Monday, September 28, 2009

“He’s not heavy…”

This morning my alarm went off about 10 minutes after I woke up. I laid in quiet contemplation feeling the same heaviness I feel on the mornings that I have to attend a funeral. I showered got dressed and packed my bags, grabbed my camera and headed out the door. I then realized there was a lot of haze on the water, I would once again not see the sunrise over Ghana. I walked the 100 or so yards from the front door of my cottage to the beach front and walked along the beach towards the east where the sun would rise.

I could see it trying to burn off the haze and break through the clouds, for some reason the hymn “How Great Thou Art” (one of my favorites) popped into my head. I caught myself praying and humming as the sun broke through and burned off the haze. I noticed a couple of fishermen in their boats several hundred yards off the coast. I then noticed the traffic on the beach had started to pick up with women walking to market using the beach front as a cut through. All the while I tried to prepare myself for the Castles I was about to visit, I had read about slavery, studied that part of history but I was now standing on the coastline, one of the last, that many captives saw before they were shipped to the Americas and into a life of slavery. It all felt so heavy. I gave considerable thought to my own family’s migration to the US and how our struggles pale in comparison to the 400 years of migratory practices imposed on people of the Sub-Sahara African region. It was very heavy.

I joined a colleague for breakfast which had just started by the time I walked back to the outdoors dining area, an older woman who works at the University of the Bahamas, during our breakfast she turned to me and asked, “do you think these people are prepared for what we are about to see?” I boldly replied, “I don’t think I’m prepared and I have at least studied it”. We both nodded and continued eating our breakfast and small talk.

The ride to the Cape Coast Castle was a quiet one for me; I sat with my iPod on listening to my inspirational song selection trying to get the melancholy out of my system as if that would help. Our tour guide informed us the previous day that she was one of the guides that was available and traveled with the Obama’s when they came and visited the Cape Coast castle and the Michelle cried during the tour but that Barack was stoic during the visit.

We arrived and were quickly led in to meet our guide for the Cape Coast Castle tour. Our tour guide was a middle aged man, the lead tour guide of the Castle; he himself had given the Obama’s their tour. He provided us with great details of the history of the Castle and when it was erected and how many times it had changed hands, first the Portuguese, then the Dutch, then the British (the British actually maintained slaves at the Castle into the late 1800’s well after slavery had been abolished). He then led us to the first dungeon. The Male holding dungeon; this was a tunnel that winded in a downward slope into darkness which led to a greater cave dwelling with a room to the right and left. This space was where they would hold a thousand or more men at one time, chained together. In this space these men would relieve themselves, starve, be extremely ill, and even die.

He turned the lights off (installed for tourists) so that we could see just how pitch black it was in the space. As he walked us form one area to the other he gestured to the ground and said,” please watch your step as you walk on the caked feces and remains of ancestors that did not make it out alive”. That’s about the point where all my emotions came to the surface. The tears started to flow as I walked to the other room with the rest of my group and watched quietly as he introduced us to the keeper of the sanctuary that was placed in that room which once housed the tunnel that led the captives to the "Door of No Return". The keeper of the sanctuary performed a brief greeting for our safe voyage and to keep the spirits of the captives at rest. We continued on the tour to the other holding areas. Walking past the original dungeons which were nothing more than a crawl space on the roof top of the fortification which led to open space below, where captives would be forced down into total darkness for months at a time. We also walked past the observation tunnels, where soldiers would stand and watch the captives ensuring they were moving towards the door. Then we entered (or rather peeked into) a space shape of an isosceles triangle, the depth of the room was no more than 4 ft and about 8 feet at its longest point, this was the room where the women who objected to have sex with soldiers were held, this with no ventilation just a small 2X3 space looking towards the soldiers quarters. The next space was a much larger area where the women were held, this area was right next to the huge wooden black doors, a sign posted above the doors read “Door of No Return”.

 As our guide opened it the light from outside was blinding and as my sight adjusted I could see and hear the Atlantic Ocean as well as the members of the fishing community that now make this their home. I imagine this was not the case 400 years ago. Instead when that door was opened it was to lead captives onto small boats, 20 or so at a time to bring them to the slave ships that would then transport them across the Atlantic. What a completely different view it was now.

As a tour drew to a close we walked through some of the other cells and saw some of the other parts of the building, ED joined us, he was meeting one of the Faculty members to go visit a village and bring them a gift. I gave him a guided tour of what he missed and he too was moved by the information I provided, though not to tears.

We moved on to Elmina Castle, the largest of these castles in the Sub Sahara African countries, where we pretty much heard more of the same, these castles are located on the same coastline a few miles from each other and were operating at the same time. The one detail that really stuck out for me at this particular castle was that here like at Cape Coast the men and women were kept separate, however the Governor’s bedroom and the men’s mess hall was immediately about the courtyard of the female captives. At any given time the Governor could step out onto his balcony and select a female captive which would then be taken to a corner of the courtyard and forced up sets of wooden stairs to a hatch where she would then be taken to the Governor’s quarters and raped.

 Any female captive that rebelled or tried to escape would be made an example of and made to stand in the corner of the courtyard, that gets all the day’s sun, chained to a cannon ball (think Prometheus). All the women were checked prior to embarking on a slave ship to ensure they were not pregnant. Any female found pregnant was not allowed aboard the ship, instead allowed to give birth and set free, her child to be educated by the state, thus these castles also became the first conduit to educate a mulato population. How altruistic?

The ride back to the ship was solemn and quiet most slept some read and others reflected. It was a heavy day.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

“Walking above the trees and swimming in the far end of my back yard”

My day started very early with a 5 am wakeup call from GH (another shipboard brother), I woke up gradually and got ready for an overnight excursion to the coast city of Elmina. But first I had a list of students that I told I would call at 6am to make sure they were up so they would not miss their bus.

Off to breakfast and onto buses. I won’t bore you with the details of our bus ride, but will mention there was an “Ugly American” on board which I will blog about later, and that Ghana’s country side is beautiful, riddled with great vistas and vegetation, and plenty of people urinating by the roadside. Women and some men carry everything on their heads, from huge pots with produce, to bins of cans of evaporated milk to sewing machines, basically anything. Ant hills are as tall as the average height man and there is one major road way which means there is a lot of traffic. People also sell their goods walking in the street, think every city you may have been to where folks are selling water, chips, the newspaper, or flowers times 20, because there will be that many or more people walking in the street at intersections trying to sell their goods to motorists. It was all so exciting.

Our first stop was a rest area where we could get soft drinks and snacks and use the rest room, which was much better than the road side rest rooms in Morocco, though the toilet didn’t flush and we had to pay .20 cedi to an attendant woman to use them, (still better than Morocco). It was while in line to get to the restroom that I spotted this lizard he was about a foot long and looked menacing from a distance, he and another lighter not so menacing looking lizard seemed to be playing tag with one another. After a few minutes I realized the lighter colored lizards were everywhere they just blended in well. Anyway, that was the excitement during our rest stop. Back on the bus for the 2 hour drive to Kakum National Park, when we had finally arrived the first thing I noticed was the sign on the lawn in the small round about

“Do Not Urinate Here, use the washroom” I guess the urination thing is a big problem in all of Ghana.

We were on our way up to the Canopy, I was excited for all of 5 minutes until I realized that the hike up included walking up these uneven steps made of small boulders that were unequal in size so that every other step was anywhere from between 1 foot to 2 feet high (and measurements in between). It was a HIKE UP for real, and steep. While I had realized we would have to walk up or hike up as it were, I guess I never considered the conditions. So after sweating from parts I didn’t realize had sweat glands, and hiking for what seemed like 30 or so minutes we were at the entrance of the Canopy area. A group of faculty and I waited at the end of the groups of students and finally about 30 or so minutes (maybe even more) it was finally our turn to take the last 15 wooden steps onto the bridges that would carry us across the top of this amazing rain forest, truly majestic views in every direction. No picture I could take would make the actual view justice. Since we were the last in our group we took our time. It was wonderful. We then hiked down and got back on the bus, just walking through the rainforest and appreciating it much more being on the ground.

Our next stop was lunch with the crocodiles at the Hans Cottage Botel. We ate lunch under a roof surrounded by a small lake where we could see the crocodiles sun bathing. After lunch we watched one of the waitress place some leftover chicken under one of the trees and within seconds the crocodiles came up out of the lake to eat. I didn’t know what I was more intrigued by, watching this magnificent 7 foot creature eat or trying to calculate how many shoes and bags I could get from the skin (sorry if I offend any conservationist that may be reading this). We continued to watch the crocs sun bath and get back in the water, as well as the variety of lizards some about a foot in length run around the courtyard, and then the weaver birds (whose nests looked like Christmas ornaments on one of the trees) captured our attention. It was all so exotic yet seemed so natural to just be sitting there watching this take place. It was now time to head back to our bus. As we got back we were informed that we would be giving up one of the buses that we had because another group’s bus broke down. So as we shifted over to the other bus, some of us sitting three to a double seat, and a couple on the floor, we braced ourselves for the 30 minute ride to our hotel for the evening.

We arrived in Elmina at about 5pm, a coastline village thriving with color and people. The bridge that we had to drive over was like a postcard (some of you may receive one just like this) it was vibrant with colors, there were people everywhere. It was beautiful. We drove a little further and then took a left down a dirt road not intended for a 40 seat passenger bus with 57 people on it. We arrived at our hotel and I could barely believe it. It was breathtaking. We were right on the water with the Atlantic Ocean on our left and our cottage on the right. It was truly a lot different than what we had just driven past, there were no thatched or tin roofs, with wooden plank walls, but instead neatly nestled white cottages. I was in love. As quick as I could I obtained my cottage key (I had been informed that I would not be provided a roommate?) and accepted some milk chocolate drink made of the local coca plant (yes the same coca plant) and shuffled off to my room. When I got there I dropped my bags and changed into my bathing suit, grabbed my camera and blackberry and hit the beach. I got to the beach and immediately decided I would swim, even thought the waves were way over my head and the surf seemed strong. I jumped in swam a few strokes and realized I was not strong enough to do much more and got out. I swam in the same Atlantic Ocean that was in my back yard except I was thousands of miles away. The same Atlantic Ocean that carries the spirits of slaves, these spirits I would feel so strongly the next morning during my meditation (see next blog). As I got out of the water I realized I was winded I walked up the beach and barely caught the sunset. After a nice lukewarm shower in a shower room that was about the size of my cabin on the ship (blog coming soon) I got dressed and headed for dinner. Dinner was AMAZING, chicken, beef, fish, jollof rice, white rice, sweet fried plantains, yam balls, and fries. Everything I had was fabulous. As we ate dinner, I was joined by a couple of students, we talked about our day and about what we were going to see tomorrow and then we realized that a bon fire had been started for us on the beach, a mere 100 feet away. I walked with the students over to the bon fire, watched them play a few rounds of Ha and then decided to call it a night. I knew I was going to get up early to watch the sunrise. What a great end to a great day.

Friday, September 25, 2009

"Oh Ghana!"

Today started as every other morning when our ship is to pull into port. Myself and a couple of my colleagues (that I affectionately refer to as my shipboard brothers, a blog for another day) woke up at 530am to see the sun rise and pull into a new port. As usual I woke up and called up ED and PL and told them we would meet up in the faculty staff lounge, since PL and I live across the hall from each other we actually met up on the stairwell leading to the upper decks. When we arrived to the faculty lounge it was evident that the sunrise would elude us, as we were faced with the thickest fog I had seen all voyage, you could barely see the front of the ship, none the less we sat in the lounge chatting with anticipation of what Ghana had in store for us.

As 6am rolled around the sun started to burn off the fog and I was able to get a couple of pictures of the sun’s appearance we also started to see something we had not seen. Ahead of us in the distance container ships lay in wait, almost directly in our path. Within a half hour we were right upon them and passing them as we continued on into the port of Tema. The excitement was mounting. At this point other ship board community members had awakened and joined us. Including our inter port student (a student that joins us at the previous port and sails with the community to the next port providing insight to the ship board community about their native homeland) Nii, had joined us on the outer deck.

Nii and the rest of us would have to wait, there was another ship in our parking space, the captain had to circle around several times which made for an interesting morning (PL referred to it as “the captain was doing doughnuts in the parking lot”, which is a pretty good description of exactly what we were doing). While we waited to actually arrive in Tema, we went below to enjoy breakfast. Our meal was disrupted by a momma and baby whale playing about 200 yards away from our ship. Yes, I saw a whale, though I have no picture proof, this sighting excited me and let me know that Ghana was going to be an enjoyable adventure.

As we came back above we finally were in port in Tema, Ghana. After Immigration and Customs cleared the ship (i.e. went through everyone’s passport and made sure everything was on the up and up) PL and I boarded a bus to go on a city tour which would take us through Tema into Accra. It would be an all day adventure. We were whisked away in the busy streets of Tema where everyone was buzzing; it’s a very active and industrious port town. One of the interesting sites we passed was a shell of a building which was the Meridian Hotel which actually sits on 0 degrees on the meridian (the longitude line), guests can vie to stay in the actual room which sits on the meridian, and in room 0 those guests are treated extra special. It actually took us a while to get through Tema passing Labadi beach we were arriving in Accra, we were taken to see several sights, like the Ohene Djan Stadium, where futbol (Soccer) is played. This stadium rivals the major American Football or Baseball stadiums in size. We also drove past the Independence Square: which commemorates the independence of Ghana, a first for Sub Saharan Africa. (Wikipedia, 2009) and then on to the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park; Kwame Nkrumah was Ghana’s first president, a graduate of Lincoln University and a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.

The memorial park is a beautiful and fitting tribute to him. While there we were visited by some peacocks that did not show us their beautiful feathers but ducked under palms instead. After that we continued on to lunch and had the first of many wonderful Ghanaian meals. After lunch we continued on our tour and visited the WEB Dubois Memorial Centre for Pan African Culture. Another great tribute to a great legend in Pan African history; DuBois was invited to Ghana by president Nkrumah in 1961 and eventually died there at the age of 95 one day before fellow Alpha man, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream” Speech in Washington DC (where a moment of silence was observed for DuBois), I saw a plaque presented by Alpha Phi Alpha, of which DuBois was a member, commemorated on January 15, 2007. Having had my fill of Black Greek history, we moved on to travel once again through the streets of Accra back to Tema and our ship. My first day in Ghana had been filled with great information both old and new. I was looking forward to what tomorrow would bring.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Malaria! The Side Effects may be harmful

Today I started to take my anti Malaria medication (Malarone).  Most of the ship has been informed they should consider taking it, most of the community will be on some form of anti Malaria medication for the next few country visits since we are going on safari’s in jungles, walking and taking hikes in remote areas of Ghana; safari’s in South Africa; visiting remote areas of India; same in Vietnam; the killing fields in Cambodia…you get the picture.  For the next several ports we will be visiting and we will be in high risk areas of Malaria exposure/contraction.

We also received a comprehensive hand out from our crack medical team on some of the side effects of the different varieties of anti malaria medications along with a schedule of when we should start taking the medication and if we should even be taking it.  For instance, when we travel to Vietnam we only need be concerned if we are traveling to the Western areas, including the central highlands and if we are traveling into Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

One of the other things in my role as Living Learning Coordinator has been to remind the residents on my floor to start their medication (if in fact they will be taking it).   Which, leads into a conversation of which medication they are taking and how long they should be taking it.   I then have to refer to the sheet given to us and reinforce the information on there, with an additional cautionary reminder.  See all of the literature I have read including a warning from my doctor states that one of the medicine’s side effects is that it “may” contraindicate birth control.  I always get stuck on that word “may”.  I don’t know about you but if I was a hyper sexed young adult on a ship going around the world with other hyper sexed young adults I wouldn’t want to bet all my chips on a “may”, and shouldn’t everyone be practicing safe chex in this day and age (you would think) but this is actually an issue (smh).  Who am I to judge ( I will leave that one alone).
Anywho.  All this talk of side effects got me thinking and of course I looked it up and came across some pretty interesting information (from Wikipedia), so this “may” or “may” not be accurate.  But Here goes:


 the risk of photosensitivity skin reactions is of particular importance for those intending long-term use for malaria prophylaxis because it can cause permanent sensitive and thin skin; may impair the effectiveness of many types of hormonal contraception

Permanent sensitive and thin skin? Trust me these folks skin does not need to get thinner.  So it looks like there will be some red folks on the ship for a few ports, but try telling them that as they hold court almost daily on the outer 7th deck (the pool deck)  di que “tanning” themselves in the African sun for hours on end.  And no matter how many times we tell them that this African sun is different than the Miami, California, even Carribean sun they don’t listen.  I think I already made my feelings clear about the “possible” impairment of the effectiveness of hormonal contraception, why I have to explain the importance of this to folks still baffles me.

Malarone:  (the one I’m taking)

Some people have difficulty sleeping (nightmares, incoherent dreams) while taking Malarone.

That is pretty cut and dry.  Needless to say its going to be an interesting night to get some sleep and in the event that it does not come well then hey, at least I will be wide awake for the 5:45 am sunrise over Ghana.

Lariam: Here is where it gets interesting...

known to cause severe depression, anxiety, paranoia, aggression, nightmares, insomnia, seizures, birth defects, peripheral motor-sensory neuropathy, vestibular (balance) damage and central nervous system problems. For a complete list of adverse physical and psychological effects — including suicidal ideation — see the most recent product information.

Ok does anybody else have an issue with the fact that this medication “may” cause suicidal ideation in some folks that are already anxious?   If that didn’t make me nervous well than reading this certainly did.

In the 1990s, there were reports in the media that the drug may have played a role in the Somalia Affair, which involved the torture and murder of a Somali citizen whilst in the custody of Canadian peacekeeping troops. There has been similar controversy, since three murder-suicides involving Special Forces soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C., in the summer of 2002. To date, more than 19 cases of vestibular damage following the use of mefloquine have been diagnosed by military physicians. The same damage has been diagnosed among business travelers and tourists.

Ok so regardless of the medication, tonight I am sleeping with one eye open and a hand on my machete... damn!  I didn’t bring my machete with me.

My consolation is that tomorrow I will be in Ghana and most of the ship board community will be getting off the ship and venturing out on field trips.    I realized that I was signing up for an adventure I just wasn’t aware that I had to beware of side effects.

"Lions and Tigers and Bears Oh my! The Sea Edition"

As most of you are aware, I’m on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean.  18 of the past 28 days I have been on the ship in the wide open ocean, what does that mean?  Well I’m glad you asked.  That means there is nothing around us but water and more water and yet more water.   In case you're slow, I am surrounded by nothing but water, it is the Atlantic Ocean after all.

Excitement stirred when off the coast of the Cape Verde Islands we saw a beautiful sailboat and while en route from Morocco to Ghana we have had our fill of container ships passing.  One of them passed real close this morning (about 20 nautical miles).  The most excitement however has been stirred by the flying fish and the schools of dolphins that swim by.  There have been dozens of sightings of these schools of dolphins.  One of my coworkers woke up the other morning and said “there were hundreds of them swimming outside my cabin window”   other’s have seen them while they workout, or while eating breakfast and lunch.  For me however the schools of dolphins have been oh so elusive.  Yesterday on our “day off” I sat in the faculty/staff lounge finishing a book that one of my former graduate students gave me (shout out to G Benson), I sat with a 180 degree view of the majestic ocean and not a dolphin to be seen.  This morning without alarm clock I woke up before 6am and watched the silent ocean for about an hour and saw WATER… nothing but water, an occasional white cap wave or swirl would get my attention but aside from that no dolphins, or flying fish, not even a tanker in sight. 

As I tired of watching the water I dressed to go work out and decided to go up to breakfast, I saw a couple of my colleagues and joined them.  As I sat with them on the outer 6th deck eating a great breakfast enjoying the warm sun we talked about some things that are going on in the world and then I started to voice my complaint that I have yet to see any dolphins, when BL states to me, “oh! I saw some this morning while I was working out”. Of course she did!  That must have occurred in the moment I decided to go to the bathroom and brush my teeth and then dress to go to breakfast.  (SIGH).

I decided that I would resume a workout regime since I have not done so since I got on the ship, so today I walked the 5th deck for an hour, The fifth deck is where our life boats are located so it’s a long deck about 100 yards where I walked back and forth at a brisk pace for an hour listening to my iPod and enjoying the ocean breeze, it was a tad bit humid this morning but just wonderful.  I walked in inner silence and peace, pondering and meditating a bit.  And no, I did not see not one Dolphin.

I realize there is much more ocean to travel, I am looking forward to our crossing the equator next week and then our transition into the Indian Ocean and even further to the Pacific Ocean.  As I spoke to my colleague BL this morning we talked about how we can’t wait to see whales when we get there.  But at this point I’d be happy to just see a mammal damn it! I’d even settle for a squirrel (yeah I know it’s not a sea animal, but it’s the most common animal I could think of).  My sole consolation has been the great number of Magnificent sunsets I have witnessed.  Some of them just blazing orange across the sky seeming to be pulled down by force leaving traces of color in its path; others gently settling into an already Indigo sky, truly breathtaking.  For now I will settle for the sunsets and be happy until I spot a dolphin, but you know what would be even better... a shark but beggars can’t be choosers I suppose.

I will update this post when I finally spot a sea animal, hopefully I will have my camera and be able to provide picture proof.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Morocco stinks, no really it does" or "Casablanca looks so much better on film"

I have a very sensitive nose.  My younger brother often says I am part bloodhound because I smell things only a bloodhound could.  Well in situations like this it is not a gift but a curse.  

I woke early to head out to see the Hassan II Mosque, the 3d largest Mosque in the world and the largest Mosque in Africa.  It is partly built on reclaimed land, King Hassan II was inspired by a scripture in the Koran, the mosque is built to sit over the Atlantic Ocean and has a floor that moves so that when followers are praying they are actually kneeling over the ocean (and can see it) the ceiling of the mosque also retracts to expose the heavens as well.  This mosque is reported to have cost in the ballpark of 800 million AMERICAN dollars, and is absolutely gorgeous.  

A few colleagues and I headed off the ship and onto a shuttle bus which took us to the edge of the port, we then walked about a mile to the mosque.  Immediately I could smell the usual fish market smells, however this familiar smell was accompanied by another odor, that of rotting and dying corpses, well fish corpses anyways.  It was so bad for me, it was all I could do to not gag.  As we walked away from the pier area, the scent faded, but occasionally a wind would blow carrying other malodorous scents.  As we walked to the mosque we were quick to notice the extreme contradiction; to our right was the coast of the Atlantic Ocean where there was a resurgence of building of luxury homes and office space.  It looked like it would be amazing once completed, potentially rivaling the Miami skyline.  To our left however we could see and smell the slums, buildings crumbling, some even boarded up, and trash everywhere, sometimes even flowing out of abandoned lots.  We were not in the Casablanca of Humphrey Bogart by any stretch of the imagination, though our walk did have us pass Rick’s Place.  We arrived to the Mosque, and were taken aback by its grandeur.  It was not only immense it was magnificent.  The architecture, design, and intricacy of everything was absolutely perfect in every way.  It truly is a sight to behold.  At one point the group of us sat in quiet contemplation on one of the walls of the plaza with our feet dangling over the Atlantic Ocean, the Mosque to our back.  It was a good day.  We walked back in the 100 plus heat sweating and bearing the odors of the streets.  Though my Morocco experience was fantastic I really just wanted to get back to the ship and go.  I was all Moroccoed out.

We'll always have Marrakech"

The new day brought us back to Marrakech, another 9 hour trek back through the winding Atlas mountain roads, no less majestic than the day before but a little less interesting because of our previous day’s adventure.  I dozed in and out of sleep throughout barely waking for the Café stop and lunch stop.  We arrived at our hotel in Marrakech; I made a b line for the hot shower that I dreamt of on my bus ride.  The lukewarm water did not put a damper in my joy, I was so happy to take a shower and wash the desert and bus off.  After the shower I met up with three other colleagues and we ventured into Marrakech for dinner. 

We found this restaurant which looked rather plain on the outside but inside looked like the Garden of Babylon.  It was beautiful.  We had a wonderful dinner and enjoyed the local red wine.  We talked and shared of our Camel trek experience, and it was wonderful.  This was just the best way to end an adventure.  After another great Moroccan dinner and some more of the best tea I have ever had.  We headed back to our hotel, intoxicated by our experience in Marrakech.

The next day brought us to the market place and another souk adventure.  ED and walked throughout speaking only Spanish so the shop keepers would not try to charge us American prices.  We purchased postcards and took pictures.  It was just so laid back and fun.  Though many other of our SAS participants did not have as great experience as we did, we thoroughly enjoyed it.  Some of the participants told stories of the snake charmers throwing the snakes on to them and not taking them off until the participant paid, others had henna painted on them almost by force, and had monkeys put on them as well.  You may be asking how someone can put a snake or a monkey on you.  Don’t ask me, because I did not get close enough to find out, I did experience some of the aggressive nature of the snake charmers when I took a picture of one of them from way far off, he quickly noticed and came over asking me for money in exchange for the picture.  I quickly denied it and walked away.  The market was just great otherwise.  Around 1100 we boarded our buses and headed back to the hotel to pick up the rest of our group and head back to Casablanca.  The 3 hour ride was uneventful and I was quite pleased to see our ship in the port, we were home.  It’s so strange to say that the ship is home, but after being away and experiencing all that in 3 days, seeing the MV was refreshing.  I boarded and refreshed myself before dinner.  Ah! What a good day.

"Never Forget"

The call to prayer about a half hour before sunrise was how I woke up on September 11, 2009.  I gave God my thanks and prepared myself not only for the 9 hour bus ride but for the experience of a lifetime.  However throughout the day my mind was ever present on the date.  I refused to turn on the television so as not to see it relived; certain memories are hard to erase. 

A 9 hour bus ride may sound boring and uneventful but I assure you this bus ride was like being on the Superman ride at Six Flags, our bus driver took us high through the winding roads in the Atlas Mountains, taking hairpin turns, and blind curves like he was driving a straight way on route 95.  There were times I held on to the hand grip in front of me until my knuckles turned white and other times I just closed my eyes and prayed.  And it’s not that he was driving wreck less, but just that the well paved roads were taking us through some high narrow terrain.  We arrived to our next lunch spot where I was ever present of the time, 1300 (9:00 EST) by the time 170 of us had taken our seats for lunch and the servers were prepared to begin their ballet of delivering a delicious three course meal it was 1317 (9:17am) I turned to the student at my left and asked if he thought we should have a moment of silence since it was almost time, he responded “today is 9/11, yes we should” another of my colleagues agreed, and then I stood up and as I was about to speak I realized that though we (The Semester At Sea group) dominated the group, we were not alone there were other diners there.  I breathed deeply and called for everyone’s attention and then stated that the time was approximately 1320 local and 9:20 est, a hush immediately fell over the room as I asked everyone to take a moment to be silent and remember those that were no longer with us, and those of us that were affected.  I could feel my voice crack and my heart race.  I waited a couple of minutes and then thanked everyone for participating.  We then had a scrumptious meal and returned to our buses.  As I was about to get on the bus, a student approached me and thanked me for doing the moment of silence, she said it really meant a lot to her.  I thanked her and we both boarded our bus to continue our trek into the desert.

Some of the sights in the desert were breathtaking, the valleys and roads we had passed as we saw them from various heights were massive.  When we arrived to our destination we could see our dromedaries waiting for us.  We slowly boarded our shared transportation and continued our trek into the desert.  This was my first time on a camel, so I was a little nervous but quickly got the hang of it, we only trekked about a mile to our camp and it was great fun.  Or camp was set up by some Berber tribe/nomadic people.  This camp was a mixture of 3 large dining tents and 30 smaller sleeping tents.  The sleeping tents slept 6 people.  It was literally a small village for about 200 people.  They even set up a bathroom/shower area right outside the camp.  As we arrived to the camp we were met by nomads dressed in white tribal outfits singing and dancing.  Though it was all staged it looked very authentic to us.  We settled in to our tents and then came out to the open area between the dining tents and sleeping tents and started to chat, just then we realized the sun was setting and many of us ventured outside of the camp to witness the sunset over the Sahara which was truly a sight to behold as we watched the sky glow bright then slowly succumb to beautiful indigo with hints of orange and red trying to hold on until the indigo finally won over.  We rejoined our group for more conversation and then another fabulous meal.  Many of us opted to sleep in the dining tents and even dragged our sleeping beds into the main area to sleep under the Saharan sky.  I woke up at about 330 to find that the temperature had dropped significantly and that I was freezing, I walked over to my tent taking a minute to peek up to the sky to see what looked like a million stars winking back at me, I stood there and smiled taking it all in then quickly grabbed a wool blanket out of my tent and ran back to the dining tent and laid back down until my alarm roused me right before sunrise.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Moroccan Adventure"

I arrived into the port of Casablanca, Morocco on Thursday September 10, 2009; immediately as I watched the change in the color of the water in the Atlantic Ocean and saw the brown cloud hovering over the city I knew that I wasn’t in Spain anymore.  It actually reminded me of the smell one expects while on the northern part of the New Jersey Turnpike, with a dash of industrial smoke thrown in.   They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will allow you, the reader to see for yourself and come to your own conclusion.

Once again, almost immediately after we cleared immigration, in port I boarded a bus for a 3 hour ride to Marrakech, our first stop was a “café stop” at a rest area. The women got in line on one side and the men on the other to use the toilet, to our GREAT surprise the toilet at this rest area was not much more than a hole in the ground.  Some students opted to wait until we got to Marrakech; I quickly informed them that we would still be on the road for at least 2 more hours and who knew what type of facilities awaited us.  I won’t bore you with the variety of facilities that I was exposed to on my 3 hour then later 9 hour countryside trip through Morocco, but let me just state that any port a potty at a fair would be a step up.

We arrived in Marrakech and were taken to one of the Medinas in the area then quickly escorted to the restaurant where we would enjoy our first Moroccan meal, and oh what a meal it was.  Four courses starting with bread and a variety of appetizer types; a beet salad, potatoes in seasoning, shredded carrots in lemon juice, and eggplant something or other and something that looked like Pico de Gallo, then we had our main course of chicken that was falling off the bone and seasoned perfectly.  It was DELICIOUS.  We were all taken in by the food.  That was followed up by desserts, a variety of pastries and then the piece d’resistance; the hot mint tea served in an oversized shot glass.  One sip and I was ready to have an i.v. inserted into my right arm.  I fell in love with Morocco.

After lunch we were left to our own devices to explore the souk (the open air market), but were warned that we should not go down too many side streets as we may get lost for hours.  We headed out to the square and saw snake charmers, men with leashed monkeys, and cars, and motorbikes going every which way; a lot was going on.  As quickly as we started to venture into the market area we heard an unfamiliar sound, it was the call to prayer.  Being in an Islamic country was new to all of us, and none of us were familiar with this sound but I immediately understood what it meant.  We watched and waited and then continued on into the market.  As we started to shop we felt a cold wind blow through the market streets, it seemed almost as if we were in a movie, everything started to blow and then the sky opened up and for the next 25 minutes it rained, no, down poured.  We stood under the cover of tarps and watched as shop keepers covered their goods with plastic bags and pulled down their tarps, some even closed shop all together.  As the men came out of the mosque from prayer they too stood with us and watched, as the rain started to ease, we ran across the plaza to the natural shelter provided by the entry way of the post office.  Our first day at the open air market and we were rained out.  We boarded our bus and headed to our hotel.
That evening brought us to another area of Marrakech where we would witness a cultural show which included various Berber tribes singing and performing.  We were escorted to this staged village (for a lack of a better word) where we were met with men on horses dressed in white carrying guns, we posed in pictures with women dressed in native garb, and walked through intricate courtyards and alley ways until we arrived to our dining tent where we ate another fabulous meal, which included the best cus cus I have ever had and once again the mint tea.  I cannot tell you how fantastic this tea is; I just cannot put it into words.  After dinner we stepped out to this grand arena where we watched a show which to this day is very hard to understand, but it included a belly dancer, a man playing with fire, men on horses racing each other and shooting their guns, and the cake topper was a couple on a flying carpet in the middle of the sky; we honestly did not know what to do with this. It was all too much too soon.  Back on our buses and back to the hotel for a good night’s rest tomorrow would truly bring us a Moroccan adventure.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

"Americans being, well American"

Today HM, TMP and I headed on a train to Sevilla; “the artistic, cultural, and financial capital of southern Spain. It is the capital of Andalusia and of the province of Seville” (Wikipedia 2009).  During this 2 hour train ride my colleagues and I talked about what we anticipated seeing, the famous Cathedral,  the Alcazar, and the Torre del Oro.  We were excited and chatting away when all of a sudden we heard a familiar sound aboard the train.  English.  There were a couple of women that had just boarded the train and came into our cabin talking very loudly in their heavy Jersey accents.  They took their seats a few seats down from us.

These two women in their 50’s continued to talk throughout our trip and we could hear their entire conversation, even while we took a siesta we could hear them talking.  Most of their conversation was about their respective daughters in college and the traveling they had done.  Then their conversation was interrupted by a young Spanish woman who politely asked them in Spanish to please move because one of them was sitting in her seat.
Apparently the train has assigned seating.  Very much like in an airplane, plainly printed on the train ticket is the car, row and seat you should be sitting in.  My colleagues and I quickly looked at our tickets and wondered aloud if we should move or just wait to be told that we were sitting in the wrong seats.  While we were holding this discussion we couldn’t help but overhear our New Jersey compatriots very loudly complaining that they had to move and find new seats.  

Some of the comments made:
“I don’t understand why she couldn’t just sit somewhere else”
“we shouldn’t have to move”
“I liked my seat over there better”

As my colleagues and I uncomfortably cringed in our seats, slightly embarrassed, I thought to myself.  Is it any wonder Americans have the reputation we do around the world?  I mean really where do we get off with this great sense of entitlement and in someone else’s country no less.  I was hoping that the Spanish woman did not understand English, as these American women continued to complain, loudly, about having to leave their seat.  It was embarrassing and annoying all at once.

We continued on our ride listening to the annoying sound of our entitled compatriots and finally arrived in Sevilla.  We went through the day and enjoyed many of the sights of the grand Cathedral, and the Alcazar, we boarded a city tour bus and heard of all the great sights, many of the buildings dating back to before Columbus.  But all throughout my stay, in the back of my mind all I could think about were the obnoxious American’s, I was very conscientious of my tone, volume and attitude for the rest of the time there.  Being extra polite and gracious, so as not to come across, American.  This experience gave me something to think about going forward regarding our great sense of entitlement and in general in more particulalrly the current generation's sense of entitlement.  We will see how it goes going forward.

Monday, September 7, 2009

"When in Spain…"

Spain Day 2

Today was as laid back as I want my life to be. Two of my colleagues and I ventured off the ship at about 10:30 am and caught the no.1 bus down to the beach area and had a breakfast which consisted of pateˊ on bread and Spanish coffee. It was yummy.

ED and I then left our colleague HM on the beach, she wanted to get a start on her tan, and He and I went on an official bus tour of Cadíz. For a little 11 euro’s each and a little over an hour we received a comprehensive history of the city as well as a little siesta at one of the extended stops.

We then joined HM at the beach and quickly realized “Toto we aren’t in Kansas anymore”, not that either of us is from Kansas and clearly Kansas has no beaches. It was when we saw the first of many interesting sights. This attractive woman with a great shape walking towards us in her black bikini with what looked to be a belly carrying a 9 month fetus, yes she was pregnant and wearing a bikini, and she looked stunning.

As we started our search for HM we quickly realized there were other women, not so attractive or in as great a shape that were wearing similar type suits. We walked down the boardwalk on the beach and were passed by two plain looking women that were completely topless, one of the women was so plain and flat I thought she was a man until ED made a comment about the two women. We then saw a sight that was as innocent as Adam and Eve pre apple, children, male and female of various shapes and sizes, frolicking in the and out of the water, some of the female children were topless and didnt seem to care or even pay it any mind. This is where it begins.

ED and I then started a conversation about how normal this “nudity” was to the Spaniards and how uptight we Americans were about it, which lead to our next point in the conversation. As we watched women of varying ages, shapes and sizes; many of them without tops on, we concluded that perhaps some of our (American) negative body images had a lot to do with the lack of freedom we have with our own bodies, and how we aren’t allowed to see this positive display and appreciation for the form. This gave me the fuel I needed to throw caution to the wind and remove my top and promptly lay on my stomach and take a siesta. When I went to roll over I promptly put my top back on, in the very prudish way I had been raised to do. I could list a million reasons why I didn’t go topless, but the truth was that honestly I wasn’t comfortable in mixed company on a public beach to do it, maybe next time.

So when in Spain, drink the Sangria! It may just give you the liquid courage you need (as a woman) to throw caution to the wind and your top on the sand.

Tomorrow we take a train to Sevilla let us see what that brings us.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

"Today was a GOOD day"

Spain Day 1
Though I did not go to bed till about 2am I woke up at 6am to a phone call from my colleague A.S. (names have been changed to protect the innocent). So AS called me to wake me, you see it was the morning we were pulling into our fist port on our Voyage around the world. We were excited. So I in turn called three colleagues to ensure they were up. Immediately got dressed and ran up to the 8th deck forward (the front of the ship) where I was met by a cold whipping wind and a handful of students, I was joined shortly by a couple of the colleagues I had woken up.
We sat in great anticipation as we could see the lights of Cadiz, Spain on the horizon. For what seemed like an eternity we waited and watched the lights of the City wink back at us as if they were squinting to see if it was really us. We then noticed the Pilot (the person that actually assists the captain in navigating the ship into port, s/he is an expert on the specifics of that port) boat coming towards our ship and the students started to cheer. They then watched as the Pilot jumped from his small boat to our ship with one leap and then we were in the clear to enter our first port, but not before the sun started to rise. Here she comes, “Dawn with her fingertips of Rose” painting the sky a beautiful Indigo then a blazing orange, announcing that the night was over though the moon was still holding court in the opposite sky. It was all so majestic and breathtaking as the captain effortlessly turned the ship around and parked it almost without us noticing as we were so taken in by the gorgeous sunrise.

PL and I quickly rushed to breakfast and before we knew it were being paged (along with the rest of our team) to the Faculty/Staff lounge to distribute passports. I was a member of one of the first excursions, so before I could even think about it I was aboard a bus and en route to a couple of beaches and Gibraltar.
There’s sand and water, oh and the water, its blue. Not to diminish the beauty of the beaches in any way they absolutely were beautiful, but we really didn’t spend any substantial time there, and that made me sad so why talk about it. I did enjoy seeing an architectural excavation taking place at the beach in Bolonia.

One of the highlights of my day. It was majestic, interesting, and just breathtaking all at once. First we had to be dropped off at the border crossing where the entire group then walked across the border into Gibraltar, a British holding. We were then met by another tourist operator who gave us a tour of the city, and then the rock of Gibraltar, including St Mathew’s cave (once believed to be the entrance to hades <= true story), and some of Gibraltar’s most famous inhabitants the Apes (that will steal your ice cream if you aren’t careful, just ask one of the SAS students who got took for hers). I wont bore you with additional details of the relevance of Gibraltar on the history of the world, if you are truly interested ask me out to dinner and I shall recount the tales. You know me I read all the plaques and signs and would have read the book if one had been written. A few colleagues and I then headed to the town square and had lunch, I ate spaghetti bolognese while they lunched on Fish and chips (a traditional British meal). We were then whisked back to our ship where I had to do a quick change since my next excursion was scheduled to leave an hour from when I returned.

The highlight of my first day was definitely the flamenco dance presentation. 140 or so Ship board members rode 30 miles outside of Cadiz to attend a presentation of Flamenco dancing. First we entered a stadium where we watched 2 female Flamenco Dancers Dance with a Horse guided by a male. It was BEAUTIFUL. We then watched this prepubescent young man mock an immature bull and tease him (it was a mock bull fight), I assure you no animals were hurt during the presentation, though the young man almost got taken down by the bull a couple of times. We were then led into an indoor courtyard and served this wonderful local wine (the red tasted like port, I didn’t like the white, and the sangria was DANGEROUS; tasked like sparkling juice) and tapas. Let me just say the ham in this region of Spain is notorious and now I know why, I have never been a huge fan of ham, but this is no ordinary ham. I swear Muslims would eat this, no disrespect to the Muslim folk. But for real the ham is delish! Where was I? Oh yeah the tapas were tasty. Then the Flamenco show began. I have no words to describe how beautiful and romantic it was to hear and watch as three women and one man moved their feet, hands and stirred the spirits of the audience to the sounds of an acoustic guitar and one solo female singer who’s voice was filled with pain and sorrow yet sounded so beautiful. It truly was wonderful. Everyone enjoyed it immensely
The evening came to an end an hour or so later when after we arrived back to the ship a group of us went out and had a meal of hamburgers, wings, and fries. I know what you’re thinking, that is so not Spanish, well trust me when I tell you the hamburgers we had were made of ground ham not ground beef, and the rest of the meal was as unique as well, but good. We finished our meal and walked back to the ship.
End of Day 1, tomorrow Day 2 (it better man up cause it’s got a hard act to follow)