Thursday, October 18, 2012

voter apathy

it's election season, people! and we are in the thick of it. with only a few measly weeks left before the big day, things are really heating up on the national stage. one can barely even listen to the news these days when all anybody wants to report on is which candidate gave which speech where and how everyone reacted to it. i, like many others, am looking forward to a return to normalcy, after things have all died down and we can get back to focusing on the words and actions of more than just 2 people. like, the rest of the world and all the news-worthy things that are going on.
anyways, i suppose i should be grateful i live in a democracy and, if nothing else, have a chance to write whiny blog posts about how the system is broken. which it is, and that's what i'm doing. part of the reason i can do so is that i have all this free time on my hands due to being underemployed, like many recent college graduates find themselves these days. and the other part is the first amendment. i like one of these things much better than the other. you can figure that one out for yourself.
i haven't heard as much about voter apathy in this Presidential election as i did in previous ones, but i know it's there. maybe the reports on voter apathy have been waylaid by all the hubris over voter fraud (that non-issue that was blown up in a arguably key states). i can't talk about that too much or i'll let this be overtaken by my political leanings, which is not the purpose of this post. i'm sick of people taking up individual grievances about the candidates. when are we going to take up a mass grievance with the system?
voter apathy is a plague, and i've got a few suggestions on how to treat the symptoms.

1) fix the electoral college
anecdote: i actually had a well-educated, card-carrying voter joke to me the other day about how funny it would be if one candidate carried the electoral lead but lost the popular vote. who would win the election? my misguided friend quipped.
maybe he was in a coma during the Bush-Gore debacle.
the point is, not all of us were paying attention in 9th grade government class when it became clear to me how flawed the system was. because you can win the popular vote but lose the election. it happened. and whatever reason the system was put in place MANY MANY years ago, it is shocking that it has not been rectified all these years later. ESPECIALLY after the Bush-Gore debacle. if you were trying to explain the electoral college to someone from another country, once you got to the part where you actually had to say "the person who gets the most votes doesn't always win" they'd think you were joking. or seriously confused about what this whole "democracy" thing means.
if people are going to vote, they want to feel like their vote counts. a great way to make them feel this way is by having their vote count. you know, for an overall tally. because swing states shouldn't be the sole focus of the candidates during their last precious days of campaigning, election after election. issues should.

2) bust up the 2-party system
America's government is in desperate need of a face lift. of some fresh air. how many years can we see the conventions, where each party polarizes, and the swing during the debates where each candidate misrepresents his views to appeal to the moderate "undecided" voter? what's the point of working so hard on the party platforms is you have to dance around them later, then explain them away anyways? over and over again, people make the complaints about having to choose between 2 candidates that basically offer the same views and ideas presented just a little differently. and they're not wrong. whatever the candidates' individual views may be, they are usually not manifested until after the elections.
but if there were a few more parties thrown in the mix, candidates would have to stand by their views and ideas simply to make themselves stand out. we'd get a clearer picture of what each candidate stands for. and there wouldn't be such bi-partisanship in congress that we can hardly pass any legislation. because we can't have a stagnated government much longer. how can america foster a multiple party system? they can invite all 3rd party candidates on the ballots to the debates, to begin with. the media can cover more than just 2 candidates on the campaign trail, giving 3rd party candidates more publicity and viability. how many 3rd party candidates do you read about in the paper? how many can you list off the top of your head?  the government can more closely monitor campaign contributions so it no longer costs millions or billions of dollars to run for president in a country with a struggling economy. and so lobbyists and private donors would have a harder time putting puppets in the race for their private gains. just a few ideas to get the ball rolling, america.

3) limit election ads until 4 weeks before the election
you know, to keep voters from having the message shoved down their throats when they're trying to enjoy sitcoms? to keep the mud-slinging from starting in June? to make the campaign shorter so those in power can spend more time governing what they've previously been elected to govern?  to keep costs down for Presidential hopefuls? it sounds crazy, i know, but maybe people should be looking for political information somewhere other than a 1-2 minute blurb designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

4) have fact-checkers at the debates
this one is probably just a pet peeve of mine. i can't even justify how this would help with voter apathy. it might help with voters being informed, but those are not the same things. anyways, although Candy Crowley was out of line in her role as a moderator on Tuesday night, it would be awesome to see both candidates get called out on their twisted versions of the truth, in real time. because i know not everyone gets the chance to listen to panels of experts analyze both candidates statements for "truthiness" on NPR the next morning

5)free pizza
if all else fails, do what the Red Cross does. provide everyone with a warm, cheesy incentive to get out there and hit the polls. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

freedom and responsibility.

i find that one of the most frustrating things about reading the news on the internet is the comments section. time and again i tell myself "oh, if i read the comments section i'm just going to get upset" but i usually do it anyways, clinging to some shred of hope that i may find someone else's opinion enlightening. and this does happen, about 1 out of every 30 comments i read is interesting and noteworthy. mostly, though, they just make me want to tear my hair out, or never talk to anyone ever again.

ironic, isn't it, that i'm about to post a mouthful of my own opinions? which i am.  

i have had it up to here with people talking about the protests against the U. S. government in Egypt and Libya. admittedly, i haven't been following the stories as closely as i should have, but there are several things i  have heard about wayyy too much considering how little i've actually been focusing on the issue. 

1) the protests are ONLY about a movie/14 min preview of a movie on YouTube. 
i suppose this is the crux of it for most people. somebody made a movie where the prophet Muhammad is portrayed as a child molester/rapist/terrible person and the Muslim community is up in arms about the whole thing, so they have suddenly used this as an excuse to attack the US embassy (Libya) and riot (Egypt).  
now, i know we all have laptops and tablets and catch YouTube trends like influenza, but this is not the case everywhere in the world. no matter how "global" technology claims to be, the fact of the matter is not everyone is linked in to YouTube. not everybody has internet. most of these protesters probably haven't seen the clip. these protests are about our country's less than stellar foreign policy record with the people of these nations. they live in unstable nations with recently changed governments, nations that still have a lot of dissenters (openly and otherwise) and haven't figured out how to maintain a stable environment. healing nations-and hurting nations. nations that don't have bright futures their people can easily see. nations that have barely understood the U.S. involvement in their past, present, and future.   
  i've heard it reported that the tragic attack on the Libyan embassy was actually planned as a 9/11 retaliation (as it did happen on 9/11, did it not?) and actually has NOTHING to do with the movie at all.

2) the man who made the movie was just exercising his 1st Amendment rights.  
 this one is, admittedly, a bit stickier. he does have the right to the freedom of speech, it's true. yes, people have made movies about Christianity that were also offensive. on the surface, it seems defensible. and in a way, it is.  
  but you can't honestly expect people to understand this 1st amendment business all over the world. and once that movie clip hit the internet, it belonged to the world. and it was seen as American. through and through. does that mean all video content needs to be censored? no. maybe? what i am (clumsily) trying to say is that these people live in countries where they have much less personal freedom than we, as Americans, enjoy. they don't quite see the same separation between citizen and government that we do. they see the movie as a tool of the american government, or at the very least sanctioned by them. and its not a great thing for an already poorly represented US government to be associated with in the eyes of the Muslim community.  
 this man knew what he was doing was wrong. reportedly he even dubbed over actor's lines and lied about the script of the movie to the people in it. is he free to think these things? yes. is he free to say them in the united states of America? yes. is he free to post them on the internet for the entire world to see regardless of the consequences? one would hope not. additionally, if he really did dub over some of the actor's lines, i'm pretty sure it's still illegal to portray other people as saying things they never actually said, without their consent. even in movies.  

3) this anger at the US government is their problem, not ours. 
the few comments i have read have not come outright to say this, but they definitely take that sort of tone. "they hate our freedom" as i'm sure we all have heard. i'm not sure it's our freedom they hate. maybe it's the fact that we openly interfere in their regions affairs for political and financial gain. repeatedly. maybe it's the fact that their relatives who live here face open discrimination and hate. maybe its the fact that the U.S. government still has a detention camp in Cuba where the global community knows there has been torture of the detainees (their families, their heroes in some cases) and the U.S. government was hardly held accountable. is it that we helped get rid of Qaddafi but have not interfered in Syria, where the death toll is still. STILL. STILL rising. the civilian death toll. the bombed kindergarten child death toll.  
right now Americans are awfully focused on the economy, and for obvious and good reasons. but there are some other problems we have. and if we don't stop our fast and loose foreign policy where we only move when we can clearly see what's in it for us, our international reputation is going to continue to fall. and, as citizens, we will all be part of the group who did nothing to stop it.  
we're not just able to vote for President. we can vote for senators, representatives, and local officials. and we can get in contact with these officials. we can let them know that we're unhappy with what they're doing. maybe money talks a lot louder than we do, but we have to say something. we can protest too. 
we can know that after the protests and riots against the US government, there were counter-protests by people our government has helped. what are we protesting about? we are legally allowed to protest (peacefully) in this country. the economy? no longer. where are the U.S. protests over China and Russia repeatedly veto-ing UN interference in Syria because of their ties with the regime? that would speak volumes for the opinions of the average US citizen.
we can know that there's not just one kind of Muslim, just like there's not just one kind of Christian. and right now most Americans only understand the link between Islam and terrorism, not the links between Islam and peace. religion has been a banner for all kinds of atrocities throughout history. would the Crusaders have had suicide bombers? maybe.  
what are we saying about the upheaval in Egypt and Libya? 
what are our reactions saying about us? 

Monday, September 10, 2012

social networks and other things that freak me out

i would like to start this post with the good news (ok, not really. i would like to start this post by talking about myself). i have officially decided to become a regular at the coffee shop a few blocks from my apartment. which is something i've always wanted to do but been hindered by the fact that coffee just does not do it for me. i occasionally indulge myself in an overly-sugared (and priced) Starbucks frappicino but, honestly, I don't even enjoy it. and i am up far too late if i drink it after, oh, 3 pm. i think i'm being a bit snobby, actually, staying away from coffee for so long. but if i'm going to be putting even more sugar than i usually do in my body, i want it to be combined with yeast (get it? booze?) because at least THAT doesn't keep me up at night. but this place is reasonably priced, locally owned, and has a really cheap breakfast ($1.50 for 2 waffles!). oh, and free wifi. the basis of it's appeal. so i'm now searching for the perfect non-coffee shop "regular drink." today? blackberry iced tea. verdict? too much sugar. but it's a good start.

another nice thing about being a regular is you can strike up friendships with the other regulars. but that takes time, so far all i've done is make up stories about them based on their appearances/snippets of idly overheard conversations. i don't eavesdrop much but sometimes i just can't help myself. which leads me to a my rumination of the day-how invasive can social media/networks become before too much is too much? i have recently read a few fairly alarming articles about how much of our lives are accessible to other people. and i'm not talking about the quiet girl in the coffeeshop corner. i mean people we're can not see, will never meet, and probably don't ever think about.

 which leads me to scary article review. this began with my daily perusal of jezebel, a website for the ladies. and by ladies, i mean girls who like feminism and celebrity gossip with a touch of news. a deadly combo. anyways, the article talked about how the Taliban is spying on US soldiers by making fake facebook profiles of pretty ladies and becoming their friends. which seems like something they should be wary of but i guess not everyone is obsessed with their privacy settings and having to know someone in real life before they know them on facebook. anyways, the article mentions how posted photographs led to the destruction of 4 brand new Apache helicopters because they uploaded pictures of them to facebook on their smartphones, and those pictures had GPS tags embedded in them. our tax dollars at work. just kidding. sort of. our tax dollars definitely didn't develop a social media making us obsessed with everyone we've ever met (and plenty of people we haven't) needing to know exactly where we are, all the time. the money coming from ads posted on facebook and gmail and everything else did. we did. but why do we think we need to know this? because we don't. don't people feel weird saying things like "oh, i saw on facebook that you checked into the Spot on foursquare?"
how shamelessly do we need to stalk each other?
and open the doors for everyone to stalk us? you can't filter that out, no matter what they tell you. if you don't want EVERYONE to know where you are, you have to be careful.
and that's scary. my phone call tell people where i am just from pictures? i would throw it away if i didn't love it so much.
and that's scary too.
what is the alternative? what can we do besides put it all on us to be careful and hope for the best?
can we make a new facebook that actually doesn't share our private information with companies and whoever else pays for it? can we make our phones tell us where we're going (i need that Maps feature!) without telling everyone else where we are? will people ever be able to stop being seen as commodities and find a place where we can just share pictures, updates, and friendship without having our interests exploited silently? i don't think i should have to get rid of my facebook and iPhone just because i don't want to share my personal information with whoever's pulling the strings. social media has so many good qualities, and it can be such a useful tool to those of us who chose to ignore the fact that we have no control over where our information goes. but i also don't know how much more invasive they can get. and i am scared to find out.  

here's some reading for you, just in case i haven't made you want to throw your smartphone out the window of a moving car (a decision you would regret immediately anyways).

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

is there an american dream 2.0?

i have been wondering about this lately-what is the american dream of 2012? and beyond? how much more does it involve compared to the american dream of the 1900's? how many toys does it take to feel like you have "made it?"

let me back up. the school system in the city where i live is issuing each child a computer or tablet to help with homework. because kids learn (and do everything else, probably) on the internet. this is starting from kindergarten. children as young as 5 are being issued iPads to use in class as teaching aids. after a certain age, they are permitted to take them home. because every 10 year old needs a laptop to learn?

what are we doing? this is how tax dollars should be spent? what are we doing teaching our kids that the only way to learn is through a screen. you know what kindergartners need? blocks. field trips. naps. coloring books. teachers with job security and small class sizes. back in the dark ages, when i was in elementary school, we did have computer classes. which i am in favor of, by the way. schools should absolutely have computer labs and students should be taught proper typing skills and other computer skills. but let's face it. kids are extremely quick at picking up how to use technology. and the way it evolves, they will probably be doing it their whole lives, frequently. but in school? is it actually easier to learn on a computer rather than with a pen and paper? what about all those physical learners, who actually need to do things to figure them out? kids who learn by doodling while taking notes-which has been proven to be an effective tool for remembering facts.  how are kids going to be able to use all aspects of their brain if they are never unplugged?

i am not the most creative person in the world, but i have found i do my best thinking outdoors. away from distractions. away from buttons and screens and sound effects and games that you love because of how quickly they make the time pass. is that encouraged in school? rarely. if ever. doing outreach work, i have seen kids who never go outside for more than a few minutes having so much fun just playing outside. with each other. and i hate seeing those moments ruined by smart phones. by the ease with which technology steals our attention, and our hours. how often do we encourage ourselves and, more importantly, kids, to turn everything off and do something? and how does having a computer shoved in your face make you more likely to feel that's important?

part of the idea behind this is it levels the playing field between kids who have computers at home and those who don't. supposedly they will only be educational tools, with key social websites and games blocked. good luck finding a group of kids who can't work around that software. while research and other forms of school work (textbook reduction is a plus for sure) can be made easier with the use of computers, this just doesn't seem like more than a flashy fix to problems that have deeper implications. once again, computer labs and libraries seem to be the obvious solution. kids are much less likely to abuse their computer time in an institutionalized setting-not their living rooms.

but this is what's so appealing about this solution-everyone having technology at their fingertips, all the time. it's not a phone we all want, it's a smart phone. it's not dial-up, it's wireless. it's not cable, it's on-demand and TiVo. we don't just want it all, we want it all now. which means that if we lose any of that instant gratification factor, will we be able to cope? and what about the next generation, who has never lived without all the bells, whistles, and distractions that make our lives easier?

do we know how to work without these miracle machines?
what do we, as americans, really want?
how can we expect a generation who has been touching screens and staring at bright lights their whole lives to really think outside the box and find creative solutions if they never get away from search engines and how-tos?
would americans rather have gigantic houses with plenty of yard but spotty cable/internet or tiny apartments with small windows and neighbors on all sides?
do we want our families to grow up strong and happy or technologically savvy with big tvs?
is there a merging of the 2? how does the average american measure success-the school system where each student has a computer vs. the one where the teachers are creating lesson plans and using tangible examples?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

talking to recently returned peace corps volunteers

they warn you about this as they're trying to prepare you to go home (god bless them, they do try) but talking to people about peace corps who aren't familiar with the program or your life when you get back can be a rather baffling experience. as an RPCV (returned peace corps volunteer) you eventually reach a point where you appreciate most questions and a chance to talk about this huge part of your life. i am more than willing have a frank, open discussion with any given person over the merits/drawbacks of PC as an organization and my time overseas in general. but. but only if the person realizes that i and many of my good friends gave 2 years of my life to serve and that if you wanna tell me your opinion about it you better respect that and be sure to listen mine, too. so if you ever encounter a returned peace corps volunteer (especially a newly returned one) here's some to do's (and some don't do's).

DO ask questions-but only if you're really ready to listen to the answer. and the more specific, the better. i would happily answer the weirdest question you can think of rather than have to try and think of an interesting reply to something you feel like you're expected to say.

DON'T tell them about how you almost did pc "but." we know the "buts," we all considered them when we decided to go. it's not for everybody, and people go at different times in their lives.

DO tell them if you want to do pc (even if it's "someday") and ask them their HONEST opinion on their experience, they can give you better perspective than anyone else.

DO understand that, depending on where they were, they are unaware of what has been going on for the past few years and may only know the big news stories (and have probably missed a bunch of awesome youtube video trends)

DO say thank you, if you want. i never expect it but it is always nice to hear, considering that most days peace corps is the best thing for the U.S.'s international reputation (at least with the poorer communities where they serve). and after spending 2 years away from my family and friends in relative safety, i have a whole new appreciation for our armed forces serving overseas and i try and thank every single one of them i meet. the fact that they sacrificed so much time with their families and possibly even their lives for our country is so much bigger than anything i can imagine. so even if you don't feel inclined to thank those of us waging peace, please, please thank those out there waging war (no matter what your personal politics may be, they're putting their lives on the line for you, regardless).

DON'T bring up the 20/20 story (rape/lack of support) thing unless you know the person really well. its hard to talk about, and hard to explain how much emphasis is put on safety during training, and how sometimes things can go bad anywhere. accidents happen everywhere in the world.

DO feel free to ask about most embarrassing moments of service. almost everyone has a pretty good story.

DON'T hesitate to buy them a beer because they're probably fairly broke and have been missing delicious American craft beers. (ok. this one applies pretty specifically to me but i KNOW there are plenty of RPCVs out there who share my circumstances)

i hope this helps your next encounter with an RPCV go smoothly and pleasantly.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

slipping back on my bloggin shoes

i think they still fit.
so this blog is an experiment for me, a sort of out-pouring of things i think about from day to day but never seem to have an appropriate outlet for.
what i'm trying to say is this blog is me resisting twitter just a little bit longer.
here are some things i've been musing over lately:

-why did the Queen stop at just 2 corgis when she clearly loves them? she could have an army. she's the queen.
-does it seem like Bob Costas resents Ryan Seacrest for slowly usurping his role as Olympics coverage overlord?
-how much glitter eyeshadow is too much?
-did you see how bored Prince Harry looked during men's gymnastics? the jokes on him, because of his bad attitude the British got the bronze medal (jk. Japan earned it.)
-volleyball is awesome.
-i wish i had cable so i could watch archery.
-i would like Ryan Lochte a lot more if he never opened his mouth. Maybe Missy Franklin should just do all his interviews from now on.

-all the press about the new batman movie is saying Anne Hathaway had to lose an incredible amount of weight to fit in her Catwoman suit for the movie. what does this mean? they intentionally made the suit really small so she would have to be in super crazy thin shape? that suit wasn't even all that impressive. except for the claws.

-i love podcasts (too much) but i wish they had a way of keeping the people doing them from interuppting each other. what's so great about this uncut flow? half the time the interuptions pertain to topics that only interest the 2 people doing the podcast. and not, you know, the people they're doing to podcast for. edit that business out.

-speaking of podcasts, i heard on one that the TSA is supposed to stop patting down celebrities going through airport security. are celebrities the new drug mule? except for Snoop Lion. when you change your name to celebrate Bob Marley, you can expect to ALWAYS be patted down.

-pinterest makes me feel inferior. but then they have cute pictures that remind me i don't care that i'm not going to use 75% of the pins on my boards.

-i bet the people who work for TMZ lie at family reunions and say they do something useful.

-does octomom's success marketing her body reflect worse on american culture or octomom? when is kate gosselin gonna take her under her organized and probably botoxed wing and teach her a thing or two about keeping it classy, multiple-birth style? and by classy i really just mean clothed. more kids=more people to be mortified by your behavior.

-i know NASA is supposed to be working hard on getting to the Moon and Mars in the next 30 years or so. but i suggest they focus on the Moon to shut those conspiracy theorists up before Neil Armstrong dies. or are they stalling until the esteemed Armstrong dies so he can't write a tell-all about the first time? either way, the man's a patriot.

-speaking of conspiracy theorists, if there was a show where they got to explain their crazy theories each week and face off in a debate with a panel of experts, i'd watch it. i would also totally watch a big brother/hoarders crossover. if they were allowed to shop online.

-i would not want my future employers reading this blog. however, since i have very few future employers on the horizion, i'm going to say what i please. does anybody want to offer me a job correcting their dumb status updates/blogs? i actually understand the rules of capitalization, despite my "style."

-as a young(ish) adult, i have been considering trying to eliminate words and phrases from my vocabulary such as like, lol, oh my god, and most vernacular. however, then how would i communicate with anyone younger than me? decisions, decisions. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Go Big or Go Home, Panama

hello all!
this is just a short post to let you know the whole clan is safely in Panama, gearing up for our big border crossing to Costa Rica tonight. right now i am a scant 10 feet from the ocean, listening to the surf and shamelessly using brother James's computer and the cafe near our rental's free wifi. Panama has been great except that i was deveastated to discover that what most people consider to be one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th centuary, the Panama canal, was in fact done with lackluster enthusiasm as evidenced by the fact that they did not level the thousands of tons of rock laying between the majority of the canal and sea level, opting instead to install a series of locks that work through a super awesome water system (that is sadly a huge waste of water, accounting for 58% of Panama City's fresh water used each year, did YOU know the Panama canal is freshwater) with varying levels and awesome little robot machines that tug the boats through. What I am trying to say is go big or go home, Panama.
Other then this we are having a great time. we have not seen any sloths yet (a major trip goal) but we have been caught in some rainstorms, gone snorkeling (we saw squids!), done plenty of bird-watching. played a lot of bananagrams, eaten well, and met some of James's good friends. oh, and at the end of the trip we are gonna hike an active volcano. Panama is a very friendly country, well-equipped for tourism and a lovely place to relax. I recommend it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

No More Francais!

as i told you in my last post, we are in Spain. right now i'm writing from the hostel computer in Madrid, but here's a condensed version of what i've been up to since crossing the strait...

aka the Aspen of the Mediterranean.
after arriving on the coast of Spain, we took a bus to Gibraltar. our original intention was to take a ferry to Gibraltar and thus arrive there like so many in history, but we couldn't do that due to 2 major factors, the ferry being broken and the chance of S St J getting seasick again. so we took a bus to the closest Spanish town and walked to last .5k to the Gibraltar border, where they did not even check our passports. Gibraltar itself is pretty packed, since the rock takes up so much of the landmass they really have to economize space. what i mean is, it's impossible not to get a parking ticket. luckily we don't have a car.
we climbed the rock and hung out with the monkeys, who you are not supposed to feed, even though we saw the park staff and some tour guides feed them. they are pretty cute but exteremly sneaky. i have lots of pictures, don't worry. we also went into the tunnels they dug into the rock during WWII, which allowed us some pretty awesome views, especially of the airport landing strip, which starts in the water and is intersected by a road AND a pedestrian footpath. like i said, they really have to economize space. let me tell you, even though there's pretty much no chance of air traffic control making a mistake, you do tend to pick up your pace when crossing a commerical airstrip on foot.

for those of you who don't know much about Gibraltar-i didn't-it is techinically an overseas British territory. they even vote in parilimentary elections. they have their own currency, the Gibraltar pound sterling, which is exactly like the British pound sterling only you can't use it anywhere else in the world. about 40 or so years ago the people of Gibraltar were given a chance to decide to be either a British or a Spainsh territory...they voted for Britian with a majority of 94%. burn on Spain! they have the strangest dialect, a mix of British english and Spainsh-everyone has to learn both languages-and supposedly this combination is where the word "gibberish" comes from. they are kind of hard to understand when they get going.

and let me tell you, Gibraltar is the posh-est big rock in the world. they have their own fashion magazine, beauty contests, and way more high-end stores then souviener shops. it's amazing how much they crammed into such a small space. we did not stay very long, which is probably a very good thing for our pocketbooks. we did have the unique experience of accidently going to the high school hangout on a friday night...ooh. the drinking age is 18 there but i am not sure this place was carding. needless to say, 21 isn't such a bad drinking age. finding yourself in a bar full of drunk highschoolers is just about the last thing the weary traveller wants. the bar staff sympathised with us, but maybe we should have had sympathy for them.
so Gibraltar...yes. except don't go to the Tunnel on friday nights unless you want 16 year old boys to stumble on you while drunkenly yelling in your ear for a cigarette.

what a great city! i had a wonderful time here...our hostel was nice, we took some free walking tours that really gave us a different perspective, it was easy to naviagate...just really fun. we even went to a flamenco show. i think S St J is considering a new career path. Seville was where we really started to adjust to Spain, to stumbling in Spainsh and seeing Catherdrals that used to be mosques...apparently the Moors really knew what they were doing. i almost wish they'd colonized USA for awhile to leave some awesome architecture behind. but that's in the past. wayyy in the past. the present is all about looking at paintings from the past, and we did plenty of that. the highlight was the palace where Isabella and Philip lived, began by the Moors which gave it some pretty incredible ceilings and gardens. they sure know how to do the fountains in Spain.

like Seville, easy to navigate and goregous. they had an old Roman bridge, and that bridge had ducks. which we fed. we also explored the Mezquita, another mosque turned church. this one still has services, so we got to walk around in it while the organ was playing, which was pretty awesome. Cordoba also has some unique local cuisine which we tried one night. it pretty much tasted like cheese soup with ham to me, but my palate is very unsophisticated. unless you're talking about sangria. okay, even then it's pretty unsophisticated.

woooooooo. Granda was fun. we took the chance to go tapas hopping...most of the bars give you a free tapas with your drink, so you just bar hop and try what they have. some give you a choice, others just give you whatever they want. the best was a bar we found on wikitravel, and they are famous for having the best in Granada. we were not disappointed. that being said, none of the tapas we tried were bad. and Granada is a great place to wander around at night, they have no shortage of illuminated fountains.
we also went to the Alhambra, another palace with similar influences-though a very different look, and much larger-to the one in Seville. positioned on a hill overlooking the city, it had breath-taking views as well as beautiful temples, gardens, and an awesome-looking museum that was, of course, closed. ehhhh. highlight of Granda? the day spent at the SCIENCE PARK where we got to see their special exhibit on the almighty T-rex. they also had a really cool Escher exhibit, a butterfly house, a room for Andulasian culture, an endangered predatory bird rehabiliation program, a human body exhibit, and a whole plaza we barely had time to explore that featured an observatory, an astronomy museum, and a lot of touchable examples of water, wind, and solar energy. Spain has more then a few wind turbines lining their coast, they are obviously very forward-thinking in the alternatve energy category. i would have gladly spent another day there, but we lost our ticket-funny story-and we were never really clear on whether or not we got a 2-day pass anyways. so we decided to come on to Madrid, since we leave Friday, and there's lots to see here. This will probably be my last post for the trip-unless something amazing happens, but once i get home i'll make sure to put pictures up here for those of you who don't have facebook, and maybe i'll even throw up some tidbits about Panama and Costa Rica.
love you!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

But how will we find the big mosque?

Wooah. i didn´t mean to go this long without posting. i am now in Seville, Spain at an adorable hostel with truly hot showers. i think they have beds and stuff too. but you don´t wanna hear about all that quite yet. first i´m going to educate you all on the things i learned in Morocco (about Morocco).

first of all, it should be stated that everyone in Morocco wants to be your tour guide. we were well warned about this by guidebooks and friends so on our first day in Casablanca it came as no suprise that we attracted some hangers-on wanting to show us the sights (well, sight) in Casablanca, the 3rd-largest mosque in the world. they were so insistent we would never find our way to the mosque without them, which was a hilarious notion because it dominated the skyline. it is sort of like being in DC and not being able to find the Washington monument. except even easier to locate. whenever one of us managed to shake off a potential guide, the other one would enquire, but how will we find the big mosque? somehow we found it, and it was supremely beautiful and absolutely immense. but i intended to make you a list, so here´s some bullet points for ya...

1. they are pretty ill-equipped for cold weather. at least, as cold as it was while we were there. apparently we caught the tail end of the cold front that´s currently assaulting Europe. much colder than the typical Moroccan winter. so it turns out everyone else was just as cold as we were, but not complaining about it. as much as we were.

2. "fruit salad" is a lot more of a dessert there than it is in the US. think a multitude of tropical fruits, pudding, almonds, dates, and a piroutte on top. amazing. (yes i photographed one.)

3. Morocco was the first country to officially recognize the United States as an independent country. i learned this during a visit to the American Legation Museum, which is less about US-Moroccan history and more about Moroccan history. but they did have this really funny letter written by the first diplomat living in Morocco about how the Emperor basically forced a pair of lions on him as a "gift to Congress" because US laws forbid the President or the diplomats from accepting gifts. The Emperor´s man was so set on him accepting the lions (because if he didn´t they would cut off the messenger´s head) that he posted guards at either end of the street and told the diplomat if he didn´t want the lions to set them free. the letter ends with the gentleman lamenting the cost of hosting 2 fully grown lions and the rumour that the Emperor is preparing some horses as a gift to "the American people." the ALM also had some awesome dioramas depicting 2 historic battles. and lots of maps of Tangier, which apparently has been shot to bits quite a few times.

4. "Medina" means city in Arabic. we saw 4 different medinas (a city surrounded by a stone wall, very medevial) while we were there, by far the largest being in Fez. over half a million people live in the medina in about cramped. luckily our first night was spent in Casablanca, where the medina is much smaller so it wasn´t that big of a deal that we got totally lost and took awhile to find our hotel. these walled cities are little more than giant stone labryinths to the untrained eye, where the business and shops seem to repeat and there´s no shortage of young boys who may or may not be lying when they say you´re headed towards the outside. afterwards we stuck to hotels in the villa nouvelle, or new city, where landmarks are a bit more distinguishible.

5. Chefchaouen was incredible and nothing the guidebook pages we tore out (oops) about it really seemed to be correct. anytime there was a "nothing to see here" comment we found another breath-taking vista. i will post pictures as soon as i find the facility. the other aspect of "nothing to see here" in Chefchaouen is not only does everyone want to sell you hashish (an unappealing offer when all you want your hostel owner to do is turn on the gas for a hot shower), they are also trafficking it with each other. there were a few occasions where i almost inadvertently photogrpahed a drug deal. it is illegal there, but apparently there´s another case of culture and law disagreeing.

after Morocco, we crossed the ferry to Spain. it must have been an unusually rough day on the water because everyone was using the seasick bags the staff thoughtfully passed out to those who looked queasy when the ferry started pitching. i managed to escape with my breakfast but not everyone was so lucky. at one point there were probably 15 people simulataneously tossing their cookies...a odd experience, being in a room with so many people retching. one i hope never to repeat. from docking we went to Gibralter, which i´ll tell you all about later because it´s about ten pm, Spanish dinner time. Ciao.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Leaving the Tropics Was a Mistake?

we made it to Morocco!!! which is really exciting. especially because Royal Air Maroc checked our passports no less then 5 times so if we didn't have our documents in order we'd have been screwed. Morocco is amazing, more like Europe then Africa, which is crazy. but there's still undertones of Africa here and some other impressions that are purely Moroccan. this place has a lot more cultural identity than any other country i've visited these past few years.

there's just one thing.

it's WINTER here. really really winter. last night it was 1 degree celsius-just a hair above freezing. i am so cold i don't even know what to do. i even bought more clothes, i'd forgotten what layering feels like. next on my list is shoes, chacos and socks just don't cut it. and the thing about Morocco is they don't really embrace the concept of heating. when we first arrived i thought it was strange the way everyone wanders around bundled up as if they were on a trek across Siberia, but i quickly realized this is because this is the only choice. not a single hotel, cafe, shop, or any building i've been in has had any sort of heat. not even fireplaces. it's crazy. you have to bundle up all the time because you can't quite pop indoors and warm up. but its good for me, sort of like going cold turkey-get it?-on feeling hot. plus i probably needed to beef up my winter wardrobe. but that didn't stop me, last night, bundled under 2 of the thickest blankets i've ever seen, from asking myself...was leaving the tropics a mistake?

no. and yes.

but anyways Morocco is one of the most beautiful places i can even imagine; naturally and architecturally. people speak french and arabic which makes it feel soo exotic but there's still enough english for us to manage. the food is amazing, they really know how to use spices here. you can buy strawberries from street vendors and pastries on every corner. they have huge stray cats the locals feed to entice them to kill more rats. i just wanna entice one to take a nap in my bed so it'll be nice and warm when i crawl in it. Morocco is definitely a cut above Ghana, the ideal next step up the development ladder. i have taken a few pictures but its difficult to do it justice. needless to say i will still post them later anyways. until then, i am yours in gloves, a hat and a scarf. c'est bon? c'est bon.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mission Accomplished!

first things first....

oh nothing, just me spectating an elephant as it eats the landscaping at Mole Hotel. the hotel staff was unsurprised by this little breakfast interruption, but the rest of us loved it. they really do kinda see them as pests.

backing up a bit, here are some castle pictures from the Elmina Castle, a few k outside of Cape Coast. the castle was originally built by the Portuguese and eventually taken by the Dutch, then the British when Ghana was the stronghold during the slave trade. almost all the slaves that left west Africa spent time in this castle or the one at Cape Coast. we saw the dungeons all the way up to the governors quarters, but i'm only gonna put a few pics here. this is the view of the fort that was used as a lookout, on the top of that hill. you also can get a pretty good glimpse of Elmina itself, a "small" village (huge!) that is a pleasant place to spend an afternoon.
another view. the castle hugs the coast but still had a moat.
the view from where the governor stood to address his troops. to the left are the dungeons, to the right are the rooms where they imprisoned unruly soldiers, or the tomb where they threw rebellious slaves. the building in the middle, oddly enough, was the chapel.
another view, from the other side of the courtyard.
ok. now to the good stuff...Mole National Park. it was originally established as a hunting ground in the 1950's, when the government was trying to eliminate the tsetse fly. the theory was that the larger animals were its' breeding grounds, so they should all be killed. after 20 years, it was decided sleeping sickness (caused by the tsetse fly) was no longer a threat and turned into a game reserve. in 1974 it was formally established as a protected area (and they doubled it in size!) this picture is of a "bachelor pack" of male kops, a kind of gazelle. once the young male kop is about 7-9 months old, they are driven out of whichever elder male's territory they were born on. they then roam in these large bachelor groups until they are old enough and strong enough to fight a lone male for his territory. the female kops can come and go as they please, meaning the males are really just fighting for land, not right to the females.
here is an elephant crossing the road, causing quite a ruckus. this is a male elephant, the only kind we saw, as the females are all hiding deep in the forest with their babies.

i'm a little obsessed with warthogs now. they like to walk around on their knees. here is a baby demonstrating. they are fairly dangerous, according to the staff at Mole a full-grown warthog can defeat a baboon anytime. this one was too little to do much damage yet. just don't make it's mama mad.

when not scaring baboons, the warthogs enjoy the scraps of the staff canteen. they treat them almost like dogs, though they are careful not to touch them and to keep the baby away. but they are not unpleasant to have around. and they will eat anything. we even saw one eat a plastic bag.
the elephant down by the watering hole. just headed to pack some mud on his skin. he doesn't worry about the crocs in that pool, they're all scared of him.
if you can ignore the glowing eyes (my bad) you can see the pattern of this bush back perfectly. they were one of the most beautiful animals we saw. and this one got so close to us!
the view from Mole's observation platform. spectacular.
this is the first elephant we saw, about 20 minutes into our morning walk. he was wallowing in the water when we found him, which is why he has that delightful painted look about him. cute?

so as you can imagine, we are 2 very happy campers right now. and tomorrow, we're headed to the beach to take a vacation from our vacation. all this trip people have been telling us to go to Busua, so it seems like the appropriate place to end our Ghana adventure. enjoy the pictures and i'll post again soon!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Some pictures from Ghana

Hello again. Can you believe these pictures took less than 5 mins to load? ohhh yeah. we are in Kumasi, the second-largest city in Ghana. it is huge, less sprawled than Accra but definitely feels just as Western. at night, when all the vendors have left it looks exactly like a medium-sized American city. crazy. without further ado, here are a few highlight pictures from Ghana so far...

the crayfish coffin. probably my favorite one.

a pineapple and an ice cream coffin. these compliment each other nicely on so many levels.

this is the view of the swinging bridge we walked on for our canopy rainforest tour, in Kakum national park. it was about 30 m from the ground, which didn't seem like much until we got up there. it was pretty cool though. we saw some gorgeous trees, a lot of butterflies, and not much else. my theory is it creaks to much for the monkeys and birds to come any closer. though our guide DID have a bird call as his cellphone ringtone. how appropriate.

a lagoon on the outskirts of Cape Coast. we went on an excellent tour of 2 castles, but we used S St J's camera there so i don't have those pics yet. there were cannonballs, dungeons, a dedication from Barack and Michelle Obama, a "door of no return" leading to the sea, and a bat colony. just so you can visualize.

this panel was in the walls of a building at the national cultural center here in Kumasi, where you're not supposed to take any pictures but i snapped this one anyways. i think it's 1) awesome looking and 2) a good example of the Ashanti style. we also toured a museum about the Ashanti today which was pretty fascinating (even though it was very small). i learned a lot of fun little tidbits like the Ashanti king's bare feet are never allowed to touch the ground (or he wouldn't be king anymore) so he rests them on elephant tusks while he bathes. also, kingship is inherited through the mother's side, so the king is not succeeded by his son, but his nephew. there is no queen, rather a queen mother, and she is almost as highly regarded as the king. probably the coolest thing we saw there was the Ashanti war drum, which is made out of leopard skin. when they heard their enemies approaching, they would hide in the bushes and play the drum, and it sounds like a leopard. hearing the leopard, the enemy would flee and then the Ashanti would attack amidst the confusion. the drum is played by scraping a stick across the face, and it really does sound like a leopard. pretty cool.
tomorrow we head to the north and Mole national park. we are hoping to see a lot of big game, and are going to try and stay until we see an elephant. think positive thoughts for us and i'll let you know what happens!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Checkin Out the Coffin's Curators

hi again.
i know, 2 posts in one day...a little excessive. but when you're in a place with internet that's so awesomely fast you can spoil yourself a little, right?
i actually had a lot of photos i wanted to upload but, due to my camera battery's being exhausted, i could not. so i'm just going to babble a little bit.

today we went to check out the coffins of Ghana. this may sound like a strange thing to do, but Ghana is actually famous worldwide for their coffins. we saw a picture of one shaped like a shoe (a sneaker, where the laces come off to let the body in) in an old Ghanian newspaper and from then on i knew that was one thing i wanted to see before i left. i didn't imagine i would get to do it so early on. but with a friend headed to the airport at 5 pm, we decided that would be the perfect outing. so we set out to catch a tro-tro (like a gelly in Gambia, local transport, incredibly cheap and, you know, "cultural") to the area of town our guidebook said they would be. and, of course, they weren't. we did, however, all to fittingly pass a funeral procession on the way, where there was an exuberant marching band, dancing children, and a silver gilded coffin with The Last Supper painting carved on the sides. but we found a taxi fairly easily who took us even farther out of Accra to an area called Teshi, where we passed one coffin workshop and were dropped off at another. that was where we met Eric, a really cool guy with a website you should really check out, not in the least because i don't think you'll believe me about how awesome these coffins are until you see some pics.

the coffins come in all shapes and sizes, and all different kinds. Eric's shop had quite a few fish, an eagle, a lion, a coke bottle, a Star (beer) bottle, and a tomato basket overflowing with wooden tomatoes. and that was just the beginning. i am so glad Eric was there to give us some insight on this practice, this art form.

the story Eric told us was about his grandfather, who truly loved his grandmother, and to celebrate her death (and her dreams in life) he made her a coffin shaped like an airplane, because one thing she'd always wanted to do is fly, but never could. apparently, many tribes traditionally bury their chiefs in a coffin shaped like the symbol of their tribe (which is why the fish coffins are so popular), but his grandfather was one of the first to build one for someone who wasn't of paramount importance to anyone but her family. his labor of love bloomed into a business, and eventually his father took up his grandfather's business, and now Eric and his father work together. we must have talked to him for almost an hour, about coffins, families, death, everything. he has been all over the world, working with other artists, teaching at universities, and designing coffins for people. for example, he was asked to go to russia to contribute to their "death and culture" museum and wound up making the curator a coffin in the shape of a vodka bottle.

Eric has a unique perspective on death, being in his line of work. he wants to make coffins that people will truly enjoy, and he showed us some examples. one of the funniest ones to me was a coffin in the shape of a Bible, true to form. i promise i have pictures. part of his perspective also comes from the Ghanaian view, where death is a celebration of life. they don't avoid it like other cultures. there are posters all over the cities, like obituaries, with large pictures of people who have recently passed, and information about them. the coffins are all playful, and usually representative of the person's life. some women even go so far as to be buried in chicken coffins with carved wooden chicks to represent each of their children nestled at their feet. it's absolutely a different take than we have in america. i asked Eric (who could resist) what kind of coffin he would want...and he said he'd already made his. it's in his house, doubling as a tv stand. it's in the shape of a planar, the carpentry tool. not as fantastic as the crayfish coffin we later found, but respectable. the funniest part is that his father (who has been in the business all Eric's life) refuses to make his own coffin, or consider what he wants, and even tries to get Eric to take his planar out of the house. different ideas.

it was amazing. a little off the beaten path, but i can't think of a better way i'd have spent the day. it could be a really helpful part of the mourning process, to send your loved one off in a representation of what they loved the most. it definitely helps those still here remember and celebrate. to Cape Coast! update soon.


hi friends.
i have only 8 mins left so i'll make this quick. i am safely in ghana after a riveting 3 days in dakar wishing i spoke french and praying it will be easier in morocco (it will. they actually expect tourists there). ghana calls themselves the gold coast but i want to be the first to say they should change their slogan to the jackpot of west africa. this place has everything (i know i said that about dakar, but this time i'm serious)-cars with alarms, cranes, pineapples sold whole on the street the vendor cuts for you, a KFC, amazing red-red (look it up), fried plantains, crazy coffins, tattoo parlors (cuz that's not a risk), art galleries...and we haven't left Accra. tomorrow we're heading for Cape Coast to check out the slave castles (and take a guided tour so i can elaborate for you) and this vegetarian restaurant featuring Moringa, the miracle tree (seriously, look it up). hopefully i will get to post after Cape Coast, internet is supposed to be really good around the southern part of Ghana. If it's as nice as it is at this cafe, i'll even be able to post pictures (i forgot my camera cord). for now, though, i am going to continue to enjoy Accra, and look for additions to my "funny signs" picture collection. some standout reps include the "silence. board meeting in progress" sign posted outside the men's room and the "face the wall chop shop" which serves (what else?" red-red and fufu (look it up). love to you all!

Monday, January 2, 2012

L is for Leaving

i should have started this alphabet thing a little earlier, i suppose. we're only at L and it's time for me to go! i left my village for good friday, within a day or so exactly 2 years from when i first arrived there. it was hard to leave, as i am sure you can imagine. there were tears, and not all of them were mine. saying goodbye is never easy, and in a situation like this where you don't know when or if you will ever see the person again, it becomes even harder. also, gambians have a different perception of how to say goodbye. they don't like to do it. a full half of my host family left the compound just minutes before i did, wordlessly, so they wouldn't have to see me go. the rest of them could barely look me in the eye. a few cried, and hugged me, but that was far from the norm. i am very glad i learned before that day they were not going to stay put for what i see as a normal goodbye, or i would have been offended. it's a sort of a compliment, it turns out, it means they are so upset they can not face you. otherwise they would stay. but very opposite from the american mindset, which is that goodbye is really important, and you could really offend someone by not saying goodbye to then, as it is a sign you are insignificant in their lives. i don't doubt, in any way, that i was a part of these people's lives.

i know i still am.

and now, i am finishing up the paperwork and the packing, getting ready to leave the Gambia. but don't put up your eyeglasses just yet, dear reader, for my african adventure is not over. from Gambia i will be going to Dakar (but only for 4 days) and then setting out to Ghana(!!!!!!!!!!!!) for 2 and a half weeks. Once Ghana has been good and seen, i'll continue on to Morocco (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), then take the ferry over to Spain (!!!!!!!!!!!!), where I will while away the days in as european of a fashion i can muster, before finally returning home (!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) to my family. so as long as i'm still technically across the Atlantic (and maybe even a few weeks after i'm not) i plan on maintaining this blog. so keep on checking for the same infrequent posting schedule, and see if you'll be first to know whether or not i saw elephants in Mole, or sea turtles in Butre, or learned more Arabic in Fez. I might even post pictures of the dolphins that supposedly frolic in the wake of the ferry to Gibraltar.
if you're lucky.