Things I Won’t Miss About the Village: Lack of Anonymity

I have lived most of my life in South Carolina [other states include North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee] — a state with roughly 5 million people in it, and just prior to departure, I moved back to the area I grew up in.  The town I currently reside in has approximately 800 people in it, and yet I still have my anonymity.

I blend in mostly due to my race [it’s all either black or white] or my speech [I do have quite the southern accent when I let my guard down]. I’ve been putting purple streaks in my hair for a few years, but it’s so subtle that no one hardly notices until I am in the sun or under a light.  I enjoy my peace and quiet–I have three sets of neighbors within a mile radius and a hay field across the street.  It’s a quiet, somewhat predictable life.

Living in a small town creates lots of privacy, but little anonymity. If you’re not careful, everyone will know your business.  You can’t cry in public or curse at anyone because chances are, you’ll see these people again. Even if you don’t want to.

There’s no clubs for dancing or bars for drinking in my little town, and only two of what we call restaurants. Being seen at one of these becomes fodder for gossip especially if anything untoward happens.

Despite all that, I blended in. Mostly.

I’ve spent the past year living in a village even smaller than my town, speaking a language that I’ll never speak again once I leave the country.  Despite knowing about small town life, it this village, I am the other.  I’m different because of my skin tone, much, much lighter than anyone else’s. I’m different because of my accent–my tendency to speak Spanish not French when I can’t think of a word in Kinyarwanda. I’m different because I’m well traveled–partly due to my American passport.  I’m different because I’m unmarried and childless at an age where most of my village peers are both married and are mothers.   I’m different because I have no real desire ever have kids. I’m different because I have short, soft hair in a shade other than black.

Even among my fellow Peace Corps volunteers, I’m different because I’m a little bit older than most, but not yet at that “I’m retired; I think I’ll go join the Peace Corps stage.”  I’m at an age where friends are having babies left and right. Some are getting divorced and some are getting married. Again.

Any of these would have set me apart. In combination, they ensured I would never be completely able to blend in… never enjoy the anonymity I love. It’s not the first time I’ve been a visible minority, but it was the first time I’d been one for such an extended period [and it gave me newfound respect for people who are “The Other” for their entire lives].

Even before I landed in Rwanda, I suspected that would have to change something, but I don’t think I fully anticipated the degree to which it would. I went from a mostly anonymous local to instant celebrity in a matter of days. It was strange, and I hated it. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to blend in with the crowd, and here I was–on display for everyone to see.  I felt eyes on me all of the time, had to carefully consider every word that dropped from my mouth lest it be heard and reported.

I learned that in Rwanda people will frankly comment on your physical appearance as a matter of course, and for me, that was a constant reminder of my paleness, my size, the strangeness of my straight, short [mostly] brown hair, my lack of makeup, my choice of dress.

To integrate into my community, I had to hide certain parts of myself, especially at first. I had to hide the me that sometimes liked to dye my hair strange colors; and the me that could be a bit brazen. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was always myself, just a different version of myself from before. In my village, I will always be Misha.  Misha never wore anything cut higher than her knees, and most often wore pants… which was chalked up to being American. Every woman wears skirts in the village.  Misha never, not once, drank alcohol, despite being pressed… despite the fact the previous volunteer did often.  Misha always waved, smiled, and greeted appropriately according to the time of day.  Misha never flirted with men. Rejected those who flirted with her, never cursed, and never went out after dark.  

I might be making this sound like playacting, and it was and it wasn’t. We all play roles over the course of our lives. Mine was true to myself and consciously chosen, as I realized that one of the deepest impacts I could potentially make in my community was to be a role model to young people who in some cases needed one desperately. At times it felt exhausting and overwhelming, a weight of watchfulness and potential gossip I shouldered daily.

I am back in the USA for now, most likely for good.  I am back to blending in when I want to , and being notice when I want as well.  It’s one of the odd parts of service that people do not talk about too much–the readjustment period, and to be honest, it hasn’t been that difficult.  I have adjusted quite nicely to flushing toilets, comfortable beds, running, potable water, driving myself around to wherever I need to be.  I’ve adjusted well to having indoor kitty cats again.  I’ve adjusted well to not haggling over every little thing I want to buy.  The grocery store is still a bit intimidating, but in all fairness, it was intimidating before I moved to rural Rwanda.

Even though I walk these streets weekly, there’s still no anonymity when I come to Butare.

The Return

I returned to Rwanda on January 22, 2019, but not as an active Peace Corps volunteer. It was a strange feeling… to return to the area I lived in yet not have a home. To speak the language [somewhat] yet know how much I’ve forgotten. To visit my banking town yet not have an active bank account at the present time. To visit my fellow volunteers who had to go to work, yet not have any actual work to do myself.

Kigali’s Convention Center–the most expensive building constructed on the African continent.

Rwanda is a small country that can easily be explored by a tourist in a week of so. In fact most tourist come to Kigali, go to a national park or two and go on to the next country on the list. I did that, but also found time to visit some of my fellow volunteers. In a situation where I don’t know if I’m returning to volunteering, I was a chance to have a little bit of closure. Being pushed out the country so quickly [there was only 36 hours between the time I was told I was leaving until I was on a plane] didn’t allow me to say good-bye to hardly anyone [in the village or to other volunteers]. This return allowed me to have a little bit of closure. And also gave me the opportunity to explore a little bit more of Rwanda

Lake Kivu…, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo

I made it over to Lake Kivu and explored parts of Nyungwe National Forest. I spend some time in the city where I could see the DRC, and went to Volcanoes National Park and climbed a volcano [and more importantly didn’t fall**]. I made it to Rwanda’s eastern border with Tanzania and safaried in Akagera. All these experiences were things I wanted to do while in Rwanda… Things I thought I’d have two years to do, but due to circumstances beyond my control, just didn’t happen.

I’m glad I went. I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience Rwanda on my terms. I’m glad I had the opportunity to say good-bye. In case I don’t make it back to Rwanda, I won’t feel as though I left things unsettled.

Among the hill in Northern Province… somewhere near Byumba

**My official diagnosis when I left the country was Morel- Lavalee Lesion of the left pre-patellar area. Due to the government shutdown, I have been unable to contact anyone at Peace Corps’ Medical headquarters to get approved for whatever treatment I may need. Truthfully, by the time I *DO* get in to see an orthopedist, the injury may have healed. A few days before I left was the first time I was able to put any weight on my left knee. I probably the only person in the history of Peace Corps’ to be medically evacuated because of a ‘bruise’ [what the PCMO said I had for nearly a month before agreeing to a MRI which proved that my injury was slightly more involved than a ‘bruise’]

‘Murica–and all that entails

Did I really just go to good ole ‘Murica?  Only a few days back in Rwanda, and the entire trip back to South Carolina feels like a dream. I left Rwanda on a Saturday night and was in my own bed by Monday. Lucy and Molly inspected me with above normal curiosity… Maybe they know I’ve been cheating on them with Sadie Mae. Thanks to the generous soul who came to fetch me, my first America meal was a home cooked feast complete with time spent with some of my favorite people.  The combination of a full belly and a little more than 24 hours worth of travel had me collapsing into bed around 10p despite the party that was still going on downstairs.

Christmas lights at Biltmore in Asheville, NC

My nearly one month back in ‘Murica had me meeting my new niece [born November 14 ], seeing friends and family, visiting the DMV [in person!], checking out Christmas lights at America’s largest house, dealing with the state nursing board [on-line], making doctor’s appointments, doing some light decorating to my house, and eating pizza! and salads.

glorious cheesy pizza!

I weeded through piles of clothing for clothes that fit [I’ve lost 35 pounds while in Rwanda], donated two large tubs of clothing to charity [maybe I can buy them again in Rwanda] ate out with friends, sat in hot tub, and just enjoyed America’s luxuries in general.

We have matching gold reflections in our eyes

Here’s some general observations I have about going back to America after living 7 months in the rural Rwandan countryside:

  • America is rich. Excessively so. Even though I stayed in my own house [modest by American standards], I was amazed at the luxury I have. 1 acre of land. 3 TVs. Running water that you can drink straight from the faucet. Toilets. Washing Machine and Dryer. A car.
  • American bureaucracy sucks just as much as Rwandan bureaucracy–I just understand the language better. #governmentshutdown
  • Americans eat so much. My Burrito Bowl?  Easily 3 Rwandan meals; it lasted for two in America. Nearly every meal I had in America was easily 2-3 Rwandan meals.
  • Small towns are the same wherever you are.  Even though my American neighbors don’t call me ‘muzungu’, they were definitely aware and curious about the fact that I was home.
  • I got off the plane and went through a fancy customs kiosk. But it literally stunned me, how professional the airport security was. They called me “ma’am” and said “please move this way”.  Did you know there is no Rwandan word for please? Professionalism is something we DEFINITELY take for granted in America. It’s expected that you will be treated with respect and courtesy when you enter a service situation where money changes hands. Professionalism in Rwanda? Definitely not what Americans are accustomed to. People are late, answer their phones in meetings, sometimes even drink beer during training. Professionalism is not a value in this culture. As Rwanda tried to increase it’s service sector and therefore its economic position in the world, its people could learn a thing or two about professionalism, courtesy, and manners.
  • It was nice to be back in an area that is diverse–even if only somewhat. Rwanda, of course, has foreign visitors. And even refugees from Congo and Burundi, but Rwandas are just Rwandan. They have made a concentrated effort to stamp out any ethnic diversity in part due to their history. I love diversity. I love seeing different races and nationalities in the same place at the same time.  I love hearing multiple foreign languages spoken at one time.

I  haven’t been back in rural Rwanda long enough to assess my feelings.  I had to go back to America; I didn’t have to come back to Rwanda. I had appointments to manage, licenses to renew, certifications to maintain, and medical appointment to see about.  These are things I could not do from Rwanda, and these licenses weren’t something I was willing to let lapse.  I also took the GRE, and while I could have done that in Rwanda, it was just easier to do from America. I wanted to see my people, and despite all the rumors you hear about Reverse Culture Shock, being back home felt ‘right.’  Oh sure, some things felt foreign, but overall, it felt comfortable, and I ‘adjusted’ real quick.

‘Light’ decorating… in my office at home

and the living room

There are decisions to be made for sure, but none of that has to happen right now. And for now, I can enjoy my remaining time in Rwanda whether it be weeks, months, or two years, hang out with friends, and enjoy exploring this tiny, yet incredibly diverse country.

The real reason I was home… Rwanda is exceedingly difficult to navigate on crutches.

one month later, I’m back in the woods…. Not 100%… but 100% better than walking on crutches

Breaking the rules in Aberdeen, Scotland

Ignorance is no excuse

One of the very few things I remember from my Business Law class is ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse,’ nor is it a valid defense.  However, in Aberdeen not only did I unknowingly break several laws, had I been caught, ignorance would have been my only defense.

Aberdeen is not quite the Scottish Highlands, but it is getting closer. Aberdeen is Scotland’s third largest city behind Edinburgh and Glasgow, and its location on the North Sea gives it an amazing coastline and busy shipping docks.

Nearly everything in the town is constructed with granite mined from the Rubinslaw Quarry. The quarry was active for nearly 300 years, but was closed in 1971. Now it’s a big giant hole in the ground filled with 40+ years of rainwater.

Sheriff’s court

History Nerd Alert #1:

Robert I, popularly known as Robert the Bruce, was King of Scots from 1306 until his death in 1329. Robert was one of the most famous warriors of his generation, eventually leading Scotland during the Wars of Scottish Independence against England.

Marischal College–now a civic building in Aberdeen

History Nerd Alert #2:

A mercat cross is the Scots name for the market cross found frequently in Scottish towns, cities and villages where historically the right to hold a regular market or fair was granted by the monarch, a bishop or a baron. It therefore served a secular purpose as a symbol of authority, and was an indication of a burgh’s relative prosperity. Historically, the term dates from the period before 1707 when Scotland was an autonomous kingdom, but it has been applied loosely to later structures built in the traditional architectural style of crosses or structures fulfilling the function of marking a settlement’s focal point. (Thank you Wikipedia)  Aberdeen’s cross was constructed from granite and was designed by local architect John Montgomery in 1686.

History Nerd Alert #3

The Gordon Highlanders was the name of a British Army Infantry Regiment. It was active from 1881 to 1994, and I always thought that Gordon Highlander was a single person in Scotland’s history.

They used to hold public executions in the spot across from Old Blackfriar’s pub. Nothing like a good public execution to stir up an appetite for fine Scotch and good grub.

St. Nicholas Church

Courtyard at St Nicholas

I’m not very good at following rules. It’s a badge of honour that I have not yet ever spent time in jail.  I certainly have done some things in my time that could have landed me there. In my wanderings out and about in Aberdeen, I have inadvertently broken the following Scottish laws today:  [I can only hope that I don’t end up at the roofless Scottish prison in Edinburgh]

  1. Took pictures in a shopping center
  2. Took a picture of a police car and perhaps a police man[person]
  3. Touched an old rusted propeller in a museum that had it labeled as something “too fragile to touch”
  4. Read an article in a magazine in a store without purchasing it
  5. Took pictures in a church
  6. Took pictures of Scottish people without their permission [ In my defense though, no one will be able to recognized the aforementioned Scottish people.]

Aberdeen–you are a beautiful, unexpected breath of fresh air.

Museums of Broken Relationships

2018 Michelle here:  This museum I found in Zagreb, Croatia is perhaps one of the more interesting museums I’ve ever been in [The Sex Museum in Naples is another].  While Zagreb is no uber charming city, this museum had me enthralled.  The end of a relationship is always a trying time for everyone involved even if it’s just a ‘whew, I dodged that bullet’ thought. But I’ve never thought of putting my relationship detritus in a museum for other to look at.  Let this be a reminder that atypical museums can be some of the more educational/informative/pleasurable.


A break-up is like a broken mirror:  it’s better to leave it alone than to hurt yourself picking up the pieces.

His name was Michael. Today is his birthday. I shouldn’t remember that, but I do. When we met he was 32, and I was 24. We met at work.  I loved his sense of humour and he loved my adventurous spirit.  We were friends first.  Nearly a year, before anything more than friendly happened.  But as is often the case between men and women, something did happen.  I practically dared him to kiss me, and when he did, it was as if time stood still. July 19, 2004…after lunch. The kiss lasted exactly 42 seconds.  I know because I had a digital atomic clock on the wall in my office.  The kiss touched every neuron in my body, and for the first time in my life, I felt alive.

I named him “Nobody” and he called me “Girl. ”  If people asked me who I was dating, and they did because people love to meddle in the affairs of others, I’d say “Nobody.” If people asked him who we was seeing, he’d say “Just some girl.”  It was our secret, and it was exciting.

We carried on our secret affair for 18 months –until I moved away…co-workers weren’t supposed to date. And even after moving to a different state, the thought of him was like a drug.  We were like addicts addicted to each other; couldn’t stay away, yet couldn’t get enough.

broken relationship 4

The first step in recovering from an addiction is admitting that there is a problem, and oh boy, there was.  Michael was as strong as any drug I’d ever encountered, and willpower alone wasn’t enough to make me quit him.  Over time I came to rely on a power greater than myself and contact with Michael became more and more sparse.  Withdrawal is a painful master.  There was physical pain.  There was emotional pain. There were tears.

broken relationship 5
There were no stuffed worms. No legs were broken in this break-up.


The last conversation I had with him was right before I left for Moscow.  He said “you always did want to go places.” and I said “I will always love you, but this will be the last time I tell you that.”  And I haven’t had contact with him since.  After returning from Moscow, I wanted to call him.  I wanted to tell him all the amazing adventures I had.  Instead, I got a cat.  I named her Lily. She was a sweet cat.

Lily helped me heal.

I still have a post card he gave me. And ticket stubs for various events. And a necklace. And various little notes.  What can I say, I’m a sentimental soul.

broken relationships 1

I knew before I went to Zagreb that I wanted to go to the museum of broken relationships. I find it  fascinating to see what people keep as mementos from relationships.  Not every relationship ends on a sour note.  Some have other obstacles that time just could not overcome.  Some just aren’t meant to be.  Some exist solely to prepare you for the future.  Michael was not my first boyfriend, but he was my first love, and without that relationship, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I’ve held on to the mementos of the relationship with Michael for 15 years, and karma, good energy, and such being what it is, it’s time to release that energy into the universe. Good bye Michael.


PS...I have a slight confession to make.  One time I was dating this guy.  His name was James. Now I knew that the relationship with James was never going to be long-term, but he was ummm, fun, and I had recently broken up with a cheating bastard I caught with another woman.  I made James brownies for his birthday.  I left them on the kitchen table with a ‘Happy Birthday’ note.  I came over the next day to find everything in the trash. I was pissed to say the least. Livid. Irate. Incensed. A seething cauldron of raging fumes; you get the idea. He was being such an ass. I went to the local World Market, bought a bottle of cheap $7 Il Bastardo wine, and switched it out for his fancy $200 bottle of French Bordeaux.  My friend and I drank the rich, velvet wine while sitting in her hot tub cursing all the shallow men in the world.  I still feel no shame in taking Il Bastardo’s prized bottle of red wine.

In retrospect, the Il Bastardo was still probably pretty good.  After all it comes from Tuscany and is a Sangiovese so probably still good. I really would have like to have smashed Il Bastardo over the bastard’s head, but I got my revenge in other ways that even though the statute of limitations has passed, I’ll still keep my mouth shut because some things are just better left unsaid [or in this case… things are better left un-typed].

at least no axes were ever involved in any of my break-ups

PPS…Names and dates have been changed to protect the innocent…Except Il Bastardo.

PPPS...If I dated women, I’d totally give every.single.one I ever broke up with this bar of chocolate.

broken relationship 6

39 photos of spectacular places to be dead

     It’s October… one of my favorite months.  For starters, college football is in full swing.  Baseball is in its play-off period.  European football has gotten over its opening schedule shockers, and ice hockey starts up at the end of the month.  It’s also one of my favorite seasons for traveling.  For a few years, I took the month of October off from work and traveled, and those were some of my best trips.   The weather is nice … cool, but not cold… surprising warm days mixed in, and Halloween… my favorite holiday of the year.

So to celebrate my favorite month of the year, I’ll be featuring some of my favorite cemeteries in the world.  I LOVE, love, love, visiting cemeteries. [and I love cats… any coincidence that cats like to hang out a cemeteries…. I think not] They fascinate me [cemeteries not cats]… Fancy ones like Pere LaChaise in Paris and Recoleta in Buenos Aires. Solemn ones like Arlington National just outside Washington DC and the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague. Old ones like Magnolia in Charleston, SC and Bonaventure in Savannah, Georgia. Eclectic ones like merry cemetery in Săpânţa, Romania, and the Mayan cemetery in Xcaret. Odd ones like the crypt of the Capuchin monks in Rome… None of it matters.  If I hear of an ‘interesting’ cemetery…whether its old and crumbly or happy and bright or austere and serene, I’m there.

Some of my favorite final resting places from around the world

1.  Pere-LeChaise Cemetery, Paris France

I spent a day in Paris.  I know what you are saying…’Only one day, impossible’, but it’s true.  I  watched fireworks at the Eiffel Tower and hung out with the dead.  Paris is awesome.

2.  Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina

years ago, I was in Buenos Aires.  It was my birthday.  Instead of doing something fancy like going to a tango show, I went to Recoleta and hung out with the dead.  And the cats.

3.  Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA, USA

I stand up straighter and walk a little taller when I visit Arlington.  It’s impressive, quiet, and simple.  American soldiers. Clean white tombstones.  A Marine guard.  It doesn’t get more solemn than this.

4.  Jewish Cemetery, Prague, Czech Republic

On a snowy day in January 2013, I visited the Jewish Cemetery in Prague.  I think I was the only living thing around.

5.  Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, South Carolina

Southern cemeteries are awesome.  Spanish moss hanging down gives everything a spooky appeal, and the humidity makes everything rust and age rather quickly.

6.  Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia

They say Bonaventure is haunted.  If you go there at night, it certainly feels that way.

7.  Mayan Cemetery, Xcaret, Mexico

Confession time:  this is a fake cemetery.  It’s a creation of what a lot of Mexican cemeteries do on El Dia de los Muertos….this one is a lot cleaner, though.  The Mayans didn’t actually bury their dead.

8. Merry Cemetery, Săpânţa, Romania

It’s happy.  It’s bright.  It’s weird.  Go there. See for yourself.  These dead peeps are having the time of their lives.

9.  Crypt of the Capuchin Monks, Rome, Italy

Eerie.  Spooky…Bone-chilling…Fascinating…I wonder if the Monks know their bones are being used as decorations.  I’m not a Monk, but I’d love to donate my femur [you know, once I’m done with it] for a clock or better yet, the handle of the scythe of the Grim Reaper

10.  Monumental Cemetery, Milan, Italy

Morbid statues.  Fascinating pageantry.  Marble slabs of decaying flowers.  Ingenious.

11.  Hanging Coffins, Sagada, Philippines

If heaven is up, and hell is down, wouldn’t you rather be hanging on the side of a cliff instead of buried in a hole?

12.  Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, Russia

Boris Yeltsin, Anton Chekhov, Gherman Titov…I’m a bit fascinated with Russia and the dead Russians.  If you can’t qualify for the Kremlin, Novodevichy is a fantastic second choice.

13. Hallstat Ossuary, Hallstat, Austria

Oooh…more bones….since I’m donating my femur to the Monk, the Ossuary can have my skull, but only if they paint a pretty design on it.

My Favourtite European Cities

I have traveled a lot. Not as much as some, but a lot more than most of the people I deal with on a daily basis. I often get asked what’s my favorite city/country area, and it’s hard to say.  Sometimes it depends on my mood.  Sometimes it depends on the reason they are asking.  So, I’ve come up with a list to answer what’s my favorite.  OK two lists:  one for smaller cities and one for European capitals.

First up, my favorite European cities.

  1.  Kotor, Montenegro
  2.  Belgrade, Serbia
  3.  St. Petersburg, Russia
  4.  Krakow, Poland
  5.  Bwets-y-Coed, Wales
  6. Cardiff, Wales
  7. Quedlinberg, Germany

Next, my favorite European capitals.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that, in general, I don’t love large cities. Luckily for me, some of Europe’s capital cities are quite small.  Europe is so diverse and every country is so different that it is often impossible to make fair comparisons.

 London, England

 

I have been to London 5 times, but only in the last two years have I gotten out and truly explored the city.  I have barely cracked the surface, and there is so much more to explore. I am absolutely head over heels for it. If I could magically get a work visa and a job offer in London [not sure if the NHS hires foreigners or if I’d want to work there, but I digress], I would move there tomorrow; that’s how much I love it. I’ve never pictured myself living in a big city — until I finally explored London for the first time.

Things I love about London:

    • The variety — neighborhoods, food,  museums, parks, historical sites; they’re all here
    • The location — London is situated perfectly to explore Europe, which this traveler loves.  The only time I haven’t flown into London for a European holiday was when I solely toured Italy.
    • The Englishness — the Tube, the castles, the red  double decker buses, the black cabs, the pubs, the tea… it’s all so quintessential English!

Berlin, Germany

At the Olympic Stadium in Berlin

 

 

Berlin doesn’t get the attention than Munich or Bavaria does, but that’s OK by me…  I’ve never been one to fall for surface flashiness, and on the surface Berlin is grungy, but it’s OK.  I’m not ashamed to admit it: I am in love with Berlin.  You could actually say that it was love at first sight, as I felt an immediate connection with Berlin from the moment I arrived. I don’t know if it’s the alternative culture, the history, or a mixture of the two that draws me to Berlin. But there’s no denying that it’s a place I can see myself spending a lot of time in in the future.

Things I love about Berlin:

    • The history — from Nazis during WWII to the  Berlin Wall during the Cold War, Berlin has a fascinating (and very recent) history
    • The creative side — because I have a soft spot for hipsters and street art
    • The vibe — it’s a little gritty and a little alternative, but Berlin is evolving in a way that I find very  exciting.

Budapest, Hungary

August 2015–Danube River–basking in the summer moonlight

I never planned to go to Budapest at least not the first time, but a cheap flight  from Geneva on EasyJet had me landing there one  January afternoon, and my oh my was is bone-chillingly cold.  The capital of Hungary was a bit of a surprise for me — I never expected to like it as much as I did. But, whether it was strolling along the Danube, visiting the Semmelweis Museum, or soaking at the Szecheni Baths while watching snow fall,  I found myself loving everything about Budapest. It’s also seriously awesome ( and hot!) in the summer.

Things I love about Budapest:

    • The two halves of the city — the Buda and Pest sides of the city have completely different feels to them.
    • The bridges — which are attractive and offer up nice views of the Danube.
    • The buildings — from Parliament to Fisherman’s Bastion to Buda Castle, there’s plenty of amazing architecture here to view.

Edinburgh, Scotland

 

The capital of Scotland is one city that I probably will never tire of visiting. It’s not a large capital like the others listed here, but it still has a unique character all its own. Whether it’s roaming around the Old Town or climbing up to quieter parts like Calton Hill, Edinburgh is always enjoyable — even in that unpredictable Scottish weather.

Things I love about Edinburgh:

    • The architecture — with the gorgeous Victoria Street being my favorite example
    • The history — the entire city is recognized by UNESCO, which tells you something
    • The people– Scottish people are a treasure

Cardiff, Wales

Cardiff Castle–Cardiff is home of the 2017 champions league and the Welsh dragon is guarding the trophy.

Cardiff, the smallest capital in the UK doesn’t get near as much attention as London, Dublin, or even Edinburgh, but it’s still pretty amazing. Only two hours by train from London, and 45 minutes to Bristol, you can easily get to a bigger city quickly if the small town feel of Cardiff starts to get to you.

Things I love about Cardiff:

  • The size–For a capital city, Cardiff is small.  And that makes it easy to navigate. And that makes me happy.
  • It’s location–Cardiff is perched on a river, quite close to the Atlantic Ocean, and on the Wales Coast Path.  Coastal Welsh weather is unpredictable, but on nice days, Cardiff is close enough to the beach to make an afternoon of it.
  • The Language–Welsh is a language I’ll probably never master, but I love that every single sign is in both Welsh and English.  The history and architecture are pretty great too.

It’s no secret that I prefer small cities to large ones, but this list is a good mix of both large cities and small villages.

 

Photos to make you want to move to Wales

To date there are 195 different countries in the world and I have visited roughly 1/3 [65] of them. To some that’s simply an amazing accomplishment; to others, it’s a drop in the bucket.  When I think that I’ve yet to visit anywhere in Africa, Oceania, or Asia, there’s still a lot of the world left for me to see.

Even though there is still a lot of the world left for me to visit, there are a few corners of the world that I find myself returning to again and again.  Within the US [and to a lesser extent, Canada], I find myself drawn to the Pacific North West.  PNW is almost as foreign in every way to South Carolina as say Berlin. We speak the same language, but that’s about all we have in common. I love this region so much, that I’ll probably live there at some point in my life.

I’ve also been to Mexico several times, even living there for a year. Germany, especially Berlin, feels like home, and surprisingly so does Budapest and St Petersburg. I’d love to return to Mendoza, and I’ve set foot in some part of the United Kingdom every year since 2012. London is amazing, but the area of the UK that has totally won my heart is the often overlooked western part, the wild and rugged Wales.

There are so many things to love about Wales, from the UK’s smallest capital, Cardiff, to the  incredible Wales Coast Path. North Wales boasts of the Isle of Anglesey and the incredible Snowdon National Park. Sheep and cats rule the countryside, and  the Welsh language is difficult beyond measure, but sounds amazing when spoken by a native. The Welsh accented English is my favorite English dialect. The best part of Wales is how relatively few tourists go there, and how sparsely populated the country is

I freaking LOVE Wales [although I do admit, Scotland is a close second].

And to convert you to #TeamWales, here are some of my favorite photos from one of my favorite places in the world.

[A word of caution: These photos may indeed make you want to pack your bags and move to Wales ASAP. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.]

 

cottage-by-the-sea-pembrokeshire

cats-love-fish1

snowdon-sunset

 

 


018601-02

The-White-Arch irish sea anglesey wales

 

The difference time makes

I had always heard that I would have a better time in my  30s than my 20s. I was skeptical; how could older be better?  It’s fitting that a decade after my first adventure, I’ve started evaluating my past choices and wondering what my 20-something year old self would think of me now:

Love Prior to leaving for Mexico I agreed to marry my [then] boyfriend.  He didn’t want me to go, and I agreed more as a way to not hurt his feelings than because I really wanted to marry him.  I knew as soon as he tried to talk me out of going that he was not the one for me.  I wanted [want] to be with someone who will support my decisions not try to change them.  I wanted [want] to be with someone who has his own dreams but is not afraid to support mine as well. Prior to leaving for South America, I did everything possible to salvage my most significant relationship since, but it didn’t work either. BUT HE NEVER TRIED TO STOP ME FROM  GOING.  I wanted him to go with me, and thought about him constantly.   Sometimes I wonder if it would have worked out had I not gone to South America.

I climbed to the top of the pyramid back in 2000, but I’ve heard these days, that isn’t allowed.

Children I have always claimed to not want to have children of my own.  Ten years ago, I was convinced that I never would have considered having children.  Now I still don’t think it will happen, but I do occasionally have thoughts about some nebulous future children. Also these day I have little people in my life that love their “Auntie Chelle”.

Passion I have always had a passion for photography. My first camera was a 110 model that I received in 2nd grade.  My early trips to England and Mexico sparked my passion for traveling. I have recently [rediscovered] a passion for medicine.  I hope to be able to combine the three [travel, photography, and medicine]  of them at some point in the future.

Ambition I moved to Mexico to study Mayan art and architecture. I had dreams of returning to the US to start graduate school in International Business and making it big. Ten years later my younger self would be hard pressed to recognize me now.  Not only did I eschew the business world for the medical one, I also went back to school to get a degree in Microbiology, and now I’m working towards becoming a nurse practitioner.  My younger self avoided science like the plague; my older one is attracted to it like nothing else.

Fear I had no fear when I was younger…  jumped right into things.  I’m not sure if I was brave or just naive. Now I imagine all the ways I could injure myself… or someone could injure me.  In Mexico, I jumped 40 feet into a cenote. I went swimming with sharks.  I stared down a bull [OK, he was a baby bull, but he still could have hurt me].  I’m trying to regain some of that, letting go of my fears and embracing the unknown. Traveling to places I didn’t plan. Sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn’t.  I’m not exactly sure why I didn’t have a guidebook as the Internet existed but certainly didn’t have the proliferation of information that it does now about travel.  I  just jumped on buses and found accommodation when I arrived. I didn’t have anxiety about how to get there, or where I would stay.

It wasn’t all great. I remember once going to one hotel on the Mexican/Guatemalan and the guy at reception told me I didn’t want a room even though I insisted on looking at one. That’s because I didn’t notice the locks– everywhere.  It should have been a clue that it wasn’t the safest place around, but it was late, I was tired, and the border was closed.  I got in the ‘room’, dropped my stuff, and headed for the showers.  The bathroom had a toilet seat barely hanging on and a  pipe stuck out of the wall.  I could pee and shower at the same time.  After the shower, I heard my first gunshot.  I locked the door, set an alarm, and prayed for a few hours sleep.  As soon as the lights went out, the bugs came out.  Gunshots I could deal with–cucaraches as big as my shoes I could not.  I packed up determined to get the hell out of there–even if it was 1 am.  The hotel compound was locked up.  I banged on the metal doors until someone came to let me out.  He said it wasn’t safe.  I said I didn’t care.  He let me out, and I walked the five kilometers in the border town where the Zapatistas were active.  Not the smartest things I have ever done.  I wouldn’t conceived of doing it now, but at 20 I had no fear.

 

But those are the badges of traveling and I earned many of them. I loved meeting other people and hung out with the few younger people who lived in Campeche.  There wasn’t many Americans so I had to hang out with the locals.  I didn’t know the value of that now, but being forced to speak Spanish, watch the novelas, eat the ‘traditional’ food, and assimilate into daily Mexican life was a godsend.   In Peru, I lived with a host family while working at the clinic. Their kindness was overwhelming and they had a dog and a cat which was a godsend when I was homesick for Lily and Lucy . They took care of me when I had malaria.  I don’t know if I would have died or not, but by having someone around, I did get the treatment I needed.

The changes in me have been gradual but profound; I’m not the same person but much better and much of it due to traveling.  I don’t know who I’d be if I hadn’t experienced life this way.

Wanderlust

Wanderlust

I do not think that means what you think it means… Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride.

 

The English word “wanderlust” already existed in German dating as far back as High Middle German. The first documented use of the term in  English occurred in 1902 as a reflection of what was then seen as a characteristically German predilection for wandering that may be traced back to the  German system of apprenticeship, as well as the adolescent custom of the ‘Wanderbird’ seeking unity with Nature.

 

The term originates from the German words wandern (to hike) and Lust (desire). The term wandern, frequently misused as a false cognate does in fact not mean “to wander”, but “to hike.” Placing the two words together, translated: “enjoyment of hiking”, although it is commonly described as an enjoyment of strolling, roaming about or wandering.

 

I am a wanderer… both in the historic sense of the word and the modern.

 

I grew up an introvert, sensitive, an only child, and a bookworm with a keen desire to explore beyond my boundaries.  Pictures exist of me, I could not have been more than three years-old, packing a bag and leaving home. Of course, at three, I never really went anywhere. I saved the real adventure until I was five. [but that’s a story for another day].  I was athletic and sporty;  I lived for summer basketball and soccer camp.  Then later, volleyball and softball camp. I loved being away from home, hanging out on college campuses, and imagining when I would finally be able to leave my small town for good. I was 8 and already imaging life at 18.

I come from a long line of homebodies, inwardly jealous of friends and classmates who went to ‘the beach’ every summer. Or Disney World. Or anywhere really.  My dad’s idea of a vacation was a weekend trip to Atlanta to watch the Braves or a fall Saturday to Clemson or Columbia to watch college football. Week-long or even multiple week vacations were unheard of in my family.  My fondest junior high memory was of being left behind at Martin Luther King center in downtown Atlanta.  Upon returning from the restroom, my entire class was no where to be found. Cell phones were in their infancy; no one I knew had one. But I knew the city well enough, or at least how to get to the ballpark.  I was 13, and on my own in the big city (at least for a while). It. Was. Fucking. Awesome. Right then and there I knew I’d been bitten by the travel bug.

 

There’s a word in Korean that means the inability to get over one’s addiction to travel, a perpetual case of wanderlust. Once the travel bug has bitten, it indicates, there is no cure.

 The fixation with traveling that began with memorizing world capitals and drawing country flags on notebooks took on a life of its own. At 14, I managed to sneak away from home for two days, take the train to Baltimore, watch a baseball game, and get back home without my absence being noticed.  And once I’d gotten my driver’s license, the back roads and hiking trails of South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia became intimately familiar.  I was determined to go everywhere… working on a bucket list that didn’t yet have a name.

Chichen Itza

I’ve never been one to advocate for quitting one’s job in order to see the world. Yes, I have worked in jobs I hated and for companies I hated even more. I’ve worked in jobs or positions that I absolutely knew was just a paycheck.  But I knew that this was temporary. I was waiting for one or two thing to happen and then I was out of there.  I’ve always known that working these jobs would allow me to pursue my dreams.  I worked PRN-status for 10 years so that I’d be able to create my own schedule and take time off when I wanted to.  Everything I’ve done has contributed to my seemingly disparate goals of 1: seeing as much of the world as possible and 2: becoming a nurse practitioner.  One is not mutually exclusive of the other.

I got my first real job, other than the odd thing here and there, when I was 18.  It was working in a home improvement store where I learned to mix paint, use a commercial saw, and do basic electrical things.  I also had to count nuts and bolts by hand during inventory. I was by far the youngest person working there although there were a few guys that worked there on their college break. For most of my co-workers, this was there career.  They were satisfied with their two weeks’ vacation and only being closed three days a year.  I made nearly $5000 that first year; I had to file taxes and thought I’d amassed a fortune.  I made another $4000 working in a factory spring semester of my freshman year.  Oh God, how I hated that job. I sat there, loading parts on a machine, conjugating French, German, or  Spanish verbs in my head, thinking ‘this is why I’m in college…’

The ultimate goal was to earn enough money to spend my junior year of college studying abroad in some as-of-yet-undetermined major.[Spoiler alert: that never happened]

At 19, I had the chance to go to England for two weeks; I jumped at the opportunity.  When things didn’t go as planned, instead of coming home and working at the factory yet again, I stayed three months. I still have the journal I wrote it when I left Atlanta. It’s funny now… and telling.

“I’m on a plane to London via Amsterdam. I AM ON A PLANE.”

“I JUST ORDERED A BLOODY MARY FOR DINNER.  AND THEY BROUGHT IT. I HAVE ARRIVED*”

“TRAVELING IS AMAZING”

A series of travel mishaps later, I end up at the flat of a friend of a friend of a friend. The flat was empty. The landlord came and asked how I knew of this place. I told my story. No, I’d never met the previous tenant. Yes, I was only visiting. No, I didn’t want to rent it, but then, I was offered the deal of a lifetime–200 pounds/month for June, July and August for a 1 bedroom/1 bath in Stafford, England. My dorm room cost more than that. I said yes and after some international finagling of funds, I had $5000 transferred to me** and that is what I lived on that summer.

It’s not a gothic cathedral without stunning stained glass

That summer, I traveled. To Wales. To Scotland. To Ireland. And around England. I ate and drank in pubs. I learn to play darts. And cricket. And drink whisky. I met up with different people every week.  It was the life I’d always wanted. The day before I was to come back, I was in the pub with the friends I’d made this summer when I saw a guy I’d never seen before. He was scruffy and despite drinking a pint of Guinness, was clearly out of place of the regulars.  I went over, dart in hand, and said “hey, wanna play?”

His name was Nick or Mick. Or maybe it was Mark.  I don’t remember. He was from Australia. Or New Zealand. Those details are fuzzy now.  But he was well-traveled. Meeting up with a cousin before heading back home. Or something like that.  He was tanned in a way you can’t get in England and spoke of places like Chaing Mai, Siam Reep, and Angor Wat. I was mesmerized. And impressed. “Wow, you travel a lot.” He took a long swallow of his Guinness before answering me, foam still on his lips.

“Trying to. The world is an awfully big place and there’s always more to see.”

“That’s true.  Well, do you play or not.” I was trying not be be impressed by the late 20 something sexy stranger.

“Why not?”

“Good. You can be on my team.”

He told me about his running with the bulls in Spain and working on a farm in France. How he worked his way through Thailand and Vietnam. He told me about the spice markets in Istanbul and Marrakesh.  And about eating guinea pigs in Ecuador and piranhas in Brazil. I had never met anybody like him.  I had never met anyone who was doing what I wanted to do. I was spellbound.  Amid pints and double old fashions, he  grabbed me around my waist and pulled me away from everyone, kissed me hard on the mouth. At that moment, my world stopped. Mesmerized by those green eyes and mop of black hair. I had one throw left, and it was almost too perfect that I hit the bullseye to win.

I spent the rest of the night nuzzled in the pub, making out with the cute boy from far away, listening to his enticing travel tales telling myself that one day I’d be the one telling those tales. The details of that night have faded, but the feelings of knowing a life of adventures were waiting for me if only I had the courage to see it through has never left me.

 
*My very first alcoholic drink was at 30,000 feet flying over the Atlantic Ocean.  I have never felt more adult… more cool in my life than when I ordered and subsequently drank that first alcoholic drink

**International banking was a lot more complicated in the 2000’s than it is now.  I had $5000 wired to me and stashed the cash in a secret place in the flat. The secret place is the same secret place I stash cash in my current apartment.