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. 

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.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Mexico City Alebrije Parade

I may have missed annual Mexico City Alebrije Parade, but luckily these fantastic creations lined one of the main avenues for a week so people could enjoy them. 
The monumental alebrijes of the parade are based on traditional Mexican folk art. They generally combine elements of real and fantastic animals as well as humans including faces, wings, horns, hoofs, multiple heads, tails and more. No two alebrijes are exactly alike. These alebrijes are giant representations of the art which are typically much smaller in size.

Check out THIS LINK with some more great photos of the alebrijes
There were about 100 full sized alebrije on the side of one of Mexico City's main boulevards

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Memories of Southern Spain

Spain, thank you so much for welcoming me with you chill "manana, manana" attitude. I felt so relaxed and comfortable visiting you. I loved sitting at your many outdoor cafes, eating your delicious tapas that came with the abundant fresh fruity sangria giving me a chance to try so many different tastes. I loved your ornate Moorish architecture. It moved me to tears. The tile work and carvings were so beautiful. The symmetry felt so soothing and solid.

Your cultural and colonial connections to my world (Latin America and America) are so visible and yet so complex. I thought you would be so much more developed, but in some ways you felt almost as developing world as the colonies you left in Latin America. I loved that part of you too. You are the lace between Europe and Latin America. 

I hope we will have many chances in our futures to get to know each other. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Moroccan Landscapes

To see Morocco one must drive long distances between the sights. Prior to the trip I was a little worried about all the driving, but it turned out that I was happy to look out the window and soak in all the sites. Morocco's landscape was much more varied than I was expecting. The images in my head were of camels and rolling sand dunes. I expected a dry, dusty land, which did exist in places, but there was so much more. 

First off, Morocco grows lots of things. The land is covered with fruit trees producing apricots, apples, cherries and of course olives. There are so many olive trees planted uniformly along big stretches of rolling hills, There is lots of lush green farmland and fuzzy wheat stalks blowing in the wind. We also passed miles and miles of argan trees whose seeds produce the magical oils that have changed my hair over the last few years.

Second, it seemed like around every bend was another dramatic landscape. Rock formations like the Grand Canyon melted into turquoise lagoons. Rolling hills covered with olive trees descended into lush farms filled with huge date palms. And then of course to the south were the red dunes of the Sahara which pop up out of a barren gray desert floor. 

So all said, the key thought in Morocco is enjoy the journey.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A positive moment for tourism

Practicing English in Hanoi. A least I'm useful for something!
Last night I went walking in Hanoi, Vietnam and met these two college girls who wanted to practice their English with me. They practice all the time at home but have never had the courage to ever ask anyone in person, but said they asked me because I seemed friendly. They told me they learn English by watching Ellen and MasterChef and could even name all the characters of Friends. They love Taylor Swift and are sad Miley Cyrus has been acting so crazy. They took out their Learn English lessons and had me read to them, then read to me and asked me to correct their pronunciation.

This was just what the doctor ordered for me, since this trip had made me question if my presence is really good for the societies that I'm seeing. The affect of tourism sometimes worries me, but right now I feel like I made a small contribution and got to experience the best part of travel: personal interactions that make the world a smaller more interconnected place. And PS, I already got an email from one of the girls so hopefully I can be her English-speaking pen pal.

Photos from Vietnam - Winter 2015

Click HERE to see pictures from my trip to Vietnam

Friday, January 16, 2015

What is really going on in Burma under the surface?

While traveling in Burma it's hard to figure out what is really going on. On the tourist side, you see a country changing quickly to make room for the growing tourism numbers. The story you hear is that the military government which has had a strict control on every aspect of life here for 60 years decided to begin to open up and allow more political freedom. They finally released Aung sung Sui ki from house arrest. She won a Nobel Prize for her efforts to open up the country and has been one of the worlds most famous political prisoners. When they released her she told the world it was ok to come to Burma again and the travel boycott being observed by many in the west was lifted, allowing millions of travelers to visit. Tourism numbers show 360k coming in 2006, 790k coming in 2010 the year the change happened and 2 million coming in 2013.

So on the one hand, growth in tourism is rapidly changing the country and opening it up to the outside world. Tourists are everywhere. New hotels and restaurants are popping up.  But then on the other hand one is always wondering what is really going on and if the military really does have much more control than they admit. Our guide is very careful when he answers our questions.  Tourists are only allowed to go to certain areas of the country or they need permits that are virtually impossible to get. 

I find myself eager to believe the story that things are changing fast and political freedom is rising and that the upcoming elections this year will bring a new president directly elected by the people, but I also feel myself worrying that that is not going to happen and many of the changes are much more on the surface.  And the frustrating part is there really is no way to figure out what is the truth. 

Added after returning to the US:

I have been getting Google Alerts about Burma news since I got back and feel a bit naive about how little I knew about the ethnic conflicts happening all over the country. The country officials clearly want tourists to see some stuff and bypass a lot of other issues.  I still hope Burma is on the road to the right kind of change since it was a beautiful interesting to place to visit.  I hope tourism is used as a liberating force, not as a way to get money to use to keep the Burmese people in line.