The good women over at IMOMSOHARD did it again with their video on why NOT to travel with kids. I swear every time I say to my husband “Hey, honey come look at this,” he responds with “Is it a “hard mom” (that’s what he calls it) video?”
Of course I felt this was the only research I needed to do in order to prepare for our upcoming international flight with Harvey. My expectations are low, which is really your best key to success when it comes to most things as a new parent.
As far as preparation goes, things look different than basically every other trip I have ever taken:
Before Baby: Packing list?
Now: I swear I am keeping it simple. “Call the airline and add another checked bag.”
Before Baby: “We leave at 4AM and have an 11 hour layover, but the flight was cheap!”
Now: “Our flight is at 2PM so we should probably be at the airport at 8AM.”
In Flight Entertainment
Before Baby: I have Invisibilia cued up, or I might just sleep for 13 hours.
Now: Sophie √ The world’s most annoying crinkly sound toy √ Pacifier that my baby refuses to take but might decide he wants √ A stuffed animal…and all his friends. √√√ Should we bring a blender to make baby food on the plane?
Before Baby: “I’m so excited to take this trip together!”
Now: “I’m so excited to take this trip together with our baby!”
I will post our ACTUAL packing list and lessons learned on our first international flight with a baby. I’m excited to share another adventure with Harvey Wild and to introduce him to one of my favorite places. Italy, here we come!
Peace, love and wild wishes,
June 16, 2017: Harvey is six months old
Inspiration has usually stemmed from the adventure of travel for me. I would kayak through a mangrove forest, plunge into a salty ocean, wander through dense forest or stand atop a craggy mountain peak breathing in awe and wonder, breathing out ideas with clarity and fresh perspective. I thought maybe having a baby would stifle my ability to look at the world in this way since I knew I might never go back to the same pace of travel I had become used to.
Six months ago Harvey Wild was born and I embarked on the wildest adventure of my life, as his mom. I am more powerful, sleep deprived and filled with inspiration than I have ever been. My back aches, not from carrying my belongings up a mountain, but from learning to breastfeed. My brain is filled with new information, not new languages, but growth charts and milestones. My heart is soft, not because of an epic sunset, but because I spend everyday watching a life growing and becoming a bigger presence in the world, a life that I have helped to sustain. In some moments I have even caught a glimpse of my own life growing and changing as I was born into motherhood. It’s scary, eye-opening, expensive and all-consuming, just like any good adventure.
And so here we are, my two worlds meeting on a page. I’m inspired to start again with this blog in order to document my new adventure as a parent and want to share our willingness to travel as parents, cloth diapers and all!
So, how did we get here? Harvey Wild was born December 16th, 2016. We moved back from Singapore in June of that same year to our hometown, Bellingham, Washington and committed to a different pace, but also to honoring seven years of living abroad with the way we planned to parent.
Our rules are simple:
Rule 1: Get outside
Harvey was born in the middle of a snowstorm, our first taste of snow in many years. It was magical, and cold! Matt went back to work after two weeks and I was home with a seven month old puppy, a new baby and 650 square feet of living space. Everyday I bundled Harvey into his carrier, put on the sweet hat my midwives had knit for him, wrangled Ziggy Pup and the three of us set out on a mini adventure. Ziggy and Harvey had never experienced Winter and several years of living on the equator for me made us all stand in awe looking at the giant fir trees covered in white.
At three months we took Harvey and Ziggy to Orcas Island’s Doe Bay for three days. We rode the ferry and stayed in a yurt overlooking the beach. It was windy and cold and we spent time huddled by the fire, hiking through soggy forests and sitting in the saltwater soaking tubs. It was the best!
We have done a few day hikes so far using the Ergo360 and we have also started running together using the BOB Stroller. We get out rain or shine, on all terrains and Harvey naps on-the-go. Finally, we take the bus a lot. Everyone is so friendly when you have a baby which makes taking the bus that much more enjoyable.
Rule 2: Ask questions
I love research and was raised to question everything. When I got pregnant I started hearing a lot of “You should…stop eating sushi, get regular ultrasounds, get an epidural, put your baby in a crib, get on a schedule, use a pacifier…” The shoulds didn’t sit right with me and so I started seeking out families who I aligned with in thinking on other issues, and then I watched how they parented. I asked a lot of questions and ultimately Matt and I made a patchwork plan of how we wanted to do things.
One thing we questioned was the medical care Harvey and I would receive before, during and after delivery. I knew that I wanted to attempt a natural birth and sought out a birthing center that didn’t see birth as a medical condition requiring uneccessary interventions. Throughout my pregnancy, delivery and postpartum care I saw the same midwives and our first post-delivery check-up was even in the comfort of our home. At every visit they listened to me and never doubted my ability to birth my baby. It was a really wonderful experience. After Harvey was born we also questioned the kind of care that was standard for him. We did our research and ended up having him see a Naturopathic Pediatrician as his primary care provider. Harvey’s doctor encourages me to breastfeed during vaccinations, takes his time duringour visits and has become an important part of Harvey’s growing community.
At each new stage we rely on our questioning again to help lead our decisions about parenting. And of course, our plans change as Harvey changes. It’s dynamic, it’s scary, it’s an adventure!
Rule 3: Respect the land
We live in a beautiful part of the world and have visited stunning landscapes in our travels together. What these experiences have brought me is a deep respect for nature and the land we live and play on. It is important to us that we honor Mother Earth by consuming less and preserving more.
The biggest step we have taken toward this goal is cloth diapering. Now, in the sense that nothing is free, cloth diapering does use water resources however, between 5-10 gallons of water are used to produce ONE disposable diaper not to mention the waste produced as these diapers pile up in landfills. Cloth doesn’t work for all families, but it is working great for ours. We do two extra loads per week and this has meant that Matt and I limit washing our clothes to once per week, yep sometimes we don’t smell super fresh 🙂 so we do a TOTAL of three loads of laundry per week. We hang dry most of the time to cut energy use as well. We also love the $$$$avings!
The challenge is always “How to travel using cloth diapers???” So far we have only taken weekend trips with cloth and that has been easy. We rinse them out by hand and place them in a wet-bag until we get home. Onour upcoming 10-day trip to Sicily we plan to cloth diaper as well, check back to see how it goes!
Rule 4: Stay wild
Harvey Wild is not a super wild baby, in fact he is about as mellow as they come. His middle name is really only fitting because of his wild and fast birth. Besides that we do strive to seek out wild landscapes, are in awe of wildlife and want to encourage our kids to be wild and free always. Having a baby so far has been our wildest adventure.
Pretty simple rules to follow for our family, and they are always changing. At six months Harvey is helping us be more adaptable everyday and he is proving to be a patient teacher for these new parents.
Peace, love and wild wishes,
You have probably heard about how bad the haze is in Singapore right now, or maybe not. Anyway, we are going stir crazy over here so we spent the day writing a song about it and making this ridiculous music video. Enjoy! And don’t forget to feel sorry for us while you’re at it 😉
“Namaste divine spirit Emily,” read the greeting of my email from Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh, India. “This is going to be so great!” I told my husband as we packed our disinfectant wipes and matching saris into the Osprey backpacks we received as a gift from our un-traditional wedding registry. Our plan was to fly into Delhi together and then embark on separate journeys. My husband would take a multi-day train trip to Varanasi and I would spend the next couple of weeks in a silent meditation at an Ashram at the base of the Himalayas. He would photograph the fires, cremations and ceremonies on the banks of the Ganges River and I would learn how to stand on my head in the peaceful garden that is my own mind. We planned to meet “On the steps of the Ashram on Christmas Eve.”
“There are no rooms overlooking the garden, we will put you in the family dorm.” The man at reception was wearing a Fanta soda t-shirt and an expression that was closer to a night watchman at a motel 6 than the key holder to my spiritual awakening. As I walked out of reception and across the dark courtyard, a courtyard I would only ever see in the dark hours of early morning, I caught a glimpse of the daily schedule:
4:45 Universal Prayer
6:00 Morning Yoga
16:00 Evening Yoga
19:00 Evening Ganga Aarti
I had no idea what most of the things in the schedule meant and I had less of an idea what I could possibly pray for at 4:45 in the morning, but that is why I was in Rishikesh, to re-focus my energy on a balanced lifestyle, one that did not include checking my Facebook on the subway and staying up late to watch the bizarre sex lives of corrupt government officials rise to the top on Netflix.
My room was on the second floor, with a bare bulb outside that was covered in a nest of moths making it sway back and forth, dimmed beyond use. When I stepped in to my room I sloshed through a puddle of water from the toilet that had run out into the hallway. “There’s no water, someone might fix it later,” the housekeeping manager told me. “Oh that’s ok, I was planning to bathe in the Ganga.” I got a pitied look, like when you tell your parents your plan to take a Gap-Year after you finish your liberal arts degree. Despite not showering, the minor flood in my room, the moths and the thought of waking up in a few hours to pray, I felt happy. I wiped the headboard and mattress with disinfectant wipes, covered my bed in the sari I had packed, took out my headlamp and opened up a book of Hindu prayers I had bought at the store that sold crystals and incense back in Singapore’s Little India.
I was coming from my life as a teacher in Singapore where the only days I ate lunch were usually while running across the field blowing a whistle and the only time I didn’t have a cup of coffee in my hand was when I was on the subway, because it was illegal to eat or drink on the subway. The coffee issue would become a big deal in India, something that I thought might even break me.
“Maaaaaaamaaaaaaaa!” The first scream woke me up. The second got me out of bed and the third had me sloshing back through toilet water into the hallway. A young Indian girl and her brother were fighting over a Nokia phone outside my room. Their mother came out and I waited for her to scold her children breaking the peaceful silence of this holy place. “Give me that.” I stood, shocked as I watched the mother confiscate the phone, open it and begin having a loud conversation on it with the person waiting on the other end. The kids went back to screaming and this time fighting over a hand-mirror. “Umm excuse me…excuse me, I think this is a silent place….excuse me, you are supposed to stay silent, you know like meditation?” The screams went on most of the night, and when they had subsided the large groups, families and young people clambered down the halls from what sounded like a trip back from the bar, although I know the unlikelihood of that in Rishikesh. What I had done was essentially check myself into the India equivalent of a YMCA.
By 4:45am I had never been so happy to get out of bed to pray. The Ashram has attracted wayward spiritualists, yoga enthusiasts and Beatles fans since the 1968 release of the “White Album.” But this area has been important for much longer than the Beatles. As the debated birthplace of Yoga, Rishikesh has held a vital seat at the foot of the Himalayas, along the mouth of the Ganges, and the spiritual power of this place is undeniable. Early on that first morning, I breathed in a different cold, calm breath and left my room, open to happiness, peace and ready to quiet my mind.
“Get ready to meet your mind” was the first thing the Ashram’s yoga teacher said to our class. She was a short, heavy-set woman with a butch haircut that spoke in an American accent. She shared her journey to yoga by telling us that she had made a military career and then after years of back pain, she sought out yoga. And here she was, living permanently at the ashram, leading yoga and meditation, rising early, eating rice and dhal served communally in silence three times per day. I wondered if this life was that far from her life in the military and if she felt more fulfilled now than before. We were a mixed bunch of backpackers, Indians on pilgrimage and yoga teachers coming to receive additional training. The yoga hallway was dark and cold early in the morning and we wrapped the heavy wool blankets that smelled of mildew and curried dhal tightly around our shoulders as we waited for an imaginary warmth to subside the shiver and allow a meditative breath to take hold.
My days at the ashram all started like this. Early mornings, wrestling with my mind and breath, fighting an urge to use the time to plan the next year and fighting the need to fight. I stared so long at the place between my brows that the deep sockets of my eyes ached. I learned that if I sat high on a yoga block like a regal throne while meditating my back wouldn’t hurt as much. I bought a new blanket in town that replaced my need for the damp, smelly blankets from the ashram. After yoga I would walk to a fruit stand on the street and buy two bags of oranges and bananas. I would carry them with me as I walked along the dirt path to the Laksman Julla Bridge and hand them to students on their way to school or the Babas in their orange robes and colorful personalities. I started to feel happy. Not in a fleeting moment of happiness I felt and still feel after a single yoga class, but a sustained happiness day after day.
Like most teachers I started working in education because I believed in its power to radically change lives, and somewhere along the way I stayed in for-profit education because I was offered more money, money that I thought I could use to change the world, and change myself. At the time I went to India I was so far from changing lives, far from using my salary to help even myself and I was too tired for yoga, too tired to listen and too tired to give.
One day I exited the ashram and took a left instead of my normal route to the bridge. There were temples, yoga centers and ashrams along this route as well. I stopped at an ashram with a large crowd that was serving masala chai. Immediately three women, each holding a cup of tea and a biscuit with outstretched arms took me into their circle. They asked me where I was from, why I was here, what I thought of India, and then, if I knew the Gayatri Mantra. It dawned on me that these women were the Indian equivalent to evangelizing Christians, and they were convincing! I took the biscuits and tea and followed them into a large hall. I was ushered to the very front of the room and given a pillow to sit on. No one else had a pillow and I tried to offer it to a few people who all declined. The event played out much like any religious service I had been to with music, an offering and a keynote speaker. This service however included chanting of the Gayatri Mantra, which I had never in my life performed or heard of…and I was seated in the front row, on the pillow. The speaker tried in all earnest to help me by mouthing the words as I peered through one, half opened eye. As an always model student, not knowing was a battle, my pride suffered and I sat in silence as a room of more than one hundred devotees chanted again and again. After a while I let the chant pick me up and swallow me, it came in through my ears, my nose on each inhale and up through my pillow on the floor. I don’t know how long I sat there, if everyone stopped at one point and I chanted alone or if I never chanted aloud but I left the hall and the church ladies that day carrying the mantra with me and even now I catch myself repeating it to myself on the subway heading home from working in the city.
“OM BUHR, BHUVA, SWAHA
OM TAT SAVITUR VARENYAM
BHARGO DEVASYA DHEEMAHI
DHIYO YONAHA PRACHODAYAT”
Each day, I carried my yoga mat with me and enjoyed the flexibility I felt being able to join classes as I found them in back alleys and on hill-tops, sometimes I would join 4-5 per day. I practiced Hatha yoga, I took ayurvedic cooking classes, meditation and chanting courses and one special day, I entered Laughing Yoga. In our class was a woman from Israel, her Spanish boyfriend, a backpacker from Japan and a Russian guy who was at least 6’5” tall and who I would later learn had a laugh like a little boy being pushed on a swing. We spent an hour in poses like animals, growling, smiling and laughing. Sometimes as the laughter in the room would become contagious and hysterical, I couldn’t decipher if I was laughing or crying. This release of emotion and noise came from a deeper place in me and as I threw my head back to laugh I was out of control. This was much of India for me, a complete loss of control. I had no control over the spiritual journey I was on, the poverty I saw or the monkeys who stalked my fruit basket each day. We all have a choice to make each day and my choices in India were pretty simple. I could choose to hide in my room and feel in control or to let this wave of vibrant chaos carry me to a place way outside my comfort zone. Life without control was easy in India and looking like a fool, trying to stand on my head or breath into my “pelvic floor” was a small token to pay for the sweet satisfaction of living control free. I saw the other people in the laughter yoga class a few more times outside the studio over the next week and just seeing each other made us laugh.
As Christmas Eve drew closer, I thought that I might not be able to find my husband. There were over a dozen ashrams in this small town alone and we hadn’t even specified which one we would meet on the steps of. I was thinking about how we would probably just see each other in the airport after New Years when someone was making a lot of noise in the dining hall at breakfast. “Oh boy, cold mush for breakfast again, THANK YOU INDIA!” He was about my age, a very flamboyant American guy, talking to himself, but loud enough where it seemed like he may have been in silent meditation too long and just needed someone to talk to. I made eye contact with him and that was it, he was seated by me asking if the free meal we received was gluten free. “I don’t think we are supposed to talk in here” I said to him and moved mush around my metal tray. He completely ignored me and started with the laundry list of questions all backpackers ask each other: Where is the Wi-Fi? Have you been to Nepal yet? How many months do you have on your Visa? Have you heard of Woofing? Do you think this water is safe to drink? I told him I didn’t know the answer to any of his questions only that we were supposed to be quiet in the dining hall and that I was leaving Rishikesh the next day to find my husband who was somewhere between here and Varanasi. “Oh my god, are you Emily?” Now I was really confused. “Um, yes. How did you know that?” Peter was his name and he went on to tell me that he had been hanging out with my husband in Varanasi the last few weeks “trying not to get killed” as he put it. He said that he had totally run out of money and that my husband was the “Greatest guy on the planet and spotted him some cash…” oh great. He then told me that my husband had decided to take the multi-day train to come and find me, but Peter had obviously taken the cash and bought a plane ticket, smart guy. “He’s pretty crazy taking the train all the way here like that, I wonder if he will make it?”
It was Christmas Eve. I made my rounds with my basket of fruit. I cleaned up my humble room, packed my backpack, walked down to the steps leading to the Ganga River, and waited. The church ladies walked by and gave me a blessing. I read my prayer book and laughed at the ridiculous outfit I was wearing, a compilation of the only clean clothes I had and the wool socks I had turned into leg warmers. Happiness warmed the rest of me and I waited all morning for my brave, “crazy” husband to come and see how happy I was. And he did. He showed up on the steps of the ashram on Christmas Eve and we left Rishikesh together. It felt like a Christmas miracle.
The rest of India was a blur. Our plane had an emergency landing outside the Chennai airport and we had to escape a riot to board another flight. We were stuck in the airport almost two days with Indian families and children trying to get back to their loved ones. So, we took out our yoga mats and did yoga. Some others joined in and others just enjoyed the peace it brought to an otherwise frenzied scene.
I know that India did not help me make sense of my life, or kick my caffeine addiction and I am still a teacher in a for-profit school in Singapore. No amount of travel could have prepared me for the raw truth India presents, but more importantly, I was not prepared for the lasting effect a happy outlook, a regular yoga practice and a spirit of giving would have on me now, over a year later. I try to pay these forward by being involved in SpiceYoga and by teaching middle school students how to use yoga to self-manage and de-stress. And sometimes I think about the really tall Russian man and I throw my head back and laugh.
I don’t know a lot about marriage, but I do know a lot about travel and for me the two have been intertwined like a well-worn knot. Sometime during your travels you want to just hit pause. Take a hot shower, get away from odd sights and smells, eat something recognizable, sleep in a familiar bed. I think this is a similar desire in marriage. The desire to hit pause. But much like hitting pause during a particularly challenging adventure where you risk missing the sunrise view from Mt. Fuji, hitting pause in a marriage is not a realistic option. You have to keep changing your expectations and sometimes changing what you think you are capable of. I didn’t think I was capable of another adventure, and I would have missed one hell of a sunrise if it wasn’t for the adventure feigned, my husband.
On August 25th 2012 I stood on a Pakistani rug bought in a market in Abu Dhabi, wearing a lace gown I found in a boutique in Portland, surrounded by friends and family who had flown from Vietnam, England, Dubai, South Korea, Toronto and throughout the United States and I married my travel partner…for the second time. The story of our marriage really begins a year and a half prior to our wedding, in January of 2011. After a year spent working in South Korea and traveling throughout Asia and Australia, we accepted teaching jobs in the United Arab Emirates. Our Visas came through quickly, flights were booked, and then we received an email from HR:
Please provide the following items upon arrival in United Arab Emirates Customs:
- Copies of passport
- 2 passport size photographs
- Copies of all professional awards and certificates
- Original Marriage License
It hadn’t even occurred to us that we would need to get married. We had already been engaged for over two years in which time we had traveled around the world joking that it would probably be another decade before we actually stayed in one place long enough to plan a wedding. But there we were, faced with very little time to make a life changing decision. And that is the really strange part, it was the biggest, and easiest decision either of us have ever made. With suitcases packed in the trunk of our car, we headed for the airport, stopping along the way at the courthouse, where we were married. And that was it.
Over the next year and a half we lived and worked in the Middle East, traveled to South East Asia, East Africa, Paris and back to the States. And we planned a wedding, something that was still important to us. We wanted not only to say thank you to our community near and far for their endless support, but also to stand in front of them and take vows that we would be held accountable for in years to come. Our wedding was not perfect, but it was perfect for us. It was a combination of all the things we love: travel, the outdoors, oysters, beer, skinny dipping, live music, pie, dancing and mayhem.
In the year that followed our wedding we started a new life in the states. We began new jobs, bought our first home, built a garden, watched parents get sick, welcomed new babies into the family, baked bread and wondered if this was it? We sat on the same rug we were married on, that had traveled so far with us and talked about starting a family, and if our days traveling the world were over. I said “yes” to both, yes to starting a new adventure, one that involves putting down roots and being content with where you are. I thought we were on the same page.
My husband applied for a job at an international school in Singapore, his dream job. He was interviewed in June, and gone in August. I remember sitting on our rug in our home wondering how two people who had carried backpacks side by side and made so many decisions together over the years could want such drastically different things. My husband wasn’t done travelling and I was. We worked on different projects the rest of the summer. My husband had the task of finding us an apartment in Singapore, opening bank accounts, setting up utilities, signing up for health insurance and starting a new career. I found myself faced with the task of re-packing recently unpacked boxes, finding renters, closing bank accounts, cancelling health insurance, quitting my job, watching my father go through chemotherapy and saying good-bye to a community we had just come to know. We celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary over SKYPE. Matt ate dessert while I sipped my morning coffee. This wasn’t the life I had imagined for us, not the way I thought we would be honoring our “first year” of marriage.
I arrived in my new Singapore home in September. During the past four and a half months we have been to Thailand, India, Malaysia, on our bikes from one end of Singapore to the other, learned to make curry in our tiny Asian kitchen, planted Thai basil and chili peppers on our condominium balcony, hiked with monkeys, ridden elephants, snorkeled with tropical fish and walked through our new city remarking at what a charmed life we lead.
My favorite days in Singapore are those that we choose to hit pause together. Not pause on adventures or on our marriage but a paused breath where we can recognize the sacrifices each of us has made during travels and in our relationship. Today marks three years from when I first married my husband at the courthouse on our way to the Middle East. And it marks another day of hitting play for more great adventures together.
My temporary retirement from travel was broken by India. And like eating a greasy shawarma to break your fast, India awakened my senses and my bowels. Nothing could have prepared me for a country that is at once colorful, filled with despair, sweet smelling and filthy, holy and chaotic. I loved and hated my time in Northern India, but like any trip I photographed the good and bad, ate from street vendors and rode public transport while watching a remarkably unique landscape of people, cows and temple dotted history unfold before my eyes.
New Delhi acted as bookends to our travels in Northern India, so that is where I will begin. Never have I felt the impact of a city upon arrival like in India. We were surrounded before even leaving the airport. “Taxi!” “chai, chai!” “Where you go?” This was not the usual “Let’s charge the tourist a bit more for a rickshaw ride.” This was different, reckless, hungry, in your face and I felt a familiar fear of being an un-seasoned traveler considering catching the next boat back to more familiar waters.
Our first Metro ride caused every alarm in my nervous system to fire as I held my bag tightly to my chest and felt desperate eyes. A man tapped my shoulder. I was on-guard and ready to use the skills I learned in college during “ I am woman, hear me roar” club. And then he spoke. “Where are you from?” I stared blankly. “Have you been in India long?” I managed a “no.” “Welcome, I wish you a pleasant stay.” I retreated inside my scardy-cat self, looked around the metro, and saw no harm, just curious Indian people, on their way to work, as irritated by the close quarters as I was.
As days passed in India, I faced the same humility and took my experience on that first metro ride as a reminder to not judge too harshly. Sure you can find expat friendly enclaves such as Hauz Khas Village, but as the masala chai pulsed through my veins I started to see India for the vibrant, keeper of ancient history and kaleidoscope of color that it is. Delhi may be an overwhelming first stop but a worth-while introduction to a country as uniquely rich as India, and a convenient jumping off point for finding all the peace you will ever need in the North.
One year ago, and several miles of camel dotted sand dunes away, I left my life overseas, took a hiatus from collecting stamps in my passport, and moved back to my home in Bellingham, Washington to start a new life with my husband to-be. You can imagine my surprise then to find myself here: jet-lagged, eating a bowl of fish ball soup for breakfast, staring at a metro map and preparing myself for the wave of humidity that I only wish behaved like a cooling wave is supposed to when it hits me on the way out the door. The here I am referring to is Singapore and I arrived exactly fifteen hours ago.
I have a “To-do upon arrival” list conveniently hidden somewhere that I knew I would not remember to look, that includes the Ministry of Manpower, a blood-work lab, a bank, and several days of paperwork and waiting in line. But my to-do list today looks something like this:
- Find street food vendor
- Unpack and tune mandolin
- Begin to memorize local transportation routes
- Call mom and tell her I am here, I am safe and I am drinking plenty of water
I have done this before, several times in fact, move to a new country and navigate those first few days of disoriented acclimation. It is hard, but worth it. When in a few months I order my fish soup in Mandarin, and catch the last MRT home I won’t remember the process just the reward of living in a city like Singapore as an expat. But I can guarantee I will still be eating fish ball soup for breakfast, because it is delicious.
Paul Simon brought me to Africa. Since I was a wee one, pre-wanderlust, I have enjoyed putting on Paul Simon’s Graceland, kicking off my shoes, and dreaming of Africa. This album conjured all the ideas I ever had of Africa: Grassy plains, shirtless drummers, and super-sized beasts laying in the shade of a single Baobab tree. If this is what Paul Simon was going for when he made this album, he was spot on. Every fantasy I had in my pre-East Africa plans came true on my most recent trip. And because there are no words to describe the feeling of staring into the face of a creature that is larger, older, and wiser than yourself, in a land where you are a minority and the lion is still king, I am going to let my photos from Mikumi National Park speak for themselves. So put on “Under African Skies” and enjoy!
Hopefully by next week I will have my head around this trip and be able to share a bit more. Until then, if you have any logistic questions: Visas, getting into the park, what to bring?, etc… send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org and I will do my best to answer.
The buildings in Beirut still wear bullet holes from an era we would all wish to soon forget. Their façade an ugly reminder of public violence that neither the Lebanese government nor the media could hide. If bombed out buildings and war stories from baby-faced teens are not reminder enough of Lebanon’s torn past, the echoes of hammers and bulldozers in a frenzied re-building effort paint a clear picture of Beirut’s effort to move on. So I visited. I travelled to Beirut on the dawn of growth and change. Luckily for me, some of Lebanon’s best traditions have remained exactly the same, and were waiting there for me to admire and taste.
Beirut’s history is a tangled one, as they have tried for decades to blend a mosaic of religions, cultures, languages, money, policy, food, and people, and been un-successful on most fronts. Today, the Lebanon that I see is one that is once again, reinventing itself and it is the youth that seem to be at the forefront of the project. I had the pleasure of meeting with some old friends from my days living in the UAE’s Al Garbia region. I bought them a beer, and got right down to asking personal, sometimes inappropriate, and nagging questions…my specialty 🙂
Diya was a teenager during the height of the war between Hezbollah and Israel, and remembers this time well. Although his expression of the seriousness of the situation in and around Lebanon came across clearly, Diya likened his personal experience to being in a video game. Waking next to your weapons, leaving the house or shelter cautiously, and well aware that at the end of each street there were tanks, bombs, weapons more powerful than yours, and people, out of their mind with the only necessity they had: survival. Moving from place to place was even more dangerous for Diya and other Lebanese due to the presence of f-16 fighters flying above Lebanon. According to Diya “These f-16 fighters of the Israeli Defense Forces dropped a great number of leaflets from the sky on an almost daily basis, threatening to shoot at any moving light after 8 pm. This made it harder to move from one place to another with no electricity, scared to even use a torch.” I asked Diya if he sees this time reflected in the youth of today’s Beirut. From speaking with him, and seeing countless teens, exercising their right to be flamboyant, and throwing convention out the windows of their speeding cars, I understand Beirut as a city inhabited by angsty youth that lived through a war. “Why should we follow traffic laws after living through war?” Diya noted. And really, the chaos, and the youth, and the remembrance of the fragility of life are a great part of what makes Beirut in particular inimitable.
The uniqueness of architecture in Beirut, with bombed and dilapidated buildings, blends in a devastatingly beautiful way with the ruins of Baalbeck. Outside the city, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley stands what is in my opinion a far more impressive collection of Roman ruins than those inside Rome herself. The Baalbeck ruins were built over 7,000 years ago by the Romans to worship the God of the sun. It immediately reminds visitors to Lebanon that there is a lot going on here, and there has been for thousands of years. Lebanon has been occupied by the Romans, the French, Syrians, and today Palestinian refugees. If that weren’t enough of a mosaic, the Lebanese also have one of the most diverse governments of any nation; with a Sunni Prime Minister, a Shite Speaker of Parliament, and a Maronite Catholic President, required at all times. Unfortunately as we have seen, it is this remarkable mosaic that has made itself vulnerable to breaking.
All the turmoil, begs the question “What are we fighting for?” I mean, why is it that everyone is fighting over this country? WELL, despite being able to swim in the Mediterranean Sea in the morning and ski at Faraya Mzaar in the afternoon, young, vibrant locals, and a truly unique mix of glamor and Bedouin traditions, there is the food…no let me be more specific the MEAT! If I didn’t get gout on this trip it was only because I was too afraid to sneak beer into the Hezbollah. Down dodgy alleys you find svieha: dough pockets filled with minced, fatty lamb and spices reminding us of the foreign lands that have at one time or another had influence over Lebanon’s cuisine. Diya and his girlfriend Natalie took me to one of the thousands of shwarma stands that litter Beirut. I like food you don’t even need to bother being polite with, and Lebanon tends to have the “dig in!” mentality down.
It was one of those quick trips, where I try to JUST get a taste of a city, eat some good food, drink some local brew, and have a holiday. But I couldn’t even try to do that in Beirut. There is too much political history in here, too many unique groups of people, too many religions, languages, influences, and freaking amazing food to NOT become completely enamored of this place. And I did get swept away in a city and a country that I had been afraid to visit. Go see for yourself, and don’t forget to write and tell me about it!
The Best St. Patty’s Day Parades in the U.S.
If you’ve ever wondered why St. Patty’s Day is such a beloved holiday, you need not think too hard. Followers of St. Patrick’s Day celebrate the patron saint of Ireland by wearing green and consuming vast quantities of beer. What’s not to love? This year, take your St. Patty’s Day celebration to a whole new level. The following cities are the best places to watch a parade and eat and drink to your heart’s content.
1. Boston, Massachusetts- This is where it all began! Surprisingly, in 1737, the world’s first St. Patty’s Day parade was held here, not in Ireland, but the United States believe it or not! This made Boston one of the best parade locations in the U.S. on historical significance alone. With massive floats, bagpipes, balloons, marching bands, and more than 850,000 attendees annually, Boston really knows how to throw a parade! While you’re there, eat at the Green Dragon Tavern, known for their spectacular corned beef and cabbage, and head for a pint (or several!) at The Brendan Behan. How much more Irish can you get?
2. Chicago, Illinois- Though not as historically significant as Boston’s celebration, Chicago puts on an equally spectacular show for St. Patty’s Day. If you aren’t convinced, this surreal fact should sway your opinion; they dye their river green! That’s right! In honor of St. Patty’s Day, the Chicago River is dyed kelly green, and the celebration begins with a mass of Irish floats and dancers. While you’re in Chicago, eat at Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro, famous for their traditional country Irish menu. Don’t forget to try the libations over at Fifth Province Pub!
3. New York City, NY- As with most other parades, the St. Patty’s Day parade in New York is the largest in the country by terms of attendance. Roughly two million attendees line the streets to see the show every year- it’s that great! Look into renting a New York City Loft and stay for the entire week! In New York, you’ll find a six hour parade that’s been going on since 1762. If that’s not tradition, I don’t know what is! Be sure to stop by the oldest continuously run saloon in New York, McSorley’s Old Ale House, for a pint! If it’s food you’re looking for, the Shepard’s pie is famous at Molly’s Pub & Restaurant.
4. Savannah, Georgia– Surprisingly, Georgia makes the list! With an annual attendance exceeding 400,000, Savannah really goes all out for St. Patty’s Day. Take in the partying spirit as the floats go by, and be sure to check out the fountains in the Historic Park District- they’re dyed green in honor of the celebration! You need only to make one stop for good food and drink in Savannah, and make sure that stop is at Kevin Barry’s Irish Pub! Voted one of the top ten Irish pubs in the United States, Kevin Barry’s features traditional food, delicious drinks, and live Irish music.
5. San Francisco, California- Like every other holiday, San Francisco really knows how to celebrate St. Patty’s Day! San Francisco is easily the best city to celebrate the holiday in on the West Coast, and with a spectacular parade, lively spirit, and enough bars to satisfy any thirst, it’s the place to be for St. Patty’s Day! Drop by Durty Nelly’s or Blarney Stone for traditional Irish fare and a pint.
Don’t forget to check out Alex’sJourneys for more great adventures and photos! Thanks Alex!