Hello, I must be going

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It feels like a long time since I’ve written anything substantial here. I feel a little unmoored in general these days. I’ve been away so much of the past year, in places with climates and cultures so different from New York’s, that it’s sometimes hard to remember what season or month I’m in. I tried to Skype my sister in Portland the other day and even though I had been home for a week, I still calculated the time difference as ten hours instead of just three. Good thing it wasn’t the other way around or I would have called her in the middle of the night.

I love traveling and I once thought I could do it nonstop, but I have to admit that this last trip has taken a toll. I spent five weeks abroad in two countries, took ten different flights and hopped between more than fifteen locations. I switched hotels countless times and the longest stretch I ever stayed put anywhere was six nights. Every routine I held near and dear was shaken up to the point of non-existence. 

It’s good to be back, though getting back into the swing of things has felt a little rocky at times. 

I am way behind on what I’ve meant to post here, mostly impressions from various trips I’ve taken, including Detroit, Mozambique, and Kenya. I’ve also been wanting to commit to (digital) paper some vignettes about experiences abroad that I’ve had not only since the start of this blog but since the start of my life, or at least the parts of it I can remember.

So I’ll try to carve out time to write, not only because the feeling of playing catch-up irritates me but also because writing is one of those beloved routines I gave up while abroad whose lack I felt deeply. It really centers me somehow, even when I’m writing about frivolous things or in an inarticulate mood. 

So, see you here again soon, invisible internet buddies!

games a-type people play

On the way to the Mombasa airport you pass through a thoroughfare of flags from all nations. It occurred to me on this drive a few weeks ago, that it might be cool to figure out how many countries there are in my biggest gap, alphabetically, between countries that I have visited. I then decided that it would be neat to commit to visiting, some time in the next five years, the country that would cut that gap in half.

And though this was the most arbitrary and silly of activities, I felt the hand of destiny at work, because it turned out that my biggest gap – 13 countries – is between the Netherlands and the Philippines, and that Oman is smack in the middle of the two, alphabetically speaking if not geographically.

Well, my last stop in Mombasa before heading to the airport had been Fort Jesus, where I learned all about the Omani influence on Mombasa and the region in general. As I walked through intricately carved Omani doors and looked at Omani pottery and jewelry in the display cases, it reaffirmed my desire to visit Oman, which first landed on my radar two or three years ago when I began seeing it (and Malta!) all over Instagram. The photos look straight out of “The Thousand and One Nights.”

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At around the same time, I was realizing that my exposure to the Middle East was minimal (one country, Israel) and that it is a region well worth exploring, not only for its fascinating history and breathtaking landscapes but also for its contemporary culture. 

Anyway, I now feel certain that the universe is calling me to Oman. Only time will tell if I’ll listen…

[Photos: Ian Sewell, bhart9070]

4 for the price of 2

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I’ve been in Mozambique for work for the past two weeks (hence the silence here). One thing I quickly noticed, which I also remarked in Cuba a few years ago, is that once you know one Romance language and a little bit of another, you basically know them all. It’s magic!

I visited Cuba right after finishing a Spanish class that had gotten me through the basics:  the most straightforward past, present, and future tenses, a lot of vocabulary, and simple syntax and grammar rules. That grounding got me about thisfar in conversations with Cubans, but that was good enough for me. Through my arduous journey to French proficiency, I’ve come to expect incremental language-learning progress, and I can now see and appreciate it more clearly.

While traveling in the Cuban countryside, I met a trio of Italians who took the same bus back to Havana with me. We had a nice conversation in English, and then they started speaking to each other in Italian. It felt like my intense week-long effort to concentrate on Spanish allowed me to open up my ears and let the Italian wash over me – and I heard the Romance in it, so to speak. I could understand the gist of what they were discussing – what to eat for lunch or something like that.

Here in Mozambique, I’ve had a similar experience with Portuguese. Funnily enough, I’ve been communicating mostly in French, since my two closest colleagues and collaborators do not speak the greatest English. French is our lingua franca. It’s been very good practice, and as in Cuba, it – and my rusty-but-still-in-there-somewhere knowledge of Spanish – has unlocked the Romance in Portuguese. I’ve learned to turn the sh sounds into s sounds, and with a few other auditory acrobatics, it’s basically Spanish. And when my Spanish isn’t strong enough to understand what someone is saying, my French fills in the gaps.

There’s been multiple moments when I haven’t needed my colleagues to translate for me because I’ve gotten a full enough sense of what someone is saying based solely on listening for the similarities between Portuguese, French, and Spanish. Now I understand what my Czech father meant when he said that he could understand Polish even though he never learned it and could not speak a word of it.

Language families are the best families! Just kidding. But they are pretty great.

The saga continues

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Just in case you are on the edge of your seat waiting for an update on my tale of woe…

I would like to introduce you to two close companions of mine.

Here’s Perry, my dientamoeba fragilis:

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I believe he took up residence in my intestines fairly recently, perhaps in Ghana. Apparently he’s a crafty guy who evades detection, so I’ll never know for sure where or when I picked him up.

And here’s Zoey, a blastocystis hominis who’s been with me for at least a year:

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Because the consequences of harboring this particular parasite are medically unclear, when Zoey showed up in my test results last summer, my gastroenterologist decided to ignore her for the moment and focus instead on treating other things that were more likely to be causing my intestinal distress.

This time around, I saw my integrative medicine doctor before my GI, and when she discovered that I now have not one but two parasites calling my intestines home, she prescribed a ten-day course of metronidazole, which goes by the drug name Flagyl. I’m three days in and it is making me super nauseous and dizzy. It is also probably doing a lot of collateral damage to my gut, but who knows. It’s all very unclear. So much is unknown about digestive health; it’s frustrating.

Still, I’m happy to be doing something, anything, to get my house back in order. And by my house I mean my body, because what is my body if not my home? Parasitic visitors are not welcome in it. 

I saw my GI the day after I saw my integrative medicine doctor, and though she agreed with the course of treatment, she also told me not to expect too much from kicking out these home crashers. She said that achieving anything close to a balanced microbiome is tricky for people like me, and that I may still feel shitty even after the parasites vacate the premises.

Still, I’m excited about the presence (and imminent departure) of my two parasites. It means that I can possibly blame something separate from myself for my digestive failings. It also opens up a new front in the battle for my gut health. Heretofore I had been fighting again generic bad bacteria and general bacterial imbalances; now I am fighting against two very specific enemies with very specific names.

So, after leaving the first doctor’s office, I found myself happily humming a song we used to play on the record player when I was a kid, “Me and My Teddy Bear.” Only I was singing “Me and My Parasites.” I ended up writing a full adaptation that is now stuck in my head: 

Me and my parasites
They have got strong tenants rights
Just me and my parasites
They play and play all day

I hate my parasites
They keep me up both days and nights
Oh I hate my parasites
They prey and prey all day

Every night they’re with me
As I climb up the stairs
And in my guts they glisten
And give me toxic flares

But me and my Flagyl pill,
Are out to get em, kill kill kill!
Just me and my Flagyl pill
We slay and slay all day

Then me and my one body
Sans parasites and I’m set free
Just me and my one body
I pray and pray all day

I enjoyed the exercise so much that I thought, maybe I should write a book of poetry called “Rhymes for the Digestively Distressed”? It’s an uncaptured niche market for sure…

[Top photo: Osvaldo Gago; parasite photos: CDC]

the weekend is here…

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… and I have a few links — all from the New York Times — burning a hole in my inbox pocket. So before I leave you to your weekend adventuring, here they are:

This is science fiction come to life. Since I was a little kid frustrated by having to put my ideas into words, I have yearned for a tool that could read my mind and transfer my pre-verbalized thoughts into another person’s brain, and vice versa. I never, ever thought it was actually possible. Well, this comes pretty close:

Meanwhile, this is the story of the last three years of my life, and perhaps it resonates with your life story as well?:

I’ve been thinking a lot about “fair trade tourism” recently, and I intend to write about it here as soon as I have time to compose my wide-ranging thoughts in a somewhat organized manner. In the meantime, I found this article on ethical travel thought-provoking — especially how narrowly they defined the term for the purposes of the article.

When I read the article below, it sounded highly familiar. I searched my blog and lo and behold, four years ago, in a blog post with an almost identical title to this one, I linked to an earlier New York Times article about this same exact subject. It remains fascinating.

Senegal: the Casamance

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In March, I traveled to the Casamance region of Senegal for work. I didn’t realize until I was making the plans that I had actually been to the Casamance before, as Kolda is technically in the Haute Casamance. But the area of Senegal that is reputed to be the most verdant and beautiful is the Basse Casamance, the western section on and close to the ocean. And this is where I would be heading for work. I was pleased, to say the least. Some pictures…

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