Friday, May 20, 2016

Visiting the Giza Pyramids - the Last Surviving Wonder of the Ancient World



I was told by some that seeing the Egyptian Pyramids is a bit of a let down after seeing so many pictures and I wasn't sure what to expect. In one way, I think those people were right since I knew exactly what they looked like, so that wasn't quite as dramatic as I expected. Instead I think what was interesting was seeing in person something I have heard so much about in the past. When they pop up out of the Giza skyline I couldn't help but get excited. And although my attraction to Egypt at this time was that tourism was so far down and I was hoping to have the place to myself like I had read about, I think the fact that the main complex was actually really busy may have added to the experience. I arrived at the same time as at least 100 people dressed in neon green and their excitement reminded me what an unusual opportunity this was. The horses and camels for rent we moving all over the site and people were climbing everywhere and I just couldn't miss that this place was special. 

The best and most impressive part to me is that there are many pyramids in the valley. You can see them on the horizon from huge distances away. Some are soaring and some look more like piles of stones and they are all different sizes, but altogether they are quite a sight.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Shadows of Tahrir Square - Cairo, Egypt

Stencils like these of the protestors who were killed were all around the Tahrir Square area
Faces of the Arab Spring near Tahrir Square

The West's misunderstanding of Islam and Arab culture keeps hitting me. I need a better understanding of what people were fighting for in Tahrir Square and elsewhere. With a history of kings, pharaohs and dictators and from the perspective of people I have spoken to here, it's not clear to me that the majority wants to actively participate in governing and instead mostly want to be able to live their lives safely with enough prosperity to take care of their families. They are not looking for "Democracy" like we believe in in the West. And frankly, with the rise of Trump in America, I don't even feel we are qualified to understand what Americans want so I certainly don't think we can lecture Egyptians about what they should want. 


What I hope for Egypt is that things stabilize and tourists come back while they also diversify their economy a bit more to not be so dependent on tourists. I hope Sisi really is a leader who is listening to everyone and guiding the country through tough important necessary change. Egyptians understand that change takes time. They have almost 5000 years of history to look back on. 

Tourism after the Arab Spring in Eygpt

Arriving in Egypt 12 hours before the mysterious Air Cairo flight disappearance was a rather surreal start to my trip.  In fact, I was the one who informed my tour guide that day it had happened and it looked like I punched him in the stomach. While the tourism numbers show about a 75% drop in tourism since the political uprising of 2011 and a continued sharp drop from last year to this year possibly because of the terrorist incident in the Sinai in the fall when a Russian airliner was taken down by ISIS, the government party line is that things look bright ahead and they were getting through the slump. In fact, almost everyone I have spoken to seems to feel that Egypt is stabilizing and Sisi is doing a good job running the country.  While there is still work to do I get the feeling things were looking up. (I realize that might be a targeted message for people like me.) But in a country where 12% of the population makes their livelihood from tourism this plane crash is a sign of more tough times ahead. 

Meanwhile I don't really know what is happening behind the scenes, but my tourist experience has been wonderful. Egyptians are open and friendly. Cairo is bright, busy and energetic. It's population of 20 million bursts out into the sidewalks of every neighborhood. Seeing the sites is easy. There are plenty of tour guides to teach me history and culture and to thankfully share their opinion on politics and Egypt today. The streets feel very safe. Jane Jacobs would like seeing all the "eyes on the street" that keep everyone safe and looked after. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Why I Travel

Many times the reason I go on a trip is because I need to revive my inner confidence. My real life has a way of beating me down and travel builds me back up. I need to boost my brave, adventurous core, so that I can face life's daily challenges at home. Travel makes me face different kinds of situations and not only survive but usually find possibility I didn't know existed. It reminds me the incredible benefits of an open mind. It shows me that just because I look at something one way, others see it differently and that helps me step back and get a larger, new perspective. It freshens me up and makes me a better, stronger person when I get home.

You Think I’m Weird Because I Travel Solo

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/valerie-joy-wilson/you-think-im-weird-becaus_b_9804248.html

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Another Day Another Parade in NYC

Another day, another parade. Today was the NYC Persian Parade filled with music and dancing and floats that depicted some of Iran's great architectural icons and historical moments. I wonder who's marching next week? 😉


Thursday, March 24, 2016

NY ❤️'s ME!

Taking advantage of a Groupon deal and seeing New York through the eyes of tourists. Gotta say, it's a pretty chill way to see the city on a sunny day.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

2016 New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade

Apparently there are only about 300 pipe bands in the world and 75 of them are marching the NYC parade today!!! I only watched a small section of the parade but I got a pretty great show!


Friday, March 11, 2016

Thinking About Afghanistan Ten Years Later

Ten years ago this week, I went to Afghanistan on a delegation to learn about women after the fall of the Taliban and learned about the many components of rebuilding a civil society after years of war. What I saw there profoundly affected me. The passionate people I met who fought for education for girls and a justice system for woman and promoting human rights  for all wowed me. 

The cross cultural experience was deep and powerful. Afghan hospitality meant we were welcomed and embraced. We were invited to people's homes and met high level women like Army generals and local women in the villages. We met advocates and sat for tea with neighbors in our guest house's neighborhood and heard about hopes a dreams for a better life. We sat across from Taliban elders (which we learned really just meant most people in any leadership position at that time. Not necessarily the evil men we heard about on tv) and heard of the indignities our military subjected them to and learned first hand the difference between winning hearts and minds and making real lifetime enemies. But what was amazing is these men were willing to sit at the table with a group of American women and share their stories and ask for our help to get their friends and family members out of Guantanamo and Bagram. The press makes things seem so black and white, but in person things are so much more nuanced and gray and human. 

I believe deeply in the power of experiential learning and that trip changed me forever. I left a piece of my heart in Afghanistan. I think about the people I met all the time and hope that there is a better future for them and that society can get beyond the cycles of war. 

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Visiting Water Island, USVI


My family has been visiting Water Island for over 50 years. It had been a while since I had been back and it felt great to be there. While some things have changed, its still a small, sweet, traditional island where families return year after year.

Click HERE to see more pictures of Water Island

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Street Art in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Here is what I found during 13 miles of walking, hunting for street art in San Juan, Puerto Rico today. The art is all over the city and definitely rivals New York in its size and variety. A lot of it focuses on the current crisis Puerto Rico is facing with artists giving a voice to the pain and frustration the people are feeling. (I apologize that there are so many, but these are only a fraction of what I saw!)

Click HERE to see more pictures of the amazing Puerto Rican street art

Saturday, February 13, 2016

2016 Iowa Caucuses Pictures


Click HERE to see photos from my trip to Iowa.

Political Tourism


Hello America!

Its Presidential primary season, so that means I'm going out on the road in America canvassing door to door.  This year, like in 2008, I headed out to Iowa to volunteer for Hillary Clinton's campaign. Once again, I was able to meet people and have real conversations about the issues of the day.  I was privileged to learn about concerns from people in a very different area than mine and make deeper connections than the average tourist trip.


A Bernie Sanders Office wall
Good swag!
Each stop around the campaign trail, whether it be post-industrial cities in Ohio, Northeast Philadelphia, tech heavy Northern Virginia or Iowa farm country brings me closer to understanding America. I'm always interested in how our past immigrant migrations have left lasting cultural marks on different places.  Iowa is a land of Germans, Scandinavians and other Northern Europeans.  Little reminders like the types of Christmas decorations or facial structures and very blond hair reminded me I was somewhere different.  Northern Virginia in 2012 was interesting because it is a home for new immigrants and the rise of the Homeland Security, military industrial complex and tech industries are changing the color and culture of the average Virginian face.  Each door brings you to a person from a different country or color and reminded me of our great melting pot. Philly means going door to door in poorer black communities and thinking more deeply about income inequality and urban policy.  And all of them are interesting.

Political signs
This time in Iowa I also took time to go see candidates speak.  Iowa is lucky that candidates spend a lot of time doing retail politics and that means lots of small gatherings and hand shakes and plenty of interesting questions from curious audiences.  I went and saw Jeb Bush and Donald Trump as well as Martin O'Malley, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.  Along the way, I saw a really wide swath of people with vastly different political opinions. It was amazing.  I only wish it was a slightly smaller state and I could have seen all the candidates!

My girl Hillary
Now today I am yearning to go campaign in the southern states, whose politics I really don't understand. In 1992 on my first campaign I did get a chance to work in South Carolina and seeing the segregation and poverty had a profound affect on me, but now I know there that was a bit simplistic and I would love to learn more about the opinions of southern blacks and dig deeper into the history.  Maybe I'll go in 2020??? Thats one thing I know for sure.  There will always be other chances and I promise to keep taking advantage of them.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

In Preparation for Visiting Iowa Again... A Walk Down Caucus 2008 Memory Lane

As I pack my bags to head to Iowa again to campaign for Hillary Clinton, I read my post from 2008. I doubt I will be able to describe the experience better this time so if you want to know what I'm doing read my old post and you will get a feeling for what is so great about campaigning in Iowa and about Iowa itself!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: What a year its been!

Cheers to 2015 and Happy New Year! 

The end of another year means another holiday letter to try to sum it up in a few words, which is never easy, but is a wonderful exercise in reflection and appreciation, so here goes... 

My big accomplishment of 2015 was completing my Executive Master in Public Administration at NYU Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service. It took me a long time to decide to go back to school and I'm so glad I did. I refreshed my skills, updated my knowledge, and extended my network with a whole new group of amazing people.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Visiting the Middle East by way of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn


I haven't known how to personally respond to all this anti-Islam talk. Posting on Facebook isn't enough. Reaching out to Muslim friends isn't quite enough. So I decided to go out and explore the Islamic community in Bay Ridge and be reminded of how much I love the culture. I got in the subway on the UWS and got out in the Middle East and it was awesome! Spice filled aromas, hookah bars, honey laden sweets, glittery dresses, gold jewelry, and the melodic sounds of various Arabic dialects. I spent a little money and engaged with the people I saw. Not sure its anything, but it can't hurt. 

Monday, November 09, 2015

The view from my apartment of vibrant New York City

Although I mostly focus on the rest of the world on this blog, New York is pretty and I love to explore it too!

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Learning about Indigenous Cultures in Oaxaca, Mexico - Day of the Dead 2015

I went to Oaxaca to participate on another Global Exchange educational tour where we learned about the 16 indigenous peoples who live in the Oaxacan State. 
We learned about the traditions surrounding Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos and also about many other aspects of the cultures including their ongoing struggles for automony against the Mexican state. 
We visited small communities throughout the state, learning about traditional farming and the struggle against GMO corn as well as the traditional cultivation of Mezcal a drink that is very important to indigenous culture. We got to drink a lot of it also! wink emoticon
(I apologize for so many pictures, but believe me, I had even more and just couldn't cut anymore!)
Click HERE to see my pictures from Oaxaca

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Discovering Puebla, Mexico - 2015

I spent two days in Puebla, about two hours by bus from Mexico City. I fell in love with the city and its varied architecture with incredible tilework and its friendly vibrant vibe. I will be back someday!

Why Puebla? I decided to stop in Puebla for two reasons. First, a large part of the New York City Mexican population descends from Puebla and I often try to visit the locations where immigrants around me are from. Also, over the summer I met two street artists from Puebla and they told me that Puebla was known for great street art.  

Both turned out to be great reasons to go there! Check out my pictures and you'll see why!

Click HERE to see my online photo album

Sunday, October 25, 2015

El Macro Mural Barrio de Palmitas - Pachuca, Hidalgo State, Mexico

So perhaps you remember me posting a clip about a town in Mexico that painted a neighborhood? You may not have taken me seriously when I said I had found my next travel destinaton. I'm not sure I was serious, but, look, I went there! And it was beautiful!
Pachuca, Mexico is hoping a psychedelic mural can cement the transformation of a once crime-stricken neighborhood to a safer, more unified community. The government-sponsored urban renewal project, called El Macro Mural Barrio de Palmitas, coated over 200 hillside dwellings in a vibrant layer of paint with striking results.

Click THIS LINK to see more pictures of this amazing painting project

After reading THIS ARTICLE about the painting project in the Guardian, I decided I had to see it first hand.