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Group Travel Archives - Away She Goes
Ganvie: the Stilt Village of Benin

Ganvie: the Stilt Village of Benin

En route to Ganvie. It’s rare for people to write about Ganvie, or really any part of Benin, but when they do it churns my stomach.  Romantic, they write.  Mystical, inviting, the Venice of Africa. None of this is what I saw in Ganvie. We got to the stilt village in the middle of Nokué Lake, not far from Cotonou,  Moving in a pair of long motorboats we passed fish farms and what looked like the invasive species water hyacinth along the way.  Because we were a human services group, someone asked the obvious question of whether the men who brought us there were from the community, and the answer was hand-waved away with a probably.  When we arrived, we got out to find a small, angry monkey chained to a post, setting the tone for our visit. The only monkey I saw in three weeks in Benin.   Reasons given for the existence of the village are varied, from the villagers themselves as well as the internet.  Some claim it started 400 years ago, others say the 16th or 17th century.  The Tofinu people were running from enslavement by either the Fon or Dahomey tribe.  Or was it the Portuguese?  Some claim it’s the only one in the world, or perhaps the biggest. Everything felt uneasy there. A woman screamed at us in a tribal language as we came to a shop.  Throughout the day, children and adults would curse, yell and point at us as they passed on their completely non-mechanized boats.  Even for those who didn’t speak French, it still had a chilling effect.  We found ourselves lowering...
Make Your Own Luck

Make Your Own Luck

In photography, people often dismiss great shots by attributing them to luck or other outside factors. That person just happened to be there at the right time, they have nicer equipment, that shot is easier because the subject itself is so interesting, colorful or rare.  But as Andrea, one of my favorite photography professors, reminds me, photographers make their own luck. Yes, that may be a lucky shot, but you’re not seeing all the other shots that didn’t work out.  You don’t see how many hours they waited in that location for something good to happen in that frame, how much research they did to find the right location, or how much time they invested getting their subjects to trust them and feel comfortable.   You’re also not seeing how much time they spend practicing being creative and getting to know their own equipment, so when the time comes they can see something more interesting than what everyone else is seeing, and capture the image quickly. During my two summers in Cuba as a TA to Northeastern University’s photography program, the students with the best collection of images were the ones who created their own luck. They went back to the same locations over and over again, getting to know people and becoming an accepted presence in their midst as opposed to an intruder existing outside the action. They learned the necessary background information to find the potential for great shots, and learned when the variables could possibly line up.  Eventually, this hard work paid off with gorgeous, insightful, authentic views of their subjects in their own environs. Like a...

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Since moving from a study abroad participant to a leader of trips abroad, I have had some recalibrating to do.  There is a difference between the risks I’m willing to take myself and those I’m willing to allow my students to take. This came rushing to the fore last summer when I was walking at night in Havana with the majority of our students, and at least one of the Cubans with us was stopped by the police for walking with white women while black.  It is important to note that this is a significantly worse offense than walking while black, although that’s an issue in Cuba as well.  The reason is not only due to racism and history, but also tourism, industry, and hegemony.  While I find the term “tourism apartheid” a bit strident, there is more than a nugget of truth to it, and the way it plays out in Cuba is that it’s somewhat acceptable if the white woman is visibly into it, but otherwise all young black men are assumed to be harassing your tourist dollars away.  Of course, not once has the policia ever showed up to stop genuine harassment (to my knowledge).  And the component of hegemony: when it comes down to it, some lives are deemed more worthy than others, and white skin and our little blue books protect us.  Somewhere in the 20th century, it became unacceptable for an American to lose their life abroad.  It’s cool at home, especially if they lost their life to a legally purchased gun, or if they are not white and middle class.  But that’s...

Tightlipped

Those who know me and read this blog have noticed that there are usually two reasons for me to go quiet: I’m incredibly stressed and busy, or I can’t possibly keep my mouth shut about a new potential opportunity. This time it may be a bit of both.  I’m graduating in May, which brings with it a job hunt and certain anxieties about friends moving away, finding a place to live, and paying off bills.  Granted, I’ve been rather laid back about the whole thing, but that doesn’t make it go away and that doesn’t make people stop asking me about it. On the bright side, I’ve been having beautiful, magical transportive dreams of crumbling colonial facades, cramped, sticky rooms bursting with tambores, and of course, that living creature that is the malecón. See you in May, mi habana! Share this:Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Like this:Like...
The Funny Thing About Europe

The Funny Thing About Europe

…is that it has drinkable water and hot showers and everything you could want to buy.  There are crepes and high prices, wi-fi and western food.  And still, it is not enough for some. But then, it is still Greece, the modern-day Sick Man of Europe.  And as one econ professor always reminded us, Greece is only considered European as long as it suits the Great White West.  I feel funny just calling it Europe.  Now that Greece has become inconvenient (yet again), there are rumblings of amending the Schengen Agreement to allow the “temporary” removal of states, for the “protection of the integrity” of the alliance.  Sounds an awful lot like the precursor to Children of Men to me, especially the quotes in the FT article.  But still, I can’t wait to see what this means for all things NATO, EU, Eurozone and Schengen.  Not to mention to study abroad ramifications! So there is that other part of Greece.  That part that has me missing Zamalek every day.  I see Cairo everywhere, and when I look out on my balcony I search for the minarets and nautical nightclubs that punctuate the Nile. My room and hotel even look like el fondoq flamenco, the hotel I called home for most of my six weeks there. Stray cats and dogs wander freely, though not in such great numbers (or as such a great nuisance) as in al Qahira.  But there is that dustiness that settles over everything, and the heft to most of the infrastructure that gives one the feeling that anything thin or aesthetically appealing would simply take too...
Opening Week

Opening Week

Things have been slow on this blog because they’ve been fast in my life.  However busy I always thought I was the first few days abroad, it’s nothing compared to running a study abroad program.  Add to that the various other engagements back home (writing and otherwise) that have been tugging at my brain, and it seems there’s been so little of me left for…well, for myself. On the bright side, my little room is up high and has a balcony, and I don’t have a roommate.  While I hate falling asleep alone in my room (I miss you Jordyn!)  it is nice that everything is exactly how I leave it, and I never have to worry that it will bother anyone else.  OF course, this is a hotel, so there is maid service.  I try to stave them off, but they’re incredibly persistent and I don’t want the “do not disturb” sign to dissuade the guys on my floor. Oh, right, Em and I are in charge of a floor of all guys.  I sometimes feel like Wendy leading around the Lost Boys, especially since the first thing any of them said to me was, “Hello, Lady!”  In a naïve way, not like a pushy, New York way. For the most part, all the students are pretty good.  They’re all wildly tardy (we are always 30 minutes to an hour late to everything), and generally ask us a million questions rather than ever look at their own schedules, but they’re kind and rather funny. We’re still adrift here on team Greece, however.  We have yet to establish a...

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