Disturbing Incidents

Impressions of a Country, Round The World Trip

One the questions I was asked upon my return was if I ever experienced or saw things that were disturbing to me. Not counting the big differences of disparity of economic wealth in our modern society and white privilege, human trafficking, lack of clean drinking water (even in capital cities), modern slavery and a variety of other ills that are a fact of life in many places, there were several incidents that stand out in my mind because they were so personal to each of these people. They were shocking to me partly because they were so sudden, and I was right there.

When originally writing this, I was reluctant to name some of the places where some negative things happened, but I had committed that I would share what I learned with people who cared enough to read my blog.

In the capital city of Kathmandu, Nepal, a city of 3 million people (unreliable electricity, few stop signs and fewer road signs), I was in a cab.

Traffic police stand on a pedestal in the middle of an intersection

Traffic police stand on a pedestal in the middle of an intersection

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The infrastructure has not kept up with demand. I love that there are 3 poles for these wires

We were driving along and on the side of the road were tiny rooms/shacks/homes made out of whatever a person could find; corrugated metal, plywood etc. Two grown men were fighting just inches from my door. As we passed, one grabbed the other by the hair in one hand, and in his other hand was a stone a bit larger than his fist. He was swinging the rock in it and pounding the guy who was caught by his hair in the head who struggled and twisted, squirming away as best he could. I was horrified and shocked. I stuttered as I exclaimed to the cab driver, “Oh my God, that guy is hitting the other man in the head with a big rock! This could kill that man!“ Cabbie’s response was a chuckle and he remarked, “ha ha ha, that guy sure is angry”. We continued driving.

Typical farmer in Kathmandu

Another incident took place while I was waiting on the train platform in Naples, Italy. An older woman had collapsed on the concrete floor and a male passenger was giving her CPR while the rest of the crowd stood by helplessly as the her life was about to change. It was weird to know that I learned information that her family did not know about yet, and it was such an intimate moment. She could only wait for what was going to be, she had no power over her circumstances. Her purse stood at attention beside her, and I spent the rest of the day wondering what she would have done differently that morning if she knew that a few hours later she would be laying on the concrete surrounded by strangers.

In Istanbul, Turkey (the European side) we were driving through a very wealthy area, where people were educated and at the top of the economic status. It was a weekend morning and lots of people were walking around, enjoying the beautiful sunny day. A couple were walking on the sidewalk and it looked like the man was about to kiss the woman. As he turned toward her, instead of kissing her, his arm shot up and he grabbed her around her throat in anger. Her eyes widened in surprised, and I gasped as we drove by, stammering to the my hosts who were driving “Did you see that? He grabbed her by the throat!” They were shocked too, and when we discussed domestic violence, they informed me that in Turkey, if someone were to report domestic violence to the police, the police would probably not do anything, and say it was a domestic problem ; to go home and solve the problem yourselves. Further conversations with other people confirmed that society would blame the girl/wife for any problems. As a matter of fact, that is the common joke. No matter what the problem is, it is the wife’s fault.

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Some disturbing things are the same all over the world; domestic violence crosses all boundaries and no one gets out of this life alive. By traveling and meeting dozens of people every day, I was able to observe many things in life I don’t normally experience in my ordinary working life spending the days with a handful of work colleagues each day.

Blind!

Round The World Trip, Things I have learned, Things I have learned

While in Hamburg Germany, I finally had the opportunity to experience “Dialog in the Dark”. It is an exhibit and role reversal of sighted people and the visually impaired. For 19 euros (about $28) I took a group tour in English with 7 German women in their 60s. They were there with their visually impaired friend to better understand what she went through on a daily basis.

interesting architecture

interesting architecture

“Dialog in the Dark” operates in many different cities in the world and gives ordinary people a chance to learn and experience being blind for 2 hours in a safe environment. One of the goals is to show that the blind can do many of the same things a sighted person can do, if given the opportunity. In this case, the sighted are guided and taken care of by the visually impaired, and making us think what it means to be “different”, “normal” and “capable”. It also creates jobs for the blind.

We were required to put cell phones, watches and anything else shiny or luminous in a storage locker before we began.

The entire experience took place indoors in special rooms that were completely darkened. We were given a white cane and practiced tapping and sweeping it it along the floor in front of us. The trick is to sweep it slightly wider than our body – not too wide or it bumps into obstacles that don’t matter. The entrance of the corridor was covered in vertical strips of a carpet-like material. We then walked through the corridor, turning several corners. It was completely dark, like a cave. We could not see our hands in front of our faces.

The first room we were introduced to was a park. We used our canes to tap along the pebbly path, feeling tree leaves and bushes on our right and discovered a wooden totem pole. We heard the sounds of birds chirping felt waterfall spray on our left as our canes bumped into an arched wooden bridge that required us to step up a few inches in order to cross it. Our guide Toby, called to us using while we used the sound of his voice to find our way to where he was on the other side of the room, sweeping our canes in front of us then stepping down from the wooden bridge. We paid attention to the different types of ground we walked on.

Toby guided us through a door into another room. He informed us that this was a warehouse where we were to find small wooden boxes of spices and identify them. We fumbled around to find the boxes of peppercorn, coffee, mint, sesame seeds. And felt successful when we did. Small successes! Some boxes were higher, other boxes were waist level and some were lower. What sounds like a simple task was much more difficult when bumping into wooden boxes and having to stick my hands inside to feel and smell the spices. I realize how much I rely on my visual sense rather than my sense of smell. These items were distinct in their odors, so we were all successful. Toby asked which spices we found, and when I missed one, I had to go back to find the box of coffee. How hard it would be for me to identify other items that were not distinct or expected.

Another room was a grocery store and we had to figure out which vegetables were available for us to purchase in order to make dinner. We were not to taste them as they had been handled by a lot of people before us, but the veggies were all real. We identified carrots, coconut, onions and apples by feel and smell and then were asked what kind of apples? I was reminded once again how much I take my vision for granted. If I were blind, dinners would be a surprise to myguests as well as me.

We then followed Toby, tapping and sweeping our way through another doorway into another room. I am not sure how the rooms were changed. I think there may have been a movable, hinged wall to create another environment because I felt a whoosh of air, as we walked through a doorway into the next room into the new scene.

This room was a boathouse. We touched a hanging life preserve ring, some nets, an anchor, and could feel the manufacturers cursive writing on the side of a boat. We could hear sounds like what you would hear on a dock, small waves lapping, and an echo of sounds carrying across the water. We walked across a narrow moving gangplank onto a rocking boat (scary) and sat on a bench.

We were told that the next room contained an automobile, and we were to figure out which kind it was. I had no idea. I felt the cursive writing of the manufacturer but didn’t figure it out. Some of the others recognized the make. (It was a 1969 Citroen).

The hardest obstacle was still coming. Our next scene was in a city and to cross the street. Toby said ”I want to show you something”which tickled my funny bone since no one could see anything.

The crosswalk signs tell you walk or don’t walk at the crosswalk had raised arrows and we could figure out which direction to cross the street based on touching the arrow and feeling the direction it pointed. The crosswalk started beeping that it was safe to cross. I started to cross and promptly lost my sense of direction. I headed to what I thought was the other side, but did not arrive. I turned a bit and continued walking, but still did not get to the other side. The beeping stopped and it was no longer safe to cross.

Toby called “Pam, Where are you?” I replied that “I am lost. I need a seeing eye dog.” Toby informed me “that a dog will not be of help, it is dark and the dog would not be able to see.” I followed Toby’s voice until I found my way to him, frustrated, but at least knowing this was not real life for me. If this had been real life, I would have had cars honking at me and yelling or running me over. It was sooo hard to not know where I was and not know how to get where I was going.

Toby, on the other hand, was an expert on getting around and was very capable. I was reminded of my own prejudices and what it means to be a leader.

The last challenge was to enter a bar, order something, pay for it, then have a seat and enjoy the refreshment while getting to converse and ask questions of Toby. We had the opportunity to ask questions of a blind person that we may never had had the chance to ask before today. I found the bar and ordered a cola and a candy bar. I had brought enough euro coins so that it would be easy for me to not use paper money. I counted out my money by feeling the size of the coins. Toby handed me my cola and candy bar and gently corrected the incorrect coins I had given him. I fumbled my way to the picnic bench and was relieved to have found my seat. Once seated I was afraid to take my hand off my snacks because I may knock them over or not find them again. I thought I had been successful until Toby asked “Pam, why are you sitting on the table and not the bench?”

It was a relief to be done with the frustration of not knowing anything and doing most things wrong, even though it was a safe environment. It also made me think about how we perceive people who look different than us. By removing the looks of someone, it was not distracting, and each of us in the group developed our perceptions of each other based on personality and skill set of our leader.

After leaving the exhibits, I saw a blind man leaving the building. He was probably in his 30s and his face was all banged up, scraped and scabbed over, and bruised. It looked as though he had fallen on his face, hard. He unfolded his white cane with confidence and walked off briskly.

I thought about what it must feel like , as an adult to fall onto something so unforgiving as a sidewalk, face scraping the pavement . I thought about how frustrated I would be and hurt and wanting to cry of anger and frustration and the unfairness of it all. Yet, he walked with confidence. How brave he must be to continue living an independent life without being paralyzed by fear. No one commented on the injuries to his face, and perhaps this was the attraction of the place as well.

We were all curious about what Toby looked like, but we never saw him. He told us he was albino and was in university studying law with a CCTV machine. He also had a machine at home that announced the color of his clothes and he had learned that everything matches black. Reflecting on the experience, I am glad we never got to see Toby. All of our impressions were based on his outstanding personality and competence. Seeing him could only have detracted from that.

I reminded myself to always be grateful.

interesting architecture

interesting architecture

The local outdoor beer hall. These kinds were playing checkers and using bottle caps as the pieces. One side had them facing up, the other facing down.

Daily life in Zimbabwe

Impressions of a Country, Things I have learned

Patiently I waited for a friend to arrive, an American middle aged mom like me who was to arrive sometime in the next few afternoon hours. I was uncertain what time she would actually arrive because this was Zimbabwe (Africa), and anything could happen. A bus from the airport to the Victoria Falls tourist district of  thirteen miles might normally take 25 minutes with no traffic; traffic meaning an elephant on the roadway or other rambling wildlife like giraffes, lions or other carnivores .

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And if an elephant were to lay down in the middle of the road and give itself a dust bath, the passengers would enjoy the sight and wait. It is interesting to note that when in a jeep or on horseback, we are not recognized as human beings. We are recognized as a moving rock (jeep), or a strange looking horse with an extra tall hump.

12. Lone Elephant20140713_130213P107088820140708_084634
As I waited anxiously and excitedly – I still couldn’t believe that she was traveling alone halfway across the planet to join me in Africa. We had been Girl Scout leaders together when our children were young, so I knew she would be a good travel buddy. This was waaaaaaay out of her comfort zone (and mine too). I sat outside at a picnic table under a shady tree, eating lunch and talking to a local woman named Reumbi, who owned and worked inside the gift shop. Reumbi was a sweet girl and she and her husband had 2 children ages 11 and 2 years old.

Reumbi, a sweet girl that took us on a tour of how she and her family lived.

Reumbi, a sweet girl that took us on a tour of how she and her family lived.

She was currently separated from her husband because “he had too many girlfriends.” English is a second language and with life being so different, that could mean anything from the literal “he had too many girlfriends” or might mean he is dying from AIDS. 25% of the population in Zimbabwe is HIV positive. Instead of betrayals and a broken heart, she may have been thinking about staying alive to raise her son and daughter. She had recently moved back into her mother’s home, joining two sisters,their kids and her mother.

We talked about family planning and how women can buy 30 days worth of birth control pills for $1 in Zimbabwe. In the USA it costs $70 for a 30 day package of the same drug. Many of the people I spoke to discussed family planning. Children cost money to raise and educate, and each of the people I spoke to took this very seriously. They want their children to have a better life.

Monkey near a chalet in Zimbabwe

Monkey near a chalet in Zimbabwe

Reumbi warned me to watch out for the monkeys. If they spotted me eating, they may try to snatch my food. She advised me that the monkeys only attack women, not men. They know that the men fight back and that women scream and jump away. I hunched my shoulders and wrapped my arms around my plate in a protective stance to fend off any monkeys who wanted to snatch my food. I felt like a dog guarding its’ food, using my peripheral vision to stay on guard. I had walked to the local grocery store and purchased a few pieces of fried chicken and a biscuit and was enjoying the few things that were familiar to me. We discussed a variety of topics while we sat at the picnic table, me waiting for my friend, Reumbi waiting for customers. Periodically, she would leave the picnic table and go into the boutique, a small office that served as her shop in a room attached to the lobby, to help a potential customer.

After asking about childcare, family life and miscellaneous other details of life in Zimbabwe, she asked if I would like to come to her house and “watch them eat.”

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At the local market where Reumbi shopped. There was no electricity, so it had to be completed before dark.

I couldn’t believe it. I asked if I could also bring a lovely Australian couple I had recently befriended and voila – a small, personal, authentic group tour to better understand daily life.

To me, this is what made solo travel so worthwhile, the interaction with locals and learning by experience. In the USA there is information overload and it is difficult to know who to believe. This experience was one the highlights of my trip. It changed the way I think about the world. Before I left on this trip, I did not spend much time thinking about domestic politics in my country. I feel safe and my land has been peaceful all of my life. My country is in war, but it does not effect my daily life, because none of it happens in my land.

Now that I have seen the results of a variety of governments, I realize how important that I be involved. Bad leaders get elected because good people don’t vote. Life is hard enough with a good leader, the amount of massive destruction one bad person in power can do in a short period of time is nearly unfathomable. I still think about Reumbi and her daily life every day.

We met Reumbi at 5:00 p.m. after she closed the boutique. She invited her friend Lisa to join us. I think Lisa agreed to help keep track of us so we didn’t get lost or wander off. We walked with them to the intersection and turned left down the 2 lane paved road which was the main street of Victoria Falls. After walking a couple blocks, we stopped on an dirt area on the side of the road with about 20 other black workers who were headed home, waiting to catch a taxi. We were the only white people in sight. A taxi van pulled up and we climbed aboard.

In Zimbabwe, the white people are rich and the blacks are poor. It is a fact of life, everyone knows it and they openly talk about it. We were the only whites in the van, and we raised a lot of excitement when we 4 rich white people climbed into the van, resulting in a total of 11 paying passengers in a vehicle that is the size of a minivan. We sat on each other’s laps. 11 people was not an unusual number to ride in this vehicle, but being white was. I sat in the very back seat next to a thin fellow who had a jug of petrol(fuel) in a glass container between his feet, and he carried in his lap a large gourd of homemade local beer. It was Friday night and people were ready to celebrate the weekend.

11 people in a minivan type taxi

11 people in a minivan type taxi

In a public taxi- there were 11 of us squeezed in and cost us 50 cents

In a public taxi- there were 11 of us squeezed in and cost us 50 cents

In a public taxi- there were 11 of us squeezed in and cost us 50 cents

In a public taxi- there were 11 of us squeezed in and cost us 50 cents

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Reumbi asked if we would like to see some other things in her village and of course we said yes. Sometimes we walked and sometimes we rode in vehicles. We visited her church, her pastor’s home (we interrupted his dinner), the local hospital, and a small community for the elderly who had no family nearby. We continued, sometimes walking and sometimes in vehicles. One time the six of us rode in a four person taxi – seven of us with the driver, and the car would scrape bottom occasionally.
The township population is about 50,000 people. We exited the cab in an area that I will call a beer hall and paid the driver .50 per person. It was an pavilion type area with a roof and cement floor, but no walls, and it was very busy; mostly men but a handful of women. There were tables of checkerboards; someone had poked holes in a checkerboard pattern in a tin type of tray, and players used metal bottle caps face up for one team, and bottle caps facing down for the opponent. The game is called Draughts.

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The local outdoor beer hall. These kinds were playing draughts and using bottle caps as the pieces. One side had them facing up, the other facing down.

Beer in gourds was passed around a group of about 20 people, each person taking some swallows and passing it to the person next to them. I suppose they weren’t worried about catching a cold, but that is the first thing I thought.What does that say about me? The luxuries I take for granted (owning glasses) or the fact that I don’t like beer? Perhaps both. Anyway, nobody  minded sharing.

We left the beer hall and walked to the nearby local market which had a tin roof but no electricity and lighting. People had to shop before dark.

Local women carrying things on their heads

Reumbi asked my thoughts about Westerners donating free clothing, and vendors selling the jeans for $1.00. My only comment was that someone had to pay for the shipping. I thought $1 was a good price for jeans. Since it was July (winter on this side of the equator), it got dark at 6:00-6:30 p.m. We walked through the market looking at the many different items for sale, so different from the items I saw in other countries.

 

It was nearly dark when we arrived at the cinderblock home. As we approached the entrance, Reumbi called out to her family announcing she brought four guests with her, and to hide the dog. What a delightful translation of “put the dog away” so we could enter. Most families have a dog to protect their property from thieves and/or animals like elephants. We carefully climbed down a steep dirt ditch, balancing on stones, and walked over a narrow cement bridge, then up the other side stepping on chunks of concrete to arrive at the doorway.

The youngest children had never seen a white person before.

The youngest children had never seen a white person before.

We took off our shoes when we entered a large living area with 2 couches and a couple of chairs. The children stared at us, no one was expecting company, and the two youngest had never before seen a white person. Reumbi informed everyone that we were tourists she met and were interested in what life was like for them on a daily basis. She had invited us over to meet the family and to watch them eat.

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Reumbi’s mother was thrilled and welcomed us. Reumbi lived with her mom, three sisters, her two children and several nieces and nephews in the 2 bedroom house. Everyone shared beds except for the matriarch. Reumbi, her 11 year old son, and 2 year old daughter shared a twin bed. There were no indoor toilet facilities but they did have a flat screen TV. Each room had one dim light bulb dangling from wires attached to the ceiling, and the floor was concrete. 2 adult sisters, ages 17 and 22 slept head to toe in another twin bed. I asked if she was irritated at her sister, would she put her toes in her sister’s face, and she said, “yes, sometimes”.

Some things are the same all over the world!

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Typical bedroom, 4 people slept here, the grandmother on the left bed, and Reumbi and her son and daughter on the twin bed on the right. These are all of the family’s possessions.

When I commented about how well behaved the children were, Reumbi talked about our visit being a novelty and the children were using their best manners. They were not normally so quiet and often were rambunctious. This was a unique event and they were absorbing everything. Meanwhile, the children shyly watched us.
One of the sisters cooked dinner on a narrow 4 burner stove. Each family member went into the kitchen and served themselves a plate of food from the pots on the stove, then took their plate back into the common living room. The adults sat on the 2 sofas in the room, and the kids sat on the floor. The focus of dinner was to eat, not converse. Eating consisted of taking a pinch of pap (like mashed potatoes) between their fingers and mopping up the stew-like meal of traditional meat and vegetables. Pap is maize (like fine cornmeal). They ate in silence while we westerners watched.
After the adults ate, the youngest sister, about 17 years old, approached each person sitting on the couch. She carried a bowl of water and a small dishtowel. Each person dipped their soiled fingers into the water and swished them around, washing their fingers, then wiping their hands on the towel that the sister carried. This was like a chore we would have in the USA. In Zimbabwe, one person is responsible for carrying the bowl of water and towel for washing after dinner.

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A Typical meal, “Pac” is the staple (made from maize). No utensils are used to eat the food.

Reumbi’s mother demonstrated how African mothers tie their baby to their backs with a blanket or towel. We were later taught that an easy way to identify a black rhino vs. a white rhino is to remember that black people carry their child on their back, and black baby rhinos follow behind their mothers. White people / Westerners push their babies in a stroller in front of the mother. White rhinos walk in front of their mothers.

Each of us thought we should bring some sort of small gift, I took my paints and paintbrushes and two apples. I was afraid the apples were not enough of a “gift” but the family was grateful, and the grandmother cut them into slices, giving the pieces to the children. It was a treat. Near the end of the visit, we offered our “gifts”. The 13 yr son was incredulous that I was giving him paints and paintbrushes and Reumbi said that he would share them with his classmates. I quietly told her that the paints were for the family, not necessarily for his classmates. She reminded me it is always better to share. If he were to keep them for himself, the classmates would steal them. Better to share. The person who shares feels good, and the people who are receiving feel good. It was a reminder that has stuck with me- it really is better to share. Later, I realized I had not seen any cupboards or storage areas. They had very little in the way of “stuff”. They probably had no paper.

My Australian friend says:

“when you first asked us to join you on this ‘adventure’ I felt the need to take some form of gift with us. But with little time and little knowledge of who and what we were visiting, I improvised by gathering some things from around our room. I collected together some pieces of fruit, some tea, coffee and sugar sachets from the tray in Mike’s room, an old T-shirt that Nikkiema threw out, and some fashion magazines left behind by Lindsay – basically things that “westerners” would usually discard.
We gave the fruit and tea & coffee sachets to the folks at the Old People’s Home. I think I had some Aussie balloons that I gave to the Pastor’s children [remember, we stopped at Rumi’s Pastor’s house, and they were in the middle of their dinner, but still welcomed us into their home]
Rumi’s two younger sisters almost fought over the old T-shirt, it was decorated with some sequins. And they were delighted with the second-hand magazines. Part of me felt that the gifts I was handing them were so insignificant, and yet they seemed truly happy and grateful to receive them. Again, what does that say about us – that they are happy to receive things that we would consider garbage.

At 7:30 p.m., the taxi that had originally dropped us off at the home, came back to pick us up. We then headed off to our next adventure- which was actually eating dinner with another local we met; Clive, a white Rhodesian who owns a farm that is “currently occupied by the military.”

But that my friends, is an adventure that is still to be written.

*Special thanks to Julie and Laura for your memories and help with this essay. This was an experience that changed my life.

 

 

Tsunami in Thailand

Impressions of a Country

 

2004, the day after Christmas, there was a tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Perhaps you remember it like I do, the videos of waves crashing against the beach and rolling towards the buildings, explosion of water and debris as the wave hit trees lining the beach like a line of dominoes and shoving a wall of cars, boats, building and remnants of a holiday on the beach. Everything and everyone who were in its’ path were smashed into buildings, crushed against walls and sliced open by the objects in the water. Then the wave receded, sucking the living and the already dead, back out to the sea. The debris was pulled out with them. Then the next wave slammed ashore.

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Botswana and the Okavango Delta

Impressions of a Country

Botswana is a dry country even though the Zambezi River, pours over Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

and drains  into the Okavango Delta  in Botswana. It becomes a vast swamp (like the Everglades in the USA) and surprisingly, does not drain into an ocean. The Delta stretches for miles and miles in the cool rainy season, farther than the horizon. Summer is so hot and dry that the water evaporates and the swamp shrinks to only one-tenth of its size. As the wet lands dry up, the former lakes become large puddles, resulting in a population of thirsty animals in a smaller area.

The water was about waist deep, shallower in some places, and deep enough for hippos to submerged themselves in others.

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We were told that there were crocodiles in the water. They didn’t usually bother people, there are plenty of fish for them to eat, but they are opportunistic feeders– so don’t drag your hand in the water while in the canoe.

Okavango Delta

Okavango Delta

Each canoe held 2 passengers and one “poler”. Our guide told us the reason we only had 2 passengers was because, of course we could squeeze in more, but but by having only 2 passengers in the canoe, we provided more jobs for the villagers. The village was divided into 3 groups, A,B,C. Whoever wanted to work was able to.   Each time a tourist group arrived, the groups would rotate as to which group would “pole” us to an island and stay with us for 2 days.   It was interesting to meet the workers and to understand their lives a bit. Most of the women were shy- English is not their primary language and they were embarrassed that they were not fluent.

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Lady who “poles”, pushing our Mokoro (hand dug canoe) through the Okovango Delta

I was surprised at how many people apologized for their limited grasp of English. After all, I was visiting their countries and certainly did not expect people to know my language.

Okovango Delta

Okavenga Delta

 

Okovango Delta

Okavenga Delta

Once we arrived at the island, we set up camp.

Our toilet for 2 days

Our toilet for 2 days. The seat and frame were used for “guidance” so no one fell in the hole. It was not something I wanted to sit on. After all, about 20 people were using this hole.

 

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My spacious accommodations for the next 9 days.

The women were in charge of cooking, and believed that men should not help . Men who wanted to cook were considered greedy, because they wanted to do their own work as well as the woman’s work. We Westerners were shocked, and our perspective was one of let whoever wants to help, help.

I was told that the men like women who are fat. It means they are prosperous. Most men were very thin, but I don’t know the signs to know if they were malnourished.

Each day we took several guided walks, and canoe rides. We even got to try poling ourselves.

None of the polers need to worry about us taking their jobs. It was not hard to push forward, but it was difficult to steer. The front of my canoe was stuck in a thorny bush and I spent a  about 15 minutes trying to maneuver out of it.

The Netherlands

Impressions of a Country, Interesting People

Tulip Gardens I love this photo. It is an ordinary day for a Muslim who is not blowing things up.  Terrorists create terror. This is a girl who is smelling the tulips, just like everyone else. People told me it was not safe to travel, that people are out to get Americans, that ISIS wants to get me. Yes, there are dangerous parts of the world, and there are extremists everywhere. However, let us not forget an extremist is just that- it doesn’t matter which religion is followed.  I have heard a lot of remarks regarding “all” or “none” of a certain religion yet did not see a bomb anywhere, nor were there any other problems.

Who are these people that I keep getting warned about? Who are these people that some of my countrymen believe are “out to get us”? Perhaps we should meet those who are different than us, get to know them personally, and then develop an opinion.

 

Dealing with Vendors and Beggars

Impressions of a Country, Interesting People, Uncategorized

In Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, formerly  called Rhodesia ( An interesting topic  that helps explain Africa  http://www.britannica.com/topic/history-of-Zimbabwe) my friend and I were walking alongside a flat, wide paved road to see Victoria Falls.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

9. Vic Falls from air

Monkey

The monkeys are not afraid of humans. They are faster and stronger than people. This one crossed my path,  choosing to ignore me. They do not make good pets. They change their mind quickly and may decide to snatch something from you. Monkeys are like greedy little children with no manners.

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This main road was in good repair.  Everyone uses it: trucks, pedestrians, tourists, monkeys. You never know what might happen; sometimes elephants amble through town. The monkey on the left is licking a melted ice cream cone.

As we walked along the roadside, a young man strode up from behind us, quickly matching his strides to our pace of walking. He looked about 20 years old, young and energetic but with a quiet desperation. This thin, tall man wearing dusty, dirty flip-flops said in English to my friend, “I would like to exchange shoes with you”. She was wearing sturdy sneakers for the 9-day camping trip.

Laura had the perfect response and was totally non-committal. She stated the facts “But, I am wearing them” and continued walking.

He responded with the facts as well. He said “I know. Those are nice shoes. I would like shoes like that.”

“Then what would I wear?” Laura redirected with another question.

The young man replied “I will give you these shoes.” He points down to his feet, half covered with sandy and well-worn flip-flops. It is clearly not an even trade, his shoes are made of plastic and are probably the only shoes he owns.

Laura responds, not acknowledging the huge differences of economic disparity between us. “But I like my shoes. I don’t want to trade.”

He accepted that for an answer and veered away, going about his business of living another day, and potentially trading his flip-flops for something better to someone else.

His presence was immediately replaced with another person selling a small souvenir ,a fist-sized, wooden, hand-carved elephants.  When that person was finally convinced that we were not going to buy anything, he gave up made by his uncle, he stopped walking with us,, left our sides and went off to do whatever it was he was doing before we crossed paths, to be replaced by a new, different person trying to persuade that that he not only had elephant carvings, he also had wood carvings of rhinos and walked with us while showing us the beaded jewelry his wife has made, and after him, another vendor with other trinkets he was selling. They were not working together, they just hoped that one of us would buy something, anything. Each person walked along with us for a short while until they were replaced by another person selling something else, beads, ice cream, wood carvings.

This is a country where there was no respite from the onslaught of desperately poor people who live under a dictator. This is a country that used to be the bread-basket of Africa, feeding the nation. Now, they import food.

As I walked, another vendor replaced the one who had just left.

Local women carrying things on their heads

Local women balancing and carrying items on their heads.

My energy drained. The word that perfectly describes my feeling was one of being worn out. It was wearing that there was a continuous approach of someone wanting something from me (money). I felt like a walking ATM . Each person who approached me still had hope and a renewed sense of energy to make a sale.  Each was eager and excited when they saw a tourist.

I picked up the pace so it was difficult to carry a conversation with me.  Each person has a different way of dealing with the vendors and this is my tact.

The people didn’t want my time, they just needed resources. The people who approached us never ended.

It is not because these people want a handout. They had been working people, many were farmers. To make a long, complicated, interesting story short; A new government took over and changed the currency to American Dollars. The trillions (yes, there was lots of currency with that many zeros, because an earlier decision was made to print more money) were worthless, as was all the other money anyone had. All cash was worthless.  Oh, and the farms where many people worked were closed down and the tractors and equipment was sold so the elite class could live a lavish lifestyle.

As each vendor walked away, I felt a pang of guilt like leaving an animal shelter, knowing there was little hope for the ones left behind. Each spirit looking at you with hope that you would pick them out of the shelter and help them to have a better life, only asking for some food and shelter, or in this case, American dollars.

One vendor said / begged to another friend “Please buy something, anything. I haven’t had a sale in 3 days and I am supporting a family of 11 people” His items cost two or three dollars.

A hand-carved elephant cost $1. If a person bought more than one, that vendor would have an wonderful day. By selling one elephant trinket, he would have enough money to buy “Pac”.

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A Typical meal, “Pac” is the staple (made from maize). No utensils are used to eat the food.

Pac is a fine, white, coarse powder that is made from maize. It looks like cornmeal. It is added to boiling water to thicken. This would feed the entire family. For a family of eleven, six who are children, that dollar could probably feed all of them for several meals. The family supplements Pac with what was grown in the garden. If a family owned a chicken and it laid an egg, they might add that too. Or trade the egg for some something else – maybe even a pair of flip-flops.

 

Some Rules are meant to be broken

Impressions of a Country

By November, Italy was the 11th country visited. I had been traveling in Italy for 5 weeks, so I was in the groove of living daily life and was comfortable with the knowledge that the buses were usually late, and most of the vendors on the street had come from the countries Indonesia and Senegal, a West African country.

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Two dear friends joined me for a weekend in Rome.

It was an early weekday morning and we were taking a bus to visit the the Vatican. We purchased a bus ticket, and when boarding and climbing the steps of the bus, realized it was so crowded  that people were clogging the aisle. This was a local bus with lots of people headed to work.

Normally, a person carries the bus ticket 5 feet down the aisle to scan the ticket at the machine and validate it. In this case, the bus was so full, the seats were full, and the aisle was clogged with people. We stood near the driver, and Mike stood in the stairwell. People clung to the straps suspended from the ceiling, arms raised (and no deodorant) in the air to stand upright, as we lumbered down the road swaying as we turned corners and stopping often, those of us in the aisle pretending we were in control of our bodies  and would not fall into a stranger’s lap. There was a smell of sweaty armpits in the air, but we dare not let go. It was so jam-packed that even a pickpocket couldn’t get his hand in and out of anyone’s pocket!

It was impossible to make way down the aisle in order to validate the ticket. When the bus stopped, several people in front of the doorway would get off the bus to let other people off and then jump back on to continue the ride. My friend Mike was so close to the door, that each time the bus stopped, we held on to Mike so he did not get pushed out of the door each time the door opened.

It was physically impossible to validate the bus ticket, and even though my friends are rule followers, they learned that some rules are not able to be followed, and indeed, it seems like some rules are meant to be broken.

On the Edge of a Disaster

Impressions of a Country
Overlooking Belgrade and the Danube River

Overlooking Belgrade and the Danube River

The Danube River is so pretty, it meanders through several countries, and looks so gentle. The next day it started to rain. And rain. And rain. It rained buckets and would stop for a few minutes, then rain some more.

It rained more in one day than it had in a month. And then it rained some more. The rain continued all week and flooding devastated many people.

Homes were washed away, railroad tracks were damaged, and people stayed home from work, watching the news  of those effected and the expectation of more rain.

The Prime Minister looked haggard. He had been in office less than 2 months and was grieving the tragedy of losing his unborn child 2 weeks prior. This was the first crisis he needed to handle for his country and the first test of his leadership. I felt sorry for the guy.

The Prime Minister asked for 500 able-bodied people to volunteer to help fill sandbags and over 1000 people showed up. The country of Bosnia was even more overwhelmed. People from Serbia were helping the Bosnians and the joke was “let’s finish helping each other so we can go back to hating each other.” Both countries have little financial resources in the country’s coffers, partly due to previous corruption and because of economic sanctions in relation to war.

Flooded Danube River, homes and floating restaurants along the banks

Most of these buildings are floating restaurants. It was going to be a while before the water receded so customers could eat at their establishment. I stayed with a family on the 3rd floor of an apartment building, near the top of a hill, so the rain did not effect us like it did others.

Living room of Jovanna and her parents

The living room of Jovanna and her parents, my wonderful hosts.  A guest is traditionally offered a spoon of honey and a glass of water. The honey came from an uncle in the countryside. It was the best honey I have ever tasted.

I got a lot of use from my raincoat, and explored the country.

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It continued to rain, and I walked around with the  hem of my pants always wet. Then it rained some more. It reminded me of a tropical storm as the rain came in waves. It would stop for a few minutes, I would  be sweaty and overheated, remove my rain jacket, and then it would rain some more.

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The rains lasted all week. Toward the end of the week, I decided to  purchase some paints and paint my first canvas as a gift to my hosts.

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Serbia is a poor country, and it was difficult to find a store that sold paints. I finally found one store, and they did not even have yellow paint- a primary color! It is amazing how much we take for granted. In the USA, a few paints, an 8×10 canvas and 1 fat and 2 skinny paintbrushes would have cost about $20. In Serbia, it was about $60. They just don’t have these kinds of things, people cannot afford it.

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The road was flooded and closed so people had to climb the banks, cross railroad tracks, and climb down the other side. The picture above shows one woman practically dragging another woman up the hill. It was steeper than it looked.

 

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We felt bad for the people who had very little to begin with and everything they had accumulated in a lifetime was washed away. Many of them lived in houses made of stone, and everything  inside was gone.

One week later…

The beautiful Danube River was overlaid with plastic . I saw tables and chairs, bedding float by. Anything that could float was carried along downstream. The current was as quick as a fast jog.

Flooded Danube river- fast current, the boat is not moving, just the water is

Flooded Danube river- fast current, the boat is not moving, just the water is

Houses were smashed into pieces by logs and other structures and the whole river was covered in a layer of debris, logs with branches of green leaves, high chairs, plastic lawn chairs, plastic bottles, everywhere. I wonder how thick was the debris that was all floating downstream to the ocean?

As I rode a bus through the country I could see remnants of the flooding, mud marks that were higher than me (5’4″), still flooded fields, ponds, and debris trash in tops of young trees.

muddy waters that have overflowed the Danube river and are surrounding trees

Muddy waters that have overflowed the Danube River 

Tall grasses were still laying against the ground where the water flowed over them. Many of the farmer’s fields were mud, and it looked about 10% of the  fields survived.

Finally, the rain stopped and the sun peeked out.

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I love this picture. The sun finally peeks out and reflects off the gold cross on this church.

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The rain finally stopped and people went outside again. This picture is a gypsy driving his horse and cart through the city and collecting cardboard. This is in the capital city of Belgrade.

The Serbs I met were wonderful people, and the country is pretty. Although they have very little in the way of material possessions, they were generous and caring.

The rain stopped, and people went on with their lives.

 

Snake Temple

Round The World Trip

Malaysia had a variety of temples. This was my favorite because it was so different than the others. Snake Temple in Penang, Malaysia housed poisonous snakes that were free to slither where they wanted inside the building, and were fenced in a large breeding area outside. When I entered the temple, I was very careful where I stepped and where I put my hands.

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Snake on top of a picture frame

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A local Malaysian family told me about an uncle who visited Snake Temple, and a viper fell into the hood of his jacket without him realizing. When he was leaving the temple, someone informed him of the snake. Within the next few years, this uncle became very rich. The family suggested that if a snake fell onto us, that we would be very lucky.

16Snake Temple near Penang, Malaysia I am already lucky. I did not want a snake falling on me.Snake Temple near Penang, Malaysia Snake Temple near Penang, Malaysia The snakes were very relaxed and none were aggressive. Of course, no one was messing with poisonous snakes either.Snake Temple near Penang, MalaysiaAll in all, a unique experience.