About Me

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I'm just a stressed-out-perfectionist-not-so-average-cupcake-making-graduate-student-from-Kansas trying to find my place in this world.
Current Adventure: Interning for the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Washington, D.C.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Home Again

Sorry that I’m a little behind on blogging, but it seems like I blinked and instead still being on the beach in Hawaii I was in Kansas. And it was cold. But the holidays have treated me well; I’m catching up on sleep, losing a little bit of Semester at Sea’s potatoes, pasta and bread that seemed to have affixed themselves to my thighs, and getting all my ducks in a row for my next term at Dartmouth.

But back to Hawaii, San Diego, and the past two weeks:

Hawaii was great. The ship docked in both Honolulu and Hilo. Both were what I expected from Hawaii. Honolulu had long white beaches, swarms of tourists, and fancy stores and restaurants and resorts. Hilo was secluded. The people were laidback, and the movie theatre only charged one dollar per ticket. It was awesome.

Hawaii was so warm, and it seemed even better knowing how cold I was going to be in the coming weeks. Mackenzie, Carren, and I lay on the beach for the first two days in Honolulu. We had booked a room at the beachfront Mariott; it was so wonderful to sleep in a big comfy bed (even if Mackenzie bear hugs her bedmates all night long). The food was AMAZING. It was such an incredible feeling to be back in the United States (even if I was still thousands of miles from my family) speaking English, ordering my food in English, and knowing what I was going to get. No more surprises. The first taxi driver that we had must have thought Mackenzie, Carren, and I were crazy since we were getting emotional just over the fact that he was speaking to us in English.

In Hilo we made it to a black sand beach, saw HUGE sea turtles and saw a dollar movie. We didn’t do much besides hang out and do a little studying for finals.

The six days from Hawaii to San Diego were some of the longest of my life. My finals weren’t that bad, but it was hard knowing that Semester at Sea was about to end and saying goodbyes to people. My friends and I had a couple of balloon parties because my mom had sent me a care package to Hawaii filled with balloons and a couple of pumps. It helped to pass the time.

My dad surprised me by meeting me in San Diego! I felt so loved when I saw a bright orange “Welcome Home Emma” sign on the dock. My dad and I spent the day with Mackenzie’s family eating a delicious lunch and then touring SDSU, Mackenzie’s future college. It was fun, but I was exhausted by the time that we made it to the airport. Of course, I had to overstuff my duffel bag to the point that it ripped apart, so we had a quick run to target to get another duffel bag. I was a sight to behold, carrying oversized duffels, wearing a dollar Vietnam rice paddy hat with my camera around my neck and carrying stuff (excuse me, “treasures”) from around the world. A security guard took one look at me and started laughing. “Disney world, right?” My dad replied, “Try around the world.” To which she respond, doubled over with laughter, “Did you hear that Herald?? They think they’ve been around the world.” . . . Welcome back to America, Emma.

Life’s been good though since I’ve been home. I spent the first few days running around Missouri and Kansas giving presentations on my trip before coming home to collapse for the next week and a half. Christmas was difficult. I found myself getting frustrated with holiday shoppers; couldn’t they just send that money to Egyam Orphanage?? And then I found myself getting frustrated with myself for slipping back into old habits and mindsets. Going around the world was amazing—fantastic, educational, and it exceeded all of my expectations. But having seen and experienced what I have comes with certain responsibilities to do something about the injustices that I’ve witnessed, to tell others, and to never let myself stop caring about the humanity around the world.

I leave for Dartmouth on the 31st. I’m giving myself a few days leeway considering that it is wintertime and I don’t want to be stuck in Newark, New Jersey while my classes are starting. I’m going to keep this blog up and running for my future adventures around the world (next stop: London with my mom), and I’ve started another one for my daily life stories (which you know I have plenty of). You can find it at www.emmalovesherlife.blogspot.com. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Annnd...I'm on my way home!

Japanese security is even more intense than China’s. I was one of the first students in line to get off the ship, and it still took more than three hours to go through all of the stations. They took my picture, my fingerprints, scanned my passport, took a picture of each of my eyes. I felt like I was headed to prison, not just into downtown Kobe, Japan. But finally all of the interrogations were over and done with and Mackenzie, Carren, and I took the monorail from the port into the downtown area. It seemed like every other huge metropolitan area—sky rise buildings, fashionable girls, fancy boutiques. We were extremely hungry after standing in line for so long, so we headed into a little Japanese café. It was packed with locals, so I assumed that the food must be amazing. After standing awkwardly in the door for a while, the waitress motioned that we could sit down at the end of a long table, filled with a bunch of other customers. We did. We waited for her to come and take our order. She didn’t. Meanwhile, floods of people just kept coming into the restaurant. They would stop by this machine that vaguely resembled a juke box, put their money inside, push a button, and hand a slip of paper to the waitress before seating themselves. I got up and approached the machine; it was all in Japanese. Great. So, I put in a 1,000 yen note (about $12), pushed a button, got a receipt and handed it to the waitress. Mackenzie and Carren followed suit. About ten minutes later, we all got different meals. Mine had a steaming bowl of stick rice, a bowl of what might have been chicken, a side of tofu, fish soup with the fish still floating in it (even the eyeballs!), and some sort of drink that kind of tasted like those dirt pie milkshakes Vikki and I used to make in the backyard and feed to our grandma. Yum. It actually wasn’t that bad. I didn’t have the soup or the tofu, but the rice and chicken were very filling.

After lunch, we just walked all around the downtown area, occaisionally poking our heads into shops if something in the window caught our eye. We went to the Kobe City Museum, which was fascinating. We got the English guides so that we could understand the exhibits. Afterwards, we made it to a coffee shop, warmed up a bit, and headed to China town. I guess we just couldn’t get enough of China, so we ate at a Chinese restaurant for dinner.

The next day I spent mostly alone in Kobe because Mackenzie and Carren had headed for Hiroshima and Tokyo, and I had decided to go in-transit with the ship to save a little (a lot) of money. It was a really nice day though; I made it back to the same coffee shop where I picked up some free wifi and chatted with some Japanese girls. They were really nice, but the day went by too quickly and I had to be back on the ship to travel to Yokohama.

The trip took about 36 hours, and it was wonderful because I was one of the few students on board, so it was nice and quiet. I got a lot of homework and studying done since finals are coming up quickly after Japan.

Mackenzie met me at the ship as soon as the ship docked in Yokohama and we took the metro into Shibuya in Tokyo. Shibuya street is a crossing where at any one time, more than 1000 people can be crossing the street. It was crazy! I don’t even know where they all came from. Several times we just stood there to see all of the people cross, and then two minutes later, there were another 1000 people ready to cross. We walked for fourteen hours straight, and Japan is such an expensive country that I felt like I was being charged just to breathe their air. We walked up and down the infamous Harajuku street and around Shibuya street. It was just fascinating to watch all of the girls walk by in their high fashion. I felt extremely out of place. We decided that we had had enough of the raw fish over rice meals, so when we found a T.G.I. Friday, we jumped at the chance for a western meal. It was delicious. Afterwards, we found a movie theatre and saw Harry Potter 7.

The next day we spent in Yokohama. We went to the Raumen Noodle Museum, which really wasn’t a museum. . . .It’s hard to explain, but as soon as you walk in the door, you go down a bunch of dark and scary stairs to this underground world of Raumen Noodles. There were nine restaurants down there, and the wait time was anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours to sit down and eat. They were all decked out to look like 19th century Japanese villages—image a  Wild West exhibit…only Japanese. The food was good, the gift shop was ridiculously expensive, but I still got some cool noodle eating utensils.

The exit immigration/customs/I don’t know what they were doing took forever. We had to get another stamp in our passport, have our eyes, fingerprints, and pictures matched again to our passport, have all of our bags searched for what we bought…it was a nightmare because everyone waited until the last minute to come on board. On-ship time was 6pm, and at 5pm, 800 people were trying to go through these lines. It was sad getting back onto the ship in my last international port, but I’m also really excited to be home. Next time my feet are on land, it’ll be American soil.

These few days from Japan to Hawaii have been miserable. The ship is rocking and rolling and the swells are anywhere from 8 to 20 feet. I was seasick the first few days, but now I’m just uncomfortable. Hopefully it’ll die down soon, or my stomach will get used to living on a roller coaster. Mackenzie and I have had to take everything off of our dressers, because it just falls off.

Last night the ship crossed the International Date Line at midnight. So, one minute it was 11:59PM on Saturday, November 27, 2010 and then the next minute is was 12:00AM on Saturday, November 27, 2010. I went from being 18 hours ahead of Central Time to being 6 hours behind! It’s weird, and really hard for me to wrap my head around. By the end of the voyage, I will have been in every time zone in the world. ☺

We’re five days from Hawaii right now, so text me on December 3rd!  My phone will work .  . . well, if I can remember how to use a phone after not using one since August!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hong Kong and China :-)

I’m in love with China. Actually, maybe I’m just in love with Asia in general. When I was boarding the ship in Halifax, there was a mother and daughter behind me, and the mother was telling me how her nephew had done Semester at Sea several years ago, loved China and decided to move there. Now, he is living full-time in Beijing. I really didn’t understand why he would want to do that. I couldn’t imagine wanting to live anywhere in Asia, let alone China, which was supposed to be dirty, supposed to only have squat toilets (which is true for the most part), and be too. . . .something. . . something I couldn’t put my finger on. I don’t know what I thought; I just didn’t want to live there or even vacation there extensively. I always fantasized about living somewhere in Europe, volunteering in Africa or India, moving back to New Zealand, but never, ever did I contemplate living in Asia. Now, I’m so in love with everything Asian. The people are so friendly; they just smile at you, even if you can’t find a way to communicate with them. There really is a sense of community in China. My favorite thing to do here was to get up early and sit outside the hotel on a bench and watch as all the elderly people congregated to do group exercises. After they finished exercising, they would eat breakfast together and then play card games all day. Usually, they would still be hanging out at the park when we got back to our hotel room in the early evening before dinner. They were kind of like teenagers, just hanging out and enjoying life, hiding from their overbearing children. I loved everything about China: the food, the people, the buildings and the atmosphere. It was all amazing, and needless to say, I can’t wait to come back. I’m still not sure if I could see myself living here for an extended amount of time, but I know that I want to come back as soon as I can because one week is definitely not enough time to experience China.

The ship pulled into Hong Kong harbor very early on November 11, and it was one of the most spectacular views that we’ve had coming into port. I was up there bright and early to see the sun rise, and we were off the ship soon afterwards. For the first time, we got off in a terminal, much like an airport that took us straight into a mall, where Mackenzie and I, of course, stopped for coffee and delicious pastries—so good after four days straight of the monotonous ship cuisine.

Carren, Mackenzie, Ken and Marty (a lifelong learner couple), and I took The Star Ferry from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon Island, where we caught a double decker bus up to Victoria Peak. We walked around the top of the mountain for a while, taking in all of the beautiful scenery before grabbing a leisurely lunch at a local restaurant. We took the cable car down, which seems like it would have been a pleasant experience, but it wasn’t. The trolley went down backwards really fast, and it was really scary, not to mention that I had to go to the bathroom, so it was just really uncomfortable. Afterward, we just walked around for several hours, visiting the (free) zoo and the botanical gardens. The temperature was perfect—about fifty-five degrees and sunny. As much as I was enjoying Hong Kong, I don’t think my calves appreciated it, since the entire city seems to be built on a hill. I’m not even kidding, I’m pretty sure we walked UP hill the whole day, and my legs were so sore the next morning.

The Hong Kong night market on Hong Kong Island is one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen. It is so busy. There were thousands of people on these two blocks of streets, crowding into little tents to buy knock-off north faces and uggs, Hong Kong souvenirs, everyday items such as pots and pans, seafood that was still alive and swimming in small kiddie pools on the ground, and everything else that you could ever imagine. I didn’t buy anything; it was just fascinating to be there and feel all the life that is in that market.

On the way back to the MV Explorer, the three of us passed by a movie theatre that was supposedly playing the movie Life As We Know It, which we had all been talking about seeing once we’re back in the US. So, we decided to have a movie night. I specifically asked the man in the booth if the movie was in English, to which he responded yes, and then he took us to the posters so that I could show him which movie we wanted to see. He told us the time of the movie, we paid for our tickets, bought some popcorn (which came with fish balls—gross), and then headed for our theatre. I asked the movie attendant which way to our theatre, and he told us that the only movie playing that night was the action film Unstoppable, and sure enough printed in capital letters on my ticket was Unstoppable. I went to the ticket booth to ask the man who sold us our tickets why he told us we could see Life As We Know It and ask for a refund since that’s not the movie we wanted to see, and he said, “no English, no English, no English.” Sure buddy. You could speak English ten minutes ago when you sold us the ticket to the wrong show. We didn’t get our money back, and I actually ended up making it through the entire film without getting too scared, but needless to say, I did not enjoy it. Oh, communication barriers, how I love you.

The next morning I left with a Semester at Sea planned trip to Beijing. We drove an hour or so from the ship to the airport, where we checked in, grabbed some lunch, and boarded our three-hour flight to Beijing. We were fed some sort of rice with chicken in a really runny sauce on the plane, but given no utensils—not even chopsticks. We couldn’t make the flight attendant understand what we needed, so we didn’t really eat it.

The Beijing airport is amazing. It just opened in 2008 for the Olympics, so everything in there is still practically brand new. The first thing that I noticed when I stepped outside the airport was the cold, and I loved it. Everyone was complaining about it, but I absolutely loved it. The air smelled like fires and Christmas and everything about home. I wasn’t prepared clothing wise for such temperatures, but I managed to layer up and stay warm for the four days that I was in Beijing. Our group split up into groups of two where we got into treshaws, which are little carriages pulled behind bikes with three wheels, and we were each taken to a different home and family who had volunteered to have us over for dinner. My homestay mother was Mother Bai, and she cooked the most amazing dinner ever for us and even taught us how to make meat and veggie dumplings. She must have made ten different dishes for us to try. My partner, Rudy, and I spent a couple hours at Mother Bai’s home, drinking tea and eating with her and her mother—Grandmother Bai—and her sister—Auntie Bai. Their home was over five hundred years old and had been passed through the family for more than twelve generations. They had running water and electricity, but the only warmth came from a single fireplace on the ground floor. After dinner, the treshaw driver took Rudy and I to the hotel where we met up with all the other people in our group.

The hotel was really nice. That is something that you can always count on during Semester at Sea trips: a nice hotel and delicious food. I’ve never, ever stayed in as nice of hotels as I have while on Semester at Sea trips. Rudy was my roommate, which was fortunate since she lives across the hall from me on the ship, and we were already pretty good friends. The next three days were just really nice. We had no partiers in our group, they kept the tours small, the weather was cold (it was so nice not to be sweating constantly like we have in the past ten ports), and the sights were amazing.

Saturday morning we had to be up by 6:30AM, because the bus left at 7. We visited the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Silk Market. I managed to buy a winter coat at the Silk Market for ten dollars. It’s not high quality, but as long as it lasts me through Japan next week, I’ll be happy (I mean, I’m just happy it kept me warm all week in China!).  The Forbidden City was beautiful, but it was also really, really, really big. Apparently, we only saw about 5%, but it still took us almost three hours to walk that little bit. Then, we headed to Tiananmen Square before lunch at a buffet restaurant. The guide actually gave us the choice between some free time or going to an orphanage about an hour outside of Beijing where he volunteered at often. All twenty of our group members decided to go to the orphanage.

I’ve been to a lot of orphanages on this trip and even some before on previous mission trips, but this was the most depressing one I have ever been to. I know that a lot of it was how cold and dreary the weather was outside, but the facilities that housed the three hundred children (all under the age of 12) were incredibly inadequate. They only had running water every other day, and even though the dormitories were heated, no other building on their campus was. While the Semester at Sea students were playing soccer with the children, I walked toward the back of the property where I saw three kids—two boys and one girl—crouched in a back corner; they were digging a hole in the dirt. I crouched down next to them, and they handed me a little hand shovel, so I started digging with them. The girl kept throwing in little bits of tree bark and wood. It didn’t really register in my mind what they were doing until one of the little boys, who was probably about 7 or 8, took a melted down dirty birthday candle out of his pocket, ran away for a minute and came back with a flame, that I realized what was happening. It was really difficult for me not to cry right then as I watched them warm their little chapped hands next to the fire that they had made. The entire time we couldn’t say anything to each other because I couldn’t speak Chinese and they couldn’t speak English. But then the Semester at Sea boys started a tug-of-war game, and the kids ran off to help their team, leaving me staring at the flame as it flickered out.

We painted a huge mural alone one of the brick walls in an attempt to make the campus look a little cheerier. It was actually a really fun mural, thanks to several artistically talented Semester at Sea students. I, however, just painted in the lines that they had drawn.

That night we had the famous Peking Duck dinner. It was. . . interesting. I always try everything that is served to me, because you never know when something that looks like duck web jelly might be amazing. In this case, it wasn’t so amazing, but at least I tried it. I did enjoy the rice pancakes that we filled with duck meat and then rolled into a little burrito though.

Some friends and I headed to La Viva shopping center after dinner to get some warmer clothing and some time away from the big group. I decided that I really needed to get some warmer boots, so I went into a nice shoe store, asked to try on a pair of UGGs in a US size 9, and then the shop attendants laughed me out of the store.   Apparently, the largest size they carried was a size 6.5… who even wears a 6.5?? A third-grader?...I was a little bit humiliated that they were all laughing at me, so I just left and went and bought myself a nice hat and scarf set. It’s pink and very cute, and softened the blow that the Asian women thought I had monstrous feet.

The next day was the day that I have been waiting for so long—the day I got to see the Great Wall of China. First, we went to the International Kungfu School, where Jackie Chan learned Kungfu and where The Karate Kid was filmed. It was really neat to see the Kungfu performance, and they we all got a one-on-one thirty minutes lesson (so, watch out: I know Kungfu now!). But I was antsy the whole time to get to The Great Wall. Finally, after a hurried lunch and a 2-hour bus ride, we were there. I could see the wall running along the mountains almost the entire time we were driving, and it was breathtaking. We had to hike for about 25 minutes (a very steep hike!) up to the gondolas; I actually rode in the same car as Bill Clinton did when he visited the wall a couple years ago. It was just kind of luck of the draw, because we could only have four people in each cable car, and we had to jump in as it was moving.

Walking along the wall was surreal and invigorating, especially just imagining what had happened there over the years. The temperature was perfect for wearing coats and hats but not being freezing cold—probably in the high 40s, low 50s.  I walked along the top for two hours with a couple friends before we tobogganed down. It was so much fun!

That night we saw an acrobatic show, went to dinner around 10PM (I was so exhausted), and then headed to bed. The next day was spent primarily traveling from Beijing to Shanghai, but we did go and visit The Temple of Heaven and participate in a tea ceremony before we went to the airport.

Shanghai was very much like Beijing, and I loved it, especially since the weather was just a tad warmer, which made it much more comfortable for walking around. Since I didn’t go in transit with the ship from Hong Kong to Shanghai, I had to turn my passport in to the Chinese port authorities on the ship to inspect and stamp. They said that it would take a maximum on 1 hour to complete. I waited to get off the ship for almost four hours that night, which was incredibly frustrating. Some people weren’t allowed off the ship again until noon the next day! It’s so strange that the Chinese seem to have a handle on everything, yet it takes so long to get a stamp in your passport. I found it frustrating considering I had been in mainland China for four days and gone through customs and immigration in Beijing, but c’est la vie.

Mackenzie and I headed out for a late dinner after I finally got my passport back and was cleared for debarkation. The food left a little to be desired, and the way the bones were in that meat, made me think that it probably wasn’t chicken….but I didn’t ask any questions, because I didn’t want to find out that I was eating dog. We walked around Bund street, the infamous Shanghai historical shopping district. It was so beautiful at night with all of the buildings and markets lit up. We walked along the river where the ship was docked, just taking in the beautiful city skyline.

The next morning, we were up early and spent the day wandering through little streets, visiting with the locals, and eating dumplings off the street. I’m not exactly sure what was in those dumplings, but again, I didn’t ask. They were delicious though.

I was sad to leave China, but I’m sure that I’ll be back.  I’m also really excited for Japan! Today, we sailed by lots of little Japanese islands—even one that had an active volcano on it. If we had sailed by at night, we would have been able to see the lava pouring into the ocean. It’s pretty cool to go to school on the ocean; I get out of class for the best things—volcanoes on the starboard side, a pod of dolphins off of port side, crossing the very center of the world, etc. You know, completely normal events. . .

 Japan is our last international port. I’m disappointed that my adventure is coming to an end so quickly, but at the same time, I’m so excited to be home, where things are normal and consistent. Riiiiiight. . .well, maybe not—but at least I’ll have my family and old friends and old routines for a while. . . until I start my next adventure. ☺

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Too Much To Do But Too Little Time in Singapore

Singapore is hands down my favorite country that I’ve ever been to, and it is definitely my favorite port on the voyage so far. Something about the way everything runs so smoothly and so quietly impresses me; everything is SO clean. I was never afraid to use a public restroom, eat from any restaurant, sit on any bus seat—it was amazing and a completely different world from the last few ports on the itinerary.

Singapore’s port worked a little different from every other one that I’ve been to so far. Immigration was after we got off the ship, so my friends and I were off by 9AM, the earliest we’ve ever been cleared for debarkation. The port terminal looks just like an American airport, complete with a food court, little shops, and drug dogs. Semester at Sea had organized a shuttle from the port to downtown Singapore, so for $6 we rode from the ship to Orchard Street, the places where everything is happening in Singapore. It is five kilometers of huge shopping malls and restaurants. The streets are clean and full of people eating ice cream sandwiches made by putting a scoop of ice cream on a piece of wonderbread. I didn’t actually try it, but it seemed like everyone had it. The Christmas decorations had just been put up along Orchard Street, and even though it was 90 degrees and humid, shop clerks were wearing Santa Claus hats and singing holiday music.

The shopping was so much fun—I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much Hello Kitty apparel in my life though. It was everywhere! For lunch, I had the best pad thai ever. I can’t even describe how amazing it was. At lunch, my friends and I sat next to Elvis, a 60-year old artist with a massive mohawk. He said it takes him almost two hours every morning to sculpt his hair! He wasn’t too keen on talking, but he gave us directions to a good place to get fun Asian hair accessories and good Bubble Tea. ☺

I had to be back to the harbor front by 3pm, because I was meeting a lady from Singapore who used to work for several different NGOs in Vietnam to talk about the project that I am doing for my Servant Leadership class. Most of my group was able to make it, and she had some very valuable information for us about cultural things to be aware of in Vietnam (like never use the term “human rights”), and she is going to make a few phone calls for us. I’m still nervous about our project, since we really don’t have one yet and we’ll be to Vietnam tomorrow…but hopefully it will all turn out okay. We’ve been working on it since the beginning of the voyage, but contact after contact either turned us away, stopped responding to our emails, never answered, or gave us a project and then decided they didn’t want us coming. It’s really hard because unless we are registered with the government of Vietnam, we won’t be allowed to do any manual labor for any organization, so we have to stick to other forms of service. Mai, the lady we met with, says it will be fine and that the Vietnamese NGOs just don’t really use email, so really we should just show up somewhere and ask to help, and more than likely, they will let us. But I’ll let you know how that goes after Vietnam.

My friends and I then got really dressed up and headed to the Singapore Flyer, the tallest ferris wheel in the world for dinner. The food was delicious. We had salad, shrimp with a mango sauce, some sort of chicken, some sort of lamb, delicious vegetables, and then a cream cake with raspberries for dessert. But the view was what was really incredible; from the very top, we could see the lights of Malaysia to the north and the lights of Indonesia to the south. After dinner, I went with a life long learner, Pat, to the top of the Marina Bay Sands Resort—the tallest building in Singapore. On top of the hotel, there is a restaurant, casino, and an infinity swimming pool. We had to sneak our way to the top, though, because we weren’t hotel guests, but we really wanted to see the pool. It was worth it too—the pool really did look like it was falling off the side of the hotel.

The next morning, Mackenzie, Carren, and I took a taxi over to Sentosa Island to go up inside the Merlion. The merlion is Singapore’s official emblem—a cross between a mermaid and a lion. It wasn’t really cultural at all, but we climbed to the top (15 stories) and we were able to see all of Singapore up there. We spent some time walking around the island before heading back to the port to do a little bit of uploading pictures to Facebook, and then suddenly it was on-ship time and we had to leave.

We definitely did not have enough time in Singapore. I feel like I barely scratched the surface of it (as I feel in every country), but I enjoyed it so much. I enjoyed just being able to relax and not having to worry about whether I would get sick from the food or get malaria from the mosquitoes or worry about the street children. It was just a really fun place to visit and get recharged for the rest of the trip through Asia.

This day in between Singapore and Vietnam was a reading day, so we didn’t have class. I seriously slept for more than 20 hours, only waking up once for about 30 minutes to eat a little something. I had no idea how tired my body actually was. In a few hours, we’ll be entering the Mekong River and traveling up to Ho Chi Minh City; I’m going to get up by four, because apparently, we’ll be seeing little fishing villages on either side of the river as the sun rises and we come into the city.  I’m excited for the next week in Vietnam and to get outside my comfort zone once again. ☺

Saturday, October 30, 2010


I could smell India before I could see it. I could taste India before I could see it. I could hear India before I could see it. And when I finally saw India, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to get off.

It must have been about 5:30AM, right before Mackenzie and I were getting up to watch the sunrise as we pulled into port that I woke up with the strangest taste in my mouth. It tasted like incense, spices I couldn’t recognize, and fire. It smelled dirty. It tasted dirty. My eyes burned from the dusty cloud that surrounded the MV Explorer as we pulled in. I was incredibly uncomfortable, nervous, anxious, every emotion imaginable washed over me. While originally I had said that I was most excited for India because India seemed so intriguing to me, over the past few weeks I had been getting nervous about it. So nervous that I was close to tears the entire week from Mauritius to India. Frankly, I was tired of seeing all the poverty, tired of being the tourist, and just plain tired. I haven’t seen anything familiar for almost 10 weeks now, and it is just exhausting to have to constantly be adapting to new places, new cultures, and new environments. When we pulled in Chennai Port Harbor on October 22nd, I would have gladly kept going to Singapore if I had had the option. India smelled, tasted, sounded, and looked scary and foreign. Really scary.

Looking back on the past week in India, I’m still not really sure whether my fears were justified. I saw things that I did not want to see—things that no one should have to see, let alone the people who are actually experiencing these gross atrocities. But in the midst of all of the poverty, the hurting, the hopelessness that seemed to have imbedded itself deep within the eyes of the street children of India, there was beauty—at least physical beauty. The first day I thought that in India, poverty exists without any form of dignity. I was comparing it to Ghana where even though the people had basically nothing, they still walked tall and proud and did not beg for handouts. That was much more rural. In India, the streets are lined with dying beggars, mutilated children, and starving animals. But when you talk with the people and just see how they carry themselves, you realize that it is not their fault and life, for them, still goes on, no matter how difficult it gets. The women wear the most amazing rainbow array of saris. The people still smile and wave, which alleviated a bit of my fear.

My first day in India, I spent working in a Dalit Village. The Dalit caste of people in India is more commonly referred to as “The Untouchables.” These people are the lowest of the low. They have nothing and are given nothing. Although the caste system was abolished in 1947, it still permeates every bit of everyday life in India. It is still nearly impossible to marry outside of your caste or rise above your designated station in life.

Twenty Semester at Sea students boarded the bus after a harrowing experience with Indian security. The Indian security guards check your passport and Indian visa at least 4 times between the ship and the port gate. They also carry huge guns, and every time you pass them, you are required to show documentation of every electronic product you have on the ship. It was ridiculous. But we made it to the bus. I was sitting in the first seat, and as we drove along the road towards the Dalit village, which took about an hour and a half, tears were just pouring down my face. I think it was just a lot of nerves from the week prior when I was stressing out over India combined with the sheer destitution of a lot of the Indian people. The people just lying on the dirty sidewalks waiting to die is what really struck me. When we got to the village, everyone was waiting for us. Since I was first off the bus, I bent down to pick up a child. It was a huge deal, apparently. We were all herded a long the road in a parade of women wearing brightly colored saris, children clamoring to be near us, and men banging on every instrument they could fine. I kept being pulled to the front of the line. When we got to the site where we were going to be painting and planting flowers, there was a huge makeshift tent set up with cloth thrown over trees. The leader of the village pulled me to the front so that I was facing everyone. There was a huge ceremony where they blessed us and gave us garlands of sweetly smelling flowers. The village chief presented me with a ceremonial scarf/robe that I wore for the rest of the ceremony (and got to keep), and then he talked about the caste system and how it really dominates Indian life. He asked me to explain why I didn’t mind touching the children, and I got to talk about how God loves everyone and that no one is better than anyone else. Then, the village chief leaned over to me and said, “You’ve touched one child, now you’ve got to touch them all.” So, we were paraded through town, and everyone brought their children and their elderly out to see us. We spent all afternoon speed painting, getting to know the beautiful people of this village, and holding children.

The most moving experience though for me was when an elderly woman pulled me down a dark alley into a cramped, dark, one-room home and all she kept saying was, “baby, baby, baby.” When we I got into the room and my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see a small baby, lying on a dirty towel in the center of the room. She had eyebrows drawn across her tiny face, wearing a lime green dress and nothing else. There was a 10-year old girl in the room who translated for us from Tamil to English. They said that the baby was newly born, although I’m not sure how old she was—possibly a week or two. The baby’s mother couldn’t have been older than I am, but both she and the grandmother insisted that they name the baby Emma after me. They lit some candles and started chanting in Tamil. Then, I was whisked out of the room and onto the bright streets again. The instant transition from dark to light gave me a headache and the dots blurring my vision left me wondering what exactly just happened. As we were leaving on the bus, the grandmother held the baby up and called out my name, waving.

My picture did appear in a few local Tamil-Nadu (the province where Chennai is located) newspapers and magazines. In one I was putting the first stroke of paint on the building during the sort of groundbreaking ceremony and in the other I was having the scarf/robe put around me by the man in charge of the organization that brought us to the Dalit village to paint.

The next morning, I left very early on a flight from Chennai to Delhi. We had a sort of boxed meal on the plane, and as soon as we arrived, the first thing I noticed was the lack of smothering and oppressive heat. Fortunately, the week prior there had been a huge snowstorm in the Himalayas, which pushed a cold front down to Delhi. It was only about 70 degrees the entire time we were up north. We did a city tour where we went to Hunayan’s Tomb (the inspiration for the Taj Mahal) and Raj Ghat, which is Ghandi’s memorial. I loved Ghandi’s memorial; it was just a simple black slab of marble with an eternal flame. As a sign of respect, we all took off our shoes before walking around it. A park surrounded Raj Ghat where children played and families picnicked. It seemed like the perfect tribute to a man like Mahatma Ghandi.

We stayed in the most exquisite hotel I’ve ever been in: Le Meridian. I understand that they are all over the world, but apparently this one has one awards for how beautifully decorated it is. I was on the fifteenth floor with a roommate from Rockford, Illinois, Amanda. Dinner at Le Meridian was disappointing though; they served us American cuisine and the main dish was beef. I didn’t realize until afterwards how incredibly disrespectful we must have seemed to the primarily vegetarian north that basically worship cows.

All of us had to meet at the bus to make our way to the New Delhi train station for a 5AM speed train to Agra. Walking through the throngs of people sleeping outside of the train station was difficult. These people weren’t begging, they were just sleeping. I felt like I was intruding on their home, and really I was. Entire families laid with a single blanket over them. Children stared at us with bleary eyes. It was heartbreaking. Ever at five in the morning, the train station was crowded with commuters and tourists alike trying to make their way to Agra.

The train was an interesting experience. We were in first class seats, but even so, cockroaches scuttled out of my seat as I sat down. The air conditioning didn’t really work, but that was okay, because it really wasn’t hot at all. I slept for a lot of the ride, but what we did pass through was just underdeveloped towns and farmlands.

Agra was an interesting experience. As soon as we arrived, we were whisked out of the train station, which was even more crowded and dirty than the one in New Delhi to the buses. If I hadn’t already had my heart broken for India, this would have done it. As soon we exited the train station, beggars mutilated in the most horrific of ways swarmed us. I would write more about what I saw, but it just makes me cry to think about it, and really, I don’t think that I can convey nor could someone who hasn’t seen it, understand it. It really is just that incomprehensible.

We spent the day touring a few places like Agra Fort and Fatepur Sikri, both forts of different rulers of India. Then, after lunch, it was time to visit the fabled Taj Mahal. Of course, there were hawkers everywhere outside of the gates, making it almost impossible to move towards the security checkpoint we need to go through. At one point we were riding in a tiny bus, and when we were stopped for just a second, the door opened, a small child jumped in, and then we were off. He made his way through us trying to sell us a couple postcards. On one hand, it was endearing the way he approached us, but on the other, it was horribly disturbing to think how many times the child had jumped in and out of moving vehicles to sell these old postcards to tourists just so that his family can have a little bit extra money.

The Taj Mahal is just as beautiful as everyone says it is. I actually did gasp when I saw it at first. I just stood there feeling completely overwhelmed by the magnificence of the monument and of the love the Shah Jahan had for his wife when he built this tomb for her. I really did cry, but not because of the Taj Mahal, more because I was standing there looking at it alone. Sometimes it is so exhilarating to be experiencing all of this, but other times, it is sad to think that I’m experiencing it y myself and not with the people that I really love. I was able to go up there and touch the Taj Mahal and I got a lot of really great photographs. But for the most part, I just saw and looked at it and watched the marble change colors as the sun went down.

The train back to Delhi was uneventful, and I fell asleep as soon as I got back to the hotel. The next morning, I flew with the group to Varanasi, the holiest city for Hindus in the entire world and especially in all of India. It’s also supposed to be the oldest city in the entire world. Varanasi was the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had. The airport was tiny for the amount of pilgrims who supposedly come through the city every year. I think that the little hanger where the skydiving plane took off from in South Africa was nicer. Driving through the streets of Varanasi was incredibly stimulating, and the drive to our hotel, which was significantly less luxurious than the last, did not last long enough. Our van had a musical horn, which sounded kind of like an ice cream truck, announcing the arrival of American tourists instead of popsicles.

That night we got into the neatest form of transportation there is: the bicycle rickshaw. We had two people per small seat that was attached to a bicycle. The man driving my rickshaw darted into oncoming traffic, crossed right in front of big buses, and never once used his breaks. It was like a carnival ride that lasted for more than 30 minutes. The rickshaw drivers left us at the banks of the River Ganges, the holiest river to Hindus. There we sat with the tens of thousands of others who come every night to watch the ceremony of the river. The men performing the ceremony stood on pillars, chanted, and waved incense sticks. I watched from a rickety old boat, anchored just a few feet from the short. I bought a small floating candle from a beggar girl that she lit for me and then I set into the water. You are supposed to make a wish as you let the candle go.

The next morning, however, was the real reason why the people go to Varanasi. At dawn, we were all in little boats rowing down the river. Right as the sun rose, thousands of Hindus flooded into the river to bathe in the holy waters. It was fascinating to watch the process of prayer and bathing that they performed every morning. The intense and overwhelming part of the morning was the cremating of the dead. In India, people want their bodies to be cremated in Varanasi and then have their ashes put into the river. The smell of burning bodies, the site of bodies shrouded in a bright orange cloth, and the sight of mourning families out in boats placing their deceased’s ashes in the water. To see and smell and experience this in front of me and then turn behind and see the people bathing in the same water behind me was shocking. I can’t really explain all of the emotions that went through me as I took all of this in, but it brought tears to my eyes and I’m still wondering if I’ll get the smell of Varanasi out of the back of my nose.

After a couple hours on the water, we transferred to our vans to go to Sarnath, the place where Buddha gave his first sermon. We didn’t spend much time there, but it was interesting and relaxing to spend some time away from the reality that is India. It was interesting to me that in all of these places like Raj Ghat and Sarnath, there was such beauty and serenity, yet right outside, there was such chaos and hurting and poverty. It boggles my mind to think about the disparity between the two.

The flight back to Chennai via Delhi was uneventful, and we didn’t make it back to the ship until past two in the morning. Mackenzie and I were up by 6:30 on the last day, ready to make the most of our last day in India. Unfortunately, most shops didn’t open until at least 11, so we really should have stayed in bed for a little while longer. The autorickshaw driver took us to fancy stores when we told him we just wanted to go to the market, because he would get money every time he brought tourists to them. Eventually, we made it clear to him that he had to stop doing that to us, and he took us to a very reasonably priced sari shop where I got a beautiful red chiffon sari to wear to the Ambassador’s Ball in December. Chennai was ridiculously hot and stifling, and so, by 8AM we were drained, but we kept going. The driver took us to a temple (again by “accident”) and we humored him by going in. It was actually extremely interesting because there was a wedding ceremony going on in the courtyard, which we got to observe from afar and then the temple also ran a soup kitchen. It was annoying that as we left, they, of course, harassed us for money. We gave the soup kitchen as much as we could, but not nearly enough to satisfy the hawkers harassing us.

We did make it back to the port, and I was so happy to see the ship. I ran on board, showered, and called my parents with the minutes Mackenzie had left over on her phone (I have the best roommate). It was emotional to call my family (for the first time in a couple months) right after India. After all I saw and heard and smelled and experienced, I just wanted to go home. But now we’re off to Singapore, where cleanliness and strict laws awaits me. I’m still processing everything that happened in India; hopefully by the time I get home, I will be able to articulate more how I felt and what I saw. But really, as my Global Studies professor said, “There are two kinds of people: those who have been to India and those who haven’t.” I’m not so sure how I feel about being in the new group, because now I can’t go back to who I was before I got to India. It isn’t possible. The chaotic mess than is India will change you more than anything else will--hopefully it changed me for the better.

P.S. I cut off my hair. I figured that I’m going to be so different when I get home, so I might as well cut my hair, and what better time than after India? I really love it though—it’s very stylish and sophisticated.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Spring Break?

Mauritius: Semester at Sea’s “Spring Break”—the European “Hawaii”—the “most beautiful place in the world.” For me, Mauritius was very underwhelming and not like this at all. Of course, the beaches were absolutely gorgeous, but the rest of the island was definitely not what I expected. I knew that Mauritius was a third world country, but I guess I still expected it to be blue water, white sand, and coconut trees all around. It wasn’t. There were tin shacks everywhere. Many people on the island live without access to electricity or running water. The streets and market places are littered with garbage, sewage, and rotting and overripe fruits and vegetables. The streets are unbelievably crowded. All sorts of strange smells were present. Yet, if you walked only half a mile towards the beaches, there were (only) 5-star resorts, an upscale shopping mall, and restaurants where an entrée costs most than the monthly salary of a Mauritian teacher. I guess I was just expecting paradise, and when I got there I just found real people who live and work and survive in a real environment where hardships still exist and life goes on despite the tourists sitting on the beach, drinking their pina coladas as the sun goes down.

We arrived in Port Louis, Mauritius bright and early on Thursday morning. The customs officials boarded the ship as soon as we docked and they informed us that they were requiring each of the 900+ passengers on our ship to file through with our passports to get our entry visas. Fortunately, after the first 100 people, they decided that that “random sampling” of students, life long learners, faculty, and staff was enough and we were all free to disembark the ship. Mackenzie, Carren, and I got of the ship quickly and boarded a water taxi (an old motor boat that ferries people from the port to the center of the city). It was not a very far ride, but if we would have walked, it would have taken almost an hour. We were first on a quest to find an ATM so that we could get Mauritian Rupees (the exchange rate was 30 rupees to $1USD). The walk was not difficult, but there is a lot of traffic, and since they drive on the opposite side of the road than we do, we had to be paying pretty close attention to where we were walking. We met a taxi driver named Isshaud who agreed to drive us around the north end of the island to all of the places that he deemed worthy of seeing during our short stay and then we would end at the beach. He was a fabulous guide. He took us to the infamous Jummah Mosque, several different cathedrals and Hindu temples, the Mauritian citadel, and the post office. Since we only had 2 days on the island, we were pressed for time to get our postcards and stamps.

Isshaud took us to Grand Baie beach. It was very small, but it was perfect for what we had in mind: laying in the sun and reading. We did go swimming for a bit (so far I’ve swum in the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Indian Ocean), but we spent most of our time soaking up the sun. We ate lunch at a Chinese/Mauritian restaurant. It was so delicious—I had some sort of shrimp over rice covered in a red sauce with coconut and pineapple.

The three of us made it back to Port Louis a little after 7:00PM. We headed to Namaste, a really nice Indian/Mauritian restaurant. It was amazing. Mine was very spicy though and ended up giving me a very bad stomach ache. I thought that I would make it out of Africa without ever getting sick from the food, but since Mauritius is still technically Africa, I failed. Lame. Maybe I can escape all of Asia (south, southeast, and east) without getting sick?

Mackenzie has an Iphone that can make calls via Skype to US-based cell phones and landlines. We found a wifi hotspot, so we were able to spend a few minutes calling home before we headed back to the ship for a few hours sleep.

Friday morning I had to be up with the sun because I was on a Semester at Sea service trip to Terre De Paix Children’s Shelter in Albion. Only 6 students showed up; I guess the rest were too hungover from their one night of “spring break.” The drive to the children’s shelter was not too far, but it took us an hour and a half because we were going right in the middle of rush hour.

Terre De Paix serves children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse.  It is not an orphanage, like we were told prior to going there. The children are all in foster care, but this foster care is not run by the state. Although the education system in Mauritius is “free,” at least 20% of the kids there are not in school because their parents cannot afford to buy the books and uniform. The classes are so big that 1/3 of the students who are in school fail out by age 12. The rest fail out by the time that they are 15. Terre De Paix is also classified as a “special school” and they try to keep the “problem” children in school and learning. They do a series of workshops that help kids with their creativity and expressing themselves, as well as teaching them the regular subject in small groups of 6-8 students and in their language, Creole. That is one of the biggest problems is that school in Mauritius is taught in either French or English, which most of the children don’t speak so they become disengaged at an early age from the classroom.

We were able to go to several of these different workshops. I made a mask out of papier-mâché with the 5th graders, learned a Creole poem with the 6th graders, and learned about agriculture in Mauritius with the 3rd graders during my day there.
Here is the Creole poem that I was taught:

Si pena ou, pena nou
Si pena nou, pena ou
Ou se nou, nou se ou
Ou ou ou
Nou nou nou

It basically means that without other people, I cannot become a person.

We were also able to go to the day care/preschool that Terre De Paix runs. It was the most beautiful, state of the art preschool/day care I have ever seen. It was just built with money donated from the EU and it was amazing. Everything there is run off of solar panels and with water collected during rain. There are bright fun murals everywhere. They have little walled gazebos surrounding the main building where the kids learn to play instruments, play with paint, etc. All the little kids were gone on a field trip, but the babies were there so we got to see them for a while. This day care is free and is only for the poor women who can’t afford any help, especially single women who have been the victims of sexual assault or whose boyfriends have left them when they became pregnant (a huge problem in Mauritius). Soon, Terre De Paix will be building a new building for the older children, which they are very excited about.

I brought another one of the One World Futbols that one of the professors brought onboard with him. They are indestructible soccer balls made out of the croc shoe material. They are named after the song by Sting, One World. The children were SO excited for this soccer ball, and they even knew the song and sang it for us.

After we left the children’s shelter, Mackenzie, Carren, and I headed for some good Indian/Mauritian lunch. It was delicious! We got a HUGE tray of naan, different curries, rice, some veggies, and a bottle of water for less than $4 USD, AND I didn’t get sick from it. It was a much better deal than the night before. We found a little grocery store down one of the side streets, so we bought some snacks for our 6-day crossing of the Indian Ocean to India, and then we grabbed a water taxi, and headed back to the ship.

Apparently, most Semester at Sea students just stayed in villas and drank the whole time—so much so that Mauritius has asked Semester at Sea to never port there again. I was so embarrassed to be in any way associated with these people. Most of them are just treating this as a “booze cruise” or a party around the world, which is ridiculous. But then again, these are probably the students whose parents are paying for the trip and the ones who have daddy’s credit card to foot the bill. We did not even have our post-port reflection groups last night like we usually do after a port because so many of the students were still drunk, and the administration was going crazy trying to figure out how to deal with them all. More than 100 Semester at Sea students got “dock time” for not being back to the ship on time—this means that they’ll have to stay on the ship while everyone gets off in India. For every 15 minutes you are late, you get 3 hours of dock time. However, according to a lot of professors who have been on Semester at Sea, India is a big wake up call for the students. Hopefully that happens because these kids are getting ridiculous.

I really did like Mauritius despite the fact that it was so different than I expected. I enjoyed the day at the children’s shelter and our R&R day at the beach. I wish we could have had at least one more day there, so that we could have had time to make it a little further into the island. We only have four more days until we are in India—let the second half of the trip begin! ☺

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Life in South Africa

**I apologize for the delay in posting about South Africa. I got really sick after we left Cape Town, and I am just now recovering. I also had all of my midterm exams and papers due in the past few days. I learned so much though in Cape Town, so I hope you enjoy reading this post!

South Africa was a difficult port for me. Right outside of the ship was one of the most luxurious and upscale malls I’ve ever been to. Think: Frontenac in St. Louis. The stores ranged from Gucci to Louis Vuitton, and there were no budget options. Even the coffee shops charged upwards of $8USD for a latte. But most of S. Africa does not live like that. Most live in little “shanty town” townships on the outskirts of the city. The V & A Waterfront where the MV Explorer was docked is just a facade for the rich tourists and the small community of white South African elites.

One of the challenging parts for me is that I really did enjoy going to the mall and using their free wi-fi to skype Ben and instant message my mom. I’m sure you’ve all seen the new photo albums on Facebook, all courtesy of the free wi-fi at Myatt’s Chocolatier and Café. You should have seen me when I went into a grocery store for the first time in two months. It felt amazing. There were so many options. It was so good to just go and buy shampoo and granola bars. But the second I stepped outside the waterfront though, I did not want to go back to the luxurious mall. . . to the fancy and expensive meals. . . to our own luxurious ship where stewards make your bed and fold your clothes. I felt so guilty.

The first day in Cape Town was one of the best I’ve ever had. My friends and I got up at 4:00AM to watch the sunrise over Table Mountain as we pulled into the Cape Town harbor. It was beautiful. We all had to file through the faculty lounge one-by-one starting at 0545 to have visas issued. By 9:00AM we were cleared by immigration and ready to disembark. But then we had to listen, unfortunately, to the American diplomat in Cape Town who was such a jerk. He’d make comments like, “if you get into trouble, run and let them catch the Germans. It’s less paperwork for me.” If he would have said it once, it might have been funny, but he said it over and over and he was clearly not joking. One of my good friends on the ship is German and she was definitely not amused. He scared everyone to the point of not wanting to get off the ship.

Mackenzie and I braved it though to go get money from the ATM and meet the man who was going to take us skydiving. You probably don’t believe that I did it, so that’s why I made sure to upload some photos before we left Cape Town to my blog of my sky diving adventure. The man picked us up at 11:00 outside the Cape Town Aquarium. We were so nervous. Well, I was at least. Mackenzie seemed a little less nervous, and she managed to keep the conversation going between the driver and herself. I was just trying not to throw up. The place was about a 45 minutes drive from the port. I was a little nervous since their headquarters was just an old, dilapidated building in the middle of a field. But I signed my life away to them anyways. My tandem jumper’s name was Gerry. He hooked me into a harness and then suddenly we were walking towards this little plane. Gerry decided that he and I would go first, so Mackenzie, her tandem jumper, and her camera guy got in first, followed by me and my crew. There were no seats. We all sat on the floor between each others’ legs. On the 25-minute plane ride up to the 9000 foot altitude where we were going to jump, the pilot took us over Table Mountain and Robben Island. The view was breathtaking…too bad my breath was already busy trying not to hyperventilate, so I wasn’t able to take it all in properly. Suddenly, the pilot gave us a two-minute warning, Gerry started hooking me in, told me to sit on his lap and then he scooted us over to the door. He had me hang my feet out of the plane, tip my head back, he rocked a couple times and then he hurled us out of the plane. It was exhilarating. It didn’t even cross my mind to think that we were about to die. Our free fall was just under 40 seconds and then we had 5 minutes once the parachute came out to enjoy the view. Gerry let me control the parachute. We spun around a bunch. It was fun, but I was pretty nauseous on the way down. I actually landed on my feet, when we finally came in for our landing. But once Gerry disconnected me, he had to hold me up for a few seconds because I was shaking so badly. I think I’ll do it again though—it was amazing.

That night I went with a group of girls and guys from Bible study to Hillsong S. Africa. It was amazing. Considering how recent Apartheid is, it was so awesome to see people of all races worshipping together. There were at least 5,000 people in the auditorium, a huge worship band on stage, and we heard sermons from 3 different pastors. As soon as the songs started though, I was a huge sobbing mess. Something about not having church for almost two months and being there at 7pm which would have been right when my family was at church in Kansas just made me super emotional. They were really good sermons though—very pertinent to our trip. The people were so welcoming too.

Lonyae, Mackenzie, and I went out to a very nice dinner afterwards. It was Italian food, but since we still had a week left in the port, we felt that it was okay to skip out on the South African dishes and go for some delicious pasta. We were especially celebrating the fact that we had jumped out of airplanes and survived. ☺

Day two was also an amazing day. Kate, Lonyae, and I went up to the top of Table Mountain. We took the cable car, which was $30 well spent. Some people hiked to the top, but you have to pay a guide or else you are really risking getting mugged somewhere a long the way. It is a four hour hike up and then four hours down, but we did it in 4 minutes up, an hour at the top, and four minutes down. The cable car spins as it goes up to the top so that you get a panoramic view of Cape Town. Desmond Tutu had told us to raise our hands at the top of the mountain and say a prayer since Apartheid is now over, so we did. The view at the top was breathtaking.

The three of us came down about lunchtime, so we found a fish and chips restaurant to eat. Lonyae and I had to be back to the ship at 3pm so that we could leave for our home stays. The township where I stayed was Tambo Township. It was much more upscale than some of the ones we passed on the way. In this township, everyone had a brick home and electricity. Not everyone had running water, but the family that I stayed with did. They did not have a water heater though, so they heated water for baths by boiling it on the stove. They had electricity, but they only turned it on at night. 

Mama Irene was my homestay mother for the night. She was the wisest, funniest, and most amazing woman. She told us all about South African life for the black communities. She told us about the injustices of Apartheid—she was never allowed to learn to read, she was forcefully displaced from her home and relocated to a township where they slept in an old box turned home. Something that I noticed right away going into Tambo Township was the distinct lack of men. I asked Mama Irene about it. She said that the young and middle-aged men never had proper role models, nor were they encouraged to become upstanding citizens, since to the government they were third-class citizens, so they all left. They drink. They get the girls pregnant. They leave them. They eventually contract HIV/AIDS. They die. Mama Irene says that she never wants her daughters to marry because that age group of men are horrible. So, all of her daughters live with her, unmarried, with all of their babies (two were younger than a month old).

Mama Irene used to run a daycare for children who had lost one or both of their parents to HIV/AIDS in the townships. She was the township mother and spent a long time nurturing all of the children. One of her daughters is actually a dancer who runs a non-profit organization, which keeps the kids off the streets and away from drugs by teaching them dance and giving them one square meal after school everyday.

Mama Irene cooked each of us a huge plate of bean stew with a hunk of some sort of meat in the middle. She said she killed it in the field. Yum? We drank lots of rooibos tea and for breakfast, we had big steaming bowls of porridge.

Three of the granddaughters latched onto me, and they dragged me around from house to house to show me off to their friends. Mama Irene gave them a couple rand to take us to the little tuck shop on the corner to get popsicles. In the morning, Mama Irene woke us before the sun was up to say goodbye to all the grandkids before they left for school. She kept saying that the “school bus” was coming. Turns out, the school bus is actually a pickup truck and all the kids from the township just pile in the back.

I didn’t want to leave, but eventually I had to. That afternoon Mackenzie showed me the spot where she had gotten wifi. I decided to go for a few minutes, but my mom was on the chat, so I ended up staying for several hours to chat with her. I got a few pictures uploaded, did some journaling on my township homestay and got to bed early.

Wednesday was a busy day. I volunteered at the Amy Biehl Foundation Trust. Amy Biehl was a Fulbright Scholar who had gone to South Africa to help in the struggle against Apartheid. Unfortunately, she was murdered in a riot by four men who did not realize that she was there to help them not oppress them. They just saw her as the enemy for being white. Her parents did an amazing thing though. Through the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, which Desmond Tutu started, her parents came to South Africa, forgave the young men, asked for their release from prison, and then started the foundation, which reaches thousands of youth and families daily in the townships. They have music programs, they run schools and orphanages, and they run feeding programs. Two of the men who murdered Amy now run the foundation, and they were our guides for the day.

When I realized after watching the short informational clip that they had the volunteers watch that our guides were two of the men who killed Amy Biehl, I was a little uncomfortable. It was hard to figure out how to interact with people who murdered another human being—violently. She was stoned with bricks and then stabbed. But eventually, it got easier to interact, more comfortable. One of them showed me pictures of his two-year old daughter. Whenever we went to a different feeding site or school program run by The Amy Biehl Foundation Trust, the kids would flock to these men. According to most of the directors at the different sites, these guys have dedicated their whole lives to making Amy Biehl’s dream of a future for the black communities come true. It’s still weird to think about, and I’m definitely still processing everything that happened that day, but it was an eye-opening experience.

We went to three different Amy Biehl sites to do work. The first was a huge community garden at a primary school. Each child has his or her own plot of land, and they are helped to cultivate it and to grow certain vegetables. All the food goes home to their families. The second one we went to was an after-school program for kids to keep them off the streets and out of trouble. The third was another after-school program, which teaches dance, choir, and different musical instruments. The students performed for us; they were so talented!

Somethings that struck me as a little off key were the differences between the South African children and the Ghanaan children. I know that my experiences in both countries are not comparable at all, but the children in Ghana totally still have my heart. They were just so excited to be with us and thankful for the things that we brought with us. The kids at these programs run by the Amy Biehl Foundation must get a lot of tourist visitors because they were constantly demanding that we give them our watches, hats, cameras, etc. If we said that we couldn’t, they’d try to get us to give them money. Some of the kids would hit us if we said no. It was heartbreaking to see—they had to learn all of the violence somewhere. But it all goes back to what Mama Irene said about the lack of positive adult role models for the young kids because of the AIDS death rates, the lack of men in the community, the number of orphans due to anti-Apartheid violence. It is a vicious cycle.

Lunch was also good. We went to a local Xhosa restaurant where we basically just ate huge piles of braii (BBQ) meat with our hands. They do not use utensils there. . . or napkins. Of course, it was delicious, and thankfully, my stomach did not suffer any ill effects.

Thursday found me at the Inverdoorn Game Reserve about three hours outside of Cape Town. I highly recommend it to any one going to Cape Town who isn’t able to make it up to Kruger National Park for a safari. We left the ship before sunrise, got to the game reserve about 10AM. We had about a two and a half hour game drive. It was absolutely incredible—so, so, so amazing. I saw cheetahs, giraffes, rhinos, zebras, lions, buffalo, spring buck, hippos, and many colorful birds and snakes. We had the most delicious meal I have ever eaten for lunch (quiches, fresh veggies, flatbread “pizzas” with caramelized onions and green olives, delicious dark breads and mango juice) before we piled back into the vans to go back to the ship. We stopped for a bathroom break at a rest stop and they were playing the Lion King soundtrack. . . it was amusing.

Friday was, sadly, our last day in Cape Town. Mackenzie and I headed over to The Green Market to buy some homemade crafts from some of our township homestay mamas. The walk there and back was so pleasant. We stopped for samosas and Milo (3 samosas and a big mug of Milo for seventy-five cents!). We basically just wandered around for the whole day. We ate a delicious lunch of these South Africa burrito/wrap things. They have braii (BBQ) sauce, pineapple, chicken, and cheese inside of them. I was starting to feel really sick, so we went back to the ship in the late afternoon, and the ship left about 6:00PM from the port.

I would definitely return to Cape Town in a heartbeat. It is a beautiful city. South Africa is a beautiful country. And the people are beautiful and full of so much resilience—especially all the women like Mama Irene. South Africa was really the first place where I had seen such great wealth and great poverty side-by-side. Of course, I was upset in Ghana when they took us to the nice restaurant after driving us through all the shacks, but South Africa is vastly different. South Africa has HUGE displays of wealth everywhere, yet they also have the poorest of the poor. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that South Africa is a wonderful country, but a divided country that is slowly progressing. I agree with him, and I also agree that things are changing—even Mama Irene said that they are, and she, of all people, would know.

We arrive in Port Louis, Mauritius tomorrow morning—the weather? lows of 75 and highs of 88 for the next two days! I’m headed to the beach first thing in the morning and then the next day, Mackenzie and I are going to an orphanage to do some cleanup work and interact with the kids.  I’ll be timelier in getting the Mauritius blogpost out, I promise! ☺

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I don't have time to compose a post for you, but I thought I'd share some sky diving photos while I have the internet access. My roommate and I went sky diving the first day in Cape Town. It was amazing. Best of all, I survived! :-)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mmmm Fish Guts

The voyage from Takoradi, Ghana to Cape Town, South Africa has been exciting!

First of all, our stabilizers are broken. So, the ship violently rocks day-in, day-out. They’ve been broken since somewhere between Casablanca and Takoradi, but they weren’t able to get them fixed in Ghana, so we have to wait until South Africa. I have been wearing my anti-seasickness patches, which have really helped, but I still feel a bit nauseous all of the time. The only time that the rocking is nice is when you are sleeping. When I get home, it’s going to be so hard to sleep in a bed that doesn’t move.

On the 26th, we passed through the center of the world—0 degrees by 0 degrees. Apparently, one of the geography teachers begged our captain to veer off course a couple hundred miles so that we could all cross the point where the Prime Meridian and the Equator meet. We had a big huge party, stopped the ship on the line, where everyone put their feet in the northern hemisphere and hands in the southern. I was in four places at once!

Then, on the 28th, we had Neptune Day. Neptune Day is actually supposed to be the day that you cross the equator for the first time, but for some reason, we did it two days later. About 6AM, the crew, professors, and life long learners came through the halls dressed as sea creatures (well, more like sea royalty…think little mermaid … only without the mermaids) banging on pots and pans and drums, clanging cymbals together, banging on doors, etc. All of us pollywogs were instructed to go to the 7th deck. Once up there we met “King Neptune” aka our executive dean and we had to have fish guts poured on our heads, swim through the murky, nasty, fish gutty swimming pool, kiss a giant Atlantic Salmon, and then have our heads shaved. I did all of the above except shave my head. Once we went through the disgusting obstacle course, we were christened as Emerald Shellbacks and allowed to pass into the Southern Hemisphere (which we had done two days prior). Then, we had a big huge BBQ. It was pretty cool to BBQ in the middle of the ocean.

We’ll be in Cape Town in 2 days, so I’m off to plan more exciting adventures! ☺

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Miracles in Ghana

I wish I had another few weeks to spend in Ghana. The people were so welcoming and friendly. Everyone wanted to shake our hands and greet us, and they all wanted to put their baby in my backpack for me to take back to America. When they asked us why we came to Takoradi, Ghana (which is not a tourist destination at all), it was embarrassing to try to explain, “oh, we’re on a trip around the world” when they’ve never left their little village. Most times I just said that we are 600 university students coming to Ghana to get to know the people. They seemed to like that answer.


The Ghanaan port was not like any of the others we’ve been to so far. When I stepped off the ship, I was instantly enveloped in a sticky, humid heat, smells that I did not even know existed assaulted my nose, and instantly I was swatting giant mosquitoes away. I was praying that they wouldn’t bite me and infect with Malaria, or worse—Dengue Fever. I actually hopped on a Semester at Sea bus immediately for my city orientation tour of Takoradi and Sekondi, the twin cities of Ghana. To be honest, I didn’t notice the difference between the two. The homes that lined the roads were made of scrap pieces of wood nailed together. Most didn’t have a door or even a fourth wall, but somewhere on each house there was a huge sign that said something like “God is Good” or “Praise God” or “God Gives Blessings To Us.” People were stark naked, bathing on the side of the road. Women carried huge baskets on their heads, full of all sorts of miscellaneous goods, including giant snails. In the tour bus, I felt conspicuous. Since they never have tourists to Takoradi and very few people even have little cars, a huge tour bus was very unusual. Children ran after us yelling, “white men, white men,” and everyone stopped what they were doing and waved at us. I was offended that the bus drove us through all of the poverty in Takoradi and Sekondi and then took us straight to a gourmet restaurant (the only restaurant in the two cities) with air conditioning. I could not eat I was so upset over what we had just seen.



I had been planning on going to the Egyam Orphanage independently, maybe taking a couple friends with me for the three days we were in Ghana. Two days after we left Morocco and numerous emails between myself and the orphanage director, I realized that the children at the orphanage didn’t have shoes, and since they didn’t have shoes, they weren’t allowed to go to school. So, I got up in front of the Global Studies classrooms (the one class that everyone is required to take), and asked for donations of shoes. I was not allowed to ask for money, but between people leaving it under my door and handing it to me on the sly at meal times, there were 52 pairs of shoes donated (the exact number of children living in the orphanage) and about $800. Then, my email inbox was flooded with students, life long learners, and professors asking if they could go with me. I put together a list of about 20-30 people each day. At first I was worried that there were too many people, but there were so many orphans that we needed that many people in order for every child to feel like they got some individualized attention.


The second day I was in Ghana, I got up early with my roommate Mackenzie and a couple other girls, and we went to the market to exchange the $800 USD into Ghanaan cedis. We then went through the market buying shoes of all sizes. We ended up taking over 100 pairs of shoes, new socks and underwear for everyone, toothbrushes and toothpaste for everyone, and lots of school supplies (crayons, colored pencils, books, paper, pencils, pens, etc.) We were also able to pay for all the children’s school fees, buy paint for the building (we couldn’t actually paint it for them because it rained everyday), and give them a donation of over 500 cedis (about $300 USD).


While we were in the market, children followed us. By the time we finished 2 ½ hours later, we had an entourage of more than 20 kids. I made a really bad decision and bought a bag of lollipops from a street vendor. Instantly we were swarmed—but not just by children. Old men and women pushed their way through to us, trying to grab the entire bag of suckers. It was frightening, and the police had to break up the riot that we created. I felt horrible. All I wanted to do was give the kids a sucker.


Getting to Egyam Orphanage the first day took forever. It is only 20 kilometers from the ship, yet it took us more than 3 hours to get there. We started walking from the ship to the port gate at 12:45. It was pouring rain, and a shuttle bus offered us a ride, which we accepted. This driver even offered to take us all the way to the orphanage, which he assured me, he knew where is was. He didn’t. We stopped for directions more than 10 times, and then he took us to the wrong orphanage. He ran inside, and came back out and said, “Don’t worry. They said they’ll take you.” I called the orphanage director who explained to the driver where the orphanage was. He said he was unable to take us that far…even after we paid him 60 cedis between ourselves (about $40—a small fortune in Takoradi). So, we piled into taxis, but not before our bus driver ran into another car as he was driving on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately, no one was hurt. The taxis charged us 20 cedis per every four people each way. Everyone was complaining to me about the price, but really, they paid less than $7 USD to go to an orphanage for the day and play with kids. Is it really that big of a deal?


We had to drive for about 10 kilometers on a dirt road to get to the orphanage. It was pouring rain, and the road was full of pot holes. Our taxis got stuck numerous times in the red African mud…sometimes, the water that we drove through was so deep it would touch our windows. As we drove along this dirt road, I saw poverty like I’ve never seen it before. I don’t even think that the US media would put this up for fear of offending Americans’ delicate minds. Children ran around practically naked. No one had shoes. Most of the homes were just a piece of tarp strung between two trees. Everyone came to us asking not for money, but just for food. All I had was a granola bar, but the taxi driver wouldn’t let us give it to them because we would cause a riot.


The stressful trip to the orphanage was totally worth it though. The children were so excited to see us. Many had never seen a white person before, and so they just wanted to touch our skin (trying to rub the paint off) and play with our hair. They were all obsessed with our cameras, and they loved being able to see their pictures. We unloaded all 105 pairs of shoes, toothbrushes, and toothpaste, and then we just played with the kids until the taxi drivers came back for us around 7 pm. We were able to serve the children their dinner—a scoop of rice with some gravy on top. Pitiful.


One ten-year old girl, Mercy, asked me to come to the girls’ bedroom to speak with her sisters. But when we got there, there actually weren’t any other girls in there. Mercy then told me that she was the one who actually wanted to talk with me. She asked me to teach her how to be smart so that one day she could be a pilot. Then, she offered me her earrings as a thank you gift for coming to visit them. When I said that I couldn’t take those from her, she started crying and asked me what she did wrong. So I took the earrings. Luckily, I had a pair in my purse that I could swap her for. She was so excited about her new pair of earrings. After that, she was my shadow—always following me around.


The children who lived there were so precious. One little boy, Nathaniel, was only 3. He always wanted me to be holding him, and he would cry every time I put him down. The first day, he peed all over me. Cecillia was 7 and was the biggest goofball. She was always dancing and trying to make everyone laugh; she had just lost her first tooth. Florence was 5. For the first two days that I was at the orphanage, she never once spoke. She just sat on my lap and smiled. On the last day, she started talking. It was the first time she had spoke since coming to the orphanage, and she said to me, “I love you.” I cried, and so did everyone else because she had finally spoken. They had actually thought that Florence was mute.


There are so many children there, and every single one of them captured my heart and made me never want to leave.


The second day went a lot smoother. We only had 17 people with us, so Daniel, the orphanage director, was able to take us back to the ship in his van. It was a van meant for 8, but we made it work. We brought so many stickers, coloring books, crayons, colored pencils, books, and paper with us that day. Since it was raining, we spent the majority of the day coloring and drumming and dancing.


We actually had the opportunity to go to the village school, where more than 780 students attend, but they only have 10 full-time teachers and 3 part-time teachers. The children were so excited to see us. We each went into a different classroom and “taught” a lesson. Basically, we were just asked to talk about where we were from in the US and then the students asked us questions. Five children from the ship came with us, and it was neat to see them interacting with the students at the school. When we were leaving the school, all the students followed us as we walked back to the orphanage. We must have been a sight: 17 American students walking down an African dirt road, followed by 800 elementary school kids clamoring to hold our hands and have their picture taken with us. The kids who live at the orphanage were proudly telling their friends that we were their Americans.



The last day in Ghana was an emotional day. First it started out very stressful because people who had never emailed me about wanting to come with me showed up, so instead of the 22 that I was expecting, there were more than 40 students. Then, they were all arguing with the taxi drivers about the price of the trip. I almost flipped out on all of them—if they weren’t willing to pay $7 each for the day, then they shouldn’t have been there. Those taxi drivers had to drive their cars down that horrible road, getting stuck several times, so we definitely should have been paying them more. Besides, they have families to feed, and $7 definitely isn’t a big deal to most, if not all, of the students on the ship. When we finally arrived at the orphanage (all 10 taxis), students just started grabbing kids and taking pictures with them. I got really frustrated because I felt like they were just coming so that they could say that they did their service project for the ship, they’ll take their picture with an African orphan for their facebook profile picture, and then they’ll leave, probably without even getting the name of the child they grabbed to take a picture with in the first place. People were coming to me, complaining because they weren’t going to get lunch, since we were gone from 9AM-3PM. Seriously, they could stand to miss a few meals. The orphans didn’t get lunch either.


Most people left early (some even took taxis back without a full cab, leaving us stranded in the middle of nowhere Ghana without a taxi—we had to send one taxi to go find a couple more because of all the inconsiderate people who left without letting anyone know).  After the majority of the people left, the rest of us actually played and had fun with the kids.  


It was definitely an emotional goodbye. One little boy that I got close to, Samuel, wouldn’t let go of my leg as I was getting into the taxi. He was just crying and screaming, “Take me with you. You can be my mother. I promise I’ll obey!” It broke my heart. After that, all the tears I had been holding back came, and I was one big sobbing mess. I got out of the taxi, and all the children rushed to me and we had one very long group hug, which eventually and unfortunately had to end.


On the way back to the ship, some friends and I stopped by the market to say goodbye to some of the street vendors whom we met earlier in the week. Once we were back on the ship, I just slept. I think that I would have slept for a week if I could have. Ghana was emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausting, but I can’t wait to get back there, especially to Egyam Orphanage and all the children.



Friday, September 17, 2010

6 Days in Morocco

I’m not really sure what I can say about Morocco. I loved it. I hated it. It was an adventure.


On September 9th, the ship ported in Casablanca. The Casablanca port is vastly different than the one in Cadiz. In the Cadiz port, we walked for maybe 1/10 of a mile and then we were in the beautiful old cobbled streets of Cadiz. We felt safe walking there. In Casablanca, we had to walk for almost two miles to get out of the port. There were cars, semi-trucks, and motorbikes everywhere. Really, only a few traffic laws exist in Morocco: 1. go! and 2. don’t get hit! So every time we ventured off of the ship, we were taking our lives into our own hands just trying to get out of the port.


The first day I did not have to deal with the traffic that much, since as soon as we disembarked, I was on a yellow, Moroccan school bus bound for the SOS Children’s Village. Before we got to the orphanage, we made a stop by the only private school in Casablanca: The George Washington Academy. The school obviously catered to the privileged Moroccans, as the parking lot was filled with shiny BMWs, Porsches, and the like. The children were all well behaved, well dressed, and they, apparently, were taught four languages at the school—all of which they had to prove fluent in to pass from junior high into high school. Then, we boarded the bus again to head to the SOS Children’s Village. The disparity between the prep school and the world outside it was stark. We drove past barefoot and dirty children who were chasing after their mothers who carried huge baskets of over ripe fruits and vegetables on their heads, saw little old men sitting in rags on the side of the trash-filled streets, and witnessed men working in their dry, rock-filled fields along side their starving donkeys. It was heartbreaking to see the normal, everyday lives of the Moroccans.



Eventually, we made it to the orphanage; the children were so happy to see us. As soon as I got off the bus a little girl, Aziza, ran up to me, lifted her arms so I’d pick her up, and started kissing my face. She clung to me for the entire day that we were there. Another little boy, Rasheed, smiled at everyone constantly. His home “mom” told us that he was actually sixteen, and he was suffering from a severe liver disorder, which will soon claim his life. He smiled at me, and I did not know what to do, so I just smiled back. One of the couples on the ship donated a One World Football to the group home. The soccer ball is made out of the croc shoe material, and they are virtually indestructible. They even gave one to the tiger at the Johannesburg Zoo in S. Africa, and it still didn’t pop.  No one wanted to leave to go back to the ship that night. Aziza cried as I left, and so did I.


The next morning, I had to leave bright and early for my camel trek. My group took a bus from Casablanca to Marrakech. I thought that the traffic in Casablanca was bad, so I was in for a rude awakening when I got to Marrakech. Traffic was ten times worse. The first place we went was the Old Medina. That was an assault on all of my senses. There were monkeys running around trying to steal your purse for their owners, there were snake charmers and people trying to put a spell on you, there were owners of the little stores pulling you into their stall and trying to force you to buy their goods, there were motorbike plowing their way through the crowds, and there were donkeys and goats running free. It was loud. It was smelly. It was scary. But I survived. It was kind of like the Missouri State Fair—only really, really frightening. Once I got acclimated to the people, everything went a lot smoother. I had to be really assertive, because the store owners would even reach into purses to grab the money they wanted and then they would throw whatever they were trying to sell you at you.


Even so, Moroccans are very friendly; they want to offer you mint tea (which we couldn’t drink because we were not sure that the water had been boiled completely) and talk about America. But then they’d try to offer the guy that we were with (my girl friends and I always had a guy with us), a few camels for each of us. They were usually serious.


That day we ate such good food. For lunch, we ate couscous and for dinner, a lemon chicken tagine. We even got to see a belly dancing show during dinner. Moroccan desserts are amazing. They are always so light and fruity—sometimes the waiters would just bring us orange slices sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. So delicious.


The next morning, we set out almost before the sun was up to drive to the nomad camp. We were on the bus for more than 12 hours. Within a few hours we were in the Sahara Desert, and since our bus’s air conditioning did not really work, we were roasting the entire time. It was totally worth it though. We drove through the Atlas Mountains, and I saw the most beautiful views I have ever seen. I saw little Berber villages carved into the side of the mountains, and when the bus passed through the little villages, the children would come running out to meet us. The bus driver said that the children rarely see cars, and that they have probably never even been in one. Before we went to the nomad camp, we drove about an hour out of the way to a place where there were big dunes. The dunes were breathtaking. They look just like they do in the pictures. I climbed all the way to the top of one really big dune, and slid down the other side.


The nomad camp was a very .  . . interesting . . . experience. There were camels everywhere. The Berber nomads were dressed in all white robes and they did a little performance for us of some of their traditional songs and dances. They even made us a really yummy dinner. We all slept outside under the stars, although I moved back inside my tent during the night because I woke up shivering from the cold. I woke up before sunrise so that I could watch the sunrise over the Sahara and the dunes. It was amazing.


By 6:30 that morning, we were all on camels, ready to begin our long trek. When they said that our trek would only be a few hours, I was really disappointed because we had driven so far for this. However, after 20 minutes on that camel, I was done. It was the most uncomfortable thing ever. It is nowhere near like riding a horse. Even today—4 days later—I’m so sore I can barely walk up the stairs. After the camel trek, we cooked lunch with our nomad families, and then we piled back into the bus for our 12-hour trip back to Marrakech. We did not get back until really late, but some of my friends and I went back to the market to see what it was like at night. I did not think that it was possible, but the night market is even busier than during the day! We all ate on this rooftop terrace restaurant, where we could observe the craziness below.


My roommate at the hotel had left the trip early to go stay with some of her other friends in Marrakech, so I had my room all to myself that night. It was nice, but it was also a little lonely. The air conditioning did not work in my hotel room, so it was very, very hot.


The next morning, I went with the same group of friends to the Gardens Marjelle in Marrakech. The garden was actually pretty little and there were very few flowers, but it was shaded, cool, and quiet. If I had to live in Morocco, I think I’d spend all my time there because it is the only place you can get away from all the car horns and people yelling in Arabic. My friend, Erica, and I were parched when we got there so we decided to sit in their café and have some ice cream. It was the most expensive ice cream I’ve ever had ($10), but it was so delicious and we got a free COLD bottle of water. Cold as in some of the water was still frozen. It was totally worth it, especially after four days of drinking warm water that we had brought with us from the ship.


The ride back to Casablanca was uneventful. I was so thankful to see the ship though. Sometimes during that trip, I thought that we’d never make it, that we’d get stuck in the desert and have to travel by camel to Ghana. But we made it, and I got to sleep in my own bed that night.


The last day I spent with Carren in Casablanca. It was actually my favorite day because Casablanca is such a booming metropolis that guys and street vendors really did not bother us. Carren and I just walked around the downtown area. We did some shopping, and then ate lunch. It was the best meal I had in Morocco, hands down. It was a chicken chawarma with an amazing sauce and veggies and french fries with spicy honey mustard and a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice that had a hint of rosewater. So delicious. And then Carren and I had ice cream—of course. It was a bad experience though. This random guy started following us and would not leave. He was so obnoxious, and he followed us for a good three blocks before we made eye contact with another guy who pointed to a store. We took it to mean that we should go into the store, which we did, and then the other guy started talking to our stalker so that we could get away. By the time we got away our ice cream had melted all over us and our shopping bags. It was sad.


I did not have the same feelings when we left Morocco as I did when we left Spain. While Morocco was fun, eye-opening, and full of adventures, I was too exhausted to want to stay longer. I’m sure I will go back though, especially to see Aziza and the rest of the children. But for now, I’m off to plan my week in Ghana—only 4 days until my next adventure.