Friday, March 29, 2013

Life in Morocco: An American Experience

Fez, October 3, 2011

Before I came to Morocco several months ago, I had many conceptions and misconceptions about living in a North African, Islamic country. What must I do when I hear the call to prayer? Will I be tolerated as a Christian? Will I be allowed to associate with women? These were all questions that came to my mind when I thought of coming to Morocco. The Morocco of my mind was the Morocco of Hollywood films and when I thought of Morocco, I thought of camels, tents, the French Foreign Legion and the One Thousand and One Nights.

Since I have come to Morocco, my friends and family in America have asked me many questions. “Do they have highways in Morocco?” “Do they have mobile telephones?” “Do they have washing machines?” I’ve also heard more than enough questions about camels and about the desert.

Now I am here. I have lived and worked in Fez for several months and I scarcely see anyone who is not Moroccan. I am entirely immersed in the culture. I eat Moroccan food, my friends are Moroccan, my clothes are Moroccan, and I have done a fair amount of traveling.

Since I arrived, I have seen my fair share of televisions, mobile telephones, highways and European luxury cars. I am however, still waiting to see the desert and those camels that everyone keeps talking about.

Many westerners have misconceptions about Morocco. I myself did not understand things well until I arrived. Muslim women are not shut up in some distant wing of their house where they are forbidden to have interaction with men. The women in Morocco work together with men in just about every job. I should also mention that not all women in Morocco are veiled. Morocco, like every other country has a diversity of people and of culture.

Some women are veiled and wear gloves so that the only part of them that is seen is their eyes as they look over their veils. Other women wear a scarf to cover their hair and they consider that to be sufficient. Then there are other women who do not cover their heads nor their faces and no one seems to be bothered about it.

It is common here in Morocco to see a veiled lady walking with a lady who only wears a scarf or perhaps with a lady who does not cover her head at all. These women who have different religious convictions all get along with one another and are friends.

These women have rights also. Some people make the mistake of thinking that because some Muslim women do not live free lives, then all Muslim women are oppressed. I think that the women of Morocco are among the most free of all of the women in the Islamic world. They come and go as they please. They drive cars. They do business or whatever else is necessary.

One should note that unlike the women of the west, Muslim women have always had the right to hold and inherit property. There have been many very powerful and influential women in Islamic civilization.

For example. in Fez one will find both a synagogue and a Mosque-university which were founded by women. The University is Al-Karouine which was founded by Fatima al-Fihri and it is reputed to be the oldest continuously operating university in the world and the synagogue is Em-Habbanim Obviously these women were not shut away in the harem fanning themselves all the day long. They were an important and influential part of their society.

Another issue should be mentioned, that is that Morocco is a very modern and progressive country. The streets are paved and wide. In Fez, there are fountains at every turn.

There has been much publicity this year about the King’s project of building the tramway in Rabat which apparently has been successful. Contrary to what some people might think, we have electricity, running water, and everything else that one requires for a comfortable life in this modern age. I have not done without anything to which I was accustomed in America save my favorite blend of pipe tobacco.

In Morocco there is a great deal of tolerance as well. Before I traveled to Morocco, I was warned by many friends that it could be dangerous for a Christian to travel to a Muslim land. After all, Muslims hate Christians, they say. Well, perhaps that is true in some places. I don’t know. I am in Morocco. Since I have come to Morocco, I have dined with Muslims. I have slept in their houses, I have been nursed by them when I was sick and they have never insulted me or discriminated against me for not being a Muslim. My friends know that I did not fast for Ramadan and they are not bothered.

In fact, when I visited some Muslim friends during Ramadan, they insisted on preparing food for me so that I could eat throughout the day as I am accustomed to do. They never ate until dusk, but they never asked me to fast with them. Never once has any of my Muslim friends tried to convert me to Islam since I came to Morocco. My religion is simply not anything that they are worried about.

I live in Morocco now. My conceptions now have a foundation and my misconceptions have been corrected and adjusted to correspond to the truth. Now I know that when I hear the call to prayer, I can ignore it. It does not stop all life and movement when it is sounded. Now I know that most people don’t care what my religion is. I don’t have to worry about being discriminated against. Many Muslims call me brother and friend and I know that they are sincere. I can associate with women. I can walk with them in the street and talk with them in their homes and there is no problem. It is easy to live among Muslims and I am quite comfortable here. I think that I shall stay for quite some time.

By Jess L. Norton is Morocco World News’ correspondent in Fez, Morocco.

Source: here

Monday, March 25, 2013

Trip to Estonia and Latvia

I really enjoyed reading Elizabeth Snouffer’s article “Eating Abroad with Diabetes–Hong Kong,” Catherine Price’s interview with world traveller Bridget McNulty, and Catherine’s posts  describing her own trips to Tokyo and Hawaii. So I thought I would follow the trend and write about my own first experience traveling with diabetes.

This summer, I went on a two-week trip to Estonia and Latvia to do research about my grandfather’s family. I had originally been given a grant to do this last summer, right after I had graduated from college, but then I was diagnosed with diabetes in early July. At that point, I couldn’t imagine traveling to a foreign country–I panicked even when trying to estimate the amount of carbohydrates in a Cosi sandwich. Luckily, the people at Penn who had provided the grant were understanding, and allowed me to wait a year before taking the trip.

I’m convinced that a major reason why Estonia and Latvia aren’t bigger tourist destinations is because they were behind the Iron Curtain, and so remain unknown to many Americans. They are both beautiful countries. I spent the first week of my trip in Riga, the capital of Latvia. Riga’s medieval old city is surrounded by rings of parks, constructed after the city’s medieval fortifications were razed in the late 19th century. Beyond these parks is Riga’s truly unique feature–a sprawling art nouveau district that UNESCO has declared a world heritage site. You can walk for blocks and blocks and only see incredibly rendered art nouveau facades.

         One of Riga's many parks
      Art nouveau architecture
Before World War II, Riga was home to a large Jewish population that included my great-grandparents and their children. By coincidence, I found out that the hotel where I was staying was in the same neighborhood as the apartment buildings in which my great aunts and uncles lived. I walked to each one and took photos–the building in which my great-uncle Isak lived is now a Ramada Inn!

I also got to see some of Latvia’s countryside. For two days I went to Sloka, a town about an hour away from Riga by train. Here, my great-grandfather’s family once owned a farm and raised horses. Architecturally, Sloka is now an incongruous mix of small wooden houses and looming Soviet-era structures. Although quite a few of the Soviet-era buildings are crumbling and dilapidated, many of the town’s inhabitants have no other option but to continue living in them. As I took the train back into the city, I looked out the window at the fields passing by and caught glimpses of people picking flowers to make into wreathes to wear on St. John’s Eve the next day.

        the Ramada Inn

After all my worrying, my diabetes-related challenges in Riga were few. Since I was only going to be traveling for two weeks, I brought all my supplies with me, in addition to prescriptions from my doctor in case I misplaced the supplies I had and needed to buy more. (I’m happy to report I never did.) My parents, who were curious to see the places their ancestors had lived, came with me for the first week of my trip. It was reassuring to know that, in case of an emergency, I would have two people with me who knew what to do. In addition, many people in both Latvia and Estonia are at least reasonably fluent in English.

Unlike some of the other ASweetLife travelers, I didn’t do anything especially physically strenuous. But I was walking all the time. Our hotel was half an hour away from the Riga’s center, we’d inevitably make the trip back and forth more than once a day–retrieving maps, going out to dinner, etc. And once we reached the city center, we would have to walk somewhere else. It felt great to get so much exercise without even trying, but then my blood sugar started to go low more and more frequently. Finally, I decreased my dose of Lantus, and the problem was solved.

Source : here

Saturday, March 23, 2013

My trip to Turkey- July 2012

Here is a detailed report about my trip to Turkey last month to attend the World Deaf Football Championships and the Miss and Mr Deaf International Pageant, both in Ankara, Turkey. I visited two cities in Turkey- Istanbul and Ankara.

I took the nonstop Los Angeles to Istanbul flight on Turkish Airlines for less than 13 hours and it was very tiring and boring. My seat was not that comfortable as I sat in the coach section but had the aisle seat which was convenient for me to get up often and walk up and down the plane and drinking a lot of water. I also had two pillows on my seat to make myself more comfortable and tried to have some sleep with the blanket.

What impressed me most about Turkey is the Turkish people! They were very friendly and I had wonderful hospitality with them. As soon as I landed in Istanbul I took the bus to the city then taxi to my hotel. My Turkish friend from Facebook immediately came to my hotel with his friend and we made arrangements for me to go sightseeing and visiting the Deaf Club during my four-day stay in Istanbul. Even though I was very tired when I arrived to Istanbul, I agreed to have dinner with my two new Turkish friends and had a delicious kebab.

What strikes me the most about Turkey is that I had a wonderful experience there. It is more than the "bridge between East and West" of tourist-brochure cliche as it is a country that combines influences from the Middle East and the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and central Asia.

Most of Turkey is really in Asia ( 97%) so it is not really much in Europe! In Istanbul there is a bridge between Europe and Asia. It is interesting to cross that bridge as you could see many mosques. Turkey has a population of over 70 million and 98% Muslim! Amazing!

In Istanbul I stayed at the fabulous "apartment" called Fullhouse Boutique Residence and it was a lovely one-bedroom apartment with living room and a balcony in the heart of Istanbul at Taksim. Thanks to to help me with this reservation. Very reasonable price and better than a hotel. They even have a maid to clean my room every day.

Bargaining is a way of life in Turkey and I bargained to buy souvenirs and other things. There are bazaars and markets in Turkey including Istanbul. Be sure to visit them as they have many beautiful things like carpets,diferent spices, clothes, jewelery, leather goods and souvenirs.

There are many things to see in Istanbul from the Christian and Islamic empires. Including the mosques and palaces that dominate the city skyline.

Be sure to visit the following:

Blue Mosque ( a must!)

Topkapi Palace

Aya Sofya- greatest legacy of the Byzantine Empire

The Grand Bazaar- great for shopping!!!!!

Yerebatan Sarnici- A MUST TO SEE!!! Underground cistern with fish. It is beautifully lit with walkaways to see statues and fish swimming. They are thousands of years old.

If you visit Turkey, you MUST NOT miss Istanbul at any costs. All major airlines fly directly to Istanbul then you make connections elsewhere within the country but please try to stay in Istanbul for at least three or four nights.

After visiting Istanbul I flew to Ankara, the capital of Turkey.

Istanbul used to be the capital many years ago but not any more. It was a short flight, about an hour then I took the bus to the city and then taxi to my hotel, Crowne Plaza to meet other friends and USA soccer players in the World Deaf Football Championships. I stayed at that hotel for a total of about 14 nights at a discounted rate with breakfast. It was a nice 5-star hotel but did not have a swimming pool. It was next to the large Mall and the Metro station which was helpful for my transportation needs within the city.

Ankara was very hot but that was expected. I enjoyed making new friends there especially the soccer players from Spain, Thailand, and of course the USA as we shared the same hotel.

AnakaMall was next to Crowne Plaza and it was a beautiful Mall with many stores and restaurants as well as a huge supermarket. It was a perfect location to shop or to eat. You could have American food there as I have seen fast food restaurants there like Mc Donalds, KFC, and Burger King. Of course I decided to eat at Turkish restaurants and cafes, enjoying their delicious kebabs or other meals.

I attended almost all American soccer games as the American journalist and took photos mostly of people and their Turkish culture. The American men soccer players did not win any medals as they were placed on the 11th place, unfortunately but they did try their best and played well. Turkey won the Men Championship and yes, the American women won the GOLD medal, as they were the first place beating the Russians. Congratulations to them!

There were some interesting places to see in Ankara itself. Among them:

Ankara Kalsei- the old castle on the top of the city. You must not miss it as the view was magnificent.

Anitkabir- museum and the palace of the First President of Turkey. Awesome. It reminded me of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC but bigger.

Markets near the Ankara Kalsei- many shops and souvenirs to buy. Go up the castle first by taxi then walk down ( Ankara Nin Tarihi Yerleri) back to the Metro passing many markets and shops.

Kocatepe Camii- a beautiful mosque.

Kizilay- the main square of Ankara . Many shops and parks there as well as banks and others.

Hamam- the Turkish baths. I had a good massage there by professionals. VEry interesting and a must to see.

Of course I did not go to Turkey just to see the World Deaf Football Championships as I also went to the Miss and Mr Deaf International Pageant ( MMDI) at the beautiful Marriott Hotel which was about a 15-minute taxi ride from the Crowne Plaza. They had events daily and I managed to go there a few times to meet the contestants and their sponsors. They asked me to be one of the Judges for the Pageant and I was happy to accept so it was a big honor to be a Judge there to help pick Mr. and Miss Deaf International Pageant 2012- The winners were Mr. Cevat Simsek of Turkey for Mr. Deaf International 2012 and Natallia Rbbava of Belarus for Miss Deaf International 2012. I really applaud the hard working organizing committee including the leadership of Bonita Ann Leek and Rocco Leo Gaglioti and many others too. The Pageant was at the Kent Plaza Mall, a lovely Beverly Hills-style Mall. Thousands of people were able to watch the Pageant on live television. Of course I plan to see the Pageant again next year!

I really had a very busy schedule attending both the World Football Championships and the MMDI as well as going sightseeing and meeting new friends.

I plan to return to Turkey hopefully next year after the Sofia Deaflympics.

You can see some photos here but I have published many more in my ALBUMS here on Facebook. You can see them on Facebook.

At a market selling spices

The American women won the GOLD Medal at the WDFC!

After the Pageant at Marriott Hotel with John Maucere who came to Turkey as the MC of the MMDI

Presidential Palace

                       Judges of the MMDI

Source : here

Monday, March 18, 2013

My Trip to Italy


I just returned from Italy, visiting Rome, Florence, and Venice over the course of two weeks. I went with my immediate family, along with my Aunt. Originally, the trip was meant as a sort of "reward" for my mom when she started to get a bad diagnosis about her cancer last year. When she was told a year-long course of chemo was ahead for her, I promised to take her and her sister (my aunt) to Italy to celebrate when she was done with chemo. Unfortunately, that never happened and she died soon after, but at a family gathering around Christmas last year I told my Aunt about the trip and asked if we could maybe go anyway the following summer, as a sort of tribute to my mom. She enthusiastically said yes.
It was my wife and daughter's first trip to Europe, and my first pure vacation trip there (I'd only been twice previous, for mostly work-related reasons). My Aunt lived in Germany in the early 1970s (my uncle was stationed there in the military at the time) and they had the chance to take short vacations through Italy so she could often compare today to 40 years ago.
Overall, the trip was an absolute blast. I was worried about culture shock of a new language, new locations, and new food, especially with my young daughter tagging along. Oddly, my two years of high school of Spanish (and occasional use since) made the Italian language feel about 75% readable and it was easy to pick up short phrases (that were mostly tweaked spanish phrases I already knew). The food overall was very good and close to what a lot of high end Italian places serve in the states, and since it was a vacation it was pretty easy to slip into the relaxed Italian lifestyle. I can't imagine an easier non-English speaking country to visit.


We flew into and out of Rome and knew spending some time there was pretty much mandatory on your first trip to the country. They have a great deal of relics from the original Roman Empire and many other sights and famous buildings in a pretty small section of the city center. Unfortunately for us, while Rome's late Spring had been pretty mild, the day before we arrived a heat wave blew in from the Sahara and temps hovered around 90-95F the entire time we were there. It was brutally hot and tough to spend more than a couple hours out in the sun doing things before a rest in some air conditioned place was necessary (and two showers a day became the norm).
Our first night was spent in a nice hotel near the Colosseum and we spent the remainder of our time in a nice little apartment a block away. As always, having an apartment was great because we could eat whatever we wanted for breakfast and come and go as we pleased (also helped to have laundry in our unit). I have to mention while we had a small CarreFour grocery store nearby, the best fruit and eggs I've ever purchased came from a random convenience store near our apartment. The eggs we got (at the equivalent of your average 7-11 in the States) were as yellow and great tasting as my friend's organic fed chickens. The quality of basic food at small shops and stores was really something else, feeling farm fresh.
We ended up eating in a lot of nearby restaurants, and being close to the Colosseum meant a lot of bad touristy places that cater to English speakers. Friends on twitter steered me towards the iPhone app "Rome for Foodies" which is a quirky but reliably awesome hand written guide to the best food near you from an American ex-pat living in Rome as a food writer and sommelier. Our best meals were had thanks to that app and we also found some great little bakeries listed in it too. We also had the best tasting lunch of our trip by just walking into a restaurant where the waiter picked antipasto for us for lunch, no menus, which sounded like a tourist scam to drive up the bill but everything that came out was amazing.
On the advice of a friend, we hired a tour guide (from this outfit) to take us through the ancient sites (it helped that our guide was an anthropologist) and the Vatican, both to understand everything we were seeing as well as skipping long tourist lines. The ancient sites are really pretty spectacular and it was hard to even grasp the time period in regards to our own lifespans. I found it hard to make sense of looking at a building completed 1900 years ago and thinking how it survived through such massive political, social, cultural, and even atmospheric changes. And even for an atheist like me, the Vatican was pretty incredible. The art was amazing and the massive cathedral was impressive.
Overall, we had a pretty good time in Rome seeing the sites. If it was a bit cooler out, we could have seen more and walked more places and spent more time outdoors at ancient sites, but I would definitely recommend first time visitors to Italy to not miss Rome.


Florence from our rental flat
Florence was even better than Rome. We spent five days and four nights in Florence and the next time I travel this way I will make it at least a week. Food was almost always incredible, using Yelp reviews was key to finding the best options and it helped that finding great gelato was easy. We also took a side trip to the Tuscan towns Chianti and San Gimignano and both served as a wonderful relief from the heat and the crowds of Florence.
Florence was like a puzzle composed of thousands of pieces, so many streets, alleys, nooks and crannies to explore. Over the course of our time there we visited half a dozen museums and churches and there was still another dozen I wanted to see that we never got a chance to see. Every day we'd travel different paths though the city center and every day we were rewarded with new shops, chapels, and bridges to see. We spent several days exploring and had a full day guided tour on the penultimate day of our stay. We thought we'd seen most of the city center but our guide spent the day showing us streets, attractions, and places we hadn't even known existed. The food was pretty amazing no matter where we ate, reminding me of my Italian grandmother's cooking.
We stayed smack dab in the center of town, overlooking the main cathedral and the largest, most crowded city square. It was fun to be in the thick of it and close to everything, but it came at the price of nearly 24hrs of crowd noise outside our windows (ear plugs helped). We didn't plan on it, but our stay coincided with Florence's big John the Baptist celebration day which included a big procession and the opening of some doors in the church that only open once a year. That same night, we got to see the most incredible fireworks I've ever seen (it helps that the big fireworks companies are often Italian family-owned) over the Arno river. The Euro 2012 soccer series was also going on and we got to enjoy watching Italy win some key matches amid the cheering locals crowded around TVs at bars.
Our brief day trip to Tuscany made it clear why people make such a big deal about the region surrounding Florence. The landscape is amazing with views from every hilltop and the weather was really mild. San Gimignano was known as "medieval Manhattan" and even though it was kind of a cheesy tourist castle-as-city, the best chocolate ice cream I've ever eaten was there and it was a nice place to catch an afternoon Sunday concert from local players in their city square. Florence was a real gem and I would love to visit it again someday and explore the region more.


Venice during the golden hour
Almost every American I talked to before the trip said we should see Venice but warned us that it would disappoint. Too crowded, too dirty, and too touristy most said. I have to admit the first couple hours in the city weren't that great. It was very hot, we paid too much for a water taxi, and we ended up lost for 40 minutes trying to find our hotel amid the alleyways. When we finally found it and dropped our bags, our first experience at St. Marks square was being around 10,000 cruise line attendes clamoring for souvenirs.
But every moment after those first couple hours was pure bliss. It was our first relief from the heat wave we'd endured in Rome and Florence. After Florence I had gotten used to the serendipity of wandering back alley paths and Venice was a city that definitely rewarded those that went with it. I found stores, restaurants, and coffee shops I never could find again. When we had to cut across the island to save time we'd see a new museum or specialty shop we loved. The water "bus" system was easy, economical, and fun to use, letting us get from anywhere to almost anywhere else in Venice. We avoided the crowded St. Marks Square for the most part and enjoyed quiet art museums and galleries as well as gardens.
Visiting the San Giorgio tower and getting to see the city from up high was one of the best experiences. It let you see just how fragile the whole city was, this collection of tiny islands with thousands of people in buildings that were nearly a thousand years old, the whole place felt more special and precarious. I have no idea how electricity and fresh water get to the islands, and we frequently saw supplies still delivered by hand cart and construction done via boat.
Our hotel was nice, food was pretty good (Yelp use here is minimal, so I instead switched to the more popular Trip Advisor), but by the end of our time in Venice I think I loved it most of all the places we visited in Italy because it was so relaxing, laid back, and the weather was so mild being on the water. I would highly recommend not only visiting if you get the chance, but spending more than the standard overnight trip (we spent four days/three nights and I could have stayed more).

Some general travel tips

Rome: buying an unlimited Metro pass for the number of days of your stay is a good deal. We found we could get from our apartment to almost anywhere we needed to be in the city using the network of buses and trains. Keep in mind the core area of most attractions in downtown Rome is only a couple miles from end to end so if the weather isn't too bad and you're reasonably fit you could walk almost everywhere. The main international airport (FCO) is fairly far out of town and is about 50 euro to taxi into the center of Rome. Yelp was useful and reliable for reviews of restaurants. During siesta time (about 1-4pm) most businesses closed up shop and didn't post hours. In the heat, we just got used to either resting during this time or visiting a museum.
Florence: there is a plethora of museums and I would highly recommend picking just a handful out and making reservations well in advance if you want to see the original David statue at the Academy Gallery). A tour guide came in handy here to see lots of small things we hadn't spotted before. Everything we did was walking distance except for our trip to Tuscany, and our tour guide/driver came in handy because I didn't want to drive in Italy.
Venice: The water bus system was great and time-based unlimited passes were worth the price. During our four day stay, a 72hr unlimited ticket covered all our needs and let us explore the entire length of the grand canal as well as some of the smaller islands. Water Taxis will take you directly where you need to go but will cost a lot (60 euro from the train terminal to St. Marks). The gondola rides are even more expensive (100 euro for 30-40min) but as a tourist you kind of have to do it once for the full experience. The art/museum pass was also a good deal and let us skip lines at the most popular spots.
Nerdery: I had good results from using a microSIM on my iPhone (that was only 20 euro and came with 10Gb of bandwidth), but there was about a 12hr delay until it started working. I couldn't get their data-only SIM to work in my iPad and instead got one from TIM (which worked instantly, also without a PIN on the SIM), another telephone company in Italy. There were no phone kiosks in the Rome airport, but it was pretty easy to find dedicated phone stores in Rome from Wind, TIM, and Vodafone. WiFi was generally available everywhere for either a fee or you had to ask for the password (free open WiFi was prohibited for the last decade due to anti-terror rules). My iPhone's battery ran down faster than I remember, probably because I was using Foursquare so much. I eventually dropped my connection down to Edge-only to get a full day out of my phone.
Food: The best meal in Rome was had at Da Danilo. My favorite meal in Florence was at Za Za (which is touristy and crowded but still worth it). The best meal we had in Venice was at La Zucca. Overall, food was generally great everywhere, I had some of the best risotto of the trip at the cafeteria in the Rome train station. In general, I used Yelp to find highly reviewed places near me. At first I realized it was difficult to evaluate restaurants with only Italian reviews I couldn't read until I realized they were generally better since native Italians were eating there. I used Trip Advisor only when I needed to because their reviews are generally rubbish and untrustworthy (the highest rated place in Florence on TA was almost exactly the same as the food you would honestly get at an Olive Garden in the US. Forgettable crap).
Traveling around: Rome buses were great, especially the tiny electric ones because they went down very small streets and alleys. Rome's subway was reliable and quick. The national high speed trains were great for going from one town to the next faster than a plane and very cheap considering. The best trip we had was a nonstop from Rome to Florence in a brand new train with lots of room and it was incredibly comfortable. Those trains also offer WiFi if you have a TIM sim card in your phone.
Two things I didn't get about Italy:
  1. Casual tolerance for tagging-style graffiti. I'm a fan of graffiti art but I find tagging your name on stuff annoying and ugly. We saw some supposedly 14th century graffiti in Florence so maybe people are fine with it for possibly historical reasons, but I found it annoying to see many historical sites with some guy's name spray painted on it. The subway trains in Rome looked almost like 1980s NYC trains they were covered in so much graffiti.
  2. Most every museum, almost all churches, and even some stores had "NO PHOTOS" signs posted. I understand not wanting camera flashes to annoy patrons in a museum and no one likes a guy with a tripod blocking up a crowded place, but no cameras at all seemed really weird to me. I ended up taking photos of things using my phone, usually acting like I was using my phone and not taking a photo.

Source : here

Friday, March 15, 2013

Saudi Memories

My family first moved to Saudi Arabia in the early ‘90’s. This was before the first Gulf War, before September 11th, before the subsequent entanglement in Afghanistan and second War in the Gulf. I had not yet turned seven when we landed at the Jeddah International Airport after 18 hours of travel from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Ten meters of snow were replaced by the orange glow of street lights over the gardens that lined each street. Palm trees and flowers that looked so startlingly out of place in the expanse of desert that surrounded the airport, kept alive by a constant steam of water - itself a product of a constant stream of oil exported to the Western world.

This wealth pouring into the country from buyers abroad was to structure all of my experiences in the country. The Royal Family of Saud controlled the wealth and used it to beautify their cities, palaces, and care for native Saudis. The design and management of these works and support systems were outsourced to specialists from the US, Europe, and to a lesser extent other Arab countries. The labor was done by migrant workers; Africa and South East Asia provided droves of young women as housekeepers and young men for the mixing and pouring of concrete.
Most of my time was spent in isolation from the Saudis and with only professional contact with the foreign laborers. Western workers and their families were housed in walled compounds in which wives were free to walk without covering their exposed skin, a law enforced by the Mutawa – religious police that were always a reason to flee to the restrooms and wait for them to pass when we happened to see them enter a shopping center. Not having hair covered was reason enough for deportation should one of these officers wish to enforce it.
My friends were the children of my father’s coworkers or those enrolled in the British Continental School of Jeddah.  Lebanese, Egyptian, Greek, French, British, and German playmates organized street hockey matches and a game called wall-ball which quickly degenerated into wildly throwing a tennis ball at whoever was closest. Waist bags full of marbles were conspiratorially opened and displayed to challengers before one of a certain perfect color was selected. Resting between the two competitors, the marble to be won or lost watched as a second flew past it until at last contact was made and the fight was over, the marble either returning to the safety of its pouch or being stolen away by its new owner. I lost a lot of nice marbles this way. I was never very good at it.
Back in the privacy of the Compound we would organize ourselves into battalions, working to build defenses and stockpile ammunition for a war against imaginary enemies. While some collected dates from the palm trees to be used as projectiles, others would climb the wall separating our compound from the bin Laden family junk yard. There Ethiopian and Filipino workers guarded broken bulldozers, discarded air-conditioning units, cement piping, scrap wood and a multitude of other necessities for any young army tasked with constructing a suitable fortress. We quickly learned the guard dogs there, scruffy German Shepherds, were more interested in human affection than protection, but that their playfulness would still give away our positions. The Filipinos were not fond of our pilfering and frequently chased off with sticks those of us not fast enough to dive into one of the many pipes or outposts we had scattered. There was no joy or terror like organizing the rescue party to climb back over the wall to find Ahmad after he had been separated from the group.
The school would periodically organize field trips to neighboring regions. One such excursion took us to Mada’in Saleh, a pre-Islamic city of the Nabateans. A city cut into the red stones of the desert, it is Petra scattered amongst the sand. Our route took us wide of the holy city of Mecca; the bus full of nonbelievers was not welcomed within city limits, and so our first night was spent next to a cliff face that did more to cut the loneliness of the area than the winds. After dropping us off, our Eritrean bus drivers left to secure us dinner. We played games in the sand until they returned with a goat which they butchered and roasted on an open fire that we were happy to help tend. After the first few bites of meat was eaten, a pick-up truck full of very angry and very armed Bedouin trained their weapons on our drivers and asked them, I would later find out, why they had stolen the goat. Papers quickly exchanged hands and the Bedouin, satisfied, departed. The goat was delicious and the games of throwing the removed testicles at each other was more than worth the price.

For a young American to be surrounded by that much diversity of religion and culture was something that made identifying with my peers stateside difficult after returning. I have not been back since our departure in 1996. Those who have been back since 2001 have spoken of Saudi Army presence outside of all Western compounds. I am glad I have not seen that.

By  Matthew Rasmussen
Colorado, USA

Monday, March 11, 2013

My Multicultural Experience in Europe

After traveling to Europe my views on teaching changed in ways I never thought possible. As, a college sophomore I thought I had my life figured out. I knew I wanted  to be a teacher and I figured I would teach in the same area I grew up in because that was  what I was comfortable with in my life. I grew up in an upper to middle class suburb of Chicago and always thought that I would teach in an area very similar. I attended 
Catholic, private schools, my entire life. These schools had no diversity at all. I had  never even thought about how much different life outside of my life in the suburbs could be. 
I was given the opportunity through the help of Quill to travel to Europe for a few weeks this past summer. I was able to participate in a multicultural education class. This class opened my eyes to a world I had never seen before. The class gave me the opportunity to see a diverse school for the first time in my twenty year old life. I thought to walk away from my experience with more credits and a view of the world I had never 
seen. I never could have even imagined that I would come away from the trip with so much more than what I had expected. 
 One school that we visited in Paris changed my view on teaching forever. St. John St. Georges consisted of students from all over the world. Some students were refugees who boarded at school while other students came from wealthy families. It was amazing for me to see students from England, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, China and many other countries working together in the same classroom. In today’s world it was amazing to me to see Catholics and Muslims sitting next to each other in class as one. The students did not even seem to realize that they were different. The students all seemed to celebrate in the fact that they could bring different positive aspects to the classroom including religion. The students all wore uniforms and most families were able to work with the school to see that their child received everything they needed. In the case that they needed financial aid it was not a problem for any student. We were given the opportunity to travel to other schools but no other school touched me the way that St. John St. Georges did. St. John St.George was the most diverse school we saw in our class. 
This year when deciding which elementary school I wanted to student teach at, I shocked my entire family; I chose a public school. I know this may not seem like a big deal to most people but this was huge to my family. Not only had I chose a public school I decided to teach in English as a second language classroom. I can honestly say that if I had not been given the opportunity to travel abroad I would probably be in the same type of classroom I had been accustom to in my life. I am not saying that the school I attended was a bad school but I believe that I have found my true calling because of the experiences I had in Europe. I know now that I would really enjoy teaching in the inner city school system. I want too look around my classroom and see students of every nationality. I only wish that every future teacher was able to share with me in this 
amazing opportunity.

By Emily Ann Bishea

source : click here

Friday, March 8, 2013

تجربتي مع فريق الامم المتحدة للسلام:

عندما تم قبولي للانضمام الى فريق الامم المتحدة للسلام في اوائل عام 2011
لم اكن اعرف او بإمكاني توقع الكثير فكل ما كنت اعرفه ان ذاك هو انني كنت سأعيش للسنتين القادمتين في جمهورية مالدوفا.
و مع وصولي الى مالدوفا, شاهدت عالما مختلفا تماما عن الذي كنت اعيش فيه.
كل الناس في مالدوفا كانوا شديدي الترحاب والتقبل لقدومي. كل الرعايا هنا قاموا بمساعدتي و الاجابة عن اسئلتي باللغة الانجليزية قدر استطاعتهم .
خلال اقامتي لعدة اشهر في مالدوفا, واجهت عدة صعوبات في تعلم اللغة المحلية ,الرومانية , و التعود على المناخ و المناطق هنا.
و لكن العائلة التي استقبلتني طيلة هذه الفترة ساعدتني كثيرا في لاندماج و التعرف على الثقافة و العادات العريقة لهذا البلد. و كذا فان الطاقم الذي يشتغل في المدرسة التي اعمل فيها حاليا ساعدوني في التعرف على مختلف الاعياد و المواسم التي تقام في مالدوفا حصرا.
حقا لا يمكنني, و لم يتبقى من الوقت هنا الا بضعة اشهر ,الا ان اكون في اشد السعادة لما تعلمته خلال هذه التجربة. فقد سنحت لي الفرصة للتعرف على ارض مختلفة كل الاختلاف عن وطني , و ان ارى مختلف الثقافات المتواجدة في شرق اوروبا.
ان اهم شيء في حياتي هو السفر و التعرف على ثقافات جديدة, لأننا ومن دون ذلك سنظل في وحدة موحشة وسط هذا العالم الفسيح.

مات جرانلي
فلوريدا, امريكا

English Version

Monday, March 4, 2013

Peace Corps Experience

When I first got accepted to join the United States Peace Corps in early 2011, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew at that time was that I was going to be living the next two years in the Republic of Moldova. Upon arrival in Moldova, I noticed an immensely different world then the one I had been living in. Everyone in Moldova was so welcoming and accepting of my presence. Country nationals were showing me where to go and helping answer any questions they could in English.

Across my first several months in Moldova, I had experienced many difficulties with learning the native language, Romanian, and becoming acquainted with the territory. However, the host family that I lived with helped me to integrate and learn about the rich culture and traditions present in this country. In addition the school I currently work for has also introduced me to the many holidays and events that take place specifically in Moldova.

At this point, with only a few months left in country, I could not be happier with my experience. I have had the fortunate opportunity to see a land completely different from my own and see the diverse culture that exists in Easter Europe. The most important part of life is to travel and to meet new cultures, because without this, we would be all alone in this vast world.

By Matt Greenley
Florida, USA

Arabic Version

Friday, March 1, 2013

Lifetime Experience

I want to share my experience in Egypt, We truly had the experience of a lifetime!

Our group of 20 of us did an overnight tour in Cairo, which for we singles was less than 1/3 the price of the HAL tour (same hotel), in a mini-bus. 3 hours from Alexandria to Giza the first day was a long trip, but there was a pleasant roadside stop. Our guide gave us lira to use the toilets (common in the middle east).

Our destination was the pyramids at Giza. When we came around the corner it was a-maze-ing! Our guide taught us how to say NO THANKS to the “mosquitoes” of vendors trying to sell you something. “One dollar” they shouted for nearly anything they wanted to see to you. It was not unlike any beach in Mexico, and I found the bartering fun, but many people did not enjoy this part of the location. I bought some pens (10 for $5) and postcards.

Could have bought a lot more if I’d had dollars. The vendors indicated that Americans are staying away from Egypt and they were happy to see us there. We saw Saqqra, with the amazing well preserved crypt paintings, which I still can’t believe aren’t covered. You can touch them! We over- nighted at Le Meredien Pyramids in Giza. Beautiful hotel, but I don’t think they can get parts to fix things.

Of the three of us singles, one room had no electricity in the wing, my toilet flushed constantly and when I toyed around with the flushing mechanism I realized someone had put a bobby pin in it to hold it to the wall. We had dinner in the hotel, which had a lovely buffet for 180 Egyptian Pounds, , about $30, but we weren’t that hungry.

I sat down to a table alone, which I guess in a no-no in Egypt. I wasn’t recognized until my two table mates had arrived. We had martinis and steaks, and it came in under $20 per person. Jeanne ate the salad, we had ice in our drinks, no problems. The elaborate buffet breakfast was included in the a.m. before our group was off at 8:00am.

Today we were off to Cairo city center. Woah! 26 million people living here. Drivers have a sophisticated series of horn honks, and pedestrians wait by the roadside for mini-van shared transport, using hand signals to indicate where they are going. These vans stop on freeways to board passengers. It’s a dance, and everyone understands it, except the tourist. Most women wore the hijab, many in full burkas. Some wore very sophisticated clothing, and a hijab. Older women wore scarves tied at the neck.

Many men wore the galabia, a long cotton or linen robe. Then there were the cosmopolitan office workers in trendy black pants and button-down shirts and ties. We headed up to the Citadel to see the amazing silver mosque. We were allowed inside, and it is elaborate and ornate.

Just simply beautiful! We had a lovely lunch at the Happy Dolphin Restaurant, right on the Nile river. The buffet was varied and plenty. Drinks or bottled water was $2, diet coke $3. A visit to Tahrir Square and the Archaeological Museum was next, but getting there was a trip in itself. Traffic in Cairo is hectic, frenzied and constant, to say the least. As we drove, our guide answered every question we had about the Arab Spring uprising.

The museum was filled with many important statues and relics from tombs of pharos and queens. The whole second floor was a portion of the contents of King Tut’s Tome (less what was on display in Seattle at the time), and the gold room worth the price of admission all by itself. Afterward, it was a 3 hour drive to Port Said, through vast desert along the Suez Canal. We kept seeing Maersk Line container ships, all in a row, kind of like a convoy of ships.

What I didn’t realize until later, our ship was entering the flotilla and escorted out of Egyptian waters. I felt very safe the whole time in Egypt, and every person I came into contact with seemed genuinely happy to see us. Port Said had a long line of vendors as we headed for the pier, but the same old stuff we’d see for the last two days, nothing new, and we were cutting it close to departure time, so no shopping.

I would highly recommend Egypt excursions ( ) for the lovely trip at a reasonable price. Far and away the most exciting part of our 16 day cruise.