Category Archives: France

Return Traveling

I never meant to be a return traveler. The allure of more and more exotic passport stamps is pretty strong. Almost as strong as the allure of new and different countries. But at this point, I sit firmly in the category of a return traveler. I went to France in 2006 and returned in 2010. I went to Egpyt for six weeks in 2009 and returned for a long weekend in 2011. I went to Cuba in 2010 for three months and returned in 2012 for a month. I went to the Dominican Republic in 2011 and went back six weeks later. I have been to Canada and most of my domestic travel spots countless times.

It makes sense that I’ve become a return traveler. In many other ways, I am not like the typical traveler, or travel blogger. I prefer my stays to last a month at a minimum. I almost always speak the language. I research the history, culture, and politics heavily and before and during my stay. This is just another way of settling myself deeper into the places I go.

One value is that I get to see the changes. Pre- and post-Revolution Egypt look incredibly different, and I loved seeing how the place and people had changed. The progress in Cuba has been amazing, and I’ll be writing about it more later on. With the Republica Domincana, the two trips were close together but that meant everyone remember me. I had the great experience of keeping my promises and seeing Mata during the rainy season we had heard so much about. France is just a second skin, and getting to know that for sure forever erased any doubts I felt when I first visited in a sleep-deprived 16 year old haze.

If return traveling seems like a waste of time, I think it either means the place doesn’t work for you or you have a very different set of travel priorities than I do.  Maybe someday this will change for me, but for now I couldn’t be happier spending my last traces of un-adult life in Cuba, for the second time.  And I can’t wait to make my way back to Egypt, France, the Dominican and Cuba once more.

If I Wrote for Thought Catalogue, this is what it would look like

Paris is like that first love that will always hold your heart. You two can fall easily back into each other’s arms, where everything comes quickly, lasts long, and feels right.

Canada is like that guy from your hometown that you paw around every once in a while just to feel alive, or to remember how it felt when you were sixteen and everything you did with him was new and dangerous. You may go back every once in a while, but honestly sometimes you get more out of not even bothering.

Egypt is like your first time: different for everyone. But no matter how you found it, it will always have a grip on you. It will always make your pulse quicken and give your stomach a jolt like an electric shock. You may wander back when you’re not sure what else to do, and while it may welcome you back, it could just as easily chew you up and spit you out. You will always wonder what if, and Egypt will always be there to remind you and tempt you.

Benin is like a bad fling: been there, done that, no regrets and no returning. Unless it was for a really good reason…

Greece was like finally getting with the most popular guy in school and not really getting it. What’s all the fuss about? I was too tired and busy from the pursuit to even enjoy it. And anyway, shouldn’t he come to me?  Maybe someday it will be time for a reunion…

Cuba is that guy your mother wanted you about. Some call it abuse; others are jealous. Sometimes, those people are one and the same. He’s frustrating, mean, fickle and generally beyond human comprehension. He may depress you, confuse you, and even cheat on you, but he makes you feel like a queen. With him, you are a woman no one else ever see or creates in you. With him you are wild, free, fun, and young forever. You are powerful, flirtatious and just a wee bit dangerous. Anyone who tells you they’d rather be alone than by his side is lying or they don’t know what they’re missing.

For reference, this is Thought Catalogue.

Choosing a New Place

When I first heard about the Benin trip, and how it had a one-week France component, I was a little bummed.  I had already been to france, I already had that stamp.  But I think a lot changed when I was in Cuba. As the trip got closer, I thought of paris as a comfort, as a home in so many ways.  As a breath of fresh air, the way a weekend at my parents’ house can be. 

Now, when I think of bangladesh, I don’t think oh! Now I can say I’ve been to asia.  I don’t think about all the great proximate countries and how to cram them in as cheap as possible.  I think about how hard it will be to experience my first truly blind foreign language experience.  I think about how ill probably be alone, and what will I do for housing.  I think about how they treat women, and wonder whether harassment is prevalent. 

When I think about the Dominican Republic, I think of the comforts of Spanish and familiar food.  I think of the proximity to Cuba and Haiti.  I think about how going there three times in a six month period will be such an asset.  Of course, I also hope there will be enough food, and that I wont get sick of spending so much time there.

I think a lot, too, about the choices I don’t make.  Latin america isn’t supposed to be my focus area.  Shouldn’t I be in Africa or the Middle East?  Shouldn’t, as a friend suggested, I be running back to Cairo?

This is where it gets dicey and where I get all Bell Jar.  Each place I choose is a million I don’t.   And of course, money is always a factor, and my career, and the strength of what I intend to do in this new place. 

How do you pick where you live, go on vacation or work?  For me, a co-op abroad will be all of those things, in its own way.

My Perfect Souvenir

I try to make the most of what I buy.  I’m generally pretty frugal, with occasional bouts of Target, Old Navy and H&M madness.  I’m also secretly a hoarder.  As in, at almost 22 years of age I still own clothing from middle school.  Now that I finally can’t fit into it all anymore, I’m actually starting to get rid of it.

So how does an aspiring minimalist (I can hear the eye rolling from here!) buy good tokens from abroad, especially if she makes it a habit to travel?  Well, here are my guidelines for giving travel gifts to yourself.

  1. Give yourself an experience and a memory, instead of a thing. Riding on horseback through the Sahara, Hidalgo-style, at an ungodly hour of the night was one of the bets things ever.  We sang, we laughed, we fought, and we huddled around a great bonfire in galabiyas.  Some scoffed at how much we were spending (I don’t remember how much–apparently it wasn’t too tragic) but it definitely cost me less than all those extravagant dinners some of the scoffers were eating every other night.  I wouldn’t trade that night for the world.
  2. Stay away from tchotchkes. They are cheap, expensive and prone to break.  They also mean basically nothing, other than being proof that you went there.  Or to China, where they were made.
  3. Buy decorations. I’ve always wanted to be one of those cool adults who have a house full of foreign awesome, like Dan Hanson’s house.  His parents have all this great artwork and sculptures from far away lands, filled with stories and mystery.  How much cooler is that than a plastic Eiffel Tower statuette?  Besides, you’ll be able to use that decorations longer.
  4. Buy clothing and jewelry. I’ve gotten so many miles out of my bootylicious Egyptian skinny jeans, and I love being able to tell people where they’re from.  “Cairo,” just has a much better ring to it than “The Gap.”
  5. Go handmade, go local. People can always tell my stuff from Benin.  The crazy patterns are a dead giveaway, although strangers assume it’s from Ghana.  I love that my dress was custom-made, just for me, and I was able to stimulate the local economy (even if it did involve child labor.)
  6. Get something that everyone around you has. In Paris, that meant an ultra-cool black jacket.  In Cuba, it was an Industriales shirt, for Havana’s baseball team.  It means something to you, it can often be a bit of insider knowledge
  7. The unexpected things. One of my favorite souvenirs is a ring a stranger gave me in Cairo.  She and her boyfriend happened upon us: five hot, tired, thirsty, lost Americans.  With everyone’s language skills together, they took it upon themselves to bring us to a great local koshery spot.  They sat and talked with us, and even brought us around to a juice bar.  They knew we were from out of town and made it their personal mission to give us an amazing day.  So when she took a ring off her finger and put it on mine and said “it’s yours,” in Arabic, I made her repeat it just in case I misunderstood.  We all exchanged hugs, pictures and a few more tokens, and I will never see her again.  But that ring is a reminder of the attitude of the Cairenes I met, and how welcoming and sweet they can be.

What’s your perfect souvenir?  Do you even buy them?

Lesson Learned from Friends on the Road

  • You should always bring some of the clothes you love and rely on (Nellie) but should also buy/bring some basic stuff you don’t mind giving away (Rhiannon)
  • Of course, don’t be “that guy” who just gives away all their broken/dirty junk: give away the things you love, and it’ll come back to you (Deirdre)
  • Just do it, magn/There’s nothing you can do about it now, so have fun/shoes are lame (unless someone steals yours)/spend your nights under the stars (Kristina)
  • There is no right way to experience a country, so just do what makes you happy in the moment, and if you enjoyed the time while you spent it you can’t look back with regret (Abby)
  • Bring a book or two, and trade them away for others when you’re done.  After all, on the road, a new story is worth more than one you already know, and can easily find again (Emma)
  • If you really are the “whatever” person (like Avi The Army Guy or Julie The Yoga Girl) trust that everyone knows that already, and let them come to you if they want to know more (Julie and Avi. Duh.)
  • Bring all-purpose items, and travel speakers (Laurel, aka Leslie)
  • Don’t lend people your Coach/Ignore all negativity (Aliesha)
  • Be unapologetically ridiculous and enthusiastic, and you’re bound to make friends.  Even if you don’t, you’re probably already having a ton of fun (Brit and Kristina)
  • Sometimes the cost of something “lent” is worth the friendship or the conversation you get in exchange (Britito)
  • Really listen, and remember people (Nellie, Laurel, Julie)
  • Sometimes being the butt of the joke is the best way to put everyone at ease, and the quickest way to gain friends (Gumby)
  • Lack of language doesn’t mean lack of communication (Mike)
  • You can sweet-talk your way into (and out of) anything (Pasha Daoud)
  • You’re always surrounded by a million memorable moments waiting to happen (Allyson)
  • Trust strangers (Dylan and Taylor)
  • Always ask the parents before you give kids something, especially candy–and make sure you have enough to go around (Lori)
  • Don’t let anyone (or anything) hold you back from what you want to see or accomplish (Falconer)
  • Just eat it (Brit, Rhiannon and Falconer)
  • Be humble; laugh at yourself; always be learning (Janine)
  • Keep an open mind and try to put things into context.  Also, always have a notebook and pen (Ilham)
  • Even if you don’t have the words, you can always make friends with your talent (Justino y Míles)
  • Laugh and smile and you will make friends (Diana)
  • Ask questions (Julie–like you don’t know which!)
  • Always have a scarf and a sweater (Marisa and Cynthia)
  • Always bring at least one or two things that make you look hot–you never know (Sarah)
  • Packing is for overachievers (Erin)
  • Relax.  When the bus breaks down, have a photoshoot! play cards! work on your tan! (Profe)
  • When you don’t have something, whether it’s an object or a skill: outsource (Kate)
  • A good friend is always there for you, no matter the distance or time difference (Alex)

What are your best lessons, from travel or otherwise?  What have the people around you showed you?

I Like Me So Much Better When I Travel!

Travel Delia is way cooler than home Delia–sorry for those of you who only see home delia!  When I’m away, I think critically, but I’m also more laid back about obstacles and delays.  I’m thrilled to sit in a crowded train station on a hot Egyptian night, people watching, reading and soaking it all in.  At home?  I look like one of those Bostonians your mom told you about, the Massholes you shouldn’t bother. 

But every day you can litterally wake up and be someone new.  Every person you meet is the opportunity to make the changes you’ve been thinking about, or maybe even implementing, the ones your old friends don’t notice because their image of you is trapped in resin like a mosquito.  Who Says I can’t be Travel Delia every day?

When I’m away I…

  • read or look out the window on pretty much every form of transportation, instead of always listening to my ipod
  • write way more
  • don’t worry about hygeine
  • am far more likely to talk to a stranger
  • am barefoot!
  • am open to hearing new opinions
  • am more of a listener (but, let’s face it, still a pretty big talker…)
  • randomly help strangers and travelling companions alike
  • am more mindful of how often I speak, when I interupt, and how loud I am
  • wander
  • practice yoga most days
  • wake up early
  • fly solo
  • arrive on time almost everywhere, unless it really is beyond my control (see: Benin)
  • go to all kinds of cultural festivals and museums
  • take notes.  All the time.  And I love it. 
  • am thankful every time I have AC, halfway-decent food and a bed without bedbugs (regular bugs don’t bother me)
  • am not at all scared of bugs
  • dance more; smile more; hum to myself
  • take lots of pictures of my friends
  • play sports
  • don’t worry so much about what I’m wearing, since my choices are limited
  • pay more attention
  • take better care of myself
  • challenge myself
  • let myself fail
  • write thank you notes
  • walk everywhere
  • play with children and strangers
  • talk to every kid I meet

This year I’m doing something different: I’m staying home, and I’m loving it.  And I’ve been inspired by my travels and by Thoreau to apply my travel mindset to home–the local, the domestic, the unnoticed and the seemingly-banal.  Because that’s what the point of this blog is: to think critically, live happily, examine everything and go forth with equal parts whimsy and thoughtful care.  After all, the people, language, culture and politics of Massachusetts and America at large are no less interesting or worthy than those on all the other continents, in all the other states. 

Are you different when you get into a new environment?  How and why?  Does it have to be far away, or is it just the presence of new people?

What is Service-Learning

Sometimes I get so into what I’m doing that I put the horse WAY before the cart, and forget entirely about step one.  Sometimes even steps one through five, and I think I did that a wee bit with explaining this trip.  It wasn’t until I read a helpful e-mail from my confused father that I realized if he didn’t know what I was doing here, I don’t think anyone else could.  Most people are still wondering what the hell I’m doing in Africa, and where this Benin place is, anyhow, and what’s this service-learning I keep waxing philosophic about.

Service

Service is volunteering one’s time at an organization, be it related to your church, school, workplace or other community.

Learning

Learning is your typical class room education, with objectives, goals, lectures and homework.  Pretty straightforward.

Service-Learning

Obviously, this is a combination of the two.  It’s a great example of Northeastern’s philosophy of Experiential Education.  The field of education and type of service are related, and as the French say, il y a un rapport entre les deux.  The service is supposed to inform the learning, and vice versa.  Classroom discussions are enriched with anecdotes from the field, and volunteering is more useful because of the knowledge gained in the clasroom.

While this has typicaly been used in hands-on, service-oriented fields like Human Services (which is similar to and includes social work), sociology, etc, it has also been used in the medical field and with engineers.

Why is this trip Unique?

Generally, service-learning is localized to one’s community–our international setting is out of the ordinary.  The idea is that a person is helping their own community, where they understand the language, culture, geography, et cetera.  Also, service learning typically lasts for a semester, with students volunteering at their placement for a few hours each week.

The Logistics

Our group is broken up into 5 smaller groups, each of which works for three hours a day (9am to noon) with a local Beninois organization.  The groups are the same every day, and each group sticks with its own organization the entire time.  One group is working at a music school/recording studio that also has an AIDS clinic, another is an orphanage, a third group is working at our very own residence, the Songhai Center, the fourth is at a vocational school for women ages 10-20, and finally I am at a micro-enterprise of a group of women who pool their resources (time, money, childcare) to create four products to sell in the market.

The Schooling

We fit lectures in during afternoons, as well as site visits (like to UNESCO or the US Ambassador to Benin).  In France we had a week of language classes in the morning from 9am to noon, and we have been receiving reading assignments throughout the trip.  We have started picking topics for a research paper due after our return to the states, and we were also graded on our presentations to the Universite d’Abomey students in the city of Cotonou.  Finally, there is the capacity building project, which synthesizes our classroom knowledge about aid, NGOs and evaluating efficiency with our experience in the field with our organization where we volunteer.

Conclusion

I hope this offers you all a little clarity on why I’m here and what the program is all about.  Feel free to leave any questions in the comments!

Henri Navarre!

Henri Navarre, or Henri IV, is everywhere in Paris.  For those of you who are not obsessive history nerds/did not take AP Euro with Dr. Ryan, Henri Navarre was a Protestant nobleman from the Basque region, or Navarra/Navarre (of ETA fame) who eventually became the most beloved king of France.  During the Revolution when the people destroyed the statues on the pont (bridge) of the kings of France, Navarre’s was left untouched.

Henri's wife, La Reine Margot

Henri pragmatically switched religions as needed in order to be king, but stayed true to his Huguenot roots and eventually passed the Edict of Nantes, which ensured religious freedom for all in France.

Flowers laid at the site of Henri's assassination, on the 400th anniversary of his death

Henri’s name is now invoked for civil societies a la the rotary club, and there’s a large statue of him near Pont Neuf.  If you have the time, I highly recommend watching La Reine Margot to learn more about Navarre and the St. Batholomew’s Day Massacre of the Huguenots.

The plaque commemorating Navarre's death

Foto Friday: Les Citadines

Our kitchen. We also have a fridge, so we can cook our own food. I've been making my own breakfast and dinner.
My bedroom. Les Citadines is located in the very heart of Paris, within walking distance of the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, la Seine, and Centre Pompidou.
The view out my other bedroom window. Our classroom is a three minute walk from our door, and we're amidts a bustle of shops, creperies and street performers.
The Salle de Bains! So Western! Yay!
Our delicious potluck spread, prepared by Avi and his many sous-chefs.
Part of our group at dinner. Look at all that Dialogue love!

Traveler or Traitor?

Damn! Are we traitors? Un-American Commie sympathizers? Freedom Fry-eating liberal whackadoos? Or just misguided college kids?

In our discussion today, many people mentioned that they had received negative reactions to our trip.  They were called un-American or traitors, and chided for not volunteering at home, or treated as stupid for “wasting money” to volunteer abroad.  Here are some of my thoughts on the matter:

  • Our trip is service-learning, and for credit.  It actually costs less than a regular summer semester at NU would, if you include housing, food and such.  I would also be taking classes regardless of whether I traveled this summer, so the argument that my program fees are better spent on aid/charity doesn’t quite work here.
  • Many of the people who say things like, “why aren’t you doing something about all the poverty at home?!” aren’t actually doing anything about it either
  • Service doesn’t have to be either/or.  Volunteering at home and abroad is not mutually exclusive
  • Experiences abroad can make us better volunteers/employees back home
  • Things will never be perfect at home, so by that logic we (as people, a community and a nation) should never help any other country, state, neighborhood or even family.  That sort of logic doesn’t help make the world a better place, and if you start applying it to the prioritization of issues it is a virtual spiral into inaction
  • It is no one else’s decision but my own to determine my priorities and my path in life.  In other words, buzz off!  This is my money, my credits, my scholarships, and my time.  I’ll put it where I think it can benefit me and others the most.

What do you think?  Are we wasting our time and our money by going abroad?  Should we be focusing on Roxbury, the Reading food pantry and other such local isssues?  Is it better to do something like go work on Katrina relief effort, or is that not okay until we’re done fixing Massachusetts?  Would my tuition money be better spent at some charity or relief organization while I stay at home?  Should we, as an imperialist nation (and human beings) feel obligated to help?  Is helping foreigners un-American?