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I’m batting a thousand. Three times in Southeast Asia, three bouts of food poisoning. Four years ago in Hue, Vietnam, the chunks of mango in my breakfast juice apparently weren’t clean enough for my delicate Western stomach; two years ago in Luang Prabang, Laos, I eyeballed the bean sprouts on my plate of noodles and—I still don’t know why—I ate ‘em; a few months ago, in Sukhothai, Thailand, I drank two glasses of orange drink that was obviously canned but contained ice that must have been made from tap water. The latest bout, the one in Sukhothai, had the usual silver lining: that happy moment when you know for sure the nausea is gone, the vomiting is done. Okay, I said to myself, that was miserable, but it’s over. I relaxed. But then reality sank in: sure, it might be over, but it’s not like you’re immune. That annoying realization…
Wednesday, 01 January 2020

Notes from Exile: Arabian Nights

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Photo courtesy of Yunus Klifa from Unsplash October 21, 2010, 2:00 a.m. My Last Early Morning in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: In a one-man pre-dawn raid at our military-style fortified compound -- where all the Western infidels who dare step foot on the Holy Land must live --the S.S. (Sweaty Stubs, or, alternatively, Stubby Sweats) woke me up with a bang on the apartment door. I was barely awake, because it was 2 in the morning and because I had spent the last week “medicated”. I had no idea who was pounding on my door and probably should’ve been more apprehensive about opening it. But I wasn’t. There stood the S.S. He was characteristically covered from head to toe in sweat – but even wetter than usual – with his wifebeater soaked under his bountiful mammary glands. The S.S.’s t-shirts stayed covered in what some people call “underboob” sweat,…
Tuesday, 01 May 2018

Goin' Rogue in Spain

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Careening toward self-doubt, which was swiftly followed by a silent bug-eyed panic, I endeavored to stuff the big wad of Spanish pesetas back into the ATM. It was 1996. I was in Barajas Airport in Madrid, Spain. Having just returned from celebrating Thanksgiving in Rome, Italy, with a fellow American study abroad student, I was tired. All I could think was – “Holy-holy. Why is this ATM spitting out so many bills?” To dash ahead, I didn’t end up stuffing the colorful foreign money back into the mysterious “wall of wealth,” as I quickly realized that the ATM had, in fact, given me the correct requested amount. Thankfully I hadn’t requested an insanely exorbitant amount of money, either – like the equivalent of $2,000 American dollars instead of $200. Phew. It just goes to show you that calculating the exchange rate of American dollars to Spanish pesetas to Italian lire,…
Tuesday, 01 March 2016

Rome After Dark

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It was midnight at the Teatro dell’Opera. Mother and I had endured a production of Tristan und Isolde so lengthy and grueling that even the most diehard Wagnerians were praying for the doomed couple to expire. When the hour-long death scene finally terminated, we staggered out of the auditorium in a lugubrious stupor. “Tristan,” moaned Mother, mimicking the heroine’s last gasps. “Tristan.” “Isolde,” I wailed. “Isolde!” Our fellow spectators—lavishly outfitted Romans all—exited in a similarly stricken state. I’d never known a crowd of Italians to be so silent and introspective. “Why don’t they just die already,” said Mother. “Who? These poor Romans? They’re as innocent as we.” “Not them. Tristan and Isolde. Why do Germans have to drag everything out?” “I thought you’d like it. You’re half German, after all.” “Not that kind of German. It reminded me of something Hitler would put on to impress Mussolini.” Tristan und Isolde…
Friday, 01 January 2016

An Easy Hike, Honduras

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I am going to die. The thought sears my brain as I dangle from the hole in the mountain trail I’ve just fallen through. Nothing but a vast expanse of air separates me from certain death. My heart quickens as time slows. Terror twists my body and my grip loosens on the root I’m grasping as my hands grow moist. My life doesn’t flash before my eyes. Nothing does. Everything is a blur. The blurred faces of the other hikers. The blurred smirk of the head guide I call Tarzan. The blurred leaves of trees overhead. Even as the hands of Tarzan and another guide pull me to safety, I can feel the weight of gravity still pulling me down, down, down. I slip a little and their fingers bite harder into my flesh. Finally my feet hit solid, and hopefully unbreakable, earth. My body sways and the forest slowly…
Sunday, 01 November 2015

Goats & Milk: Ukraine

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Before we went to get the milk, my finance Katya and her mother, Elena, decided that it was best for me to wait outside as they entered the small, village grocery shop outside of Dnipropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine. We were in search of edible meat and cheese. While I waited, I noticed a goat chained to a fence. I decided that I had to take its picture. As I began snapping, an elderly man with a long, white beard came waddling up, angrily waving his finger at me, shouting something in Russian. “Nyet, Russkiy,” I said, pleading my case, but the man continued shouting at me. Moments later, Katya came running out of the shop, coming to my defense, while Elena finished up the grocery purchase. “Is this your foreigner?” the man asked Katya in Russian. “Da,” Katya admitted nervously. “Did he do something wrong?” “Get him the hell out…
Monday, 31 August 2015

The Mount Popa Gauntlet

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There were hundreds of monkeys, all climbing, playing, and guarding the steps that led to the top of Mt. Popa. I had been surprised not to have seen monkeys anywhere in Myanmar. And now I knew why: they were all at Mount Popa, atop which sits one of the most sacred temples in Myanmar. Bare feet, a long and narrow staircase, and gangs of aggressive monkeys. I thought back to my travel nurse – “You have 24 hours” she had said again and again. 24 hours from contact, even a scratch, before rabies became incurable. It was high-season for baby monkeys, and I’m pretty certain they were part of a larger Mount Popa matrix of maliciousness. Like street peddlers who send their children to distract you while they snatch your wallet, the six-inch toddler monkeys were sent in all their fearlessness to the front. Afraid to step on them or…
There is a society of women that gathers weekly outside a rather unsavory, yet highly favored fish and chips shop in the busiest district of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The purpose of these meetings is to stand in line to purchase the abundant pre-used cooking oil that is regularly made available by the proprietor of this fish and chips shop to interested consumers. This proprietor, a jovial Indian gentleman, operates this sale of his used oil on a first-come-first-served basis, so you will understand the commotion as the women queue and watch while their counterparts at the front of the line buy the oil in bulk. At first glance this oil resembles something that should be placed in a vehicle engine; however these ladies are undeterred by the oil’s appearance as they appreciate its affordability. Reusing cooking oil is a common practise in most parts of Port Elizabeth; or The…
Saturday, 01 February 2014

Not All Vacations Are Created Equal

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What you expect of a Mexican vacation: great food, lazy days at the beach, haggling over jewelry and clothes, a full head of braids, and lounging by the pool. At least that is what I expected, and that expectation was the itinerary of my first trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. But as I, and my family, would learn, you really cannot have the same vacation twice. When we first got there everything went as planned, we haggled, bodysurfed, and rode horses. But on day two things started to take a turn for the worse. Day 2: What Happened: I had noticed a burning pain on my upper back/shoulders, which I attributed to an ordinary sunburn (nothing novel about that for me, I ALWAYS burn on vacations). Mexico has the power to make you believe no time has passed and while it is charring your skin, you still think you’ve only…
When I saw the bag on the seat opposite me moving on its own accord, I did a double take. When I looked again, it was perfectly still. I rubbed my face and presumed that it was sleep deprivation, making me delusional. I was at the bus station in Savannakhet (Laos) sitting on the dilapidated coach, bound to Hue (Vietnam) and just relieved that I had two seats to stretch out my ungainly, almost two-meter frame, to sleep away the next seven hours of travel time. A bag moving on its own accord wasn’t going to occupy my thoughts and prevent me from getting the rest I needed. I chose this bus because after a few weeks in Thailand and Laos, spent traveling in taxis or on air-conditioned tourist buses with fellow backpackers; speaking English, acting English and doing nothing more parochial than drinking the local beer, I craved something…

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