Thursday, July 31, 2014

Stowaway

For the past two hours I’ve been watching CNN.  Actually, that’s not 100% true.  For the past two hours I’ve been writing a research article with the television on in the background tuned to CNN.  One hundred and nineteen minutes of that broadcast was dedicated to Hamas, Gaza, the sanctions against Russia and the Malaysia airlines crash.  In the last 60 seconds Anderson Cooper squeezed in a story about a stowaway found on a U.S. Air Force plane.  In case you missed it a U.S. Air Force plane landed in Germany yesterday after a trip to Africa.  Upon landing, the maintenance crew discovered the dead body of a “young black man presumed to be African” in the wheel well which housed the landing equipment.  By a show of hands, how many people have heard about similar incidents in the past?  No one?  I didn’t think so.

Believe it or not, this is actually a very common occurrence.  Of course this is probably news to anyone reading this because the media only reports stories which sell papers or directly impacts the lives of their viewers.  As a general rule, stories about nameless individuals from countries most people have never heard of before, who are dead anyway, don’t provide a return on investment, so the media houses don’t report it.  But stowaways happen all the time, particularly on international flights out of African countries.

During my time in Africa I met a number of people who worked for the UN, the Red Cross, the World Bank, the IMF and various other NGOs.  The rule is if you see a white person travelling alone in an African country (especially if it is a country most foreigners don’t frequent) there is a high likelihood they are associated with one of these types of organizations.  I was approached countless times and asked point blank, “Who are you with?” meaning, “Which NGO do you work for?” When I would respond that I was a tourism professor visiting XYZ country as a Fulbright Scholar people would look at me as if I had lost my mind.  In short this expression translated to, “What is WRONG with you?  You mean you CHOSE to come here?  By your own free will?  SERIOUSLY????”

The good thing about meeting all these globe-trotting do-goers is that they love to talk about the misery associated with their chosen professions.  I was once on a plane with a man who had worked for the IMF in about a dozen African countries over more than two decades.  People always think I’m a great person to invite to a dinner party because I have good stories about my travels.  Well, if I was throwing the party, I would invite this guy.  Over the course of our four hour flight, and then two dinners together later that same week, I learned about how to obtain illegal weapons, how to embezzle and bribe high ranking government officials, methods used to torture private civilians and among other things, the prevalence of stowaways.

As our flight was landing we were delayed on the tarmac for over an hour.  The flight crew made no effort to explain the delay but we could see the airport less than 100 yards away.  They refused to open the doors telling us only, “There is a problem with one of the wheels and we cannot deplane until the officials investigate.”  Upon hearing this, my neighbor Mr. IMF said, “God I hope this isn’t another bloody stowaway.”

While security in some areas of Africa can be downright frightening at times, it appears most African countries have a significant deficiency when it comes to securing the planes and runways themselves.  Mr. IMF told me that on a regular basis (at least monthly or more often) “kids,” sneak onto airfields and climb into the wheel wells of planes in hopes of catching a free ride to a better life.  He said one of the most unfortunate incidents happened on a commercial flight from Equatorial Guinea to France (I think).  He said three boys, no older 12, died during the flight.  When French authorities found them the smallest, and likely the youngest one, was gripping a note which had written on it something to the effect of, “We are seeking a new life in France.  If we die, please consider helping our younger brothers back home.  They need you.”

I think the only reason yesterday’s stowaway situation was granted any air time was strictly because of the recent Ebola outbreaks in Africa and the fact the plane had visited several countries currently suffering from this illness.  Otherwise, this likely would have never been reported.  I guess there are two morals to today’s story: 1. despite all the best efforts at attempting to maintain a secure existence, people are always finding ways around it, and 2. desperate people are willing to take extreme measures, even when they know they are unlikely to succeed.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

How to Write a Successful Fulbright Proposal

So you want to be a Fulbrighter? If you have the aptitude, skill set and academic background that’s one thing.  But the art of the application is an entirely different beast.  Over the past year, and especially within the last month, I’ve had tons of people contact me asking me for advice regarding how to write a successful Fulbright Grant Proposal.  Since I’ve received two Fulbrights and as a Fulbright Alumna I’m now a proposal evaluator I figured I might as well share my knowledge with the world, and put that information online in hopes of helping aspiring applicants.  Let’s get started.

You may have heard of Fulbright before, or have been totally unfamiliar with it until you ran across my blog.  In a nutshell, the Fulbright Commission is part of the U.S. State Department which provides funding to students and faculty members to conduct research and teach (for professors).  If you would like to learn more about Fulbright please visit this website: www.iie.org/fulbright.

If you would like to consider applying to Fulbright here are a few easy steps to help you along with the process:
  1. Identify the country and a specific university to be your host institution.  If the country/university doesn’t have a need for someone in your field then find another option.  For instance, since I am a Tourism professor I searched for universities interested in having a Tourism person.  There were three options: Thailand, Ethiopia and Botswana.  I decided I wanted to go to Botswana, but I did list other alternatives in case Botswana didn’t work out.  Many other Fulbrighters I have known did NOT get their first choice location, so it was a good thing they listed other alternatives. (P.S.- Every time I pass through Ethiopia I am SO THANKFUL I chose Botswana!) 
  2. Write your project proposal and tailor it to the needs of the country/university.  This is where you have to revert back to thinking like a high schooler who wants to get into their first choice college.  You have to set yourself apart from the competition and demonstrate why you are the best person to be a Fulbrighter for that institution/location.  For me this was easy.  Botswana has the most wildlife in all of Africa.  The country is trying to take advantage of this resource by promoting tourism, but thus far tourism numbers in Botswana pale in comparison to most other more established African tourism destinations (Kenya, South Africa, etc).  I created a project centered around how to increase tourism revenue while protecting the natural resources of the area. 
  3. Once you have formulated your proposal get your hopeful host institution to support it.  I will explain the Fulbright evaluation process and timeline a little later, but for now it is important to note that it is a MAJOR advantage to have the institution behind you.  Fulbright generally requests a letter of support/letter of invitation from someone at the university which says something along the lines of, “We’ve read Dr. Phelan’s proposal and believe her expertise is in line with what our department is trying to accomplish.  We believe she will make a significant contribution if granted a Fulbright and SHE IS AWESOME! WE WANT HER!”  (This is my interpretation, not what was actually written; but you get the drift.)  For students it is IMPERATIVE to have a letter from a faculty member at the host institution write a letter committing to mentor you in your studies.  Fulbright does not like lost children wandering around without someone to mother them (academically). 
  4. Start your application early.  Keep in mind the majority of Fulbright host institutions are in Third World countries.  It may take weeks to get a response from someone at the host institution to respond to your email and say they want to host you.  Then you have to get a letter of support.  This is not the U.S. and hey, if you want somewhere as efficient as the U.S. then don’t bother going abroad.  Many of these countries have electricity problems, or the campus has ZERO technology, so a professor may only check his email once a month (true story).  You need to give yourself 2-3 months to communicate with the host institution to get their commitment and the necessary documentation. 
  5. Get recommendation letters.  I wouldn’t say that recommendation letters make or break you, but they do count.  Fulbright wants to know you can hack it, so this is where your referees can really help.  You need three letters and I suggest asking each person to focus on something a little different.  My department chair talked about me working with lots of international students and the research I had conducted in Africa previously.  My dissertation chair (who is also a mentor and friend) talked about me from a more personal standpoint and the fact that I am flexible, can adjust to uncertain and uncomfortable situations well, and am good at understanding people regardless of their background.  I don’t know what my Associate Dean said, but I knew she would say something positive because she’s always been a huge supporter of me.  She is also one of my most dedicated blog readers- Hi Dr. H! Can’t wait to see you again in a few weeks! :) 
  6. Submit your application on time- or better yet- early.  In fact, make sure you start the online application itself at least a week or two early because there is so much information you need to provide and you may have to hunt for it.  If you have dependents you have to provide all their info as well (birthdates, passport numbers, SS#s) and you may not have that memorized.  In order to make sure you aren’t waking up your spouse in the middle of the night because the application is DUE IN TWO HOURS!!!, start early. 
  7. Once you hit submit try to forget about it.  If you succeed in doing this tell me how.  My thoughts were consumed with “I wonder if I got the Fulbright?” every day for 9 months.
I realize this blog post is already incredibly long, but I also remember how desperate I was to find any candid information when I was preparing my Fulbright app, so I am going to go on a little longer and explain how the evaluation of a Fulbright proposal occurs.  You will submit your Fulbright application in July.  (This date may be different for students.) The Fulbright staffers ensure your application has everything necessary before they send it to the first round of reviews.
  1. September: First your application is reviewed by former Fulbrighters.  These Fulbrighters aren’t necessarily 100% in your field.  For instance, I’ve reviewed applications for History, Political Science and a couple other areas.  This review is basically to make sure your application is realistic and feasible.  For instance, I received a student proposal and the student listed several different schools (which were all over the board- the equivalent of Yale and Prince George’s Community College) he wanted to consider going to, he never mentioned who he would work with, and there was no letter of invitation from any host institution.  This told me he hadn’t put in enough effort and was very unfocused.  I did not recommend advancing him to the next round. 
  2. November: Your application is reviewed by people in your field.  Now, if your field is new to Fulbright these people may not even necessarily be from Fulbright.  For instance, my field of Tourism has only been hosted by Fulbright a short while, so some of my second round reviewers may not have completed a Fulbright before.  Your subject area experts are evaluating your project to determine whether your data collection methods make sense, if you can complete what you want to accomplish in the timeframe proposed and whether you actually contribute anything meaningful to academic literature.  My graduate students constantly hear me ask them, “So what?” when they want to conduct a new research project.  If you haven’t explained in your application why anyone would care about what you are studying it is unlikely you will get selected. 
  3. January: Your host institution evaluates the applications and ranks their selections.  UB had 8 subject areas (Tourism, Medicine, Education, Natural Resources, etc) for Fulbrighters.  This means if you are Theater Arts and the host institution doesn’t list Theater Arts as a desired subject area you might as well look elsewhere.  Even though UB had 8 subject areas listed, they knew they would only get 2, maybe 3 Fulbrighters at most.  The host institution reads the applications sent to them, decides which they do not want, and then ranks the individuals they do want.  UB ranked 10 people this year.  They only got 2.  When I turned down my second Fulbright that meant person number 3 was given an award. 
  4. March-May: Fulbright sends out notifications.  I found out on March 18th of last year that I got the Fulbright.  This year I did not receive notification until May.  (For the record, I was ranked number 1 this year, so it wasn’t like they didn’t want me. There was some turnover in the Africa Regional Office and they were simply operating on a slower timeline this year.)
For anyone applying for the Fulbright I understand how difficult it is to be patient- been there, done that! But once you get awarded a Fulbright time starts to move at the speed of light.  I had roughly 100 days last year to pack up my office, my house, put things in storage, arrange for people to cover my classes, decide what to do with my graduate students, pack for Africa, get all my vaccinations, shots and other medications, make the rounds visiting family and friends, update my will, and mostly importantly promise my mother I would take her to Walt Disney World when I returned.  Thank goodness I didn’t stay a second year, I can’t even imagine what I would have promised her for another year away from home.

If you have stayed with me this long today, thank you!  If you are an aspiring Fulbrighter, good luck!  And if you make the cut and get to spend some time overseas, congratulations!  I hope you take full advantage of your good fortune and have the time of your life.  I certainly did.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Fastest Sport on Two Feet Goes to Africa

For those who may be unfamiliar, the oldest sport in North America is lacrosse.  It was created around 1100 by Native Americans and is played on a grass field using a small ball and a long stick called a crosse.  Traditionally, the game was played for ritual or ceremonial purposes, and would be played with hundreds or even 1,000 people on each team, lasting several days from dawn to dusk.  The sport has changed considerably in the last millennium and if you’ve never seen it before I would implore you to turn to ESPN2 or ESPNU and hunt for a match. After watching a few minutes I’m sure you will understand why it is referred to as the fastest sport on two feet throughout the sporting community.

About fifteen years ago I took a job with the U.S. Lacrosse Foundation.  At the time the U.S. was preparing to host the World Lacrosse Championships.  This event is similar to the FIFA Soccer World Cup, but focuses on the sport of lacrosse.  The Championships occur once every four years and rotates between different host countries each time.  Working for the World Championships was my first experience in the hospitality industry.  If I hadn’t worked for the event I would have never entered the larger hospitality industry afterward and I most definitely would not be a professor today.  Thus, I owe a certain amount of credit for my current success to this one experience.

The ’98 Championships were held in Baltimore (my hometown) and eleven countries participated.  At the time I was the only Phelan officially employed by U.S. Lacrosse, but it was a family affair.  I worked round the clock for two weeks as did my then 11 year-old brother, who was probably the youngest, but most dedicated volunteer we had.  Mom and Dad played integral roles as well, shuttling Tommy back and forth, showing up on the sidelines with food, sunscreen, hats and other necessities, and of course, cheering for both the teams and the hard-working Phelan offspring.

Last week the U.S. hosted the event again.  This time the Championships were held in Denver and 38 countries competed.  The four of us took the trip out west to experience the Championships from a different perspective, as spectators.  In the end the U.S. lost the gold to Canada, a defeat made especially painful considering it occurred before a home crowd.  But the title game paled in comparison to the buzz created around the competition for 33rd place.

While I was in Africa I would often tell people about my experience playing lacrosse.  No one had ever heard about the sport.  Until I went to Uganda.  A few years ago a young man who played lacrosse at the same high school as my brother, and then played at University of Delaware became a Peace Corps volunteer.  Peace Corps sent him to Uganda and while he was there he decided to introduce the sport to the country.  Due to the equipment required to play the sport, the financial investment necessary will likely prohibit most African, and Third World countries, from having teams.  But somehow Uganda generated the funding and fielded a team.  And they were so excited to be there.  And everyone was happy to see them.  The Ugandans were treated like celebrities.

Watching the Uganda team-and many of the teams which were newcomers to the sport- was similar to watching a high school match here in Baltimore.  But they definitely had the heart.  Everyone was impressed when Uganda beat Korea.  The next day they repeated the performance and bested Argentina.  Based on their performance over the two weeks of competition Uganda qualified to compete for 33rd place against China.  It was one of the most heavily attended games during the event.  There were easily over 1,000 people there sprawled across the grassy hill in the heat cheering for Uganda.  The only people cheering for China were the players on the Hong Kong team.  In the end Uganda lost, earning them 34th place out of the entire tournament.  But hey! They didn’t come in LAST!

I doubt I will go to England when they host the Championships in four years.  But I will definitely keep an eye on Uganda.  Here is Uganda in gold and China in red competing for 33rd and 34th place:

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Camp of the Saints

A few days after I arrived back in the U.S. I went to a comedy show with my brother.  One of the comedians did a skit about how, “When I was a kid if I wandered out of the front yard my mom would tie me to a tree.  Now there are kids walking all the way from Honduras to Texas.”  WHAT?  I have to admit I didn’t know about the so-called “Border Crisis” until that comedy show because we didn’t get any news about it abroad.

I recently read the book, The Camp of the Saints.  The book was written in the early 1970s by Jean Raspail about a mass immigration which led to the destruction of western civilization.  In the story nearly a million people board dilapidated ships in India and sail to France.  It takes two months for the ships to make their way to the Mediterranean, and the majority of the book focuses on the attempts of the western governments to figure out how to handle the approaching ships.  There is a significant amount of debate by various parties about whether the ships should be sunk to prevent the passengers from landing where they are not wanted, whether aid should be given to assist them and then they should be encouraged to go elsewhere, or perhaps, even continue circling the globe as a new, floating nation-state, or whether they should be welcomed with open arms and provided with food, medicine, lodging, etc.  Ultimately, as the ships approach French shores there is mass chaos as many private citizens flee to surrounding nations, the government and army essentially break down entirely and abandon their posts, and the few hold-outs are brutally robbed, raped, murdered and run out of their homes.  The illegal immigrants become an invasion that destroys everything in its wake.

When I was in Africa I was in a number of countries with refugee camps.  I don’t think the situation with the illegal immigrants flocking to the U.S. is a refugee camp situation- yet- but it does remind me of them.  I was reading recently that the reason so many unattended children are among the mass of immigrants is because the Dream Act and a law stating that children from non-border countries can be granted asylum.  I don’t claim to know the full details of that legislation, but I understand that before any decision is made regarding whether someone is granted asylum or returned home that they are being transported to shelters for medical attention.  Hearing about the more than 100 shelters set up across the country for these immigrants reminds me of the refugee camps I saw in Africa.

When I was in Congo I drove through a refugee camp which was opened 20 years ago after the Rwandan genocide.  Still today nearly two million people live in that camp.  The people living there are criminals who would be tried by The Hague for war crimes if they returned to Rwanda.  This refugee camp which has been in existence for two decades is barely five miles from the border with Rwanda.  The crazy thing is that once you cross the border into Rwanda there is another refugee camp.  This camp is maybe two miles over the border in Rwanda.  The camp still stands but it is empty.  I asked my driver about the empty camp.  He told me that the camp remains intact because whenever rebel action in Congo gets really bad hundreds of thousands of people cross the border.  Whenever the action dies down the people return, but it is, according to him, a major challenge for the Rwandan government to get them out of the camp and send them home.  He said the government will often dismantle the camp with the people still in it, forcibly take them to the border, and then they will rebuild the camp a few days later because they know they will need it again shortly.  Very often when they begin tearing down the camps the refugees will fight back and flee into the forests because they would rather wander around on their own than go home.
 
I don’t know what will happen regarding this current “Border Crisis.”  It sounds like this Dream Act may be becoming a bit of a nightmare.  But the one thing I did learn in Africa is that once you open your doors it is very hard to close them, and almost impossible to return to sender.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Potty Follies

Today as I was driving home from yoga I noticed there was a work crew cutting the grass in the median which divided the highway.  As I drove past the lawnmowers I saw a large van with the words “Work Crew Transport” parked along the shoulder with a trailer attached.  On top of the trailer was a port-a-potty which someone from the work crew was exiting.  I couldn’t help but think, It must be strange to use a port-a-potty on the side of the highway with traffic speeding by outside at 65+ miles per hour.  Then I thought, How strange to have a port-a-potty, after all you could just go along the side of the road like everyone else.  Then I remembered, I’M NOT IN AFRICA!  You can’t just GO along the side of the road, I think you get arrested for that here!  (Please refer back to the previous post about adjusting to life back in the western, civilized world.)

Yesterday I flew to Miami for a meeting. I arrived first thing in the morning and then was scheduled to return to Baltimore the same evening.  I told the person who was taking me back to the airport for my return trip that “I didn’t bring any luggage (or my African bug out bag), but you know, I threw my toothbrush, and a few other necessities in my purse just in case I got stuck here.”  He said, “You know, we do have Walgreen’s and CVS.  If your flight gets cancelled you could just go buy whatever you need.”  I thought about it for a moment and then said, “I guess that didn’t really occur to me.  I think I’m still in Africa-mode.  Every time I leave the house I carry toilet paper with me in case I can’t find it anywhere because I’m used to never finding toilet paper, or a real toilet for that matter, most places I go (in Africa).”

Let me explain what I mean by “I seldom find a REAL toilet (in Africa).”  Plumbing is very limited in most of Africa.  Most people have detached outhouses. Even if you have indoor plumbing there is no guarantee it will work properly due to water restrictions.  You can’t flush the toilet if there is no water.  When I first arrived in Botswana there was no water in my building on campus for 7 weeks.  Unfortunately people would continue to use the toilets, but they didn’t flush.  In the African heat that equals unpleasantness.  But most of Africa doesn’t have what we call western toilets.  This is a western toilet:
You might, emphasis on might, find western toilets in government buildings, airports in major cities and well-funded universities.  IF, emphasis on IF, you find a western toilet, it is highly unlikely there will be a toilet seat or toilet paper.  It will probably look like this:
In most of Africa, and most of the world, you will find what is called a stand up toilet or a long drop.  Here is a stand up toilet which does have water, and thus actually flushes- sort of:
I was explaining a stand up toilet to friends back home (I was in Africa at the time and they were in the U.S.) and they had never heard of such a thing.  I sent them a picture and they thought I was making this up.  I consider the fact that I am writing a blog post entirely about toilets 1.) kind of ridiculous, but also 2.) a public service announcement and warning to anyone that is considering travel to a third world country.  Stand up toilets are also prevalent in India and China.  Now, not that I am advocating for these types of facilities here, but stand up toilets are considered more biologically beneficial.  What that means is that almost no one in India or China ever has a hip replacement. Why? Because they are continually bending the way the body is designed to and thus, they have healthy hips.

One step down from a stand up toilet is what we call a long drop.  It means exactly that.  Basically it is a hole dug in the ground.  You put your feet where the two large ovals are.  If you need more explanation than this please contact me directly:
The above examples are standard waste disposal facilities.  Of course, the African bush is quite expansive. If there are no toilets (western or stand-up) or long drops available you can always go behind a tree or rock.  Of course, sometimes you are in the middle of the desert, so there is no privacy available.  Oh well, it happens.

Since I’ve already gotten this far, I figure I should give you some tips on what to do if you are ever travelling and need to be prepared for “alternative” bathroom facilities:
  1. Carry toilet paper with you at all times.  When I was in Namibia I was told a story of an Italian couple who used leaves from a nearby bush because they didn’t have TP.  Turns out the plant causes blindness (from touching the leaves and then touching their faces).  
  2. Bring a plastic ziplock.  This is in case you go behind a tree, rock, or out in the open.  Don’t pollute the environment with your used TP.  Put it in the ziplock and then dispose of it properly later.  This isn’t a necessity, but it is considerate.
  3.  Two words: hand sanitizer.  This should be self-explanatory, but it can also double as a cleaning agent in case you don’t follow tip #4. 
  4. Wear close-toed shoes and long trousers.  There are a few reasons for this: First of all, most ladies can’t guarantee their aim will be perfect. (I can’t speak for the gents on this issue.)  There is nothing more annoying that getting your leg/foot wet. (I don’t know this for sure.  This is what “friends” tell me.) In the event you are wearing flip flops AND your aim is bad you might slip on the porcelain stand-up toilet.  Said slip may result in a foot getting lodged in the hole. (Again, I can’t say I know this first hand, but “friends” assure me this happens from time to time.) 
  5. In the event you don’t follow the advice in tip #4, try not to panic, phone a friend, get them to help you dislodge yourself from the toilet, and then if you remembered tip #3 and #1 you can use hand sanitizer and TP to clean off your leg. 
  6. Laugh.
I’m sure most of you reading this blog post will never have to worry or experience anything I’ve described to you here.  BUT!  If any of you do in the future- even if it is 50 years from now- I bet you will remember this.  I expect at some point I will receive an email along the lines of, “Dear Dr. Phelan, you were right about the stand-up toilet.  I forgot the TP, didn’t have sanitizer and wore flip flops.  What a mistake!  Lots of Love, Your Former Student/ Friend/ Family Member/Stranger Who Read Your Blog”  I tried to warn you. :)

Friday, July 11, 2014

21 Days to Break a Habit

There seems to be some disagreement among “experts” regarding how long it takes an individual to break or form a habit.  This debate was first launched in the 1950s by plastic surgeon Dr. Maxwell Maltz.  Maltz found that when he performed an amputation the patient would continue to “feel” the phantom limb for roughly 21 days.  After the initial three weeks the patient would begin to adjust to his or her new life situation without the missing appendage.  This prompted Maltz to theorize that “it takes 21 days to break (or form) a habit.”  However, more recent studies have found that it takes on average more than two months- 66 days to be exact- for a behavioral alteration to occur.  It looks like I have a ways to go.

Today marks my one-week anniversary back in the U.S. of A. But, my adjustment has been…. slow. To say the least.  The day after I returned home my brother asked me to watch him play lacrosse.  I left the house and got in the car only to discover…. the steering wheel was in front of the other seat.  I continue to make this mistake on a regular basis.  I figure this is karma for making fun of all my visitors to Africa who would try to enter the car on the driver’s side and I would ask them, “Are you planning to sit in my lap?”  Here I am, yet again, trying to drive while sitting in the passenger’s seat:


Last weekend my dad and I were out running errands and stopped for lunch.  The server asked what I wanted to drink.

Kelly: Can I have a Coke Light please?
Server: A what?
Kelly: A Coke Light.
Server: Well, I don’t know what a Coke Light is, but we don’t serve Coke here.
Kelly: (confused, thinks for a minute) You don’t have Coke? What do you have? (At that moment I had no clue there was any soda product besides Coke.)
Server: We serve Pepsi products.
Kelly: Ok, then can I have a Pepsi Lite?
Server: What’s that?
Dad: I think she wants a Diet Pepsi.
Server: Then why didn’t she say that?

The back and forth with the server actually went on much longer, but I won’t bother you by supplying you with the entire transcript of that conversation.  I think it will suffice to say she thought I was an idiot and customer service post-soda dialogue was sub-par.  By the way, there is NO Pepsi in Africa.  Africa is strictly a Coca-Cola continent.  Talk about a monopoly.  Oh, and in about 2/3 of Africa it is only served in glass bottles, no cans or plastic bottles like in the U.S.
This afternoon I went to the grocery store.  I waited in line, the cashier rang up my gallon of milk, and then asked me, “How do you want to pay for this?”  I was going through my wallet, which you may remember has about ten different currencies still in it, and was taken aback by the question.   Wondering if this was a trick question I said, “Ummm… U.S. dollars?”  The cashier and I stared at one another for what felt like an eternity before she finally said, “I mean cash or credit?”  Kelly: “Sorry, my bad, here,” as I shoved a five dollar bill in her hand.

There you go.  I can say with great confidence it definitely takes more than one week to break (or form) a habit.  Let’s just hope I don’t continue to drive on the wrong side of the road for the next two months- it is terrifying when I realize there is someone driving straight at me.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

“Welcome Home!”

I love those two little words.  Any time I am travelling overseas that is what I look forward to hearing when I return.  I’ve looked forward to hearing those two words for the past twelve months.  Last week I flew back to Washington, D.C. where I heard those two little words from Officer Baker at Passport Control.  I practically jumped over the desk and hugged him.  That is my favorite part about coming home, hearing the Passport Control Officer tell me, “Welcome Home!”

Let me back track a little bit about my trip.  The flight from Johannesburg to Frankfurt was horrific, dreadful, abysmal, practically the worst plane ride of my life.  I will NEVER, and I mean NEVER fly Lufthansa EVER again.  First of all, there was no good entertainment- the movies were horrible.  Case in point: On a 12 hour flight you would expect there to be at least one recent (as in filmed sometime in the past decade) movie.  Nope, not one.  I watched the pilot episode of 90210.  I was 10 when that was first aired- no really, I looked it up to be sure.  And the food was equally disappointing.  Bad food + bad movies= unhappy Kelly.

In Frankfurt I was fortunate enough to locate free wifi so I Skyped with my friend Shaun (a TTU alum) who, upon hearing my dilemma about the bad onboard entertainment, recommended several new Bravo TV shows for me to gorge myself on.  And yes, in the last five days since I’ve been back I have watched all Ladies of London and Real Housewives of the OC episodes in the current season.

As I was sitting at my gate in Frankfurt waiting for my flight to board I noticed two things, well, three things: 1. There are so many WHITE PEOPLE HERE!, 2. Wow, so many tattoos.  I haven’t seen any of those in… forever.  Twelve months to be exact. And 3. Why is everyone cursing?  There are other, more creative words you could use to get your point across.  Let me get you a thesaurus or maybe just a dictionary.

The three observations from the Frankfurt airport did come as a shock to me because all three have been largely absent from my life in Africa.  I know I’ve mentioned before that there have been many times where I haven’t seen any other white people for days or even weeks on end.  I have to admit that I’m perfectly fine with that because it does give me a better appreciation for what it must be like to be a minority.  But the other two observations (the tattoos and the cursing) were both subconsciously missing while I was in Africa and I didn’t realize it until I experienced them again for the first time.

First of all, the tattoos.  People in Africa do not get tattoos (or piercings for that matter). At least, not the kind of tattoos and piercings in what we consider the traditional sense.  Many African tribes practice scarification where they actually cut individuals with a small razor blade in order to draw blood, resulting in a scar.  Scarification may be done to celebrate a military victory, coming of age or marriage, among many other things.  Scarification is practiced most frequently in rural areas in West Africa and Ethiopia.  In case you are unsure what I am talking about here are a few pictures:

Same thing goes for piercings.  In the U.S. the most common piercings are likely the ears, with nose and navel also relatively common.  In Africa you seldom if ever see a professional man, or any urban male with a piercing.  Women often have their ears pierced, but not multiple holes like in the U.S.  However, many of the tribes use piercings to signal social status or tribal affiliation.  Here is a Mursi woman from Ethiopia with large holes in her earlobes and lips:
With regard to my third observation, cursing, that was something I learned about quickly when I was in Africa.  And I have to say that is one lesson I wish I could teach my American students.  None of my students would ever dream of using foul language in front of me or directed towards me because they wouldn’t want to suffer the consequences.  But it isn’t uncommon for me to round a corner of one of the buildings on campus back home and hear someone exclaim, “G* D* Son of a B*! This is horsesh*t! Who the F* does that Mother F*er think he is?!... Blah, Blah, Blah,” you get the picture.  In Africa that is absolutely unacceptable.  If you are caught cursing you will likely be reported to the police constable and taken to jail.  NO JOKE!

The 10 hour Frankfurt to DC flight was equally dreadful, but at least at the end of the ride there were two positives:  1. I got to watch the “Welcome to America” video over and over again about 20 times while waiting in line at Passport Control.  After about the 10th time of watching the video I realized why it seemed vaguely familiar: The soundtrack to the video was the same song used at the (Walt Disney World) EPCOT Center Illuminations/Fireworks show.  This meant two of my favorite things: Disney and America; had teamed up to welcome me home.  Now if only Disney and America could team up and start offering Fastpasses at Passport Control I would REALLY be in love. And 2. Officer Baker said those two magic words to me, “Welcome Home!”

P.S.- My luggage made it!  I think the curse has been lifted (knock on wood).