I don’t know if it was reading Hemingway’s book as a kid, but for as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

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And a couple of years ago, I decided to finally do it.

It was during my final shopping trip to REI that I started to have doubts.  I was at the checkout counter with everything from waterproof mittens, a down jacket and hiking socks to antibacterial wet wipes, an in-rucksack platypus water carrier with insulated tubing that won’t freeze, and a headlamp with spare batteries…

“Where are you off to?” asks the woman ringing me up.

“Africa.  I’m going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in a few weeks,” I answer.  I get a jolt of excitement, and nerves, every time I say that out loud.

“Oh, wow!  I did it in September.”

“And?  How was it?”

“Awesome.  Truly.  You’ll love it.  I have two pieces of advice.  First, buy a bunch of pens and bring them to give to the kids.  There are kids who have come to expect foreigners to give them candy or money.  Giving pens just felt better to me than handing out a bunch of bubble gum.”

“OK.  That’s a great tip.  What else?”

“Take the Diamox.  Do you have a prescription for it?”

“Yep.  I went to the doc last week, and I already picked it up.”

“OK.  Good.  Don’t mess around.  Take it.  Two people died when I was summiting.  Not in my group, but the same day I summited.  From altitude sickness.  It means you’ll have to pee all the time, but…I think that’s a small price to pay for, well, living.”

Holy. Shit!  I just stood there and looked at her.  I had thought the biggest risk was the embarrassment of having to admit I didn’t summit.  My sister’s friend had been carried down the mountain in a wheelbarrow when she got altitude sickness and couldn’t go on.  The thought of being rolled down a mountain was mortifying, but a risk I was willing to take.  Two people died?

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I left REI with shopping bags full of supplies, and a healthy new respect for all the potential (maybe probable?) risks in my upcoming adventure.

Love Letter To Mali Part VI: Dogon Villages of the Bandiagara Cliff

After an hour we stopped at our first village.  The houses were, like the other villages we’d visited, made of mud bricks.  But, this time, with stone walls around each house.  After touring the village, we climbed up the cliff to the site of some amazing frescos, said to be painted over ancient Tellem cliff paintings, where the village holds a ceremony every 3 years to circumcise all the 12-14 year old boys.

Part of the ceremony involves a race, where first prize is a granary full of millet, second prize is the right to choose your first wife (instead of having it arranged as is customary) and third prize is a cow.

Then, it was a 90-minute drive on a rocky windy hilly dirt road to another village where we had a delicious lunch of fish, tomato sauce and couscous.  I bought a bunch of pens in the DC airport, and started handing them out at this stop.  When we drove back through this village after the Mask Ceremony, the children were all yelling “bic, bic!”.  At first I thought they were yelling “big, big” and was hoping they would go back to Baloo!  But, when we realized they were yelling “bic”, Camara starting calling me “madame bic”.

These villages have a river winding through them, and the Dogon grow green onion as a cash crop after the millet harvest.  The aroma is fantastic; French onion dip.  I started craving Ruffles.

Apparently, the thinking is that the Tellem either used to, 1) be amazing rock climbers and able to scale the cliff walls to get into their caves, or 2) be able to take advantage of vines that no longer exist.  Unbelievable.

It was another hour to the next Dogon village, where we stopped to see the Mask Dance.  Probably 50 men participated in the dance, wearing elaborate wooden masks and dancing to drums played by the elders.  The mask people are a secret society.  Oumar explained a lot of the history and symbolism of the masks and dance.

The way back was tougher on the car since a lot of it was uphill.  Suddenly, in the middle of no where, we got a flat tire.  Oumar and Camara changed the tire, and we were back in business.  While they had been changing the tire, 4 boys walked out of vast emptiness to see what was going on.  I gave them some chocolate I had been carrying around.

Once we got on the paved road, Camara stopped to get the tire repaired.  While Oumar and I waited (and I tried not to think about the fact that I was getting eaten alive by malaria-ridden mosquitos), I explained game theory to him, and we practice some Prisoner Dilemma and Dove/Hawk equations.  Pretty fun way to pass the time, actually.  That, and watching the passers-by.  The streets have goats, buses, motorcycles, pedestrians, cars, 4x4s, bicycles, horse carts and donkey carts.  One of my favorite sights, which you don’t see as often on the streets, but you can see all over the landscape, is the single file line of women on their way to or from the river with the day’s washing on their heads.

It was dark when we got back on the road.  We were clipping along, until…smash:  Holy Shit, we hit a motorcycle.  Fortunately no one was hurt, but Camara was frustrated that our car was scratched up.

I spent some of the drive downloading my photos onto my laptop, and realized a really cool set of pictures would be taking the buckets and teapots in all their various surroundings.  These are used for washing, and they are really colorful.  And they can be found in all kinds of nooks and crannies and interesting places.  I really wish I had realized this on Friday–I could have such a great series of photos!

As we were driving Camara stopped to get us oranges from one of the vendors.  What a treat!  And, during the lunch stop he gave me a pair of earrings!  And, to top it off, he got me a sesame/honey bar from a vendor in the afternoon.  Wow!  He also stopped to buy some sweet potatoes were, I am not kidding, 1-3 feet long.

He gave me all these gifts, and called me his African brother.  It is a true reflection of how close you get to someone when you spend so much time together, night and day.  I have no idea how Camara is today, or Oumar, or any of the people who were so warm and wonderful to my during my brief visit to Mali.  It is one of the fantastic and frustrating things about travel:  you go somewhere, and the people and places become part of your heart; then you leave, taking your memories and impressions and knowledge and love with you.

Love Letter To Mali Part V: Djenne

It’s about a two-hour drive from Mopti to Djenne, which has a big market every Monday.  On the way, we stopped at a village to walk around and meet some more people.  Everyone continued to be super friendly, and I continued to practice my few phrases.

One family let me try grinding the millet (which I was terrible at, and kept spilling the millet out of the mortar!).  The scene of a woman or two standing on a giant mortal with a huge stake as a pistol is ubiquitous.  Sometimes they get fancy and let the stake fly in the air for a second while they clap.

I felt badly when a few people in this village started describing medical issues they or their children were having.  I guess they are used to white people visiting being doctors.  (yes, I still have the “bear necessities” jungle book song playing in my head).

I don’t think I’ve really explained that all these villages we’ve been visiting, including the cities of Timbuktu and Mopti, are made out of mud bricks.  It is like stepping back in time a thousand years — except for the motorcycles…

Oumar was so fun with all the kids.  They just loved him.  And, when he found the older kids (5th graders), he tested their math skills.  They loved it.  And, since he did it in French, I could participate, too.  Lots of fun.

We walked past a Muslim school teaching the Koran as well as all other subjects.  The teacher was very welcoming to me, and had the children stand up and recite two prayers.  But he wouldn’t let me take any photos.  Oumar explained the school was part of a more extreme part of Islam that doesn’t condone any photographs whatsoever.

About 20 minutes or so outside of Djenne, we needed to board a ferry to cross the river.  As we waited for the ferry, there were stalls of merchants selling jewelry, masks, etc.  Everyone is “Mr. Good Price” or “Mrs. Good Price”, and they will give you “the best price” and decree, “c’est pas cher”.  Fun.  I met two guys from Holland who drove here (over 10k kms and 40 days!).  When they heard I was American they asked, “you know you are a potential al Qaeda victim here?”  Um…

Four cars fit on the ferry, and the ride is about ten minutes.  And, of course, there are more merchant stalls on the ferry!

Djenne was great.  First Oumar and I walked through all the alleyways and met some more people.  Then we visited the markets.  So much color and activity and noise.  And it is hot.  And, of course, the roads and sidewalks and all are just dirt.  And there were masses of people, buying and selling fruit, meat, leather goods, jewelry, etc.  I loved it.  We bought little fried kidney bean cakes, which were tasty, and tried a couple of types of berries and nuts.  I was trying to be careful not to put my hands anywhere near my nose, mouth or eyes since I was shaking hands with so many people, and holding babies and such.  But, then I went and touched something and put my finger in my mouth.  Oh well.

In Mopti we had seen a man selling some kind of liquid medicine that will cure:  diabetes, malaria, hemorrhoids, bad breath, fatigue, etc.  In Djenne we saw a man selling talisman and a black powder that will do all of the above, PLUS make you a genius.

At lunch we met another guide name Moussa who was complaining about a “mean old lady” he is in charge of.  I guess she is complaining about everything.  He said:  “why does she need a hot shower?  It’s a hot country.  She’ll be hot soon enough.”  I guess he had a fair point.

After lunch I decided I wanted a talisman.  So we found the magic man, and bought one for good look and protection, and to ward off evil spirits and jealous people.  Then, we found a leatherworker who sealed it in a pouch and made it into an anklet.  I should be all set!

While we were waiting for Oumar, Camara and I posed for some pics with some Fulani hats on and joked around with some of the vendors.

There was a longer line waiting to cross the ferry on the way back.  We had to wait for it to cross and come back 3 or 4 times.  And, of course, the merchants we out in force.  So, we were waiting for quite a while in the heat.  Not as much fun as the first crossing!

It was during the ferry crossings that I bought a lot of the beaded the jewelry I have been wearing lately, to keep the Malian people I met, front and center in my thoughts and prayers.

We’ll Always Have Machu Picchu

I love my dad, but we don’t have a whole lot in common.

My dad was born in Lithuania before WWII.  During the war his family escaped via France and Canada to the USA.  They settled in Chicago, which has a pretty large Lithuanian community.

He joined the army.  After he married my mom he was stationed in North Carolina and Texas.  Then, he was sent to Vietnam.  And, I have great photos of him and my mom having a rendezvous in Hawaii while he was there.

After my parents were divorced he did some work for the army in Madagascar and Lithuania.

Once we were in high school, he would take my sister and me to Jamaica or Mexico for our annual vacations with him.  Today, he and his wife, Stase, still love taking trips to Mexico and Jamaica.

There is a lot more to my dad outside of his travel biography, but I really don’t know that much about it.  And, if you asked him about me, I am not sure he would be able to tell you very much.

But, one thing we have always been able to connect on is traveling.  When my sister and I were little, my dad used to take us on vacations every Christmas, Spring Break and summer.  We would go to places like the Wisconsin Dells, Indiana Dunes, Jamaica, Mexico.  Almost all of our joint memories involve traveling.  One of our favorite stories is the time we rented a car in Mexico, and it ran out of gas in the jungle and we had to hitch a ride into town with a truck, my sister and I smashed in the cab, and my dad standing on the bumper, hanging onto a chain.

Now that I can take him places, we have gone to Lithuania, St Petersburg, Moscow, Estonia, South Carolina, Colorado and Peru.  He gets so excited to see all these new places, and I love being able to give him those experiences.

The nice thing about traveling is that we have plenty to talk about without ever running out of topics:  the new food we are trying, the music around us, etc. etc. etc.  We can relax in each other’s company, and enjoy the moment, without feeling awkward that outside of the love we have for each other, we really don’t have a lot in common.  We have travel, and that’s enough.