Tag Archives: travel

And Away We Go!

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She’s at it again, they’ll say! Will she ever settle down?

Yes, I am at it again. And no, other than the whole got married part, I doubt my incurable wanderlust will dissipate.

This summer, I will be heading to South Africa, as part of Rutgers University South Africa Initiative.

We will be meeting with universities, schools, community organizations, government officials, and change agents. How do schools and education more broadly lead to social change? In post-Apartheid Africa, I will learn more about how schools educate and communities transform through major social changes.

One of the things I am interested in is how social change, reconciliation, and forgiveness have and continue to shape a community marked by violence and racism. How have students help lead that change? What lessons or observations will I learn/make during my visit that will relate to some of the struggles we face in our own country?

We had our first of a handful of orientations last night where I met the other 8 or so participants–who are PhD students (like me), current teachers, masters students, or education and community leaders.

I hope you will join me in this journey by:

  • Reading the book Knowledge in the Blood: Confronting Race and the Apartheid Past by Jonathan D. Jansen and/or Social justice and transformative learning: Culture and identity in the United States & South Africa by Darren Clarke and Saundra Tomlinson-Clarke with me and sharing your insights
  • Following my blog
  • Suggesting other reading or giving me travel recommendations

Fair warning: True to my previous entries about my travels to India, Nepal, and Thailand, these posts (as demonstrated) will not be short entries. Sorry not sorry.

Why South Africa?

Listen to the Day of Affirmation speech Robert F. Kennedy gave at the University of Capetown during his 1966 trip–even just the first minute and 15 seconds is enlightening.

More to the Story

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Recently, there has been a lot of negativity in the press about India. I get comments like: “I can’t believe you went there.” and “I’m glad you’re not over there now.”

I feel compelled (and was asked) to share my own thoughts and reflections on my experiences in India and how they compare with the image of India that is being portrayed in the news. I am basing this response specifically on the CNN iReport that was widely circulated in the past few weeks, though I caveat this post with the following: I do not mean to trivialize anyone’s individual experiences there, nor do I claim to be an expert after only spending two plus months there. What I would like to do is add my voice and perspective to paint a more holistic view of what it’s like for the many Americans and foreigners who may not get(or choose to take) the opportunity to travel there.

I would first ask that you at least skim this piece and realize that this has become part of a caricature of the current state of affairs in India: http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1023053
(which I argue, while being an important part of the narrative, is not complete and therefore alone it stands as an unjust representation). Warning, the piece is a bit graphic. I will not be offended if you scan it.

Personally, I never experienced sexual harassment in the slightest which is why I feel compelled to respond. Though, I will be honest, two Italian girls were killed in the state I visited the week before I arrived. Many of the what we would call counties were closed to foreign visitors. While I wouldn’t take this lightly, I don’t find it remarkable either, having lived in Dallas, Washington, DC, and now outside of New York and Philadelphia. It’s not that it isn’t newsworthy, it’s just not unheard of (unfortunately).

Despite being in one of the poorest, most “backward” states (as classified by the government), I was working with a fairly “progressive” group of men–all college educated and interested in development, helping the impoverished, dedicating their professional lives to it. I would most closely associate my coworkers with 12 year old boys–even the married ones. I don’t mean that condescendingly, but in the way my brother’s and my relationship was when I was 16 and he was 12–it’s relating to a culture they are not fluent in and the norms for gender interaction are different–like speaking a different language.

So to that extent, some of my colleagues were awkward around me (as I’m sure I was around them), but always very kind. We developed a type brother-sister bond which I very much appreciated and made being far from home less difficult. When I left they called me “sister” (still sort of like a 12 year old brother would relate to his high school sister–sweet, endearing, a bit hard to relate to, though professionally treated me like an equal). I would say where I was it didn’t seem they don’t interact with many women professionally.

I also dressed as appropriate for my village (in a salwar kameez–the long shirts with leggings), followed customs for shoes, and didn’t venture far without a male escort (driver and translator were with me most the time). I don’t know how much of this was required, but it was appreciated. I didn’t go out after dark often. I stayed at my apartment in the evenings after work except to walk with a friend to the store or a nearby restaurant both within a 3 block or so radius of the apartment (and one rogue evening hanging out with some local college-aged women at the Pizza Hut).

I ventured to Catholic Mass most Sundays–about 40ish minutes away in an auto-rickashaw/tuk-tuk by myself–that was a little scary, but more for the arranged marriage proposals I received after Mass. (“Funny, I’ve had a difficult time arranging my son with an American Catholic woman. Can I have your father’s phone number?” Um, no. I’m still working on a more polite way of saying arranged marriage is just not my style in preparation for my next overseas adventure). [Side note: If Hillary Clinton is only worth two camels, I don’t want to know what they’d offer for me. I should clarify, this references a story that was in the paper all summer about a terrorist group putting ransom up for someone willing to kidnap Hillary when she was Secretary of State, NOT my colleagues wanting to marry her.]

I never felt particularly unsafe, except riding in a car in Delhi and that’s not because I am a woman–the sheer amount of traffic and chaos would frighten most American drivers. Did I stand out? Yes, my friend and I were the only white people in our part of the city. Everyone stared as we walked down the street–but out of curiosity. There is no feeling in the world that replaces this experience–being a physical minority and attracting attention just by your appearance–a very valuable life lesson.

If I’m honest, I did flirt with/was flirted with by some lovely gentlemen (mostly bartenders in Goa) in the more touristy/European areas, but nothing was threatening, and everyone was friendly. No major problems. One invited me to a party with his friends–which I SO would have gone to had my friend and I been traveling with a male companion, but we didn’t. We were cautious, even though it was probably fine. This to me is a reality of traveling in a country where you don’t speak the local language or even going out in the States by yourself or with only females.

I did have one colleague who always said things like (at the beach) that my friend and I should bring our boyfriends or husbands back so we could swim next time. He’d say that about most activities. As an independent, adventurous, and-yes-American woman, I thought, “Newsflash, we came halfway across the world by ourselves, we don’t really need our boyfriends hear to walk barefoot in the ocean.” But, of course, the truth is that is a part of his culture and no matter how you conceive of it or what similarities there are, there will always be some differences.

Also, I knew locals and India is a higher context society than ours. We don’t have a caste, so they have to know where to place us. My local contact was very well respected–so I felt that I was, too. Many Indians I encountered wanted to know what my parents did for a living, because their jobs have been traditionally divided by caste/social class.

It’s not that there were not difficult parts about it, but my most difficult parts were (keep in mind I was not in the most cosmopolitan of places, but rather in a more rural and less international area):
1) It’s just a different culture with different values. You have to learn/become “fluent” so to speak in the new culture. Body language, intonation, eye contact norms, etc.
2) The caste system made less and less sense the more they tried to explain it to me. It’s connected to their last same…so someone with a surname like O’Reilly or O’Connor is obviously of Irish decent and that you are Hispanic as a Garcia, Singh means warrior caste–it’s in your blood so to speak, who you are. Some people didn’t understand that I don’t have a caste. The divide between rich, middle class, and poor is incredible.
3) There’s a lot of materialism in the big cities like Delhi or Mumbai. I see materialism as the result of believing that faith causes conflict and that religion (all of it) is backwards.
While I also met a lot of very devout Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Muslims,Buddhists, and Baha’i followers, it doesn’t seem that most people they encounter from developed nations are religious (think about many Ambassadors, government officials, UN officials, aid workers, academics–in the U.S. many of them tend to be not religious–or not publicly religious).

I would keep in mind that I did not spend much time in major cities and that India is one of the most economically, physically, and culturally diverse places I’ve ever visited. More languages and races exist in this one nation than most other places in the world. More important than my individual experience is that there are many vast and varied experiences in India and not all of them are violent or chauvinistic or what we would consider immoral. The more we perpetuate this myth that these negative experiences are “what India is” the more fear we foster among our fellow human beings and the less open we are to working together to tackle common problems and share in friendship.

Act I, Scene I

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And the Wanderlust Traveler is at it again. Never one to sit still for too long, I have accepted a communications position in New Jersey–a state I have only crossed by bus and train.

While the grand (I can’t actually confirm this descriptor) state of New Jersey may not appear that exotic–let me assure you, it looks nothing like Oklahoma, Texas, or DC or Italy, India, Nepal, or Thailand. At least not on Google Maps.

But I couldn’t be filled with more excitement and optimism. I am far from done seeing, exploring, hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling the world around me…but for now, I am going to work on changing my corner of the world–the New Jersey suburbs and the greater NYC area.

I have studied politics, art, languages, philosophy, and history–but my heart is still captivated by a love for people, culture, and places. And in a sense, I am taking on a new world and a new culture–a new professional industry (not quite along the lines of international development).

And I have found a job that gives me one of the best and worst feelings I have ever known. After months of searching. After hundreds of applications, cover letters, and resumes. After dozens of interviews.

And what is this feeling? If you’ve ever been on stage, there are those few seconds standing in the wings, your heart pounding, your mind and pulse racing. It’s a feeling I haven’t really felt since I stepped of the stage two years ago.  The feeling is one that drives me to do my best, but I have as of yet had trouble trying to figure out how to reincorporate it into my life (working, grad school, research, volunteering, and job searching sometimes-just sometimes-take precedence over theater).

Acting for me is a passion. I love being on stage and the energy of a live audience. I know the satisfaction of nailing a scene–lines well-delivered and emotion authentic–after hours of practice and preparation.

But no matter how much you love the drama, catharsis, organic laughter, and a job well-done–there are those moments, waiting in the wings full of anticipation. Because every time I walked out on that stage was a challenge to rise to my potential and an opportunity to improve. Each show (whether it’s Opening Night or the Sunday Matinee) requires the same energy.

So many jobs I applied for and so many futures I’d envisioned seemed to trap this Wanderlust Traveler. But this will be an adventure–full of the nervous anticipation, the excitement of a challenge. The feeling of a new beginning, new people, new location, new job is one that invigorates and frightens me–promising not to leave me bored, but also asking of me to show up each day ready to take on new challenges with dedication and energy. The drive to continually improve.

Finished preparing and practicing, I am waiting in the wings excited by possibility. (And that’s all this Wanderlust Traveler ever wanted in the first place, to dream and make possible).

End Scene.

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Wonder and Awe

My bucket list just got a bit longer. I don’t normally post links, but these photos were just too incredible not to share. Awe-inspiring in the true sense of both visually stunning and fear inducing (in a reverence for nature sort of way). What a beautiful, strange, and amazing world we live in!

The Next Adventure

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…No, I haven’t found a job yet. I am considering traveling in the next 6 months or returning to Nepal for awhile before those pesky student loans need to be paid off. Any ideas about where I should go?

But I did begin a new adventure this past month. Few things in life give me as much joy as writing about my observations and encounters and reading about the observations and encounters of others. (Some may call this a blog addiction…I prefer to thing of it as being in love with learning anything and everything about people, their thoughts and their values…call it what you will. 🙂 )

For the first time, I met with a writers group. A few friends of mine from graduated school (Freudian slip? I mean graduate school) have probably discussed beginning a writers group for a year. We had a great time, reading each other’s work and receiving feedback.

We were all a bit nervous. Sharing your writing is a bit like bearing your soul. It’s personal when you receive criticism, constructive or otherwise, because (at least for me) word choice and tone are very personal. It’s the means through which you are sharing your experiences and your reactions.

In addition to soul-bearing, each author in the group writes completely different genres and styles. One has a great and pithy style, writing horror and other disturbing subjects. Another writes sort of sad stories–not totally realistic and not totally fantasy–with a point to get across. A third (who unfortunately missed this session) focuses on young adult literature.

And lastly, there is me–who may someday write YA fiction or short plays, but currently blogs about travel, life, searching for joy, my faith, politics, and other various non-fiction pursuits. We are quite eclectic, but I think that keeps us interesting and able to provide feedback from different perspectives.

Plus, who doesn’t love dinner with friends discussing your favorite books and your writing pursuits?

I am however the bad writer…I showed up without writing to present. Next month…

Come Sail Away…

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I’m sailing away,
Set an open course for the virgin sea,
‘Cause I’ve got to be free,
Free to face the life that’s ahead of me,
On board, I’m the captain, so climb aboard,
We’ll search for tomorrow on every shore,
And I’ll try, Oh Lord I’ll try, to carry on

I’ve been singing Styx since a very young age. There was not a family road trip that didn’t involve rocking out to Styx (along with a few other favorites…The Night Chicago Died–who doesn’t love a song about gang warfare? And of course, a family favorite, Afternoon Delight…yeah, don’t ask). In fact, I remember a bus ride at camp singing Styx with one of my first crushes. Styx. That is true love. (I may have had better taste in men as a twelve year old…the jury is still out).

And this. This is the song that comes to me this weekend in the midst of a silent retreat. Have you ever spent 48+ hours not talking? I highly recommend it, especially in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Advice from friends, family, and mentors is great–often essential. But sometimes you have to quiet all the voices and listen to what it is that you want and what you need. Plus, I’m all about inner peace and tranquility; living life in a rather large metropolis focused on success and achievement sometimes requires that you take a step back to reestablish the inner calm among the chaos and the busy.

So here I am: thesis-ing, job searching, working, homework-ing (yes, I invent school related verbs), blogging, and volunteering. Well-rested, I attempt to attack my thesis and my upcoming projects with a more sane (less anxious) mind and a firmer sense of direction. I have come to realize in my silence that what I am really seeking is not just the next adventure or the answer to the inevitable “What am I going to do when I grow up?”, but joy. The joy of travel. The joy of family and friends. The joy of my faith, of new experiences, of exploring new hobbies, of celebrating life.

And to my future, I say…

On board, I’m the captain, so climb aboard!

My Culture

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A friend of mine told me about a book that talks about the difficulties women have dating because they are ambitious and career-oriented, but want to have a family and be stay-at-home moms. That apparently men who are supportive of career-driven women may not see the value in a stay-at-home parent or that men looking for a wife who would value a stay-at-home parent may not know that about his ambitious female friends.  (DISCLAIMER: I haven’t read the book, I was just told about it. So this is my interpretation of what I heard. I also think she said it was specific to DC, or urban areas. Regardless…)

I can’t say this worry had ever occurred to me personally. Certainly, I have been in real experiences in which that conversation is necessary. I’ll out myself as an ambitious woman who would love to eventually have a family and be able to stay at home (I say stay-at-home loosely, I’ll probably be “on the road.” 🙂 ) But, it has never been a difficulty in finding someone to date. And let’s be honest, there are a lot of necessary conversations in any relationship. (Like my addiction to international travel…my bank account and I already go back and forth on that. I can’t imagine my future spouse and I won’t have to have that conversation. Or better yet, we should just have the same addiction to adventure. Hey, girl can dream!**)

This post drifts from away from a strictly “travel” blog here and shifts in to one about culture and values. As I was contemplating the existence of this book, I didn’t quite get it. But it did lead me to think more deeply about why staying at home or having a more flexible job as a parent would be important to me. I came up with this: my desire to create a culture unique to my future family. I love traditions, holidays, and rituals. These are what make life so rich. They are the very reason I yearn to travel—to see how others celebrate the joys in everyday life and in the monumental occasions (life, death, birth, marriage, coming of age…). Life is beautiful and it is the celebration of the joys and how we handle sorrows that makes one ordinary moment different from the next.

This thought led me to something else. I have these beautiful friends that aspire to own a farm. They have an amazing blog where they chronicle their made-from-scratch recipes and other craftsmanship projects. I see them value the hard work and the virtues that come with those efforts and I admire them greatly. They take their values and live them. Admittedly I have wondered to myself, if I really wanted to create a culture as I said above, would I be making lye soap or beeswax candles? After all, I like the values they hold that lead them to do this. But let’s be honest…I love projects, but I don’t ever see myself making detergent from scratch more than once for the novelty of it.

Part of the reason my friends’ blog has sparked so much thought was a debate in my Global Ethics class about particularism versus universalism in tackling poverty—that is are we more effective in our efforts to help our own and do it well or are we more effective in helping the most objectively impoverished though they may be in far corners of the world or isn’t the most effective use of resources? While most of my fellow master’s students argued in favor of universalism, I found myself defending a greater responsibility to our own children and our immediate neighbors. (How did I end up in an international affairs program instead of social work, if this is the case? I may never know.) In this same vein, I found myself inspired to volunteer and support local NGOs, dedicated to ending hunger and homelessness locally, upon my return from India.

If I truly feel particularistic—in that I can most effectively help the world by the children I may raise or serving those in my own little corner of the world—would I not be doing something radical like my friends’ in saving for a farm (or whatever it may be that you value) to create that particular culture that fosters those values?

But I have come to a conclusion. (Besides the fact that I think too much about things that haven’t happened yet…) It is through my love of people and exploration of culture—learning what and how people attribute meaning and significance to in life—that leads me to this frame of mind, to my desire to build a domestic culture. I know traveling has taught me so much—it’s pushed me to my limits and beyond on more than one occasion, but it’s also stretched me and forced me to grow. (In retrospect, I think relationships, families, and living together is similar–pushes your limits, but ideally challenges you to improve).

If I have values, I want to live by them…otherwise, they are no better than a presidential campaign—all rhetoric and no substance. It has just occurred to me that some of my specific values are learning, exploring, and finding meaning in it all. Maybe international travel is my farm–the a part of the way I live out my values…and maybe it doesn’t have to be particular OR universal.

***Speaking of dreamy: For anyone who saw The Bachelor finale this week, I wouldn’t mind riding off into the Thai sunset on an elephant either.