Sunday, January 9, 2011

Egypt - Christmas 2010

Our trip to Egypt (Dec 19th - Jan 3rd) was fantastic!!

We started in Cairo - a city of 23 million. It was a culture shock for us to come from nice, quiet Zambia to this LOUD, crowded city with a population almost double all of Zambia! Cars honking continuously, the 5 times a day call to prayer, radios blaring, people continuously asking: "taxi?" "scarf?" "papyrus?" "come into my shop" "eat at my restaurant" ... and on and on... the phrase "la'a shukran" (no thank you) came in very handy.

One of the most hilarious things I read about was how to cross the streets. Pedestrians don't have the right of way, so to get across multiple lanes, we used an Egyptian as a buffer (he/she would take the hit first!) and would cross lane by lane - we could never made it across all four lanes at once! - with the Egyptian on the oncoming car side.

Somehow everyone we met had a brother/cousin/uncle/father, etc. who had a shop, and could we just stop in for a few minutes? No obligation to buy, of course. How can you say no without being rude (of course, in the end, it didn't really matter what we said or did, they acted very hurt that we didn't buy anything). And, naturally, the shops had NOTHING we would ever want to buy anyway!

Oh - and the baksheesh. Everywhere, everyone wants baksheesh - a tip. To use the bathroom, we paid. We were even hiking and we passed a lady who called out "baksheesh!" - and she didn't do anything to deserve it.

Peter is growing his hair out (life is too short to battle this one!) - and random people loved touching his hair. He wanted to say "one dollah!!" to have them touch his hair, but no one was willing to pay.

All that said, we LOVED the change in culture and being in the city! First stop: Egyptian Museum, then on to Giza -pyramids and sphinx. the Citadel and the major market in the city.

The kids took their first train ride - an overnight 12 hour train ride to Aswan at the southern end of the Nile. It was a fun adventure!

Aswan was the most beautiful city on the Nile and the felucca ride (sail boat) was a treat. The wind died down on our way back - and we had to get a tow from a motor boat.

Aswan is famous on it's own, but it's also the launching point to get to Abu Simbel - an amazing monument to Ramses II - buried mostly under sand for hundreds of years. To go there, you need to be part of a bus/taxi convoy which leads at specific times. Ours left at 4am, which meant we were up at 2:45 to get to the departure site. Abu Simbel was an amazing site - and the fact that it was moved from one location to another was even more phenomenal.

Luxor was our next stop - home to many tombs and temples... the most famous area being the Valley of the Kings (perhaps a bit over-rated). Lots of tombs, temples and museums... FANTASTIC sights, beautiful temples with intricate carvings on granite - and paint still covering parts of the tombs, 3-4,000 years later.

Next onto the Sinai Peninsula - snorkeling and hiking to the top of Mt. Sinai. The ocean was beautiful - although a bit chilly - and being one with Moses on Mt. Sinai was pertty cool. How he climbed up there - and climbed down carrying the 10 commandments on the stone tablets is a miracle.

Oh, and the food was great - babaganoush, kofta, tahini, hummus, lemon juice, pita, fish...oh, and we came across our first Mc Donald's and Starbucks in we made the pilgrimage.

Phrases we heard all the time: "where you from?" "America?" "Obama!" "America? But you look like you from_____" - fill in the blank with an Asian country "Mustache" (they would call out as John walked by - they were quite envious of the bushiness of his mustache), "you want to buy..." "only one dollah" "I don't know what you want, but I have it" (that was our favorite line).

Great memories for our family - and really trying to share the joy and value of experience (instead of "stuff") with our kids.

Happy New Year!

Here's a link to our photos:

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Welcome back to Zambia - August 2010

We made it back to Zambia safe and sound -but not without a little drama including a missed flight - a first for us...

First the drama:

Even though we were awake on time (4am) and arrived at the airport on time, we missed our flight on Thursday - the airport was packed in the morning (as usual) and even though we got there in plenty of time, we happened to get in the TSA line with a trainee where every single bag that went through was looked at and discussed. Because it was so crowded, it wouldn't have been worth it to move to another line.

Then, John had to have one of his bags opened, searched and put through the xray again. We ran to our gate and I think they had just closed it - and they were unwilling to open it for us and the other guy who was also late.

Mimi drove back to the airport to pick us up - and after a short nap, I spent the next 2 1/2 hours trying to book our flight for the next day...United told us that South African Airways (SAA) had to rebook, SAA said it was United who had to do it - so it was back and forth between the 2 airways to figure out who was going to book us...finally it was set.

There were no problems getting out of Seattle (since they had given us boarding pass the day before), but when we arrived in Dulles, there were several issues: 1) John was told that South Africa (the country) requires at least 4-5 empty pages in his passport (and he had none)... thankfully, when we made the argument that we were in transit and not staying in SA, they relented.

Then they held our 3 extra bags hostage and wanted us to pay for extra luggage (we had 3 bags above the 8 bag allotment) - and had to haggle with them about that...finally they let it go, but when we landed in Lusaka, we were missing 2 bags (which we got 2 days later).

We arrived home to dead batteries in both our cars - mine still needs to be jumped and I'm afraid I need a new battery. The kids start school tomorrow (Tuesday) and are trying to get over jet lag, so it'll be a tough first week for them. John and I are back to work on Monday and starting to settle in.

The weather is beautiful here - blue skies, it feels like fall but it warms up in the afternoon.
It feels good to be back in Zambia...the Peter yelled "we're home!" when we landed in Lusaka and they are settling in nicely!

It has been been great to be back - and it does feel like home. We have a lot of goals and things we want to accomplish during our remaining time here - so pray for us!

iy h

Kim's fantastic visit

I am so far behind in putting stuff up on our blog that I am only now - in October (2010) putting in stuff about Kim's visit to us in June. We are always so excited to have visitors - and to have Kim come all the way from Beijing was a real treat for us.

First stop: Victoria Falls! Ironically, we had just been to Vic Falls the previous weekend with a donor group but it was great to do new things and experiencing it with Kim made all the difference in the world! :-)

In June, the rivers above the falls are full of water from the rains - so there was a lot of water coming over the falls.

We donned our customary rain slickers to try and keep some of the spray and mist off our clothes - but of course, we got drenched.

Instead of staying in the fancy pants hotel we stayed in with the donors, we opted to camp - and found a new place where we pitched our tent on the edge of a beautiful lagoon.

Under the bridge that separates Zimbabwe and Zambia (the same bridge that bungi jumpers jump from) - we noticed a steady stream of illegal Zimbabwean baboons who were crossing over to Zambia!! You can make them out below on the horizontal beam.

On our evening cruise on the Zambezi River, we found this group of elephants who seemed to be stranded on the bit of land but I know they can I guess they were just posing for the tourist boats (like the one behind them).

So even though we were roughing it by camping, we still got to have a drink (or a sundowner as they call them here) at the lovely -and fancy - Royal Livingstone, located right on the Zambezi River. You can see the spray of the falls right behind my head...which shows how high the water sprays!

Next stop: South Luangwa for a safari trip. I was the only one in the family who had been to the park - and so, together with Kim, we decided to drive the 9+ hours to the site. I'm pretty sure that was the first - and will be the last - time we drive!

One afternoon, I looked out our chalet window and saw a herd of elephants walking through the lodge eating the bushes and trees.

I found them drinking water out of the pool! And they had trampled down the little fence surrounding the pool...they can be so distructive (which is why villagers don't like them eating their crops and walking through their gardens).

Next adventure: our game drive.

We were lucky to see lions - everyone always wants to see lions ... but they spend so much time sleeping that I wonder if it's worth all the hype. IF we saw them stalking, killing and eating something, then I'd be happy (although completely grossed out).

We love visitors and love showing them our life here in Zambia...Come for a visit!

During our evening drive, the drivers always try to find a nice spot on the river for us to get out, stretch our legs, drink a beer and enjoy the evening light. Here we saw hippos snorting away and starting their evening grazing.


Took my first trip to Zimbabwe for a communicators conference (my first conference!). Wasn't sure what to expect in Zim given all the media, but there were some surprises. Being in a conference meant that from morning to dinner we were sitting in a cramped conference room, so we didn't get to see much of the city of Harare or the country.

First impression at the airport: clean, beautiful and way nicer than Lusaka...People told me that it used to be really ratty - so luckily, I saw it after the renovation!

This is a park across the street from our hotel, it took up one city block! This is not only shocking because of the size - but again, comparing to Lusaka, there are virtually no parks here, so just seeing one was awesome.

Downtown Harare has some super modern looking buildings (more so than Lusaka). Zimbabweans say that the Harare of today is nothing like the glory of the city 20 years ago.

Here's the amazing thing about the Zim has been devalued so much that they now trade in US dollars... I found TWO 50 BILLION dollar notes on the ground and when I asked someone why they didn't pick up the money, they said, "it's only paper... it has no value."

So, now Zimbabwe is using the US dollar for currency. The top bill was one that I received as change - nasty, grimy...and as you can see, about ready to fall apart. The dollar bill below was one that we had in our stash - used, but nothing like the one from Zim. The single dollar bill is the most traded in Zim and they can't take them out of circulation and print more, so they must keep using them until they fall apart (or people like me buy stuff with newer bills and take the nasty, ratty ones out as change). Also, for the poor, there are difficulties because Zim doesn't have any coins for change, it means that people who can only afford one loaf of bread (at 30 cents) are now forced to buy two or three and rarely get full value out of the currency.

Obama tshirts are everywhere!

This was an amazing mural on the side of a building.

Was this intentional - or a typo?? :-)

Trash by one of slum areas we visited. The good news is they have a trash can...

This building was originally built for manual laborers who came into Harare for work - with so many people coming into the city for work, each of the rooms that used to house one man now houses 4-5 people.


Our friends took us to one of the most popular spots in Zim for BBQ (or braai as they call it here). When you drive up, many ladies (and some men) ask you if they can be your cook.

Step #1 - before we even could get off the bus - we were accosted by people who wanted to be our cook. Pick a cook.

Step #2 - walk across the dirt parking area to the meat markets - and pick out what you want to BBQ. Beef, pork, chicken - all cut in various ways. Thank goodness the meat was kept in refrigerated units!

Step # 3 - take your bags of meat to the lady you selected to do your cooking. The lady we used is the one on the left in the white tshirt. The guy who picked her comes to this place on a regular basis and she's his regular cook (but you can see that there are lots of braiis set up under the roof).
We practiced good hygiene by washing our hands before we ate (since we did all our eating with our hands, this was essential). Our cook was the one who poured the water and offered up the soap.

Next - we belly up to the table. Big plates of hot, nicely seasoned beef, chick and pork...and some veggies on the side. Although I was a bit skeptical, it was a really delicious meal - and BONUS: no one got sick!

Ginger - our new family member

We had heard about the animal welfare society from friends - where dogs who couldn't travel with their families were left behind... we were told that they just need some love and care - no matter how long! So, when we learned we were staying one more year, we thought we could offer a dog a nice home for a year and we could use that year to see if the kids were responsible enough to take care of the dog.

John and Peter went to the "pound" the day after we got back from the states - and together, they picked out Ginger (who was named "Joker" - with a name like Joker, we knew we had to change it!). Ginger and her sister were found behind a walled compound abandoned so she was used to scavenging for her food, digging holes to sleep in - and was probably abused.

She was super skitterish and suspicious when we got her, but over time, she's turned into a really nice dog (although still prone to biting the brothers!).

The kids have done a great job taking care of Ginger - alternating days for poop patrol... now we have to get on the training regime!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

San Francisco Summer

(Something funny is happening with the alignment and spacing...apologies!)

Being in SF this summer was a blast - no two ways about it! BUT, it was cold - and many folks quoted Mark Twain who said, "the coldest winter I spent was the summer in San Francisco." The fog was low... the wind was blowing hard - but on our last days there, it warmed up in the afternoon and was really beautiful.

Went to Angel Island - said to be the Ellis Island of the west - but really it was a holding place for many Chinese, Japanese and other Asians. They have fixed up the site and highlighted poems written by Chinese about the dispair they felt at not being able to get out of the Ellis Island. From 1910 to 1940, the island processed hundreds of thousands of immigrants, the majority from China. During WWII, Japanese, and German POWs were held on the island, which was also used as a jumping-off point for American soldiers returning from the Pacific. In the ’50s and ’60s, the island was home to a Nike missle site.

Peter ringing the bell that says "US Immigration Station, Angel Island, 1910."

Picnic lunch on the island - before the start of our big hike!

We made it to the peak of Angel Island - with a foggy view of Tiburon.

Yerba Buena gardens was beautiful, an oasis in the city and we walked to the modern art museum afterwards.

Jim and the kids waiting for John - who was still wandering around the museum!

Pier 39's famous sea lions - the pier "allowed" the sea lions to stay here when they realized what a tourist attraction they were! More sea lions = more money!

Thanks Jim and Barb for a great visit!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Summer in LA LA Land

Oh joy to visit the happiest place on earth!!! We had a great time with my nephews Riley and Evan getting there at the opening and staying until after 10pm...well worth every bit of the (seemingly exorbitant) entrance fee.
We HAD to go on the jungle cruise to see how different the Disney safari was from the REAL safaris we've been on you be the judge. Which is the real thing of the two images above??

Real?? Or fake???

When we walked out of Adventure Land, I saw a wall of masks where I remembered taking a photo a few years ago with the just to compare - the top photos were from three years ago and the bottom photos are from this year...LOTS of growth over those years.

So fantastic to see Minnie right before we walked out for the night! The timing was perfect since Sophie had just purchased her Minnie ears! I know these characters have smiles plastered permanently on their faces, but even their bodies seem happy - and I'm sure they must get sick of posing for pictures, but whoever lives in those costumes seem like really nice people! I mean, they wouldn't have drug dealers dressed up as Minnie and Mickey, would they?

Autotopia - everyone's favorite! New cars! Sophie drove the car I was in - and if her driving is any indication of her future driving habits, then we will have to insure her to the max when she gets her driver's license!

I used our new Nikon to take these pics of the fireworks show!
Wow, the pics turned out great - and the fireworks were pretty amazing!

Cousin Matt met us in Santa Monica for breakfast and a stroll along the beach and the pier. We were total tourists! Thank goodness I had to buy a touristy trinket for a work colleague so the pier was the perfect shopping spot - even though I'd never go into those shops as a near-native Southern California! Horrors.

One of Sophie's requests was to see the Hollywood sign.
One ideal spot was at the Griffith Park Observatory, which had been recently remodeled.
The observtory and the planetarium show were highlights of our trip.

We got to see cousin Evan play basketball and a bonus was that Rob was the substitute coach - with support from Riley. I can't remember who won, but the team played really well!

Auntie Lisa and Sophie

Hanging with cousins Riley and Evan before the big DS face off!

Auntie Lisa and Peter

It was so great to be with family... just hanging, catching up, living every day life - and eating great food. Cleaning and purging at my parents ... a good reminder NOT to wait 40+ years to start cleaning out the closets! And, lest we think we are without fault, believe me in our nearly 20 years of marriage, we have accumulated much. And, being in Africa, away from our stuff, we realize how little stuff we really need - but how much in relationship we need!