Sometimes I prefer to walk.

There are certain aspects of city life in Cairo – the whir of traffic, the smell of great tureens of koshary and the cool night breeze off the Nile – that simply can’t be experienced in the back of a cab or on the Metro. So, when I feel like I need to feel the pulse of the city or when I just need to do some thinking, I walk home from the Nasser metro station to my apartment in Zamalek (**for previous misadventures about walking home, read my entry about getting lost in a slum in Calcutta trying to make my way home in July).

It’s about a half hour walk if I go quickly, and along the way I get to see the heart of the city. Emerging from the station I’m thrown out into several lanes of traffic. Minibuses dart out honking to patrons who run – and with one hand extended out – pull themselves into the buses as they speed away. Those trying to cross the street dodge and hustle their way through several lanes of traffic, under an overpass and onto the relative safety of the other side. No one stops for anyone; it’s the constant motion, the constant vibration of millions of individuals animated by the same force.

My usual strategy is to wait for an Egyptian to go and just follow. It’s like having a blocker. For me to go down, I know he’s got to go first…and for some reason that’s comforting.

I walk by children fighting, men smoking in coffee shops playing backgammon, shopkeepers reading the Qur’an, men wooing their hijabi girlfriends. I move in and out of traffic, avoiding the sidewalk which is always blocked off by some business or another.

I pass military checkpoint after military checkpoint, where both black clad officers inattentively mind their posts and white clad ones mumble into handsets.

Crossing the 26th of July Bridge the city comes into view. 5 star hotels crowd the waters edge of a placid Nile. It’s here that you can really feel the river’s breeze; the one thing that makes the Corniche bearable in the hot summer months. I pass a party boat where Western tourists, expats and a handful of Cairenes bump and grind to last year’s Rihanna hits.

Once I get to Zamalek, I know I’m close to home. Signs start to appear in English – and sometimes French – more than Arabic. Fast food joints like Hardee’s, Pizza Hut and Micky D’s line the road.

Luckily, though, the street youths are still chilling in the street chain-smoking. The shabaab are still being shabaab. I know I’m still in Egypt, even if they are wearing designer jeans.

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Claire Kane, but she was unable to post it. Why? Our site is definitely blocked in China. Here’s what she had to say in her brief email to me: “well i wish i could be a more active member of the blog! but anywhere here’s a bunch of pics and post.. there are lots of stories behind all these pics.”

When I first arrived in Xiamen the milk scandal had yet to break into the press. Every morning before my class of mandarin drills I would stroll down to the campus pit stop and grab a yogurt and some green tea for breakfast. On a diet of noodles, rice and dumplings I don’t get much dairy and sometimes have a craving for calcium. A popular aloe vera yogurt drink I discovered really hits the spot.

One morning last week I followed my routine: I was up at seven, pulled on some shorts and a tank top for the predictably hot Xiamen weather, reviewed new characters for the daily quiz and walked through campus to the local store. Still in a morning daze I headed to the dairy refrigerators and bread shelves at the back of the shop. I tried to open the yogurt fridge twice before noticing the masking tape that had been wrapped many times around the whole unit and the notice in Chinese across the glass door. Like many beginner Chinese students, I am still largely illiterate and couldn’t make out the meaning of the unfamiliar words posted on the glass. Still, I gathered my wits and noticed that all the milk fridges were taped closed and bore the same note.  Although I was a little annoyed that I would be heading to class with out my aloe vera yoghurt, I didn’t think too hard about the bigger implications of the taped-up milk aisle. Instead I opted for a red bean bun and hurried off to cram a few more characters.

The next day I was talking to my dad at home in Canada and he told me about the milk scandal that had just hit the news. I read up on the latest details on BBC news and was astonished that I hadn’t heard anything earlier. Although dairy traditionally isn’t a staple in the Chinese diet, milk teas, yogurt and other processed foods are increasingly popular – why didn’t we hear about this contamination earlier?

A few days later I returned to the local store and found that there had been some post-dairy contamination redecorating: now the milk fridges were not only taped up, but the bread shelves had been pushed in front of them. When the bread racks are full of fresh goods, the fridges are somewhat concealed. But as the day wears on and the shelves sit empty the commercial camouflage fades. I wonder if I were the shop owner, how would I have handled the milk news?

The owner of the larger local grocery store has more money to lose by plummeting dairy sales. Last night I meandered through the grocery store. On my way over to the MSG, Sugar and Salt aisle I was offered milk samples by two different uniformed saleswomen. Instead of stowing the dairy as the other shop owner had done, this supermarket was trying to remind customers of the sweet taste of m-i-l-k.

As the weeks go by will customers forget the milk powder scandal or continue to be wary of all things dairy? I’ll let you know.

It’s easy to make friends in China. All of the university students I meet are excited about having someone to practice English with, curious about the United States and incredibly hospitable. A few Chinese students who live in Fujian province invited me to their hometowns over the fall break. We went to Quanzhou which was one of the biggest cities in the world back in 1200 AD and then to Anching which is the capital of tea production for the province.

It is almost 2 am here in Paris. Moments ago I walked through the door of my host family’s apartment and I’m still ligheaded from what just happened.

Sometimes you get by just on luck and the kindness of strangers. Tonight was one of those nights.

Except for the part when I had a strawberry crêpe for dinner, everything was going much as planned in the early part of the evening. I saw Beckett’s Fin de Partie at the Théâtre l’atelier in Monmartre, then went to a bar in the 7th arrondisement with friends.

Paris’ metro closes at 1:15 am on weekdays, so I made sure to leave around 12:40 to make it home in time.

I didn’t.

I made it as far as the Gare d’Austerlitz, where I was supposed to transfer lines, when a voice announced over the intercom that line 5 was closed for the night. Just to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood the announcement, I ran up to the platform where I was politely informed by a uniformed guard that I was too late.

I hurried back down the stairs, convincing myself I could easily catch a taxi the rest of the way home and everything would be fine. It took a mighty effort not to panic.

As I stepped through the nearest exit doors, a man on the other side started talking to me. “No, it’s closed.” I tried to tell him before I realized he was telling me that we could no longer leave the station this way. We had to trick the metro turnstiles to let us back in to find another exit from the building, which was getting quieter and more unsettling by the minute.

We had to wonder across a deserted platform, but we finally made it outside the building. “How are you getting home? The bus?” he asked me (in French). I answered that I had no idea how the bus system worked, so I planned to take the taxi. But there were no taxis around; in fact, the outside of the huge metro station was disturbingly quiet.

The man asked the only people around: two maintenance men in a street cleaner who seemed bored by our question. They suggested looking at the other side of the station, which, since the building itself was closed, was most directly accessible by a sort of highway bridge over the metro rail.

So we walked it. On the one hand, that “short cut” was about as dark and scary as they come, and I was convinced that we would be run over at any second, but not many people can say they’ve gotten to spy down upon a sleeping metro station.

A few minutes more and the man found me a cab on the other side of the station. I shook his hand and thanked him in my best French, though I didn’t know quite how to express “I would have been [screwed] without you,” so I just gave him my best smile.

But there was still the matter of the cab. I told the taxi driver where to go with the best accent I could conjure up under the circumstances, and all but collapsed in the seat.

Then I remembered that I didn’t have any money. I fished around in my change purse: I had 7 € left after our drinks at the bar.

Again feeling that sense of dread, I asked the cab driver to stop at the nearest ATM so I would be able to pay him. He asked how much I had and said not to worry about it, that that would be enough.

Looking outside, I realized I had no idea where we were. He stopped at an unfamiliar street: “Is it this one, right?” Turned out we had had a little misunderstanding about where I was headed.

I figured that he was probably regretting his offer to accept what little I could pay, and it made me uneasy. But instead of dumping me out on the curb he struck up a conversation. “You’re an American student? In government? You know, you must become a politician! And you MUST marry a Frenchman! Best way to practice the language.”

I am so relieved to have made it home in one piece I could just about pass out.

“That right there is death… a death-dealer. There’s no way I would put this boat right in front of this croc in a month’s time when the water warms up.”

     – Our Daintree River cruise guide, as our boat sat less than 10 metres in front of a 13 foot-long alpha male crocodile named Fat Albert last Tuesday morning… very reassuring words, no?

I spent last weekend feeling closer to the earth than ever before during my suburban, East Coast and generally nature-disconnected life. I took the lead from my new family members in San Clemente, an indigenous community two hours north of Quito that my program lived with for three days.

Quichua, the language of the Incans, is still spoken regularly and Spanish is often barely known by the oldest. However, a lack of bilingual teachers in the local elementary school has precipitated a diminishment of the younger generation’s fluency in its forefathers’ tongue.

Members of the community are proud descendents of the Caranqui, a pre-Incan Andean culture whose fierce resistance against the Inca is still commemorated by the distinctive deep red of San Clemente’s traditionally-worn poncho.

These are men of the earth. They breathe its essence, feel its murmurs, respect its power, and pay it homage with modern songs and ancient ceremonies passed down for centuries. They are irrevocably connected to the earth in a harmonic symbiosis I’d imagine difficult for many Westerners to understand without witnessing it first hand. Community members, and those of other Andean indigenous communities who live autonomously and remote from excessive external influence, live by the life philosophy known as the Andean Cosmovision. This world-view assumes the connection between all things akin to that of Zen, which lies directly at odds with Western philosophy’s emphasis on individuality and subject-object relationships. In San Clemente, man and nature are one.

The community subsists on semi-communal organic farming, and utilizes ancestors’ agricultural practices. Tractors and insecticides cannot be found. To supplement income, the community has started a small-scale tourism service, and outsiders with seeking a different side of Ecuador are now welcome into numerous community homes.

Community members, such as the family with whom three of us stayed, were eager to share their way of life and thinking and dispel the stereotypic notions that indigenous people are dirty, primitive or unintelligent. I did not come in with these assertions, but I certainly left feeling overwhelmed. We were let into their homes as sons and daughters with no preconditions and no expectations. The unjustified generosity of a people so repeatedly persecuted by outsiders will never be forgotten.

My next few posts will describe specific ceremonies in which we had the incredible fortune of participating. Nothing will better demonstrate this communities’ intimacy or devotion to the earth and Cosmovision.

Lastly, I need to congratulate Ecuador on its new constitution’s overwhelming victory on the 28th – the day of going to the voting centers, watching polls and celebrating jubilantly with family and friends was thrilling, and almost as nerve-wracking as this November Forth promises to be. Progressive provisions for the inalienable rights of nature, water, education and health could finally give a voice to the silent, humble majority and hope for a new politics and a new Ecuador. Of course, the constitution is nothing without strong leadership to guide it…

If interested, check out this article on the constitution’s breakthrough on environmental policy. The New York Times’ coverage or the constitution’s passing is ok, but I found this CNN article terribly biased. As of yet, there is little to no evidence that President Correa will follow in Chavez’ footsteps. I’ll be on the lookout for more good English-language articles on the subject.

The opera house, the harbor bridge, the Olympic stadium… you always hear about these places in books or on TV, but the reality of their existance doesn’t really hit until you’re standing outside of them. Two weeks ago, I did my first major trip outside of Brisbane and visited the capital city of Sydney, which is about a 2-hour flight into New South Wales. 

 

I went with a couple of other Americans and stayed with friends from Duke. The trip was incredibly exhausting with all of the sight-seeing and our determination to save money by walking everywhere! What most amazed me about Sydney was its metropolitan feel. Brisbane, with about 2 million residents, is certainly by definition a city, but compared to Sydney’s international flair and neon spectacles, Brisbane looks small and quaint. Dare I compare their differences to New York City versus Durham? This might be a slight exaggeration, but there was an unexpected marked difference between the two cities.

 

As soon as I arrived in Sydney, I felt a hustle and bustle absent in Brisbane. People rushed past you unaffectedly. Everywhere you turned, there were more bright signs, shopping, food, historical spots and tourist traps. I could constantly hear different accents from across the globe, but ironically enough, rarely (never?) heard the laid-back Queenslander accent I’ve come to be so familiar with and associate with Australians. To be sure, the sights in Sydney are amazing. The Royal Botanical Gardens overlooking city central and the harbor were beautiful, the Opera House was even more amazing up close than from TV and the Blue mountains we visited about an hour outside of the city could give Yosemite or Yellowstone a run for their money. Darling Harbor was a lot of fun: right next to the heart of downtown, complete with delicious restaurants, gelato, an aquarium, the largest IMAX in Australia and Saturday night fireworks. The atmosphere was electric and intriguing. On the flip side, the small town of Leura in the Blue mountains was merely a two-block downtown spread of small shops, cafes and a specialty candy store. For the Durhamites and Dukies reading, think Brightleaf Square or Ninth Street in the middle of the mountains and minus ‘gourmet’ places such as Mt. Fuji’s or Piazza Italia.

 

 

I think the reality that I’ve been to Sydney – you know, the famous Australian city that hosted the 2000 summer Olympics – only really hit me once I got back home to Brisbane. It was a bit of a whirlwind trip, and I can safely say it’s impossible to do Sydney justice in only four days. But isn’t that the case with any city really? Most visitors to Australia completely overlook Brisbane, but it’s a wonderful city and I am so glad it’s my home these four months.

 

Favorite Sydney memories? I can narrow it down to three:

  1. Playing in the circular spiral fountain at Darling Harbor
  2. Riding a jet boat around Sydney Harbor, seeing the sites, and making sudden stops and spin outs at random moments
  3. Taking a tour of the Opera House… it was amazing inside, but nothing like I expected. Most great theaters I’ve been in are ornate and classic looking, but this was simplistic and modern (it was only completed in 1973)

 

Next stop: tropical Cairns!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you’re living in a foreign country, there are bound to be times when you have no idea what’s going on.

Like, for example, this Saturday when I walked out of my aparment and stumbled into this:

(That’s my friend Michelle’s voice you hear talking about booking a hostel in Vienna.)

I am living with a host family in an apartment in the 11eme arrondisement (sort of like the Parisian version of a zip code). Our building is right down the street from le Place de la Bastille, the former location of the famous fortress/prison that was stormed by the disgruntled poor of Paris in July 1789 to kick off la Révolution.

These days, le Place de la Bastille is a traffic circle recognizable by the tower you see in the video. That is to say, there is usually a lot of traffic there of the vehicular sort, which was why I was so surprised to see the streets crowded with thousands of punky teenagers bobbing their heads along to the techno music blaring from all directions.

We found out eventually that in the process of trying to get last minute tickets to the New York City ballet that night at the Opéra Bastille we had wondered into the TECHNOPARADE, which Wikipedia demurely defines as “a parade of vehicles equipped with strong loudspeakers and amplifiers, along the streets of a municipality, which are closed down for this purpose.” I think a proper definition would have to mention something about the broken glass, extreme hairstyles, and general chaos that seem to come along with the Technoparade.

It was not the first time I have assumed the role of the confused American. I spent a solid half hour yesterday in a paperie studying vertically-lined French notebook paper. I spent my first week in the city pushing the button to cross the street and wondering why a recorded voice would yell the street names at me before I realized that the button was for blind people.

I’m pretty confident that there is more confusion to come.