Semester at Sea

This semester I will be on a ship taking classes and traveling to different countries. I will visit Cadiz, SPAIN ~ Casablanca, MOROCCO ~ Takoradi, GHANA ~ Cape Town, SOUTH AFRICA ~ Port Louis, MAURITIUS ~ Chennai, INDIA ~ SINGAPORE ~ Ho Chi Minh City, VIET NAM ~ Hong Kong/Shanghai, CHINA ~ Kobe/Yokohama, JAPAN ~ Honolulu/Hilo, HAWAII ~ San Diego, USA.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010


The last two days in Japan were awesome! We got off the ship as early as we could when we got to Yokohama and got directions to Tokyo from the information desk at the port. It seemed like it would be easy enough, but it ended up taking way longer than we thought it would. It wasn’t too difficult getting to Tokyo (even though over the course of the two days I realized that the Tokyo subway system is by far the most confusing and complicated system we have experienced), but it took us forever to find our hostel once we were there. We asked about 10 different people for directions, but no one could give us a clear answer. Finally, a police officer pointed us in the right direction – I don’t know what it is about hostels being in alleys, but it seems like every one I’ve stayed at has been impossible to find. Haha
We got to the Ninja capsule hostel, checked in, and found Ariel’s friend who lives in Japan and was going to hang out with us.
We went spent most of the day walking around. We went to the busiest intersection in the world in Shibuya, but it wasn’t as impressive as I thought it would be. I guess it wasn’t rush hour or something, because it definitely didn’t seem like a few thousand people were crossing. Either way it was cool to see…especially since I watched Babel today to write a paper for my film class, and they were at the same intersection.
We ate lunch (pizza of course. Haha…it is our favorite food…) and then went back to the hostel to meet up with Heidi, Shannon, Adam and Kristen.  We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out and walking around. Before long it was time for dinner, and in yet another attempt to be cultural, we went down the street and got Domino’s. haha (we did try to go to an actual restaurant first but it was wayyy too expensive). I have to say though, it was the best Domino’s I’ve ever had!
After we ate and got changed, we went out to karaoke and had a lot of fun!
That night we slept in our capsules. It wasn’t at all what I had expected from seeing pictures from other capsule hostels, but it was still cool.
The next day we went with Ariel’s friend back to Yokohama and explored around there. We were pretty tired though, so after lunch we said goodbye and went back to the ship.
I really loved Japan! I was a little anxious to leave since we’re going to be on the ship for 10 days before Hawaii. I have LOTS of work to do for class though, so hopefully the cabin fever doesn’t get too bad!

Sunday, November 21, 2010



Japan is our last international port, and so far it couldn’t have been better! I don’t know how I’m going to choose a favorite country because I love each one more than the last.
Our arrival in Kobe, Japan was a little different than usual. First, we were welcomed at the port with a marching band! It was really funny because the first song I heard them play was Aux Champs Elysees. It seemed like an interesting choice since we’re obviously not French. Haha. The end was the best though because they finished with When the Saints Go Marching In. I loved it…it was definitely a warm welcome and such a crazy thing to see! Second, none of us could get off of the ship until we had our temperatures checked. I figured it would take forever, but it turns out they have a fancy machine that looks like a radar gun. You just walk by it, and you show up on the screen as either red or green.
I was with the first group off the ship because I had a homestay. I got fingerprinted and photographed at immigration, went through customs, and then went to the lobby to meet my host family. It was so cute because all of the women had made signs with our names on them. I didn’t see my name anywhere and I started to get a little nervous after I had waited for a while. Finally though I saw my name, and when I went up to my host mother, whose nickname is Sabu, she gave me a big hug. She had a shy little boy, named Kenta, with her, and so I got excited that I would be with a family that had children. I asked if that was her only child and she said she had three others! I was completely shocked because I’ve heard so much about the low birth rate and declining population in Japan.
We left the port and drove to a restaurant nearby for lunch. She told me she didn’t have anything planned, but I was excited because that seemed like the best way to get an accurate view of their normal daily life. At lunch I had rice and miso soup and Sabu had spaghetti with meatballs. She found this to be hilarious and told everyone we saw during the two days. Sabu and I talked at lunch about many different things. She told me that she had lived in England for a year (I didn’t understand exactly why but it had something to do with working with disabled people) and Zambia for a year because of her husband’s job (he works for Proctor and Gamble). She was very interested to hear about all of the countries we have visited but particularly Singapore because they will most likely be moving there in March for her husband’s job. The move came up several times during my visit and I could tell she is nervous – she has a very established life and is quite happy in Japan.
After lunch we went to the kindergarden to pick up Genki, her third child, from school. She introduced me to some of the other moms, and I found out what a social butterfly she is because we were the last ones to leave the schoolyard! She said everyday they are the last ones because she likes to talk with all the mothers. Genki was so full of energy – he ran everywhere he went and never seemed to get tired.
We then went to Sabu’s house and one of the mothers met us there. She was so sweet and reminded me a lot of my friends. She spoke English very well because she had lived in England at one point.  We talked all afternoon over tea and snacks. It was funny to me because at one point she had to get her daughter ready to leave to go to her flamenco lesson. I was quite surprised by Japan and how similar it is to Europe and the States. I’ve never given Japan much thought, but the similarity of Sabu’s life to life in American suburbs was not what I had expected.
After tea we got ready and went to a Hippo Family Club meeting. The Hippo Club was the group through which all of the homestays were organized. It is a club that people join to experience different cultures and learn others languages without textbooks or formal classes. They basically get together, talk, and play games that help them mimic the sounds of other languages. I didn’t understand how it could work, but I was surprised to hear how much English and Spanish Sabu’s children had picked up just from listening to the Hippo CDs. At the Hippo Club we played games and then had snacks and talked. Afterwards we went to dinner together. Sabu told me it was a traditional Japanese “pub” and it looked to me exactly like a hibachi restaurant without the big grills (I asked her and some other women if they actually have hibachi in Japan and they had no idea what I was talking about…so either they didn’t understand me or hibachi is not really Japanese food. haha). Dinner was pretty good.
By the time we got back to the house it was late, so I we went to bed. I slept in a traditional Japanese room – there was no furniture, just mats on the floor and paneled closets along the walls. From one of the closets she pulled out my bedding, and it was very comfortable! Sabu showed me the shower, and I didn’t want to be rude (the Japanese are very meticulous about bathing and cleanliness) but I didn’t bathe. The house was freezing so taking a hot shower and then drying off in the cold air didn’t sounds appealing…plus I didn’t have gel or anything for my hair. Haha

I slept very well but had to get up at 6am for the second child Konopy’s dodge ball tournament. We had a yummy breakfast – bread and rice cakes with cheese (they had the texture of Brie but tasted like rice) – and then rushed to the tournament. I felt bad because I didn’t realize I was supposed to bring my stuff, so after we dropped off Konopy we had to go back to the house. Because we had more time on the way back to the tournament we walked through a traditional Japanese shrine. Apparently it is the festival time of year so there were stands with food and candy and a man dressed in samurai clothes. It is tradition that when a child turns 3, 5, and 7 they dress in a kimono, and the family goes to the shrine to give thanks to the gods for giving the child the strength to reach that birthday. There were a few kids in kimonos there while we were there…they were so cute!
Before we left I gave Sabu a small thank you gift. It was so cute though because she kept apologizing that she didn’t have a gift for me. I told her the point was to thank her for what she had already given me, but she still ran upstairs and came back down with some acorns she had painted. One had a snowman for Christmas, one was glued on a clothespin, and the other could be worn as a necklace.

We went back to the tournament, and since Konopy’s team tied the first game, she would be playing later in the afternoon and I wouldn’t get to see her. We watched a few games and then ate the lunch that Sabu had made – rice balls, vegetables and eggs. After lunch we went outside to meet Jun Jun, the president of the Hippo Club. Sabu had to stay at the tournament, so after I hugged her and said goodbye, Jun Jun took me to the final Hippo Club meeting. There were more people at this meeting than the night before, but we played all the same games.

After the meeting, Jun Jun too me back to the ship. I had a little bit of time before I had to be back on the ship, so I walked toward Sannomiya in downtown Kobe. There were so many people! I just walked around for a few hours and then went back to the ship to eat dinner.

Later that night I sat on the back deck and watched as we pulled away from Kobe. The city was all lit up with mountains in the background, and it was so beautiful!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

11112010 - 11162010. Ni Hao, China!

When we got off the ship in Hong Kong, we realized we were docked at a mall – the jet way from the ship opened up literally in the middle of the mall. First we spent some time looking for an ATM, but the mall was a maze. It was the biggest one I’ve ever seen! By the time we found an ATM and made a few other pit stops, it was lunch time. We stopped at a place called BLT Burger and discovered how expensive Hong Kong would be – I had a Diet Coke and mozzarella sticks off the appetizer menu and it was $14! It was really good though!
Someone had told us that a cool thing to do is take the tram from one side of the island to the other for sightseeing. We took a taxi to one side of the island and hopped on the tram. It was slow, but it was still fun. We didn’t make it to the other side of the island though because we found an area that we wanted to explore. First I stopped at a little stall to get coffee. The place looked a little sketch at first, but it turned out to be the most delicious coffee! We walked around a little and then found an outdoor market on one of the side streets. It was full of all kinds of Chinatown-like stuff. We got some tights and socks since we knew it was going to be very cold in Beijing, and then we started to head back to the ship since it was getting dark. We changed quickly and then ran out of the mall so we could catch the Symphony of Lights show that they do every night at 8pm. It was like the synchronized Christmas lights show some people do on their house, but it was with all the big buildings across the river. Most people thought it was lame, but I loved it! After that we went to Soho and had a really good dinner. Soho was so pretty and fun – there were a lot of British expats walking around, and the whole feel of the place reminded me of Chicago or New York. Also, while we were there we went on the longest outdoor elevator in the world! Haha

After getting ready, eating breakfast, and packing, we didn’t have any time to explore more of Hong Kong before we left for Beijing. We took the metro to the train station and then a two hour train ride to Guangzhou in mainland China. The train was so fancy…it was like an airplane. From there we took the metro again to the airport. The airport was nice, and it was HUGE. I was really surprised for some reason. We checked in for our flight and then got dinner at a “fast food” place. I got “fried noodles in soy sauce” which was basically just lo mein. It was so good! I was relieved that my first encounter with real Chinese food was a success.
Not long after that we boarded the plane, which was also super fancy. There were little TVs on the headrests and there was a long list of movies and TV shows we could watch or music we could listen to. I watched Shrek 4. :] After they came around with drinks, they served dinner. I asked for vegetarian because foreign meat kind of grosses me out. It wasn’t bad…I stuck to the rice, roll and orange and left the tofu alone. Haha Anyway, we finally got to Beijing and were immediately hit by the cold weather. We got in the line for a taxi, but there was a lot of confusion because they didn’t understand the address for the hostel. None of them spoke English, so I still have no idea what was wrong with it. One driver finally agreed and said he knew where it was, but like so many other taxi drivers we’ve encountered, he just drove to the area, stopped the car, and started asking people on the streets. It got to be a little frustrating because it was past midnight, we had been traveling all day, and all of his stopping was running up the meter. We were able to pantomime our concern, and he turned off the meter. It took a while, but we eventually made it to the hostel. It was in a side street that looked a little scary, but it was really nice inside! We checked in, got settled, and relaxed for a little bit. The bed was so soft and cozy…it was one of the best night’s sleeps I’ve had in a while!

The next morning we were up bright and early to take a trip to the Great Wall. We booked it through the hostel because it was cheaper than going through a tour company, and it was less of a hassle than trying to take a cab there and do everything on our own. It turned out to be a good decision because the tour was perfect. The drive was almost two hours, and I slept most of the way. We got there and had about three hours to do as we pleased. We decided to go in the direction that was a less intense hike but was longer. We had to take a chairlift to the entrance, but it was so crazy to actually be on the wall! It was a more intense workout than I had expected – there were a lot of stairs and steep hills. It was absolutely beautiful though with all of the mountains in the background and the weather was pretty mild. I would have loved to be there in the summer when all the leaves are green. We walked as far as we could go, about 4km, and then turned back. We took a toboggan down which was so much fun!! I felt like a bobsledder or something. Haha At the bottom there was a little shopping lane, and naturally we had to buy panda hats! Then we walked past all the fruit vendors and tried samples of everything.
We walked to the restaurant to meet the rest of the group for lunch. The lunch was really good! It was basically rice and a lot of vegetable dishes in different sauces. There was even something that was similar to orange chicken! I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.
After lunch we went back to the hostel. We put on more layers and drank some coffee to warm us up. Then we went out to walk around. The sun sets really early in China, so it was already dark by the time we went out. We took some pictures in front of the Forbidden city with everything lit up, walked by Tiananmen Square, and then went to a night market. It was all lit up and pretty, and it made me think of Christmas. I got some Starbucks along the way…my first since August! I tried the toffee nut latte, and it was soo good! Our first stop in the market was an “everything for 2 yuan store”, which is about 33cents. We picked up a few random things and I got some $3 North Face gloves because my hands were sooo cold. We walked through the rest of the market and then went back to the hostel.

The communism was pretty obvious  - there were soldiers marching everywhere we went and each light post had a camera on it; it all reminded me so much of the book 1984.

On our way back, they were doing a water show to music in front of the Forbidden City, so we stopped to watch. It was really cool! We ate dinner at the hostel because we were already kind of over Chinese food (it wasn’t bad, but it was just so oily). And it seemed like everything I saw on the streets had some kind of sketchy meat in it.
After dinner we started talking to one of the guys in our room. He is American but teaches English is Korea. We had a great conversation, and it was interesting to talk to him!

We were up bright and early again to pack everything into our last day in Beijing. We went to the Forbidden City and saw the Winter Palace. Then we took the metro to the other side of town to see the Bird’s Nest they built for the Olympics. It was cool to see, but it didn’t seem as spectacular knowing that the government displaced so many people in order to build it. That was the weird thing about China – everything seemed like a façade they were using to flaunt their growth and progress, but it seemed like underneath it all was something not so pretty. It’s hard to say what China is really like because first, I wasn’t able to connect with any Chinese people and second, no one is willing to say anything that might get them in trouble. Everything might be great, but deep down I don’t think it is. In my economics class we’ve been talking about what promotes development and it’s interesting because it’s not always democracy. In fact, an authoritarian government is somewhat necessary at the beginning stages of development, BUT democracy is needed later on for a country to fully develop. Therefore, China has done well with the government promoting progress and growth, but it will be interesting to see how long they can continue to grow while still remaining communist.
That was a long tangent, but anyway after that we went to the Summer Palace, ate lunch and then went to the Silk Market. I had heard such great things about this market, but I was a little disappointed. They didn’t have anything different from Vietnam, and it was all generally more expensive. So we just walked through and soaked up the experience – it was similar to Vietnam with all the shop keepers grabbing our arms and asking us if we wanted a watch, a shirt, some shows, jewelry, cameras, etc.
The night market was a lot cheaper than the Silk Market, so we went back there one last time. Then we picked up our stuff at the hostel and took the metro to the train station to take the night train to Shanghai.
The train station was crazy – it was PACKED with people. We boarded the train and as soon as we got on, we started to panic a little. We had gotten “hard” sleeper tickets because they were a lot cheaper than “soft” sleeper. I knew that it would be a chair instead of a bed, but I figured how bad can it be? I was definitely spoiled with the train and the plane at the beginning because it was pretty bad.
First of all, when we got on our car, every seat was taken and people were standing in the aisles. My first thought was that we had gotten there too late and would have to stand or sit in the aisle the whole night. I was freaking out but then I realized that our tickets had seat numbers on them. We found or seats and kicked the people out who were sitting there.
Then I realized that the seats were more like a bench and we were facing another bench with a table in between us. The seat by the window wasn’t too bad, but if you were in the center or the aisle seat, there was no way to curl up and you literally had to sleep sitting up straight. It was pretty cramped too – I couldn’t stretch out my legs without kicking the guys across from us. We tried to make the best of it though. We started to talk to the guys across from us but they didn’t know any English. They put in movie that was in English and had Chinese subtitles. I watched it for a while, but then I got really sleepy. I tried to sleep sitting but that didn’t really work. Eventually I gave up and curled up in a free spot I found in the aisle. It wasn’t much better, but I was able to get a little sleep. I woke up super early and eventually I just gave up trying to sleep. I listened to some music and watched out the window. I couldn’t find the bathroom on the train and not a single person spoke English. With everything combined, I was completely miserable by the time we got to Shanghai, but I was thankful to be there. I was about to pee my pants, so I ran to the first bathroom I saw. I guess it wasn’t a good decision though because it was the most disgusting and archaic squat toilet I’ve ever seen. We went to the taxi lane again and again we had trouble with the address (I think someone on the ship used Google translator for the address because when someone told us what it meant it made no sense). Again, the driver took us to the area and then stopped to ask people along the way. When we finally got to the port and I could see the ship, I almost started crying with joy.
I ran straight to the shower…it felt soo good to be clean again! We got lunch on the ship and then watched The Social Network which we had picked up in one of the markets. Even though we had already cleared customs in mainland China, the immigration officials had to check our passports, which took a few hours, before we could leave the ship again. Once our passports were ready, we went out to explore Shanghai. We saw some other SASers on their way back to the ship and asked them what we should do since we hadn’t looked up anything for Shanghai. They told us about a cool area to go and a place to do a tea ceremony. We went there and the whole place was really pretty. They gave us great directions because we were able to find the tea place, but when we got there, they were already closed. I was super bummed. We walked around a little more and then went back to the ship. I was so exhausted that I ended up going to bed not long after that.

The next morning we went to another part of Shanghai and ended up in like a market type shopping plaza. Then we found a Subway and had lunch. I didn’t really taste like normal Subway, but it was still really good. We went back to the same area we were at the night before and walked around. I felt bad that I spent most of my time in Shanghai shopping, but there wasn’t much else to do there – it was similar to Singapore in that they are both “mall cultures.” When I talked to others they felt the same way, so I didn’t feel as bad.
Before we went back to the ship, we went to the famous Bund and took a bunch of pictures with the beautiful skyline. It was such a gorgeous city! We went back on the ship and sailed down the river towards Japan later that night!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

11032010 - 11072010. Same Same...but Different

I didn’t write this right after Vietnam, but I wish I had because now it’s all kind of a blur. haha

The first thing we did when we got there was find a tailor to get custom made dresses. It’s a very popular thing to do there because it’s so cheap. Anyway after we went to an ATM, got some delicious (and strong!) Vietnamese iced coffee, and went in a few shops, we found a tailor and started the process. We picked out the dresses and the fabrics, they took our measurements, and we were all set!

After that we walked around for a little bit and then went to the Ben Thanh Market. I’ve been in a lot of markets on this trip, but that one was definitely overwhelming! The isles between the shops were very narrow and all of the shopkeepers grabbed our arms along the way and tried to pull us into their shops. We have had good practice at bargaining though because we got some good deals on North Face jackets and other fake stuff. We sat down for lunch in the market, and Ariel and Heidi got Pho, a popular dish in Vietnam. I didn’t get any because it didn’t look good to me, and they didn’t really like it either. After lunch we walked around a little more and got some more coffee. Then Shannon and I got $5 mani-pedis while Ariel and Heidi people watched. We met them after we were done and some local college students came up to us and wanted to talk to us so they could practice English. We talked with them for a few hours about all kinds of different things. It was really interesting, and they were all so nice!

The next day Shannon, Heidi, Ariel and I were all on the same SAS trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels. They tunnels were built by the Vietcong during the war to escape the US bombings.  Climbing through the tunnels was a little scary! They had been widened to accommodate tourists but they were still really small. Our guide told us they spent almost all of their time in the rooms built underground – babies were born there and honeymoons were celebrated. It was crazy to think about what life was like for them. It was also sad because even if they were the communist enemy, no one should have to live like that.
A few days later we went to the War Remnants Museum and saw the war from the Vietnamese perspective. It was really hard for me, and I almost started crying. We didn’t have time to go through the whole museum, but I spent most of my time at the pictures that showed what happened when the American soldiers raided the villages, dropped napalm, and also the long lasting effects of Agent Orange (on a side note, I found out that there is a whole generation that is disabled as a result of all of the Agent Orange that was dropped. However, the Vietnamese government has taken them off the streets, put them in homes, and taught them to make crafts and other stuff that can be sold to benefit them. I was really encouraged when I heard that, so I hope that is actually what is happening.) It was so powerful. Not only was it sad to see what had happened, but also it was depressing to think about the American soldiers, many of whom didn’t want to be there, who were forced into committing such atrocities. After seeing those pictures, it’s no wonder to me why a generation a men came back from the war so broken. It made me realize how horrible and unfair the war was for everyone who was involved.
Vietnam was hard for me not only because of the tunnels and the museum, but also because on the third day we went to a home for girls who had been victims of or had been exposed to human trafficking.
It was simply luck that we ended up going – a girl had mentioned the possibility when we were in Ghana, but we only found out the morning of the trip that it would actually happen (the language barrier caused some confusion about what we wanted to do there). We went there that afternoon, but when we got there one of the women who worked there told us that all of the girls were at school and that we would have to come back later. It ended up working out because we took that time to go back to the tailor and have our first fitting. We went back later that night. It was pouring rain (like it did ever day we were there), and the dirt road off the main road that we had to walk down was completely flooded. We eventually made it there and met the rest of the group inside. All of the young girls (they were between 8-21 but they all looked half their age) were there, and we went around the circle and did introductions. After that we played a few icebreaker type games and had a lot of fun! The girls didn’t speak English well, but it didn’t really matter. We spent the rest of the night painting nails and making bracelets.
I had so much fun that night. The home was definitely a place of hope, but it was still difficult to imagine what the girls had been through. The director was very vague and would not say anything about it since they were all there. However after seeing a documentary last year about human trafficking, I can only imagine the worst. Like I said, it was a place full of hope, but I wish we could have learned more about it and about how the girls were rescued.
The next day we picked up our dresses. I was nervous, but they turned out really good! We spent the rest of our time in Vietnam exploring all of the markets. We bought shirts that said “Same Same But Different” because it was the running joke of Vietnam (and the whole trip really). When you are going through the whole bargaining/ buying process the shop keepers seem to say it a million times. I guess you have to be there to see the humor, but it’s been hilarious.
Vietnam was a lot more emotional than I expected, but overall I loved it!!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

10312010-11012010 Singapore

Singapore was SO much fun! We were only there for two days, but I wish we could have stayed longer.

It’s funny because the wikitravel page calls Singapore, “Disney World with the death penalty”, and that’s a perfect description. It felt almost surreal when we got off the ship because everything seemed so perfect. They have a lot of crazy, strict laws but I liked Singapore a lot more than I thought I would. Everything was SO clean and nice, and I felt really safe the whole time.

We got off the ship earlier than usual, and so we walked straight to the MRT (the subway). We fell in love with the MRT because it was so cheap and efficient! We had some maps but our stop at Clarke Quay was somewhat arbitrarily chosen. We mostly wandered around and just did A LOT of walking and shopping. We ended up at this really big open air market where everything was so cheap! Then we went to Little India, walked around a mall (Singapore is famous for them), and went to the famous Raffles Hotel. We went back to the ship to regroup and cool off a little (it was really hot and humid). We went back out later and had an awesome Halloween night!

Yesterday we woke up early to go to the zoo (it’s supposedly the second best zoo in the world), but long story short, it didn’t end up working out. We spent most of the day shopping some more. I had an awesome two days!!

Today was a Reading Day, which means that we didn’t have classes. They played movies about Vietnam all day, so we watched Forest Gump and caught up on some stuff. I’ll be up around 5am tomorrow to watch as we sail up the Saigon River!

10222010-10272010 India

Day 1 – 22OCT
The morning we docked in India was mayhem! As usual, we got up early and watched as we pulled into the port. The first three things I noticed about Inida – 1. The smog 2. The sounds…we could hear the car horns from a good distance away 3. The smell…it hit us in the face…it wasn’t necessarily bad, just definitely foreign.

We were called by seas to have face-to-face passport checks with the immigration officials (we had to do the same in South Africa and Mauritius). We turned our passports back in, as usual, but then when the ship was cleared, they told us that we would need our passport and custom form every time we left the ship. We had to go to the Purser’s desk to get both, and it took forever! It was complete chaos, but eventually I got them. I had an FDP for my English class, so I went outside and found a looong line to get out of the port gate; this was the first port where they checked our visa, picture and custom form TWICE to get out of the port and twice to get back in! It was pretty annoying. Anyway, the heat hit me in the face too…it was SOO hot and humid.

I got in the bus, and we headed for a heritage village. It was a longer drive than I expected, but it was cool to get my first views of India along the way. I couldn’t help but notice all of the trash; there was so much of it!

We finally made it were met with a traditional greeting – we all received bindi (I think that’s how it’s spelled) dots on our foreheads. It was so hot though that it wasn’t long before we had sweat them off. Haha

We took our seats in an open air theatre area, and the director explained the play that we were about to watch. It was one of the two Indian epics, like Homer’s Odessey, that traditionally takes eight hours to perform but would be shortened for us to 20 minutes.  The performers came out and had on the most elaborate costumes and make up; I felt bad because they must have been soo hot. The play was interesting, but we couldn’t understand what they were saying since they spoke in Tamil. When they were done, the director explained that they always improvise and decide on the spot which parts they perform.

After that, we had a few hours to wander around the village on our own. They had all kinds of traditional Indian houses set up (fisherman, merchant, weaver) and also had different demonstrations (a glass blower, weaver, etc.). I looked at the different houses and then walked around the crafts area. They were selling some neat things. I ended up getting a few Christmas ornaments and some bangles. When I was done, it was time to head back to the ship. This FDP wasn’t nearly as interesting as the one I had in South Africa, but it was still good.

Back at the ship I ate dinner and then met up with Heidi, Kristen and Evie. They had been shopping and the girl helping them had invited them back to her house. They invited me to come, and I was so excited. We took a rickshaw to meet Nandini at the store as she was getting off work (she works from 9am to 9pm every day!). It was hilarious because at one stoplight, the cab next to us was blasting Backstreet Boys! Haha. Anyway, we found Nandini, and she was so excited. We walked down the busy street to meet her mother, who seemed equally as excited to meet us. Her mother didn’t speak English, but we asked Nandini a few questions as we walked. We found out that she just graduated high school, started working at Pothy’s, and doesn’t plan on going to university (I assume it would be too expensive). As we were walking she also told us she is a Christian. Right before we got to her house, she showed us her church, and she was SO proud. It was pretty cool because I honestly thought everyone in India is Hindu. Her house was very small – only one small room and a tiny kitchen for four or five people. I was a little shocked, but she was so filled with joy. There were pictures of Jesus all over the wall. She showed us literally everything in the house. First we started with the family photo albums and she told us her oldest sister, who is 25 (Nandini is 19 and her other sister is 20), is getting married in December and moving to Mumbai. Then she showed us her saris, scarves, and her new pair of jeans. She showed us her umbrella, her piggy bank, the trinkets she got for her birthday and her Bible, all of which she was so proud. The family also had a cute little kitten, named Budiski (I think she said it means like Fluffy or something) that we played with all night. Nandini’s two sisters and cousin came over around 1030pm after they got off of work. Their mother asked if we were hungry and even though we told her that we had already eaten, she insisted on feeding us. She went next door to a hotel and bought dosais and chutneys. I felt bad that they spent their money on us, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was pretty good…really spicy though! A dosai is similar to a crepe and chutneys are like sauces. It was getting late so we exchanged addresses and took a bunch of pictures. They were worried about us walking around at night and kept offering to let us stay there for the night. They were all so sweet and giving! They ended up calling a cab for us which is a lot safer than taking a rickshaw. I’m so thankful I got the chance to meet them.

Day 2 – 23OCT
We got up and set out for the city of Mamallapuram, a small city with several famous monuments and temples. As soon as we left the port gates, the rickshaw drivers swarmed us. We told them we needed a cab, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was overwhelming, and a little frustrating, because they were definitely the most pushy and persistent people we have encountered this semester. We finally found a cab, negotiated a price, and began the two hour drive.

Once we were there, we wandered around the main road. There were cows and goats everywhere! We found this statue thing with a huge pool of holy water. It looked so ancient! While we were there, this guy came up to us and was trying to get us to come to his shop. We tried to be polite and say no, then we tried just flat ignoring him but he wouldn’t give up. He followed us everywhere. Eventually we got to a temple and “Krishna’s butter ball”, and he gave us the whole story behind everything we saw. It was cool to get a little history and a better understanding about what we saw, but I was also a little nervous that he would expect a lot of money for this “tour” at the end. As we were leaving the butter ball, he led us to his shop. He carves all kinds of crafts from marble and granite. He showed us almost everything he had made, but he quoted us prices that were extremely high even by American standards. We didn’t really want any of the stuff either, so we told him thank you and then left. He turned out to be pretty nice, so I’m glad we met him.
We stopped for ice cream to cool off and then headed back to the cab. We got some snacks for the drive, a Thumbs Up (a coke that is marketed mainly in India), and some postcards.

By the time we got back to the ship, we were exhausted from the traveling and the heat. We ate dinner and then relaxed for the rest of the night.

Day 3 – 24OCT
The next day we got ready to shop! We started at a mall called Spencer Plaza. It was a little odd because it was a meeting of a western mall and traditional Indian street shops. You didn’t have to haggle though which was nice – it gets so exhausting!

After the mall we went to a store called Pothy’s in Pondy Bazaar. It was crazy! It was basically a Macy’s for saris. There were eight floors and every floor was completely packed with people! Apparently, the Diwali festival is soon, so a lot of people were preparing for that. It was interesting too because Pothy’s has soo many employees. When we were buying scarves, we had one person show us the scarves, one person write a ticket for which ones we wanted, one person take our money, one person take our receipt and another person get our scarves. I guess it’s necessary in such a crowded country for providing jobs.

We left the AC of Pothy’s and ventured into the crowded street. We stopped and got some of the world’s cheapest ice cream (it was 10 rupees which is a little less than 25cents) and then crossed the street (a feat in itself) to get henna. We were excited, but I guess we didn’t think it through because having wet hands made taking a crowded rickshaw back to the ship very difficult. Haha Anyway, when we were trying to get a rickshaw, the drivers were trying so hard to get us to pay a really high price – about twice as much as we had normally been paying. I was surprised though because a police officer came over and started yelling at them for trying to rip us off (in fact, some of the most helpful people that week were police officers). I was just surprised because in most other countries the police have been corrupt and useless. Anyway the driver agreed to the price, but as soon as the police officers walked away, he changed the price again. Eventually we found a driver though, and we held our hands out the rickshaw the whole way to try to get them to dry faster. Haha
Back on the ship we ate dinner and booked a hotel for Pondicherry the next day. Later we decided to go the movies. Going to a movie in India was definitely an experience! The lobby was huge and packed with people. The theatre itself was the biggest theatre I have ever seen. Also, they sell typical movie food like popcorn, coke and candy. We saw Robot (apparently it was a big deal because we saw posters for it everywhere after that) which was in Tamil, the language of southern India. It was also really cheap…only about $2. The guy at the ticket counter was really confused why we didn’t want to see a movie in English (The Other Guys was playing), but we wanted a more authentic experience. I expected to be completely lost, but I actually had a pretty good idea of what the movie was about. It was a little over the top but definitely entertaining. It was over three hours long too! I’m glad I drank some coffee otherwise I would have fallen asleep…the movie didn’t end until 2am. The soundtrack was really good though…Heidi bought it, and we’ve been listening to it nonstop.

On the ride home, it shocked me a little how many homeless people were sleeping on the streets…there were sooo many. It was really hard to see.

Day 4 – 25OCT
We were going to walk outside the port and find a taxi to take us to Pondicherry, but it didn’t work out as planned. We couldn’t find a taxi anywhere which was weird since there had been a lot the first few days. We walked for a long time and eventually decided to take a city bus to the bus station. It was a lot cheaper than a cab would have been (less than $10 round trip), but it took a lot longer. The bus was nice though because it had AC, was almost completely empty, and they played an Indian movie.

On a side note, the driving in India is so scary. At first I thought the rickshaw drivers were just crazy, but even on the bus I was terrified…especially when animals jumped in the road and the bus had to swerve quickly to avoid them. haha

We finally made it to Pondicherry and immediately we could tell it was very different from Chennai. It was a lot less crowded and busy. We got to our hotel (it was the cheapest one on hostelworld and it was so nice…it reminded us of the hostel we stayed at in Morocco), and Shannon and Ariel took a nap while I made a bunch of phone calls via skype. It was good to be able to talk to everyone!

We went to dinner around the corner at a place called Hotel Segura. We had been told they have really good food, so we decided to check it out. We ordered some naan (flat bread) and dosas (similar to a crepe). While we were waiting for our food, we started talking to a girl named Nupur at the table next to us. She is 23, from India, and was vacationing in Pondicherry. We asked her where we should go and what we should do, and she offered to show us around the next day. She was so sweet! She also told us what was good on the menu, so we ordered some malai kofta. I never would have ordered it on my own, but it was really good! It was basically a vegetable puree with spices that we dipped our naan in. It was more sweet than spicy, which was good since I don’t handle spicy food well.

After dinner we went with Nupur to a café on the beach and had coffee and ice cream. It was so relaxing and peaceful there! We had an awesome talk, but then they came around and said the café was closing. We were really confused because it supposed to be a 24 hour café, but they said a tsunami was coming. There wasn’t really one coming (there was an earthquake in Indonesia, so they were just being cautious), but it was a little scary for a minute.

Day 5 – 26OCT
The next morning we went back to Hotel Segura to meet Nupur for breakfast. The breakfast was really spicy, but it was good. Nupur took us to some really awesome shops. At the first store I got some tea and an Indian grain…like a couscous or rice. I can’t wait to cook it when I get home! Eventually we had to say goodbye to Nupur because she had to fly back home to central India. I’m so glad we met her and got to hangout!

After lunch we went to this really cool handmade paper factory where I got a bunch of stuff for my scrapbook. We planned to go to the ashram perfumery, but it was closed. Instead we just got some stamps, went to a bookstore, and stopped in a grocery store.

That night we just played on the internet at our hotel and looked up stuff for Japan!

Day 6 – 27OCT
We got up early because we wanted to catch an early bus back. We had breakfast at the hotel and then went straight to the bus station. For some reason though, it was a lot harder this time to find a direct, AC bus. We tried to ask a few people, but no one was able to give us a clear answer. It was soo hot, and we were getting nervous that we would have to wait there for a few hours. Thankfully though, the bus came after only about 30 minutes. This second bus was a lot more crowded than the first, but we were just thankful to be on the way back.

Back at the ship we ran straight to our showers…I felt soo dirty. Anyway left India and headed for Singapore!

Friday, October 22, 2010

10212010. Sea Olypics!

Yesterday were the Sea Olympics! Basically the different decks are broken into ‘seas’ and then we competed in against each other in different things. We woke up, got our game faces on, and went to the back deck to take a Sea picture. Then Ariel and I booked our flight for China and did a bunch of other stuff for that. By the time we did that, ate lunch, and fixed our war paint it was time for the Opening Ceremonies. All of the Seas gathered in the union and did their chants (basically a roll call for all you BGRers out there ;)). There were some really good ones! Sadly we, the Adriatic Sea, are the smallest so we didn’t have the same effect as some of the really big seas. Anyway, after the chants, the games began.

First, we watched synchronized swimming. When I first heard synchronized swimming would be an event, I was really confused how they would make it good, but I was impressed. The rocking of the ship makes it hard to balance when walking around, let alone in the pool! There were some very creative routines!

Then we went to tug-o-war because Ariel was competing. We are the smallest Sea, and we had the least intimidating team, but we ended up winning! It was so exciting. It turns out that it will forever be a source of pride because it was the only event in the whole thing that we won. Haha. This morning we had signs on our doors that said, “Go Adriatic! 1st place tug-o-war…the only event that matters!” haha.

After that we went to the union to watch lip synching. Again, I didn’t know how people would make it good, but I was impressed. The Sea that got first place did a huge montage of famous songs/dances – Single Lades, Oops I did it again, Bad Romance, Genie in a Bottle, Soldja Boy, I Like Big Butts, Justin Bieber, and Thriller – and it was so good!

I had to leave early because I was competing in Sudoku. Haha. The puzzles were really hard, and so no one finished in time. They ended up throwing out the points for the whole event since they weren’t able to judge it.

We ran to dinner, ate really quickly (they had a big cake for ‘Founder’s Day’!), and then went to the closing ceremonies. They tallied up the points (the other games that I didn’t see were dodge ball, crab soccer, table tennis, Dean David says, Jeopardy and some others) and announced the winner. We obviously didn’t win, but it was still a lot of fun!

Later that night we had pre-port for India. It was pretty much the same as usual, except in the middle there was a flash mob that did the Jai Ho dance. It was so amazing!! The lip sync winners also redid their dances.

It was such an awesome day! I was up really late doing a take home test, but it was totally worth it!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Elephants and Giraffes and Rhinos, oh my!!

I had big plans for South Africa, but it took an awesome, crazy turn that I never expected!!

After my FDP on the first day, I met Heidi and walked around Cape Town for a little while before our homestay. It was such a beautiful city, but there was something fake about it. The best comparison would be that we felt like we were in Disney World or something. I think it was because we’ve learned so much about South Africa and apartheid and we knew the beauty was a façade that covered a much darker culture and past. Anyway, we knew our homestay would be an experience so we grabbed some lunch and then went back to the ship.

We left in the late afternoon to go to the township. We were told everyone lived in brick and mortar houses, but I was a little surprised when we got there. We’ve talked so much about ‘townships’ in South Africa and the general poverty that comes with them but this township didn’t seem poor at all. They definitely weren’t rich but they had plenty of food and many luxuries that I did not expect (like TVs that they never turned off). Anyway, we got there and stopped at Mama Nok’s house. She is the one who started the business of homestays in the township, so we met there to find out whose house each of us would go to. Immediately a bunch of kids appeared in the yard, so we played with them for a little bit. They showed us some of their games and we showed them some of ours. As usual, they were all super cute!

We were paired off and then went with our ‘Mamas’ as they call them. I can’t remember my Mama’s real name and it had a click noise in the middle so even if I remembered it I would have no clue how to write it. But anyway she told us to call her Irene. She was so sweet…she kept telling us not to be shy and then when we got there she said, “this is my home…this is your home.” We went inside and were met with a big crowd – I found out later that she has eight daughters total! …and no sons. Four of her daughters were there, as well as three of their little girls and two babies  One is three months old and the other is one month. I held each a few times throughout the night and they were sooo cute!

We sat down and Mama made us tea. She and one of her daughters started dinner, so we sat and talked with her other daughter. I asked her what she did during the week, and she said that she is a dance teacher but she had been on maternity leave for the past three months. The next day would be her first day back to work. The place she works is a community outreach program that is using dance to try to keep local kids in school, off drugs, and out of jail. She showed us a video about the place and then a video of one of her shows.

After the video, she asked if we wanted to go for a walk. We walked through the neighboring township where she used to live and met some more family members. Then she told us she would show us where everybody hangs out. I don’t even know what it would be called but basically it is a street where music is playing and people stand around eating meat (it seemed to be the only thing South Africans eat) and drinking. It was really crowded so she took our hands and led us through the street into one of the store/restaurants. We kept walking to the back and ended up in a crowded room that had one long wall of grills and plates full of meat everywhere. We walked through the room and ended up in another room where they were cutting the meat. After that room we walked out and were on another part of the street. Everyone was starring at us because the other girl and I were the only white people there, but I couldn’t stop smiling. It probably isn’t somewhere I would normally hang out but it was awesome to take a peek into their lives. It was dark by the time we started to walk back to the house. We were on a hill, so we got to see all of the townships lit up with Table Mountain in the background. It was so surreal!

When we got back to the house, Mama had us help with dinner a little (she made something with corn meal and boiling water so we helped her stir it), and then we ate.  She made chicken, potatoes, the corn meal thing which looked and tasted like mashed potatoes, cabbage, and squash. It was pretty good…I’m picky so I was just thankful that I was able to eat it and not be rude. After dinner we talked some more and then played games with the little girls. The girls danced and sang for us. Then they all sang the South African national anthem, so we had to sing the Star Spangled Banner. I was nervous since I don’t have a great voice, but they didn’t seem to care.

The next morning we woke up and had breakfast – porridge and tea – and then walked over to Mama Nok’s house. Mama Nok has a jewelry business, so I got a necklace. I sat down and listened as one Mama told about her experience of living through apartheid. It was crazy to hear, but there seemed to be so much hope from their entrepreneurship and determination. I had noticed that in my family, which had one mother and eight daughters, many of whom had children of their own, I did not see one father the whole night. Many people had the same experience, so I asked our guide about it on the way back to the ship. He said it’s a sad fact, but one that is very normal in South Africa – the fathers are not around. They spend a lot of their time drinking, and since the man is still the head of the family, they can come home whenever they want and demand sex from their wife. He said it is a big problem in the HIV/AIDS epidemic because they are often with prostitutes and then don’t use condoms with their wives. It was sad to hear…especially since it is one side of the problem that I had never thought about.

We got back to the ship and got ready quickly to hike Table Mountain. It was a pretty challenging hike but definitely worth it! It was an awesome view and made me feel so accomplished. We took lots of pics then took the cable car down the mountain.
At my FDP the day before, one of the writers had told us about a poetry reading in one of the suburbs of Cape Town. So when we got back to the ship we showered and got ready to go. The town was really cute and artsy. The cab driver didn’t know exactly where the restaurant, A Touch of Madness, was, so we got out and walked around in an attempt to find it. We found it and were early so walked around the city. We found a cute place called OBZ café and sat down for dinner. We talked to the owners and had some South African wine. By the time we got to A Touch of Madness, the main artists had already gone and it was open mic time. There were some really awesome poems that were read. After it was over we hung out and talked to some people. We met one guy named Evan who had read some of his poems. One thing led to another and he found out we were from Semester at Sea. It was crazy…he asked if we knew Stephanie (one of the nurses) because he had been emailing her for several months. He has a farm in the middle of a wild game reserve. They met through a website called HelpX and basically she was going to work on his farm for a few days in exchange for room and board. He said she couldn’t go anymore because she had to be on call, so we asked if we could go instead. I really didn’t expect anything to come of it, but when we got back to the ship that night, he had already emailed us.
We emailed him back, but I still didn’t think it would actually happen.

The next morning we met up with another girl and went to paint a school. It was pretty hot but very rewarding when we were done. It definitely brightened it up. Once we were done painting, we went inside to see the kids. The first room was the baby room. The kids were precious, but it was almost nap time so we left. We went to a room with older kids. It was almost lunch time so they sat down in a circle, sang songs, and then prayed – so cute! We took a mini bus back to Cape Town, and it was quite an experience. They packed us in like sardines and played super loud club music the whole way back. It was fun…and a lot cheaper than a cab!

We went to a café and got on the internet for a little bit. Evan had emailed us back and we were all set to go to his farm the next day! Then we went to dinner at this really good restaurant on the waterfront.

The next morning we got ready, met Evan, and left for the three hour drive to his farm. We stopped at this cute little mountain town called Barrydale, the last town before his house, to get groceries.

His house was pretty isolated but so beautiful. One the way to his house, he stopped on one of the side roads to show us where a giraffe had been killed! It was so crazy…like national geographic or something. Most of the meat was gone, which was good because it didn’t smell too bad, but the skin and bones were still there.

When we got to his house, there were zebras and antelopes just outside of his fence! Our first mission was to clean his house, so we swept and then mopped. Then he asked if we wanted to go on a game drive. I went in without expectations because I didn’t want to be disappointed, but I definitely wasn’t! We drove around and saw lots of different antelopes. Then as he was talking about how difficult it is to find elephants, we saw some! We drove closer and there were two babies and two mothers. I couldn’t believe they were so close! We sat there for a while before we continued. We drove a little further and then we saw a bunch of giraffes! It seemed like there was one dad, two moms, and three babies. It was awesome!! We continued to drive and saw two rhinos. They were really far away, but we saw them nonetheless! We didn’t see leopards or lions, but we saw three of the big five, so I was more than happy! We started calling our time at Evan’s a ‘safarmi’…or a ‘farm-fari’ haha. That night we had a typical South African braai (or BBQ) with lamb and sausage. We were cracking up when we got the meat in Barrydale because Evan had something about raising sheep and eating them. We were like “Oh we’ve never had sheep…people don’t really eat that in the states.” But then when he said we had to buy the lamb we felt like such idiots because we had forgotten that sheep and lamb are the same. Haha. Anyway, we had a really good dinner, and then we went outside to look at the stars. Apparently the constellations are different in the southern hemisphere because Evan was naming some I had never heard of.  I could hardly keep my eyes open I was so exhausted, so we went in and went to bed.

The next morning we woke up late – around 830. He had told us he was going to sleep in but apparently ‘sleeping in’ to him meant 700. Haha. We cooked breakfast – bacon and eggs from his free-range chickens. Then we went out to clean the poo from the pig pen. It was probably the most disgusting thing I’ve ever done, but the girls made it fun. There were two mama pigs – one had nine, six week old piglets and the other had three, one week old piglet. The one week olds were sooo tiny and cute! I wanted to hold one but Evan said the mom might freak out. Once the pens were spick and span, we had tea and lunch. Then we went back outside to work some more. I helped Evan plant a new row of pomegranate trees! I felt like Little House on the Prairie or something. Haha. After some more tea we changed and got ready to go into town. We stopped a few times before we ended up at a restaurant that had what Evan claimed to be the best steaks in the world.  I’m not a big meat eater but they actual were delicious! We stayed there for a while and met some really cool locals. Three of them were brothers who had grown up in Cape Town. They had gone to Barrydale five years before and then just never gone back. I loved talking to all of them!

The next morning we got up early, fed the pigs, cleaned their pens, and cooked breakfast. We went for a short walk outside of the gate to look for lions but sadly didn’t find any. We packed up our stuff and headed back to Cape Town. I was actually awake for this drive, and it was incredible. South Africa is absolutely beautiful. Back at the ship, we said goodbye and then went to the store to stock up on snacks and toiletries before Asia.

My time in South Africa went by so quickly…I wish we could have stayed longer. There are so many things I didn’t get to do but I wouldn’t trade the experiences I had for anything!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Oh Africa!

I’m really behind on this so I’ll try to catch up while I wait to leave for my township homestay…

The morning after we left Ghana we became Emerald Shellbacks! That means we sailed through 0, 0…where the prime meridian and equator intersect. So basically we went from the northwestern hemisphere to the southeastern hemisphere. The captain sailed along the prime meridian for a few minutes so we stood in the middle of the ship and straddled to eastern and western hemispheres. Haha

Two days later it was Neptune Day. It is a celebration that comes from a naval tradition of hazing people when they cross the equator for the first time. It was a lot of fun – the crew woke us up around 730 by marching down the halls, playing drums and blowing whistles. We ate breakfast and then went out to the pool deck. There ‘King Neptune’ (Dean David) and his crew came in all dressed up. Then we had ‘fish guts’ poured on us (it was really just colored water that smelled like fish) and jumped in the pool. It was so hot in Ghana, but as soon as we crossed the equator it got cold…so we were freezing when we got out of the pool.
We took showers and then watched people getting their heads shaved (a lot of girls did it…I definitely was not one of them. haha). That was pretty much the extent of the morning festivities, so we all went in to study for our Global Studies test that night. Everyone was freaking out a little because we heard the class is difficult, but the test wasn’t bad at all. Then to end the day we had a BBQ…the food on the ship is pretty bad, so it was nice to have such a yummy meal!

Not much else has happened during the week we’ve been on the ship…except for Desmond Tutu’s lecture yesterday during Global Studies. It was interesting, and he is so inspiring. He said the saddest thing about racism is that it makes a child of God doubt that he is a child of God. He also keeps telling us not to be brought down by “oldies” like him and to keep dreaming and believing that we can change the world.

We arrived in South Africa this morning!! We were going to sleep outside last night, but I guess it’s good we didn’t because it was SO cold this morning. We got up around 445am because we were scheduled to pull into port at 5am. We went to the top deck and immediately knew Cape Town would be beautiful. It was pitch black but the whole city was lit up…they even have a ferris wheel! haha We watched as we pulled in (some people said we would basically be ‘crashing’ into town and its true because we are in the middle of the city) and the sky started to lighten. I can’t even put into words how beautiful it was…the city looks very Dutch and Table Mountain slowly came into view as the sun rose. I can’t wait to explore the city!

I didn’t get off the ship this morning because I had an FDP (something we have to do for our classes). It was called Poets and Authors of Cape Town and it was for my World Short Story class. I signed up because we have to do two FDPs and I figured I would just get it out of the way. I thought it would be pretty boring, but it actually turned out to be quite interesting. There were three writers, and they each read some of their work. I wasn’t a big fan of the first guy, but the second lady was really funny. Her poems were full of both humor and sadness. The final author was an older black woman whose writing was mostly about growing up during apartheid. It was really powerful and fascinating to hear some firsthand stories…I really hope I get to meet and talk to more people like her!

Friday, October 1, 2010

So the rest of my time in Ghana…

Day 2
We got up, ate breakfast and got ready to go to Egyam Orphanage. It was POURING rain...but I liked it because it made it a lot cooler than the first day and it made me feel like I was in the rainforest or something. Haha. Anyway, long story short, our first driver ended up getting lost (the orphanage didn’t have an actual street address), so after half an hour of driving we got out of the bus and took taxis the rest of the way. It was ok though because it was like we got a driving tour of Ghana. Once we got off the main road, we had to take a dirt road for a few miles. It was crazy because the potholes were huge, and at one point, the water was up to the door handles! I was very impressed with the cars and the drivers!

We were a little late, but we finally got to the orphanage. We had originally planned to do some sort of service work for them (paint walls, cook, etc.), but since it was raining, they told us we could just play with the kids. First, we got a tour of the home. It was modest but the children seemed to have what they needed. It was really cute because a few of the kids followed us and kept peeking around doors and grinning sheepishly. When we finished the tour, we sat down in the main room and the kids came straight to us…some even just came up and sat in our laps. They didn’t speak English very well, but we got along. They all loooved our cameras. They ran around taking pictures and then laughed so hard when they looked at the pictures of themselves. My favorite little boy was an 11 year old named Thomas. I asked him what he wanted to be when he was big, and he said a pilot. He said he wants to fly to the Netherlands, Canada and Spain and see all of their football teams. He told me he has a twin (who wants to be a footballer) and an older brother (who wants to be a banker) at the orphanage too. I was so impressed with their big dreams. There was also a little girl named Theresah who came right up, sat on my lap, and didn’t get off until we left. We stayed for a few hours and then went back to the ship when they were getting ready to eat dinner.

Day 3
The first day was fun, but the second day was even better because it was more organized. When we got to the home, we walked over to the village school. First the directors told us a little bit about it (it’s a public school but there are 760 students and only 13 teachers), and then we split up and went to different classes. The teacher introduced us and then the students introduced themselves. It was a little sad though because there were a bunch of empty desks. The teacher said it was because the students had gotten their uniforms dirty in the rain (they could only afford one uniform) and so they weren’t able to come to school. Once we were done with introductions, the teacher said we could finish the day with our lesson…I guess he thought we were there to teach. Haha. We obviously weren’t prepared for that so we asked if we could just hang out and talk with the kids. They were all very shy, but we mingled throughout the classroom. I asked them all the same questions…how old they were, what their favorite subject was, what they liked to do outside of school, what they wanted to be when they are older, etc. They were either really shy or didn’t understand me because I got a lot of blank stares…they were all really sweet though!

When school was over, we walked into the courtyard where all of the students were streaming out of the classrooms. The kids from the orphanages ran right up to us; Theresah grabbed one of my hands and a little boy grabbed my other hand. We walked back to the orphanage with them, and then got out paper, crayons and markers to draw. They really seemed to enjoy it. Of course, their attention span didn’t last long though so then we played some games. I played soccer with a few of the boys, but it was difficult because the ball was torn and flat; they didn’t seem to mind though. Eventually we had to leave, and it was really hard to say goodbye. All the kids gathered around the car and waved as we drove away.

Day 4
On our last day in Ghana, I was up bright and early to go on a SAS trip to the Father’s Home Care Ministries. As we pulled up, the kids ran out of the house and waited to greet us. First the director told us about the children’s home (it’s an orphanage but they call it a children’s home because they said being called an ‘orphan’ comes with a certain stigma that they don’t want the children to have). Then he called the children in and we did introductions. There are about 30 kids at the home and about 12 ‘moms’ and ‘dads’. The oldest is 21 years and the youngest is 16 months (he and two other boys at the home have special needs).
I was sitting next to a girl named Mercy and after I told her that I liked her headband, she didn’t leave my side for the rest of the day. She was so sweet. At one point, she took my hand and said she wanted to show me her room. It was cute because I could tell how proud she was of her space.

We spent the morning coloring and drawing pictures. Then one of the older boys started playing the drums. It was so cool! He gave a few people lessons, and then some of the other kids started dancing.

We left at midday to go to lunch. It was at a really nice hotel, so I felt a little weird eating there knowing what the kids at the children’s home were eating.

We went back in the afternoon, and it was what the director called ‘play time’. One of the older girls tried to teach me a game called Rummikub, but I didn’t really understand it. There was more drumming and dancing, and then a game of soccer started. Mercy made me play, but I had flip flops on so I didn’t play long. I held the baby for a little bit (he was soo sweet), and then it was time to leave. We took a group picture, and the director gave us a sincere thank you and farewell.

Mercy kept giving me hugs and wouldn’t let go, so again it was really hard to leave. I got the address of the children’s home, so I’m going to send her postcards. Hopefully I’ll be able to go back someday!

By the time we got back to the ship, it was too late to get off again. There are so many other things I wish I had had time to do in Ghana, but I’m thankful I saw all that I did. I really just loved all of the people. Yes there is poverty and many other problems, but it is a country of such hope and joy.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"I'm black like a piano...can you be my keys?"

We’re in Africa!!!!!! Morocco was Africa of course, but it really didn’t feel like it. For the seven days we were on the ship from Morocco to Ghana, Ariel and I played ‘Oh Africa’ and ‘Waka Waka’ on repeat every day because we were so excited.

So yesterday we woke up around 540am because the sun was supposed to rise at 556am (I’m trying to see all of the sunrises as we pull into port…I’ve seen them all so far!). It was really cloudy so it wasn’t a pretty sunrise, but we could see land so we were still excited. There were a ton of little fishing boats (really small ones…not much bigger than canoes), and it was so cute because every time we passed one, the people in them stood up and waved. Then, we saw a school of dolphins!!!! It was my first time to see dolphins, and there were at least six of them! It made my morning.

Most people had signed up for SAS trips or had FDPs that they had to do for class, but a few of us didn’t. After customs cleared us, we got off the ship and headed toward the market. This port was definitely different from the last two because it was like there was a crowd ready to greet us. As we walked everyone either smiled and waved or came up and talked to us. The first people we talked to were two businessmen. They came up to us on the street and asked where we were from. One of them said he had seen many of our friends and was curious who we were. It was nice because it showed me how we are finally in a place that isn’t touristy. He asked for all of our email addresses and gave us a big, sincere “welcome to Ghana”. It went pretty much the same way all day – people kept asking us where we were from (they got really excited when we said America. Apparently they love us…their approval rating is 90% which is an interesting contrast having just come from Morocco where it is 16%), asking for our email addresses (who knows how many emails we’ll have by the time we leave. haha), and telling us “welcome to Ghana.” It was so refreshing to meet such happy, friendly people.

Anyway, it was a long walk from the ship into town, and then we spent almost 30 minutes in line at the ATM because only one ATM in the whole town took our debit cards. We got money, stopped by the post office and then wandered through the market. It was definitely a market for locals because it was mostly food and stuff like that…It was really cool though. There was a lot of fish and meat but also spices and crazy vegetables I’ve never seen before. We did find one lady selling beads, so we stopped and bought some. Some people we passed at one stand stopped us and asked our names. They weren’t able to pronounce them, so they asked when we were born. In Ghana you are named according to the day of the week on which you were born. My Ghanaian name is Abena.

After we had been through the whole market, we were ready for some lunch. It was too late to get lunch on the ship so we asked around about restaurants. We found out that they don’t really eat at restaurants so our only option was to go to a hotel. We took a cab to one, and it was BEAUTIFUL. It was right on the beach and right across the street there was a little shop with crafts. We ate and then went into the shop. They had a lot of awesome hand crafted figurines and stuff like that. I got a really pretty painting; it’s of two women carrying babies on their backs and baskets on their heads…which is cool because that really is how EVERYONE carries things here. We also talked to these guys for a while. I guess they were rappers…we asked them if they like Jay-Z and they started singing Empire State of Mind. Haha It was so crazy to hear Ghanaians sing about New York. They were really cool though, and I’m so thankful I got to talk to so many people throughout the day. Moroccans were a little closed off, so being able to talk to the Ghanaians really makes the experience more meaningful and helps me see the culture.

We took another cab back to the ship. The driver was funny…he had an American flag with Obama’s face on it on his window. They sell those flags everywhere.

Back at the ship, Shannon and I got in the pool to cool off. It was really hot outside, but I didn’t think it was as bad as everyone was saying it was going to be (Speaking of which…we’re at the ‘center of the world’! Takoradi is the closest spot on land to where the equator meets the prime meridian). We all hung out for a little while on the ship before we went out. I wasn’t planning on going out at all, but I’m glad I did because it was SO much fun. While we were getting a cab outside of the port, there was a big group of Ghanaians trying to make us bracelets and sell us jewelry…one guy yelled at one of the SAS girls, “I’m black like a piano, can you be my keys?” haha…we all thought it was hilarious. The bar was definitely a pool hall, but we turned it into a dance floor. Our one mission was to hear ‘Oh Africa’, and after requesting it about eight times, they finally played it! It was the highlight of my night. They also played ‘Waka Waka’ right after which was awesome.

When we were worn out we went back to the ship and got some sleep. This morning hasn’t been very eventful. It’s been raining nonstop, so we didn’t want to go back out. Now I’m just getting ready to go to the orphanage this afternoon…I can’t wait!

Friday, September 17, 2010


Day 1

I had signed up for a SAS trip to the SOS Children’s Village, so as soon as we docked in Casablanca on the 9th, I got off the ship and onto the bus. The differences between Spain and Morocco could be seen immediately! The port in Spain was nice and pretty and everything was really close to the port. But in Morocco, the port was very dirty and industrial with lots of crates and cargo ships. The air was full of dust, and it was HOT. Regardless I was excited to be there and see the country.

The first stop of the day was at the George Washington Academy.  I was a little confused at first because I didn’t know we were going there, and I didn’t know what kind of school it was. Turns out it was a private American school (K-12). The facility was really nice and clean. After talking to one of the school’s directors, we learned that the school was composed of mostly upper class Moroccans (the tuition is very expensive), all of the students must learn Arabic, French and English, and most of the students go to the US or Europe for university when they graduate. I knew it was by no means an accurate view of an average Moroccan’s education, but it was interesting to see nonetheless.

After the school we went to the Children’s Village. SOS Children’s Villages can be found all around the world, and they take in orphans and other neglected children. Basically, the children live in the houses around the village and each house has a ‘mom.’ The moms are hired to live full time at the village and take care of the children they are given. They are given a monthly allowance for food, clothes, etc. All of the children in the village go to school in the city and within the village they said they try to teach them skills that will help them be successful when they’re 18 and leave. None of the children in the village are adopted though because adoption is not allowed in the Muslim faith. 

It was so interesting to see an NGO in action. I don’t think I was there long enough to be able to accurately say if what they’re doing is working, but on the surface it seemed like a great system.

After we got a tour and asked questions, we had some time to play with the kids. They didn’t speak English very well, but while some people played basketball or soccer with some of the boys, I got to use a little of my French with a group of girls. I was so excited. I was a little self-conscious at first because she didn’t understand some of what I was saying, but then I realized that they didn’t speak French fluently either. She would be saying something and then randomly switch back to Arabic (actually most people threw in Arabic words when they were speaking French so it made it difficult to understand). Haha. Anyway, I still enjoyed talking to them…one girl even gave me here sticker before I left! It was so sweet…I wish we could have stayed longer.

I got back that night around dinner time. Some people were going back out, but I was worn out so I stayed on the ship.

Day 2

We got up early to get a train to Marrakech. Everyone said Casablanca was dirty and expensive, so we didn’t see the point in hanging out there for long. We got to the train station at about 8:45am, and the 8:50am train still hadn’t left. We got our tickets, and went out to the platform. The station was packed, mostly with other SASers. By 9:00am the train still hadn’t come, and then they made an announcement that the train was delayed 45 minutes. Apparently, when they say 45 minutes, they really mean an hour and a half. Haha. We finally got on the train a little after 10, and it was PACKED. All of the little rooms were full so we had to squeeze in the aisles. I was not thrilled about standing in the cramped isle for 4 hours, but after about an hour one of the rooms opened up.

We finally got to Marrakech and took a cab to the medina (it’s the traditional old part of all Islamic cities where the markets and stuff are). We went in the medina and found our hostel. It was AMAZING. It was soo nice compared to our hostel in Spain, and it had so much charm and character. In the lobby area there were traditional Moroccan decorations and no chairs, only pillows on the floor. There was a beautiful pool in the main courtyard, and my bed was super comfy. I wanted to move in and stay forever!

After we checked in and set our stuff down, we went out to explore. Our first stop was to get ice cream (dressing ‘conservatively’ is not fun when it’s over 100 degrees…so we craved ice cream the whole time), and it was delicious! Then we hit the ATM and headed for the markets. On the way, in the main square, we saw our first monkey and snake charmers. It was so crazy to see it in real life! We all felt bad for the monkeys because their life definitely didn’t look fun. But we tried to avoid the whole area as much as possible because we had run into one of the SAS faculty who said they usually just throw the snake on you and then won’t take it off until you pay them. Anyway, we saw so many awesome things in the market but I didn’t by much the first day. One thing I did buy was linen pants to wear on the camel trek. The guy at the shop looked exactly like James Franco! Haha. It was funny…we all took a picture with him before we left.

We went to dinner at a restaurant that had a rooftop terrace overlooking the square, and we got there at the perfect time – we saw the most beautiful sunset. It was amazing to watch the city come alive as it got darker. The food was soo good too. I had my first couscous of the trip! After dinner we walked around a little and then got some more ice cream; we just couldn’t resist!

Day 3

The next morning we went to the rooftop terrace of our hostel and had a really yummy breakfast. I have no idea what it was (it was a mix between a pancake and a crepe) but it was good. We all got ready and then went out to explore the markets some more. I was on a mission and ended up getting everything I wanted.

My absolute favorite purchases were the spices I bought. We randomly came across a spice shop and fell in love. The shop owner had us sit on a bench as he brought all of the spices around for us to smell. He also gave made us some mint tea to drink while we waited! I got two cooking spices, cinnamon, some rose tea, and two bars of ‘perfume.’ I REALLY hope they let me through customs with all of it!

You have to barter hard…it was exhausting, but I don’t think I got ripped off too bad on anything. A guy at one of the shops pinched my cheek after we had settled on a price and called me a good haggler. Haha. It was little creepy but still funny.  For a few days afterwards, the shop owners’ voices were continuously ringing in my head with their calls of ‘I make you good price’ and ‘student discount, student discount’…all of which the used to try to entice us to look in their shop. Like I said, it was a lot of work, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought it would…it was actually pretty fun!

Again we had ice cream for lunch. Haha. Justin Beiber was playing in one of the shops next door. It was hilarious to experience Bieber Fever in Africa. We got dinner in the square at a sort of street vendor, and again I got couscousJ.  We went back to the hostel and jumped in the pool to cool off from the long, hot day.

Day 4

We were up bright and early to leave for our camel trek. The guide met us at our hostel, and we left around 7am. There was a little confusion at first because we had signed up for a ‘private’ tour (there were 22 of us) and paid the private tour price (the guy at our hostel said we were getting ripped off anyway because they ran the same exact tour for 25euros less…it would have been nice to have that extra money, but by that point I didn’t care…I just wanted to be on my camel!). After many discussions and phone calls to their boss, they ended up providing water to make up for it.

We got in the bus and left Marrakech. Not far out of the city, we started to get into the high Atlas Mountains. After about an hour we stopped at this little café that had a panoramic view of the mountains. It was so beautiful! I had a little breakfast (pita bread and cream cheese…so good!)and coffee, and then we got back on the bus. The drive was a little nauseating with all of the twists and turns, but the view more than made up for it. We stopped again a few hours later to look over the mountain pass we had just come through. Of course, we had to take some pics…then we were in the bus again. Not far down the road, we were going around another sharp corner and a bus hit us! It was so scary…everything happen so fast. We were all just silent at first because we couldn’t believe what had happened. A huge crowd of men formed around the two cars and they seemed to animatedly discussing whose fault it was. Eventually the car got hot so we all got out to stretch our legs. When I got out I realized how lucky we were…they don’t have guardrails on the mountain roads and we weren’t far from the huge cliff. We were also lucky because the accident didn’t cause much damage (it bent the rim of one tire and left a dent in the car). I’m so thankful that it turned out ok. They changed the tires, and we continued on.

We stopped for lunch in a town that is called the ‘capital of cinema in North Africa.’ Apparently Laurence of Arabia, Gladiator, Prince of Persia, and a bunch of other movies were filmed there.

After lunch we kept driving and moved into the low Atlas Mountains. We passed a bunch of Berber villages along the way. It was really interesting because at first glance, I would think of them as poor but then I saw that they had electricity and satellite dishes (but then I found out in class yesterday that the government subsidies satellite dishes and people don’t really have to pay for them). For my Poverty and Economic Development class, my group is doing our Human Development Indicator project on Morocco. It was kind of difficult to decide though how ‘developed’ they are because a lot of the indicators come from a western perspective. For example, the country was generally pretty dirty (even though they seemed to have technology, education, etc.) but I couldn’t figure out if that was a problem or if as a Westerner I’m just hyper-sensitive about cleanliness. My group meets tonight to discuss it so we’ll see!

Finally around sunset we got to our camels! They were bigger than I expected and really cute too! They were all sitting and waiting for us with their legs curled underneath them. We picked our camels and got on. I name mine Tobias J…the name suited him. Haha. They made the camels stand up (pretty scary at first!) and then we rode off into the desert. It was perfect timing because the sun was setting and it was gorgeous! We rode for about an hour and a half until we got to the nomad village. First they served us mint tea and then they cooked an amazing dinner for us – some kind of soup, vegi tangine, and melon for desert. It was definitely my favorite meal in Morocco!

After dinner we sat outside and our guide told us jokes and riddles. They were really corny, but they still cracked me up.

Some people went straight to bed but a few of us waited while they built a fire. It was so cool…once they got the fire going they played some of their traditional music. It was amazing to be sitting on a sand dune in the Sahara Desert and listening to them play their drums.

After a little dancing around the fire, we went back to our tent. I dragged my mat outside and slept under the stars. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen; the sky was so clear and there were so many bright stars. We could even see the Milky Way, which I have never seen before. I didn’t want to fall asleep because I didn’t want to stop looking at the sky, but finally I did.

Day 5

The next morning I woke up at dawn and again it was absolutely beautiful. We sat on the dunes and watched the sun rise from behind the mountains. It was time to head back, so I went and found Tobias.

We got back in the bus and then drove to get breakfast. It was pretty much the same drive on the way back, except we stopped in the town called the ‘capital of cinema in North Africa’ and walked around the village that was built in the 15th century. It was pretty crazy to see it and think about how old it is and about how many people have walked on the same paths.

Long story short, some people were really concerned about missing the last train out of Marrakech, so they asked the guides if we could pay them to take us directly to Casablanca. They ended up agreeing. By lunch time everyone was complaining about everything and I was starting to get irritated. I just didn’t understand why people couldn’t appreciate the adventure instead of focusing on how hot it was, how long the drive was, etc.  Anyway, I was ready to get back, and after about 16 hours in the car, we got to the ship. Our guide added us all on Facebook the next day…he was so adorable. Haha

Day 6

On our last day in Morocco, we all slept in. Then we went out one last time to get free internet to upload photos and whatnot. The hotel we went to was packed with SASers though, so the internet was too slow to get much done. We went back to the ship and later that night went to the top deck to watch as we left the port. Again it looked very different than Spain, but the coolest part was the Hassan II mosque (the third largest mosque in the world) – it had a bright green laser coming out of the top. I assume it was pointing to Mecca, but I don’t know for sure. I wish I had the time to go in the mosque, but I drove by it a few times and got some pictures.

Anyway, we left Casablanca and are now on our way to Takoradi, Ghana!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Spain was a lot of fun! The first day we got off the ship, and we were all just SO excited to be on land/in Spain that we went crazy taking pictures and running around Cadiz; it is such a beautiful city. We explored for a while and then got some lunch and sangria (it was funny because we all ate pizza…it wasn’t exactly Spanish food but we were sick of ship food and just wanted something yummy and familiar).  That afternoon we went to the beach and relaxed there for a while, and then we headed back to the ship to get ready for dinner.

We were in a big group (about 11 I think) so as we wandered around that night we couldn’t find anywhere that had enough room for us. We all started to get a little frustrated because we were hungry and it seemed like we had been walking all night. We were about to split up when we found this restaurant in one of the plazas. We ordered a bunch of tapas that Dean David told us we had to try while we were in Spain – I got paella (it had seafood in it so I didn’t really like it), tortilla espanola (I think that was the name…it’s like this potato/egg/tortilla cake and it was delicious) and croquettes (the way Dean David described them made them sound amazing but these had tuna in them so I wasn’t a big fan of these either). The night started a little rough but dinner ended well! After sitting and chatting for a while, we went to a club down the street and had an awesome night.

The next day Ariel and I were up bright and early to catch the bus to Sevilla. We were both exhausted and slept the whole way there, but once we arrived we took a tram to the central plaza and then navigated our way to the hostel. We were so proud of our travel skills! The hostel was a little sketch – it was realllly cramped and our room smelled like mildew. We had our own lockers though and all of their security made me feel safe, so I was thankful for that. After further investigation of the room we discovered the source of the lovely smell – there was mold on one of the walls where the paint was chipping and there was mold on the bathroom ceiling. Yay! Haha. It was super cheap though so I guess you get what you pay for.

Anyway, after we checked in we started walking around and exploring the city. We found this cute little café tucked away on a side street and decided to stop for lunch. I tried croquettes again and they were amazing this time. We spent almost three hours at that café just eating and talking. After that we were still tired so we went back to the hostel and had a four hour siesta. Haha It was such a relaxing day! At the hostel we met this guy from Tennessee who works in Morocco at a handicapped orphanage. Of course I immediately wanted to be his best friend, and it was nice getting to grill him about what to expect. We’re sad because we never got his name (we just keep referring to him as Tennessee. haha)

The next morning we went out in search of churros con chocolate. Basically it is a hot, deep fried churro that you dipped in a mug of thick, warm, melted chocolate…sooo good!  We ran into a friend and spent the rest of the day exploring the city. One of my favorite things was the Archives; it’s the building that houses all of the original documents from the exploration of the New World. It was really interesting! We also saw the Tower of Gold, where they kept all of the gold and silver that the explorers brought back from the New World, the bullfighting arena, and a bunch of other stuff. Sevilla definitely has some fascinating history!

That night we went out in search of dinner and ran into two other SASers who decided to join us. Once again I chose poorly on the tapas, but the good company more than made up for it. Some other SASers passed by on their way to dinner, and we discovered that we are all in the same ‘sea’. It was good to meet other people on our floor, and we are all pumped for the Sea Olympics (the decks are divided into ‘seas’ and then we have Sea Olympics with different sports and activities)!

The next morning we got some yummy crepes on our way out of Sevilla. Once we were back in Cadiz we thought we would be productive and find a laundry mat since laundry is so expensive on the ship and you can only do it on certain days. Anyway it was a major fail because we couldn’t find one anywhere (Google maps took us to some random house). I got tired of carrying my heavy bag so I went back to the ship while Ariel stayed in town. Later I went back out on my own and walked around a different area of town. It was a lot less touristy, so it was really nice. I stopped a few places before I went back to the ship…my favorite was this bakery where I got the most amazing pastry.

On the last day in Spain we all went into the city to get our last fix of free internet before we left. I got to skype my mom, so I was happy. After that we walked up the top of one of the church towers and got an incredible, panoramic view of the city and the ocean. We overindulged in churros con chocolate one last time before exploring the market and getting some things at the grocery store. On our way back we ran into some other SASers eating lunch so we sat down with them and soaked up the last few moments of Spain. It was a little sad to leave because it went by SO quickly, but I was pumped to get to Morocco!!