Sunday, March 27, 2005


Kenya was great. It is really hard to do it justice however, without showing all the pictures from the safari. I spent just a little time in Mombasa, and it seems like a great city, one I would definitely like to spend more time in. Folks who went to Nairobi said that it was a lot of fun, so I guess next time I safari I’ll have to allot a little more time for city visits.

I went to Tsavo and Amboseli, two national parks. Our group saw 4 of the Big 5; we unfortunately missed out on the rhino eventhough Tsavo has a rhino sanctuary. Oh well. But explaining about Kenya really needs the aid of pictures, so you will all have to wait until I get home to hear about it.

At the moment we are where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic, and it is rough outside. Not, of course, like it was on wave day, but the waters and winds are rough. We learned that Europeans didn’t stop here for a long time, and I now understand why. I have heard such amazing things about Cape Town, and I cannot wait to get of the ship tomorrow. It is really beautiful outside though, great view of the coast.

I’ll let you all know how Cape Town was soon enough.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

we are semester at sea

We are semester at sea.
We know what it is to leave home for places unknown.
We have heard The Voice’s voice tremble in fear.
We know what it is to be shipwrecked.
We know what it is to be hopeless in the middle of the Pacific.
We have been saved.
We have surfed, hang-10ed.
We have flown when others have shipped.
We have climbed to Great Wall, seen the Forbidden City, used Chop Sticks.
We have been begged, gave, turned away.
We have hopped the islands of Halong Bay.
We have walked in the Killing Fields of Cambodia.
We have climbed through the tunnels that assisted in the death of thousands.
We have seen the destruction of the Tsunami.
We have ached for the Tsunami People.
We have seen the Taj Mahal, seen the pyres on the Ganges in Vernasi.
We have swum in the Arabian Sea.
We have stayed in people’s homes that have nothing yet offer everything.
We will have seen elephants, giraffes, hippos, and rhinos.
We will have seen Table Mountain towering over the tip of Africa.
We will have flown through the sky, swum with the sharks.
We will have seen the streets of Rio, hiked in the Amazon.
We will have visited the beaches of Margarita Island.
We will have ended up where we started.
We will see it new, we will never be the same.

So many things are constant in my/our lives. I have never had to worry about where I would get food for my next meal. I have now seen people starving. I have never had to worry about having shelter. I have now seen the Tsunami people. The world carries a lot more than just us, yet we put the most weight on its shoulders. We have life the easiest, yet we demand the most. It is difficult to help the rest of the world when so many people don’t know what kind of or how much help they need. It would be a different story if we could look outside the window in our air-conditioned home to see the rubble of the Tsunami in our front yards. If we had to drive the streets of Ho Chi Min City in our luxury cars, we could more easily appreciate the pollution and overpopulation that many people tell us are problems in the rest of the world. Maybe globalization will bring these things right in front of us.

5 year olds begging, stray dogs, goats, monkeys, cows, elephants, dry latrines, uniform apartments in uniform apartment buildings city block after city block. These are difficult things to witness, but we have all seen them now, and we still have more to see. You can’t un-see them. But who else sees them? All of us came on this trip because we wanted to see these things, wanted to know what was out there that we have hear about but have never seen. But what about the people that don’t believe, don’t know, or don’t care? What about the people who think they need to deal with their own problems before they can help solve the problems of others? What about those whose world consists only of their front and back lawn?

We have learned about economics, and global economics. We have learned about politics, and global politics. We have learned about business, and global business. The first is very different from the second. We have lived where you can’t live on $12,000 a year, and we have been to where people have to live on $1 a day. I don’t know if I now (only half way through) enjoy every luxury that much more or that much less now. America is not the world, not everyone speaks English, not everyone watches Baseball, and not everyone is Christian. In fact, very few people do these things. We must step out of comfort ourselves, and push others out if they won’t follow. These are important lessons to learn, but everyone needs to learn them and time is limited. We are growing, fast. I believe that war, disease, famine are present to remind us that there is limited space here. Find peace here, and a new conflict will break out there. Cure this disease, and a new one will spring into existence. Feed one group, and another will go hungry. We can ease these problems, make them less horrific, but to eradicate them is simply impossible. Every life that we extend keeps a mouth around to be fed. The population is increasing because people are not dying, even though birth rates are dropping.

I can’t pose a solution, or even attempt at one. I just know that I have seen things that I know need to be fixed. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Fix it. There are some amazing people with some amazing ideas, but for every one of them there are so many more people who think backwards and work against the former. Gandhi was assassinated. MLK Jr. was assassinated. That is obviously not the correct way to fix problems. But there are over 6 billion people walking around, and hopefully one of them can add some insight. If not, soon there will be 10 billion, and maybe one of them will have an idea.

The anti-malaria pills give me strange dreams at night. Dreams with color, sound, and smell. They put real life situations in front of me sometimes. They are incredibly vivid, and sometimes awful. I woke from one of these this morning at around 6am. One person fell overboard, and the captain announced that we were not stopping to get him. There was an outrage; people became furious and demanded that we save the person who fell off. The captain explained that he wouldn’t bring him with us, because we were the ones who were doomed. 1 in 700 was saved. I don’t know if this is a good statistic for people living in luxury vs. people living in poverty, but it sounds about right after what I have read and seen.

Instead of going back to sleep, I decided to write it down.

Monday, March 14, 2005

so apperantly there is this thing called neptune day when a ship crosses
over the equator. well, that happened today (3/13), and it was quite
fun. one of the traditions on neptune days is that you cut all your
hair off. since its coming off anyway, a lot of us thought that we might
as well do something funny in to it while we still have it. so there
were a bunch of us walking around with anything from a mohawk to
bulls-eyes to me, who had the friar tuck. i looked like the friars from
robin hood, or the bald stooge, which ever you prefer. i got many
comments on it, either that it was the best, or the worst, both meaning
the same thing though. people would want to take pictures of it, but
because im tall, i had to bend my head down. so there are about 50
pictures of me on other peoples cameras (many people i dont know, too)
with my head tilted down and my bright bald head surrounded by hair.

this morning, they woke us up really early by parading around in warrior
outfits, banging on drums or pots and playing various instruments. we
went up to the 7th deck and were neptune and his wife were sitting in
front of the pool. we all had to recite a poem about the shellback (bald
head) fraternity and then proceded with the rest of the neptune day tradition. First they poured fish guts on us, then we had to jump in the pool which was thick with the fish guts that had been poured on everyone. We then got out of the pool, had to kiss a fish, got whipped (which Im sure they did a lot harder in the origional days), and finally kissed neptune's ring. after all of this, many guys, and even a few girls shaved their heads. we had the rest of the day off, so everyone just relaxed and applied a lot of sun screen to their newly bald head. all in all a good day.
3 days until kenya!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

india.. the land of contrasts. 3/10

land of contrasts is what everyone was calling india when they were explaining it to us. they said for every beautiful thing you see, there is something equally or more horrifying. the taj mahal is in india, and so are millions upon millions of homeless. where ever you drive around you see beautiful temples (along with the occasional church or mosque) and you also see people bathing in the street or begging in a way that really brakes your heart.
everyone speaks english here, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. the reason that everyone speaks english is that there are 324 languages spoken in india, and hindi, which is the most widely spoken, is only spoken by 40% of the population. many many speak english because they learn it in school, so they are able to talk with us. the reason this is good is because we can talk to them, tell them what they want, and they can talk and explain things to us. for the same reason is it bad that they speak english: we cant just walk away without feeling rude, we cant just walk away when bargaining for a lower price at the market like we could in china and viet nam. they will follow us and ask, "OK, so what would you pay for this?"
but it is wonderful being able to talk to people and get some insight into their lives. there are so many genuine people here which is something i did not expect at all in this magnitude. i had no plans for india, so on the first day a few friends and i went to the travel agent to figure out what we were going to do. as we leave the ship, we are absolutely swamped by taxi drivers and people trying to take us into their stores or sell us something on the street. (about the bad parts of them speaking english) they also make you feel bad that you would go in a different taxi, and tell you that friends wouldnt do that. our taxi driver that we randomly got to take us to the travel agent stayed with us the rest of the day. he drove us from place to place speaking to us in great english, one of his 15 languages that he spoke. he waited for us outside the travel agent, waited for us when we came back to the ship to change to get ready for dinner, took us to a great restaurant and a bar at the end of the night where we talked to him for probably an hour. he was hindi and didnt drink, but got very excited when we told him that we would pay for his pepsi. he really wanted to get to know us and was willing with any information that we asked from him.
and this story is by no means unique. another of my friends was taken to his taxi drivers house at the end of the night. his house was a mat on the floor which he shared with his wife and two children becuase his previous house was destroyed in the tsunami. and although he had nothing, he offered his watch to the students that were with him. they sat there and talked with him and his family for hours and finally had to ask to be taken home because it was getting late, and as they left the wife said that she would miss them and if they ever come back to find them and that they wont be living like they are anymore.
i can continue with stories like this forever, but im gonna talk about what i did in india instead. like i said, the first day was just travelling around chennai and going to the travel agent. the next morning we left for goa. we flew in a very small plane to bangalore and then to goa. it was interesting because our ticket said chennai to goa, but the only flight was to bangalore. we eventually figured it out, but it was an stressful few minutes thinking that we just bought tickets for nothing. after that, the flight went fine, and i had some of the worse food of my life on board it.
goa is an incredibly beautiful place, and we decided to go to northern goa basically at random. i think it wouldnt have really mattered where we went in goa, but im really happy with where we ended up. we stayed in a bungalo the first night at a very nice hotel which was right on beach. the staff was all very excited to see us, and they gave great recommendations for where we should eat and go later in the night. we also met some of the other guests (none american) some of whom have been coming back every year for over 20 years. after three nights and eating there the total came out to less than 80 dollars.
goa was a portugese colony until the mid 60s, 20 years after india gained its independence from england. although india as whole is 80% hindu, goa is 50% christian and 40% hindu. one person told me there are even a few jews somewhere. so there is obviously a stong portugese influence there, and we saw more churchs than temples. there is still the indian culture there, and one thing that i realized was the idolization. all of the taxi drivers have pictures in their taxi, and i thought that it was a hindu thing becuase of the shivas and ganeshes that i saw the first day in chennai. but in goa the taxis have pictures of jesus in the same location. they also have little shrines that they pray to and they pray much more like the hindu people pray to their gods.
the beach was gorgeous. the arabian sea is very strong and the waves come quicker and at a sharp angle. the sand was also very nice, very fine. there were chairs set up owned by various little shops on the beach. if you sat on their chairs they would come up and try to sell you some food or drinks or some shirts. there werent really any beggars however, unlike chennai, except for one man who lost the use of his legs from polio. we ended up chatting with him for a long while, and explained a lot to us.
we went to an amazing dinner that night and to a really fun club up on a hill after that. the next day we spent travelling around the area, did some shopping, and finished the day off at the beach again. again we went to an amazing dinner, and the owner sat down and talked with us for at least an hour before going to get his guitar and play for us until we ended up leaving. the next day we spent seeing the sights of goa, going to a museum and a few churches and cathedrals. they were old and very beautiful. you could walk in and go anywhere; there were no security ropes or anything along those lines that you would find in america or europe. we finished the day off with a third amazing dinner followed by the owner of this place talking with us for a while as well. he talked to us alot about business in india and how its getting easy to start a business in india than it was previously. he also said that wal-mart is coming to india, which made us upset but made him think only about how it can help india. finally, we left very early in the morning on tuesday to return to chennai. many of the wait staff had left their emails and adresses for us to contact them.
when we got back to chennai we spent the day going around the city in a rickshaw (a little three wheel taxi that you can hire for roughly a dollar to two dollars an hour. we went to many of the temples, but there is no way to go to all of them, so we went to a few of the more famous ones. its was a holiday for shiva that day so they were all very crowded which made it very interesting walking around. many people were praying and the monks were putting the paint on peoples forehead. very cool experience. the people that went to vernasi (the most holy place for hindus on the bank of the ganges) that day said that people were in line to be cremated in the river. absolutely amazing.
my last day we went to the cathedral of saint thomas, one of only two cathedrals built on top of the grave of one of jesus's desciples. it was a fairly modest church considering. right behind the church is one of the places where the tsunami hit. its was horrible. nothing but rubble. people were living in tents, fashioned out of some lose clothes tied to sticks put in the ground. they were probably 6 by 6 by 6, if that. they were all in a line, attached to each other, only seperated by one piece of cloth. people eat, sleep, and bathe in these little tents. as soon as we came there we were swarmed with beggars. we left (a difficult task), and we went to a store an bought a bunch of food to bring to them. we bought what we thought was a lot, but as soon as we showed up to bring it to them we realized that nothing we could have brought them could have been enough. we were crowded even more than before hand, people grabbing and pushing others out of the way. after we gave it out they couldnt understand that we didnt have more. one woman appologized for the crowding people and thanked me over and over and told me that i have to understand why these people are so forceful trying to get food. it was a very difficult and moving experience to put it in so few words.
we are now back on the ship heading for kenya.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

viet nam

when i first was thinking about this trip, one of the reasons that i was really excited was because i would be able to go to some places that i thought i would never be able to go again. i am realizing that all of these places i go are places that i will need to go again because they are so amazing. i was a little afraid of what viet nam would be like, just because i knew so little about it. viet nam surprised me so much with how much i enjoyed it, and i am definately not alone with these feelings. it was a little difficult at first because i had to get up at 4:45 two mornings in a row, but it ended up not really affecting me at all. i spent the first day in ho chi min city, and a few of us went to the market downtown. you can find absolutely anything you could ever imagine in this place. and the entire country is like a dollar store. they like american currency more than the viet namese dong, which is 15,000 to 1. i was a millionare in viet nam... very cool.

i was on the hanoi/ha long bay trip. we left very early morning for the airport and got there at like 9 in the morning. it was cold there, which no one was expecting, so we had to stop at some point to get jackets for people who forgot to bring them. the drive into the city was pretty intense, seeing the rice farmers and the places that some of these people leave. even the nicest places are very thin and a couple stories high. they are very beautiful, but it is just nothing that i am used to seeing. we went around the city a little, and went to the temple of literature. it was a cool little temple, and i liked the idea that knowledge without virture is as useless as virture without knowledge. we also saw a cool music performance there just by chance. after that we left for lunch and then a 4 hour ride to ha long bay. lunch was decent, i think i like it more than real chinese food. half way to ha long bay we stopped at a handicap village where they sent people with handicaps. it is a difficult concept to think about, and i still havent figured out if i think it is more good that they give them an oppurtunity to work or more bad that they actually have a village for these people. they made very nice arts and crafts though which was fun to look at. we went to sleep in one of the shittiest hotels ive ever stayed at after getting some dinner.

in the morning (tuesday) we went on a 4 hour boat trip in ha long bay. there are somthing like 4000 islands in the bay. we stopped at one with caves inside that you could walk through ; it had stalagtites and all that. we stopped at a little hut on the water and bought some shrimp for lunch. these people live in these huts on the water, and live on the food they catch and sell to other people. lunch was very good, freshly cooked sea food, some of which we had just bought. then the 4 hour bus ride back to hanoi where we got some dinner and saw a water puppet show. the water puppet show was extremely cool. hard to explain, but cool music and a fun show.

the next day we went to the museum of history and the musuem of war. the musuem of history was pretty self explainitory, but the museum of war was really eye opening. we then went to ho chi min's house and mosoleum. they have his body out for display which was pretty amazing to see. we went to the airport after that to return to ho chi min city.

we took thursday for shoping and getting some rest in. on friday i went to the cu chi tunnels which was really quite the experience. the vietnamese had built these tunnels when they were at war with the french. they are this network of tunnels which they could travel in and hide from the french/americans. there were bomb craters all over the place, and there was a shooting range there so when i would climb out of one of the tunnels i would hear guns being fired. it really made it feel like i was there during war.

now we are back on the ship finally. it got here on time, and everything is fixed except for the piano that was flipped over. it is kinda weird being back on the boat. there are a million different stories that people have and it is wonderful hearing them. everyone who went to cambodia had an amazing time, and they couldnt explain it but they said it was just somehow much different and more eye-opening than viet nam. lots of kids got sick there though, and one even had to go to the hospital over night. some kids went to different resort-like areas and had a blast there. but all in all i think everyone had an awesome time.