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Thursday, February 28, 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 post here when I find out.

Russ

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

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 torrid pace they had set for me was finally slowing down. So, I went home Friday evening thinking about how I would enjoy myself (ALONE!). It wasn't meant to be however. I had been home about an hour when one of my friends called and suggested that I come out and visit them in Velky Saris. This is a suburb of Presov and has only about 5,000 people. I got on the bus and was there in 20 minutes.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia7PlumJamInSlovakia

Upon arriving, I saw an interesting sight. On the ground was a vat and two buckets. Inside the VAT were plums that my friends were pulling the seeds out of. They were then putting the 'seedless' plums into another bucket. I sat down and helped them for a few hours. Picture number one is terrible because it was taken with a cellphone after dark, but the next day, I came prepared with my camera. Still, you can see the plums in one bucket and the seeds in another.

So, the next day (Saturday), I went out a little earlier and helped with stage two. This is the stage when all the plums are put in a boiling pot with only water. They are then stirred until they become a thick paste that is eventually used for jam. This can take anywhere up to 12 hours and people take turns stirring the plums. I think you saw this process in another picture I sent before. Anyway, in the next two pictures, you can see us sitting around the fire socializing while the oldest gentleman is doing all the work!! Really, the socializing is what it's all about as one can buy the jam at any store.

On Sunday, some more friends invited me out to dinner. I was off today (Monday), but my coworkers insisted that I come into work and have lunch with them. When is this going to let up? Don't get me wrong, I like the attention but I need a break every now and then. My friends/colleagues seem a bit obsessed and I don't know how to deal with it. Usually, I'm the one who's obsessed with others!! Any advice from those of you who share this problem?

So, what's on the agenda for this weekend? I'm scheduled to go to the Vysoke Tatry (High Tatras) with two of my students. The only thing they have guaranteed me is that I won't need any special equipment for the climbing. This should be interesting for you since I haven't sent any pictures of mountains yet. In September, I should be visiting a Roma school, a university in Kosice and traveling to Budapest if I don't get talked out of it again. Should be fun!

That's all I have for now. Hope you're all enjoying these stories, even those of you who never write!!

Take care, Russ

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

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 the world. If you want to live in the US, you can. If you want to travel, you can. It's the best of both worlds.

Now, for the pictures:

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueDjibouti4NearTheBeach

#1 This beast was preparing for a charge at me!! Fortunately, he seemed to be scratching himself against a tree and this may have been all that saved me.

#2 I don't know, I thought you might want to see a picture of my rental car. It's a Nissan 'Sunny.' Have you ever heard of this model? It's definitely a step up for me as those of you who have seen my car know.

Okay, let me know what you think. The next TL will got out in a few weeks. Take care, Russ

Sunday, February 24, 2008

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, the higher the employee's rank, the closer he sits to the boss. It took me four months to learn this valuable secret. Don't you think it was worth the wait?

Anyway, here are some pictures of a trip I took several weeks ago. We went to a local temple and spent the afternoon. Maybe I'm crazy, but I felt like I had a heightened sense of the nature around me.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueJapan6ALocalTemple

#1 Some fish in a pool near the temple, #2 The temple itself, #3 Two of my coworkers

As usual, feedback is most appreciated.

Friday, February 22, 2008

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.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (6) Prague Part 2

Written on August 29, 2006

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia6PraguePart2

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 the only negative thing I have to say about the city.

Have you ever heard of the Charles Bridge? It's approximately nine hundred years old and only open to pedestrians. I wish I had a better picture of it, but it's 500 meters long and difficult to get an angle on. I did take a picture (from the bridge) of a tributary and some quaint houses in the area (#4).

Now, at this point, it was starting to get a little late in the afternoon but we continued to forge on. As a matter of fact, we had made an appointment with a cousin of one of my friends for 6pm. I sort of dreaded this because it probably meant that we would be out till the wee hours of the night. But, when I met 'Palo,' I was pleasantly surprised. He is a very interesting guy (a chemical engineer) and speaks English quite well. Not only that, but he offered to take us on a night tour of the downtown area. Following are some of the pictures that I took:

#5 A city theater
#6 part of the national opera building

Now, for some interesting asides . . . there is a heavy drinking culture in this part of Europe. Fortunately, not being a heavy drinker, I have developed some interesting survival skills to avoid this. First of all, I always order one beer without protest and drink it at a normal pace. Then, a second beer is always ordered FOR me. I spend the next few hours sipping this one while acting incredibly drunk. There are those that might say I'm just presenting my usual personality, but I'll take anything that works!! So far, I have managed to avoid hangovers and at the same time, keep the local population happy.

You know, people are pretty much the same all over the world. As the night drew to a close, my friends kept insisting that I might be tired and need to go to bed. I kept insisting that I was okay. I knew that they were trying to use me as a way to excuse themselves from the festivities. It was really funny when they started pointing out how awful I looked and that I might even need to go to a hospital. I wouldn't let them get away with it, however. I refused to be the party pooper!

Okay, there should be only one more part to this trip and I'll try to send it tomorrow. Enjoy!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

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 economies. One economy sells only the items that the locals want and the prices are therefore, lower. The other economy sells food, clothes, etc. that only expats would desire and the prices reflect this sometimes being higher than in one's home country. Thailand is probably the most extreme example of this. If you want to see a temple, you pay nothing as a Thai but the equivalent of five dollars as a tourist. They call it dual pricing!!

Anyway, if this is all I have to complain about then I am very fortunate indeed.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

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 are quite famous, but will focus on what's referred to as 'The Golden Temple.' I will definitely visit Kyoto again before I leave Japan.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueJapan5TheGoldenTemple

In picture number one, you can see this temple in the distance surrounded by water. In the second picture, you can see the same temple from behind. You can tell by looking at the water that it had just started sprinkling. It lasted for only five minutes but seemed appropriate at the time.

Some more observations . . .

*I really, really like my coworkers! Some of them were a little shy at first, but have overcome that shyness as time progressed. It's a pleasure to go to work every day.

*The students . . . well, I've spoken of them before, but they continue to impress. The other day, I was in the main office and noticed that someone had shut my office door. I could also hear some kind of noise coming from inside. When I went to investigate, I found a student vacuuming my carpet! Not only that, but he was a major! I couldn't believe it! When I asked him why he, a major, was doing this, he simply replied that he was a student and his rank didn't matter. It was his duty to clean my office. Gosh! I've had students in the past that made me happy if they took their pizza boxes with them when they left class!! DLI really needs to move to Japan.

*When I go downtown, I sometimes like to conduct an experiment. I pull out a little pocket map of Nagoya and start looking at it. In a very short time, someone ALWAYS stops to ask if I need help or directions. This happens without fail. Sometimes, it happens immediately and sometimes it happens after only a few minutes but it always happens. The people here are so polite. I haven't always had positive experiences in Asia but Japan has been positive without exception.

Gosh! I've had to rush this segment a little because I'm going hiking today with some of my coworkers. Don't worry though! I've heard the hill is only 300 meters so it shouldn't be as strenuous as the one I climbed in Slovakia. I'll tell you more later.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

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 humble blog.

Friday, February 15, 2008

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's no way I could ever match them.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueDjibouti3Arta

Now, for the pictures. In the first picture, I'm standing on a hillside in a town called 'Arta.' It's about 30 minutes driving from Djibouti city but a very nice place with cooler temperatures. In the background, you should be able to see the sea where the hills stop. Picture #2 is the one that needs an explanation. As most of you know, I'm a real 'thrillseeker.' I've climbed massive mountains in Slovakia. I've entered forbidden temples in Japan. Now, I've encountered dangerous animals on the East African savannah! I approached these beasts with caution but also a determination to get the perfect photo. I look forward to your praise concerning my bravery. You may now look at the picture. Until the next travelogue, Russ

Thursday, February 14, 2008

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 lower amount. My friends suffered equally. You can see the pain in some of the pictures of me!

Upon arrival, we took the subway to the city center. It's nice to have friends who speak the language and know how to get around. I can just shut my mind down and enjoy the sites. Before I write further, I just want to say that nothing prepares you for Prague except maybe Vienna. Actually, they used Prague to film 'Amadeus' instead of Vienna because Prague retained much of its old world charm whereas Vienna was considered too 'modern.' Anyway, I have said before that my words can't describe the beauty I've seen and only pictures can show it. In Prague's case, I don't think the pictures accomplish this either!

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia6Prague

The first area we visited includes Prague castle and Hradchany. Essentially, this is a huge complex on a hill that encompasses the castle, churches, etc. In picture #1, you can see a view of the old city below as we climbed up. Number 2 shows you cobblestone streets and the church looming in the background. Number 3 is the same church as seen from below. You can see me in one of the courtyards in picture 4! It's dark so you can't see the exhaustion on my face! But, you can in picture 5 as well as in one of my friend's faces. This last picture was taken on the Charles bridge, the most famous in Prague. It's closed to traffic and only open to pedestrians. I'll try to include better pictures of it next time.

Well, I just realized that I'm too exhausted to continue so I'm going to break this one up into two or three parts. I have sixty-one pictures total and a lot more stories to tell about this trip so it's better that I don't push it tonight. Be sure to give me feedback as usual because this is what keeps me going.

More later,

Russ

Sunday, February 10, 2008

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 area around the lake is predominantly Afar and they would not appreciate an Issa being there. When I asked about going by myself, they assured me that I would have no problems. Isn't that ironic? A Westerner is safer in that part of Djibouti than one of its own citizens? Anyway, they were right. I had no problems at all.

Friday, February 8, 2008

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 fills out an evaluation form at the end of his/her course. One of my students wrote that he was concerned I was working too hard! He said this because I've been inviting students into my office during my lunch period and other free time. I'm not doing this to be a martyr; I just really enjoy being around THESE students. Believe me, if every student at DLI were like these, there wouldn't be a need for SLT. Teachers would be locking their classroom doors at 1435 to prevent the students from leaving.

I have to admit that at least a part of my work ethic here derives from a desire to keep up with my Japanese colleagues. They are unbelievable! Just the other day, I wanted to ask one of them a question, but she was staring incessantly at her computer screen and so, I didn't want to disturb her. When I went back a few hours later, she was still staring! Yet, I noticed that the screen had not changed at all from the time I was there before. Hmmmmm . . . have I discovered a flaw in the Matrix? This will require further investigation.

I am really getting tired of the Japanese habit of improving on everything that we do in America. You know the 'Big Mac?' Well, in the local McDonalds here, they have something called a'MegaMac.' Instead of two beef patties, there are four! I don't know how you would eat it exactly since it would take a crocodile to digest the thing. I just know that it's bigger and better than what we have in the US. I guess this is my only complaint about the Japan. They are just too good!

I finally figured it out. I'm not actually in Japan. I went to sleep one night in Texas and am still dreaming. No place in reality could be this perfect. I feel like I'm wading through the Elyseian Fields.

More later, Russ

Thursday, February 7, 2008

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.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia5SarisCastle

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 was the entry to the castle area. Also, on MY right is the supervisor where I work.

After taking in the surroundings, we had a barbecue on the castle grounds. It was quite simple really, some sausages cooked over a hole in the ground with a grill on top, but it was a lot of fun. However, later in the afternoon, my friends started getting edgy and suggested that we head back down the hill. I thought that they were afraid of getting back too late, but then they told me a story. Apparently, about 500 years ago, a young noblewoman had committed suicide by jumping off the castle walls. She did this because she had been promised to a prince but had already fallen in love with a peasant (the story of my life). Anyway, people say that she wanders the ruins at night looking for her lost love. They call her "The White Lady." To tell you the truth, I was more concerned about vampires considering how close we are to the Carpathian mountain range!

So, we headed back down to the suburb (Velky Saris) that we started from. On the way to the bus stop, we ran into some people my friends knew who happened to be making plum jam at the time. They do this by putting the plums in a hot cauldron and stirring for 20 hours. I was told that if you stop for one minute, it will ruin them so everyone stirs in shifts to prevent this (#4). And, of course, I had to do my part (#5)!

It was a great day as you can see. On Sunday evening, I went bowling. This sport is relatively new to Slovakia. Yesterday, I had a tour of the city with one of my friends. I had made the mistake of telling the story of how I got lost on the wrong bus. This friend insisted on buying a bunch of bus tickets and taking me through the routes of each important bus. Oh well, I guess it could be worse.

I hope you enjoyed this tour. Please let me know what you think. Pictures from Prague are coming next week.

All the best, Russ

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

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 pictures:

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueDjibouti6LakeAssal

#1 Some of the terrain on the way out, about 10km from the lake
#2 A small island in the lake
#3 The road that encircled it
#4 A wide-angle view
#5 Again, the lake
#6 ‘Old Reliable,’ I really need an SUV!
#7 The coastline
#8 Deep Water!
#9 Here, you can see the salt close up.
#10 Low clouds
#11 I felt like I was on the path to Mordor, but I didn’t see Sam or Frodo.
#12 On my way back, a dust storm is kicking up.

Again, let me say that I was really impressed with this area and the pictures don’t do it justice. I wanted so badly to take off my shoes and wade out into the water, but I was warned never to do this. I guess in this part of Africa, there is a waterborne parasite that can enter through the skin and cause damage to internal organs. I certainly do not want that experience.

For those of you who worry about my safety after seeing me on such dangerous outings, please don’t. I like to think of myself as the ‘Forrest Gump’ of Africa.

Until the next TL, enjoy your travels!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

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!

Friday, February 1, 2008

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 spend extensive time there in later years.

Japan--The work environment was excellent and I found myself working longer hours than necessary just because I wanted to feel like a part of the team. There was a lot to see outside of work, but I found it difficult to replicate the social network that I had in Slovakia. Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of friends but not too many close friends. I attribute this primarily to the disparity in cultures.

Djibouti--Here I am in Djibouti with 10 weeks remaining of a six month assignment. Djibouti has been like no place I've ever lived before. It is definitely 'East Africa.' Frankly, for a Westerner, there's not a lot to do here. I've always been good at creating my own entertainment, but this time, it's been a challenge. Still, there are occasional surprises that make my day.

That's all for now!!