Thursday, May 6, 2010
This year it was my twenty-second birthday-and I was in Brazil. I woke up, our first day in Brazil, and felt so blessed. It hit me; I am spending my last semester of college traveling the world and although I am growing up, I got to spend the day at Arte Consciente, dancing, singing, and playing as if I were ten again.
Arte Consciente is Portuguese for “Conscious Art”, a program in a favela, or slum, in Salvador, Brazil, that taught less fortunate children talents such as drumming, circus skills, boxing, graffiti, and dance. The program was chosen one of the best programs in Brazil by the UN, awarding them for the fact that their impact was powerful and positive for the country. I was a little nervous going in, wondering if I should bring my camera, afraid to get robbed, I was afraid that a large group of white people stomping through the neighborhood would upset the locals. But walking through the favela I was at ease. I was comforted by the smiling faces, the “ola’s”, and Alex, from Arte Consciente, guiding us and showing us his community. People were not afraid of us; they were welcoming. Then as soon as we set foot through the graffiti door of Arte Consciente I felt at home.
We all settled into our chairs, trying to see the front of the room, shoving our already sweaty bodies in next to each other. No one spoke the same language (I think Brazil had the toughest language barrier-the majority of people only really spoke Portuguese-lucky for us we had Sophia-the interport student there to translate). There was a divide between our half of the room and their half of the room, but that would soon change.
The show began. We watched, we laughed, they laughed, they performed with strength. It was hard to watch and not want to move. For the last four months there has been a spirit of dance within me, nonetheless a spirit of dance on the ship. These kids from Arte Consciente have had the spirit of dance with them for years. At last, it was out in both them and us. Once the drumming began, we could not keep it in any longer. The kids starting pulling us up to dance with them and quickly the chairs had to be stacked and put away. There was no room for separation. Languages no longer mattered, just dance. We were dripping sweat, but smiling. I haven’t smiled that huge in a long time. I haven’t felt that much positive energy flowing around in my whole life. We were chanting “Arte-Consciente-Arte-Consciente” and we all believed in the same things. We were together with rhythm, dance, and love.
There was energy pulsing in me. It was one of the best days of my life. Positivity was radiating and there was hope in all of us. I didn’t want to leave. Luckily we were coming back our last day in Brazil to paint the walls of their performance and practice space (which turned out to be a huge and beautiful success), but even knowing there would be another chance to play, it was hard to say goodbye to the kids who lit the fire in my heart with inspiration.
There was no way that my birthday could have been off to a better start. Except maybe with a shower-which was quickly arranged so that we could all fancy up before heading out for more celebrations. I am blessed with great friends, travel companions, and soul mates, who all spent the night with me. It gets busy in port and I never expected as many people to show up, but they did. I felt loved beyond belief. And I was eating Mexican food and drinking margaritas. What a life. Sophia again pulled through in the clutch with the dinner recommendation and then a dance club around the corner. Free cover for girls-love it Brazil. So we finally got to go dancing in our short skirts and small dresses (something we have been culturally forbidden to do in most other countries-which is a struggle due to the heat). Even though we danced all day, we danced some more. I’ll never stop.
Personal favorite: Brazilians don’t dance alone most of the time. So if you go up there to dance with your girlfriends, you will get approached by Brazilian men who will pull you tight, spin you around, and keep you on your feet. I danced instead with Toby-although neither of us knew how to dance like these Brazilians do. But we laughed hard and kept moving, kept swinging around, having the time of our lives. Toby is officially my favorite dance partner I have ever had.
All day and night I continued to say: “This is the best birthday I’ve had since my fifth grade hippie party!” And it was. I was a child again with Arte Consciente, and I was myself, dancing, eating, enjoying my friends and feeling the love.
Thanks to everyone who made it a great birthday and a great Brazil, even those of you back home who sent me an email. Seriously, it all meant so much to me. I can not stop repeating myself. I am SO blessed!
Once again we think, we will be there soon. Should be another four hours until we get to Cape Coast so we begin to settle in. The windows are all open so it is cooler now that we are moving and the chickens were readjusted in their plastic bag, sticking their heads out of a hole so they could breathe and stop clucking. We were packed in tight but comfortable. Ten minutes in we are driving past a school. We are going fast, I suppose a little faster than the already fast norm of Ghana. We are peaceful until the people in the first two rows of seats begin to “whoaaaaaaa”. We look up quick. SLAM! My face goes into the seat in front of me. I see children running across the street. A silver car spins over the divider into another car. We are all holding our breath. The air was still. The school children were staring.
“Is everyone okay?”
Everyone appeared fine.
I momentarily worried about the chickens.
Caity’s leg was stuck in between her seat cushion and the seat back in front of her, squished together when the car forced forward. We are uneasy about this. People are piling out of the tro tro. We are told to leave-but Caity was stuck. Sam steps in, standing on top of the seat, pulling the seat back, pushing her leg, lots of pushing, pulling, and finally a release.
Toby starts videotaping.
We are standing on the divider between the two streets. We are all looking at our tro tro, smashed in front and leaking, then at the silver victim, front and back smashed in, tires popped, back window shattered, driver frantic.
-The driver said it was his sister’s car. He didn’t have insurance because he never thought something like this would happen. He didn’t know how he would ever repay her. His and his sister’s lives are shattered now too—this sat with me for a while.-
Our tro tro driver approaches us and reminds us repeatedly not to leave, “another tro tro is on its way”. But now there is traffic on both sides of the road, backed up for miles.
We are shaken, but we get back in the new tro tro and continue on. Nothing else we could do.
We learned in Ghana nothing is as long or as short as you expect it to be. Despite all of our expectations of time, we ended up at the coast before dark.
Thankfully there was comfort here. Here, where the history screams of torture, submission, and enslavement, a few blocks and a few centuries away, there is peace. People are smiling at us. Men try to sell us things. They tell Bailey she can have one white boyfriend and one black boyfriend. They tell me they would like to suck on my breasts. Awkward. They are kind people. Strangely sexual, complimentary, and infatuated with white women but they are kind nonetheless. We brush off the comments and stand our ground-our ground usually close to John.
We get dinner right by the water. The beach is beautiful and we are relieved from our stressful day. Best of all, there were drums and dancing. I love Ghanaians for loving the root of our souls. Rhythm is pulsing through us all. We are all smiling and understanding. Music, rhythm, movement-this is where we can all relate. We listen, relax, and enjoy that night and the next night. We find more SASers, we meet some locals, we have a private drum circle on the beach. We sang Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”, a song I have found that if you start singing almost anywhere in the world people will start singing it back no matter what their nationality or language.
So we tried not to worry about a thing. We sweated ourselves to sleep, stuffing too many people into a hotel room, we sang with the locals, we gave them our liquor, we walked over the rainforest walkway, we explored the slave dungeons, we danced-and every little thing was alright.
Bailey and I officially squirm every time we are in a fast moving taxi/tro tro/etc, but we’ve learned to stop looking out the front windshield. We are still alive, thank goodness, and we got to enjoy the West African lifestyle like the 13 other adults, four children, and maybe even a little bit like the two chickens.
Monday, May 3, 2010
Our first day in Capetown, I set out with a group of friends to go to the top of table mountain. There are two options to get to the top of table mountain: a cable car that takes you directly from the bottom to the top and vice versa or you can hike. Worried about time, we considered the cable car. But the line seemed miles long so we decided to hike fast. How bad could the hike be anyway? Most hikes that weve been on along this voyage have been windy paths with a slow incline. Doable. But when we started this hike it was a complete incline. Step after step-and f you remember from my China blog, the Great Wall ruined me on steps. But we assumed it would have to flatten out soon so we kept on. The higher and higher we climb I begin to realize there will be no release.
I am complaining. I have to stop every fifty feet. Nick, Max, and Bailey were patient with me; they waited at every stop. I tried to keep my mouth shut instead of blurting out how I regretted taking this hike, nonetheless taking this hike in jeans, nonetheless taking this hike in jeans at noon. But as I looked down the mountain I could see there was no going back. At every stop I kept thinking, I could make it down .I could do it .Ill just meet them at the bottom. What a wuss. But I continued on.
Once I got about half way up the mountain I began to hike longer stretches more easily. I could breathe again. I felt alive! From that feeling on I was good to go. I was pumped. I was out of my mind high on life. I couldnt stop; I had to keep going to get more of these endorphins. I was alive!! I could tell we were getting close to the top. I was yelling love in between the rocks and over the water of the cape which was getting further and further away. I was alive!!! Finally the end.
I reached the top! Somehow, someway, and it was so worth it. I have never felt more accomplished, rushed, or holy in my entire life. We were literally looking out above the clouds. This was the closest place to heaven on Earth. So we danced on a huge boulder, on top of table mountain-on top of the world-and danced our praises and our gratitude.
The dance was not over. As soon as we got off the mountain we rushed back to the ship to meet up with Jenny and the spiritual dance group. We were off to a dance studio that held a similar dance class to the spiritual dance we did on the ship. Its called five rhythms.
The room was huge. Half of the people were South Africans of all ages, the other half were college students from our ship. I was afraid we were invading; I was afraid we were looking like idiots because we didnt know this dance as well as our own. In our dance we move, we walk, we explore the space. The people here were contained and holding their ground. I closed my eyes and danced how I wanted to, regardless of what I thought was wrong or right. Quickly, my fears went away. My feet were dancing, along with my legs, knees, arms, elbows, hands, fingers, neck, head. My body was present. Before I knew it, we were all dancing. There was no longer a weird difference between us ship people and these locals. We were just dancing together in this space, sharing breath and energy. The music never stopped and neither did we. It was one of the longest dances I have done and even though I was exhausted from the hike and the dancing, I had to keep going. I have never been more of myself in my entire life than I was in that hour and a half. That was a moment that was home.
We went out to dinner with Jenny after the dance. We had salad, pizza wine, and love. These dancers have become my soulmates and I could imagine no better way to end my night than with them. I thought about going out. It was our first night in Capetown, we should be partying-raging. But I felt no need. I was here with my people, with myself in South Africa, feeling energy and love.
Best day of my life.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Theres a quote by Mark Twain that goes something like this, There was Mauritius, and then Heaven was built after Mauritius. Sorry if I butchered that but you get the idea-my point is, Mark Twain was right.
With only two days to spend in Mauritius we had to do all that we could to soak up this paradise in the little time that we had. So we went to the beach. Tough life-I know. But seriously, these were the most GORGEOUS beaches I have ever seen. I cant wait to get my photos up because Mauritius is just the perfect backdrop to anything. The sky is bright and knows just the right time to change colors, the sand is light and fluffy, and the water is the most perfect water I have ever been in in my life. I am an ocean girl so I hopped into the water with Bailey, Maria, and Mary and we all agreed that we would not want it any other way. I think even my mom would have liked the temperature of this water. I cant get over it. Moving on
After a few hours of blissful beach time and vanilla rum, Bailey, James, and I decided to head to our friends hotel room and see if we could crash there for the night since we were all leaving together in the morning for a catamaran ride. Unfortunately it was not that easy. We got caught up helping a friend, we lost another friend, James had become belligerently British, and we were hungry and ready to go. Finally with some help from these guys from Denmark that James had found by wandering into their front lawn, we got dinner, which led to taxi driver, which led to madness.
Apparently Mauritian hotels are strict with their policies and dont want dumb college students like us to come wander in and mess up their lives. Understandable. But also inconvenient. When we showed up to the hotel where our friends were staying we were told they left. We went to another hotel. We got on a phone. We were told to pay three hundred and fifty euros for a stay at this hotel. We didnt. We went back to the first hotel. Next door-public beach. Found our friends. Since the hotel is so strict they would only let four people stay in the room like they had signed up for and would not even let anyone else past the security guard in the hotel parking lot.
It is about midnight now and we have been wandering around this public beach for an hour. I am stone cold sober and fed up with the security guard and the uncertainty of sleeping arrangements. I get cranky without anywhere to sleep and Bailey was dehydrated. Thus began the hunt for water.
Nothing is open. There is nothing nearby. But there is a police station across the street from the beach so Bailey goes to ask if they know a place where she can get some water. The police officer doesnt know. Fail. BUT, five minutes later he walks up to us and says, I can wake my driver if youd like. Well take you to get some water. Hmm the police are supposed to be the good guys. So we take off, giving our friends very little explanation to what is going on, and get into the Mauritian police pick up truck with grates on the windows.
We start speeding away. This guy was a very good driver, we felt safe, but it was fast. We go to one store, closed. Another, closed. The cop and his driver are speaking a language we dont understand. We drive a little further and we are at a casino. Oookayyy. So we go inside where there are a few straggling Mauritians at slot machines and card tables and a man from the bar hands me an empty water bottle and directs us to a water jug. Score-free water. So we get our water and we are relieved. The police officer looks at me and says, Are you worried? No, no, just tired-I was a little worried but I tried to keep it under control. He said, I will tell you one thing, you are in good hands, then, do you mind if I have a drink? Ill meet you guys in the car with the driver. Ha. Okay.
So were sitting with the driver and we explain that we dont have anywhere to stay tonight. He calls a buddy of his who works as a security guard for a hotel, which he calls bungalows, but I call dirty hotel (well at least later I did). So we drive to this bungalow which is about one hundred meters away from the beach where our friends are homeless-we laugh about that. We get a room for fifteen dollars. Suckers. But before we leave the cop says, I need to tell you girls, you are in good hands, (for some reason this is creepy), You are in good hands. Now if you need anything you call us, (he gives us the number to the police station and the drivers cell phone number), And the police station is right over there. Ill tell you one thing, you are in good hands, (AGAIN), We wanted to show you Mauritius and represent our country, but everything that happened tonight must be kept secret, (so Im blogging about it now haha). This was a creepy speech. We just wanted to get out of the car, say thanks, and go. And eventually we did after our secret lecture and after we were escorted by the driver to our room and made sure our key worked. Weird and nice. The bungalow was grungy-there was hair in the sink drain and an opened bar of soap already waiting for uswe didnt use it. But we ignored the dirt and hit the hay; and we were the best rested of all of our friends the next morning for our catamaran ride.
The catamaran was amazing and like I said before the beaches were phenomenal. But my favorite part of those two days was our adventure with the Mauritian police. Sorry I told.
I hope from the rickshaw story that you could understand the craziness of Chennai. So obviously I was very pleased to book it out of there and head over to the state of Kerala. Kristina, Aleeza, Nick, and I took an overnight train to Alleppey, a small town where we planned a home stay in the backwaters. The train was an experience! Think Shuffle Off to Buffalo (that ones for my mom, Baker, and anyone who loved 42nd Street as much as I did) but take out the singing, substitute unfamiliar Tamil tones, and add in a few cockroaches and dirty sheets. It was a dream. But hey-at least we had our own beds. In the morning we were in beautiful Kerala, just as hot as the rest of India but here there were shady trees and an air of relaxation.
We took a rickshaw and a shaky canoe across the river to get to our home stay where Matthew showed us his house and his brother and sisters houses right next door where they let people stay. We were welcomed in, shown our room, and fed our first meal.
I think Indian food is second to Japanese food now. The food in India was incredible and very good for you. Lots of veggies (most people in India are vegetarians) and lots of spices-plus you have the fun of eating with your hands. That first lunch I ate with a fork since my fingers were still dirty from traveling but the next couple of meals I got right in there, mixed everything together on my plate (thats big for me) and scooped it all between my fingers. P.S. eating with your fingers is a lot more difficult than you would ever imagine it to beat least when youre eating rice and curry dishes. Basically, the food might have been one of my favorite parts about the home stay. Everything was fresh and delicious-the best food I ate in India-and we even got a cooking lesson from Matthews mother.
After lunch we were on our own. We came out to the porch by our room and relaxed. We soon realized we would be relaxing a lotand that was when I realized India was giving me just what I needed. I had been stressed out and homesick entering India. I wanted to escape and I needed to breathe again. Here, in the backwaters of Southern India I could breathe. Easily. Later that evening we went for a walk through the rice patties and down the river, and watching the sunset reflect on the water I was relieved. It was one of those everything is going to be alright moments. And it was alright. We watched the sun go down, we walked the paths that the locals walk, and we canoed down the river singing until it got dark. Indians knows how to live.
I was sad to leave India after the stay. We spent two days just living, laughing, and meeting new people. We met fellow travelers-two girls from Germany, Joanna and Sara, and two guys from Chicago, Mark and John. They helped me sink back into the traveling spirit. Here they were taking off from school and work, traveling and volunteering around India and learning just to be. I was no longer stressed; I was loved-by people, by India, by the world. I was present in India. That was what I needed.
I am about to write another blog post about travels but I just got back on the ship and I wanted to say THANK YOU again and again and again to everyone who reads my blog or emails me. It is the biggest comfort in the world to hear from people back in the states and it makes me realize how lucky and how blessed I am to have such amazing people in my life.
Friday, April 9, 2010
I was in a funk when we got to India. A lot was happening back home so I was hoping to step out into India and be greeted with friendly faces, good food, and a culture that I would just want to dive right into. Instead I stepped out to a hoard of yellow rickshaws with obnoxious drivers. Not a good distraction.
I am not a tour guide! I am a rickshaw driver! I am a rickshaw driver!
We didnt want a driver. We were looking to just walk around and explore. Unfortunately the city center was not close enough to walk to. So our fate had to be put in the hands of Luke, the rickshaw driver we finally found a price with. Luke, like most rickshaw drivers was trying to get us to hire him for the day. We didnt want that. So he took us to a temple that I (as an obnoxious American) refer to as the crazy temple (I dont mean in a crazy loco way, I mean that it has so much going on on it-just wait til I have the fb again and you will see the picture). Anyway, so we went to the temple and paid Luke but he still took us in and showed us where to put our shoes and told us a little bit about each part of the temple. We didnt sign up for that but we appreciated the extra information on Hinduism and Buddhism. When we were leaving Luke said he would take us to a good, cheap market-for free. But on the way we saw a restaurant we wanted to go to so we said thank you, gave him a very large tip and left his rickshaw.
At lunch we tried to figure out a new plan. Again, this is our first day in India and we were just trying to get our feet wet and learn a little more about Chennai. About ten minutes into our meal, Luke came in, waved to us, and left. We didnt know what that meant so we continued to eat and when we came out of the restaurant we just tried to book it. We didnt want him to follow us but he did anyway. We walked around a local market with Luke right over our shoulders telling us that everything we were looking at was not good quality and that he knew a better market where we could get all of these things for a cheaper price. Eventually we gave in, we said, Fine! But we dont have any money. Again, for free, for free. So we piled back into the rickshaw, four people in a small backseat that normally barely seats three (thankfully Colette is a tiny girl who can sit on our laps), and we were off to the better markets.
He takes us to a shop. Its okay. It has a lot of antiques-very overpriced. We walk through and quickly walk out. We tell Luke we are ready to go, thanks for taking us, but can you take us to Pundi Market. Suddenly Luke gets heated. He starts yelling at us on the sidewalk-well mostly yelling at Nick because he is a man and thus myself, Kristina, and Colette, the women, do not exist enough to make decisions. Luke keeps telling us we didnt pay him. We knew we shouldnt have paid him in advance. Oops. Its looking bad now. We dont know what to do and Luke has called his friend from the shop outside. I am afraid he is going to fight with Nick. Suddenly an Indian man walking down the street walks over to us, in between Nick and Luke and says Its okay, its okay, its okay. The four of us booked it and headed down the first side street. We were lost.
This was not how we wanted to start our trip to India. We have learned on this voyage to have faith in people and to trust. Apparently Chennai was a little trickier. We spent the rest of the day with a chip on our shoulders. We were hurt. We thought we liked him and that he wanted to be with us to practice his English. We were wrong. Granted, later in the day I had a very pleasant rickshaw driver that took my friends and I out to a hookah bar (p.s. hookah is not actually a big thing in Southern India but wow-it was the best hookah I have ever smoked), and while we were driving he pulled over, flipped on a switch that turned on a flashing light in the back, turned up the music, and said, my cab turn into disco! He boosted a little bit of my faith in people. But basically, I think I learned Chennai was not for me.
Monday, March 22, 2010
While the MV Explorer was still docked in HCM I was lucky enough to take a side trip to Cambodia. We visited both Siem Reap and Pnom Penh. The temples at Siem Reap, especially Angkor Wat at sunrise were a phenomenal experience. Being in the presence of something so ancient, and made for love-a holy love- is definitely awe inspiring. But my love lives in Pnom Penh.
There was a joke made on the ship recently about how every port is changing peoples lives. Each time we leave people feel inspired and changed. The jokester asked, Well if you change after every port are you going to change back when we get to Fort Lauderdale? I think we have some serious personality issues here.
So, while each port has brought a different side of me out, or encouraged me to think and wonder about new issues, Pnom Penh is the one place I can honestly say has changed me and my view on the world.
The first night in Pnom Penh we went to an orphanage. It was dark out and the bus we took was too big to drive down the street so we had to walk down a couple of blocks to get there. As we walked by, people stared. It was a little eerie, unsure of where we were and what the orphanage was going to be like. But even though it was dark and hard to see, when we turned into the orphanage there was a crowd of children, from toddlers to teenagers, waiting to meet us. I looked around, overwhelmed, and made eye contact with one of the first girls I saw. She looked at me; I waved and smiled; she smiled back, walked over to me, took my hand, and didnt let go for the entire visit.
I dont remember her name. It was a Cambodian name that started with an S-I felt too embarrassed to ask her what her name was again after we became friends. She was eighteen but she looked like she was twelve. She gave me the tour of her orphanage and first of all I need to state that these conditions were wonderful living conditions for Cambodia, but I guess my girl knew that I was taken aback when she showed me the bedroom she sleeps in with tons of other children. The floor was bare when we went in and when I asked what they sleep on she showed me her mat, she said, It wouldnt be comfortable for you but its good for us. Sheesh, break my heart.
Eventually the two of us sat down on a bench in the courtyard and watched the rest of the kids play soccer. We talked for the rest of the time, just getting to know one another. Although she was eighteen, she was at a ninth grade level. She was thinking about leaving the orphanage in May to go to training school to become a receptionist or a maid. She said she would love to finish high school and then go to college but it would take her eight more years and by that time she would be too old. Break my heart again. I want her to live in a world like I live in a world where you can do anything.
Our common ground was love. We both discussed our relationships, past and present (well her present, and me, well me on a ship that is 30% men). But we understood. She giggled when she told me that her boyfriend tells her he loves her. I think the concept was a weird one for her nonetheless one to talk to with an almost stranger. But we still laughed, and shared, and she taught me how to say I love you in Khmer, and she made me realize that love is the energy that keeps us alive.
After a walk that night through the streets of Pnom Penh I got to thinking about our human needs in relation to our human happinesses. The houses we walked past looked so shabby from an American eye-but they were normal, middle class houses-just made from metal scraps and only big enough for one bedroomthe kitchen is outside. So people cook their meals sandwiched between the street and their home, their families gather together, they talk to their neighbors, and when the meal is through the mothers wash the dishes on the sidewalk and the children dance and run around-barefoot. So why dont we do that? Why do we lock ourselves into our four bedroom, three bathroom houses, and set the alarm when we walk through the garage? Why do we hide from our neighbors and keep the kids in the living room watching TV? Why dont we live openly, freely, and quite simply, basically?
We are human beings. We require love and attention. We require contact not four TVs with DVR, not a garbage disposal, not even an indoor shower. The Cambodian people appear to have nothing to us, but they have appreciation. They are grateful for what they have and happy to have it. They laugh, they smile, and they live how they need. This is my new American Dream.
Lets backtrack a little-time travel if you will-back a few weeks to Vietnam. The water is brown, palm trees are everywhere and for the first time I stepped out into port and instantly thought Im gonna like it here.
When I left the ship I expected to walk into a swampland, one that still had footprints of soldiers and was filled with Vietnamese that hated Americans. To my surprise Ho Chi Minh City was a city that looked like a European twist on an Asian country and was filled with friendly, English speaking people. People everywhere were excited to talk to Americans, practice their English, and try to get you to ride on their motorbikes. The motorcycle thing really threw me off-it really is their main (seriously main) source of transportation. My personal favorite image was while I was passing by a primary school as the children were getting let out. Just as I waited outside my middle school after play rehearsal waiting for a ride from my Mom or Dad, the children were all crowded outside the front doors waiting for their parents. But instead of the line of SUVs and minivans there was a parking lot filled with moms on motorbikes. It was incredible. They were swarming-the motorbikes swarm every street. Another personal favorite image of mine is the full family motorbike. I searched to find the maximum number of people I could see on a motorbikeFiveone being a small child, two older children, a mom and a dadSo good.
I dont like motorcycles. In the U.S. they are a death sentencetoo many people, too many cars. But here, it is a culture, a way of life, and a luxury. Our Dean, Loren Crabtree, explained to us before we left that Vietnam was in their motorcycle stage. Meaning that thirty years ago the Vietnamese were all riding bicycles-not really a developed enough country yet, but as time has progressed their status is improving and moving closer to a fuller more westernized society but not quite yet at SUV status, so motorcycle it is. I thought Crabtree was using it as a metaphor for the political and social situations in Vietnam-and he was-but I had no idea how important the motorcycles really were to the culture there.
I much more expected the Vietnam War, or as the Vietnamese call it, the American War to be a huge part of their culture-but instead it was something that has passed by, and a topic that I had not discussed with anyone outside of the war remnants museum.
I had a trip on the first day to the war remnants museum and to visit a UPI photographer. It was unbelievable to see these pictures and hear the stories that actually went along with the pictures too. The photographer showed us his work and with almost every photo he knew the background of that moment. He could tell us that in the picture where the Vietnamese woman is crouched down in front of a helicopter with her hand on her forehead, that the woman had just lost her husband, her children, and her land-she had nothing. I couldnt believe he could remember all the stories, the dates, the faces. This was thirty years ago and it was all he had left from those years. After the war the Vietnamese government raided his house because he was a photographer for the U.S. He fled the states but in order to salvage what he had spent his life working toward he had to bury his pictures underground. Dozens of photos that we looked at were discolored and worn down from the dirt that was left permanently stained on them. It was sad to see his life work put into something that went unappreciated and buried for years. Today his work was displayed in the war remnants museum. Meeting him before going to the museum really brought into perspective how many people were affected by the war. The sights that were seen by soldiers, locals, and photographers were gruesome. I had never before seen even a picture of a person carrying skin by its head. That picture is sure to haunt me for the rest of my life. Another prime example of why I dont believe in war.
I will say that even though I find acts of war disgusting I still appreciate the soldierson both sides. There is a faith in military men that I can always admire. The pictures in the museum showed the passion behind their eyes. I respect that a person can listen to an order and perform for their country.
I guess I really just dont believe in countries.
--I dont believe in sides.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
I have not been updating my blog lately. Time has been playing tricks on me. We just got back from India and I still havent written about Vietnam and Cambodia yet.
So I just got out of my global studies class-a class which everyone on the ship is required to take-and today we talked about how this voyage isnt about sight seeing, but rather about the people we meet.
So this blog is dedicated to the people Ive met in my life and how they have carried through with me on this voyage and in my memory.
My Uncle Chris passed away while I was in India. He hasnt been doing well for a while, but weve all just been hoping for something good to happen-and I suppose this is something-good or bad. It kills me that I cant be at home with my family right now. It is engrained in my mind that when you lose someone you should be there-quickly. Had I known before I left the ship I would have skipped India and flew back home for a few days-how expensive can flights be from India anyway?-Doesnt matter.
The countries I have been visiting (Japan, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and India) have a large emphasis on family. In these countries people spend their lives attached to their family. Some live in the same homes their entire lives, some work together, cook together, eat together, and pray together. The point is, the connection is solid and the respect for one another is unconditional. I want so badly to share these values with my family back home. I love my family, more than anything in the world-and I would do anything for them-but I feel like the last few years have been distant. Families are supposed to spend time together, especially holidays. They are supposed to talk with one another, share their lives, laugh, love. They should want to do these things-because this is what we have. I want to celebrate our history together and appreciate that we have similar experiences, backgrounds, personalities, and humor. When my family gets together (on the rare occasion that we are all present) I have always felt blessed-and blissful. Since I was little I never wanted the night to end when we are all together. I can remember so many times, looking at the clock and trying to delay our parents from wanting to leave. I still dont want to leave.
I want to look past the differences that may be between us and find the similarities. I want us to speak freely to one another and share our feelings. I want to be able to hang out whenever we are around. On a day when nothing is going on I want us to call each other up and see if we are interested in getting dinner.
My grandparents on my moms side live in Kentucky. Her brothers live as far as California. My grandparents on my dads side have been deceased for years-but my aunts, uncles, and cousins all still live on Long Island. A twenty minute drive is close enough.
I vow to appreciate the rest of my family, both close and far away, for the good that they have and the good that they have brought out in me. I have endless happy memories of my family and I together that I will never forget and will bring with me forever. Maybe now that we are getting older we can all keep those memories and add some more. If any of you are reading this I love you and miss you. I hope you feel the same way I do and will try harder with me to see each other more.
Also, I think Memorial Day is the weekend after my graduation so I should be back home in NY and most likely we all will be home. I would love to go to the park and wake up early and save a picnic site-just like Uncle Chris used to. We can barbecue and crack open a few beers, Ill bring bocce ball, and Eric and my Dad can start a competition over who can run faster. I think it is time we bring back our traditions and create some new ones.
Thank you to all my family-blood and non blood-your lives have changed me in so many ways. My memory is infinite and honestly I have pieces of all of you with me every second of the day. I love you.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
I left China over a week ago and I waited to write because of exhaustion and there was only two days between China and Vietnam. But Im really glad I waited because Ive now had time to digest China and appreciate it a little more.
Our first day in China we docked in Shanghai. The city looked architecturally beautiful-kind of like something out of Tomorrow Land at Disney-so we expected a clean, fast moving city like we saw in Japan. Surprise! It was not. China has a much different lifestyle than Japan and we did not expect that-I honestly thought the cultures would be a lot closer. But the people were loud, very loud and pushy. Bumping into people is not rude in China; it is just what you have to do to get around since there are so many people. And apparently in Shanghai it is perfectly okay to throw your trash and food on the ground and/or allow your children to poop straight on the sidewalk. That was different. The best smelling thing was the octopus that was being barbecued at the street vendors on the corners. Also, we arrived in the middle of the Chinese New Year so it was a little crazy because crowds of people were in the markets and hustling around the streets and restaurants. So that might have affected our original fear and hesitation in China.
The second day was a lot better. We were aware of what to expect and we avoided the markets. We walked around a much cleaner area of Shanghai and went down to Peoples Square, which is a large park that was full of people lounging on their day off and enjoying the sunny day that we were blessed with. Shanghai felt like springtime, which was a good relief before Beijing and also allowed for a great photo opportunity of what we entitled Babies and Birds.
Beijing is where the real Chinese magic happened. Beijing was an interesting difference just from Shanghai because it was less intimidating and felt more traditional. We stayed in a hotel a few blocks away from the Forbidden City so we had access to some amazing cultural experiences. The Forbidden City was one of my favorite places. I was surprised at how beautiful it really was-I just had no idea going in how huge it was and how immaculate the details on all of the buildings were. It was also interesting how many beautiful buildings there could be in the middle of these large, open, stone courtyards that were created because the emperor was paranoid about being murdered.
Our first night was a fun one because I ended up learning more about the modern Chinese culture as opposed to the traditional. A few friends and I went out to a strip of bars which was funny simply trying to get there. Apparently almost no one speaks English in China, or at least they didnt want to (they were definitely not to keen on Americans-my friend Amy and I actually started telling people we were from Canada). Anyway so when we headed out to the bars that night my friends and I took two cabs and got split up because of the communication issues. So me and three other friends ended up sticking together. The strip we were on was filled with bars that were very similar except for one major difference, the price of the beer. In China, you can barter for anything, including your beers. So we were getting beers for a dollar and refused to buy anything that was less. Once we had a good drink deal we were set because each bar had singers performing on stage. They were all so talented and entertaining to watch. They sang both English and Chinese songs and loved how enthusiastically we were listening to them. It was funny though because they sang karaoke kind of style, basically playing a recorded version of the music and them singing the vocalsno actual instruments. And the songs they sing are hilarious because they are from about ten years ago. Man did I miss Avril Lavigne and the Backstreet Boys! But the best part was when we went to a bar where we met one of the singers, a spunky girl named Emily. Emily is 21 years old and has a short blonde pixie cut. She was singing Im coming out when we walked in and her energy was amazing. So as soon as she took a break we went over to speak with her and she chatted with us for longer than she could. She spoke such great English so it was so easy to talk to her about where she grew up and how she moved away from her family and after going to school for music, sings at this club seven nights a week. Once she went back on stage she sang tons of songs dedicated to us and even helped us get a better deal on our drinks. Talking to local people in our ports really makes the trip a thousand times better, and Emily made my China trip.
Of course, going to The Great Wall was also a huge highlight. We hiked up the wall at sunset one night and let me tell you, the wall is not an easy hike. For some reason I had not thought about the fact that it is on the top of some enormous mountains but not that that would mean you would have to hike up and then back down and up and again back down steep and broken steps. We later went to another part of the wall and had to climb 1,044 steps up to the top of the mountain in the dark. Thats 1,044 steps straight up! No break! I used to say I didnt mind steps because back in Boston we are climbing up staircases all the time to get into our apartments or going to class (because its not courteous to take the elevator if youre going to floors one through three) but after this hike I officially hate stairs. Every opportunity that we had to skip staircases in places after the wall I opted the escalator. I better have perfect legs now-it was intense!
However, that night, after the hike of death, we got to sleep on the wall. We slept in one of the towers and I slept underneath a window so I could see the moon (the sky that night was incredible-although somehow I still think I saw more stars up in VT with the girls). Now let me remind you it is February-So China is COLD! In my real world I would never sleep outside in the middle of winter, but when youre on the great wall you have to do what you have to do. So I slept wearing layers and layers of clothing; on the bottom-under armor, jeans, sweatpants, two pairs of big, fuzzy socks, on the top- a tank top, a long sleeve shirt, a sweater, another long sleeve t shirt and a sweatshirt. All of this on a mat and inside two sleeping bags. When I first got in it wasnt that bad-it was actually a relief from the cold and I had to take off my jacket. But then, once I stopped moving, I froze. I constantly had to rearrange myself into the fetal position and pull the sleeping bags over my head so that I was cocooned tightly and could get some blood flowing again. Im not sure if I actually slept that night. I kept waking up in the middle of the night and when I did I wasnt sure if I had been asleep or if I was just closing my eyes. All I know is that in an instant I was being woken up for the sunrise. That is where it was all worth it. The sun coming up over the mountains was breathtaking. Now I dont know what is better, the view from the poets table in the black hills in South Dakota or the view off the great wall. Both are officially sacred in my mind. I spent a long while sitting on the wall overlooking the mountain range with the sun just starting to touch each and every mountain top. It was a relaxing experience and a perfect time to reflect on my life and this voyage. I missed everyone from back home a lot up there. I took some great pictures but it is not as comforting as the energy and feelings that came from being there in person.
Leaving Beijing was kind of sad because it made my Chinese experience a better one, but I was looking forward to coming back to the ship to sleep in my own bed again and see all of my friends who werent on my trip. Back in Hong Kong we were all reunited and were able to explore the city together. Hong Kong is a pretty easy city to get around-its pretty cool they have ferries from island to island-and I love ferries because they remind me of Long Island. But the city was fun because it was a mix of so many different cultures. The city was like a mix between London, Los Angeles, and a little bit of New York-with a slight Asian touch. Honestly it was harder to find Chinese food there than it was to find American food. But thanks to a nice couple at an antique shop we had a recommendation for some great dim sum. I loved that couple. They had a tiny, tiny shop that was covered with statues, jewelry, boxes, masks, anything. We stayed in there for a while, me and five friends jammed into this shop so much that we literally had to stand one next to the other in a perfect line and we filled the whole shop. I bought a bracelet from them that has a Buddhist prayer for protection on it-I figured it might be a nice mindset for traveling. But once I showed an interest in the different types of Buddhism and the prayers and practices they pulled out a book and continued to teach me different things about the religion. I had noticed there were a lot of Buddhist statues which involved couples having sex (so of course I had to know) and when I asked they had no problem telling me. In Buddhism they believe there is time, space, and consciousness-and sex is one of the only things that alters your consciousness so it is considered more of a holy experience. Good research.
The next day was our last day in Hong Kong and it was a little cloudy outside so we were worried, but decided to head to Victorias Peak. Victorias Peak is at the top of a mountain on Hong Kong Island that has a gorgeous lookout point over the whole city and the waters around it. Thanks to some life luck, when we got to the top the sky was clear and the weather was warm. It was a nice day walking around in the sun and enjoying the views. We ended the day taking a trolley back down the mountain and had to head back to the ship but it was definitely relaxing to be back on the Explorer that is my home now.
Before we knew it we were in Vietnam. This last week there and in Cambodia was absolutely amazing and I cant wait to blog more about it. Unfortunately Im exhausted and we actually have to lose an hour of sleep tonight changing the clocks because were going east around Singapore to get west to India. So Jennie Wennie needs some sleep.
If you read this whole thing-you rock! I love you all!!
Monday, February 15, 2010
Our last day in Japan was one of relaxation and bliss. When we woke up in the morning we went to a hot spring bathhouse in Kobe. This was slightly outside the city tucked away in the hills and off a few small roads. When we walked inside we needed serious assistance from the woman working the house because this was a system we had never worked.
Public bathhouses are a common experience in Japan. In fact when we were actually in the bath I saw a few pairs of mother daughters and many women came with friends.
But lets backtrack. We were required to leave our shoes in a locker by the entrance, since you cannot walk into a home or certain spaces with shoes on. We bought towels that were about the size of a dishtowel and walked upstairs where there were two curtains, one blue and one red. We went in the red one and were luckily correct. This led to a locker room filled with naked Japanese women. So okay, we knew this, and we all came because we dont really have any issues with nudity, but at the same time we had never done this before.
So slowly we began to take off our clothes until we were left in our bras and underwear. Then there was about a five second pause in which we all looked around for the person who would be first with the big reveal. We sucked it up and stripped down. Within five more seconds it wasnt weird anymore that we were naked. In fact I was watching so much around me for what I was supposed to be doing that I didnt even realize we were all naked anymore.
First we had to shower off before getting into the bath, which was a process of sitting down on a seat, filling a bucket with water, and a series of knobs that released water. Apparently I must have looked lost because the Japanese woman next to me pointed out the soap to me. Loves it.
Eventually we stepped into the bath that was filled with steaming hot, brown water. It was immediately comfortable but we didnt really know where to sit or what to do so we just sort of picked a corner and watched all the other women. They were all staring at us and we were all staring at them. Basically, Japanese and Americans have very different body shapes and body habits. But once we got over the beginning awkwardness it was a very leveling experience. I wanted to talk to all the women in there because when it came down to it we were all women and we all can understand each other. In that moment I really felt like a woman in my own skin and proud to be so.
Eventually we had to get out because we were over steamed and pruned. Another Japanese woman had to help me figure out how to dry myself off with the towel that we used to shower in the beginning. But at that point I was less embarrassed because my body was so relaxed and warm. I felt like my muscles were melted inside me. Heading back out into the cold weather was actually enjoyable after being so warm.
Our next stop was to get lunch at a steak restaurant to get Kobe steak. This was the most expensive meal I have ever personally purchased in my life but man was it worth it. First of all the anticipation of this meal was amazing and made it feel like we were really getting a full meal out of our purchase. The chef was cooking in front of us with such precision and care with everything he cooked-from garlic slices, to vegetables, and finally the big finale-our steak.
This steak needed nothing. You pick it up, you put it ever so gently into your mouth, and BAM HEAVEN ON YOUR TASTE BUDS! This steak melted in your mouthliterally. We ate the steaks with our eyes closed because we wanted to focus solely on the taste. Bite after bite of orgasmic flavor. I never wanted it to end. But it had to somewhere and I just tried to savor that feeling for the rest of the day.
We had to head back to the ship that night and leave Japan. It was sad to leave our first international port that was already so important to us. At least we had the opportunity for a day of luxury before we shipped out.
And with only two days at sea we are docking in China tomorrow morning.
More adventures to come.
I hope you savor your moments as well.
Hiroshima is an event that has been haunting me and my image of the U.S. for years now. Being able to visit the site was an incredible and eerie experience.
We left Kyoto for Hiroshima early in the morning and I was shocked to see that when we got out of the train station we were not in an abandoned, empty space. So, we had to navigate ourselves around a city that we thought would be purely for the purposes of memorial. Luckily, by this day in the trip my Japanese had improved enough to ask where the bus station was-by the way my friends were teasing me that if I got an asian haircut I could basically be Japanese because I was the one continuously trying to speak the language and learn different words-it was greatpoint is we found the bus station and made our way to the A-bomb dome and the peace memorial park.
The moment we stepped out of the bus we could see the dome and the image was breathtaking. The fact that we were in a flourishing city with tons of restaurants and shopping and then could take the bus a stop away and witness the remains of the city that was before was terrifying and quite honestly embarrassing. We were stopped by a few Japanese people asking us if we were Americans-and this was a place I did not want to admit that-but we did. It was difficult to talk to people who lived there and had families who were a part of this catastrophe that we as Americans caused. But the Japanese are forgiving-and I can only give them endless credit for that. I dont think I could forgive anyone who could do such a thing to a community. The atomic bomb on Hiroshima was a sick joke. One that the U.S. did not think too hard on and did not understand the full consequences of their actions. We caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people, knocking out an entire city, but torturing them first. Peoples skin melted off their bodies, maggots began emerging from their open wounds, and with limited medical supplies since the hospitals were bombed as well, people were left to sit and watch their families decay before them. I cant describe all the pictures, the scorched bicycles, the burned clothing, anything that was left behind and now on display. All I know is if I wasnt in a museum full of strangers I probably would have thrown up.
We just sat down on a bench and processed for a while after we left the museum. We looked out upon the memorial and were haunted by what was gone. It was bizarre to think we were staring out into a city that was once entirely different, then nothing, and now new.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Japan looks like the U.S. Honestly, if the signs were in English I could believe that I was in Chicago or New York. Japan is so westernized-beyond the U.S.-but it is totally the people and the culture that makes Japan an entirely different universe for Americans.
I spent my first two days in Yokohama and Tokyo almost entirely by myself and it was probably the greatest thing I could have done to break myself into Japanese life. First of all, I thought since Japan has such a strong culture and importance on intelligence, school, and success, that most people would also speak English. I was wrong. I didnt even eat lunch the first day because I couldnt figure out how to ask for something to eat nonetheless how much currency I needed.
Despite the language barrier people did try to communicate regardless. A man by the harbor mimed to me to ask if I wanted to feed the birds with him, a man playing in a park with a remote control car rolled the car up to me and my favorite, a woman in an art gallery who tried to talk to me about her work. I walked past her gallery that had sculptures of mystical creatures-some fish, dragons, hippos, etc in different colors and most of them only had one eye. I was super intrigued by these so when I walked into the gallery I wanted to speak to the woman and she began babbling off Japanese to me, looking at me like I could respond. I shook my head saying I dont speak Japanese. She said some more Japanese and finally said in English Spiritual Monsters in regards to her sculptures. All I could do was hope she understood when I said they were beautiful.
Once I got into Tokyo I found my way to some friends and it got a little easier. A 21 year old Japanese couple approached us on the street on our way out and immediately asked if they could come out with us. Laka, a student at a Japanese language school, spoke enough English for us to communicate. She showed us around Tokyo and helped us talk to people and showed us some bars and clubs and while we were around the neighborhood some love hotels.
These people definitely helped us adjust to this beginning but the real Japan love started when my friends Bailey, Elle, Traci, and I went to Kyoto. Bailey and Traci had a friend-Erika-from home who is now living in Kyoto teaching English. Erika was our inside to Japanese life and from then on my Japanese experience was magical! Erika took us to the best restaurants where I ate my new fave meal Okonomiyaki, which is sort of like an omelette but really not at all even though it is made with eggs, vegetables, meat, and fish scales. Also-get ready for this Mom and Dad-and I also feel like Manda would be really proud-I tried sushi-twice-and loved it! Hopefully I can find that good of sushi in the U.S. Ha. Heres to hopin.
Also got some good dirt on the Japanese romantic system, which obviously I took an interest in. The courting process is totally different than our own. My favorite ritual is with over a hundred teenagers that meet in a dried out river bed. They all get into a giant circle and then one at a time the guys step into the circle and call out the name of the girl they like. The girl then enters the circle and if she likes him she takes his hand and the two go off together. If she doesnt like him she says sorry and walks back to her friends. I love it.
On my own personal love note Erika took us to a bunch of Shinto and Buddhist shrines. One of the shrines was a love shrine that inside had two large rocks spaced about 20 or 30 feet apart. There is a myth that is said that if you can close your eyes and walk from one stone to the other you will find your love soon. You are allowed one person to talk you through it so I had Erika direct me-oh and by the way, it was POURING rain that day, like at this point in the day my shoes were soaked, my jeans were wet up to my knees and my camera was fogging up-but I made it through the rain and through the mass of people to the other stone. So look out world, Im destined for love, rain or shine, in Japanese or English, even if Im halfway around the globe. If nothing else, I fell in love with Japan.
More to write will write later.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Hello hello after so long! FYI our email was messed up on the ship for a while so I couldn't blog. I am about to update so many times since I just got back from Japan! AMAZING! So check more over the next two days before China.
Here is a blog I wrote when we crossed the international dateline about a week and a half ago!
Hope you're still reading! Love!
I have officially reached my biggest dream...time traveling.
I mean honestly, it's time traveling, teleportation, and then having a moderated temperature bubble (Caitlin remind John endlessly).
So I did it-Success! But I kind of cheated by crossing the international dateline. The craziest concept ever. We crossed it and then we lost a day-we just lost it-left it somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.
The international dateline is a concept we are all familiar with but when you think about it you can not make sense of it. Everyone on our ship has been talking about it for weeks-mostly because Don, our global studies prof, made a contest for a fifty dollar gift certificate to the school store to whoever could best define the international dateline. So last night we held the contest in the union and discussed about ten different ways the international dateline might make sense. Singing it like Lady Gaga, rapping it like the fresh prince, or even just a simple definition didn't do it. Instead the best definition (or maybe just the most entertaining) was told by a kid named Zack and it was a story about the pain of loss and the joy of recovery. Zack's story was as follows:
"This story has to do with two paths that never cross. One path begins on a ship in the Pacific Ocean heading west. The other path is that of a creature called an anole (which Zack explained he didn't know exactly what an anole was but most importantly it has a tail). This anole's name was Carl and he lived in Peru with his tail. Both the ship and Carl have been going on about their lives normally when all of a sudden down in Peru Carl is walking across the street, gets hit by a car, and tragically loses his tail! Coincidentally the same day the ship is crossing the international dateline and loses a day! So both Carl and the ship are sad that they have lost a part of their lives. But, as the ship keeps moving westward on its path it gains an hour every 15 degrees and with each hour it starts to feel a little better. Luckily for Carl, his tail has the capability of growing back slowly, 1/24 at a time. And as time passes Carl's tail grows back to its full length and the ship goes entirely around the world and gains all of its twenty four hours back. So with the passage of time everyone lives happily ever after."
Did that make sense? Probably not. It simply does not make sense that just because we are going west means we should lose a day entirely. However I have come to the conclusion that it is for pure convenience. On the ship we are gaining an hour every 15 degrees due to the fact that the Earth is spinning and thus time zones exist and we are selfishly taking 25 hour days. So if we had continued to take an hour to stay on track with the countries we are visiting we would be 24 hours ahead of everyone else when we docked in Ft. Lauderdale in May. So in order to stay in the same world as everyone else we must trade in our day somewhere for all the hours we're stealing. So here it is. And February 3, 2010 will never exist for me.
If it were up to me I would always live in another world but instead I am now about seventeen hours ahead of east coast time (sixteen hours tomorrow). Weeeeeiiiiiirrrrrddddd. But at least I know what the future looks like. Muahahaha.
Sunday, January 31, 2010
I have to do homework right now but I really wanted to give another round of thanks to everyone who is reading and responding and actively taking a long distance role in my life. I can't believe how many people are reading my blog daily or even just randomly (shout out to MJ who I found out is a follower and I love it!--I can't see my blog page so I am not discriminating against anyone else this is just what I'm hearing). But seriously, I have been quite the homesicky little wuss lately and the emails, comments, or even just the fact that I may have been added to your favorites list is the best thing I could hear. THANK YOU THANK YOU ALL!! I truly love you!
Also, definitely have to give a daily shout out to the one and only Bobby G, aka Dad. It's his birthday today and I wish I could be there to dance to the Beatles with him. HAPPY BIRTHDAY POPS! I LOVE YOU!
Will write later but believe it or not I do have to go to school on this ship as well. Pssh.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Six word memoir of my trip to Hawaii:
Paradise is found only when looking.
Honolulu was a culture shock from Hilo. First off I LOVED Hilo. I expected it to look like Honolulu (filled with hotels, souvenir shops, and blond haired tan men named Rabbit trying to sell us snorkeling trips), but Hilo was a world where locals were still indigenous and the Earth still mattered. Honolulu gave a big fat middle finger to that culture and gave Americans what they wanted-a place where they can be served U.S. style with a hint of Hawaii.
Now don't get me wrong I still had a fantastic time. But I needed a half an hour grace period to adjust to the fact that here I needed to be a tourist. Waikiki Beach swallowed me whole and when I was in the middle of it I finally let myself loose and enjoyed the sunny weather. With some friends we relaxed on the beach, took a catamaran ride and went swimming far out in the Pacific Ocean. Also went to Margaritaville which is the cheesiest cheese fest every created no matter how much you like Jimmy Buffet. Yesterday I even headed over to Pearl Harbor just me and my friend Bailey and took a break from the groups of SAS'ers to connect a little to our past. All of these places were a huge contrast from Akaka Falls and Volcanoes National Park on the big island but they had their place in current Hawaiian life on Oahu. Once I appreciated the islands for the differences, the last two days were a deep breath of air before we take on the rest of the world. Those days will probably be the last I will rest for the next three months.
This next stretch of ocean time is 11 days. Sweet baby Jesus.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Just a quick side note. I have been getting so many emails from everyone and I LOVE IT! KEEP THEM COMING! I understand it takes me a few days to respond but I read them almost immediately and they make me feel so much closer to home. I'm homesick when I think about it. But I'm just trying to keep having fun and stay in touch enough to still feel connected. So thank you all for emailing me! I will continue to email you too!
In Honolulu-will write soon with deets.
Love love love love love.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
"Happy January 25th". That is what I first heard this morning from the Hawaiian DJ on the radio. And a happy January 25th it was.
Aside from the perfect weather, I was greeted with the most uplifting attitudes from the Hilo locals. Now, when I began this voyage I had reminded myself to be careful, always observe my surroundings, and don't trust anyone. I've been told that you never know when someone could trick you, hurt you, or steal from you. But it appears I need to instill a little more faith in the Hawaiians.
The man at the gift shop gave us precise directions, and just in case, his phone number if we got lost. The woman at the counter of Cafe 100 where we ordered our Loco Specials (I ate Spam and it's delicious!-especially with rice, eggs, and gravy--so I give in Dan) gave us free bumper stickers. The sketchy looking man at the bus station picked flowers off a hidden tree and handed them out to the girls to put in their hair. And everywhere people waved.
The energy on this island is flowing.
A few days ago I attended a lecture on the history of Hawaii taught by Scott. The best thing I took away from it was the Hawaiian term "mana". Mana is a term used to describe a spiritual energy. It can be found mostly in the gods, but also in the earth, in people, in anything that is capable. It is what makes the hands on the clocks of our watches move.
I fell in love with the idea of mana and decided that when I ventured into port I would try to find it. At least my own version of it. Today was the beginning.
The botanical gardens were astounding. There was a peaceful energy everywhere. Flowers and trees from all over the world were grown here in a paradise together. I couldn't stop touching everything. I wanted to feel it. When I left, I was calm.
Later today I went to a luau hosted by the students of University of Hawaii at Hilo. There performances were so wonderful to watch. The time and energy they spent in rehearsing these rituals definitely showed through and we all were able to witness what happens when people care to maintain tradition. But, my favorite performance was from Dono, a young boy I met at the luau who just turned six years old today. Dono walked right up to me and started dancing. He felt the music, he smiled, and he danced his little heart out. A pure spirit can always brighten your day. I think Dono has some mana.
Today was the first day of a voyage of discovery. More mana to come.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
I didn't do my homework tonight. It was worth it.
I've lost track of how long I've been on this ship. It feels like weeks and minutes. But tonight it didn't matter. We are home.
There was a coffee house open mic in the piano lounge where hundreds of students came to watch peers, previous strangers, perform their talents. Let me just say-this ship is talented! But not AT ALL intimidating! If anything the night inspired me to perform at the next open mic. The support for performers was unbelievable. The performers and the audience were connected. Even when Emerson, from Japan, sang Celine Dion (terribly) we all cheered because before he began he said "I don't know if I'm a good singer but singing makes me happy". So we loved him. And when a sixteen year old girl (the daughter of one of my professors) performed slam poetry I got chills when she spoke "I am not afraid of hell, I like the heat". There was energy flowing tonight. So we clapped, we loved, and we became a shipboard community.
Earlier this evening we had a preport lecture with Scott Fisher. Scott is a guest lecturer who was born and raised in Hawaii and now manages acres of preserve land there. For a week he has been engaging us with Hawaiian lectures and I am fascinated daily by the Hawaiian history that I previously knew nothing about. Tonight he told us about Ohana, which is the Hawaiian word for family. In Hawaii ohana is crucially important. He also quoted a phrase that his father told him, "Turn your hands to the sky, you have nothing. Turn your hands into the dirt, you have life". Tonight we put our hands into our dirt and found our ohana here.
We dock in Hilo on Monday. I look forward to more dirt.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Step 1: Meclizine.
I was referred to today as a Meclizine dispenser and you know what-that's ok! Anything to prevent nausea. We have avoided two storms already and went 300 miles off course because of it. So we're full speed ahead and rockin away. Word on the street is the Pacific Ocean's the roughest.
Step 2: Balance
Rocking is rough...and hilarious. Walking down the hallway is clumsy yet choreographed as we all walk in a straight line and all fall to the left and fall to the right-still walking and still keeping the same distance from the person next to you. It is one of the most bizarre body feelings (up there with when I lost my center of balance when doing a trust fall with Mallory and she didn't catch me). I will be walking, struggling to walk upwards because of the tilt of the ship and then all of a sudden the ship tilts back the other way and I am effortlessly running down the hallway. Bare feet is best (although we're not technically allowed to walk around bare footed on the ship-but it keeps you grounded). I am learning to walk rhythmically enough that my life does not collapse into the walls-although it still happens. Even now I am on the deck and as a wave hit all of the tables, chairs, and everyone in them slid to the left and then a little bit back. Just hold on to your stuff.
Step 3: Edwin's secret tricks.
I just discovered the glory of Edwin, my cabin steward (I know-I'm spoiled).
The last two nights have been tough getting to sleep. Now that I am pretty used to the rocking it has become soothing and definitely rocks me to sleep. So just as my mind is drifting off the racket begins. The pattern is this: slide, click, slide, slam! slide, click, slide slam! SLIDE, CLICK, SLIDE, SLAM! It will drive you nuts!!! My dresser drawers have been falling in and out since the ship is rocking so much. Books, tissue boxes, water bottles, ad alarm clocks no longer live on the nightstand but now on the floor. My roommate and I have accepted that fact. We just figured we would have to learn to block out the banging. Until....Edwin!
Today I came into my cabin after Edwin had finished cleaning and the slamming had stopped. He had rolled up little pieces of what I think is cardboard or some piece of paper and stopped up the drawers so that they are stuck.
I will sleep well tonight. But getting dressed tomorrow will be a challenge.
Step 4: Sunscreen
You would think I would have known this fact since I'm on a ship and all but the weather hasn't been quite warm enough for tanning. But when I stepped outside yesterday the sun was euphoric. I couldn't leave and you couldn't make me. C'mon-it's January. And with the endless ocean around you-why leave the deck? So I didn't.
Two hours later I have reclaimed my title as Queen of the Crustaceans. I am a LOBSTER! Melissa and Murray would be so proud. I am officially bright red with a nice little white heart where my locket lays. I like the white heart a lot actually-simply because I am now burned to remember my family. So I am now sitting in the shade (still on the deck-you CAN NOT beat this view!) Perhaps in a few days I'll be tan. Suckers.
Things happen. But this is the life.
*Note* In actuality, I know nothing about shipboard life.
Talk to me in four months.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Here's the thing. I'm not a morning person.
This morning I had plans to meet in the dining hall at 7:30 with some friends before our 8am classes. I got there at 7:40 on my watch and wondered why there was no one in the hallways, nonetheless the dining hall, and there was no food set out. There were two men mopping the deck outside so I asked...is it not 7:30? He barely understood me but showed me his cell phone that said 5:45.
It appears our first time change has got me. I went an hour back instead of an hour ahead. Oops.
Back to bed then.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
There is a famous story that my family likes to tell. My family and I went to Bar Harbor, Maine a few years ago where we decided to go whale watching (and never saw any whales). We all wore the sea sickness bracelets and tried to keep everyone stable, mostly my brother Rob, who we knew suffered from serious motion sickness from boats, to roller coasters, to playground equipment. So obviously my brother gets sea sick anyway. Rob and my Dad went down into the inside of this boat where there was a small cafe and hopefully a bathroom. Unfortunately, Rob never made it to the bathroom. Instead, he cleared out the cafe.
I've teased Rob about this moment and all other vomalicious moments he's had and now the sea sickness gods have come after me.
Taking off from Ensenada Mexico was amazing. We cheered, ate our first meal on board, and watched the most enormous Mexican flag in the port disappear. At first, wobbling was even fun as we tried to walk the hallways in a straight line (now on day 3 we are getting better). But, as soon as I had to sit down in the rocky, overheated, union with six hundred kids I was a goner. That night and yesterday were unbearable. I was stuck in my indoor cabin, in the dark, feeling as if my insides were going to fall out of my ears. Thanks to Jenny (my LLC-Living, Learning Coordinator) and the doctors on board I was taken care of. I finally got a nice big needle in my butt and within thirty minutes was calmed down. So today is a new day. I am out on deck surrounded entirely by the ocean, no land in sight. It is incredible...now that I am feeling better. My sea legs are growing!
All I really have to say is, Rob, sorry I ever made fun of you. Miss you and all of my continental lovers.