Showing posts from February, 2008

Six Weeks Remaining . . .

. . . till I return to the US. The time is going by too fast. Still, I'm looking forward to going home for a while. I'll be leaving here in mid-April and taking three weeks vacation. The first week, I'll just chill out in San Antonio and try to recover from the jet lag. The second week, I'll fly up and visit my family in West Virginia. The final week, I'll begin to mentally prepare myself for the return to work. I will feel like a new employee learning all the rules and regulations again and trying to adapt to the stress. All in a day's work!

I'm not a creative person by nature and it takes me a while to figure these things out. But, I have started to post photos of the current travelogue in the slideshow area. In that way, you can preview them while reading the story. I'll continue including the link to the web album so the photos can still be accessed at a later time.

I'm still trying to figure out where I'll be sent next. I'll p…

Travelogue Slovakia (7) Plum Jam in Slovakia

Written on September 4, 2006

Hi, Everyone!!

Well, this is becoming a recurring theme for me . . . I promise to stop sending these for a couple of weeks and then I break down and send another one the very next week. Here is my dilemma, there is something going on every week and if I don't send stories now, I'll never send them! So here goes . . .

A word of warning before I start, there is no way in the world that this version could be as exciting as last week's in Prague. Please forgive me but I can't jet out of the country every weekend!! All I can promise is that it WILL be different.

Now, let me recap. The weekend before last, as you all know, I went to Prague. It was great but also very tiring so I decided not to go to Budapest as originally planned for this last weekend. Once they heard, I knew my friends would schedule something in lieu of this and they talked about going rafting. However, this was never mentioned later in the week and I got my hopes up that the torri…

Travelogue Djibouti (4) Near the Beach

Written on December 14, 2007

Hi! I hope this travelogue isn't boring compared to the last one. I did try to include more dangerous animals and you will see from the pictures that the level of danger continues to increase. Do you remember the person who followed grizzlies and was eventually mauled to death? They made a documentary from his footage but I can't recall the name of it right now. Anyway, I hope to avoid his fate!

Not too much new to report here. I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the support I receive from the embassy. Unlike previous MTTs, most of my acquaintances here are Westerners who either work at the embassy or Camp Le Monier. I also meet a lot of people just passing through on TDY usually at the Monday night basketball games. Anyway, I used to think you could only get visas at an embassy but I now know there's a whole social network to be had there.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. For my profession, this has to be the best job in th…

Travelogue Japan (6) A Local Temple

Written July 15, 2007.

Wow! It's been a long time since my last letter. My only excuse is that I've been so busy living life that I haven't had time to write. Work continues to be great and I still whistle when I wake up on a weekday morning. My favorite saying is 'TGIM' (Thank god it's Monday!). One of my coworkers told me that she's never met anyone so enthusiastic in her life. I tell her that it's only because I'm in Japan.

I've read several stories with a common theme . . . a westerner inadvertently ends up in the Far East and is at first viewed as a complete outsider. As time passes though, he earns the trust of his hosts and gradually gains access to the mysteries of the Orient. I have finally entered that stage. It feels as if the keys to the kingdom have been handed to me. I would love to reveal some of these secrets to all of you, but then I would lose my exalted position.

One thing I can tell you though, in a Japanese office, th…

Where will the wind carry me next?

Time is ticking away. I have only seven weeks remaining here in Africa. I've reached the point where I've started to wonder where I'll go to next. Perhaps I won't go anywhere and will be stuck in the US for a while!! I guess Texas wouldn't be too bad but I wonder if my travels there would generate much interest on this site. Still, I'm not going to worry too much about it. I'm fortunate in that there are a lot of travel opportunities in my job. I'm sure I'll be selected for some country.

Travelogue Slovakia (6) Prague Part 2

Written on August 29, 2006

Okay, to continue the story after passing out on the bed last night . . . I think picture #1 accurately conveys how I felt after the long trip to Prague though I'm not sure if I'm giving or receiving injury. We saw this statue as we departed the complex and the changing of the guard in #2. Heading back down to the city center, we got another wonderful view of the old city in #3. These sights started to bring me out of my coma and I got a burst of energy that recurred off and on throughout the day.

Let me make one more observation before I continue with the story. Prague is an incredibly expensive city especially in the downtown area. I heard that there were cheaper places that the locals went to, but I never saw them. For me, it's just a matter of principle not wanting to pay such high prices. For the locals, however, it's a matter of survival. Anyway, the prices are th…

Djibouti--The Hotel Kempinski

I am currently living in a hotel (which will go nameless) in Djibouti and am quite comfortable. Although it's not the nicest hotel in the city, it has everything I need including cable tv and wireless internet. The other day, a colleague of mine invited me over to The Hotel Kempinski (the nicest hotel) for one of their 'theme' buffets. These are quite popular in this part of the world. Some nights, you have Arabic food, other nights you have Asian, and there is even a Tex-Mex night at this hotel. That was the night I chose hoping the food would remind me of all my friends in San Antonio. Anyway, the food was good but not great especially considering the price. Although it was 'all you can eat,' the price of DJF 10,000 (roughly $56 American) shocked me! There was no way I could get my money's worth if I wanted to stay on my diet. This reminded me of a phenomonen that I've encountered in developing countries before. It's as if there are two econ…

Travelogue Japan (5) The Golden Temple

Written on May 27, 2007

Finally! I got around to writing again. Sorry, but I've been busy both at work and on the weekends. I will try to be better about writing in the future.

Well, I've done a lot in the last month but I think the highlight was my trip to Kyoto. I went there with some friends and so, I didn't have to worry about the logistics of getting there. They figured out everything for me. We departed from the Nagoya train station which, by the way, is literally the biggest train station in both Japan AND the world! I read that approximately 1.2 million people use it every day. We took the bullet train which was quite an experience. What should have been a three-hour trip by car took about 45 minutes by this train. It was a little expensive but very convenient.

I really enjoyed Kyoto, but felt a little rushed all day. Getting around town was difficult because of the crowds and so, I didn't get a chance to see all I wanted. I did see two temples that ar…

Time is counting down

Well, in exactly two months, I will be leaving Djibouti. I've been here four months already and I don't know where the time went. I've been thinking about what I need to do/see in my remaining time here. In the past, I've always revisited places overseas that I've lived but I can't see that happening with Djibouti. First of all, this country is not really on the beaten path of tourism. It's pretty out of the way actually. Also, the cost of a ticket would be outrageous if I had to pay for it myself. Finally, I don't see myself having the time to return what with the job I have and the travel it requires. So, this may be the last hurrah for me in this part of the world.

I'm going to try and post a new Japan travelogue sometime today. Be sure to check it out!

Also, a new poll is going up to determine which country should be featured in the next slideshow. Your vote would be appreciated.

Again, I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read this h…

Travelogue Djibouti (3) Arta

Written November 29, 2007

Hi, Everyone! First of all, please read this letter before you look at the pictures. One of them needs some explanation and I don't want anyone to be unduly frightened before they hear it.

Okay, I got that out of the way. Well, I continue to enjoy my time over here and am adapting to the cultural differences one faces anytime s/he goes overseas. This has been eased by the warm welcome I've received from the embassy. I've also really gotten into running even more so than before. I ran 10k the other day in 44:15. Not fast, but ok for an older gentleman. I started running a few times a week with some friends of mine. I'm also playing basketball every week at the embassy with some of the staff. One thing, when running on the road, these East African marathon runners zoom by me like I'm standing still! For fun, I try to keep up but I'm basically running at a full sprint to do so. They have such a natural, long stride that there&#…

Travelogue Slovakia (6) Prague

Written on August 28, 2006

Hi, Everyone!!

Well, these travelogues are definitely getting out of control, but where do I stop? Do I wait several weeks to send pictures of Prague? It's a vicious cycle!

As all of you know, I went to Prague the last weekend. I would have preferred to have more time, but it was the only weekend that was convenient for my friends. So, I put aside my 'needs' and went along. The trip was a marathon to say the least. I had a great time, but suffered immensely for it. You'll see what I mean as the story progresses.

We left Friday night at 2135 and arrived in Prague at 0700 the next morning. The plan was to sleep on the bus and be refreshed for a tour of the city. Sometimes, things don't work out the way you plan them. The bus we took made airplane 'economy' seem like a seat in first class. I think my knees were pressed against my chest most of the trip. I will say I got an hour's sleep, but I'm rounding up from a lowe…

Issas and Afars

When we first begin living in a new country/culture, we often think everything is immediately self-evident. Then, after a while, you realize there are mysteries lurking beneath the surface that only time reveals. When I first came to Djibouti, I categorized everyone I met as simply Djiboutian. As time passed, however, I was informed that there were two main tribes in Djibouti, the Issa and the Afar with the former being the majority. Later, I learned that there had often been conflict between the two including a civil war in the early '90s. It's difficult to get a lot of information about this conflict because members of both tribes are sensitive to discussing it probably for fear of what could happen again.

How does this affect everyday life? Well, prior to taking my trip to Lake Assal last week, I asked a few of my 'Issa' friends to go with me. They politely declined saying they would encounter 'trouble' if they went to that part of Djibouti. Apparently, the a…

Travelogue Japan (4) The Workplace

Written on April 30, 2007

I hope you're all doing well. This entry will be a relatively short one with no pictures. However, the next one should be laden with them as I am going to Kyoto/Nara with a friend later in the week. I'll write it up as soon as I can. Until then, I'll just make some more observations.

Remember how I said that the work environment here is very regimented? Well, I found out that it is even more so than I thought. The new female teachers are leaving for basic training next week! Yep, all new employees must go through military training before they begin their teaching. It's designed to familiarize them with the military life of the students they'll be teaching. They will be gone for one month and my students told me that it is slightly less difficult than what they had to endure. Goodness!! When I expressed my surprise in the office, another teacher showed me pictures of her previous incarceration there.

Speaking of the students, every student fil…

Travelogue Slovakia (5) Saris Castle

Written on August 23, 2006

Hello everyone!!

Apologies from the beginning . . .I know I promised not to send out another report for at least a few weeks. However, I'm going to Prague this weekend and I couldn't figure out a way to squeeze these pictures in prior to sending those. So, here you go. Hit 'delete' if you don't want to see them.

Last Saturday, my friends and I visited a castle called Saris Castle. It is near Presov but a bit of a climb up a hill. We started walking to the hill (from one of the suburbs) around 1030am. We got to the top at about noon. On the way up, there was some beautiful scenery (see picture #1). I held my own with the younger climbers and was quite proud as they commented on the physical ability of such an old person. At the top, I was able to take some pictures of the ruins below (#2). In the next picture (#3), you can see the gate (without the drawbridge) that …

Travelogue Djibouti (6) Lake Assal

This morning, I drove out to Lake Assal. This is one of the more famous tourist areas in Djibouti and I had been planning to visit for a long time. The lake happens to be the lowest point in Africa at 155 meters below sea level. It also has the highest concentration of salt in the word, even more than the Dead Sea. Based on what I’d heard, I was very anxious to explore this area.

The trip out was pretty uneventful since I had driven the same road several times before. I had even memorized the potholes and was able to avoid most of them. I drove for about 100 kilometers W/NW of Djibouti City, the capital and arrived about 90 minutes after starting. I could have gone faster if not for the condition of the road.

Before I visit a new area, I always have a preconceived notion of what it looks like. Then, when I actually arrive, I am either pleasantly surprised or disappointed. Today, I was definitely pleased when I first glanced at the lake. But, let me take you through this experience via p…

Upcoming Events

I just thought I'd inform everyone about what to expect from this blog in the next few days. On Wednesday, I'm going to post TLs for Slovakia, Japan and Djibouti. These TLs were written in the past, but are still interesting I do believe. Also, I'm going to Lake Assal over the weekend. It's supposed to be one of the lowest/hottest places on earth. This should provide the opportunity for some great pictures and a recent story.

I'm a little concerned because national elections are being held next weekend. There's been a lot of bad luck with elections in this part of Africa lately (ref Kenya). One of my coworkers did reassure me, however, when I brought up the possibility of election-related violence. He told me that could never happen in Djibouti because the people here are tired of fighting. I sure hope he's correct.

Anyway, thanks for reading!

Best Country: Slovakia, Japan, or Djibouti?

You've probably noticed that I put up a poll asking which of the three countries on this site would you most like to visit. I think now would be a good time to give you my views about each of these countries' pros and cons hopefully, focusing on the pros.

Slovakia--I had a wonderful time living in this country. Outside of work, I was constantly on the go with friends. If I had any complaint at all, it's that I never had time to relax. I had a core group of five or six really close friends and they felt they needed to show me everything, and I mean everything, that Slovakia had to offer. Looking back though, it was probably the best time of my life.

I don't want to get too specific about this, but at work, there was occasional conflict. I wonder how much of this was due to 'communist hangover' and the developed habits necessary to survive that period in Slovak history.

All in all though, I had a good enough experience in this country to want to retire and/or…