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

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 .

15. Nosey Giraffe20140713_13360620140713_143505P107091820140713_13471520140713_125944

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.

 

 

Pygmies in Cameroon

Impressions of a Country, Things I have learned

The male pygmies are excited to receive the visitor’s gifts while the women and children are filled with dismay when the riverboat arrives. In Cameroon, a country in the West of Africa, tourists may (or may not) have good intentions, but the results have been disastrous for indigenous families.

Cameroon in Africa (-mini map -rivers).svg
Cameroon in Africa (-mini map -rivers)” by TUBSOwn work.This vector graphics image was created with Adobe Illustrator.This file was uploaded with Commonist.This vector image includes elements that have been taken or adapted from this:  Africa location map.svg (by Sting).This vector image includes elements that have been taken or adapted from this:  Egypt location map.svg (by NordNordWest).This vector image includes elements that have been taken or adapted from this:  Western Sahara location map.svg (by NordNordWest).This vector image includes elements that have been taken or adapted from this:  South Sudan location map.svg (by NordNordWest).. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

It is several hours by riverboat from town to the Pygmy villages and bringing coveted goods to the villagers sounds good in theory. The problem is the gifts themselves. Many of the men want liquor, and the tourists want to interact with this unique group of people, so are happy to oblige, bringing gallons of booze to individuals.

The ugly truth is that the Pygmy’s bodies do not process the alcohol in the same way as many of us from European descent do, resulting in alcoholism, a terminal condition unless a person stops drinking.

The unhappy result is men sitting around drunk, no longer going to work, and the children go hungry. Unfortunately, when people know an addict, they also know how to take advantage of that person.

Baka dancers June 2006.jpg
Baka dancers June 2006” by Embassy of the United States of America to Cameroon. – http://yaounde.usembassy.gov/.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

It sounds hauntingly similar to how the indigenous people in the USA have been treated, and that has not turned out well for them.

*Although I did not get to visit Cameroon on this trip, the information was taught to me by a visiting professor from Cameroon.

** For more information visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pygmy_peoples

What is Next?

Book, Bucket List, Life Sure is Funny, RTW Trip, Things I have learned

Well, it has been 14 months since I started on my Round-the-World journey. I hope you enjoyed some of the experiences I was so fortunate to share with you. I feel blessed and amazed when you tell me something that I wrote impacted you and that you care to read some of my stories and even make a small change to make the world a better place (see Pineapples post) And even though I did a lot of really cool stuff alone, by getting to tell and retell the stories, I am enjoying the experiences all over again. Thank you.

Walking down a dirt road on the outskirts of the capital city, Kathmandu, Nepal. I met these boys coming the opposite way. We spoke English for a few minutes and I answered their questions about

Walking down a dirt road on the outskirts of the capital city, Kathmandu, Nepal. I met these boys coming the opposite way. We spoke English for a few minutes and I answered their questions about “America”.

I must admit, one of the times I had the most laugh-out-loud fun, was in a sex-toy shop in Amsterdam.  One of the positive aspects of traveling alone is that I did not have to worry about what other people thought. In my regular life, I would be too embarrassed to go into a sex shop. It was very liberating to be able to go somewhere so far outside my comfort zone. (I was raised in the midwest and people would say I am conservative when it comes to certain subjects). Ha!

A coffeeshop where it is legal to buy and smoke weed and hash, and a sex toy shop next door

I wasn’t sure exactly what they were selling, but shopping is shopping, right?

sex toy shop

Funny Men’s Underwear

sex toy shop

sex toy shop

The store manager opened some of the boxes and took out the *ahem, “anatomically correct models” so I could snap a photo to show everybody back home. You would not believe the products available for purchase!

This was quite an unusual (to me) machine.

This was quite an unusual (to me) machine.

I cannot imagine who would use some of these contraptions… wait a minute… now that I know what some of those things are, yes I can. Remember the saying “Ignorance is Bliss”? This is a good example.

Anyway, we opened the boxes, took out some (life-size and larger than life-sized)…replicas… and….were howling with laughter.

The other customers were smiling and laughing with us, they were enjoying how much fun we were having  comparing the attributes of various “models” for comparison. Since you are reading this story, you must have a great imagination, so I will let you use it. Besides, your imagination is better than anything I write.

So, what is next for for me you ask?

Short term goals- get my stories and thoughts written on the blog, and keep working on the other creative projects, while deciding on next steps career-wise. Of course, my family comes first and I have been enjoying their companionship these last few weeks. I am very proud of both of my incredibly gifted daughters. They are each early in their careers, and have someone special in their lives. They don’t need me like they did when they were young children. Technology is amazing isn’t it? A person is only a phone call, a text, an e mail away, even though physically, they could be on the other side of the world. I saw each of my children more often while I was on the go, than I did when working and living in the USA.

Dream Goal – go on Ellen show, Oprah, and the talk show circuit. I would like to try being a guest host or being a field partner traveling abroad and interviewing interesting people and introducing them to the viewers.

I wonder if this old woman survived the earthquakes? This was a very old building.

Spinning wool, while sitting outside and not missing what happening. (Plus, there was no electricity) Nepal.

and writing and sharing their stories.

Admire helps cook a delicious breakfast.

Admire helps cook a delicious breakfast in Zimbabwe.

This is part of creating the life I want to live. While traveling, I learned a whole lot of other rules to live by.

I found that people like a rickshaw driver in India lives in the moment. He worked so hard, pedaling a rickshaw with people in it, and received about 50 cents. With that money, he probably bought food to eat. Once he had energy again, he would find another customer and the continue the circle. This is a person who really lives in the moment. In the USA, many of us are living in the future. We think about how to save enough money for retirement, or college, or other large expenses. We worry about not having enough money for a rainy day. I have decided there must be a happy medium somewhere between living from meal to meal, to living 20 years in the future. I must admit though, that I am still defining what that means in my personal life.

At a temple in Thailand

At a temple in Thailand

The future of this blog: short term; my plan is to get the stories down, and to post more often.

Sometimes I will revisit a story and improve the writing- but you may not realize it. One of the things I am  continuing to learn is blogging and improving my writing. So, if a story interests you and you want more details, just send me with a short note in the comments section (like Pam- tell me more about Zimbabwe and the family home you visited).

This woman invited me to her home. I asked how she was able to tie the baby on her back, so she demonstrated. 11 people lived here.

This kind Zimbabwe woman invited me to her home. I asked how she was able to tie the baby on her back, so she demonstrated. 11 people lived here.

Or about Rhinos…

The birds get a free ride while they eat the bugs and insects off the rhinos.

The birds get a free ride while they eat the bugs and insects off the rhinos.

Long term, the stories in this blog will be part of a bigger series, part of a book and maybe, just maybe, part of a Hollywood Blockbuster movie.

By the way, who do you think should play me on the big screen?

For Non- Americans; that is slang to say “Which Hollywood Actress should play the part of Momstaxi / Pam?”  I am thinking Annette Bening.

Who do you think?

Pineapples- delicious, but…

Things I have learned

I toured the Dole Pineapple Plantation in Oahu, Hawaii and was shocked by the way modern-day pineapples are grown. The Plantation is a big tourist draw, and is quite pretty in the front.

At the Dole plantation

At the Dole plantation

At the Dole plantation

At the Dole plantation

At the Dole plantation

At the Dole plantation

Pineapples are harvested by hand, with workers wearing protective gear because of all the sharp leaves.  Weeding between the plants would be very difficult, so a black plastic mulch is laid down, then a hole is punched through the plastic and the baby plant is put into the ground. It takes about 2 years for the plant to produce a pineapple, and an additional 15 months for a 2nd pineapple.

No wonder pineapples are expensive.

Everything sounds fine and dandy, until we ask what happens to all that plastic that was used as mulch?

After harvesting the plants and preparing the field for the next crop, everything is chopped up and mulched back into the earth. Including the plastic. And if it takes hundreds of years for a piece of plastic to decompose, what happens to this piece of land when pineapples are no longer grown here? And what exactly, are we ingesting? If the plants get their nutrition from the earth, and the chemicals that make up the plastic are decomposing into the same dirt, does that mean that when we eat a pineapple grown this way, we are eating the chemicals that make up the plastic used? No wonder we have so many health problems.

The black things sticking up from the ground are pieces of plastic.

The black things sticking up from the ground are pieces of plastic.

The plastic pieces were everywhere!

The plastic pieces were everywhere!

Pineapple fields (and the plastic mulch) extended for miles.

Pineapple fields (and the plastic mulch) extended for miles.

So, now I have a dilemma. I love the taste of fresh pineapple, but every time I purchase one that was grown this way, I am saying to the company who uses these agricultural practices, that I approve of what they are doing to our land. There are only 3 large pineapple producing companies. I will need to find a farm that uses more sustainable farming practices and more expensive pineapple, or not buy pineapple. DRAT! I don’t like either of those options, but for now, I am not buying pineapple from the big 2 producers (Dole, Del Monte) which are sold in my local grocery stores.

If you are interested in more information about pineapples, go to https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/pineapple.html or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pineapple

Rules Of Thumb I Use When Traveling Alone in a Foreign Country

For the Book, Impressions of a Country, Round The World Trip, Things I have learned

Life lessons learned while on the road in 2014. When in a group, don’t be first, don’t be last, be in the middle. 

I was reminded of this lesson in Amsterdam when I crossed the street and found myself left behind because I walked at a slower pace than the crowd surrounding me . I imagine this is how the last zebra  felt crossing a crocodile infested river in Africa.

Within seconds I went from crossing a street to abandoned in the middle of a bike lane with my hands covering my head for protection as bikes streamed past me on both sides of my body. Different Cultures have the same underlying problems. Both a crocodile or a biker could impact someone else’s life if someone was not paying attention.

I am grateful for the girl that stopped her bike so that I could finish crossing. And she was patient with me and did not yell at me, although I was clearly at fault. I felt as though I had inadvertently crossed the running lanes at a high school track practice, and the sprinters were only a few yards and headed toward me.

This was actual bike traffic. The lane of traffic was like a lane of traffic in the video game Frogger, it was a slower lane of traffic, but by not moving quickly between vehicles, one could be run over and squashed.

Also learned  “Bike Lane” in other countries means: a lane of traffic that happens to be full of bikes moving quickly. They are all going the same direction and there are bike lanes on each side of busy roads, including downtown cities.

Rule  Pay attention to stationary landmarks

When traveling alone, I must remember to pay attention to stationary landmarks so I can find my way back. Even a dead dog works in a pinch.

2 Weeks Before the 2nd Leg of the RTW Trip

Things I have learned

*This post was written at the end of Sept. but not published until now.

People keep asking about my reasons for coming home so suddenly, and about the future of the trip.

I leave in 2 weeks for the next leg of my trip. I will be going to Italy and for 3 weeks will work on a farm through the organization Wwoofing. The farm provides room and board in exchange for 6 hours per day of work, 6 days per week. I think it is a great way to understand the local culture better, and learn (and eat) Italian.  I have found that by being resourceful, I am able to keep expenses low, allowing me to continue traveling.

This incredible image of Italy was taken at night by crew members aboard the International Space Station, currently orbiting Earth from 200 miles up

Now that I have been back in FL for nearly 10 weeks, I have recovered in many ways. Some days on the road were so hard emotionally; I missed my family and friends. My body was also tired – the flare up of plantar fasciaitis in my foot, was really hurting and I was limping regularly.

20140314_113708In Africa, it seems like we ate a lot of manufactured food, rather than local fruits and veggies. I was craving drinking green juice and smoothies and since I have eaten better my energy level has improved.

While home, I was able to get 4 more vaccines (some of which are difficult to find in other countries, however, when found are much much less expensive) and a flu shot and most importantly, vote for the upcoming elections. (Voted Yes on #2). Got my hair cut and colored, eyebrows waxed, a pedicure, and had a 50th birthday party to celebrate with my friends.

It has has been wonderful spending time with my loved ones, and spending time in my own comfy bed with feather pillows. Much of this trip has been about seeing people that I love. I had not seen them in too many years since they live overseas and spending time with them was important. Several of “my kids” are now married and have children of their own. I am reminded of how many people I love, and that love me. After all of this visiting in Europe, and exploring 10 days of the African bush with a dear friend,

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it was time to get home and also spend time with the people that I love and normally see more often.

I felt so fortunate to get to spend some good quality time together with my family, as well as catch up with extended family members. I am so proud of both of my children. They are ambitious, intelligent and caring people that both believe in impacting the world in a positive way. One has started her career with the Dallas Symphony, and the other is interning as a public defender while attending law school.

Funny how you think you know a person, yet, sometimes what they think or say is still such a surprise. We truly cannot walk in another person’s shoes so we truly cannot understand the particular nuances in their stories. We have to accept that it is what it is. This is what the people in Africa know too. I heard multiple times “This is Africa. That is just the way it is.”

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If I get back to Zimbabwe, I will have to ask about independence vs. conformity. I wonder what the order of importance is in regards to family, tribe, community?

I also got my foot looked at and am now on the way to recovery. (Amazing that a cortisone shot can relieve the pain so that I could actually do exercises to improve the flexibility of my foot.)

I had really missed digging in the dirt, and just enjoying living in Florida. We have gorgeous sunsets in September and I was able to enjoy them as well.

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I also prepared several flower beds for winter – pruned, trimmed, weeded, mulched. We have lived in our house for 11 years, and I do most of the outdoor work. For the first time, while I was gone, my husband and his roommate got a notice from the homeowner’s association that there were too many weeds. I have to chuckle every time I think about it. At least my hard work for the first 10 years was noticed.

So, off to Italy I go and will continue to update the blog.

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Past Selves meet Present Selves 10 Years Later

Impressions of a Country, Interesting People, Things I have learned

Germany was special to me because not only did I see some of the tourist things and check another one off the bucket list [visit a site where the Olympics were held}. Munich was the perfect place to go, especially with its history of the start of modern-day terrorism.

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But the best part was staying with someone I knew and getting to know them in their home country.

 

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It was great to ask questions about the culture or food, or social norms and to understand another perspective.  Rather than finding all of this curiosity annoying or tiresome (as some of my family and friends do) they are eager to share their culture with me, and often times want to know what life is like in “America”.

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Funny, when I travel I tend to say I am from The United States rather than America. A dear friend (who I will visit in Chile later in the trip)  reminded me that America includes both North and South America as well as Central America. This list includes Mexico and Canada. We are all Americans.

 

 

So, as for Germany…

I learned that a person who belongs to a church may have an amount deducted from their paycheck called church taxes. The government collects the money and gives the money to churches. If a person does not belong to any church she / he doesn’t pay. Taxpayers register their religion (Catholic, Protestant etc.) and the money raised goes to that religious institution.

I was fortunate to have conversations with a dear friend of mine who was only 6 weeks away from giving birth and had just started maternity leave.{ Congrats to Rike and Ulf and welcome to the world Fiona.}

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Rike and Ulf and I discussed healthcare since that is such a big topic in my country.  This was a topic that I discussed with different people, in different countries who have different opinions. This is what I learned…

First of all, some things all over the world are the same.

 

 

One is…

everyone thinks they pay too much for health insurance. Even the 22-year-old German guy who fell down and hit his head after getting stoned on marijuana in a coffee shop in Amsterdam. He even got stitches. He thought $50 euros (about $75) per month coming right out of his paycheck was expensive.

 

A guy I met who got to use the health care system w/i 2 hours of arrival

 

 

Secondly, there is always a line to use the lady’s toilet. It doesn’t matter if one is camping in the bush using a hole in the ground in Botswana, or in a nice restaurant with running water, there will be a line.

I was told by a German citizen that the level of income taxes paid for social services such as medical, old age and general income tax, depends on the level of salary.

3 Months into the Journey

Round The World Trip, Things I have learned

I have been on the road for 3 Months already and I have learned a lot. Before I left the USA, most people warned me about safety, and some wanted to know what precautions I was going to take because the world is such a dangerous place. I was warned that everyone hates Americans, that I should be extra diligent because I would be alone, and basically that there were lots of bad people who would not hesitate to “get me”. I was told that Turkey was a dangerous place, that Muslims want to blow up buildings and as an American I would be a target of terrorism and kidnapping. My favorite piece of advice, which still cracks me up was “don’t buy weed from strangers” which was probably the best advice of all.

Here is what I have learned so far…

People are generally nice and want to be helpful if we give them a chance to do it. When someone is standing at a bus station, involved in their own world (listening to music, thinking about their day), and approached by a stranger with a smile who needs directions, they smile and are happy to help. Some people have even walked me to my destination which was 15 minutes away and involved several turns on several streets, and just used hand gestures when they didn’t speak English.

I think of a man in Munich, who put the bus fare into the bus when I didn’t have the right change to go into the machine, the ladies in Edinburgh who went through their purses to find $5 in euro change when that bus only took exact coins and I only had paper money, an Irish man in Dublin who showed me 2 pubs with live music and walked me back to my hostel because I was not comfortable walking back at night alone (and I was perfectly safe from him as well).

I spent a week with 2 Turkish bachelors in Amsterdam (no, they were not gay), who made me feel welcome in their home, I accepted a 7 hr. car ride from a gal I met for 5 minutes in Scotland, and am currently staying in a woman’s home that I met in the lobby of my hostel in Jerusalem. We had spoken for 5 minutes, and she offered me a place to stay, which I am doing right now.

I spent a day in Jerusalem with an activist who did not hesitate to yell at a policeman and tell him I was from the press, I had a brief altercation with a stray dog (I think she had puppies nearby), and been mixed up and confused in nearly every city when trying to find my way.

I have spent time with several Turkish families. Ece and Metin made me part of their family, and their 2 yr. son learned my name. They helped me with my computer and phone apps, and even let me do some painting at the dining room table. They made me part of their daily lives, and I was probably the first foreigner their nanny ever met. We went to a local market where people stared at us – again, I was probably the first foreigner people had probably seen in person, and when my husband came to visit, they took vacation time to show us more of the country – where we got stared at some more, and even got a “hello” in English from the most courageous school child who was walking by. They answered a million questions about their country and culture and Islam and politics.

Ece’s parents spent time with me, and even allowed my husband and I to stay in their apartment for several days when they were out of town, so we could explore the old city on our own. I discussed Islam with her religious mother who prays 5 times a day.

We went to a fabulous Turkish wedding, got to meet our Turkish daughter’s future husband and in-laws and many of her friends.

Esin’s parents were so gracious and generous, they hosted me for several days in Istanbul before the wedding, and took me to Sanfranbolu – a World Heritage Site that was built in the middle ages. Her father insisted I try the different kinds of “Locum” (Turkish Delight candy), and I had 8 different varieties before dinner.
Even though her mother did not speak English, she was so patient while her father and I chatted, and I asked another million questions about life in Turkey, as well as the political situation, even when he was nervous about me taking photos of unusual police vehicles headed to an expected protest – these were vehicles that looked like armored tanks and water cannons. Nihal even bought me 3 new shirts and 3 pair of socks for the next part of my journey which would be warmer than the places I had been. Such kind and thoughtful people I have met – none which are planning on blowing up buildings.

I spent time in S. Germany with a girl I had met a few years ago, and whose parents graciously opened their home, and answered 1000 questions. (I didn’t have enough time with them to ask a million), and hopefully showed them not all Americans were the same as the ungrateful American they had previously known.

I stayed with a pregnant German girl and her husband who will be expecting their first child in 6 weeks, who showed me a world Heritage Site in their country and took me on the Autobahn, traveling up to 220km per hour. (137+mph), just because I asked. The husband had even been doing some reading about Americans and their culture before I arrived since he had not spent much time with an American that didn’t involve work. He says he heard that Americans were artificially friendly, but he now knows one that truly is friendly.

I lived in Belgrade, Serbia for a week, and attended my first opera with another non english speaker, smiles were enough communication, and was able to give career advise to her english speaking daughter.

I have been welcomed into multiple homes, ate things that I never would have l
cooked at home, and enjoyed them.

I have lost – 2 water bottles, 1 sleeping pad, 2 bungie cords, soap, 4 pounds. I have broken – 1 watch, 1 voltage adapter, 1 cell phone cord. I have gained 4 shirts, 3 pair socks, the same 4 pounds that I lost, patience, and memories that will last a lifetime.

I have met all sorts of people, some who I think are turning into real friends; a girl from China, a girl from Latvia, a girl from the USA, as well as many interesting people that will forever change the way I think of the world. I have met an Oncologist and Rhodes Scholar, an Accupuncturist doctor, an emergency room doctor, lots of students, professors, teachers and others who have an interest in learning about our world too – and most of them stayed at hostels with me.

I have met Jews, Christians, and Muslims who have the same concerns – peace, health and happiness for their families, singles and marrieds who worry about love and relationships with in-laws (an Indian doctor asked me why I thought Mothers in laws and his wife did not get along, and why it was so common across cultures), and have found that my friends really do care about me – thanks for the encouragement when I have been down and lonely, or just plain frustrated about being lost and confused again and again. I have learned how to use a squatty potty (good practice for Asia I am told), and can say thank you in about 10 languages, but can’t spell it in most. I have stuck my foot in my mouth, asked questions that would be considered rude in our country (but not in theirs) and am still growing and learning about life.

On Sunday, I leave Europe and head to Africa. I expect the people will be similar with the same concerns and kindness, and look forward to an adventure that will be different from the developed countries of Europe I have experienced thus far.

Three months in already. I wonder what the rest of the trip holds?