Taking Inventory

Taking Inventory

Packing. Yep…got that. Favorite shoes – check! Passport – check! I remembered.

Unpacking – crap. I remembered that. And that. Oh, but I forgot that.
And remember the time I/we did this? And remember when….

Taking inventory. A blog of complete random thoughts.

June 7, 2017

If you were to take my current feeling of contentment, gratitude and mixed it with bit of “I’m elated.” You’d probably get a bottle of perfume named, “Surreal” that also comes with those funky, bizarre commercials. You know, those commercials that make absolutely no sense and have no “scent” but are visually beautiful?

Yeah, surreal just about sums it up.

Back in 1991, in perfect teenage loopy handwriting, I wrote my proclamation in Rochelle’s year book that one day, I – WE would “look back at our lives, be millionaires and laugh.”
In 1992, while in college…half drunk, slightly sunburnt by the beach sun and starved, we flipped to that back page of her high school year book, read my proclamation and laughed. And laughed. And laughed.

Then sobered up enough to head down to McDonalds to buy that .99 cent cheeseburger Happy Meal and split it. Millionairism – far from it.

Fast forward to 2017. I don’t know how many years later this is…I am too tired to do the math. I certainly don’t eat cheeseburgers any more, but crave them sometimes.

I am not a millionaire. Not in a monetary kinda way anways. I don’t need a million dollars because I have what I need and I want for absolutely nothing. Except for cheeseburgers, sometimes.
At the current moment, I am in between London and New York flying many miles above ground. Slightly cold, but thanks to the fancy location of my seat, I have a comfy blanket to protect me from the elements.

Not everyone gets a comfy blanket as part of their inventory. I’m not bragging, I am thankful.

My thoughts pretty much match my current altitude where not only are we high (not that kind), but at moments, there is a little turbulence. To be honest, I am writing to stay awake and half hope my creativity doesn’t drift away as my words begin to appear (or disappear) on page 2 or my own self-conscious thoughts of what a complete dork I must sound like at this moment. Bear with me while I practice a bit of randomness or as my English lit teacher would say, “stream of consciousness” thought.
It’s what I call, “taking inventory” and my brain just does it naturally sometimes.

Ump! Looky there…made it to page 2.

I spent the last 2 days at an intense DevOps (DOES Summit) conference in London where I heard stories of cultural and technical transformation. I was able to exchange thoughts, ask questions and my ideas were heard by many well-respected people in the industry. Most people don’t understand what I do for “a living”, but I read the most precise summary of what I would call an elevator pitch of what I do…

“I want to improve the lives of 1 million IT workers in the next 5 years…” – Erik – “The Phoenix Project”

Ok so maybe 1 million IT workers is a bit much, but my goal is to improve the lives of many people, not just focus on IT.
And now let me pause for a moment while I look out the window at the surreal landscape below me. I am not really sure if I am looking at the ocean or snow-capped mountains. Below, it looks like a day time sky with stars. As if the airplane did a topsy turvy and now we are flying upside down.
I’ve had a few topsy turvy moments in my life.

Took a picture and after further investigation which means I zoomed in my pic, maybe they are waves that look like ice chunks from this far above. Either way, it’s unlike any landscape I have ever seen whether water or land. Make that an “earthscape”?

Ocean or sky?

I’ve seen lots of ‘scapes in my life. And ‘scaped lots, too.

The lovely flight attendant just came by to ask if I was still working. I never work. This isn’t work.
But I do contribute my experience and knowledge and desire to always improve my craft to an airline company and in return, they take care of some bills. Maybe I can give a new meaning to the word, “aircraft”?
Or should I say, they pay me to exercise my passion every day. And yes, exercise would be the right word. Sometimes you do have days where you feel like you’re running a million miles, but aren’t quite getting anywhere. And along the marathon route, you get cheers, water and granola bars and sometimes just blank stares.

Not a picture of a comfy blanket, but a picture of not working.

Topsy turvy, ebb and flow and sometimes you just have no clue what you’re looking at. But I love it.
Surreal.

Yep, taking inventory of the moments.

Way before I could sign Rochelle’s graduation yearbook, I would spend hours in the library. I would actually skip class to spend time hunkered down in the aisle of an un-monitored row of books supported by cold, metal shelves. I always thought I would go into advertising. Actually…let me back up…I wanted to be a psychologist, but I wanted to apply that knowledge to a “business” or something lucrative. So I thought advertising could be that perfect, healthy, happy marriage between psychology and business. I would spend hours studying how the mind interprets colors and shapes and how much of that is used in advertising. What makes people tick? What stimulates people to behave in certain ways?

I learned real quick that the word “SEX” was an obviously mind jostler and would emphasize that word in the various posters I would create for student government.
“Wanted….either SEX….to join student government….” Guess which words I emphasized. Guess which words I didn’t.

This stimulates people.

(Another flight attendant just brought me a warmed-up chocolate chip cookie and commented on how much I was working. LOVE him and his ice blue eyes. I asked him to bring me another cocktail when he had the chance.)

Colors, placement…all of it evokes certain emotions in people and evidently, this is based on studies compiled over many years of practices. Fascinating shit.
I’ve always been interested in foreign languages as well. I wanted to be able to talk to as many people as possible in the event…you know… I could travel.
I never wanted to experience sameness. I wanted and craved different and if the “different’ only presented itself in National Geographic magazines or books about people’s minds… or…well…that was my “travel”. One way or another, I would experience some type of “out of body “experience that would allow me to see the world and people in a different light.
I could see it. I couldn’t smell it or touch it, but I could imagine it. Sort of like those bizarre perfume commercials.
I suppose I was planting my wish seeds many years ago. Or building inventory that later would be consumed.
July 2007, I went on my first overseas trip to Rome, Italy. I earned enough money in overtime to pay for a 6 day trip for me and my 13 year old daughter. I studied the language for a few months prior and planned almost every detail.

Amanda wanted to see Pompeii, buy replicas of name brand purses and sunglasses.

I wanted to take a shower every 2 hours because it was so hot and drink gallons of San Benedetto Ice tea.

We both were awed by all the history, tragedy and secrets that surrounded us. I loved that time with her.

In the early 80’s, my mother placed me on an airplane to visit my grandparents. Sitting up front, I was provided coloring books with crayons that were always too waxy to show real color, plastic wings to pin to my shirt (which was the badge of the “minor flying alone”) and kind smiles from the flight attendants.
No agenda planned. I flew alone on various trips to Phoenix to visit Grandma and Grandpa. I flew from Florida and Phoenix and back many times until I turned 18. From Florida, I would be catapulted to Phoenix to spend hours in the pool collecting vitamin D (and evidently, skin cancer) to return to Florida for school a couple months later. I loved every moment with my Grandmother.
December 29, 2007, my grandmother passed away.

Well. Hell.

I don’t think I ever have ever typed those words before. Just reading those words causes me to stretch. It’s better to stretch and spread those feelings of mourning to the ends of my toes and fingers than to sit still, swell up and cry like a fool.
I miss her brittle nails, little round belly and even that look of disapproval from time to time. Like the look she gave me when I decided to perm my short hair for college and I looked like a damn poodle.
My grandmother was my first passport. I came into her life when she was fairly well-stamped. She may not have had a blue book filled with faded, half-inked stamps from various countries, but she sure did have a full suitcase of wisdom. She ensured that I developed a curiosity for all things so that one day, I would have those seeds that grew into much bigger, greener things.

Certainly not greener as in a million dollars.
I didn’t need to seek out new worlds, I just needed to hold her hand and let her guide me through whatever lesson she could teach me about life.
She led me to new cultures, experiences and even politics.
Fast forward to 2017. I’ve been to handful of countries which I will never be able to share with her. Yet.
In retrospect and back to the surrealism of it all….I can retrace almost every experience of my life and how it all led up….either significantly or not…to recent events. An inventory of memories.

(The flight attendant just asked if I need anything else. My answer was, “no”. But then I raised one finger and said…maybe one more cocktail?)

The most pressing question of the past couple of days was the tattoo I have on my left wrist.
It’s a series of straight dotted lines that ends with a small little airplane. The tattoo artist (not the one in prison) suggested that I add a loop. No. No one wants to be in a plane that does a “loop”.

No “loops” allowed.

Ever. And especially not in rock fights. Like the time when my 9 year old self lived in Oxnard, California and I got into a rock fight with Fernando right on the corner of Elm Street and San Marino Street. I threw a rock and missed. It somehow “looped” back from him and hit me in the head. Blood came gushing down my face and I chased him. He cried. When I finally looked in the mirror, I could see why. I looked like “Carrie”.
I guess Karma is sort of a loop.

Back to the airplane.

This little icon of a plane was not permanently placed there after my acceptance of my position at an airline company, but was placed on the inside of my left wrist to remind me to avoid any and all corporate environments. Sort of like the “freelancer” gang symbol. But not really.
Yep. I hate the political, corporate life so much I placed a little airplane on my left wrist to remind me to always be free and to always fly. Sorta like…a mind-altering medicine that helps you cope.
After stomping my foot down and claiming that enough was enough, I quit the corporate life and went on my own. I became my own boss (that was tough – imagine, me…managing me) traveled and earned enough to afford me the same standard of living as my “corporate” job but I was also working twice as hard.

6 months later, the invitation to join an airline company slithered its way into my inbox. And just as slitherly, I accepted.

(I think we’re over Canada. 36,006 altitude.)

The very tattoo that served as a reminder to avoid a corporate world, is the very same tattoo that I look at it and think….” Oh shit. Now that’s surreal.” Or maybe serendipitous would be the correct term.

I excelled on my own, but only because I had the freedom to choose my own path for my day and long term goals. I also had to revisit my love for people. As a teenager, I wanted to explore the minds of people but as I grew older, I also formed a calloused disposition to human beings and began to detest them.
For a moment, I thought maybe I was an alien. Scratch that, I wanted to be an alien. Much easier to disassociate that associate. I still think I could be an alien because of my infatuation with Area 51 and the time I had that headache while I was in Roswell, New Mexico.

Fast forward.

I am completely in love with my job working for an airline (which is also known as a my “drug dealer” if you’re addicted to travel). And I am completely in love with the people (most, not all). I suppose I just needed a detox or in keeping theme with this blog title, I had to remove the spoiled inventory to make room for better.
Every person holds a piece of the big, giant jig saw puzzle. We are all certainly intertwined on some galactical, spiritual level.
Each story, flaw and personality trait you recognize in someone else is a reflection of a portion of ourselves. How else would you recognize it if you weren’t already intimately familiar?
Sitting a simple, rustic pizza place with Keanen and Jasmine, I was reminded of those reflections and pieces that we contribute to create the larger picture of the world. Those couple of hours were more or less, the grand finale of our time in London.

For 2 full days, we interacted with people from various backgrounds and parts of the world. London is good for that. I would consider London the “Hospital of Soul Soothing”.

Corny, I know.

We interacted with each driver who drove us to our same destination every day. From Akbar to Zaysinar, from Somalia to Afghanistan, each of them were a mosaic to be appreciated even for a moment.

Even though that last guy made me nervous when he talked about stealing a million dollars and almost ran the car into a wall while putting on his sunglasses with both hands. But still…
For these 2 days we were enhancing and experiencing our lives while some lives had ended needlessly just an “eye sight view without binoculars” away.

And on this last evening at the pizza joint, the large window parallel to our table served as a movie screen for us for a couple of hours.

People walking by.

Unrehearsed.

In conversation or simply on a mission to move trash to its final resting place.
Lovers in a small argument or tourists who had no clue where they were.
From the goth girl to the business man, to the very attractive blonde who was clearly paid to be on that arm of that guy…it was a sight to witness.
Eventually, we would poke through this movie screen and interact either with a wave or mocking their own behavior, but in a fun, nice way, of course.
Some interacted with us either by a natural glance or by sheer curiosity. Were we goofy? Sure. Did we laugh? Yes.

We’d invite people in to dine at a restaurant that wasn’t even ours…and they came in. That pizza place owed us so many free cannolis!

Just relaxing in a pizza place.

But wow, the people were beautiful. From the man who was wearing the same shade of red, that melted into the matching background to the woman peering from the café.

Planned?

The man who stopped and relentlessly pecked at his phone with intent, but yet had no evidence of distress or anger on his face.

The texting man.

The chopper gang, the girls with skirts too-short, to the woman who was in near-tears….yes, it was fascinating.

At one moment, an older gentlemen stopped and peered at us just as we were peering at him…We invited him and he insisted on giving us with 10 pounds. He wanted to buy us a drink! Why? Because we were happy which made him happy.

We used the money for cannolis.

Another reminder that the universe will indeed give you ask for no matter how subtle or silly the request.

I truly believe, in your moments of joy and distress, your heart will ask for those very things that you need. I suppose you could say that prayer is the ultimate bar code scanner that will be sure your shelves are full.

Which is why the flight attendant brought me another cocktail and I never received my million dollars.

To those families who are currently taking inventory of all things, this is dedicated to Xavier, Igancio, Alexandre, Kirsty, Chrissy, James, Sebastien & Sara.

Why doesn’t anyone believe me? I am Vietnamese.

Why doesn’t anyone believe me? I am Vietnamese.

I grew up as an only child in a Vietnamese household surrounded by a 1980’s American southern town. Learning to speak English when I was at school while learning to speak Vietnamese at home posed plenty of innate challenges like getting an ‘r’ to not sound like a ‘wah’ and an ‘l’ to not sound like a ‘wah’….well, come to think about it, I spent a lot of time trying to not have many things sound like ‘wah.’ To top this off, I was not the stereotypical Asian kid…silky black hair, thin and almond eyes…I was the super-sized version with frizzy hair and wide eyes so I was often asked, “What are you?” As political correctness became more popular, it evolved to, “Where are you from?”

I was constantly asked this. And still am.

After my sarcastic responses that ranged from Conyers (the suburban city on the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia where I grew up) to Yemen wore out, I now say Vietnamese with a sigh because I know the response every time will inevitably be, “Really? I would have never guessed.” And 99% of the time, I’m asked this by another Asian (literally, it’s the first thing they say to me after hello) so once I disclose my heritage, I get to hear how they are amazed that I’m Vietnamese because they themselves are Vietnamese and I look like no one in their family and surely I don’t look like anyone else in my family so there must be ‘something else’ in me.  It’s oh so fun.

When I booked my trip to Thailand as my first country in Asia to visit, I mentally prepared myself for this question to be asked of me throughout the entire trip. And since I tend to face my fears or annoyances in full force, I decided to include Vietnam as part of the trip to see if I could get to the root of all this confusion about me. And even more so, I wanted to understand what the fascination was behind always wanting to know which Asiatic country an Asian was from. Maybe it’s to gain a sense of community? That’s my best guess and maybe that’s why it’s never occurred to me to ask the same question because I have never felt like I was part of that community. Well, this is going into a completely separate subject so I digress…

Thailand surprised me. Not once in the week and half that I was there, was I asked where I was from. I even tried to coerce the question out of a few people I talked to by asking how long they lived in Bangkok, whether they enjoyed it etc to pry the question out of them. At first I thought maybe they weren’t interested in knowing more about me, but they would ask a barrage of other questions about my travels and history but not once was I asked where I was from.  In Phuket, I went to a local restaurant and even tried a “well, this is definitely not what I grew up with” to see if I would be asked but again, no questions about my heritage.

Ceremony in Hanoi

In Vietnam, I had the same experience. Time after time, I would talk to a local and not once was I asked that inescapable question. But what I did learn to do was to take full advantage of this, specifically when shopping. Bargaining is widely accepted when looking to purchase something so I would inquire about the price in English and ask any questions in English…and if it was something that I wanted, I would start bargaining in Vietnamese. Jaws dropped every single time I did this and I started my own little competition to see how far I could get someone’s jaw to drop.  The winner was when I saw tonsils.

And this is when I realized the answer to my question: Not one person that I encountered in Vietnam realized I was Vietnamese.

This sums up the range of reactions I would receive when telling someone I am Vietnamese.

After I started speaking in Vietnamese, a few people would then ask me where I was from and again, it was followed by disbelief…and sometimes what I perceived as amazement…but every reaction solidified my acknowledgement that I did not carry whatever traits signify my heritage. I did talk to a few locals in length and learned that they had assumed I was a Westerner and well, a Westerner is a Westerner. It didn’t matter if I was from London or Detroit. They also talked to me about how in Vietnamese culture, it is very important to have a sense of community because in many areas, the community is just like extended family. I suspect this is the same for other Asian countries and it answered my question as to why I’m asked this so much when in America. Maybe they simply wanted to see if I was part of their community.

I thought this experience would bring some sort of enlightenment to my past and why I do certain things that I do…maybe feeling like an outsider all these years is why I want to experience the world to see if there is a place that I would ‘fit in’…maybe this is why there’s some reason I’m never physically attracted to another Asian…maybe this is why I love Asian food because it’s the only thing I can relate to…maybe this is all psychobabble that a therapist would say to me. Because I didn’t have any of these feelings. On the contrary, this experience gave me the most overwhelming sense of fulfillment. I was still an unknown in my own home country and I realized I was absolutely okay with that. I kinda felt like an undercover agent walking around the streets of Hanoi, knowing no one suspected I could understand what they were saying…and I like the fact that I’m a mystery to anyone who tries to guess my heritage because only I (and well, my family) know the real answer. So next time I go get my nails done, at the same salon I’ve been to for the past 5 years, and am asked yet again, “where are you from?” I will say, I am Vietnamese. And you?

Are you a Traveler or a Tourist?

Are you a Traveler or a Tourist?

I once visited Rio de Janeiro with a friend who woke up one morning determined to eat breakfast at Dunkin Donuts.  Dunkin Donuts…really? The first rule I made for myself from the very first day I traveled was to never eat at a U.S. chain restaurant and this included domestic destinations as well. Even if I was stuck in the Sahara desert and had nothing but a McDonald’s to quench my thirst…I would move on like Moses until I found a local watering hole. I travel to experience something different and for me, eating at places that I can have just as easily at home defeats the whole purpose.

After this incident, I started paying more attention to other foreigners wherever I traveled…and became amazed at how many times I would see Americans gathered in a Hooters in Singapore when there was amazing street food and a local bar right next door…or spending hours inside an environmental museum in Iceland but with no plans to visit just one glacier or volcano there….or watching a group walk up to the most gorgeous cliff in Peru, take selfies and then walk away without spending just one second enjoying the view…I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

So I began to ask around…why would you spend time and money to go somewhere and not want to experience everything it has to offer?

Here are some of the responses I received:

“When I go on vacation, I want the comforts of home and food that I’m used to.”

“It’s just easier to find a familiar restaurant because I don’t have to worry about language issues and ordering something I didn’t mean to order.”

“My ideal holiday is to take what I like at home and plop it into a different scenery.”

“I feel safer being surrounded by Americans so prefer to stay in American places.”

“I just wanted to get a good photo for my Instagram feed.”

This sums up the mentality of the perfect tourist. And in my mind, I imagine the perfect tourist wearing a Northface jacket or clearly branded clothing while clutching their guidebook (most likely in their phones these days) in one hand and a digital SLR camera in the other hand… they will respect the local culture and customs but don’t have a desire to partake in it or learn about it….at a restaurant, they are looking down at their phones more than talking to each other or new company…and in landmark destinations, they are exploring it with their Viator tour group and not daring to veer off the beaten path.

This is what I imagine because this is what I’ve been.

puerto vallarta
on the beach in puerto vallarta, mexico

I’ve been this perfect tourist and don’t think there is anything wrong with it and at least it’s helping the local economy. One example of a perfect tourist trip for me was when I went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico where all I wanted to do was to get away from the stresses of my life at the time and not think about anything. I had to search for a Spanish speaker and swear I saw more Americans than locals. I sat my happy ass on a beach chair every single day and ate whatever the hotel served (still no US restaurants though). I didn’t go visit any local neighborhoods or explore anything outside of our little bubble. I did nothing but relax and it was marvelous. Every once in a while, all I want to do is go decompress and being a tourist is the best way to do this.

But this is not why I travel.

I travel to get out of my comfort zone, experience what is local or native to that area and learn what drives that community and people. 9 out of 10 trips is for this very reason…to open my mind, be immersed in a different culture, volunteer with a group, explore the less-traveled areas…some of my favorite days have been when I’ve gotten myself lost on purpose just to see what was around the bend. I don’t often feel homesick when traveling because the foreign country becomes my home…Duolingo takes a backseat because some of my best language lessons have been during a drunken bar conversation….and I’ve noticed that I don’t spend as much time reading traveling books anymore because I’m focused on creating my own story.  And I never imagined myself being like this…but something happened when I took my first solo trip that brought out this side of me and it’s become my passion. And I’m so thankful it did. But I also know there is still that tourist traveler in me…and maybe I’m writing this as my soliloquy to justify its existence but I’m not ashamed. Nope, not ashamed at all.

So are you a traveler or a tourist? Perhaps you’re like me and you’re a traveler that occasionally moonlights as a tourist. Does it matter? Nah, there’s no wrong way to explore this planet but for me, it’s been useful to realize the difference and just embrace it.  At least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself.

When You Can’t Go Abroad – Go to Epcot Center

When You Can’t Go Abroad – Go to Disney World’s Epcot Center

Some people are just not able to go abroad due to job obligations, financial or health reasons so how do you get to experience the world abroad without leaving the United States? You could visit your local Chinatown, but if you have done that already have you considered a visit to Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida?

The place is cool for many reasons, bit more on the educational side as the park’s main focus is human achievement and innovation and of course, the World Showcase that has that has mini-replicas of 11 different nations.

As someone who grew up in Florida, there were no shortages of school field trips to Disney World and Disney World’s Epcot Center. I suppose my cup runneth over because I think I have been there about a million times. I didn’t travel the world as a kid, I mean not many kids do so I suppose this is normal. To a teenager whose only view of the world was either what photos and stories Uncle Mike shared after returning from a Navy tour or by thumbing through pages of National Geographic magazine, Epcot’s World Showcase was a pretty big deal. I LOVED it.

Don’t get my wrong…everything about Disney is a big deal, but being a nerd, Epcot was my thing and besides, I knew I was destined to see the world.

Epcot Spaceship Earth Walt Disney World | by Anthony Quintano
Epcot Spaceship Earth Walt Disney World | by Anthony Quintano | Flickr

My favorite was the Morocco Pavilion at Epcot’s World Showcase  – circa 1987. I went to all the countries, of course, but there was just something very cool about the Morocco one.

Morocco Pavilion at Epcot
Morocco Pavilion at Epcot

The Morocco Pavilion was literally like entering a different world. My friend Michelle (not the same Michelle I travel with today as this was 30+ years ago…) and I made reservations at the Restaurant Marrakesh, which I remember the food being really good, but super spicy. The food and the experience were so different than my anything in my little Florida hometown. There were belly dancers and the waiter didn’t seem to speak much English and hell, the fact that we had to make “reservations” was “fancy” for us.

Marrakesh, Morocco | North Africa
Marrakesh, Morocco | North Africa

In the Morocco Pavilion, I remember men sitting on blankets charming snakes, beautiful, vibrant colors in the Bazaar and just a crazy energy. I swear there was even a young Moroccan boy that ran through the Pavilion. Maybe it was just a figment of my imagination? No…it actually wasn’t. I am pretty sure it happened.

*Interesting fact: According to Wikipedia, this pavilion is the only pavilion in which the country’s government aided in the design and sponsors the pavilion. The other pavillions are sponsored by various corporations.

At that age, I never imagined that one day I would go to North Africa and visit Morocco in “real life”. I always think back to Epcot and sorta crack a smile. Sounds corny, I know. Disney really doesn’t spare any expense when it comes to recreating an experience, even down to the cast members who are hired from their respective country to help contribute to the authentic experience.

Yep!

It’s funny how things come full circle because so far, I have been to 7 of the 11 countries in the Epcot World Showcase. I have to admit, Disney does a pretty dang good job of replicating the countries.
I always tell people, if you can’t travel, at least go to Epcot. You can visit Mexico, France, Norway, Germany, Morocco, Italy, Canada, Japan, United Kingdom, China and of course, the United States and get a super authentic experience.

I even asked my friend, Juliet with Wishdrawals – Disney Vacation Planning what she liked most about Disney and she said pretty much echoed my opinion:

“What I love most is how when you visit Disney world you literally enter another world.
There is so much happiness and no worries.
The cast members make every experience a fantastic one because they literally LOVE what they do!”

She’s right. As many times as I have been, I don’t recall any bad experiences as kid going or even as a parent. I will say that it can get super busy around Christmas time and if the Florida heat is not your thing, try planning your visit around September.

And for all the things that Disney has to offer it can get overwhelming, so I would recommend contacting Juliet to help you plan your vacation. She’s an authorized Disney Travel Agent (and addict) and can get you the hook-up on anything related to Disney.

Contact Juliet @ https://www.facebook.com/julietwishdrawals16/

And go see the World!!!

Walt Disney World Resort Entrance - Wikipedia
Walt Disney World Resort Entrance – Wikipedia

I am Woman, Take My Tour!

“I am woman, take my tour!”

Zanzibar, Tanzania, Africa. Ok soooo… Aiysha – the first certified and employed female tour guide in Zanzibar, didn’t say or sing this, but in my silly head I couldn’t help but think of the 1971 song by Helen Reddy, “I Am Woman”.

First two lines of the song are:

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore

Meet Aiysha Mohammed, the first employed, certified female tour guide in Zanzibar, East Africa!

Now do you get it? “I am woman..take my tour…” No? Read on….

Evidently, as a woman it is easy to become certified as a tour guide in Zanzibar if you have the skills that Aiysha has, but to obtain employment is a different story.
Zanzibar, with its beautiful year-round weather and amazing beaches has been on my list of must-go places for a while. I hadn’t thought much about Zanzibar until recently, when I stumbled upon a Facebook group called, “Girls LOVE Travel” and noticed a young woman by the name of Aiysha Mohammed.

She had posted a picture of herself with a caption of “First Certified Female Tour Guide in Zanzibar” that captured my attention just as much as her striking smile!

Touring With Aiysha in Zanzibar
Touring With Aiysha in Zanzibar

First Certified Female Tour Guide in Zanzibar? Hmm. (cue background music…”I am Woman”)

Aiysha’s post was something to be proud of and to become the first female tour guide in Zanzibar sounded like this wasn’t something that was “easy” to do.

Naturally, I had to find out more because I am naturally nosey curious.

Q&A

Aiysha was kind enough to answer a bunch of questions sent to her by a curious American.
CaSandra – “Why did you choose to become a tour guide?”

Aiysha wasn’t aware that there even was such a thing as a tour guide, but because of her English language skill, this helped her to pass the tour guide examination. She learned English in elementary school and speaks it very well.  Originally, she wanted to be a teacher.

CaSandra – “If you only had one minute to describe what it is like living in Zanzibar, what would you say?”

Aiysha – “I can say Zanzibar is beautiful place and peaceful. I feel proud.”
Aiysha has lived in Zanzibar all her life and was only away for about 2 years when she lived in Oman where she worked as a maid. As a lifetime resident, she has plenty to share about Zanzibar’s beaches and lifestyle.

You can get a glimpse for how beautiful Zanzibar is by looking at Aiysha’s pictures on her Facebook Tour Page: Aiysha’s Adventures.

CaSandra – “Why is it difficult for women to become tour guides in Zanzibar?”

Aiysha – “To be certified is not difficult, but to get job as a tour guide is difficult because most tour guides are men.”
Of course, in my naïve mind I am thinking maybe the men just didn’t want a girl invading their “club”…but now that I think about the many tours that I have been on, none of them have been with a female tour guide.

In fact, I don’t really notice too many women in the tourism industry and if they are remotely involved, they are usually selling their hand-made goods to tourists, braiding someone’s hair or they are selling tickets to a museum.

Being a female traveler, I suppose being escorted through a strange city by another female is probably the safer option. This includes drivers of hotel transfers and such, too. I mean…why haven’t I sought out companies primarly owned and operated by women when I have traveled?

*I’m making a mental note of this epiphany and while doing this, I did a quick Google search and found this site called: Equality in Tourism.

I had no idea there was a whole organization that helps to promote equality in tourism. And now I understand the need for it. If a country relies heavily on tourism, then women should be able to share in those benefits. No brainer.

Aiysha's Adventures - Zanzibar
Aiysha’s Adventures – Zanzibar

Onto my next question.

CaSandra – “On the Girls Love Travel Facebook group, you announced that you were the first certified female tour guide in Tanzania and that you went through many challenges? What were some of those challenges?”

Aiysha – “First tour company they won’t want me, they won’t give me clients because they don’t trust women and specially because I’m the first. Men – they was think I’m selling myself, some of my family they was don’t want me to play in that part.”

Wow!

My heart dropped a bit when I read her response. As a woman who has spent many years in a primarily male-dominated industry, I have had my own challenges, but I can’t imagine how I would feel if someone assumed that I was selling that type of “service”. Ugh.

So, there you have it. Getting the certification is one thing, but she had difficulty in convincing a company that she is not a prostitute trying to sell herself to tourists. I still can’t even imagine what this would be like…so please, if you are thinking about visiting Zanzibar, take a tour with Aiysha to not only show her your support, but because she does provide an excellent service.

A tour guide service and according to her reviews, an excellent one!

Please like Aiysha’s page at: Aiysha’s Adventures where you can contact her about any questions you may have or to book a tour.

And to get a quick overview about Zanzibar, read, “About Zanzibar“.

Congratulations, Aiysha and we hope to see you soon!

Confessions of a Female Solo Traveler

Confessions of a Female Solo Traveler

I’m in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia by myself and I was just attacked. I followed all the “do’s” that I was supposed to…walked in a well lit area with plenty of pedestrians and cars and kept my eye out for anything strange. I saw him walking towards me and could tell he was inebriated beyond sense…but instead of choosing to cross the street (which I couldn’t have done given the traffic), I chose to walk cautiously pass him.

My gut was right. In the blink of an eye, he grabbed me by my shirt and tried to pull my sling bag off…jibberish came rushing out of my lungs and thankfully strangers came to my rescue. I was left with a bruise on my side, his spit on my face and a couple of cops to console me. This is now the second time I’ve been attacked abroad…and I was much luckier this time around.

Now, safely back at my hotel and a fifth of tequila, I’m wondering…what the hell am I doing here? Traveling solo was never something that I aspired to do.

But after years and years of dreaming about traveling, I finally had the resources – specifically money – to do it but couldn’t get calendars to work with my partner or friends that wanted to travel with me. I had to make a decision: continue to wait until someone could travel with me or do it on my own. I chose the latter because life is just too short to wait.

As an acknowledged introvert, I was pretty anxious about this decision and decided to start small. In 2009, I booked a trip to Seattle where I met up with friends then went solo to Vancouver for a few days. I pumped up the bass in my PT Cruiser rent-a-car and drove across the border, checked into my hotel and did exactly what I wanted to do each day. Whether it was sleeping in or walking in circles through Stanley Park in search of a mysterious totem pole…my agenda was 100% me.

I learned that it didn’t kill me to go to a club alone and I was not the wallflower I had feared I would be. I learned that asking strangers for help was okay and not a sign of incompetence. I learned that it wasn’t the end of the world if I was lost because I was capable of figuring things out on my own. And I think the most important realization I had was that it was indeed, okay for me to be selfish and focus strictly on me.

Since then, I’ve traveled solo all over Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia, North America and most recently booked a trip to Antarctica. It is liberating. Self-fulfilling. Intoxicating. Extraordinary. It’s pulled the extrovert out from inside of me. It has made me realize my limits and allowed me to meet amazing people across the globe. I’m still addicted even with this incident. And considering that I’ve traveled to more than 300 cities…twice attacked is actually less than the incidents that have occurred to me in my own home city.

But in moments like this, it does get fucking lonely.  I’m in unfamiliar territory and don’t speak the native language. And I could use a hug. Thank goodness for free apps like Whatsapp (A free messaging app that allows you to stay in touch with friends and family over wifi) and now that it’s been a few conversations with familiar people and a couple of drinks later…I know this will not be my last solo venture. As much as I love traveling with my partner or friends…traveling solo continues to open new facets within myself and I’m in love with the experience. So I’m starting to reminisce about other ways I’ve combated loneliness during previous trips…

  • Pretending I’m straight. Ok, I’m not proud of this but when you’re a solo female in a country that is primarily homophobic (and has laws against it), you’re not going to want to emit any rainbow rays. And if I can score a free drink and an ego boost, what’s the harm? But I only do this when I want to experience some night life and there’s no gay options…and I never get drunk because flirting with a guy or two at the bar is one thing…but you have to make sure you stay safe and guarded.
  • But, if I’m in a country where there are gay options and I’m single, one nighters can certainly keep a gal occupied for a night or two. It’s especially fun when you don’t speak the same language so you immediately don’t have to deal with any conversational miscues or having to pretend to care about what they do for a living etc…it’s just pure adulterated enjoyment.
  • Sitting at the bar at a restaurant is the best way to dine alone and if you’re lucky you can get some custom cocktails from the bartender and chat with your fellow solo diners…maybe even make a new friend.
  • Booking a tour at the beginning of the trip. Since I’m a foodie, I gravitate towards the food tours but general city tours will also work. In almost every tour I’ve booked, there’s always another solo traveler and it’s a great way to meet someone who may want to do other things in the city with you…and at the very least, share some encouraging stories to each other.
  • Always keeping a book handy. I love reading, but especially enjoy it when I travel. I’ll find a coffee shop or a good people watching venue…order a drink and sit back and relax. It’s great to overhear conversations too which sometimes leads to meeting new people.

Ok, enough reminiscing. I’m realizing that I don’t have to do these things that often because frankly, it’s rare that I feel lonely when traveling solo. The destination is my friend and the experiences are my connection…and it’s an endless parade of variety to keep me occupied. Because of this, every trip makes me feel like I’m getting closer to understanding who I really am…who I really want to be…and despite this blunder tonight, I know I’ll be okay. Sounds like a pretty damn good relationship to me. Now, I have the rest of this city to explore tomorrow because it’ll be a new and wonderful day. Good night.

Coming Full Circle

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Traveling with your family can be super stressful, yet also make for the BEST stories. Recently, my parents, brother and I finished a 3 city tour in France: Paris, Jouy-lès-Reims & Lyon. There were two main reasons for this trip: to visit my family’s ancestral hometown of Jouy-lès-Reims and to return, for the first time in 20 years, to Lyon where I studied abroad my Junior year in college. First off, let me introduce you to my “special” family. My mother, Pat, a retired English Literature teacher of 35 years, a Sharon Osbourne look-a-like and a woman who still corrects my spoken grammar to this day (I’m 40 year’s old..sigh), is an expert on world religions. This comes in rather handy when visiting centuries old churches and especially helpful when visiting Greece last year and its many religious sites, but I digress.

My father, Larry, a retired insurance agent, unintentionally creates his own language of what we lovingly call “Larryisms”. My brother, Braden, 5 years my senior, well, let’s just say he spends more time on his hair than I do.

Being the Matriarch of the family, my mother, Pat, expects to be catered to when traveling. Having survived Cancer, comments like, “Alicia, please carry my bag. I had Cancer” are not uncommon or out of bounds for her. She has also become more forgetful with her things over the years, perhaps due to her vast knowledge of intellectual subjects leaving little room for common sense.  On the FIRST DAY of our trip, she lost her Paris Pass which provides entry into all of the museums. 5 hours later, I discover it hidden in my bag where she stuffed it, UNBEKNOWNST to me, but it was my fault according to her…SHOOT ME NOW. Subsequently, having left her cell phone in the Louvre bathroom, her bag with her passport on a TGV train car in Paris and having locked herself into a bathroom in Reims leaving her screaming for help (forever engrained in my memory is the French bathroom attendant yelling back “Attention, attention!” while trying to break her out with a screwdriver), I threatened to latch a child leash on her so as to keep an eye on her throughout our trip.

Then there’s my poor Dad, Larry, who still struggles with the English language and, I might add, his FIRST and ONLY language. Comments like, “Pat, we don’t live in a second world country,” or saying “jigsaw” when meaning “hacksaw” or “kilimonators” vs. “kilometers,” sent my mother, brother and I into gut wrenching fits of tearful laughter.

My brother, Braden, seemed to think if he put a French accent on English words that it magically made them French. “Zaynk you for ze Coke. I like eet very much.” “Ze man on ze street smellz like armpito.” “I need zome poudre de ball sack.” Every time we approached a door with a sticker that read “Poussez”, my brother and I couldn’t help but snicker.   

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Paris

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While staying in adjoining rooms in Paris (men in one room, ladies in the other), I plugged my Mom’s hairdryer in the bathroom, turned it on & it quickly sparked fire causing the lights & ALL POWER to go out in BOTH rooms. It was fried.  The hotel hairdryer in our bathroom never recovered so I was forced to use the one in the men’s adjoining room bathroom. My brother and I, having sibling rivalry wars since childhood, quarreled over the hair left on the bathroom toilet after my blow drying session. Did I mention the hotel bathrooms were so small that I could brush my teeth while I pee?  Let’s not even get into the fact that it’s nearly impossible to find a public restroom in France that doesn’t require you to pay a fee. Again, I digress.

If a French person didn’t understand them, my parents seemed to believe that if they spoke English more SLOWLY, enunciated EVERY WORD and spoke more LOUDLY, that this would suddenly make others English speaking….smh. Being a Southern gentleman, my father would frequently attempt to start conversations with strangers while waiting to cross the street at intersections. “How you doing today?” “So, how long have you lived here and what do you do for a living?” Needless to say, he got a lot of blank stares. It took him a while to learn that the French, especially in large cities, do not make eye contact nor rarely speak with strangers on the street.

Jouy-lès-Reims

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Our 2nd city tour brought us to the small commune of Jouy-lès-Reims (0.72 sq mi & population 185), the hometown of my Great, Great, Great, Grandfather many generations back, Jean Baptiste Barras dit le Blon, who emigrated to Louisiana in 1719 at the young age of 19, and settled in the small Louisiana town of Newroads (previously Pointe Coupee) where settlers were promised free land. Having no known, living relatives in Jouy-lès-Reims, my parents had previously reached out to the Mayor’s office and arranged to meet up with some of the locals during our trip. Odile Crooke, a sweet and jovial local who teaches professionals how to speak English and married to an English man, served as our own personal tour guide; taking us on the most incredible tour of our ancestral hometown. Nestled in the Champage region of France, Odile arranged a private tour of the Cooperative Jouy Pargny where many of the Vineyard owners produce their own champagne.  The Co-Op President, Christophe, gave us a personal tour of the entire facility where we learned every step of the process from picking grapes in the vineyards, to adding sugar and yeast, to the (2) fermentation processes to degorgement (removing sediments) to corking. We also learned that Champagne bottles are thicker than wine bottles so as to withstand the increased pressure and that, with wine, the deeper the indentation at the bottom of the wine bottle, the longer you can keep the wine after opening before it goes bad. The Champagne tasting at the end was icing on the cake!

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Following the Champagne tour, we met up for a delicious, French lunch at nearby La Garenne restaurant with the Mayor, Sylvie, her assistant, Christine, the Assistant Mayor Jean-Bernard, and Odile’s husband, Phil. We had a lovely conversation talking about our families and family dynamics, about Jouy-lès-Reims, about our professions, about politics and about life. After gifting them with Atlanta Braves’ hats, Georgia T-shirts and Cajun Zydeco CDs, we said our heartfelt goodbyes and knew we would meet again. This was definitely the day we made new, lifelong friends and when our family came full circle.

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(L to R: Phil, Jean-Bernard, Christine, Larry, Sylvie, Pat, Odile, Alicia & Braden)

Lyon

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Being the typical, excessive Americans with 8 bags for 4 people, the rental car company gave us a large Renault Trafic van that seats 8 people for our drive from Reims to Lyon. It took me 5 minutes to figure out that you had to lift the manual stick up and then push left to reverse (completely backwards from American vehicles). After a 4.5 hour drive and a few rest stops later with holes in the ground for bathrooms, we arrived in Lyon.

I was like a child on Christmas morning overtaken with excited anticipation. It had been 20 years since I had last step foot in this city that was so life-changing for me in my early 20s. As a student at L’Université Jean Moulin Lyon III during my Junior year in college, it was the toughest, yet best year of my life. It was the first year I had lived away from my family, my first time in Europe, the year I quit my sorority and the year I came out to my family. This was the year I fell passionately in love with traveling and took off on frequent adventures with my Eurorail pass in hand. Stepping out of the car upon arrival in Lyon, it brought me back to my 20 year old self along with a wave of emotions. Over the next few days and being the Gastronomic capital of the world, I would eat the most amazing French food, would visit my old apartment building, my old University and my old restaurant and bar haunts. There were so many new buildings, modernized structures and even a new Tram line. The city was more beautiful than I had remembered and allowed me to rediscover it with my family alongside me.

In more ways than one, I had come full circle on this trip, rediscovering humanity, myself and my family…