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My Allyson Experience

Allyson Goldhagen is a dear friend to whom I refer as Goldilocks.  People have stopped cars to talk to her, filmed her eating, invited her to weddings, proposed marriage etc.  Usually as soon as they meet her. Allyson is a magical wonder of intelligence and idealism, and a heavy dose of both at that.  Her fair hair and skin and blue eyes get her attention in the Arab world, and she never ceases to have amazing stories of local interaction.  Every day in Egypt, every few hours it seemed, she was having the sort of experiences that people write travel memoirs and blog posts about.  Not me! I was getting lost in cabs by myself and accidentally witnessing indecent exposure.  Needless to say, Alyson’s perspective is very different from mine, since she has some sort of magic travel dust in her flaxen hair. One day, eager to explore and nearing the end of our time in Cairo, Sarah, Khalid, Katie myself and a few others set out to see the Museum of Modern Art.  Or was it the Modern Art Museum?  I’m not sure, but I know we all fought about the name! Well our Arabic wasn’t pitch perfect, or maybe our source was off, but we got out of the cab and wandered around some impressive gates to see that we misunderstood.  Rather than open until one, it was open after one.  At about eleven am and not wanting to admit to defeat, we had little choice but to kill time. We explored the museum’s compound for a bit, generally meandering toward Tahrir square.  Quickly becoming thirsty in...

Choosing a New Place

When I first heard about the Benin trip, and how it had a one-week France component, I was a little bummed.  I had already been to france, I already had that stamp.  But I think a lot changed when I was in Cuba. As the trip got closer, I thought of paris as a comfort, as a home in so many ways.  As a breath of fresh air, the way a weekend at my parents’ house can be.  Now, when I think of bangladesh, I don’t think oh! Now I can say I’ve been to asia.  I don’t think about all the great proximate countries and how to cram them in as cheap as possible.  I think about how hard it will be to experience my first truly blind foreign language experience.  I think about how ill probably be alone, and what will I do for housing.  I think about how they treat women, and wonder whether harassment is prevalent.  When I think about the Dominican Republic, I think of the comforts of Spanish and familiar food.  I think of the proximity to Cuba and Haiti.  I think about how going there three times in a six month period will be such an asset.  Of course, I also hope there will be enough food, and that I wont get sick of spending so much time there. I think a lot, too, about the choices I don’t make.  Latin america isn’t supposed to be my focus area.  Shouldn’t I be in Africa or the Middle East?  Shouldn’t, as a friend suggested, I be running back to Cairo? This is where...

Domino

This is my best possible recollection of something that happened about a year ago.  The quotes may be a bit off, but the sentiment is there. Also, some names are changed because I felt weird. I wander down the broken street, and my steps start to bounce because I can hear Rigoletto floating down to me out of a high Havana window.  Bum bum bum bum-ba-da, bum bum bum bum-ba-da, baa daa daa daa-daa, baa daa daa daa-daa.  I think briefly of seeing that opera at the Met when I was in high school, and the warmth of the memory has Havana feeling like home.  But still, I get slow and cautious as I approach the tiny barrio within itself.  It isn’t about safety; I don’t want to be the first one to show up. There are no women poking their heads out of windows tonight, no children running around and curling themselves around my ankles.  One little, bare bright, bulb shines and makes shadows out of Brittan and Fernando.  Rather than playing dominoes and crouching on the metal skeletons of chairs, they rest comfortably on a low, cement wall.  They drink, but their voices are relaxed and slow and the bottle remains upright and still most of the time. Brit smirks and stands to hug me, and suddenly Fernando is animated.  He immediately busies himself getting me the closest thing to a proper chair and a jam jar for the clear, grainy rum. “Heh, Have I got a story for you,” Brit quietly laughs to me.  So Fernando won’t hear it: “we’ve been talking about you.”  He seems pleased...

Cuban Novio, Cuban Boyfriend

By far, the majority of my traffic centers around these search terms.  That worried me.  It says that there’s a need.  There are these women out there with Cuban boyfriends, or wanting them, and not knowing how to handle it.  What to buy them, how to get one, how to know if they’re cheating, what to feed them, when to believe them.  I didn’t just put those thoughts into people’s heads, they’re all very real search terms I see all the time. Here’s the thing: I’ve never had a novio cubano, for a variety of reasons. If you want to know what it’s like, read Whitney’s series Adventures with a Cuban Boy over at her blog On Love and Other Things.  She has great prose, genuine thoughts and enchanting pictures.  And more importantly, she has the experience. I won’t talk about other people’s experience, but I cant talk about mine.  Here are a few posts I’ve written on the male/female dynamic in Cuba, from the perspective of a young, white American foreigner. I had a hard time with the novio thing in Cuba.  I’m a girl who’s used to having close guy friends, and a few good circles of guys to spend time with.  I’m also used to people finding out I have a boyfriend and respecting that, rather than trying to make me forget or “live in the moment.”  I’ve taken a bit of crap from fellow travelers for disliking some of the attention I get when abroad, but I don’t think anyone should have to put up with harassment, and I think everyone has the capacity to...

Ten Things No One Tells You About Study Abroad

You will have at least one nervous breakdown. People don’t really want to hear that much about your trip.  30 seconds or less will do. Other countries are really not that scary.  The people are pretty much just like us–they just dress, talk and act different, and eat different food. Some days, it will suck. This is because it is real life, not an extended vacation.  So laugh and keep moving.  Even if you have to fake it, you probably won’t notice when you stop needing to. You will spend too much money. No matter how carefully you pack, you will have brought too much, and still manage to have left behind something you totally miss It’s harder to adjust to life back home at the end of the trip than life away from home at the beginning. Everyone gets in.  Well, pretty close to it. Everyone lies about how perfect study abroad is.  Study abroad is awesome, but not perfect.  I promise, your friends don’t post pictures, blogs or status updates about feeling overwhelmed, having trouble making friends, or being ridiculously homesick.  No one wants to admit “defeat” especially since everyone else’s time seems so perfect.  But everyone is having their rough days, too. You will, in fact, spend the same amount of time on facebook and watching movies/television as you did back home. 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...
Is this African Enough?

Is this African Enough?

When I was in Egypt, we often joked that we were in Fake Africa.  When asked if I had ever been to Africa before Benin, I would say yes and explain Egypt, which elicited much doubt.  I was told, in one way or another, that Egypt didn’t count, or wasn’t really Africa because it was: too rich too Arab not black enough too developed too wealthy filled with too many people who were fully clothed not hungry enough not in civil strife not “native” enough too educated If that’s not offensive to all parties, I’m not sure what would be.  Often our stereotypes, both positive and negative, get in the way of our ability to just appreciate a place for what it is.  When in the markets of Benin, many of the girls looked for “something really African,” such as wooden, hand-carved jewelry.  Wooden, hand-carved statues.  Or wooden, hand-carved anything.  Many were frustrated that we only saw cheap plastic and metal jewelry from China in plastic wrap.  But that’s what the women around us wore.  Not hand-carved elephants or oblong faces on a string of wooden beads. Instead of trapping Africa in the CNN version of it (hungry, desolate, war-torn and filled with safari animals and naked people) why don’t we just let Africa reveal itself to us?  Sometimes Africa is t-shirts, while other times it’s vivid-patterned cloth from China, and still others it’s an abaya.  We are the observers–not the creators–of Africa, and like any destination, we should try not to let our own imagination hold us back from the amazing world unfolding right in front of us. Share...

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