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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Update from WV

Let me begin by apologizing for not posting anything exciting this week. I've been visiting with my family and my computer (with photos) is in San Antonio. I have taken some pictures here in Kentucky/WV and hopefully, will post some of them next week.

Normally when someone talks about the weather, they've run out of things to say but I must comment on it. I've been freezing since I arrived here!! The temperature today was in the 40s and this is a huge change for me having just returned from Djibouti. I even had to buy a jacket!

I did find out where I'm heading to next but I think I'll keep it secret for a few more weeks just to be sure I haven't counted my chickens before they hatched to use a cliche.

Please keep checking in, Russ

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Flying to West Virginia!!

I will be flying to WV to see my family today. I'll stay there for one week and then return to San Antonio. I hope to take some pictures while I'm there. Although they won't be as exciting as those from other countries, I believe they'll be quite interesting for those who haven't traveled to that part of the US.

Oh! Check out the new link for Presov in the right margin under 'Slovak Links.' This site was established to promote Presov as the 'Cultural Capital of Europe.' It certainly has my vote.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (12) Betliar Manor

In November '07, I went to southern Slovakia to a town called Roznava. One of my favorite students had invited me to spend the night at his family's house and I was happy to oblige. The next day, we went to a summer manor that used to be occupied by Hungarian royalty. The name of the manor is 'Betliar.' The first picture is from the outside but in no way reflects the actual enormity of the structure. It took about two hours to tour the whole manor. I was very surprised at how well the pictures from the inside turned out. Here are two other pictures from some of the rooms.

More pictures from this trip coming next week!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Back in the US!!

Just letting everyone know that I'm back in the US now (specifically, San Antonio). I had a very long trip and am currently suffering from jet lag so give me a few more days to put up another travelogue. I was in transit a total of 28 hours with relatively short layovers in between and my body is sore from the cramped conditions. Still, I'm very happy to be back.

More later, Russ

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

So Little Time . . .

I depart in three days and am feeling the stress of trying to get everything done. It hasn't helped that I've developed a nasty virus the last few days. Fortunately, I have access to a military clinic so I was able to get medicine which seems to be helping. That's okay. I'm getting on that plane one way or another.

I am so looking forward to coming home!! I will never be critical of living in the US again.

I'll post again after my return. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (11) MI-24 Helicopter

Just when you thought it was over! I still have a few more adventures to send you. These pictures are from a trip we took to the Slovak Air Force base in Presov. In the first picture, you can see me sitting in an MI-24 helicopter. I thought we couldn't take pictures but the Public Affairs officer approved it. Things have certainly changed from the Warsaw Pact days! The next picture shows my Slovak coworker Susanna in the same one. Finally, you can see the same type of helicopter in the air although I was not flying it! It was a good trip, but very cold from what I remember.

I still have many more pictures from Slovakia that I'll eventually dig out. I probably won't do this for a few weeks however because I'm flying back to the US on the 19th. So, I'll be a bit busy next week.

I want to say 'hello' to my Slovak friend Palo who is currently stationed in Kosovo. I hope he's reading and is certainly welcome to post his adventures here.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Homeward Bound In Two Weeks

It's Friday evening locally and a new week begins tomorrow. This will be my last full week of work here in Djibouti. During the final week, I will be tying up some loose ends and outprocessing. I'm starting to feel how close I am to leaving and this makes me a little sad. However, I am looking forward to getting back to the US for a while and visiting my family and friends.

In my time here, I've tried to stay positive for the most part but honestly, there are some things I will not miss. I won't miss the constant begging/scamming that I encounter on the street every day. This really wears you down after a while and you dread going outside at times. I realize that people have to make a living, but there has got to be a better way. I will also not miss the constant request for favors from coworkers/acquaintenances. Everything you accomplish here is based on relationships, but I seem to be the only one giving and not receiving anything!! On a smaller scale, I won't miss waking up the receptionist every morning and asking him to turn on the server so I can check my e-mail. I really won't miss his snide comment that "This isn't the West" but I will miss my retort "Then why am I paying Western prices for non-Western service?" Can anyone guess what level of culture shock I've reached?

Well, enough complaining. I've had an enriching experience here and look forward to the next great adventure. I should know my destination in the coming months.

I'll keep you posted . . .

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (10) Bardejov Trip

Written on October 10, 2006

Well, this is the tenth travelogue so a milestone has been reached so to speak! I went to Budapest over the weekend but that report will have to wait for a few more days. Prior to sending that one, I need to update you on what happened the week before.

Some of my students had suggested that they take me to a town called Bardejov which is about 30 minutes from Presov and very near Poland. Anyway, they wanted to do this on a Monday departing during the lunch hour. Confident that my supervisor would say 'no,' I was very surprised when she agreed. She referred to it as sort of a 'field trip,' a field trip that I knew would cut into my personal time in the evening and cause me to cancel a previous engagement. I tried to psyche myself up by thinking about the fact that this city is a UNESCO site and should be interesting to see.

One hilarious thing did happen prior to the trip. They asked me if I had any swimming trunks. I said that I didn't and they said that was okay because I didn't need any clothes in the 'spa.' Now, hold on a second, "you mean I have to be naked in front of other people" I asked them. They said 'yes' and this really shocked me. Anyway, they were joking about the spa but it terrified me at the time and everyone had a good laugh at this.

Now, for some pictures:

#1 A beautiful row of houses in the downtown area. Unfortunately, it was very cloudy that day.

#2 The main church downtown

#3 Me, with a few of the students at a traditional village

#4 Another picture with students . . . the one in the middle's nickname is 'Shrek' but I'm not sure why.

#5 Inside a traditional home

As I said, I should be sending some Budapest stuff in a few days. Russ

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Family Justice, Djibouti Style

I had to wait a day to post this entry for fear you'd think it was an April Fool's joke. The other day, one of my coworkers requested a day off because he had to take care of a family problem. Once his commander heard the problem, he immediately gave him permission to go. It turns out that this guy's brother had been guilty of domestic violence against his wife. Therefore, according to Djiboutian custom, the guilty party's family had to administer justice to him. This is why the brother was leaving for the day.

Well, the punishment consists of the following. First, the guilty party has to go to the family residence. He also has to bring his own rope to be tied down with. Once he's tied down, he will be beaten with sticks by all male family members. Then, a sheep will be sacrificed and its entrails will be drained onto the guilty party's upper body. I have to ask myself at this point, what did the sheep do wrong? I think this is a way of purifying the body after such a heinous act. Anyway, after all of this, the perp has to make a solemn pledge never to commit the crime again. I don't think anyone would doubt his sincerity!!

I know it sounds barbaric, but if you've lived here a while, you realize that these customs have developed for a reason. The punishment is so severe that the wife's family is satisfied and there's no risk of conflict between the two families. The husband can't complain because it was his own family that punished him. The courts are happy because they're overworked and ineffectual anyway.