Category Archives: this time THIS year

Post-Egypt

A month later, hello.

I took some video of my self and my niece to post, and I ran so ragged that whole weekend it just didn’t get put up. Not having my own computer to hand always puts a kink in the works. It was tough, but we had a great time. She’s an absolute doll. Four days, only one bedtime meltdown: score 8.8. Then right on the heels came Egypt.

Egypt was incredible, but also the most challenging trip we’ve ever done. Obviously I cannot tell here about 15 days. Well, you wouldn’t want me to. So I’m going to leave you a list of my tips for anyone who might consider traveling to Egypt, and I think the story will come out from there.

• A tour is a great choice, even if you’re usually the independent type. You might be able to manage the same price for the trip on your own, but you won’t get it cheaper, and it will cost you in fatigue, headaches, exasperation and many moments of panicked uncertainty, time wasted as you try to navigate the country.

• Be prepared to tip. I had been told of this, but no one really gave me an idea of the enormity of this truth. I would recommend reserving 20% of your budget for tipping. Seriously.

• Research proper pricing for tipping (and anything else) prior to arrival, and prepared for a world of uncertainty and confusion. The travel world is full of admonitions about not overtipping and thus contributing to inflation and skewing the local economy, but none of us want to be cheap and fail to show our appreciation. And once there, it’s impossible to get a grasp on what’s appropriate. Because:

• As a tourist you live on a different economy. You just do. I finally forgave myself for overpaying at every turn against my better judgement when I noticed that – for example – museums will openly charge something like 7LE (Egyptian pounds, or $1.40) for Egyptians and 70LE ($14) for tourists. So fight the best you can, but accept that you’re at a disadvantage and can only do so much towards “not being ripped off”. Paying “too much” is a slippery concept.
• For tour guide tipping, we ultimately fell back on my brother-in-law’s excellent POV. “If there’s anyone I don’t mind possibly over-tipping, it’s the guys who have invested in their education to make a better life and who have made the hugest difference in making my trip enjoyable, educational and easy.

• Be prepared to be intimidated into tipping. People will glom onto you, offering you a service you don’t want or claiming to just be friendly. They may even be someone you “know” (like in one case, a guy who worked on our cruise ship), openly claiming not to be expecting any baksheesh (tip), thus convincing you it would be rude to refuse their “friendliness”. Then they will turn around and demand a tip. Don’t be afraid to be firm and say no, on oh-so-many levels. Nothing is for free; this is especially true in Egypt and it’s easiest if you know this ahead of time.

Buying:
• Egyptians will say with great surprise, “You mean everything in America is made in China too? No way!” I expected locally made goods because it is plenty cheap to produce there. But apparently they have very little industry infrastructure – which is why they thought America would make all of its own junk.

Speaking of Chinese junk, there are 3 tourist places to buy things:
(1) From hasselers on the “street”- Everywhere and assertive and off-putting. Some places you will be positively surrounded. And suspicion abounds about what they’re actually selling.
(2) No hassle shops – i.e. better papyrus and rugs stores, hotel souvenir shops. You pay a premium for the privilege of no haggling, but often it really feels worth it.
(3) Souks – Not quite as much hassle as street vendors, less suspicion of rip-off (though in fact at least as likely). I’m pretty sure I got hosed for fake spices, of all things. Note: We avoided the Cairo souk because we figured it’d be the worst. In the end it was the least ridiculous starting price/hard selling place we came across.

If you’re like me, you will mostly buy at #2, but at the end of your trip start to regret not buying from #1 (at least certain ones that stick in your mind). The hagglers are a pain in the butt, but you know what? Crushing poverty will make you assertive. Who knew? In hindsight, those people probably need it the most and I will wish I had bought from the sweet guys at Abydos, even if it’s stuff I didn’t need or even particularly want.
Call me abrupt, but this is long, so I’m going to declare “to be continued” (hopfully tomorrow).

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Let’s Censor the President! (warning: ranting outburst ahead)

If you read my blog you know that I try to stay away from politics. I’m not here to offend anyone. But if you read my blog, then you also know that I occasionally fail in that endeavor – and today is going to be one of those days. I am in such disbelief that I just have to vent. Feel free to disagree, but here I go.

I am absolutely speechless over the “controversy” of Obama’s upcoming back-to-school speech. Some Righties – actual government representatives! – are going along with and repeating the hysterical claim that his speech is going to “foment socialism”.

Now, at first I thought this was kind of humorous. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t heard that line again and again about everything Obama does for 8 months now. You’d think the man ran on a platform of mandatory toilet paper rationing and eating small children, so evil do they think he is (some loved ones included). But today I happened to watch the evening news to see that 6 states’ schools are actually refusing to air the speech based on that fear – and  some have come up with the brilliant “compromise” that they will tape the speech, see what it says and then determine whether or not to allow it to be shown!

I. Uh. Ahem. Wow. My breath is taken away. Umm, I can get if people are tired of hearing him speak. As my sister pointed out, Obama does make a heck of a lot of speeches and ask for a lot of airtime. I get that. I haven’t listened to him speak for ages myself. I like the guy and all, but I’m not wild about political speeches and I don’t like him in the way that makes me want to stare at him with a goofy smile and clap all the time. However, no one is saying, “we’re tired of hearing him speak.” No one is saying “we have important lesson plans to get to” or whatever. They’re saying he is going to say inappropriate things! What the…? Besides the fact that he’s not the first Prez to do this (controversy-free), do people realize they are talking about censoring the President?!

Let me say that again: they’re talking about censoring the President cause they don’t like his ideas.

Who is a school principal (or whomever) to judge that the President is going to say something inappropriate for kids to hear? We live in a de-mo-cra-cy. He was e-lec-ted. Elected, people. He didn’t conquer his way to the throne with guns and pestilence to force a take over. We put him there. This man has our nuclear codes – but now some of you think that he can’t be trusted to make a public speech to children? Give me a flipping break.

No really, please. Give me a break. At what point can we call a paranoia hysteria psychosis spade a spade? The right says, “But…but…there was a school plan where kids were supposed to write about what they could do to help the President”. Oh, horror! The President has the audacity to act like we are all invested in his success! That we should want to support the man to whom we’ve asked to run the country for the next 3+ years! How evil is he?!

Since when is acting as if constituents wish for a successful representative akin to some evil plot? Did I miss the part where the famous phrase, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” was a Communist motto? I’ve heard that phrase a lot, but never in a way that indicated it was “socialist propaganda” or anything like. I guess I missed the memo.

Now, I know a little something about disliking the President. But I’m pretty sure talk of censoring Bush for claims he would “try to spread Conservative ideals” (or, a truer comparison to the socialism claim, that he would “foment Fashism” or something of the like) would have led to cries of “Unpatriotic” and worse. You don’t have to like Obama. Really. It’s your right and it doesn’t matter to me personally. But can we at least aim for some semblance of mature debate? That’s all I’m asking. I think there are solid reasons to dislike Obama and some of his proposals, and I am open to them. But so far I’m mostly hearing hyperbole and conspiracy theories. At this point I am at a complete loss to see a line in the sand at which the country would collectively say “now that’s just silly”. Cause at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be one.

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For my friends

For those friends who read this blog to keep up with me when I haven’t seen you in a while, I’ve not been showing you much love here. Mostly I’ve just been enjoying a mild summer start in DC. A few museums, a few movies, some al fresco dining.

Yesterday I returned from the training Flight Attendants have to do every year. That’s right, every year we all go to our company’s base training center and get tested on reforming evacuations on every plane, plus CPR and other medical emergency requirements. F/As hate recurrent training – no one likes to go back to the Mother Ship, so to speak. Memories of Barbie Bootcamp linger for decades and we’d all rather avoid going back. However, the company puts together great training programs and once I’m there, and through with the long classes, I’m always glad that we have to do it.

This year the program involved 5 surprise scenarios. Out of a class of 20 or so, each of us are called once to be “crew” on one of the model plane cabins where we practice all this. The crew comes back in, we all pretend to be in flight, and some sort of emergency springs up. We’re then evaluated on how we handle the situation as a crew. And, if I may toot my own horn, I was selected out by the instructors as having preformed my particular assignment “the single best we’ve seen all year long.” (Score!) Am I a “super Stu” or what?

So one more year down, I’m back in the skies all refreshed, still hoping I never have to use any of it of course. Today I’m in NYC, having been released by work for the day, but I was already here last night before I got that notice. So I’ll go spend the night with my friend Wendy, as I’ve been promising to do. (I’ll say hello from those who know her now.) Hopefully I can get back to London/Brussels in the next few days.

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Highs and lows

When I turned 20 I was living in France for my study abroad. It was already then concluded to be the best year of my life. It’s hard to describe why, other than feeling like the world was made up of fellow 20-year-olds, situated on the beach of Southern France, inhabited by people that I thought were the coolest ever, and they seemed to feel the same. Everyone was interesting, smart, attractive, fun, interested in the same subjects, learning the same things together. It was like living with all of your best friends ever in one place, one without worries.

How depressing that was. My 20 year-old-self thought, “How can I live a happy life, knowing the best year is over!? Now I have to live 60 years (should I be so lucky) trying to not to look wistfully back.” Eventually I came to terms with that (I mean, after all, isn’t that the very definition of being 20? Thinking in dramatic terms that life could never be so good.)

Well, I am pleased to announce to my 20-year-old-self that my year in France has met its match in the wedding. Surrounded by people that I think are just the best, all of whom have gone through a lot of trouble to show up and demonstrate that they feel the same, all meeting each other at long last to make the connections I’ve long wished could be made – it’s the same as study abroad was. Sadly we couldn’t invite everyone we’d have liked, and it only lasted for days. But hey – at least we dragged it out that long! That’s the place that I wish Del and I could move to (you know, the place where all of our loved ones live. All together.)

Similarly, it seems cruel that we are now at home and – aside from the mess of suitcases and some boxes just waiting to be opened – it’s almost like we never left.

Everyone tells you that your wedding will go by in a blur. To take it easy, take a breath, soak it all in. Well, guess what? It’s nice advice, but it doesn’t help at all. Time is the trickiest of forces. You can pay close attention all you like, but he won’t be slowed or sped. He’ll bring everything you’ve waiting for, but he also promises to take it away. What a thorny friend.

My sweet sisters and best friend all seemed to have the post-wedding blues for me. I’m hoping they have taken the bullet in my place and that I can avoid the sadness that comes when most of the people you love most in the world have come together and thrown a big love-fest for you and then gone home. Like before, they’re now spread again to the 4 corners of the globe. I just can’t wait for the next wedding. Sister – you’re next up!

P.S. No wedding photos yet. We’re waiting, waiting…

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Married!

We’ve done it. After 18 months of engagement and planning, the wedding has finally come and gone and oh my goodness what fun it was. Let me just say this – we are so, unbelievably spoiled. In family, in friends, in generosity, in affection. At times, it kinda felt like I was in Disneyland, and there was some elaborate parade put on for us.

I so hate for it to be over but at the same time we’ve partied for five days now and I can’t wait for a full night’s sleep (hence, a super short post with little details as of yet). That’s right, it’s ended up being five days of festivities – you’d think we were Indian, doing it up for so long!

I just wanted to pop in and say “Yeay!” and to share what an unbelievably wonderful weekend we had, full of (most of) the people we most love, all together in the same place. If the attendees are to be believed, it was one of the most cryin-est weddings ever. But also one of the most fun (well, I’m judging that by the photos of certain friends streaking around the gardens at 5am!). I promise to be back soon with some photos and more details. Meanwhile, I hope this weekend, you all felt as lucky and loved as we did.

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My Book is out!

I have in the past been accused of “holding out on you”. This is true, although I’m not sure that this counts. No, it’s not any of my writing “pet projects” that I’ve been working on for ages (and will be for many ages more), but officially I am…wait for it…a book author!

That book is my master’s thesis. And although it’s not the first book I thought I’d publish, I am quite happy as it was a long road to get here.

After graduation I thought I was terribly lucky when the first academic journal I submitted to, accepted  it. Although I had to edit it down by half to match the format, of course I was happy to do so.  I completed the work and eagerly awaited publication. And waited. And waited. I received occasional apologies about the “delay”, but still nothing. And then I got “sick” and, well, whatever.

Fast forward a year. I get a email from them saying, “by the way, we need you to make some edits before we can publish.” I’m sorry – what?! After all this…and 3 weeks prior to Christmas (which I was especially looking forward to, having just finished chemo). Basically, I used my best diplomacy skills to ask for a little…more…from them (carefully avoiding the word “professionalism”). I never heard back. I never pursued. Good riddance.

Fast forward another year when, out of the blue, this German academic publisher emailed saying they’d seen a summery of my work and asked to see a full copy for review – if I had interest in allowing them to publish it. Suh-weet! And here we are.

So, for all of you who have just been dying to know all about Cultures of Mobility: New Global Nomadism, Third Culture, and the Influence of Study Abroad, well, your dreams have just come true. I know, you can thank me later.


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2nd Time’s a Charm

Let’s try again…Here are a few photos from my Pompeii visit (hoping the photos are worth all those words they’re rumored to be worth…).

img_4285 A model of the city in the Naples Archeology Museum, just to give you and idea of how big it was – 20,000 people’s worth. I never expected it to be so crazy huge.

img_4301 The museum has a room dedicated to Pompeiian “erotica”. (Keep in mind, however, that for them there was nothing dirty about sex. The phallus was a good luck symbol of prosperity, to the point that many houses had wind chimes depicting the theme and the only sign recovered from one of the bakeries featured a phallus, basically as the logo of the store.) I think this lady’s metal “bikini” is pretty rockin’- I can only think of Princess Leah!

img_4378 From “the Villa of Mysteries” – perhaps the best preserved upper-class home from this time period. It was located in the “suburbs” of Pompeii and has to be seen by anyone with more than a passing interest in this history/archeology. There are gardens, frescos galore and even a couple of recovered bodies (see below).

img_4327 One of the recovered “bodies” of Mt. Vesuvius’ victims. Whenever a cavity was discovered during excavations plaster would be poured in and left to dry, filling the space left by the body as it decayed. Pompeii has few bodies (nearby Herculaneum, a smaller and wealthier town, had many more) since most inhabitants evacuated to the beach, thinking they’d be safer there. In the villa above, a slave was found in one of the downstairs rooms where you could see where his teeth were, as his mouth was open when he died. These “bodies” are a heavy hit of humanism, so rare in archeology sites. It makes the place feel rather intimate.

img_4401 The brothel. Five rooms opened off the ground floor hallway, each containing a stone bed (a mattress would be placed on top). The walls were covered with – ahem – inspirational paintings. There was a 2nd story with several more rooms.

img_4417 A street with many store fronts and some swank houses. The walls are covered with political graffiti (as well as frescos). The raised stones you can see across the road were a pedestrian crosswalk – so the people could cross traffic as well as avoid the flow of water, waste and whatnot that might be gushing down the street.

We spent 4 1/2 hours there and had to hustle in order to just hit the highlights. I would totally go back again – this is a 2-3 dayer. This will tide me over at work for a while. I’m sure to be all smiles for a good bit.

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