Search Engine

Google
 

Sunday, March 30, 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 ones for example.

As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

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 tour telling mother-in-law jokes rather than explaining what we were seeing.

#5 One of my friends from Presov.

Okay, let me know what you think, Russ

Sunday, March 23, 2008

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 through the relative characteristics of my own culture and being negative as a result? I don't think so. My litmus test for identifying negative aspects of a culture outside my own is this--What is the objective of the country/people? Do certain cultural practices efficiently achieve this objective? In this case, I think one of the goals of Djibouti is to develop a strong economy that provides opportunities for its citizens. I also believe that the governments providing assistance to Djibouti have a similar goal (although some might debate this). Does the dependency I mentioned above reach this goal more efficiently than taking responsibility for one's own future (according to the Western view)? If one cultural aspect (dependency) is less effective at reaching the common goal than another, I believe this is truly a negative element of the culture and it fails my test.

So, what's the practical solution? As always, there are no easy fixes but I would hope that future aid is somehow tied to changes that will cause the relevant objective to be achieved. To use an old saying, "it's better to teach someone how to fish than to simply give them fish" or something like that.

Then again, maybe my judgment has been clouded by my ridiculous Protestant work ethic!

Russ

Thursday, March 20, 2008

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's sort of like having the munchies without using the marijuana.

Something scary that someone told me later . . . without Khat, Djibouti would probably have daily riots. My acquaintance stated that "Khat equals Peace!" As far as I'm concerned, bring the Khat on!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

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 TL will include pictures of the 'Pineny' region on the Polish border. We went rafting and then rode bicycles back upriver. It was relaxing especially compared to the previous week.

Please keep checking back in, Russ

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

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!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

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

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

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 newspaper and began reading. I finally got out of there but never did see exactly what had happened.

I would have killed for a camera to take a picture of that scene!!

Two rules of thumb to survive in Djibouti: (1) Livestock always has the right of way, and (2) Bring a magazine or newspaper with you as you never know when you might be delayed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

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

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

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 to the High Tatras yesterday. Mount Rysi is the second highest mountain in this range and the highest one you can climb without hiring a guide and having special equipment. You can see the mountain range in picture #1. Our hike began by walking through a forest and was quite easy at first. This was deceptive, however, because we soon started going uphill on a more dangerous path. In picture #2, you can see some of us before the agony set in on our faces. Another thing you should notice about this picture, the trail was composed entirely of rocks all the way up. Our feet took a tremendous pounding especially on the way down. In the next picture, you can see a mountain lake, but we are still at the stage of weaving in and out before starting the ascent.

You can see some scenery as we began the climb in pictures #4 and #5. As we were climbing, I never had any problems with my breathing even though we were at higher altitude. But, I really had problems with my legs. After a while, they were screaming for mercy! We climbed and climbed and climbed. The hardest thing was that you had to be mentally focused in addition to dealing with the physical. One false step and you could have a serious injury. My hiking boots saved me numerous times by keeping my ankles from turning when I misstepped.

At the 2200 meter mark, we reached what the Slovaks call 'refuge' but what I would call base camp one. I barely made it there and could not imagine climbing to the summit. Fortunately, we took some time to rest and eat cabbage soup. The rest combined with the food gave me the energy to continue. In picture #6, you can see the summit ahead. This picture does not in any way convey how difficult it was to climb up there. Also, a lot of the climbers had spent the night at refuge and were climbing the last 300 meters on one night's rest. Finally, in picture #7, you see me at the summit sitting on the official highest point.

I was feeling pretty good about myself at this point, but didn't realize that the worst was yet to come. Going downhill was absolute torture. You could feel pain in your knees and back every time your foot hit a stone. Also, you had to be more careful about slipping. Believe it or not, there have been seven deaths on this mountain so far this year. Most of them resulted from bad weather or people leaving the trail and getting caught in avalanches. I was determined to survive especially after all the pain I had endured to get to that point!!

The next few pictures are just pictures of me during the descent. I think I have more interesting pictures that I can send you in the next few days. Anyway, I don't know if you can see it but I was absolutely exhausted. We spent the last hour in the dark retracing the steps that we had made during the morning. Finally, at 8pm, we made it to the car.

Well, I'll send a follow-up to this in a few days with more details of the climb. I am ready for work tomorrow and will not be taking a sick day I'm proud to say. Enjoy, Russ

Monday, March 3, 2008

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 instructors.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueJapan7TheLongGoodbye

At the end of the party, I started to head out the door still wearing my gift. One of the instructors who was walking to the subway with me strongly suggested that I take it off. I said that I wanted to wear it home. She then said that she wouldn't walk with me if I didn't remove it. So much for trying to immerse myself in the culture!!

Okay, please let me know what you think. Russ