The Culture of a Line

A few weeks ago I played Four Square for the first time in probably 20 years. All the kids were done with their homework so we headed out to the playground. It started with just 4 of us but within 15 minutes we had 20 kids playing the game ranging from 5-years-old to 15.  To me it was amazing that the older kids had no problem playing with the little ones. They even gave the smallest ones second chances so they wouldn’t have to get out so fast.

The only problem that came up during the game was waiting in line. No one wanted to wait their turn and if someone even stepped out of line to throw a candy wrapper away, their place was lost and they were forced to go to the end or fight to get their spot back. I never once had to referee the game but I ended up settling disputes about the line for the entire hour we played.

As I waited in line for an hour and half to vote last week, I had plenty of time to contemplate the cultural aspects of waiting in line. Behind me was a gentleman who continuously got out of line to talk on the phone, but the strangers around him let him back in each time. In Italy, I doubt that would have ever happen. In fact, from my experience, there would be no line. There would just be a herd of people who would eventually funnel their way into the door. It reminded me just how drastically different the concept of time and efficiency is my beloved Italy compared to my hometown of Oklahoma City.

Yep…this was my election line

I’m curious now if the problem of waiting in line for Four Square was an age issue or a cultural one.   Are these kids who came to the US from Iraq, Myanmar, Honduras, and Sudan taking on the impatience of American culture or just being kids who want to hurry up and play the game? It’s a question that I believe I’ll have to ponder on for a while, but in the meantime, I’ll just enjoy another game of Four Square.

Friday Global Giving: The Full Plate Club

When my mom was growing up, my grandparents instituted the Clean Plate Club. If she didn’t finish her dinner, she was told there were starving children in China who would love to eat her food. I think she responded with, “I’ll mail it to them.” 🙂

I think most parents now have substituted China with Africa but the sentiment is the same – don’t waste food when there are people going hungry every day. In fact, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 925 million people around the world suffer from consistent hunger.

While perhaps we can’t send the food from our plates, there are great organizations and things to do to help eliminate hunger around the world. For the first Friday Global Giving, check out some of these ideas to help keep plates full:

Courtesy of goldencommunitygarden.org

 

Global Giving Series

For the months of November and December, I decided to do a new series called Global Giving each Friday. For Americans these months are naturally a time we give. Many of us donate to the local food pantry to help stock for the holidays, donate coats for colder weather, or give to a favorite charity before the year-end. Whether you are Stateside or abroad, there are certainly hundreds if not thousands of great causes to give to no matter what time of year it is.

In the next eight weeks I’ll be doing research on global issues like hunger, clean water, healthcare, housing, children’s programs, and poverty and reporting on organizations I find, causes I personally give to, and hands-on ways to give on a global level.

As always, I’m taking recommendations. Whether you run a non-for-profit yourself or give consistently to one that you feel is worthy, please share!

 

Abroad Blog of the Week: Happy to be Homeless

Happy to be Homeless was nominated to be this Abroad Blog of the Week by Ashley of the Parallel Life and it is quite obvious why. Happy to be Homeless is the story of a husband and wife (Bryan and Kristin) who have left friends, family, jobs, and the familiarity of the US to travel the world for two years. Their blog is quite simply amazing as they have just now finished their first year of travel and are about to embark on Africa. Kristin and Bryan tell about the incredible, the frustrating, and the challenging. I was able to catch up with Kristin (while they were traveling through Georgia) to learn more about their world-wide travels and how they’ve made it work for the past year. For those of us that are homebound, this is great blog to add to your reader for vicarious living.

Your blog has a pretty extensive map of where you plan to go. How did you decide?

A lot of places we go are on a whim. Before we left we just had a basic idea of areas we wanted to hit. Most the time we hear about interesting places as we go (especially from other travelers and locals) and add them to our itinerary. Our exact plans are constantly changing but we have a basic route of the world. We pretty much want to go everywhere that offers something unique so we try not to rule anything out. Sometimes we find ourselves in places we never expected to go because we are open to any good opportunities. For example, Antarctica was definitely not in our original plan but we went last February and it’s been one of the highlights of our World Trip!

What are the benefits and drawbacks of traveling with your spouse for such a long period of time?

I think this trip has been a really good thing for our marriage. For seven years (before our trip began in November 2011), we only saw each other on weekends because we worked opposite shifts. We’ve learned how to communicate better and work together to solve problems. I’m really glad we decided to do this before we have children because it’s been a lot of quality time together. We see each other at our best and at our worst.

Of course, sometimes we get on each other’s nerves. The first six months in South America had a lot of ups and downs while I adjusted to living out of a backpack and dealt with my homesickness. It was difficult for Bryan to understand why I was sad while “living the dream.” We are in a good travel groove now and are really looking forward to our 4-month overland tour of Africa that begins in a few weeks!

What have been your favorite hostels along your journey?

The cool thing about hostels is that they are all different and most are in prime locations for affordable prices. For example, we stayed in a hostel that was in a former Olympic Stadium and one that was in an old castle. Hostels usually have good social events and perks, too. Bryan had one of his all-time favorite meals at a hostel in Salta, Argentina that had a weekly Asado (Barbeque) on Wednesday nights.

Do you take days off from traveling and exploring?

Honestly, we don’t really slow down much while we are on the road – as you can probably tell from our map of the last year! We rarely sleep in the same bed for more than a night or two. Getting Bryan to sit still is a difficult task. He’s like a toddler; I can barely get him to sit on a beach for more than 10 minutes. 🙂 We did return back to the US last June for five weeks for Bryan’s sister’s wedding so that definitely recharged our batteries. We’ll go back to the US again for another break from travel in April. Family and friends have come to meet us during our travels quite a few times so that gives us a nice change of pace and helps with homesickness.

What is your advice to being happy and homeless at the same time?

Unlike Bryan, it took me awhile until I was content being “happy and homeless.” I used to derive a lot of my contentment from my friends and family nearby, my belongings, my volunteering, and my profession. The first few months were a huge adjustment for me with no job, no home, no schedule, and having my family and friends so far away. There were many days that I just wanted to go home.

After some time, I finally started to realize that there is plenty of time for careers, another home, children, and everything else. I started enjoying every free moment I had with Bryan. I can wake up in the morning and do whatever I want. I don’t have bills, a job, or really any responsibilities. Some days may not be the best, but for now I have my freedom and I’m going to enjoy it. I try to keep a positive attitude. We may be in a completely crummy city and a bad hostel, but tomorrow I may end up in a gorgeous place and in a nice hotel.

Thanks, Kristin, for a great interview!

Global from Home Makeover

Over the next few weeks you’ll see some changes on Global from Home. Now that the blog has been up and running for 6 months(yay!), I’m planning to do a bit of reorganizing to make it a little easier to find ways to explore culture from your front door.  Here are the new categories you can expect to see pop up soon:

  • Abroad Blogs of the Week – ABOW is definitely my favorite post I write each week so this one will be staying. However, I am hoping to get more recommendations for blogs to highlight. Nominate a blog today by clicking here.
  • Cultural Crafting – find posts on decorating your house, unique ways to use your photos, and plenty of craft ideas with an international theme.
  • Doing Global Good – this will be the home for a new series coming up called Global Giving, as well as posts highlighting do-gooders around the globe.
  • Ethnic and Tasty – this category will also be staying. Check here for recipes, restaurants, and foodie penpal posts.
  • Foreignly Entertaining – from You Tube to books to movies and any other entertaining tidbits on culture I can find, this is where to look.
  • iGlobal – with so many great tools on the web, this new category will put all of the ones I’ve found in one place.
  • International Neighbors – this category will include my stories and tips on meeting people from around the world in your own hometown.
  • Study Abroad and Beyond– as a study abroad advisor, I have lots to say on studying overseas. Check here for info on how to get a job in international education and other great info on studying, working, or volunteering abroad.
  • Worldly Events – finds posts on international holidays, festivals, and other fun events with a global theme.

Have other ideas to be global from home? I’d love to hear them!

Disasters Make the Best Stories

One thing I always tell students is they have to have disasters when they study abroad. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have any good stories to tell when they come home. People are always so scared they’ll get lost, get sick, get hit-on, or get pick pocketed that they don’t fully enjoy themselves. And while none of those things are fun when they happen nor am I advocating being lackadaisical, they really are the stories we tell when we get back.

I recently met with a student at my university who studied in India last semester. She had presented on her study abroad experience just a few weeks ago and had shown some of her photographs from her semester abroad during her presentation. One of the pictures that caught my attention was of her walking down a catwalk in a long gown. When I asked her about the photo she explained that it was actually an awkward experience. Some of the Indian students she had met were fashion majors and asked her and several other American students to be in their fashion show. She talked about meeting up for practice and learning about “Indian time”. Sometimes practice would start an hour later. Other times she would come late and they would already be done. She said the gown itself was also an issue. As a rather tall girl, especially by Indian standards, she was slightly stunned that her gown was far too long for her. At 5’9″ she towered over her Indian friends. So who was this dress made for?

We laughed over her stories, the reactions from both her and her Indian peers, and the absurdity of some of the situations. Then I shared my theory. No disasters = no good stories. She thought for a moment and realized that it was true. Almost all the stories she shared from India were disasters at the time.

What disasters from your travels do you share? I’d love some good stories!

October Foodie Penpal and Aunt Ethel’s Enchiladas

Earlier this month you may have read my post about becoming a foodie penpal. Well today is the day that all the foodie penpals share about their boxes. My box came from a lovely woman named Emily from Midland, Texas and within it was all kinds of Texas delicacies like Texas Trash (a sweet concoction kind of like puppy chow) and Amazing Corn (kind of popcorn but kind of not). I was especially excited for the Hatch Green Chiles in the box because they were perfect for a Mexican-inspired dish that I learned from my Aunt Ethel. Aunt Ethel was my dad’s oldest sister and since she didn’t have any kids of her own, she loved to spoil her nephews and nieces with her amazing cooking. She made the best fried chicken, red velvet cake, and ranger cookies that I’ve ever had.  Another one of her great recipes were her enchiladas. With my Hatch Green Chiles, I had everything I needed to make them for dinner last night.

Aunt Ethel’s Chicken Enchiladas (yields 4)

  • 2 large chicken breast cooled and cubed or shredded
  • 1 cans of cream of chicken soup
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 8 oz. sour cream
  • 4 oz. diced green chilies
  • 1/2 bunch of green onions, chopped
  • 1 pkg. large flour tortillas (I substitute whole wheat tortillas instead)
  • 1.5 cups of shredded cheddar cheese

Directions

  1.  Spray 10 x 15 glass baking dish
  2. Mix soup, milk, sour cream, chilies and green onions.  Spread one cup of mixture on bottom of baking dish.  Reserve 1 ½ cups for top.
  3. Add chopped chicken to remaining mixture.  Spread a roll of filling across the center of the tortilla.  Roll and place, seam down, in pan.  Cover with remaining sauce and cheese on top.
  4. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.

Thanks to Emily for all the great Texas goodies!

Abroad Blog of the Week: كوين ف المغرب (Quinn in Morocco)

I love Peace Corps Volunteer blogs. 1. They are always in interesting locations. 2. They always have great interactions with local people. 3. I can live vicariously through them. I started following كوين ف المغرب (Quinn in Morocco) almost four months ago for all of these reasons. The blogger, Sarah, is an Atlanta native who studied art at the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) and now finds herself teaching English to the local children in Tamslouht, Morocco. Having finished her first year as a PCV this coming November 17, Sarah’s blog is full of great insight into the Moroccan way of life. Her blog highlights everything from Ramadan to Moroccan weddings to current political and religious issues in the country. I was excited to “meet up” with Sarah via email to learn all about the PCV experience.

What is a typical day for you as a PCV in Morocco?

 A typical day…oh, what a faraway dream from another land!

I have found that there is absolutely no such thing as a typical day in Morocco. Even my best-laid plans are always disrupted by invitations to tea at a complete stranger’s house, last-minute excursions to the city, meetings that I had no idea were happening, students not showing up to my classes (or showing up at my front door in droves when I had no idea a class would be meeting), donkey traffic jams preventing me from getting anywhere on time…the possibilities are endless. Additionally, life in Morocco is really seasonal. By this, I mean that my “typical” Tuesday during the school year is very different than a Tuesday during the summer. And a Tuesday during Ramadan is a completely different animal entirely!

If I had to draw up a “this is what I spend most of my time doing” schedule, patched together from the most common occurrences of my life during any given time, it would probably go something like this:

In the morning, I wake up around 6am to the alarm that I optimistically set the night before— you know, to go running and do that whole “healthy lifestyle” thing. I rarely make it out of bed. I sleep in until my next alarm around 8 or so and then spend a bit of time checking emails, reassuring people I’m alive, etc. My mornings revolve around last-minute lesson-planning for my English classes at the local youth center, teaching those classes, or spending time at the local café studying Darija with my tutor. Lunch usually occurs in the 12-3pm timeframe, and this can be anything from a depressing concoction from my own fridge (Lentils? Third day in a row? Why not!) to a delicious meal at a friend’s house. I always cross my fingers for an invitation. The afternoon involves more last-minute lesson planning, classes, meetings with associations, and possibly activities at the youth center. In the evening, I go home, to a friend’s house, or to my host family’s house. The latter two options involve sitting around, watching Turkish soap operas dubbed in Darija, and eating more delicious food. Bedtime comes pretty soon thereafter.

You’ve got great packing list! Of all you have, what three things could you absolutely not live without?

 A quick aside about my packing list— that was composed after coming to Morocco and seeing what I actually needed (as opposed to what I brought with me). Let me assure you, those things were completely unrelated.

Nevertheless, the three things that I absolutely can’t live without are:

  • My small book: This was a going-away gift from the museum I used to work for. It’s pocket –sized and perfect for writing down new words that I learn in the various places I end up during any given day.
  • My computer: It’s not particularly fancy, but it has enabled me to communicate with the outside world during the past year. Even without an internet connection, ending the day with an episode of the West Wing in the comfort of my bed (as opposed to the local cyber café) is a wonderful, purely American comfort food.
  • My glasses: Not only are they practical, as I really can’t see anything without them, but they’re always a good conversation starter with little kids (“Can I wear your glasses?” “Wow, look how goofy I am!”). In big cities, they also diffuse a lot of unwanted attention. It’s like I’m a mystical creature with large black glasses instead of a foreign woman to hassle.

 What is your favorite thing to do with visitors when they come to Tamslouht?

I have taken every visitor to the local café that sits right in the heart of Tamslouht. It’s a really cute, very Moroccan establishment that I visit every day, if not multiple times a day. A cup of coffee or a soda is less than a dollar, the owners (Marwan and Mustapha) know and love me very much. From their plastic chairs, I can literally see everyone in the town walk by if I sit there long enough. It has that “rustic charm” that only stray cats napping on the chair beside you and soda delivered in glass bottles can offer. For American visitors, it’s also extremely entertaining for them just sit and observe the rhythm of Moroccan life for a bit. The donkeys pulling carts of vegetables and small children are always a hit.

 How do you use art to work with your students?

I spend the majority of my time teaching English. However, because of my personal background (I studied art and art history in college) and my desire to make learning fun, I really try to implement as many creative activities into my curriculum as possible.

Mostly, I use art as an English-teaching method. For example, if we’re studying adjectives, I’ll make students randomly pick an adjective and a noun and draw a picture combining the two. This ends up being not only fun and an effective way to learn (how can you not remember something like “fat table” or “sad tajine”), but I also end up getting free classroom decorations. The kids really dig it.

 What have your students taught you?

 More than I’ve taught them. I swear.

 For new PCVs, what advice would you give them to have a successful start?

Just laugh it off. Peace Corps usually ends up being an amazing, life-changing experience….that is simultaneously a complete emotional rollercoaster. We volunteers joke with each other a lot about the way that the tiniest, slightly-negative experience can send the most even-tempered volunteer to tears. Also, living in another culture, you have a lot of things said to you that are completely normal, if not even complimentary in this culture— while being simultaneously offensive to you as an American.

The best example I give people is the frequency with which people call me fat. It’s a huge (ha ha ha) compliment here, although not so much to an American. Just a week or so ago, I was at my sitemate’s host family’s house for dinner. We had walked over in the pouring rain and they insisted that we change our clothes as not to get sick from the cold. My skinny sitemate had no problem slipping into his host brother’s sweat pants; I, meanwhile, literally could not button the “largest pants they owned.” Direct quote. This is a family of very small-boned, genetically-blessed women, and they were very entertained by the fact that I couldn’t fit into the largest pair of pants that they owned (probably the equivalent of a size 6 in America). They kept telling me that my stomach was huge! I was so fat! Ha ha ha! This is the kind of situation where you have two choices: break down and cry because it’s the 6th time today where someone has called you fat and you’re beginning to believe it, or just laugh and take it in stride. Seriously, if you look at everything the right way, you’ll see that it’s all complete sitcom material— even the stuff that can really hurt and make you want to pack your bags. Taking things lightly will not only make your Peace Corps experience exponentially easier, but it will make all of the potential for cross-cultural misunderstandings null and void.

Uganda Beads

I received my own first set of Uganda beads a few years ago from a dear friend. She was in law school at the time and as part of an international law project, she was able to go to Uganda to meet the women and children in the internally displaced people camps outside of Kampala. Several non-for-profit organizations work within these camps and teach the women how to make beads and sell them fair trade. While meeting these women, my friend was able to buy my beads direct from the artisans who made them.

If you can’t go to Uganda yourself, Beads for Life provides a great opportunity to get your own Uganda beads. Beads for Life is one of the organizations that work with the Ugandan women to sell their beads at fair trade prices. To share their goods, they’ve started a Bead Party program. To host your own Bead Party, you register with Beads for Life and they send you a full supply of Ugandan bead necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.  With reasonable prices and beautiful jewelry, the Bead Party is a perfect event to socialize with friends while helping a great cause. I went to a Bead Party a few years ago and it was a great event. Not only did I get most of my Christmas shopping done but it was also a perfect way to talk about what is going on in the world amongst friends.

And if you’re real brave, you can also try out the Ugandan-style bead making yourself with just a little wrapping paper and glue. Here is a great tutorial if you want to try your hand at your own Uganda beads. After attempting making my own beads, I think I’ve decided it may be better to just host a party. 🙂

Exploring the Hajj from Home

With new friends from Iraq and Bangladesh, the Hajj and Eid al-Adha were topics of discussion this past week. As a Christian, I will never be allowed to experience Mecca during the Hajj (it’s a Muslim-only event) but I decided to at least do some research and learn a little more about the biggest religious gathering on earth. (This year it was estimated that 4 million pilgrims attended the Hajj; 1.7 million were from abroad.)

After some perusing on You Tube, I found this great 14 minute documentary by Suroosh Alvi, a Muslim from New York City. He snuck a handicam into Mecca on his own personal Hajj last year and shared his own thoughts on the experience but also the process and rituals that were required to complete the Hajj. It really helped me understand a little more and I would really recommend viewing it if you’re curious about the Hajj.

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires each Muslim who is physically and financially able to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Of the pictures I’ve seen of the Hajj before, the one that comes to mind is of the Kaaba, the black box that the Muslim believes to be the house of God. As part of the Hajj, the pilgrims must perform Tawaf where they circle the Kaaba seven times and then kiss the black stone (or point to the stone if the crowds are too bad).

The next ritual of Hajj is to go to Mt. Arafat, where the prophet Muhammad gave his last sermon, and pray. Mt. Arafat is also known as the Hill of Forgiveness and is a highlight of the Hajj as the Muslim pilgrim spends the afternoon in contemplation and prayer.

The ritual of stoning Jamrat Al-Aqabah follows the day at Mt. Arafat. Jamrat Al-Aqabah can be found in Mina and consist of three columns (recently replaced by three walls) that represent the Devil. For the ritual, the pilgrims must throw 21 stones at the columns symbolizing their defiance of the Devil.

Once the stoning is complete, the pilgrims must slaughter their sacrifice in celebration of the sacrifice that God provided Abraham in replacement for his son (for Christians and Jews, this story may be familiar). This holiday is celebrated by all Muslims whether in Mecca or not and is called Eid al-Adha.

After stoning the Devil and slaughtering the sacrifice, the final rite of that day  is shaving the head (for men) or trimming the hair (for women). The hair cut symbolizes an important stage of the Hajj and almost all restrictions are lifted from the pilgrim after this point.

When these rituals have been completed, the pilgrim returns to the beginning and once again prays and circles the Kaaba seven times. These rites are completed by both men and women of the Muslim faith, although the rules are slightly different for the sexes. For example, women cannot complete the Hajj while menstruating, nor can they attend Hajj without a male relative to escort them. But once the Hajj is complete, whether male or female, they are given the honored name of Hajji.

I will admit that this account is far from detailed, and despite reading multiple websites and watching several videos, the Hajj is still a bit of a mystery to me. But considering even devout Muslims need a guide to help them through the Hajj, I decided not to feel to bad. However, I am still curious to learn more and welcome any comments from my more experienced readers!