Friday, November 30, 2007

Reflections on my trip to Iran

I decided to take a little jaunt to Iran for a few weeks in October. I know that to many of you it really doesn't seem like the vacation of your dreams but to me it makes sense. I like to see first hand what is going on in the world and to have a personal reference when watching the news. It brings current events to life for me. (More thoughts on this) I have been trying to schedule this trip for more than two years and have been interested in Iran for much of my life. Years ago my father did economic consulting for the Shah's government and we were on his holiday card list. Those cards were displayed in our foyer for years.

Timing wise, I might have picked two of the most rhetoric filled weeks in Iranian/American history. Figuring out to what write has been really difficult since I've been assaulted by political punditry speaking of the possible war and a diatribe of inaccurate images and messages on the news. What I saw on the ground seemed vastly different than what I expected.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Iran Photos


Culture in Iran

If you are interested in hearing more, this is an interesting radio piece about culture in Iran.

NPR: Studio 360

Persepolis and Iran

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Monday, November 05, 2007

This is just crazy talk!

After my trip to Iran and seeing what I saw, coming back to all this bomb Iran rhetoric seems just crazy. With the facts on the ground (the size of the country, the ability for the government to rally troops to really fight (the Revolutionary Guard says they can get 20 million people fight within a very short time), the fact that the Revolutionary Guard sites are right in the middle of cities so there would be enormous casualties for even a small surgical strike...) make the whole concept of us bombing seem ridiculous. Not to mention that Iran is not the purely evil terrorist state Cheney tries to make it out to be... Its a little weird to be home and hearing all the talk after meeting the people that will be and are affected by the rhetoric and threats.

In truth Iran is slowly changing. The old guard is trying to hold on and for the time being is only ceding small changes to the younger populace (65% of population is under 25), but with the rise in education and the bigger role women play in the workplace, along with the images on the internet and satellite TV, change will happen and if we bomb we will destroy that possibility defeating our own cause and radicalize yet another Middle Eastern country.

Friday, October 26, 2007

My thoughts on covering

My mind goes back and forth when it comes to headscarves and covering. At moments I look at all the women in chadors and think there is definitely something wrong here. How can women possibly put up with it? But then on the other hand, I sort of like my headscarf. I like the modesty. I like the feeling when I take it off in my room and see my hair for the first time all day. I like being the private me. It feels sexy and empowering in a way showing off too much never seems to for me.

The problem in Iran and other Islamic places is that its not a free choice and not all the women want to wear it, but as for me, I was a little sad to take it off on the airplane when I left.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Iran thoughts

Iran is different than I expected in so many ways.There is an enormous language barrier but the Iranians are very happy to meet Americans and very friendly and curious. I'm not seeing much evil here. People are educated and have opinions and want to express them. From my perspective the women I'm seeing in the cities seem empowered, strong, pretty (with plenty of makeup), stylish (they wear their manteaus (overcoats) tight and hip looking and all have amazing sunglasses, open, friendly and free to get their photos taken whenever I have the nerve to ask, instead of shying away with Muslim modesty. They are on the street shopping while their husbands tag behind holding the kids.

In terms of Islam, it doesn't seem to strict. Hard to explain why, but their is DEFINITELY less present in daily life than other Islamic countries I've been too. I don't see many mosques and don't hear call to prayer very often. In fact, they only have three calls a day, instead of the normal five because people "are busy and have to work" but even with that I haven't even heard it on some days. Today is the big Friday prayer day and I didn't see one person praying. I'm sure they went to mosques but it just isn't as visible.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A friendly American in the Middle East

Cultural differences make some communication hard. Everyone stares at us when we walk down the street. As an American, I want to look them in the eye and "salaam" but that is not what they do here. Instead I am supposed to mind my own business.

How can I make them like the US without a friendly hello? And frankly I make eye contact and say hello on the streets of New York too, so how can I not do it here?

In the end, I end up walking around saying salaam to everyone and I get some really happy responses back. In fact, I was told a few times that they like Americans because we are so approachable and friendly.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Islamic Eye Makeup

I know that people have many thoughts when about headscarves and mine change daily, but one thing is clear, if you only have one small part of your body to show off eye makeup can really make you shine.

I went out and bought myself kohl for my eyes after my Afghanistan trip. I want to look like these Islamic beauties!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Nose jobs and plastic surgery

Did anyone see NBC's piece on Iran and nose jobs? Its really true. Lots of the women (I think I heard 2 out of 3) and plenty of the men in Iran get nose jobs and I've seen the bandages to prove it. Our guide says they get lots of nips and tucks.

It makes me me curious about what I could be getting done. I like my nose though. :)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Iranian Pop Magazines

Citizen Diplomacy

The reason trips like mine exist is to practice citizen diplomacy. If I meet Iranians and they meet me the concept is that we will build a deeper understanding.

What is amazing is how many people little old me can affect. I think about everyone on my plane who gave me curious stares and listened intently as I made new friends around me or the people that gather around me on the streets or in the bazaars.

There is tremendous curiosity about why I wanted to come and also a lot mutual understanding about our unpopular presidents that use rhetoric to divert attention from the real issues at hand. Both countries have a real need for an economic boost, not more war.

Would you believe that some Iranians think that the US put Ahmedinijad in power so they could create a real enemy and justify a war?

Going through security at Newark

This morning I set off on my latest journey. As I waited on the security line I noticed that were about 10 Ss written all over my boarding pass in a red marker. I guess I'd been profiled. My lily white girl slip under the radar thing was over. At least for this trip anyway. Afterall I'm going to Iran! That must mean I am dangerous.

I must say though that the women who checked me out was pure American nice. She chatted me up as she patted me down, sorted through every single thing in my bag and tested lots of things for chemical residue. She flipped through books, took out my camera batteries and unpacked almost my whole backpack, while making small talk the whole time.

I'm always curious and found the whole process interesting, except the fact that the only others there were a Sikh with a turban and an Arab with a beard. Racial profiling is alive and well in the American security system!

In the end, the sad part is how scared everyone is. It doesn't bring out the best in us. I salute you, Ms. Security Guard, for at least being extra nice and not making me feel bad.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Look who I saw?

I spent today sitting outside the UN watching world presidents and their entourage's go in and out of the big annual General Assembly gathering that is happening this week and look who I saw!!! Yes, its EVO Morales. We shouted out a "hola" to him and got a very happy "hola" back. Ahh.... Beautiful Bolivia! Its especially fun because I didn't get to see him in person when I was in Bolivia earlier this year but I did get to see lots of propaganda photos of him all over. He looks the same in real life! : )

Its days like these that make New York a pretty damn cool place to live! 80 world leaders are here. Motorcades are crossing the city and the sidewalks are filled with people from every country. Although I really don't know what world leaders we saw, I did confirm seeing the president of the Dominican Republic and the president of Portugal. We saw massive motorcades with Sarkosy from France and Merkel from Germany. Besides that it was just tons of people who looked like they were someone.

Sometimes its cool to know that I don't have to get on a plane to see the world!


Later on the Daily Show with John Stewart it turned out that my cousin Charlie was Evo's translator!

Evo Morales on the Daily Show with John Stewart

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Iran??? Why Iran???

If all goes according to schedule, in less than three weeks I'll be on a flight to Tehran. People keep asking me why I'm going to Iran or they give me a strange look. I realize that there is a serious verbal war between our presidents. I realize that its certainly a land virtually unknown to our country. I realize its not a "normal" place to go. But for me it seems like just the kind of place I like to travel.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Woodward Dream Cruise - Detroit, August 2007

Well we are all familiar with the phrase "when in Rome, do what the Romans do" I really try to take that to heart whenever I travel anywhere. This has led me to fun festivals and different local experiences all over the world, as well as a deeper understanding of the community that I am visiting. Which takes to my recent trip to Detroit, Michigan.

Whats the first thing people think of when they hear Detroit? Cars! Yes, the good old American car. So on a recent journey to visit my friend Paula, who lives there, I planned it to coincide, for the second year in a row, with the Woodward Dream Cruise, the largest classic car cruise in the world!

First off, many of you are probably like me, and you may not know much about the classic car show and cruise scene. People drive (or ship) their beautifully refurbished cars to show and share with others. You have probably seen parking lots filled with car shows, but chances are you have never experienced anything like the Dream Cruise.

It goes like this. Woodward Avenue is the main drag from Detroit to the outer suburbs and once a year it fills from Detroit to Pontiac with every imaginable classic car and plenty of theme cars too. 40,000 classic cars cruise up and down the 16 mile stretch, while crowds line the roads to watch. In between cruising, the owners park their cars so that others can come check them out. Businesses set up party tents. Parking lots are filled with bands. Car loving fans set up chairs along the roadside and folks like me walk for miles watching and enjoying some good old American fun.

Its time in this write up to add the disclaimer that I don't have a car and feel
pretty darn proud about it. I worry about our gas-guzzling society and wonder how much fossil fuel use is contributing to the wacky weather we are having these days. That being said after my trip to Cuba, I fell in love with the classic American car. I love their curves, their grace, their colors. I love the romance of the 50's and big bucket seats. I love the personal historical memory that is stirred when I see a Nova or Mustang. I'm constantly hunting for clues of what it means to be an American and these cars are part of it. They represent the freedom of the road. To me the Woodward Dream Cruise transports me to places I've learned about.

Friday, September 07, 2007

And a Word About Detroit

It doesn't seem right to tell you about the Dream Cruise without letting you know about what Detroit is like these days. Through the eyes of my friend Paula, I have been able to see a different Detroit then the one I expected. Detroit is on an upswing. It is being reborn. Downtown has been rebuilt and refurbished. Old buildings are being restored and turned into high end condos. The automotive money brought elaborate architecture that is being cleaned up. Grand tiled ceilings are shining again.

Young professionals are moving in. Bars are following them and popping up on every corner. Black and white professionals mix in hip environs. New baseball and football stadiums have been built right in the middle of downtown. A promenade has been built on the waterfront. Parks have been planted. A few miles from downtown, tree and mansion lined streets display Detroit's regal past. One by one these houses are being refurbished to their original grandeur.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Tips for Making Your Next Trip Just a Little Bit Better

When I travel to a new place I have two goals. I, like everyone else, wants to see the popular sites that I have heard about in magazines and seen in the news and I also want to get a feeling for what makes this place different from the other places I've been.

First, before I go, I do a lot of research. Guide books are great but I find magazine articles and podcasts to be even better. For listings of past articles on a place you can go to Print them out and save them for reading on the plane. Then read them again after you have been in the place for a day or so and they make more sense. For podcasts you can check the archives of the major guidebook sites to see if the cover the location. Often they will have walking tours or point out some quirky angle of the locations identity.
Lonely Planet and Frommer's have especially good archives.

I also have a few practical hints to make your experience better.

Always try to walk off the beaten path. Find a local neighborhood. Travel down a side street. While its really important to see the main sites, you won't see locals there so try to ask your hotel operator for the local bar or restaurant he recommends... I try to see one or two tourist sites in the morning and same in the afternoon with a neighborhood in the middle for lunch and hopefully one for dinner. Ask about markets. Try to take public transport. Start up a random conversation.

Get a big digital card and take pictures of every little thing you see that is different from places you have been before.
Those are the things you want to remember. They will enrich your memories and the task will remind you to keep your eyes focused on what makes each place more special. I'm talking about different ways to flush a toilet, great signs, public buses. And especially people if you can get up your nerve.

If you find a little trinket you think would be a good gift for someone at home, buy five. There is always another person you will want to give a gift to and you won't be able to go back quickly and get another. Even if it seems a bit pricey after a tough bargaining session chances are its going to seem cheap when you get home.

And Ladies... Visit a beauty salon. Not only do you get a little relaxing respite to sooth your weary traveling bones, but you often get a little insight into society too. In Mumbai, Indian women spend full days at the salon. I found a little place in an apartment building and when I swung open the door it was filled. I could have stayed there all day and people watched, not to mention how good the cheap facial felt and how much better my skin looked after being in the polluted streets. Also, in Dubai, watching a women go from nude in the locker room to completely covered in an abaya was a very memorable experience.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A short Bolivia Tutorial

Bolivia is a country of almost 9 million people high up in the Andes in South America. It's Latin America's 5th largest country though much of its territory is sparsely inhabited due to rugged landscape and a harsh climate. The low population density contributes to vast, incredible, untouched, raw, barren beauty. On the altiplano, snowy mountain peaks always remind you that you are soaring in high altitudes. (That and the fact that you can only climb two of three stairs at a time because you are gasping for breath in an effort to inhale just a little bit of oxygen.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Salar de Uyuni

Bolivia's most dramatic natural beauty lies in the Salar de Uyuni, better known as the Salt Flats, a 12,000 km area on the southern end of the altiplano near the Chilean border. This area has kilometer after kilometer of spectacular landscape. Deep red mountains rise out of sandy plateaus. Active volcanoes spew smoke. Brightly colored lagoons suddenly appear around each corner. Their colors come from their high mineral contents and the red, green, deep aqua blue burst out amongst the tans and browns of the open terrain. The edges of the horizon were met with clear bright blue skies.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I got published on Budget Travel Online!

10 Amazing "Small World" Encounters

We recently asked readers of our blog to share their experiences of traveling somewhere far from home only to encounter someone from their hometown…or from their past. You sent us dozens of great stories. Here are the 10 most surprising ones. read more

Check out number 6!

#6 I was in Budapest and had just been attempting to use a pay phone to call an arriving friend at our hotel. After dumping more than three euros of change into the phone and getting nowhere, I was frustrated so I gave up and decided to walk back to the hotel. As I was walking I saw a women talking on a cell phone. I looked at her and the ease of her phone with great jealousy. Suddenly I took a closer look and saw that it was Katie Callahan, an old friend from high school who I hadn't seen in almost 20 years! She practically dropped the phone in surprise. I ended up borrowing her phone to call my friend, who had also gone to high school with us and we all went out and caught up at an elegant hotel overlooking the Danube.

It reminds me to always look at people when I am walking around, no matter how far away I am from home!

Posted by: Cordelia Persen | May 21, 2007

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Silvermines in Potosi, Bolivia

One of the stops on the trip was in Potosi. It is a small silver mining city where the Spanish Empire reaped the majority of its wealth. In the height of the empire Potosi was larger and more important that London and Paris. Money was pouring out of the city and it was the place for entrepreneurs to come make their fortunes. Today Potosi looks beleaguered. While there are little signs of its older grandeur with ornate churches lining many of the streets, it shows more signs of the reaping and pillaging of colonial empires, than the investment of people planning to stay.

During the Spanish Empire over 9 million people died in the mines. Today silver mining is still the main job provider in Potosi. And while job conditions have gotten a little better than in colonial times the average life of a miner is still only 10-20 years from the time he starts working. Arsenic poison attacks their lungs. As Westerners, who have been able to choose our professions, it was very hard for us to look in the miners eyes without why do they keep doing these jobs? How does one start a job when they know it’s an early death sentence? How can you father the average 6 kids and then leave your wife as a widow at 30 or 40 years old to raise them, when for the most part there are no almost no pensions or support after you die? But, in reality, we had to reflect back that this is all these people know. For hundreds of years the men of Potosi have been sacrificing themselves to dig up silver and now other minerals like zinc. Their fathers died as they will too.

We were able to go into the mines and experience a bit closer what life is like. We climbed through little tunnels and traveled deep into the mine. We met miners and even got to experience a dynamite blast and hear the broken rock fall away in the tunnels around us. At times in the mine I really began to question what I was doing there. Safety seemed to be a secondary concern. The smoky dusty explosive filled air sent sharp pains through my sinuses. Darkness, mud and deep holes were treacherous parts of our journey, but I am an experiential explorer and feeling that blast of air from the dynamite that practically pushed me over might be the coolest thing I’ve ever felt. The process we experienced is how most minerals are retrieved and I got to feel it first hand in a way I'd never be allowed in most countries.

In the end, I must say though I’m looking at silver in a new way now. Capitalism pushes for the lowest price for commodities but if you saw the conditions that people worked wouldn't you pay a little more for your trinkets???

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Beautiful Bolivia

Hats, hats and more hats! If only those sales ladies really would have let me take their photo?!? Can you see them?

Tiwanaku, the worlds second oldest civilization, existing almost 3000 years before the Incas

The sprawling Salar de Uyuni

White churches, public squares and kids playing soccer... Bolivia in a nutshell.

Yes, I am off again, for a mental health break from job searching. I've headed down south to Bolivia, tucked up in the Andes at 12,000 feet above sea level! Yes, that means I'm high up in the mountains! Its beautiful, traditional and oh so very alive. Bolivia has the largest indigenous population in Latin American with between 50-60% of its people having pure Indian blood. It makes for fascinating people watching. Its a country with even more hats!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Austin, Texas on my mind

Many of you know that I have started a tradition of taking an exotic trip for my birthday. The first two years I spent whiling away days in historic Cuba with fresh mojitos while listening to live music. Then last year I really upped the ante by going to Afghanistan. Of course that was so far out that I couldn't even remember that it was my birthday. This year fresh off my India trip I decided to take it down a notch, but not too far down, so I chose Austin, Texas. Yes, I know... Texas, did I say Texas?

Many of you may be asking why because perhaps you aren't as familiar with Austin and its many virtues. Others who have been there before automatically get why I'd pick Austin. One friend told me the saying goes "that once you go to Austin, you never want to leave" And I can assure you that my travel companion, Christy, and I spent many, many hours contemplating what our life would be like if we moved to there. Would I buy one of those cute little houses and fill my lawn with yard art, which can be seen all over? Would I have the energy to go see bands and dance the night away every night like it seems like people in Austin do? Could I really trade in all my black for blue jeans, buckles, boots and hats? Perhaps I should give up my career and get a bartending job, work on my rhythm and really learn to two step? Or better yet, there is a lot of cool sustainable growth issue stuff going on in Austin. Could I be part of that?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Have you been to Atlantic City lately?

This past weekend I took a trip to see the "new" Atlantic City. I was there for a bachelorette party. While Vegas was our first choice, various reasons made us pare down our ambitions. So, if not Vegas, where? Big hotels, pools, restaurants, bars, gambling... really!?, only just over 2 hours away from New York??? Wow! That sounded like an option. Truthfully though, I didn't know what I was getting into. I hadn't been there in at least 10 years and didn't have high expectations. I had heard changes were afloat but I had no idea just how many changes had been made.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Faces from my trip

Photos from India

Click on the Photos from India words above this photo for a link to the slideshow

Photos from Bhutan

Click on the Photos from Bhutan wording above the photo to link to the slide show

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Doors from Around the World

Click on Doors from Around the World above the photo for a link to this slideshow

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

I just met two people coming home from a night of yoga for New Years Eve. At midnight 150 people began a series of chants for world peace, which sounded like a significant way to wish in the New Year but also at first seemed a little elusive until I put my own spin on it. I began to think about all the different people I have seen this year and all the things I hope for everyone I know, including all the things I am thankful for and suddenly New Years had significance in a way it hadn't earlier in the night.

I wish for the next New Year for:

Everyone to have access to water when they need it
May electricity power their lights
May they be able to dream and achieve those dreams
May public transportation exist to get them where they have to go.
May healthcare, immunizations, medications be available when they don't feel well.
May everyone be able to get an education, read a free press, and actively participate in their political systems like I am so blessed to do.
May they have a safe dry place to call home
May they be able to provide for a family and live together in a web of support.
May food be available to satisfy any hunger
May clothes be available to cover every back

I am a lucky person. I appreciate that I appreciate the wonderful people I have around me that make my life more rich. I appreciate the hot water that fuels wonderful long showers, I appreciate being able to eat anything I have a craving for. I appreciate my cosy flannel sheets.

And mostly I hope all of you will take time to appreciate what you have too.

This might sound a little hippie-like, but humor me and think of the things you are thankful for and think of those that might not have these things and feel the significance of really wishing well for people.

And lets be thankful for the other things we are blessed with.

Happy New Year!
Happy Life!
Happy New Starts!
Happy Old Ways!