Monday, June 20, 2016

World Refugee Day

Today is World Refugee Day and after my travels in Lebanon the harsh reality of the refugee experience feels much closer to me. As one drives around the Lebanese countryside there are tents sprinkled all over. In fact, more than 1.2 million Syrians have poured into the country since the start of the Syrian conflict, an amount that equals about 25% of Lebanon's total total population. I just can't imagine how difficult it must be to feel like you have to leave your community because of war or economic hardship. I pray that the world invites these people in and helps them heal and that we figure out ways to spread economic prosperity and peace, so that in the future there will be less and less need for migration.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Photos from Lebanon - May/June 2016

My trip to Lebanon may have been interupted by my surgery and hospital stay, but I still got to see a lot of the country including learning about the complicated history and politics, enjoying the vibrant social scene in Beirut, traveling around the country to see Roman ruins, the onslaught of refugees all over the countryside and the balkanized border with Israel, searching for street art and wine tasting at a local vinyard. Not bad for a country the size of Connecticut!

Click HERE to see pictures from my trip to Lebanon

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Refugees in the Frankfurt Airport


And yet another news story happening live before my eyes... I just burst into tears in the Frankfurt Airport watching a large group of refugees gathered with a representative from the International Organization for Migration. As I feel the excitement about finally being able to go home, to my safe, warm bed and loving family, I feel extra pain for all the people who are not so lucky. I hope these people will be welcomed by their final European destination and be able to find new homes and quickly find a sense of balance and safety.

Lufthansa Business Class

Hard to say whether it was worth emergency surgery and a week in a hospital to make it to the Lufthansa lounge and an upper deck business class seat in an A380??? Nah, who am I kidding? It's easy to say, YES! I feel like a country bumpkin though because no one else seems the least bit excited about all the free amenities of this kind of fancy travel. Nice things are wasted on the rich! (And thanks ‪#‎TravelGuard‬ travel insurance for taking such good care of me through all of this and giving me a flight home to remember!) ‪#‎PleaseDontMakeMeGoBackToCoach‬

Ramadan Is Here. What Islam’s Holiest Month Is About

I left Lebanon as the sun was rising onto the first day of Ramadan, but watched the celebratory preparation in both Egypt and Lebanon. This is the 5th time I have been in the Islamic Word near or during Ramadan and I was struck how differently each area marks it. While the facets of prayer and reflection are the same, other things change. For instance in Lebanon streets and lampposts were decorated with overhead lights and colorful designs, like our Christmas street light decorations. Happy Ramadan.

Ramadan Is Here. What Islam’s Holiest Month Is About

New York Times June 5, 2016

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Listening to Call to Prayer in Baalbek, Lebanon

One of my favorite things about visiting the Islamic world is listening to call to prayer multiple times a day. I like that it makes me stop and reflect on my life and my blessings. Hearing multiple mosques calls echoing over the Roman Ruins at ‪#‎Baalbek‬ in ‪#‎Lebanon‬ was a beautiful, spiritual, peaceful experience. ‪#‎islamiccalltoprayer‬ ‪#‎calltoprayer‬

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Streets of Cairo


I ended up having coffee in a cafe next to a souvenier shop and the whole time Egyptian girls were stopping by trying on the old fashions from way back when and taking selfies. Eventually these girls asked me if I would be in a photo with them. I clearly am underdressed! 

Friendly Faces in Cairo



The friendliness in Islamic Cairo was so great! I never wanted to leave! 


Friday, May 20, 2016

Photos from Egypt - May 2016

Last month I visited Egypt. These days tourists are mostly going elsewhere, which left it less crowded and perfect for me! I loved the bustle of the big city. I loved the uber friendliness of the people. And most of all, as a political person, I loved having conversations with everyone I met about the Arab Spring, Tahrir Square and Egypt's future. As an experiential learner, there is nothing better for me than seeing it and hearing it first hand.

Click HERE to see more photos from Egypt

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