One gift Peace Corps Zambia gave us was the opportunity to read lots of books. With no electricity or internet to distract us and plenty of time on buses, I probably read more books there than in high school and college combined. Many thanks to friends who sent reading materials and to volunteer organizers of the amazing Solwezi house lending library. Here's a pretty complete list of the books I read while in Zambia:
1) Nine Hills to Nambokaha
2) Eat, Pray, Love
3) The Ponds of Kalambayi
4) The Celestine Vision
5) Saving Fish from Drowning
6) Where There's no Toilet Paper: Traveler's Tales
7) Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
8) In Patagonia
9) The Secret Life of Bees
10) One Hand Does Not Catch a Buffalo
11) The Sun Also Rises
12) A Long Way Gone
13) The Celestine Prophecy
14) The Help
16) The Poisenwood Bible
17) Strength in What Remains
18) Dead Aid
19) Raising Goats for Dummies
20) Cutting for Stone
21) Set This House in Order
22) Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight
23) A Time to Kill
24) Mango Elephants in the Sun
25) The Air We Breathe
26) The Dead Zone
27) The Hithiker's Guide to the Galaxy
28) The Life and Times of Michael K.
29) The Dark Star Safari
30) The Lacuna
31) Water for Elephants
32) Leaf Storm
33) Africa: A Continent Self-Destructs
34) Travel as a Political Act
35) The Trial
36) Monique and the Mango Rains
37) The Testament
38) The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
39) The Story of Beautiful Girl
40) Norwegian Wood
41) The Boy Who Harnessed the Wing
42) Pecked to Death by Ducks
43) Glimmers of Hope: A Memoir of Zambia
44) The Life of Pi
46) What Should I Do With my Life?
47) On Writing
48) The Three Letter Plague
49) A New Earth
50) Hearts in Atlantis
51) The Joy Luck Club
52) The Unheard
53) Island Beneath the Sea
54) The Alchemist
55) Join In: Multiethnic Short Stories
56) Slaughterhouse Five
57) Rich Dad, Poor Dad
58) The Tipping Point
So of course there were lots of books about Zambia and Africa, which I found extremely interesting being then and there. Other things I've learned: I'm still not a fan of sci-fi, an occasional classic is good for building character, and I'm much more a fan of general fiction than I used to be. Favorite authors from my Zambia stint: Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Abraham Verghese, and Amy Tan. Hope I continue this reading trend that Zambia has taught me!
Sunday, January 19, 2014
Please feel free to look at this slideshow, which gives a picture of our entire service. If you're interested in having one or both of us present at your school or community event, let us know!
After you get on the link, please click on "present" and then "present from beginning" on the upper right-hand corner and click on each page for your viewing pleasure! Enjoy.
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Friday, December 13, 2013
I don’t really know if this is a separate experience since it also involves phones, but it happened my 2nd day in Americaland, so I decided to break my techno-phobe blog into two parts. Well, realized we could not for even one day exist as Americans living in America without Smartphones, so the first item on the agenda (after a morning detour to snorkel and watch sea turtles at a beautiful beach) was to have our gadget-savvy friend Chris help us buy Smartphones at the local Kauai mall.
Before I get further with this post, I must make a little confession. I am a Smartphone-virgin. Before we left for Peace Corps and they were getting crazily popular, I was the hold-out because I didn’t want to start another contract only to have to break it months later. In Zambia they become somewhat popular in the city, but we had such minimal network coverage in the bush that buying such an expensive device would have been a waste of our living allowance. So no, I have never in my life owned a device that has a touch screen, music streaming capabilities, or a built-in planner. I have never in my life downloaded an app.
Just to see what was on the market, we looked online before the big purchase, because of course as unemployed RPCV’s (returned Peace Corps volunteers) we had little disposable income for fancy bells and whistles or expensive monthly fees. We found that the iphones came out in 4-something and 5-something models, different memory capacities, and a variety of colors. Of course there were also many iphone knock-off that of course had the same capacities but were a lot less money. My head was already starting to spin from so many choices.
We got to the mall playing lovely Hawaiian Christmas tunes, and a Verizon representative greeted us the minute we entered the door. He personally shook our hands, took down our names, and told us there were 3 other parties waiting before us. Now that’s customer service! He said we could browse all the available models and ask our representative if we had any questions. I didn’t look at any and just wanted the experience to be over, so I stepped out to use the restroom while we were waiting for the sales representative. When I returned, I saw that Chris and Scott were already chatting it up with the representative. He was showing us all the newest and greatest versions of iphones.
Luckily our gadget-savvy friend was able to ask, “but what about all those iphone 4’s, the older model, are you still selling those?”
“Why yes, yes we are.”
“Well they aren’t at the display counter.”
“Well we’re selling them and they cost 99 cents each when you get a plan.”
Knowing that a iphone 4-something would be just as incredible as an iphone 5-something tour our Smartphone-virgin fingers (we’d never experienced versions 1, 2, or 3), Scott and I opted for the budget variety rather than the lastet-and-greatest that would cost us $100-200 extra. After all, we didn’t really know what we were missing. Crazily, the fine print noted that the 99-cent devices we were purchasing were worth something like $549 apiece, presumably paid for in the exhorbitant month-by-month fee. I did not even want to do the math, but by the time the 2 years is up, we will have paid Verizon well over $2,000, about half a year’s stipend when we were living in Zambia. “We just better not make sure they get lost or broken, since we’ll have to go back to flip phones until our plan ends.” We were appreciative of Chris’s research, which saved us at least $200, since we didn’t even know the hidden older versions were for sale.
The funniest thing was at the checkout counter when we were asking all sorts of questions and googly-eyed like kids who just got to pre-buy their Christmas presents. We both had to get new phone numbers.
“Sorry,” I told the clerk “we haven’t had phones for the past 2 ½ years.”
She looked at me blankly like “which planet did you come from?”
I further explained, “ we were living in Africa for the past few years and just used this little thing” as I pulled out my old little Nokia and explained how easy it was to fill the thing up with minutes of prepaid talk-time.
She laughed, and by this time, several other salespeople gathered around us like they couldn’t believe their eyes that people actually lived without a Smartphone. We were so excited to be getting Smartphones that I think all the customers looked to see what all the fuss was about.
We walked out and I started driving as Scott immediately tested his new GPS and was so enthralled with the program that we missed several key turns. I vowed that I was going to use mine for phone calls only while in Kauai so as not to detract from the experience of this beautiful island, so I didn’t even turn mine on.
Then . . . not a creature was stirring all through the house we were staying at and I tiptoed downstairs at 1:30 in the morning, wide awake thanks to jet lag from Thailand. What to do? I picked up my book and quickly put it down. Then I picked up the magical Smartphone, found my way to Facebook, where I could actually look at pictures and type messages, and experienced love with my Smartphone for the very first time.
We were warned by Peace Corps that it would happen. Coming home, they said, would be much more of an adjustment than going to Zambia. You wouldn’t have the luxury of a 3-month “training period” where people would teach you cultural norms. And quite frankly, after living abroad for so long (29 months to be exact) without stepping foot on American soil, some of the things that people do just wouldn’t make sense. Even in your home culture . . .
After two short overnight flights crossing several time zones bordered by a 14-hour layover in Korea, I knew conditions were ripe for an emotional meltdown. Well, it happened in the Kauai airport shortly after arriving in paradise . . . over the subject of cell phones.
Rewind to the last four countries we’ve been to: Zambia, Malawi, Ethiopia, and Thailand. My nifty little 9-key Nokia phone worked in all those places without problem. In fact, within hours of being in each new country, I could pick up $2 pre-paid simcard at any convenience store or market stall with one of the local networks and start contacting anyone I needed. No models to choose from, data plans to select, setting up online user accounts or billing options. Register your card at the shop with a valid ID (sometimes), put in your fingernail-sized card that you just bought and go! No problem.
Now fast-forward to the perceived luck Scott and I had of getting to Kauai 5 hours EARLIER than expected because there was room on a standby flight. All we wanted to do after nearly 48 hours of continual travel was find our friends Chris and Yuki’s house and crash. Problem was, both of our drivers’ licenses had expired while in Zambia, and I had my renewed one mailed to their house. They didn’t know we were going to arrive 5 hours over to meet us at the airport with license in hand so we could actually rent a car. Another culture shock as this was the first place you actually needed a driver’s license to get where you wanted to go. No tuk-tuks or taxis just waiting to pick people up.
Problem with calling our friends to tell them we arrived early was . . . phone didn’t work at all. No network signal on my cheap multinational ZamPhone, and no convenience stores to buy a $2 simcard. God bless America. I was going to ask fellow passengers if I could borrow a phone for a second to make a quick call, but by the time we got out of the “no cell” area, people were dispersed and busy with their baggage pickup and hotel and rental car shuttles. I lugged out the computer hoping for a wireless network like they had in all the other airports we were in, but of course there was none. God bless America. How were we going to get a hold of our friends, who had out-of-state cell phones as many Americans do? Why a pay phone of course. Never mind we had no American change, and knew a non-local call would be expensive. The airport information lady politely informed us that there were no longer pay phones in the airport. She was happy to let me use her landline to make a local call, but unfortunately the number I had wasn’t local. That’s when the meltdown happened.
I laid on the bench of the now-empty airport as all my other fellow passengers had grabbed their rental cars to explore paradise, and let Scott try to figure out how the heck to reach our friends. After a few minutes trying the TSA people and a few other employees, no luck. No employees would let us borrow their cell phone, probably as a matter of national security or something. So . . . we did all we could think of and took the shuttle to the rental car place, knowing we’d be stuck until our friends delivered my license.
Luckily, the car rental agency wasn’t as strict as the TSA and would let us make a call to a long-distance cell phone so I could actually get a driver’s license and get some real sleep. We got a hold of Yuki, who was so excited we were there, but was not expecting us that early and had some obligations, and said she would call when she was able pick us up.
“Can I just call you at the number that you texted us a few days ago?” she asked
“No, that’s our Thailand phone.”
“Oh, then how will you know when I’m coming?”
“Um . . . just call the rental car 1-800 number and hope you can get through?”
What did we do before cell phones?
After what seemed like hours of sitting on the bench watching tourist after tourist getting their wheels for paradise, the another sales agent said, “well what are you waiting for?”
“My driver’s license.”
“Oh, that’s important.”
“Could I at least start the car rental paperwork now?”
“No, we have to see your license first.”
When Yuki finally got through to the 1-800 number and arrived at the car rental place, she gave me the magic envelope with my brand new license that I renewed online through WA state. I gave it to the lady still stuck to the original letter, neglecting to explain that I had less than 4 solid hours of sleep in the last 48 hours and also that I hadn’t driven a single vehicle for the past 29 months.
“Just pick any compact car from the parking lot. The keys are in the door.”
And it was as easy as that. Aloha and welcome back to the USA.
I was quite dreading going to Korea. We chose the cheapest way of getting from Thailand to Hawaii, which meant a 5-hour overnight flight to Incheon (near Seoul), Korea, a 14-hour layover at that airport, and a 7-hour overnight flight to Honolulu. Not only a crazy journey, but we would start and end it on the same DAY due to crossing the international date line, as if being herded around the world never happened. It would literally be the longest day of our lives, and all I could think about was getting some sort of hotel in Korea during the long layover so we weren’t completely exhausted when we arrived in Hawaii.
I called the airlines to see if they would provide a hotel room because of the long layover. The lady at the call center politely stated that unfortunately the airline wouldn’t be able to cover that expense since they were booked through a budget website (gotta love Budgetair). So, I got online to book a room near the airport myself. That’s when I did a little research to find out all the things that the Incheon airport has to offer.
Of course, first priority was probably sleep, so I was excited to see a blog to show that the airport was highly rated in the world among airports where you could actually get decent rest. They had several passenger lounges with reclining seats and long benches without those annoying armrests. Incheon also offers free massage chairs, a TV lounge, and showers so passengers in transit can literally make themselves at home.
|Scott catching some zzz's in between flights.|
Then . . . I saw the clincher which changed my mind from booking a hotel room—Incheon airport offers tours of Seoul for passengers on a layover. That’s right. You just get off your plane, show them your boarding pass for the next flight, and they whisk you away to see some of the city sites before your next flight.
When we actually arrived, we went straight to the lounge to get a couple hours sleep as planned. While Scott continued to nap, I explored the arts and crafts center, where passengers could do traditional Korean crafts for free and checked my e-mail. Scott was impressed by the Korean language exhibition that gave a very informative lesson how the alphabet developed after the Japanese occupation. With more than seven hours remaining at the airport, we decided that we’d go on the 5-hour afternoon day tour and went to the information booth to see how much it would cost us. On the way, we saw traditionally-clothed airport employees processing through the airport in some sort of parade. When we finally found the day tour desk, the attendant said we only had to pay for lunch and the temple entrance fees. Transport and a guide were FREE, courtesy of the airport. He showed us how to go backward through the customs line (a little awkward) to get some type of a day permit on our passports. We found ourselves in a mini van with our guide, Kim, a slight middle-aged woman, and one other tourist from LA who had a layover in Korea from the Phillipines.
|Scott and I visiting one of the colorful palaces.|
The hour-long trip from Incheon to Seoul reminded me much of the Pacific Northwest with misty grey skies parting for some bursts of blue and looming mountains in the background. Kim said that hiking is very popular with the Seoul locals on the weekends. We also crossed a large river with residents jogging, cycling, and utilizing park exercise equipment along its banks. Kim explained the city’s history and politely answered any questions we had about the city. We stopped at Changdoek Palace, a very well-maintained former royal palace housed in the city center that was reconstructed after the Japanese occupation and an active Buddhist temple in the city center. After coming from Thailand, I thought I had my fill of temples, but this was the first one where we saw an active prayer ceremony. Kim said Korea hosts a fairly even mix of Christians and Buddhists, with some agnostics thrown in as well. We ended the tour at Seoul’s Insadong street and ate a traditional Korean meal of soup, and rice with a bunch of toppings that Kim told us to add one-by-one and keep stirring and stirring. Although she gave us time for “shopping,” Scott and I thought we were weighed down with enough stuff from Zambia, Ethiopia, and Thailand. The chill in the air reminded me that I had no warm clothes, so I picked up a pair of flannel-lined pants and a purse.
|Eating traditional Korean food.|
|University freshman practicing their English by asking Scott questions about his impressions of Korea. "Well, I've only been here 5 hours, but . . . your airport is really nice!"|
We jumped back in the van ready to get back to the airport with a few hours to spare before our next overnight flight to Honolulu. We stopped on our way back to the relaxation lounge to see a free opera concert happening in the main terminal! After passing through the fastest security line that I’ve ever been to at any airport in my life, we were back at the terminal with time for a hot shower before our next flight. They even provided the shampoo, soap, and hair dryer at no charge.
|Opera in the main terminal seems to be a daily event.|
So, if you just happen to have a 14-hour layover in Korea . . . fear not. You will have PLENTY to do, or not do. I would definitely rate it as the best airport experience of my life, even through it was on the longest day of my life :).
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Gina and I took the sleeper train from Bangkok to southern Thailand. It was the first time I had been on a sleeper train but I was so tired that I was asleep for about 99% of the trip so I don't remember much except that it was similar to being constantly being shaken in my mother's arms as a small child.
Kayaking brought us up close and personal with wave-carved karst outcroppings like this one.
Long boats are the way to get back and forth from the nearest large town, Krabi, and the Railay beach. There is a road but no self-respecting tourists take it.