About the aspiring vagabond

A twenty-something searching for beauty and trying not to be too existential about it. I will do just about anything for a donut.

I’ve a date in Constantinople

I imagine when living abroad in Portugal or Japan or someplace comfortably exotic, everyone promises they’ll come visit you, use the opportunity, see the world. When living abroad in Kuwait, people say…. Huh… Well I’m sure that’s nice for you.

Except Michael. Michael is my eightieth cousin forty-three times removed. He’s also the first person to put me in the unique position of having to actively dissuade someone from visiting Kuwait. The conversation made it a whole thirty-five seconds until I came out with the reliable right hook “It’s a dry country” argument. There’s no recovering from that one. Compromising, we settled on a rendezvous Istanbul.

Best decision ever.IMG_1859

Four days, a bijillion miles of walking, and a significant amount of hookah later, Istanbul is firmly entrenched as a happy memory. It has European civility but also manages to retain the raw complexity of Islamic tradition in architecture and daily life.

My main impression from Istanbul: they never destroy anything. If a church happens to exist in a time of Islamic governance, they leave all the iconography, add some Arabic, and call it a mosque. When Christians come back, they leave the Arabic, slap up another crucifix or twelve, and it flips right back. Feeling secular? Just leave everything in place, put a plaque outside, and BAM! Instant World Heritage Site.

The Hagia Sophia was stunning, and the prime example of the churmosqueum hodge podge.

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Though I still hold it’s remarkably Star Wars-esque

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If the Hagia Sophia is airy and golden, Tokopki Palace feels closer with intricate mosaics that recalled Morocco.  My pictures didn’t turn out well, but you can get a tiny feel for it here.IMG_2127

IMG_2097 IMG_2111We saw Istanbul from the Bosphorus, and until then I hadn’t comprehended how colossal the city is.  After an hour of sailing the river, the city kept sprawling on either bank with beautiful old homes right up on the riverside.  Tankers and fishing boats shared the water with us, and Istanbul really felt like a port city.IMG_2001 IMG_2002

While there, we met up with Adnan, an old soccer teammate of mine from DC, who took such good care of us showing us around his home country. He was the one to take us on river tours, Topkopki Palace, the Hagia Sophia, the best baklava of life, just to name a few.  He is so kind and went all out for us; without him we never would have experienced Istanbul as we did.IMG_1902

 

The weekend in Istanbul was an unplanned respite between school vacations.  I’d like to go back this year, to be near the water again and feel the city.
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India: Land of the Gods and Cities of Blue (also Batman’s Castle)

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India was cacophony; a beautiful, breathtaking, exhausting bombardment of all five senses.  It’s a riot of colors, a constant hum of sound, and a whole new level of experience in the olfactory department.

We travelled in January.  I went with six friends five girls and one man. (A serious hat tip to Roger for surviving that.)  In two weeks we never spent more than three nights in one place, usually only one or two.  We went to three cities in the state of Rajasthan in the west, visited the Ajanta Caves, the Taj Mahal, Kerala beaches in the south, a night on a houseboat in the backwaters of the south-west, and walked through the slums of Mumbai.  It was by far the most human, the most difficult, and the best trip I’ve taken.

What I love best about India is that no matter how poor, people take care to make things beautiful.  Everything is colorful and adorned, from the trucks on the highways to the insides of taxis.  There’s a joy in the intensity.

Taking taxi interiors to a whole different level.

Taking taxi interiors to a whole different level.

Our first stop was Johdpur, the Blue City in the west.  Trivia fact: that massive castle in the background?  That was the castle where the Batman movies were shot.  That’s right, I walked the same ground as batman.

IMG_1400 IMG_1399 IMG_1512 IMG_1503 IMG_1404482582_10201822149100746_527514593_n1903987_10201822129580258_356124970_nAfter Jodpur, there was the Taj:

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And when in India, yoga is mandatory.

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We wandered the streets, bought saris, interacted with the local wildlife.

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We relaxed at the beach, then sailed the backwaters in a houseboat.

IMG_1778 15111_10201822319705011_1181341323_nOur last day, we explored the Ajanta Caves, Indian carvings and art from the second century BC.  The second century BC.  I can’t wrap my mind around it.  You can just walk up to these works of art and run your hand over them.

IMG_1827 IMG_1824 IMG_1814India is stunning.  It’s seven countries in one, an entire subcontinent, centuries old, and beautiful.

 

PS: I get it: I’m eight months and eight countries late on this.  I go back on August 21st, and by then I think I can crack out seven more updates.  Mea culpa.

 

 

 

 

Oh come, ye, to Bethlehem

In the airport on my way to Bethlehem, I met a soldier from Afghanistan on leave for R&R in Australia.  He grew up in Alexandria, not ten minutes from where I’ve lived the past two years.  We didn’t even exchange names, we just bonded over Middle Eastern driving, prolific stray cats, a mutual terror of potential camel spiders, and a desperate need for a beer.  At the same time he said Happy Holidays, I said Merry Christmas and we smiled over a difference that would peeve so many people back home, but here is a bond, a common knowledge, almost a private joke.  That’s the first time it felt like Christmas.

Bethlehem was a marvel.  Even though the entire town is geared towards making money off Christmas tourists, flooded with men selling you coffee and corn and scarves and nativity sets, somehow it maintains a feeling of non-commercialized Christmas.

A massive Christmas tree next to the mosque.  Christmas carols stopped for the call to prayer, and the Muslim shopkeepers wished you a Happy Christmas.

A massive Christmas tree next to the mosque. Christmas carols stopped for the call to prayer, and the Muslim shopkeepers wished you a Happy Christmas.

IMG_1160In keeping with ancient tradition, the inns were full on Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, so I wandered around with a bottle of Bailey’s, saw the Church of the Nativity, and listened to Jingle Bells in Arabic repeated several times.  It was cold and felt a bit aimless for a while, but midnight Mass was worth frittering away a day.

And let's be honest, the frittering wasn't terrible, either.

And let’s be honest, the frittering wasn’t terrible, either.

Orthodox Church of the Nativity.

Orthodox Church of the Nativity.

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To get into Mass, I met Darius from Poland and we pretended to be brother and sister to sneak in on his one ticket.  I knew my impecable Polish accent would be suspicious, so I just smiled and nodded and said, “ja” once or twice to the guard.  I don’t even know if they say “ja” in Poland.  And no, I see no irony in lying to get into Christmas Mass.

Inside, we sat knee to knee with some of the most joyful little old nuns I’ve ever seen.  One of them must have been at least seventy-five, but she was impish and alternated between poking the nun that sat next to her and falling asleep.  They were all darling.  I was blissfully happy singing Adeste Fideles, sitting among people who didn’t share a single thing with me other than this.  It was freaking cold and a struggle to keep my eyes open during the Arabic homily, but one of the nuns said to me, “It great grace to be here.” and it truly was.

I found a friend.  She got some shawarma, I got some snuggles.

I found a friend in the morning. She got some shawarma, I got some snuggles.

I spent Christmas day on a hostel rooftop with a bottle of wine, reading a Graham Green book about death and looking out over Palestine.  I was a good way to spend Christmas.

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When I was getting to know Darius from Poland he asked me if I was happy.  I am.  It settled in my bones on Christmas, and it’s stuck.

Still here! Still delinquent!

I swear up and down and on my honor as a very honorable person that I will post about Bethlehem and Jerusalem… after I come back from India in two weeks.  This is just major life updates that I feel I should probably be sharing, because the number of people questioning whether I’m alive or dead is getting alarming.

Numero Uno: I’m taking online grad courses to qualify for a teaching certification in middle-school math and science.  It counts towards one year of my masters in education if I want that.  Woo!  Education!

Point the Second: I’ve applied to schools around Europe and Morocco, so perhaps I’ll end up there next year, but if not, I have a position in Kuwait for the next two years.  So the one year to travel the world plan has been extended slightly.

Thirdly: I’m going to India in eight hours!  So I should sleep… or write about Bethlehem.  Yeah, that sounds more fun.

“A rose red city half as old as time”

Petra was incredible.  Emma and I only spent four hours there; I could spend a week to thoroughly understand it, and a month to just feel it.

It’s a funny dichotomy between an old stillness and tourist hawking.  These ancient buildings carved out of primeval cliffs watch tour guides huckster, “Best tour, special price, just for you!”, venders bartering souvenirs, and shrieking school groups.  It feels a little sacrilegious.

I’ve been at a loss on how to write about Petra.  I was surprised by how much it moved me.  Unimaginably ancient history, beautiful feats of carving and architecture, impressive vistas: it’s exactly these things that I left to see.  I hope Emma’s pictures will suffice where my words fail me.

You approach between cliffs particularly suited to echoing the Indiana Jones theme song:DSC_4444

IMG_0649It’s easy to pass by them, but on the way are carvings and stairs and caves.  It boggles my mind that this used to be someone’s home:DSC_4446 DSC_4445Emerging from between the cliffs, you come upon the Treasury, the most famous and best preserved structure in Petra:DSC_4460 DSC_4468 DSC_4464DSC_4473 DSC_4474Stairs lead above the main square to the Monastery, and cliffs from which you look down on Petra from above:

DSC_4486 IMG_0717 DSC_4520 IMG_0714Walking back, we felt compelled to meditate upon our surroundings:IMG_0737 DSC_4544

 

Mea Culpa


not dead yet

Once again, I’m not dead yet.  Despite radio silence, I’m very much alive and currently peeling potatoes for a desert Thanksgiving.

To tell the truth, about a month ago I sat down to describe Petra and felt absurdly inadequate for the task.  Not even thesaurus.com could assist.  The logical step was to give up on writing entirely- and thus my recent hiatus.

I realize the error of my ways and vow to make amends soon.  In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving.  All manner of Christmas music and It’s a Wonderful Life is cued to start in T minus twenty hours and for the first time, I feel the smallest twinge of heartsickness for this season back home.  But I am so, so happy to be adventuring!  I’ve lined up Christmas in Bethlehem, and that makes up for any number of sparkles and carols and evergreen for a year.

More soon, I promise.

I rode a camel. NBD.

Jordan was a whirlwind, a completely different perspective of the Middle East, and heaps of fun.  I’ll give a thorough run down later, but for now the most important thing to know is that I rode a camel.  I saw Petra, I camped with Bedouins, I swam in the Dead Sea, and I rode a camel.

The school sent a group of teachers to Jordan for visa paperwork and another teacher, Emma, and I extended our trip by three days and toured ourselves (and I rode a camel).  The vast majority of photos you’ll see are Emma’s work; without her, I would have little evidence of having been anywhere. (Or having rode camels.  Which I did.)

Jordan is so different from Kuwait, both the people and the land.  The people are poorer but more relaxed; the women cover here as much as in Kuwait, but with more color, not in black.  The men are amorous to say the least; on the street, shopkeepers call out at you, “Beautiful lady!”, “Beautiful eyes!”, “I love you!”, “Welcome to Jordan!” which is mostly salesmanship, but there’s underlying good humor to it.  The women are friendly and helpful, too, which I find far more comforting.  On the other hand, men got a bit handsy with both Emma and I during the busier part of the evening, and we were glad to retreat to the hotel at the end of the day.

Jordan’s terrain is more rock and earth than sand, and you can see surrounding mountains in the distance.  Vineyards, olive groves, shepherds and goat herds line the roads outside of the cities.  Geographically, it reminds me a lot of a less verdant California.

I’ll give a history lesson and a detailed itinerary soon, but here are the highlights:

Amman itself is a mish-mash of tourist shops, hotels, businesses, apartment buildings, Roman ruins, and bars, all perched and carved into the sides of mountains.  It reminded me a lot of San Francisco in more ways than one.DSC_4357IMG_0570Petra was astonishing.  My words fail me, but it’s staggering to imagine an entire civilization carving out their homes, their temples, their theaters, their aqueducts, their monasteries from cliffs and crags.  We hadn’t nearly enough time, but we climbed up and overlooked the valley.  It was breathtaking.

IMG_0662 IMG_0663 DSC_4520We saw the sunset and camped at Wadi Rum, “The Valley of the Moon.”  Bedouins certainly capitalize on tourists, but the natural beauty was striking.IMG_0810 DSC_4683

In case you missed it, I rode a camel.  This guy was my buddy.  We’re pretty tight.IMG_0807 DSC_4722The Dead Sea was mostly comical.  You physically cannot dive under the surface (and when you do, the salt in your eyes burns like no dried contact ever could).  I felt like a bit of styrofoam in the water; I wish there were a more romantic simile, but there you have it.  Lumineers appropriately ran through my head as I drifted.DSC_4738

The last key difference between Kuwait and Jordan?  alcohol is legal.  Believe me, we put the law to good use.  There is nothing like six dry weeks to make one thoroughly appreciative of the finer things in life, even at 8 am in the airport on our way out.IMG_0432 IMG_0463 IMG_0812

 

 

 

Oh yeah…. and I rode a camel.

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In the details

A final word on Morocco, and then I’m overdue to tell you about Jordan, plus an aside on camping in a bombed-out Iraqi bunker last weekend.  There’s not enough time!

I feel in Morocco I saw tourist attractions and took my pictures, but really I peeked a glimpse of daily life.  Buying onions, playing with the kitten, visiting the one English bookshop, passing the same doorstep every afternoon that’s what persuaded me that I could live in Rabat.  It’s a shame you don’t take pictures in your everyday life because it’s what you really remember of a place, but you don’t forget it, either.  These are the last pictures of Morocco and they don’t nearly capture it, but I earnestly hope there will be more someday soon.

Sunset from the top of the Kasbah:

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A Muslim graveyard; the graves are so small because all Muslims are buried facing Mecca, which in Morocco means they’re on their side:

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The souq, the medina, and the river:

IMG_0226 IMG_0227 IMG_0143 IMG_0162 IMG_0233 IMG_0160 IMG_0159 IMG_0234 IMG_0237 IMG_0207My welcome gift to Morocco- traditional house slippers.  They are the most comfortable footwear on the planet, and everyone wears them, not just tourists.  I love mine; they are as agressively cheerful as I am:

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The sweethearts of Morocco:

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