Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cows, please

(Arusha, Tanzania: May 29, 2007)

Just wanted to talk a little bit about the Maasai people before I run out of time here.

Tanzania has many, many Maasai. They live in round huts called boma, which are typically not used year round. they are nomadic and move depending on the season. Mainly they herd cattle for a living - selling them at the market. They do a little farming, but I think I was told are not allowed to have plots that are very big. When the dry season comes twice a year (now) and the water dries up, they need to move to a place where their cattle will be able to feed and drink. During the wet season the cows can drink every day, but during the dry they rotate and only get to drink every 2 days. The Maasai can walk 30-40k per day with their herds!

Maasai men can have many wives - the husband has his own boma to live in, and each wife has her own as well, in a circle around his. The wives take turns alternating who stays with the husband, in 6 day rotations. Each woman may only have one husband though (of course!). Rich men may have 10-20 wives, and many many cows. It used to be the case that all marriages were arranged, up until even 20 years ago. Now people are free to choose their own partner - some even go to other tribes. While this isn't common, it is acceptable.

My guide, Thomas, is 37 and unmarried. I asked why he had not married yet, and he said because he doesn't have enough cows to buy a wife!

The Kindness of Strangers

(Lake Natron, Tanzania: May 29, 2007)

The title of this entry was going to be "You win some..." with the obvious inference being you lose some. Although this experience was so difficult, it was definitely not a losing situation.

So I spent the last 4 days up at Lake Natron in northern Tanzania. Aside from hearing how beautiful it is, I was interested in doing a really challenging climb up Ol Doinyo Lengai, an active Volcano. Because of the incredible heat there, you start the climb around midnight, and it's 6000 vertical feet! For those of you unfamiliar, that a really, really steep climb. I wasn't even sure if I could do it - many people can't make it. You reach the rim just before sunrise, and once the sun comes up, head back down. The climb takes roughly 6 hours. So I set off with my Maasai guide, Thomas, a little after 11:30pm. Yet again, I immediately felt under prepared. Why had no one mentioned the ferocious mosquitoes? Sure, I am taking malarone, but the number one way of avoiding Malaria is not getting bitten. Why had no one mentioned the really strong winds? So off we go - straight up. I could tell there's a bit of a gentler slope at the bottom, and already I was drenched in sweat. After a couple of hours we reached the "halfway" point, which is nowhere near halfway, after which there's really no turning back. What had been a straight, steep trail was going to turn into pure lava runs, and in the darkness, with the moonlight feeble, turning back later would be near impossible. Only problem was I was freezing. The winds were incredibly fierce, and my light jacket and shirt were drenched. Poo. But, I was determined, so off we went. We were passed by 3 other small groups about an hour later. I was in no rush, and enjoying not really feeling stressed aerobically.

About 2 hours shy of the rim it became so steep that the ground was about a foot and a half from my face. OH DEAR. At this point the moon had set, everything was pitch black, and my feeble headlamp only served to illuminate the lava rock right in front of my nose. I felt almost relieved we couldn't' see anything, because I knew it would really scare me. I could tell we were climbing something for crazy people. So with one hour left we huddled to figure out if we should turn back or not - the problem was I was an icicle and I was worried. The exertion was extreme, but mostly muscular and not heating me consistently enough to keep warm. Out of his bag he pulled a thin wool blanket to offer me! I was in love. So we decided to push on even though he, too, was freezing.

By this time I had noticed the distinct odor of sulfur. Uh Oh. For those of you who don't know, I am extremely allergic. I have only ingested it or had topical reactions though, so I wasn't sure how breathing it in would affect me. the last hour was a literal scramble on all fours. I think I "stood up" twice the entire time. Even being someone who is not afraid of heights, I was very, very afraid. We got to the top at 6am and waited until 6:30 for the sunrise. Unfortunately huge billows of white sulfur were coming out of the entire crater, as it is still an active volcano. It was really noxious and I worried for a bit but then concentrated on not freezing. We could see Mt. Meru and Kilimanjaro in the distance - they were spectacular. Still frozen I wanted to start down as soon as possible. Looking over the edge at what we had just climbed was quite a moment. I can't even express how steep and scary it was going down - my knees still have not recovered (even the "good" one). I did feel a bit feverish and nauseous after an hour and a half or so, but I figured it was just no sleep and all of the anxiety of the climb, and ignored it until I couldn't any longer. I had reached the halfway point again, so there was actually a trail and the rest of the descent would be a piece of cake. Not so if you are dreadfully ill! Every step was an exercise in determination. Determination to get to the bottom, and determination to not throw up. Well, I lost out on that one. I got very ill - my poor guide sat there watching me not knowing what to do. But I felt a little better afterwards so I tried to walk some more. Nope. Not happening. I got sick 3 more times, and can't think of a time I have ever felt so badly in my life - not even college alcohol poisoning came close. I couldn't stand, I couldn't speak, and there was no position that could squash the pain. My abdomen at this point was feeling permanently spasmed. I had no idea how I would get down, or even then how I would survive the terribly bumpy 4x4 ride home for 40 minutes. My guide had NO idea what to do - he tried at one point to poke my stomach, it was all I could do to shake my head NO.

So he went to find the group of 3 people still descending and they were incredible. This one woman Natasha took one look at me and started barking orders at everyone - to find some sort of simple sugar to get in me, to find people to carry me down, to try to get someone to drive the truck up the mountain a little closer... it was unbelievable. Coleman started sprinting dwn the mountain to the waiting trucks below to get more help waving his poles like a madman. I was just trying not to pass out. I couldn't take a step even assisted, so these two skinny Maasai guides dragged me down this really steep slope in incredible heat while she doused my head with water and gave me tiny sips of water with orange squeezed in. After many breaks, and getting the truck a good deal closer, the got me into the back. I can't remember ever being so relieved. She sat with me the whole way back and I could actually speak by the time we got back to my camp. Natasha, Coleman and Rebecca were so kind and generous and went WAY above any help I could have expected. I get weepy thinking about it.

Turns out I got a really high fever from the sulfur, and that coupled with the difficult descent gave me heat stroke. It took all day to get rid of the fever, but I successfully ate toast and rice before the end of the day, so I was back on my feet.

I feel fine today except for an upset stomach, and am just so very grateful - I'm taking my 3 new friends out for drinks tonight in Arusha! Jon gets in tonight and we head out on 10 days of safari tomorrow, so I will be offline for a while.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Hey, lady

(Zanzibar, Tanzania: May 25, 2007)

Zanzibar is a beautiful island, but MAN is it hot and humid here - and this is the "winter"! Think NYC subway on a 98 degree day. Instant sweat. So I spent the first 3 days in Stonetown - which is a bit of a mixed bag. The old buildings are gorgeous, completely run-down. Covered in mold. I needed a mainline of allergy medication! The stench of mold in my room was so overwhelming that there was never a time I grew accustomed to it. If I pretended really hard, I could convince myself at times it was just pungent mint. Even my clothing smelled by the end, although I couldn't tell until I got to the east coast of the island where it doesn't smell. The was a wonderful market in Stonetown, which I didn't get up the nerve to actually buy anything at (it's *all* locals, and really chaotic), but I think if I had gone there another day I could have mustered the energy to buy an orange. I was on the verge!

A note about Stonetown: Here the people are so overly friendly
that it's as if they are trying to sell you something. Oh, wait - they
are. I adapt quickly though to my surroundings and realized if I said
no with a big smile and a sweep of my arm, they generally left without
asking twice. Here are the top 5 things I was approached literally
hundreds of times to purchase:
1. Africa greatest hits CD
2. Spice packets
3. nuts
4. soccer jerseys
5. necklaces
Of course, then you get people who know you're going to say 'no' when
they approach you so they give you the guilt trip - "hey, lady, I
wasn't going to ask you for anything - what's wrong with you? I'm just
being nice... " So you say hello... they follow within a foot of you
for far too long (it makes me very uncomfortable, as I like my personal
space empty) and then eventually ask you if they can be your personal
tour guide. Or want to go to their restaurant. Shocking! They want something from me?? Here I thought they were just being nice.

So here I am now in this gorgeous resort on the east coast of Zanzibar. When I first walked in I thought, WHY was I not here the whole time? Or more to the point, why am I going anywhere else? I can just sit on a pristine white sand beach, sleep in my room with sheets that don't feel like sandpaper, which doesn't smell of anything bad, and just relax. Well, it's two days later and I'm leaving tonight, and I'm glad to be - because I am already bored. I just needed a nice rest.

Speaking of mustering the nerve to buy something in the market reminds me of two funny experiences here. Firstly, I had a Balinese massage. It said something about deep work, and I was all in. I knew from the minute I saw the woman that she was going to destroy me. I could tell by the look in her eye. Sure enough! Each of the joints of her thumbs most *definitely* have Popeye muscles coming out of them. I wasn't able to actually look and verify this, but I am certain of it. I kept thinking, okay, she knows what she's doing, so even though it feels incredibly painful it must be fine. Then that changed to if it hurts like this one more time I'll say something! Needless to say, I said nothing. Why is that?? Each time I gave myself an extension and held out one minute longer just in case... just in case what? It stopped hurting? She moved to some other painful area? I think I must be like a guy in that way - it's like asking for directions I guess.

I also took group yoga lessons while I was here since I couldn't afford the one on one. Well, I was a group of one. Apparently 35 German seniors are not interested in yoga.So 3 days in a row I went, even getting up for the 7:30am class this morning since I'm leaving before the evening class! That in itself would normally be unheard of, but I have been going to sleep by 10 every night here, 7:15 one night. So it wasn't such a big deal. I don't know about regular yoga classes, since I only do Bikram, but in our class, if the instructor actually comes around to you, it's to do a minor tweak, turn your hand a millimeter this way, straighten that leg more... this guy was UNREAL. He would come over (since it was just the two of us) and "help" me with the poses. By help I mean wrench my body into contorted positions which I could never come close to doing on my own. I'm talking full-on putting his thigh on one part of me and leaning his entire body weight into the other side! Knee in my back, pulling my arms in opposite directions. Stepping on my thigh to better grip my leg so he could stretch my hamstring which didn't want to go anywhere. At one point with a spine twist I though he might actually rip my arm off. But again - did I say anything? Like HEY BUDDY THAT HURTS!!! Nope. Sure didn't. I think I almost hit him at one point though - you know, reflex action.

What is the matter with me???? (feel free to answer that if you like, suggestions welcome)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mountain Gorillas

(Ruhengeri, Rwanda: May 20, 2007)

As a picture is worth one thousand words, I'm afraid you'll have to wait for my photos on Flickr to get a good idea of the gorillas. It would be a waste of time for me to try to describe them. Suffice it to say they are like furry, amazing people.

The conservation efforts are extraordinary in Rwanda - really impressive. I wonder if we in the states could even do such a good job? There are only 729 mountain gorillas in the entire world, and they are an endangered species. Their population has grown by 29 in the past 2 years! They live in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Congo. They are all in one area, some of the volcanoes are divided among the 3 countries, so the gorillas roam across borders. Poachers come in to kill the mothers and take their children so they can sell them to zoos, since mountain gorillas don't live in captivity - only lowland gorillas which are not endangered. I will not sadden you with the specifics we learned of the deaths of the past few years. In response to the killings the government has trackers which follow each group of gorillas from early in the morning until dark, at which time the military starts their rounds, providing 24 hour coverage of the parks and protection for the gorillas. This past year there were no deaths from poaching!

In order to see the gorillas, you have to purchase a very expensive permit. They only allow a maximum of 56 people to see the gorillas per day, for a maximum of one hour or else it can disturb the gorillas and stress them. You are divided into 7 groups of 8 people and each visits a different group of gorillas. On a yearly basis, the park officials get together with the neighboring villages, and ask for their needs. They then disburse the money from the permits to the villages for the projects. Examples of some projects are a primary school, a local water tank, a health center. This keeps the villages supporting the conservation efforts.

I had permits for 2 days of gorilla trekking. The first day I decided I wanted to do the longest walk (I'm tough, right?). Since the gorillas move around in the morning, you never quite know how long it will take to find their location - the guides are in constant contact with the trackers, so you do your best to catch up (they move fast!). Well, our gorilla group which was a group typically only for research rather than tourism was not very high up the volcano when we began the hike. They must have known we were coming as they moved up towards the top of the volcano. The guide told us it would take about 2 hours. We must have heard that 4 more times that morning! Did I mention it's the rainy season? We embarked on a hike that would put climbing Kilimanjaro to shame. The trail was at least 6 inches of mud - more like a foot deep in many spots, and STRAIGHT UP. No sissy switchbacks for the Rwandans. We climbed from 2100m to 3400m (4000 vertical feet!!!!) in what was at times torrential downpour. The altitude was really difficult to deal with, as was the mud, and the *freezing* cold temperatures. It took us 3 and a half hours to climb and I thought at times I wouldn't make it. We had 2 researchers and 3 military personnel with us who helped me tremendously. Without one soldiers hand helping me up some of the tougher terrain, I would still be stuck in the mud. They could have run up it, they were in such good shape (and acclimated). I had no idea we were going on such an adventure so I had 2 nectar bars to last me 8 hours, 6 of which were rigorous hiking. It was worth it though, as much as any really, really difficult experience feels rewarding in hindsight.

A typical trip to see the gorillas involves about an hour of strolling over mildly rolling terrain. Needless to say, I chose an easy group the next day, which amounted to a 2 hour hike to find them over dry flat-ish land. Phew.

I *highly* recommend this trip to everyone - it's truly one of the 'once in a lifetime'-ers.

Note to TNT'ers: someone asked me if I knew Ron Lichty as I was climbing the mountain!!! Figures.

Quelle Surprise!

(Kigali, Rwanda: May 20, 2007)

Well, granted Rwanda is pretty much the first place I've been to so far other than Nairobi - but I think this statement will still stand true at the end of the trip - it was the surprise of the trip!

Firstly, Rwanda is a gorgeous country. They call it the land of 1000 mountains, and I think that could be an underestimate. In stark contrast to Nairobi, Kigali was very well paved, hardly any cars on the road, and clean. I have no idea what I expected, but considering the genocide was a mere 10 years ago, I was expecting something far more war-torn. The city of 800,000 has been rebuilt remarkably well. I spent my first afternoon there at the genocide memorial museum. It is pretty much beyond words how difficult that was. Having been to the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, in Israel, I'd say it was quite comparable.

So you may or may not know that the war was a "civil war" between the Hutu's and the Tutsi's. I was under the impression that these were different tribes, which is incorrect. Rwanda had originally 18 different tribes, but Hutu or Tutsi was a class designation, similar to middle class or upper class, and these designations changed as your circumstances did. When the Belgians came in the 20's they decided that anyone with 10 or more cows was a Tutsi and anyone with fewer than 10 cows was a Hutu, and that designation was yours and all of your descendants forever. Slowly these designations morphed into a racial designation rather than one which had previously been class related (I'm unclear how that happened, but physical characteristics like forehead and nose size became relevant). The Tutsi's (only 15% of the people) were favored by the government and this lead to the imbalance which eventually became a hatred that lead to the genocide of the Tutsi's in the 1990's. There had been other mass killings prior to then starting in the 60's. I guess when you can get a group of people to believe another group is responsible for their misfortune, and you feed it with propaganda and let it fester, you create the environment for genocidal cleansing.

The people of Rwanda will speak of the genocide but typically refer to it as the war. There are no longer any racial designations whatsoever as everyone is very adamant that they are "one people undivided" now, and are happy to say there will never be another civil war. They don't really like to talk about it as dwelling on it will not help them move forward, but they definitely acknowledge it. It's amazing to think of the horror these people went through only 10 years before! Nearly everyone you speak to lost at least one family member and numerous friends and neighbors. I had a guide for my 4 days here, Mike, who was terrific. He was able to escape Rwanda before the war broke out which was quite lucky as he was on the death list because he supported the RFP - who eventually were victorious in stopping the Hutu's. Two of his brothers were killed, but his parents weren't because they were old. His mother was Hutu and his father Tutsi.

He calls sweet potatoes 'sweetie potatoes'.

The government obviously understands the importance of infrastructure as the entire country has wireless access and radio! I swear, we were at 3400 meters (10,200ft) clinging to the side of a volcano and one of the guides used his cell phone! I can't even get reception driving to eastern California.

I asked Mike about public assistance, as much of the country are "poor" farmers. But really, poor is not a fair term. These people have houses, albeit small ones (one or two rooms), clothing, food and jobs. They have families and loved ones and they seem really content. Why wouldn't they? They have everything they need to be happy. Now I see why people start to get rid of their possessions when they return from traveling. Most people don't even have shoes, but they're not very necessary in such a warm area. They do nearly all have umbrellas though, which I found to be quite amusing. The answer was no, there is no public assistance at all. They government does give out loans though, through banks. So if you want to rent a plot of land to grow sweetie potatoes, it seems relatively easy to get a loan to do so. The one thing that *completely* shocked Mike (and he is very well educated and well traveled) was to hear we have homeless people in the US. 'How could this be?' he kept asking... 'They live on the street?' Makes you wonder how their isn't homelessness in Rwanda but there is in San Francisco. On another note, they do suffer from AIDS - 3% of the country has it. This is not nearly so bad as Kenya or the Congo, but still a big problem.

I stayed in Kigali only for one day, spending the rest of my time up in the mountains to see the gorillas (entry to follow).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Excited Yet?

(Nairobi, Kenya: May 16, 2007)

It's the question I've heard most often in the past few weeks - as recently as boarding the flight to Nairobi, "You must be so excited!" Then the subsequent implied question when I don't immediately respond - "You must be crazy?". Well, I have to admit, excitement is not really something I've been feeling - at least not in the way I am used to experiencing it. Excitement to me is driving a10 foot box truck packed with dusty gear out to the Nevada desert every August. Then I am nearly jumping out of my uncomfortable, sweaty vinyl seat. This has been different. I'm not going to a festival where I've been going for 6 years already, or seeing a movie I've wanted to see for ages. I'm going to 3 developing countries for 2 months, which is dangerous, and scary, and exciting all in one. So, it feels different. Two people now have talked to me about the importance of going outside of your comfort zone - and how necessary it is for growth. I completely agree. I figured once I got on the plane I would be excited - but it's really just a calm readiness to experience, with a bit of apprehension and a hyper-alertness. Most of the people talking about Nairobi start out by saying "I don't want to scare you, but..."

I haven't really seen Nairobi so far because I came in late at night. The roads are *terrible*. I thought the roads in New Orleans were bad - they don't hold a candle. Potholes the size of small cars litter the incredibly lumpy road, and the drivers swerve towards you instead of away to avoid them! Traffic control devices (like red lights, for example) are ignored. Carjackings are somewhat common, so no need to come to a complete stop unless a larger vehicle than yourself is coming. Same goes for those pesky painted dividing lines in the street - if there are any at all. Apparently based on the width of the road, you just know how many cars wide you should be. Kai's house is amazing, as is his Irish setter. The grounds are tropical, lush and noisy! So many insects and birds chattering. I wish I had a recorder with me.

A little known fact (to me at least) - the plastic bag is known as the African flower. There are so many in trees. Kenyans apparently have an obsession with them, and use them for everything. Which is why I was surprised (pleasantly so) to hear I should not bring any plastic bags with me to Rwanda or they will be confiscated - they are illegal for environmental reasons! Good for them!

So today I head to the UN complex to check out where Kai works, and then I'm off early tomorrow to Rwanda (sans plastic bags) to see the genocide museum and the mountain gorillas.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Airplane Etiquette

(London, UK: May 12, 2007)

A mixed bag of notes and observations to follow...

As soon as the guy sitting next to me put his heavy laptop bag on top of my daypack, I knew I was not going to like him. Not only was there other space in that overhead bin, but the two adjacent were completely empty! I told him I needed to move his bag off since I had an expensive lens in my bag, and he told me that the data in his computer was worth far more than all of the lenses in the world! Then he proceeded to tell me to be really careful with his bag, and not to drop it even though I was not even taking it out of the bin. Okay guy, if that data is so precious, here's an idea: make a back-up!!! We didn't exactly start off on the right foot. Then it turns out he's the kind of guy who takes the "shared" arm rest over completely - and unfortunately for me actually has his arm over the invisible dividing line in my seat, so no matter how i sit, his arm is always touching mine! Ewww. Could I stand 11 hours of this? I was so annoyed, and sat there silently fuming over it for a bit. Then I thought why am I letting myself be so bothered? I either need to ask him to remove his arm from my seat, or just let it go. I opted for the let it go approach since our former interaction led me to believe asking him would be useless - and then I would be more annoyed. I was moderately successful at letting it go - I think the Valium definitely helped. Funny thing happened at the end of the flight. They told us to please put our seat backs to the upright position. So we did. Then magically his was back to reclining. The flight attendant came by again to tell him to put it back up and he said it was broken and couldn't stay upright. He was told he had to go sit elsewhere then - in a *very* middle seat in the middle section. He threw his neck pillow off in a huff. Once he left, the flight attendant came back to check out the seat - oddly, it had no problem staying in the upright position! Hmmm. First thing I did was drape my arm over the arm rest into his seat.

Cool things about London:
1. They call an umbrella a brolly.
2. The intersections have directions painted on the street "Look Left"and "Look Right". Seriously - without those, I would either have already been run over, or just would never cross the street. You would think it wouldn't be too hard to just look the opposite direction I usually do in the states - think again.
3. A nap is a kip.
4. My awesome friends who I miss terribly the rest of the year.

Off to Nairobi in 3 days!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Gospel Tent

(New Orleans, LA, USA: May 6, 2007)

Wow, what a jam-packed trip. Jam-packed as in an overwhelming amount of fried food, sun, humidity and drinking. Much thanks to Milli and Reece who are terrific tour guides, and Elizabeth for an amazing dinner.

I'm glad I have 2 days back in San Francisco before I head out to London - I will need every second to recover, especially my heart and my liver! New Orleans was not as I expected it to be. I think that the drunk frat-boy quotient was definitely filled in the Jazz Fest daytime festival, but for the most part i found the people i encountered in New Orleans to be quite pleasant and friendly. We took a trip to a lot of the hurricane devastated areas which was really eye opening - not so much in terms of the damage done to houses, neighborhoods and communities, but more so the policy and political issues that still exist. It's been over a year and a half, and there are still vast communities that are physically devastated. Each house in the flooded areas has a spray painted marking on it - a circle cut into 4 quadrants which includes the number of dead found in the house, the date of the search, and the group who performed the search. These searches were done in boats weeks after the hurricane hit. Most of these symbols are still on the houses, whether or not they are inhabited (most are not). It feels really strange to me to be able to see a body count on a given street just by walking down it and counting numbers. I guess if you live here you get used to it? More surprising to me was the lack of rebuilding which has occurred. Certain areas are low lying and at risk for the same thing happening again. Do you spend the money to rebuild the entire electrical and plumbing (sewage) infrastructure, rebuild the houses and do the toxic cleanup required? The answer seems to be no. Of course the majority of the lower lying areas were populated by people of color. In the context of this country it makes perfect sense. Lower lying land with a flood risk is cheaper. Cheaper land is bought by people with lower incomes. These people tend to not be white. It's not racist per se although the root of the pay and financial inequity may very well be. So the politicians seem to be struggling with writing off entire communities of thousands of African American people which will never be rebuilt. Then you have the sole person who comes and rebuilds amidst a community of ruins. We saw a lot of that. Then there are neighborhoods which should be rebuilt (risk of additional flooding is low) but there seems to be no one leading that effort. These are prime projects for federal funding - large amounts of job creation, money feeding back into the local economy, a circle of economic success. Capital and machinery are required though to make this happen - skilled labor training as well. The federal government is not making a move to do so, and the local government has no money to make it happen. It is SHOCKING how much has not been rebuilt still, almost 2 years later.

The Jazz Fest itself was a mixed bag. I really enjoyed the groups I went to see at night - Kermit at Vaughan's and Johny Sketch and the Dirty Notes at the Maple Leaf. Fantastic. The daytime festival at the fairgrounds was a bit too much for me. I spent a lot of time in the gospel tent and aside from stifling heat today was really inspired by the music - all of the baptist gospel choirs from various states - and then to top it off Grammy winner, Irma Thomas. I may not be a religious person, but could completely appreciate the faith and love and self-understanding they were preaching. Then Stephen Marley (Bob's son) came on - and spoke the words to a song I have heard at least a few hundred times: Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. And I decided that would be the theme of my trip to Africa.

Check out my photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/schieco/sets/72157600185744711/ or if that doesn't work: http://www.flickr.com/photos/schieco

Friday, May 04, 2007

down came the rain...

(New Orleans, LA, USA: May 4, 2007)

holy rain. So I was just out enjoying a late night of *phenomenal* jazz - the kind that just carries your soul, helps you forget where and who you are for a good hour or two. Kermit Ruffins. They were going to do another set later, but it was almost two, and well... I'm old. With no nap and a day full of muffuletta's and booze, I had had enough. I decided to take a cab back and left my friends at Vaughan's. Unfortunately the rain came tonight. Similarly to San Francisco, there are no cabs to be found in the rain, there were at least 30 people waiting, and well, I'm not exactly miss patience. I found a nice group of kids from LA, struck up a conversation and we decided to try to walk home.

Mind you, the bar is really far away from where I am staying (2-3 miles they said) and everyone says that you should not walk much of anywhere in New Orleans. As I learned today, the whole environment lends itself to a bit of lawlessness, especially against vulnerable tourists. But we were feeling tough in numbers, and honestly, we figured the baddies were home keeping dry. So we walked for 45 minutes and got to within 10 minutes of my Inn. We parted ways there, and I knew I shouldn't go on by myself, especially since by this point the rain was truly torrential (but the thunder and lightening awesome!) and I wasn't quite sure where I was. Somewhat sure, but not quite. I'm kind of like a guy though in that I think I have a great sense of direction (I do!), so off I went. Passed a familiar Thai restaurant, but then things were not so familiar. Then after about 15 minutes - at this point my clothing must weigh at least 15 extra pounds - I realize I am completely lost. I have never heard of these streets and i have no idea where I am. I meet a nice trannie who points me in a general direction and I go that way for about 6 blocks, but then I panic. For the first time it occurs to me that I may not actually magically just find my way back. Just at that moment a minivan slows down and starts yelling about my ass. Great! So i dive into a doorway and call a cab company whose number I luckily still had from earlier, and lo and behold, I'm only 5 blocks from home. PHEW. At this point I am beyond drenched. It's actually quite comical, and take away the danger and fear, and it would have been really fun. At least it's really warm and the electrical storm is truly electrical. So in I trot, leave my only pair of jeans and bra in a giant puddle on the floor, and eat another piece of my muffuletta. yum!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Maiden Voyage in (travel) Blogland

(New Orleans, LA, USA: May 2, 2007)

Whew. This first blog entry has been spinning around in my head for quite some time - finally finding its way onto paper (yes, you heard me - paper). It started when I began telling people about my trip and a surprisingly large number all said exactly the same thing "wow - that will be life changing". Which of course got me thinking about those life changing events - where in an instant your life is on a different trajectory - everything is seen in a new context with different filters. I've been trying to identify what/when those moments have been for me and I can only think of one so far that didn't involve death, or news of an illness. Then there are other times when it wasn't an exact moment or event that lead to change, but a more prolonged experience. Hard core backpacking trips I've done in the past have brought about such clarity that decisions nearly made themselves - deciding to be a math major was one. Can you imagine Sara the American Studies student? Burning Man is another experience which has also at times been life altering - more so the first few years than the last few.

So when everyone tells you something will change your life I have to wonder if my thinking about in that was will change it's effect? If you think something will change your life, will it still? Tree, forest, falling, sound... I guess I'm really just hoping to have a nice, relaxing, safe, challenging time - to learn more about myself and to learn to let go more - both in controlling my circumstances and my work. We'll see! Not having regular access to a computer is certainly going to help. New Orleans is the first stop so that will be a nice entry into traveldom. I feel very lucky that my first visit is with my friends who grew up there. I'm looking forward to a deeper than tourist level picture of New Orleans!