6.24.2010

arts & ideas

From one pizza capital to another...
The day after returning home from Chicago I met up with another Semester at Sea friend, Disha, for some closer-to-home cultural fun in New Haven.

I met Dish at the train and we drove into downtown. As soon as we hop out of the car, what do we see but a street performer (awesome) singing right next to a guy giving away free Ashley's Ice Cream (event better!). Ashley's is a New Haven institution, not to mention the producers of very tasty ice cream.

We collected our slightly melty but very free cones and slurped our way towards the New Haven green to check out the International Festival of Arts & Ideas http://www.artidea.org/. The A&I festival is a really cool, three week happening in new haven celebrating music, dance, performance, food, drinks, literature, philosophy, politics and so much more. On any given day you can experience a modern dance performances, a 13-year old frontman's garage band or a farm to table bike tour of the city. By far one of the coolest things going on in Connecticut and a great showcase for local, national and international artists, thinkers and chefs.

The Saturday that Disha and I stopped by we passed by the Thai and Soul food trucks and made our way over to a tent for the American Mural Project, which is working to create the largest collaborative piece of artwork in the world http://www.wallofamerica.org. There were a bunch of kids already working on a piece of art and our new 8-year old guide directed us towards the paint and brushes. Disha and I made our mark on the mural which will be installed in Winstead, CT.



After painting we moved over to see a local rapper and break dancers from Middletown, CT. The rapper was pretty good and even dropped a song about his hometown. The break dancers were incredible and a very zealous Michael Jackson fan even made an appearance in the circle for some moon-walking.

Once the rapper's set was over Disha and I walked down Chapel St. looking at the boutiques and shops and working up an apatite for one of our favorite New Haven restaurants, Claire's Corner Copia, http://www.clairescornercopia.com/. Claire's is an all-vegetarian restaurant, cooking with only organic and locally sourced ingredients. Not to mention, they donate 10% of the proceed to charity. But most importantly, the food is absolutely delicious. Everything from the mexican menu to the homemade soups and salads tastes amazing and is good for you. Plus their selection of baked goods, which includes their famous Lithuanian coffee cake. Disha and I split a quesadilla with the works (beans, peppers, onion, tomato & spinach, topped with hommade guac and a mango cilantro crema). And once that had been thoroughly inhaled, we had to split a piece of coffee cake for the road.

It was great to catch up with Disha, spend a beautiful day in New Haven and eat some amazing vegetarian food. But, it was also a nice reminder that there are great things going on with food and art and music, right here in Connecticut, if you can spare a Saturday to enjoy them.

beans, beans, they're good for your art.

The next day, Mark and I met Hussain near the UIC Chicago med school campus (where he'll be a dental student this fall) and we drove into the heart of the city to meet Steve at the Shedd Aquarium. It just so happened to be free admission day and so we went to enjoy some aquatic adventures. There was a pretty long wait so I had time to snack on a chicago-style hot dog with mustard, onion, tomato, sport peppers, celery salt and a pickle spear. Pretty tasty, as most thing are when they contain a pickle spear.

Once we got in we were able to mill around the droves of strollers and check out some pretty neat fish. They had a particularly exciting exhibit about the amazon and we also spotted a fish bearing an uncanny resemblance to james earl jones. Clearly, Steve and Hussain had fun:


After the aqarium we walked along to river and across the way to Millennium Park. We passed the Art Institute (Steve's favorite), and made our way into the park towards "the bean". It was a pretty hot day so we decided to take a quick break along the boardwalks in the park that run along a little man-made river. There were lots of couples and families with their shoes off and their feet in the water, enjoying picnics or making wishes with coins and we decided to take off our shoes and join them. The water felt cold and amazing and the view through the park looking toward the institute and out further towards the loop and soldier field was pretty perfect.


Once our feet were sufficiently cooled we made our way towards the infamous bean. I had seen other people's photos of Anish Kapoor's sculpture, which is actually called Cloud Gate, but I didn't anticipate it being so big! It really is a beautiful sculpture and the views that you can get of the city and the river and of all the people around you by looking at the reflections and curves of the sculpture are amazing. We spent some time looking at all the angles, including the underside, before snapping a few pictures and heading on our way.



After a tasty stir fry dinner with the boys and some of their friends, Mark and I headed back to the hotel, braving the chicago traffic one last time before flying out in the morning.

In summary - Chicago is a beautiful, open, city with some tasty food traditions and awesome public spaces. I only got to see a handful of them and I hope to make a return visit sometime soon to catch up with Steve, Hussy and Gino's East pizza (pie).

chicago-go-go there.

So it turns out that Chicago is a really cool, beautiful, clean, fun city. After going there for three quick days i definitely could plan a return trip.

After landing at midway and enduring a wild-goose chase cab ride I met my dad and brother and we decided to venture into the city. My dad was leaving later that night so we decided that we should hit the biggest monument first - the sears tower (now called the willis tower).

While waiting in line to go to the top we learned some fun facts! Did you know that the tower is 262 michael jordans tall? You do now. But as fun as the facts were, the clear highlight was the view from the top of the tower. The midwest is so flat that you can literally see four different states when you look out each direction of the window. I got a pretty great glimpse of Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. Annnnnd they recently installed these four viewing boxes that are clear all the way around so you can step out over the city and see in all directions, including below you.


After the sears we brought dad to the airport and mark and I went to go meet some of my favorite semester at sea friends, and chicago natives, Hussain and Steve! And on top of seeing good friends we met them at Gino's East for my first encounter with chicago-style deep dish pizza.

This was my first introduction to deep dish and, being a lover of NY-style pizza and die hard Pepe's fan, I was highly skeptical. We ordered a large spinach pie and spent the 40-minute cooking time catching up with Steve and Hussain. Upon arrival our waitress cut us up some pieces and it was go time. I have to say; it was good. I love cheese and the amount of cheese in this pie was incredible. As you can see from the photo, each piece eschewed ribbons of delicious cheese, plus tasty sauce and spinach on the bottom. But, I am an east coast girl. And while this was delicious, it was not pizza. It was pie. An awesomely cheesy, saucy, spinachy pie. But pie and not pizza and not better than the pepe's clam. Sorry chicago and deep dish lovers. That's all there is to it.

After stuffing ourselves with deep dish, we retired to rest for a big day ahead.

6.13.2010

on the road...again

So it's been over a year since I made the permanent transition to life on land after Semester at Sea and I've decided it's time to start blogging again. While I'm not doing as much traveling, I have a few trips coming up and I'm ready to document. This should be pretty exciting as travel lark 2.0 will hopefully be less wordy, with more pictures, and not hurriedly emailed between global studies classes on the MV.

To give you a quick update about me, I just graduated from the University of Connecticut with a BA in Communications and a minor in International Studies. I've been doing a lot of cooking, eating and twittering over the past 9 months since my last post, but I'm ready for some travel and some blogging as well.

First stop: Chicago on Wednesday!

8.23.2009

afterthoughts

so it's been a little over three months since we disembarked the MV and tomorrow i pack my bags and head back to school.

but before i fall into the pleasantly hectic rhythm of life at school i wanted to take the time to think back on my trip and how i feel about it now, three months out.

coming home was easier than i thought it was going to be in some ways, but harder in others. i didn't hate home or find it utterly boring. i love reconnecting with my friends and family. but at the same time i was really prepared to talk about my experiences and when no one asked i was really bummed out.

but life went on and i got into the routine of being at home, working and living post SAS. it was only in the past few weeks where i had two experiences that really impressed upon my how much my trip means and how much it is still a part of me.

the first experience came during our family vacation this year to loon mountain in new hampshire. one morning my dad and i decided that we were going to go and hike loon mountain, a pretty steep ski mountain about two miles up. we started getting up the mountain and i am getting seriously tired. my dad is patient, we take breaks, but i am seriously out of shape. finally about 2/3 of the way up i stop and let my dad go ahead, telling him that i was going to rest and i would meet him on his way down and hike back. as i am lying in the grass catching my breath i think about the day that greg and i hiked table mountain. the sun was in the middle of the sky in capetown, we got passed out by families carrying babies and we took break after break, but greg and i hauled our asses up that mountain, stone by stone, for four miles. and i knew that if i could drag my lazy self up table mountain, i could get up loon. so i got up and went one check point to the next, very slowly, until i finally made it to the top. i was red-faced and sweaty and certainly grossing out everyone who had taken the gondola to the top, but i got up there. and i don't know if i would have pushed myself if i hadn't spent that day in capetown with greg.

this made me realize that there was something about the things i did on SAS that will stay with me, despite the fact that i no longer call the MV my home. SAS made me realize how much i was capable of. i now know that i can naviagate a foreign city without being able to read the signs. i can jump out of a plane. i can start a philosophical conversation with a stanger on a train, in french. most of the time the only thing holding me back is myself.

is this a new revelation? of course not. as kids we are always told that we can do anything we set our minds to. but as we get older we put up walls around ourselves. we decide that we can't do things for one reason or another but most of the time we're just afraid. SAS showed me that i can be fearless.

the other post SAS experience i had was a reunion with a bunch of my ship friends in pittsburgh. spending time with my friends all together just reinforced how much i love and appreciate the people i met on my trip. they've seen me sweating in vietnam, bartering in morocco and rolling out of bed for global studies. they have seen me at my best and worst and i really feel like i can be wholly myself when i am with them. not to mention the fact that they are some of the most hilarious, daring, silly, loving, thoughtful and fun people i have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

which is the other thing that SAS taught me. that the world is full of amazing, caring, funny, intelligent people. from the students and professors on the ship to the hotel owners, meditation instructors, elephant tamers, and students that i met in the countries; i encountered people who are truly incredible. this is what les meant when he said ubuntu. that we are all shaped by the people we meet. we all teach each other what it means to be human because we cannot do it alone.

i have no doubt that i will travel in the future. i think anyone who goes on SAS and has had their fill of exploring probably had too many cases of TD. and while i know that no experience will be the same as SAS i hope that i can hold on to the best parts of my journey and keep them with me, no matter where i go next.

5.19.2009

japan!

So i know we’re home now, but in all our speediness moving through asia (and all my laziness) i didn’t get to write about Japan. And last night when I was posting pictures I realized that I didn’t have photos of a lot of it and my memories are already fading fast. SO! since the blog’s purpose is to record my travel adventures, I think it’s perfectly fine to record them in retrospect.

Everyone was really psyched coming into Japan because after going through southeast Asia and Africa and heeding travel warnings about water and communism and fruit we got to Japan and they were just like - go ahead! eat and drink whatever, talk about everything, plus, did we mention the toilet seats are heated? Needless to say, we were excited. My ship mom, Joan was the nurse onboard and it was her job to do medical pre-port before Japan. Since Japan is basically a country of safety and medical wonder she decided it would be cute for our family to help her out and recite haiku’s about the various medical things we would come in contact with in Japan - drinking water, toilets, clinic hours etc. I had toilets and we all got up in front of the shipboard community to recite our poems. Mine read as follows -

i hate to squat, ugh.
warm seats and tinkle music
this is an upgrade.

I think I should probably leave haikus to basho, busson and issa for now. But anyway....

We got into Kobe the first day and the first thing we had to do getting off the ship was go through a face-to-face customs inspection. This involved some long lines, staggered disembarking and a few hours but eventually all of us got off the ship ok and we left to our devices to go and explore the city.

I went out with Steve, Keith and Britton and we decided to just start walking, find some food and see where we ended up. We strolled around, grabbed lunch at a spanish tapas place and the stumbled upon an indoor/outdoor mall. We explored the shops and found this really neat place that sold all kinds of clothes and accessories and Steve bought a pair of lime green suspenders. I had recently started to learn how to do the rubik’s cube so I was on the hunt to find one of my own to practice on. After looking around for a while to no avail we headed upstairs to check out the manga shops. The walls were lined with stacks upon stacks of manga comic books with craaazy characters on every cover. There were vampire schoolgirls who fought crime, pokemon and dragonball-z and of course lots of porn. After poking around looking for a specific series as a gift for one of Steve and Keith’s friends from Pitt we decided to walk back to the ship so we could go to the welcome reception for some local Japanese students.

On the ship we had two interport students, Haruna and Asami, join us from University of Kobe. This afternoon a bunch of students from the university were going to come on board to hang out with us, see the ship and show us some traditional Japanese music and dance. We arrive at the ship just as the students did and we all headed into the union. One of the girls performed a traditional Japanese dance in a full kimono and makeup. After a few more presentations we were allowed to just break off, get snacks and they had tables set up for us to learn calligraphy and origami. Steve, Keith and I had sat down next two three students and started talking to them and hanging out with them. Rieko, Aya and Koji got some food with us, and then taught us how to do some origami. We made some cranes and then they showed us how to write our names in Japanese characters. Aya helped me out and my name didn’t even look half bad.

The girls and Koji wanted to see the ship so we took them on our tour, showing them all the decks, the dining room and our cabins. It was dinner time so we decided to all grab and quick D1 and then head out together for some D2 and karaoke. We had a little food, met up with Magoo and headed out into Kobe with our new friends.
We all hopped on the subway and headed into the center of Kobe. Keith had never tried sushi before so all of us went to a local sushi bar to have some. I got some salmon, a tuna wrap and some salmon with cheese. Rieko was next to me and she really liked this sticky fermented soybean thing which she ordered in a roll. I forget the name but I remember the smell and the texture. Magoo tried it and really didn’t like it, as apparent by his face, so I decided to try some. I pulled away a little piece and it left a sticky trail behind it, almost like candy, except it was kind of smelly and tasted a little weird. Sorry Rieko, different strokes. But, Keith had a good first sushi experience and all the fish I ordered was incredibly tasty (not to mention really cheap) and we headed out full and happy.

We took a walk through Kobe to see the local Chinatown and then decided to find a place for karaoke. Anyone familiar with karaoke in the states knows that it’s usually a semi-embarrassing, often drunken, public event. But, the karaoke places in japan are much less embarrassing since you have a private room. So, even if you’re drunk or out of tune, only you friends will be able to make fun of you. We got to the place, grabbed a room and started picking songs. Koji knew some songs in english and was no karaoke novice. He sang a really good version of Imagine by John Lennon and It’s My Life by Bon Jovi. Not wanting to look like American wussies, Keith and Steve sang some Killers songs, Steve and I did Summer Lovin’ and Magoo and I did Semi-Charmed. The girls sang a song in Japanese and I san Girlfriend by Avril Levigne per Koji’s request. I can’t say I’m a big Avril fan but apparently the Japanese are all over that. She had almost a page and a half in the song choice book devoted just to her stuff.

After a hour in our little room our time was up and the girls decided to take us to this photobooth place to take pictures. We walked into the photobooth place and it was like a pre-teen bubblegum explosion. There were young Japanese girls dressed to the nines stepping into the photo booths and all of us piled into one. It wasn’t your average tiny photobooth but was about the size of a VW van. We took a bunch of pictures of the group - smiling, funny facing, peace signing. It was really fun and we had a good time being silly, enjoying the bubblegum surroundings and the 90s pop hits. After we took the pictures Rieko took us over to a screen where you draw on the pictures, add stuff to the and pick the background. We added hearts and space ships and hats and mustaches and ended up with a strip of the seven best pictures I think I’ve ever seen.

After photos we deiced to head to a local pub for a drink before the girls had to head out. We chatted for a little longer, took a pictures of all of us together and then the girls had to get going since it was a weeknight and they had class the next day. Koji said he could stay a little longer so we walked down to the pier to see the Kobe tower all lit up and the ferris wheel across the bay. Koji then had to head home as well so we decided to hop the subway back to the ship. It was pretty early but the guys wanted to go back to the ship so I tagged along figuring I could take an early night and maybe pick up some free wi-fi in the cruise terminal. But when I got off the train a whole bunch of my friends were on their way out and urged me to get on the next train with them and go dancing. I figured it was good luck, said goodnight to the boys and turned around and headed back into downtown Kobe.

A local club knew that there was a ship full of people wanting to party on a Monday night so they had passed out fliers outside the ship. As a result almost everyone was there and the place was crowded and very sweaty. My friend Taylor was on her way out as we were arriving and she gave me her wrist band so I could get away without the cover charge. I secured it with bubble gum and headed into the fray. The club was packed but everyone knew each other and we were all excited to be out dancing and drinking in Japan. I ran into Jill and Hannah and we danced and laughed in the crowded space. It was our friend Monica’s 21st birthday and we all celebrated with her as well. We would dance inside and then when it got unbearable hot we would hang out on the street outside until we were finally ready to head back into the heat. After a good night of dancing I split a cab home with my friend Peter and hoping to get a few hours of sleep before waking up to catch the shinkansen bullet train to Tokyo the next morning.

5.01.2009

camino seguro

The next morning I got up early to go on a service visit to Guatemala City with an organization called Camino Seguro, or Safe Passage in English. Founded by a woman named Hanley Denning in 1999, Camino Seguro works to help some of the most impoverished people in Guatemala City who make their living scavenging through waste at the city dump in order to find and sell scraps of recyclable materials. After sleeping during the two-hour drive to there, I awoke to look out my window and see zone 3 of Guatemala City, one of the worst districts, and home to the dump. Our first stop was the national cemetery. Unlike the trip I had taken in Vietnam, however, we were not there to see the graves of war veterans. Rather, we walked around the numerous mausoleums, through the cemetery, over to a spot which gave us a good view of the dump. Even though we were far above the area where the dump was, the stench was strong and stung at our noses while we listened. My friend Chas, who works as an EMT told us to put Vicks vapor rub under our noses so that we would only be able to smell the mint, a trick he uses when working with burn victims.

 There were vultures everywhere, crowding in trees, swooping in the sky and moving in giant packs as they picked through the garbage. Our guide, Freddy told us that 2,500 people work daily in the dump collecting items that they can re-sell to companies that will recycle them – like cardboard, cans and plastic bottles which they string together. Along with these materials however, they also collect food, sometimes rotten, to help feed their families. They would often have to eat vegetables or meat found in the dump, sometimes cooked over fires built by burning other debris, like plastic bags and rubbed with lemons. 80% of the people working in the dump are women and they earn as little as 7-15 quezals a day, around $1-2 US dollars.

Freddy then informed us about the dangers of the dump. The land on which it is built is incredibly unstable and as a result there have been many accidents where trucks, and people, have literally sunk into the ground. The people who work there also suffer from food contamination, have a risk of HIV and have skin and eye problems because of the constant exposure to methane gas. They wade through seven to ten thousand new tons of garbage daily.

After seeing the dump we then went to see the areas where the project is working to improve the lives of those in the community. Our first stop was the preschool, gym and food bag program. We went into the preschool to find about 50 children, all sitting on little benches at little tables, eating hearty helpings of rice and black beans. They were so adorable, all with big brown eyes, smiling and waving to us as they ate, many with plenty of black bean on their faces.We saw the beautiful playground they had out back, which was built by students at Washington University. There was a big wooden play structure painted with bright colors, a swing and a slide for the kids to play on. When you stood at the top of the play structure and looked out you could see the slums stretching out beyond the area, with barbed wire all along the top of the fence. It was such a juxtaposition to know that right outside the walls of this clean, positive place, there were miles of slums where they children would return home after school.

After seeing the playground we looked at the children’s classrooms and then went to learn about their food bag program. Until recently, children had also been allowed to work in the dump until child labor laws changed and made it illegal. Before the child labor laws were instituted many parents did not want their children to be a part of the program simply because having them in school meant one less person to work for food that day. In order to even out the loss of profit that a family would have from sending their child to school Camino Seguro started a once monthly food bag program where families would come and get a garbage bag full of rice and beans, as well as other staples like salt, oil, sugar and flour. This was the one day a month where bags were handed out and we watched people come and go, collecting their bags and walking back out towards their homes, often carrying the bags on their heads.

We stood on a balcony looking over the slums as one of the women at the foundation told us a little more about the economic climate and Guatemala and what the foundation is up against. Land distribution in Guatemala is strikingly unequal, with 2% of the population possessing 80% of the land. There is barely a middle class as most of the people are either very wealthy or living below the poverty line. And while a subsistence farmer living in the lowlands may be able to support his family on very little, the people living in Guatemala City were not able to adequately survive on the incomes they received from working in the dump. Plus, the nature of their work caused the people who work in the area to be discriminated against more than any other segment of the population. They were stuck in the cycle of poverty and it wasn’t easy to get out.

We then walked over to the second complex of buildings which included the facilities for the older children and adults. We learned about the new adult literacy program which was training the mothers of the children in Camino Seguro in basic reading and writing, allowing them to earn their 6th grade equivalency certificate, which is comparable to a US GED in the Guatemalan job market. The women who were enrolled in the program had also started their own jewelry co-op and have started to generate a lot of interest in their products and have begun to make a profit, allowing them to work less days in the dump and work full-time at home making jewelry. We learned about the women who had graduated from the literacy program and were now in training for higher paying jobs, like nursing our accounting, and others who had gotten work with Camino Seguro, teaching their peers or as the head chef in one of the kitchens. They also have self esteem workshops and social workers who come in and meet with the families once a month. The men in the community are starting to become interested in the programs too and they’ve just started a men’s literacy group.

After that we toured around the classrooms for the older children and were able to learn a little more about the program for ages 6-22. Since these kids are enrolled in public school half-day they spend the second half of their time at Camino Seguro, learning English, working on school work and also learning vocational skills and doing programs that promote positive personal values. They also have sports programs where the kids learn lacrosse, soccer and even break dancing. Finally, the kids are fed lunches and two snacks every day and Bayer pharmaceuticals sponsors a free clinic for the families of all children enrolled in the program. 

To be honest, it was overwhelming how incredible this place was. The buildings were clean and beautiful. They had outdoor spaces for the kids to play. They were working on not just helping the kids in the communities, but their whole families and making sure that they have the tools to be successful and get out of the dump. In just 10 years Camino Seguro grew from one woman from Maine with 5,000 running out of a local church to a 1.8 million dollar non-profit with three facilities, friends groups in the United States and Europe and hundreds of volunteers. I really want to look into coming down to volunteer for a week or a month and if anyone is interested in doing the same or just learning more about the program I would urge you to check out their website at http://www.safepassage.org

After we left the facilities we got back onto the bus to eat the bagged lunches they had provided us with for the trip. We were all given sandwiches, chips, cookies and a drink but not everyone wanted all of their food. Seeing all the leftovers, I didn’t want them to go to waste so we collected everyone’s unwanted sandwiches and such and gave them to Freddy to give out when he went into the dump later that afternoon. We drove away back through Guatemala City and I think everyone on the bus was asleep by the time we hit the highway.

We got back on the ship and it was strange to think that when I swiped my card it would be the last time I would swipe into the ship. The next time I get off the MV, it will be for good. They had a bbq for us out on Deck 6 and I sat with Keith, Magoo and Steve as they told me about their adventures climbing a volcano and I shared my stories over some really awesome bbq ribs, fruit and ice cream. YUM. It was so bittersweet getting back on the ship for the last time. I love coming back from a port and seeing everyone get together after being apart for a few days. Everyone hugs and takes time to talk about where we’ve been and what we’ve done. The community we have on the ship has been really great and I’m starting to realize more and more how much I’m going to miss it.

After dinner I responded to some emails, started on this blog and just hung out in the room until Rosaly, Taylor and I decided to go up to D7 in the front, our favorite place, to sit a talk and watch the stars. Ben Gelb, a hall director from UConn who is on the trip with his fiancé was up there and the four of us told Guatemala stories until he went inside. It was so warm and beautiful out and Rosy, Taylor and I stayed out talking and enjoying the ship until it got late and we got tired. On my way back to my room though I ran into my friends Chris, Mike, Peter and Monica and ended up staying up for another hour or so just talking and laughing with them. When I finally got in my bed I was exhausted and happy.

I’m going to try and write more frequently over these last few days on the ship. I want to hold on to everything that is going on and while they definitely won’t be novels, I think that writing will be good. So, expect some updates. Until then...