When Did I Become The Ugly American?

by Ellen Barone

I sit tightly wedged into an economy class airline seat, braced for the long haul — a pashmina hanging from the seat back, a water bottle in the magazine flap, ear pods in the iPhone jack—when a handsome Air France steward stops to stand beside my aisle seat. 

“Excuse me, madam,” he says, leaning into my view. “These two are mother and daughter,” he continues, gesturing to an elegant middle-aged woman in the row in front of me and the twenty-something blonde seated beside me. “Would you please exchange seats so that they can sit together?”

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Navigating Marriage: The sometimes-treacherous path to not being right all the time

by Jennifer Hobson-Hinsley

I honestly believe people are either born with a sense of direction or without one. You either drive past your own house at night, or you don’t. At birth, I was at the front of the receiving line for a sense of direction, my husband was at the back. My husband drives past our house at night, and it makes me absolutely crazy. Crazy hit a new level when we recently drove from our house in Santa Fe to Telluride, about six hours away.

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12,000 Feet and Falling

by Harriet Mills

I had been in Australia for just over two weeks so I was firmly in the relaxed, travel state of mind when my Dad asked me if I wanted to do a skydive over Airlie Beach, the Whitsunday's, and the Great Barrier Reef. It sounded enticing so my straight answer was a prompt yes. This occurred on our first day of five in Airlie Beach and as time progressed my nerves began to rattle me. My sister had always been the daring one, but now I had placed myself in the position where I had to befriend my adventurous side.

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Public Peeing in a Paris Park

Just below the brickwork of the fence line on one of the busiest streets in this enormous city, a fully-grown woman was squatting over the autumn leaves next to a tree that had no hope in hell of disguising her need to go. This was a manoeuvre I had performed myself many times, under the cover of the Australian bush.  Never once did I consider I would see it here in the epicenter of Paris.

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The Stars of Our Ancestors

"For Dad" by Austin Eichelberger

 

In March, I visited my parents in Virginia from my home in New Mexico: twenty-four full hours of driving over three days and across six states, from desert mesas to grassy flatlands to the wooded Appalachian Mountains where I grew up. I stepped through the kitchen door just as dim night settled over the nearby barn where my mother was feeding horses. My dad, whose name I share, walked toward me smiling but breathing hard, an effect of the lung disease he had been diagnosed with months before. It had already restricted his existence, keeping him from the veterinary work he loved and the active, exuberant lifestyle he had always enjoyed. Watching it happen from over halfway across the country – like snippets of a harrowing home movie, with distance creating a gnawing hunger – was feeding a mix of anxiety and relief within me: anxiety that I'd be too far away to make it home if something happened, relief that I was far enough away to deny the disease’s effects on him.

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“It’s A Blessing!” A Filipino Wedding

On a sunny dry day, about an hour before the wedding, it begins to rain; the skies open up, dumping torrents of tropical rain, and I say to the family of the bride, “I’m sorry about the rain.”

“It’s a blessing!” they reply.

An hour later, it’s again sunny and dry, and outside the church on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines, the bride is waiting, dressed in her full wedding gown, inside an air-conditioned van.

“It’s a blessing!”

The groom is waiting outside the church, in the increasing heat; he is spotlessly clean and his hair neatly combed.

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My Father's Syria

Growing up in a suburb of Washington, D.C., I knew only bits and pieces of my dad’s life in the years before he became my dad.

I knew that both sides of our family came from an orthodox Jewish community in Syria (we ate delicacies like fried kibbehs, stuffed grape leaves and baba ghanoush, long before these foods hit the mainstream, and men sang Arabic songs at the Passover seder).

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Land: A World in a Word

What is land? Land can have many different meanings. Land can mean wealth, profit, prosperity, privilege, prestige, power, control, status, accomplishment, satisfaction, success, fame, respect, honor, dignity, safety, security, stability, continuity, contentment, freedom, happiness, hope, joy, beauty, love...

Land, for most people of the world, means wealth. Wealth, like beauty and love, is in the eye of the beholder.

 

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My Head Trip

I used to be an extrovert.

Now, I consider myself an introvert with some extrovert added to the mix. I have a hearing loss. One ear is deaf and the other partially deaf. I feel like I have an invisible veil separating me from others. 

Two years ago, after struggling to hear with friends, travelers, servers, family, salespeople,I checked into getting hearing aids. Each time, I felt frustration as technicians told me: “they should work.” They did not work for me. It began a path towards partial isolation and frustration.

I visited specialists at Kaiser, my medical group After test results, my doctor said, “You have a brain tumor which has damaged your auditory nerve."

“Hearing aids won’t help.”

“What?” My mind raced to thoughts of my grandfather who died of brain cancer. The doctor continued, “Good news: it is not cancer. Bad news: Permanent hearing loss with residual symptoms.”

 

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In Search of Quiet

Deep in the barren Sonora Desert of Southwestern U.S, three days away from the last person I saw, I was hiking alone, in search of quiet. The desert has always been the one place that spiritual seekers, saints, and sinners have gone in search of quiet. 

Sonoran Desert, Prima, Arizona. Photo by Ken Bosma via Flickr CCLExcept that, in reality, the desert was not quiet. Its incessant winds whistled by my ears and rumbled up through my feet. Dead and dying grasses tumbled and rolled by.  Snakes slithered, lizards clicked, and hares scurried across the sand. The winds sang beneath the wings of hovering vultures and under the claws of lingering thoughts.

There, hiking alone through the desert, reveling in my own silence, late in the afternoon on a tranquil summer’s day, I suddenly came upon a rattlesnake, which startled me with its rattle, louder than any rock concert I had ever been to.  I stopped, the snake did not strike, we stared at each other, and then we both quietly went our separate ways. 

Sound and silence can come in unanticipated places and at unpredictable times. 

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The Children of Angkor

Unkempt little bodies jump from stone to stone. Lithe and agile. Darting now towards, then away from the never-ending stream of tourists flowing over the raised wooden causeways of Beng Mealea. They claim the messy jumble of unrestored stones of this temple, 40 kilometres east of Angkor, on the ancient royal way, as their playground. Nearly nine centuries of heat and humidity have played havoc with the precise placement of the blue sandstone blocks. Gone is the former wealth and glory of the mighty Khmer Empire. In its place poverty reigns. 

At each consecutive temple I visit they keep buzzing around me in swarms. Irritating little mosquitoes. Sometimes noisy and persistent, other times quiet and watchful. Even if I try, I cannot seem to avoid their persistent onslaught. “Lady! Lady!” Dirty little hands push tacky souvenirs I don’t want in my direction. I am determined not to make eye contact. I don’t want to see them. “Only one dolla!” I hasten my pace, and keep my face stern. I focus on the beauty and splendour of the temple in front of me. They give up, and turn their attention to their next victim.

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Mama Arli’s Due Date

“Na! Na! Hurry; let’s go to the market! Ayo!” Mama Arli’s raspy voice bellows below my kitchen window. 

Mama Arli is my neighbor four houses down from mine, and she is always yelling at me. She’s pregnant with her third child, though hardly showing. Arli is the name of her firstborn son, and his name replaced her own once he was born. All mothers are called by their firstborn’s name without exception.  

Her house is sturdy, also on stilts, and she is fortunate to have a deep well located just a few feet from her kitchen ladder. It is November in Indonesia and this means its coffee-picking season for those in our Sumatran village. Mama Arli and her husband aren’t home much; instead they are occupied with the daily task of harvesting beans, and then drying the beans on tarps beside their home.  

 

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Christmas in Kyoto

Christmas in Kyoto did not sound promising but the flight was cheap. Having spent the last several Christmases huddled around the small wooden tables of the German Weihnachtsmarken, hands wrapped tightly around steaming ceramic mugs of glühwein, we expected Japan to be a bit of a disappointment in terms of holiday spirit.

There would be no Christmas markets selling roasted sausages or over-sized steins of altbier. There would be no outdoor festival tables to provide the inevitable camaraderie that accompanies the mass consumption of mulled wine in freezing temperatures. Communication would be near impossible as both my wife Lauren and I spoke very little Japanese and could not read kanji or katakana.  

Nonetheless, one evening as we approached the bottom of our second bottle of wine, we decided Kyoto would make for a fine introduction to Japanese culture, with the added bonus of seeing drunken Japanese “salary men” stumbling around in Santa hats.

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My Kind of Wasteland

by Izaak Diggs

 

It would be easy to dismiss Barstow as a wasteland: You've got the heat in the summer and the poverty year round. Faded mobile homes and salvagers making monkey shapes as they strip valuable tiles off collapsing houses. To the casual glance it is just a place to fill your gas tank or grab a burger or use a restroom. Just another desert town, just another exit or two along the interstate to somewhere else. Why was I there? Was I following a genuine spark of inspiration or had I lost my mind? All I could do was wring my hands, question my sanity, and take more notes. 

Barstow has always been a hub. Starting in the nineteenth century it served long distance travelers and the mining towns in the region. The desert is a popular place for mines: Men digging holes in the ground, getting a little closer to Hell in the hope of cheating the Devil at poker and getting a monopoly on brimstone. Gamblers with chin beards and suspenders who directed other men into the dark recesses of the earth. They oversaw the creation of towns that thrived for awhile only to die and be reclaimed by the desert after.  Fortunes made and lost; a story told countless times in the history of mankind. The story of Barstow is nearly identical to scores of towns scattered like seeds throughout the Southwest.   

I went down to the desert with nearly every penny I had. I stood on a salt flat, waited for the wind to rise, and tossed all the bills in the air. They were carried in every direction; to fast food restaurants and cheap motels and gas stations. Like those men with chin beards and suspenders I gambled everything I had on a dream, on an idea.  I gambled it on the desert; I gambled it on all the little towns like Barstow and Lone Pine and Tuba, Arizona and Capitan, New Mexico. I rolled the dice that there was a story there lurking like a scorpion in a yucca.

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Bride in the Attic

by Maureen Elizabeth Magee

 

Hamer woman, Ethiopia. Photo by Michael Lorentz/Safarious.com

We pull up the Land Cruiser next to a petite man walking along the road. He is wearing a sarong-type skirt; his hair is coiffed in mud and feathers. He is distinguished.

“It is Wolle!” cries Mageru as he gets out from behind the wheel. “He is the Chief of Chiefs for the Hamer people.” 

They greet each other in the traditional way for Ethiopian men – clasping each other’s backs with the left hand, shaking right hands while butting right shoulders three times. Wolle’s head feathers stroked Mageru’s mustache.

In the Hamer language, Mageru introduces me as his wife. Wolle looks me over and absent-mindedly undoes and reties his sarong. He wears nothing underneath.

“We should invite him to camp with us,” suggests Mageru. “It is a long way back to his village.”

Wolle is happy to do that but insists on supplying dinner and so we swing the car off the road and bump our way across the scrubby, dry savannah.  A landscape so formless, I cannot gauge how many miles we have travelled before reaching Wolle’s family enclave, a few cone-shaped huts made of sticks and grass and encircled by thorn bushes.

As I get out of the car, I am immediately surrounded by dozens of naked children and, standing back, shy semi-naked women. The women and I smile uncertainly – not knowing what is expected of us.

Meanwhile, under Wolle’s direction, Mageru and a few other men are playing chase with a small goat.  The goat loses, and is manipulated safely - but not quietly - into the back of the Land Cruiser. He is wedged in tight and I pray that he will not pee, poo or upchuck on our gear.

It surely is the goat’s first car ride and it will definitely be his last. And by the time he bleats all the way back to our campsite, I am not feeling even a smidge remorseful. Our cook hustles him off (out of sight of my tender ferenj sensitivities) and disposes of him quickly; within a few hours he has become a tasty stew called figel wot. It is a pleasant camping evening; the men’s Amharic/Hamer murmurings around the fire are like soft ambient music to ears that don’t understand.

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Confessions of a Traveling Author

I’m an author, Nancy King—no relation to Stephen King—but if I were, this story might be different.  As it is, I travel to independent bookstores in nearby cities, each time hoping I will find a room full of people waiting to hear what I have to say about my new novel, Changing Spaces, and wanting to buy my books. 

In one bookstore, a few people wander up to the display, pick up copies of my books and thumb through the pages. This is promising, I think. There aren't many people, but at least looking and thumbing are a prelude to buying.  I grin broadly when a petite, well-dressed woman approaches me.  “Are you the author?”

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Caught in a Mudslide

story and photos by Lori Marquardson

 

So many reasons for going to Ecuador, but being stuck on a bus full of local Evangelical Christians in a mudslide was not one of them. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow. 

I had been backpacking alone through Ecuador and, deciding that a few days exploring the Amazon jungle was in order, made arrangements to meet up with a small group in the dusty oil frontier town of Lago Agrio.  From there we would go to the Cuyabeno Nature Reserve for a few days of roughing it with iguanas, howler monkeys, piranhas and blue morpho butterflies. 

River reflections, Cuyabeno Nature Reserve, Ecuador.

A cool drizzle fell as I boarded the overnight bus in Quito. The driver’s personal touches of green fringe and dangling images of saints above the steering wheel couldn’t mask that the bus was more contraption than road-worthy vehicle. My fellow passengers were mostly short and dark, with a number of women wearing the typical Andean dress of black bowler hats, full skirts and rubber sandals while I, the obvious foreigner on board, sported beige zip-off pants and a purple windbreaker. We headed northeast, following the twisting mountainous roads leading out of the city, and despite the jolting motion, I drifted off.

At some point, I came to: the bus was not moving, no engine running, nada. I could see the driver had relaxed into what was definitely a non-driving position:  head tilted back, mouth agape, arms crossed over his chest, and legs spread-eagled. Strange, but having been in South America for quite some time, I had experienced unexplained delays before and generally they weren’t show-stoppers, so I tried to fall back asleep. Then came a huge rumble outside, followed immediately by murmuring voices inside.

“What the hell is that?”  I said to no one in particular and, being in the front row, I leaned over to the driver, and asked “¿Qué está pasando? “ 

“Hay un derrumbe.”  A landslide.  Hmmm, that did not sound good. 

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Desert Revelations

story and photos by Christopher Clark

 

As the bus eased through the gears, through the green corn fields and farther away from the small terminal in the town of Kitale, I tried to cast my mind back to the beginning, to figure out what it was that had drawn me to the wild and volatile Turkana region of Kenya in the first place. I guessed that the people I would meet once I got there might want to know. But the truth was that I still didn't really have an answer.

I could at least have said that it stemmed from books by long-dead explorers; and that I was looking for something very different; and that Turkana seemed a long way away from pretty much everything I had previously known. At 28 years old I had grown bored of and disillusioned with much of what I had previously experienced. Wasn't that enough reason? 

Either way, it was too late. I was on my way, heading north, already half way there. Soon the bus rose out of the the Rift Valley and gradually left the rich, thick vegetation behind as we entered a place of sparse open space and scorched earth.


The rumours about the poor quality of the dirt road to Turkana were by no means exaggerated. At times the bus seemed to defy physics, leaning precariously to the side, the ground suddenly almost within touching distance of the window. Many of whom I assumed were the more seasoned passengers whooped, laughed and slapped thighs as though it was all part of the fun. I held on to my armrests for dear life.

A few hours into our journey the bus passed a group of five or six men slouched on the sand with T-shirts covering most of their faces like balaclavas and AK-47s slung over their shoulders. As I stared out of the window at them, one of them saw me, stood up, lifted his gun aloft with one hand and waved at me vigorously with the other, and then they were gone.

We arrived at our destination, Lodwar, at a little before 11 p.m., roughly five hours late. Patience is a must for travelling in Kenya.

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Confessions of a Loser

by Jules Older 

 

OK, here it is — my dark secret. 

No, first, let’s set the scene. I’m a professional traveler. I make a substantial part of my unsubstantial living by traveling the globe and writing about it. I should be good at travel.

I am… when I travel with my wife. We serenely swan into Portland or Ponce or Pittsburgh, where we observe, write, photograph, and leave. People say, “My, what a competent couple.”

Couple. That’s the key word here.

When I travel without Effin (who should be declared my legal guardian, not my spouse), I lose everything. Everything. That’s my dark secret.

On a ski trip to Italy, when I drove on to Cortina, my right ski boot stayed behind in Val Gardena. Care to guess how much it costs to ship one ski boot across the Dolomites?

On recent trips, I’ve left my swimsuit in Miami, car keys in Montreal, camera in… I never did find where I left that camera. 

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