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Showing posts from March, 2008

Another Goodbye Party

Last week, the embassy staff held a 'goodbye' luncheon for me and another staffer who was leaving soon. We ate at a Vietnamese restaurant here in Djibouti which was creatively called 'The Vietnamese Restaurant.' The food was actually quite good maybe because it was free! I had chicken and cashews which is similar to a Thai dish I've eaten before. Anyway, the best part was the gifts. I got a certificate of appreciation from the State Department and a clay plate with a map of Djibouti on it. I also got a cap, coffee mug, and shirt all Djibouti-related. The shirt had writing on it that said, "Property of Djibouti." Those of you who have lived here can appreciate the humor/horror in that statement.

I continue to take pictures of Djibouti but will not post any more travelogues of Djibouti till I return to the US in three weeks. I'm just too busy right now. Of course, I'll continue to post TLs that were previously written such as the Slovakia o…

Travelogue Slovakia (9) The Pieniny Region

Written on October 6, 2006

Well, last weekend I went to an area called Pieniny to go rafting. The town is on the Slovak/Polish border and is idyllic as are so many other places here. We missed the rafts at 11am so we had some time to explore the area by foot. Finally, at 1245, we were able to board a raft and ride down the river for about two hours. It was much less demanding than the death-defying feat I did the week before. When we finished the raft trip, we had a choice of riding the bus back to our original location or renting bikes and biking back. We chose the latter and I'm so happy we did. We were able to follow a bike trail back and stop and enjoy nature whenever we wanted. It was really a great day. Please see descriptions of the pictures below.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia9ThePinenyRegion

#1 Here is the 'river.' On the right is Slovakia and on the left is Poland.

#2 The bridge to Poland.

#3 On the water.

#4 Our navigator. He spent the whole…

To Give or NOT to Give--That is the Question . . .

Whenever I've traveled/lived in a foreign country, I've always tried to be culturally sensitive to the practices/beliefs of said country. I'm not a big fan of the relativist argument, but I also don't believe that one culture is inherently superior to another. I guess I try to take the middle road for the most part.

Still, having lived in Djibouti for several months now, I'm starting to view 'culture' differently than I ever did before. I will use the example of foreign aid and how it's affected the culture to illustrate this new perspective. Here in Djibouti, there seems to be a certain 'dependency' on outside assistance that has developed at all levels and this dependency is stifling any solutions to the real problems that continue to exist. In essence, the dependency has become a part of the culture to the point that there is an entitlement mentality permeating society. I see it every day and it has become very tiresome!!

Am I viewing this th…

A Disaster of Epic Proportions!!

A few days ago, I took my usual stroll downtown. It was about 6pm and something seemed out of place. Restaurants that were usually empty or had very few customers were packed. I had never seen so many Djiboutians eating out before. Because of the cost, most Djiboutians prefer to eat at home. Anyway, the difference was big enough for me to take notice and mention it at work the next day.

Well, there was definitely something to what I saw. It seems that that day, the airplane responsible for bringing 'Khat' from Ethiopia had had mechanical problems. Therefore, no fresh Khat was delivered! I thought there would be other planes, but apparently, only one plane is dedicated to bringing the supply in every day. To provide an analogy, it's like all the planes, ships, and other vehicles that bring drugs into the US were somehow stopped. Can you imagine the commotion? Anyway, the custom when the Khat is not delivered is to eat out at a restaurant with your friends. It'…

Travelogue Slovakia (8) Mt. Rysy Part 3

Taken on September 9, 2006

Here are the last pictures from my Mt. Rysy climb. It hurt terribly to climb it, but I gained some wonderful memories in the process.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia8MtRysyPart3

#1 The view was beautiful but I really wasn't admiring it at the time. Honestly, I was looking for a place to be buried!!

#2 At the summit! I didn't realize at that moment that the worst was yet to come.

#3 My blood brother (because we sweated so much together that day) 'Palo' at the summit. He had me by 15 years! He's a helicopter pilot and I was wondering why he didn't bring it that day. Oh, be sure to check out the beautiful lakes below him.

#4 Here, we were coming down and my body was really aching from all the pounding.

#5 About halfway up or down, you have to use chains to navigate the mountain. I felt like I was the weakest link at this point.

What a wonderful adventure! I honestly want to climb this mountain again some day.

Next weeks T…

When exactly is someone rich?

Back home, when we say someone is rich, we usually think of a magic number such as having one million dollars. Here, in Djibouti, 'rich' has an entirely different meaning. I didn't understand that until very recently. In the past, one of my coworkers kept referring to someone as being rich, but I just couldn't see it. The individual in question drove a beat up car and didn't seem to have a particularly good salary. In a developing country, I think of rich as those who can afford almost anything and like to flaunt it to the hoi polloi.

But, I now know that 'rich' has a different meaning in Djibouti. Basically, a rich person is someone who can afford to pay the rent and buy food every month without worrying about where the money will come from. Money beyond that ability is almost irrelevant. That explains why even though I've been pleading poverty since I've been here, people still refer to me as rich!

It's Official!!

I got my itinerary today and know the date/time of my departure from Djibouti. I'm scheduled to fly out of Djibouti City on Saturday, 19 April and arrive in San Antonio, Texas the next day. I will be flying Air France (Oh, No!) to Paris and switching over to Delta (Yikes!) for the trip to SA via Atlanta. The layovers are about three hours at each stop which is perfect for international connections.

When it first hit me that I'm actually leaving this country to possibly never come back, I felt a little down. However, I consoled myself, as I always do, with the knowledge that many great adventures lie ahead. Even if I stay in the US awhile, I can travel to many exciting places. Right now, I'm fantasizing about hopping into an SUV and driving due north of Texas. I could drive all the way to the Canadian border and then drop back down to see my alma mater, Notre Dame. I just wish it were football season!! Then, it would be perfect.

More TLs coming later in the week.

Russ

Travelogue Slovakia (8) Mt. Rysy Part 2

Taken on September 9, 2006

Here are some more pictures from the Mt. Rysy ascent!! For the full story, refer to the previous Mt. Rysy TL.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia8MtRysyPart2

Picture #1--A beautiful lake about halfway up the mountain. Unfortunately, I could not fully appreciate it at that time.

#2--The same lake below me.

#3--The restaurant/hotel at about 2,200 meters!!

#4--Inside the same building.

#5--Getting closer to the summit.

I will put one more set of pictures up next week for this adventure!

It could only happen to me!!

On weekdays, my usual routine is to drive out to Camp Le Monier for lunch. Before I enter the camp, I have to make a right turn at an intersection that's begging for an accident to occur. I've often wondered why I never saw one at that location. Well today, they finally had one at least, I think they did. As I approached the intersection, I noticed that two taxis had stopped in front of me. In front of them, were a fire truck and an ambulance being manned but what I assume were Frenchmen. There was also a crowd of people surrounding the 'incident.' I sat there for at least 15 minutes trying to discern what was going on and how long I would have to wait. Finally, someone started directing the traffic forward. As I got close to freedom, a herd of goats crossed in front of me and lingered there for another 15 minutes. Cars behind me were blasting their horns but the goats (and their shephard) were oblivious to the delay they were causing. I pulled out a newspape…

Weekend Postings

This weekend (Thursday and Friday for me), I will post more pictures pertaining to Mt. Rysy. I'm also going to subdue my fear of the African wilderness and venture out once again to gather pictures for a Djiboutian TL.

One of my coworkers has promised to take me to visit some nomads before I leave. He will translate for me. I plan to ask a lot of questions and take a lot of pictures. Should be interesting!

I've been told that I have a tentative departure date of 19 April. It could be earlier than this but not later. It will be surreal returning to the US.

More later,

Russ

Travelogue Slovakia (8) Mt. Rysy

Written on September 10, 2006

I must really care about you guys to be sending this letter today. Why? Well, every muscle in my body is aching. I've been popping aspirin all day, but it doesn't seem to help much. It hurts to stand up and I'm walking around in slow motion. When I went to bed last night, I alternated between having violent chills and sweating profusely. What has caused this, you ask? Yesterday, I climbed Mount Rysi (2,600 meters) and it was the most physically demanding thing I've every done. From start to finish, we spent about 10 hours going up and down. I'm going to try and narrarate what happened including pictures. I'll ty to send even more pictures in a follow-up to this e-mail.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia8MtRysy

So, about a month ago, some students of mine asked me if I would like to climb 'Rysi' with them. At the time, I thought how hard can that be and agreed. We planned the trip and traveled …

Travelogue Japan (7) The Long Goodbye

Written on August 4, 2007

Hi, Everyone! I hope you're all doing well. This will probably be my last entry (and a short one) from Japan as I'm due to return in the fall. I can't believe I have to leave this wonderful place. Ingmar Bergman, who died recently, once said that he could not make another movie after his last one made 20 years ago. He said this because he had derived so much satisfaction from the last one that any other movie he made would be a disappointment. That's the way I feel about Japan. I may never travel to another country again for fear of a letdown. I guess I will have to force myself to travel in the future!

Anyway, my coworkers threw a 'goodbye' party for me this week and I had a blast. I got some wonderful gifts, a personal seal with my name in Chinese characters and a summer kimono to name a few. My colleagues insisted that I try on the top and I did so as you can see in the picture. The others in the picture are the Japanese ins…