30 April 2016

This Kid

When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana, teaching high school math at a poor village day school, I didn't have a lot of exceptional students (exceptional in the academic sense...of course they were all exceptional people!).  One day one of the teachers (my next door neighbor and the social studies teacher) asked me if I knew a certain student. Of course I knew him; he was the smartest kid in class.  He was also about to be kicked out of school because he hadn't paid his fees.  Seems his father was a drunk and his mother had abandoned them years before.  My neighbor asked if I knew of any donors (they had this belief that we were all somehow in touch with an endless supply of rich people wanting to donate money) who could offer him a scholarship.  I said I'd see what I could do.

I did try to find scholarships but actual scholarships (as opposed to fake scholarships I made up to disguise donations sent to me by friends and family) were very difficult to come by.  So I talked to the student and told him that I was looking for a scholarship but in the mean time I would pay his fees so long as he didn't tell anyone lest I have everyone in town knocking on my door asking for money. He agreed and he held true to his promise. I never did manage to get him a scholarship but I did make sure his fees were paid even after my time there was over.

The school where I taught was not a school that prepared students for higher learning.  Every student in the country takes what is known as the WAEC (West African Exam Council) at the end of secondary school (equivalent to grade 12).  They take tests in subjects whether their school had a teacher for those subjects or not.  How any student from the school where I taught (which did not have teachers for all subjects) passes that exam I will never understand (but clearly they are smarter than I am!).  So this student managed to pass the WAEC and gain acceptance into one of the best universities in the country. He wrote to me (on paper through the mail!) asking if I could help with the tuition.  How could I say no?  Tuition there isn't free but it's insanely cheap compared to American universities.  A small sacrifice on my part for a huge return on his.

After graduating with a degree in sustainable agriculture he began his 2 years of national service.  Then he went to work for an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) working on reforestation projects.  When I went back to Ghana in 2013 he told me he was applying to graduate school programs. I asked him why he had waited so long and he said he felt that he needed to stand on his own feet (his words), work and save money in order to be able to pay for the exams and application fees himself since he had been so fortunate to have had someone help him get as far as he did.  Not sure where he got that attitude since he certainly didn't learn it at home.  But needless to say, I was proud.

He emailed me (how times have changed!) last year to say he was in Wales on a one-year masters scholarship (he's also doing a lot of volunteer work with a beach clean-up project there so clearly he got something from me :D).  I wish I could have been there when he got on the plane...got off the plane...saw a supermarket for the first time...tasted cheese...so many new experiences!  I'm going to see him next month and I'm so excited. He's an amazing kid (I suppose I should call him an adult now but he'll always be my kid) and I can't wait to help him have more new experiences (including taking him to my old stomping grounds in the Netherlands)!

Here he is when I saw him in 2008 (in yellow, he was an undergraduate student then) and in 2013 (we didn't have digital cameras when I lived there so I know I have pictures of him from way back then but I don't have them) digitally.




My boy is definitely now a very mature, passionate, determined man and I can't wait to see what he makes of himself and how he betters his country. When you do something like the Peace Corps it isn't always easy to see if what you're doing is making any difference and sometimes it seems as if beating your head against a wall would be more productive.  My kid tells people that if I hadn't helped him he'd be the hardest working farmer in the village. I like to think that he would have found a way to make it to better things on his own but I'm definitely very proud of what he has done and so happy to have played a small part in his success.  And I'm so looking forward to seeing him soon!

29 April 2016

Were Am I Going?

In 2 weeks I'm leaving on a three-week trip!!! WHAOO!!!

Here are some hints as to where I'm going...

First stop: Unpronounceable volcano names and these


[source]


Second stop: Cymru,  Llanfairpwllgwyngyll and


[source]


Third stop: Mijn 2de land! 



More to come!!

Do you know where I'm going?  Have you been there?  Any recommendations?

23 March 2016

Why I Would Go to Paris (Beirut, Brussels, Mali...) Right Now

I started this post when the Paris terror attacks happened.  Beirut had just happened.  Then Mali happened. Ankara happened.  And I kept putting this off...I guess waiting for it to end.  I've been to Brussels many times.  I've posted about the city several times.  I've been to Paris and Mali.  I love these places. 

If the Brussels airport is open tomorrow and someone offered me a ticket, I would go.  When I arrived, I would get on the train (which runs all the way into the airport) and take it to central Brussels.  Then I would get on the metro to wherever in the city I needed to go.  I would have done the same after Paris or Beirut (and still would).  I will go if London or Bangkok or San Diego or Toronto or Canberra are attacked.  I will not stay home out of fear of what might happen.  There will be attacks whether I travel or not. 

Gran at the European Union Headquarters (can't remember if this is before or after we got kicked out). The metro beneath this area is where one attack happened.

Dad, Mom and Brother on the Brussels metro after I picked them up at the Brussels airport.

Seeing my sister and brother off at the Brussels airport...in the departures lounge where the bombing occurred today (with a cameo by the purple jacket). [I often take pictures of my feet...not sure why.]

 
When I moved overseas the dogs and I flew into Brussels airport.  I flew in and out of that airport many times over the next 3 years.  I had family and friends visit me by way of that airport.  I've dropped people off and picked people up. I've parked my car in the parking garage there.  I bruised my shoulder on a column outside the arrivals lounge when I went to pick up Gran.  I had food poisoning and went outside to throw up.  I was so weak that I leaned against the column to keep from falling over.  The throwing up caused me to repeatedly slam my shoulder into the column.  Better than falling over!  I laid on the floor of the train station in the airport while Gran stood in line for tickets.  I didn't have the strength to stand up.  It's difficult to imagine anything so horrific as today's attack happening there. 
 
I've traveled to places that are supposedly less safe than western Europe.  I've traveled all over western Europe.  I have no plans to stop.  I've been called crazy for traveling to 3rd world countries.  Now people say I'm crazy for traveling to western Europe. Could something happen?  Of course it could.  But honestly, I think I'm less safe driving to work. 
 
So if anyone wants to give me a ticket to Brussels or Paris or London or Beirut or Mali or pretty much anywhere (there are a few places I wouldn't go but I'll save that for another post) I'll gladly take it! And I'm looking for train tickets from London to Brussels.  Cross your fingers for me because I'd like to find them cheap!
 
How do you feel about the safety of travel right now?  Would you go to Brussels or Paris or any of the other recent scenes of attacks?


06 March 2016

The Traveling Purple Jacket - Sundays in My City




When I moved to the Netherlands and became a bicycle commuter I quickly found that I needed a rain jacket and rain pants.  I found cheap ones for 5 euro in a bin at Lidl (a store that had an ever-changing very odd assortment of groceries and random other things like truck tires or snow boots or garden equipment).  The pants in my size were black which was fine.  The jackets in my size were not available in black so I ended up with purple...not a color I would normally buy. But I didn't want to spend a lot of time shopping or a lot of money.  Little did I know how much traveling that purple jacked would end up doing.

I don't take a lot of pictures of myself (I generally hate pictures of myself) but here are a few of the places the purple jacket visited. 

Waiting in line at the Louvre in Paris while Gran ran around taking pictures in the rain.


In Amsterdam (see it hanging from my backpack?).
In Queensferry, Scotland.  It was VERY windy!



At Plitvce Lakes National Park in Croatia




 
In Milan, Italy (see it hanging from my chair under the table?).


At a family reunion in PA
I still wear that purple jacket.  It's had quite the life for a 5 euro jacket from a Lidl bin!


Unknown Mami


20 February 2016

Jajce - Sundays in My City

I visited Jajce, which is located in central Bosnia and Herzegovina a couple years ago.  I mentioned it briefly in an earlier post. I had read about the beautiful waterfall in this town and decided to pay a visit while touring the Balkans. So I took a bus from Zagreb, Croatia.  The waterfall is beautiful but the town is very tiny and, having come by bus, I had no way to go anywhere else and my ticket back to Zagreb wasn't until the next day.  I took hundreds of pictures of the waterfall, walked around the town 6 or 7 times, took some more pictures of the waterfall, walked around the town a few more times...that's how I spent my time there.

Good lucky trying to pronounce any of the places mentioned here.  There seems to be a lack of necessary vowels!  My spell check is going crazy.

Jajce was first built in the 14th century and served as the capital of the independent Kingdom of Bosnia during its time. The town has gates as fortifications, as well as a castle with walls which lead to the various gates around the town.

The town is famous for its beautiful waterfall where the Pliva River meets the river Vrbas. It was thirty meters high, but during the Bosnian war, the area was flooded and the waterfall is now 20 meters high. The flooding may have been due to an earthquake and/or attacks on the hydroelectric power plant further up the river.

Jajce is situated in the mountains, there is a beautiful countryside near the city, rivers such as the Vrbas and Pliva, lakes like Pliva lake, which is also a popular destination for the local people and some tourists. This lake is called Brana in the local parlance. Not far from Jajce there are mountains that are over two thousand meters high like Vlasic near the city of Travnik. Travelling through the mountain roads to the city may not sit well with some visitors, because the roads are in poor condition, but the scenery is picturesque.                                         [Source] 








 




Went back to see it at night because...what else was there to do :)

The town was picturesque and the weather was beautiful but had I known how small it was and how there really wasn't much else to see there except for the waterfall I would not have arrived so early or planned to stay so long. I would have made it a stop on the way somewhere instead of a destination all its own.  Lesson learned.

Have you over-estimated a destination?  What do you do when you get there and realize there really isn't much to see or do?

For other destinations, head over to Unknown Mami and check out the rest of the Sundays in My City posts.

Unknown Mami

14 February 2016

People Watching in Brussels - Sundays in My City

When I lived in the Netherlands, Brussels was an easy day-trip away.  Sometimes I'd go with a specific something-to-see (a photography exhibit, for example) but sometimes I'd go and just wander. 

We didn't often have really great weather in northern Europe but once in a while we did. On this particular day it was beautiful and lots of people were out.  I enjoy capturing images of people just being people...not posing, not in front of some landmark or statue...just doing what they do.  Here are some of those.
















Do you enjoy people watching? 

Linking up with Unknown Mami for Sundays in My City.

Unknown Mami

04 February 2016

Where Have I Been?

Home...mostly. 

This blog started as a way to share my travels with friends and family back home.  It evolved a little when I made a bigger move overseas and grew to incorporate posts about the dogs, exercise, books, food, etc.  That wasn't my original intent but it's what happened.

Last year I didn't really go anywhere.  I had plans but then Tex got sick and shortly thereafter we lost him.  It was a huge emotional blow and I'm still not over it.  On the same day my car engine blew up.  Seriously!  I lived a bad country song for a little while.  In addition to the emotional trauma of it there was also a big hit to my bank account.  So my travel plans were put on hold. 

I wasn't the only one to be hit very hard by Tex's parting.  My other (much older) dog also lost her best friend and she was clearly very depressed. I felt like I had to do something or I was going to lose her, too. So after a month I brought home two foster dogs from the rescue where I volunteer.  They came to the rescue together from the same house and I didn't want to separate them.

Bella (I nicknamed her the Little Monster)- a miniature poodle who was in terrible shape when we got her. After getting her healthy and recovered from her recent abandonment and neglect she was adopted by a wonderful woman and is thriving in her new home.

Jack - a black lab/pit mix who is about the sweetest dog you'll ever meet.
I wish I could say that these dogs were the balm my old dog needed to get over her sadness but they weren't.  However, she does seem less depressed although I doubt she'll ever fully get over the loss of Tex.  She really didn't like Bella (Bella had some aggression issues even though she was a tiny little thing and at her age, Chey is just not as understanding and adaptable as she used to be).  No dog will ever replace Tex but Jack has a great sense of when something is wrong and he checks on her (and me) often (sometimes knocking her over in his haste to see if she is okay).  It's not perfect but it's better than what it was. I no longer worry that Chey is going to commit suicide while I'm at work (I'm not making light of suicide...I cried every morning when I left just because of the look on her face).

Chey and Jack the day he came to live with us. I think this might be the only picture I have where Chey is smiling.
So we've just been here, doing out thing...recovering emotionally and figuring out a new normal. 



However, I do have travel plans for this year!  And I have travels about which I have not yet posted.  So I hope to get back to this blog and tell you about some trips I've taken in the past and what my plans are for this year.  I'm excited!

Do you have travel plans for this year?  What are they?

29 August 2015

Losing a Friend

I had no idea how lucky I was a little over 9 years ago when the next-door neighbor knocked and, crying, asked if I'd be willing to take her dog.  I was exactly 1 week away from moving from AZ to NC.  The neighbors had moved from Michigan to AZ because the dry air was supposed to be good for the husband's allergies (I think...some medical reason like that). They got the dog thinking it would be good for the husband's arthritis to go on daily walks.  Well, the husband was often sick and sometimes barely got out of bed for weeks at a time. Because of the allergy situation, the dog was mostly kept outside. They felt like they weren't giving the dog a very good life and wanted better for him.  The dog got along very well with my dog and they wanted him to go to a good home.  How could I say no?  So, Tex joined us on our cross-country road trip. 


In the back of the truck driving from AC to NC.  I cannot believe how young he looks here!

The dogs were fast friends and I was often asked if they were from the same litter because they looked so much alike. 


Tex has brought so much joy and happiness to our lives.  He had such a great personality!  His smiles and kisses and always-wagging tail were sure to cheer you up no matter what your mood.  He could be so goofy you couldn't help but burst out laughing. But he was also so amazingly sweet and caring (both to humans and his adopted-dog-sister).  Together we've moved across the country, across the ocean (visiting 4 countries while there), and back.




Just look at that smile!

Tex was diagnosed with cancer 2 months ago.  It was very aggressive and, despite trying chemo treatments, took him very quickly.  I can't express how difficult his loss has been. Chey definitely misses her best buddy and I feel so badly for her.  They were inseparable for 9 years. 




He loved to sleep under my bed and his always-wagging tail would go thunk-thunk-thunk on the floor.  Not hearing that makes the room seem eerily silent.  I still can't quite believe he's actually gone.

Smiling and tail wagging...such a happy dog.
Thank you, sweet boy...for everything. You were the best and I hope you know how very much you were loved.  You are missed.

28 May 2015

For Our 11th Anniversary, I'm Thinking...Dog Biscuits

This past weekend marked 11 years since I found the sweetest girl at the animal shelter.

11 Years Ago
 She's moved across the state, across the country, across the ocean and back with me!

A little whiter in the face  now but still just as sweet!
 
 
Happy 11th anniversary Cheyenne!  Love my baby girl!!

01 May 2015

the.book.chat {Recommended Reads}

Happy Belated Birthday to Jessica over at The Tangerine.  For her birthday she requested book recommendations.  What a great gift!  If only I could have written this post a little faster so that it was done in time for her birthday. However...

I recently read a fantastic book and am excited to share it. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness,  by Susannah Cahalan, was both fascinating and terrifying.  I was hooked from the very beginning!  In this book, Susannah tells the true tale of her battle with a disease that involved her own immune system attacking her brain...basically her immune system tried to cook her brain.  Like I said, terrifying and fascinating!

Front Cover

At first, there's just darkness and silence.
"Are my eyes open? Hello?"
I can't tell if I'm moving my mouth or if there's even anyone to ask. It's too dark to see. I blink once, twice, three times. There is a dull foreboding in the pit of my stomach. That, I recognize. My thoughts translate only slowly into language, as if emerging from a pot of molasses. Word by word the questions come: Where am I? Why does my scalp itch? Where is everyone? Then the world around me comes gradually into view, beginning as a pinhole, its diameter steadily expanding. Objects emerge from the murk and sharpen into focus.
I know immediately that I need to get out of here.
[Source]

Susannah was lucky...I know, "lucky" is not a term one generally uses when talking about someone whose immune system tried to cook her brain, stay with me here...that she lived in a major city with a large hospital, she had insurance and she had family nearby to both help her and fight for her.  Had she been in some small town in Nebraska (no offense, Nebraska), for example, I doubt her chances of a positive outcome would have been anywhere near as good.  If she hadn't had family to help her she might not have been treated at all. If she hadn't had health insurance she surely wouldn't have received the treatment she did.  Let's face it, this country is not a good place to be if you have a serious illness and no health insurance.

I shudder to think of other women facing this disease who are misdiagnosed, as Susannah was initially, and end up in a psych ward...or who do not survive. Terrifying.

This was a fast read because it was so fascinating.  You can't make up stuff like this.  It's amazing how much we still do not know or understand about the human body.  Check out this book if you want to be both fascinated and terrified by what your body can do to you!  For more information on this disease check out Susannah's website.

Sorry for being so late, Jessica, but I hope you had a fantastic birthday. Gefiliciteerd!!  Check out other recommendations at Jessica's birthday link-up.

What book would you recommend to someone?