Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘travel’

Something Dangerous

51YshZA25gLA Risky Christmas Affair by Nina Romano.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Serena is married to Walter. They have a jewelry store in Rome. They’ve traveled the world. Their marriage is complicated. A previous loss effects them deeply. Walter wants Serena to take one more trip (a flight alone, to London, to make a deal), before they spend more time together, or she goes back to school. She doesn’t want to go.

One of the treats about A Risky Christmas Affair is its solid sense of place. “For centuries, the castle had been a place of refuge for Popes, and the sight of the fortress gave her the strength she needed to rid herself os something dangerous. When she had the miscarriage, she had stayed at Our Lady of Angels Hospital, which overlooked this same castle.”

A lot happens in this story in a short time. There is mistrust, resignation, attempted robbery, an unwanted gun, expectations, a car wreck, meeting a member of parliament,  remorse, and jealousy. Ms. Romano is an excellent storyteller, and it shines through with this tale. Though it is fiction, it felt like A Risky Christmas Affair could be true.

Romantic Comedy at It’s Best

Tales From A Broad by Jeannine Henvey
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

TFABIf you like Jane Austin you’ll love Tales From A Broad. If you enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love, and Under the Tucson Sun, you’ll want to languish in Tales From A Broad. If you liked Sex In the City, Pretty Woman, An Affair to Remember, and any of a hundred other romantic books and movies, you will find great pleasure in reading Tales From A Broad. If, on the other hand, you don’t like comedy, romance, “chick lit”, “women’s fiction”, or anything remotely similar, you’ll still fall in love with Tales From A Broad.

Lucy Banks is jilted by her fiancé, Cooper, days before there New York City wedding. Wallowing in self-pity, regret, dismay, and righteous anger, 42-year-old Lucy is given a ray of hope and possibility with a surprise visit from her concerned sister, Morgan, and 24-year-old niece, Tess. They have brought plane tickets to Europe for Tess and Lucy to travel together, in hopes they will each find a fresh start, perhaps some personal insight, and if nothing else, a little fun.

At first reading, I mistakingly thought this was a personal journal of the authors, but soon discovered that it was written so well that it just seemed personal. Everyone is flawed, complicated, and unique. Lucy is funny as hell, and delightfully snarky. Each experience, including chance encounters with a young man, Mark, and his older brother, Simon, bring new revelations to Lucy and Tess, pushing their boundaries and how they see themselves and others.

One of my favorite movies I saw last year was a 2014 Indian film called Queen, about a young woman who is dumped days before her marriage, and then decides to go on her honeymoon by herself to Europe. She stays at a youth hostile and meets a wonderfully eclectic and odd collection of new friends. She also comes into her own, and becomes clear about who she is and what she wants. Tales From A Broad follows a similar plot, but with an older woman and more mature perspective.

Tales From A Broad is not contrived, or trite, and will have you laughing, crying and rooting for Lucy’s happiness, whether you are an avid fan of romantic comedies and women’s literature, or not.

The Milky Way

The Milky Way
by Gabriel Constans

This is the perfect lunchtime smoothie. Make it at home and keep it in the refrigerator at work, or make a batch for the entire week. The Milky Way will take you out of this world!

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Yield: 4 cups

1 cup milk (dairy or non-dairy)
2 small ripe bananas
1 cup plain yogurt (dairy or non-dairy)
1/2 cup cottage cheese (dairy or non-dairy)
2 tablespoons honey or brown rice syrup
1/2 cup fresh or frozen organic strawberries

Place all the ingredients in a blender, and mix on medium speed for 45 seconds.

Pour, drink up and prepare to take the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy.

Solutions To Stop Slaughter

Dear Gabriel,

Elephants are incredibly intelligent, family-oriented animals, who have been known to mourn the deaths of their loved ones and demonstrate compassion toward strangers. But thanks to increased ivory demand in China and elsewhere, they’re being slaughtered by the hundreds.

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In January, hundreds of pieces of elephant ivory were seized at Kenya’s main port. And those are just the smugglers who got caught. Who knows how many elephants have been murdered for their tusks in the last few years alone?

The rise in poaching is not only an environmental or animal welfare issue; it’s also an economic one. Diminishing numbers of elephants in Kenya means a loss of revenue from tourists who travel to the country to see the elephants.

This week at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Kenya asked a wider group of countries to pledge not to sell ivory stockpiles, which is a great sign of commitment. But they must also take steps to address the elephant slaughter before it happens. Ask the Kenyan government to draft new legislation to combat poaching in their country — before the elephants are gone forever.

Thank you for taking action,

Kathleen
Care2 and ThePetitionSite Team

Giving While On Business

From BBC – The Passport Blog
by Nick Easen
11 April 2012

Business Travel Gives Back

For many, the only time charity plays a role in business is when executives think about the deductions they can make from their taxable income.

But giving has never been easier for road warriors, thanks to several travel companies that are keen to counteract their environmental impact and donate to charitable causes.

Qantas, American Airlines and seven other international carriers place UNICEF envelopes in their seat back pockets. Travelers can help the United Nations children’s organization by donating their small change – including unused overseas currency. In 25 years, UNICEF has raised more than $70 million just by collecting unwanted coins and notes from air passengers. There are similar onboard initiatives with Virgin Atlantic’s Change for Children and British Airways’ Flying Start program.

Many credit cards and frequent flier programs allow you to earn points for good causes or convert your miles into charitable donations. American Express, for example, gives you access to more than one million worthy organizations. Many hotel loyalty cards, such as InterContinental and Starwood, also allow you to donate points to charity.

Hotels are involved in other schemes as well. For instance Best Western, Carlson, Mandarin Oriental and others have teamed up with Clean the World, an initiative that recycles your partially used soap from the hotel room. The soap is cleaned and reformed into new blocks, then sent to people in Haiti and other third-world countries.

Clean the World also created a program specifically for corporate meeting planners. When conferences and their respective organizers sign up to participate, soap from the entire hotel gets recycled. Since its launch three years ago, the charity has distributed more than 10 million bars of soap to people in 45 countries, from Zimbabwe to El Salvador.

In North America, several convention centres, including those in San Francisco and Denver, donate leftover food to a program called Network for the Needy. It was founded by the US Professional Convention Management Association to donate excess food from meetings and special events.

Read entire story and other news at BBC.

So Far and Yet So Close

What a difference a few decades make. It seemed like just a few years ago, the only way family or friends connected with one another while traveling was by postcard or letter. The messages usually arrived 2-3 weeks after sending them, so you could have had a zillion things happen in the meantime or be back home by then. My parents must have worried quite a bit while I was gone to England and Ireland to visit hospices, back in the 70s.

Now, there is wi-fi, internet, cell phone, Skype and text messaging. Our youngest son Shona is presently in Paris “on our way to the Louvre” and is able to keep us up to date with their travels and even send photos. Of course, he’s not sharing “everything” with us, but quite a bit. The first night they were in Barcelona, his traveling companion Genna was sick. The day before they were to leave for Paris, Shona got sick. Luckily, the 3rd person on their adventure, Mariah, has been fine the entire trip, so far. Even though we worried, it was such a relief to be able to hear from him when he wasn’t feeling well and then finding out this morning that they are all doing great.

Other than the discovery of penicillin; Galileo’s confirmation that earth is not the center of the universe, but simply one of many planets; the invention of the telephone, solar energy, waste treatment and access to clean water; women’s liberation and human rights; the invention of the internet has got to be included in the list of world-changing developments.

Well, I’m going to move from this technological marvel of instant publishing called the blog and go see if there are any new messages from Shona on Facebook.

Help Deliver Soccer Supplies to Youth Around the World.

If you are traveling out of the country this summer (live in the Santa Cruz County area) and are willing to take a suitcase or two of donated soccer supplies (uniforms, balls, jersey’s, cleats, shorts, shin guards, shirts, socks, ball pump, etc.), please give us a call. 429-9511. Gabriel or Audrey.

Young people at orphanages, youth centers, schools and other non-profit organizations have little, if any, such items and LOVE soccer (futbol). People from all over the county donate their children’s used uniforms to us and we hand deliver them to various places. We’ve delivered supplies to 3 different groups in Rwanda, a center for street children in Guatemala, a school in Mexico and a school in Kenya.

Right now, we have a lot ready to go, but aren’t personally traveling anywhere this summer. We’ll bring suitcases full of uniforms to your home, if you can take them on a trip, deliver them to a youth center and take a picture when you deliver the items.

Thank you for taking the time to consider supporting this. It’s a small, easy way of giving back from the game we love to others around the world. Call Gabriel or Audrey at 429-9511.

Traveling With Pomegranates

Traveling With Pomegranates
by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor.
(Penguin Books, 2009)
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

A mother and daughter travel to Greece, Turkey, France and home to South Carolina and provide their respective perspectives on the experience. Sue Monk Kidd (the well-known author of The Secret Life of Bees) is reflecting about her life and turning 50, while her daughter Ann navigates periods of depression, self-doubt and uncertainty about her future, her career and sense of self-worth. The consistent and similar traits that hold the story together, as well as both authors (one to the other), are the love; respect and admiration each have for the other. Sue writes, “The laughter has cracked the heaviness that formed around us like tight, brittle skin, and even now delivers me peeled and fresh to this moment, to Ann, to myself.”

Traveling With Pomegranates is a combination of memoir, journal writing and travelogue, which takes readers to places that will be familiar (externally and internally) and others that seem to fit for the author’s reflections alone. There are times when the prose is engaging, such as when Sue is speaking about turning 50 and says, “The spiritual composition of the Old Woman, not through words, but through the wisdom of a journey” is an apt summation of how she is seeing herself at that time. Many may find it hard to think of 50 as “old”, but it is used in this context as a starting point to look at change, old age, death and birth. At other times, it seems as if the writing should have been left in a private journal or in letters shared between mother and daughter. Not because of any private content or big secrets, but because it had no weight or meaning for a larger audience.

Sue has long had a kinship with the Black Virgin and used it as metaphor and object throughout her novel The Mermaid Chair. She speaks of it in length once again, on their visit to see the statue of the Black Virgin of Rocamadour in France. “As I look at her, my throat tightens and I dig through my bag for the travel-size Kleenex. Just in case. I’m not sure what moves me about her, only that she’s beautiful to me. Someone vacates a chair, and I sit down, staring at the flinty old Virgin until the tears really do start to leak. I rub them away and focus on the back of Ann’s brown hair. Ann’s fingers, I notice, are curled around the stubby piece of chain, and I wonder what she has decided about it. What I will decide about mine… I know suddenly what moves me about the Black Virgin of Rocamadour: She’s the Old Woman. It comes with some surprise, as if the bird on the altar has just pecked me on the forehead.”

While her mother is having the previous insights and feelings, Ann is writing about hers. “I glance over at my mother. Her eyes are closed, her fingers interlocked. I wonder what her prayers are about. Her novel? Her blood pressure? Peace on earth? The two of us praying like this to the Black Madonna suddenly washes over me, and I’m filled with love for my mother. The best gift she has given me is the constancy of her belief. Whatever I become, she loves me. To her, I am enough. I look up at Mary and concede what I am coming to know. I will become a writer.”

It is obvious that traveling together and writing about it were important for the author’s lives. Whether their reflections and insights are also of relevance for those outside their family will have to be left up to others to decide. This reader has mixed feelings about Traveling with Pomegranates, and doesn’t expect those feelings to be any less cloudy in the foreseeable future.

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Vacation In Rwanda?

If Africa and especially Rwanda, are not the travel destination that first come to mind when you think about relaxation, luxury and “getting away from it all”, you may want to seriously reconsider. The friendly greetings, bustling city and countryside belie the fact of the genocide which occurred in the early nineties. The majority of Rwandans now see themselves as one people and one country. There are an increasing number of tourists descending upon this beautiful lush land of national parks, mountain gorillas and terraced hillsides. Contrasting styles of traditional mud huts and dress are interspersed among paved roads, modern amenities and comfortable accommodations.

Same sex couples walk together on the streets of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda and nobody bats an eye. In fact, it is quite common to see men embracing, putting their foreheads together when greeting one another and walking hand in hand, as they stroll down the streets of the capital or along highways, dirt paths and country roads in one of the few African countries that has no laws against homosexuality. That doesn’t mean that these men are gay (most are probably non-sexual friends), but who knows who is and who isn’t?

Homosexuality is illegal for lesbian women in 20 African countries and for gay men in 29. In Zimbabwe, Uganda, Somalia and Northern Africa you can be prosecuted and imprisoned. South Africa is one of the exceptions, where homosexuality is legal and national legislation bands discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Rwanda doesn’t actively acknowledge homosexuals positively or negatively, but has no laws against it. It follows an unspoken policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. There is no kissing displayed in public, by homosexual or heterosexual couples, but other affections are accepted (hugging, touching hands).

The national parks and wildlife are not the only attractions in this lovely country known as the “land of a thousand hills”, as there are also traditional dance performances, art centers, shopping and an active social scene in Kigali and the northern city of Ruhengeri.

Kigali has a large market in the Nyabugogo district where you will be inundated with clothing, both women’s and men’s, as well as household goods and other local merchandise. Expect to bargain until you’re hoarse, as it is expected and part of the experience. One U.S. dollar equals approximately 550 Rwandan Francs. A new shopping center uptown houses a modern shopping center, complete with a Starbucks like coffee house called Bourbon Street, which has free internet access and all the caffeine you can handle. Rwandan’s don’t drink much coffee, as tea is their thing, even though Rwandan coffee has become a thriving export. There is live music at the Cadillac, Abraxis and Planete Club and numerous bars throughout town.

Some very fine hotels in the city include the Chez Lando (near the airport); Hotel Gorillas; Iris Guesthouse; The Presbyterian Guesthouse; and the famous Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda). Prices range from $50 to $160 per night.

Some area restaurants include an exquisite Indian establishment called Khazana; the Shangh Hai, a Chinese restaurant with great service and food and; Sole Luna, an upscale Italian eatery out towards the airport. You can expect to spend anywhere from $10 to $20 per person for a good meal. People also partake of local Rwandan food at diners and cafes around town, but they can get rather boring, as they consist of the same overcooked vegetables, potatoes and meat, without any spice or seasoning. It is however cheaper than the “foreign” restaurants (about $5 to $10 per meal).

Ruhengeri, the largest city in the north, is the gateway to the Virunga National Park, which borders The Congo and Uganda in Eastern Africa. The scenery from Kigali to Ruhengeri is spectacular and The Gorilla Nest Lodge just outside the park is stunning. Imagine a luxury hotel, superbly crafted from local stone, wood and bamboo, tucked into the jungle at the bottom of a blue-green volcanic range. Top that off with spacious rooms, fine dining and friendly service from people that speak English, French and Kinyarwanda (the national language) and you have a virtual Shangri-la in the middle of Africa. The Hotel Muhabura is reported to be another great place to hang your hat and much less expensive ($35 to $50) than the Mountain Gorilla’s Nest, which charges $100 and up per night.

No matter how beautiful the drive north has been or how luxurious your accommodation, nothing quite prepares you for the magnificent mountain gorillas that reside in the Virunga National Park. Even though tourists are only allowed an hour visit, to protect the gorillas, the $500 fee charged to see them is worth every penny. The funds from the fees (permits) are used to maintain the sanctuary, continue research, guard the gorilla families and support local communities and projects outside the park. These creatures, which have 97 percent of the same DNA as humans, are gentle vegetarian mammals that live in clusters of communal families and alternate between play, sleep and time to enjoy a tasty meal of bamboo, greens and fruit. If you take the time to travel to Rwanda, do not miss the adventure of visiting the mountain gorillas.

The people of Rwanda are as beautiful as their country, which has to rate a ten on the lush green scale of tropical paradises. From smiles and generosity in the cities hotels, shops and fine restaurants, to the lodges and safari’s to see the gorillas, volcanic mountains, game parks and lakeside resorts, this Central African country has moved leaps and bounds beyond their tragic civil war over sixteen years ago. It has literally risen from the ashes and become the “new Eden” of Africa. With a stable government, abundant overseas investment and a pervading sense of hope and reconstruction, Rwanda is now considered one of the safest countries to visit on the continent.

When you go:

Easy access from the U.S. via England to Kenya and from Kenya to Kigali (the capital of Rwanda), makes it an affordable, though lengthy trip. The time spent traveling is well worth the long haul. There may soon be an even quicker route from Atlanta to Kigali, via Johannesburg South Africa.

National language is Kinyarwanda, but many people also speak English or French and there is a big push for everyone to learn English.

You will need up to date vaccinations and malaria precautions.

A great resource for touring Rwanda is: Bizidanny Tours & Safaris B. P. 395 Kigali, Rwanda. Phone 250 08501461. Web Site: www.bizidanny.com

Barbara Jenkins at Rancho Del Mar Travel has been arranging trips to Africa for thirty years. 1327 La Sobrina Court, Solana Beach, CA 92075-2105. Phone: 858-755-7368.

The Rwanda Tourist Board can be contacted at: www.rwandatourism.com.

Women On Front Lines

Women are offering their personal resources, time and energy like never before. At least 59 percent of those surveyed in the U.S. in 2002 by United Way said they had volunteered or done community service work in the previous year and those numbers have continued to rise in the last eight years. Thinking about others and getting beyond our own selfish desires, seems to be a trend that nobody wants to stop.

Of course people volunteer for different reasons and are moved by a variety of intentions. Some folks want to get out of a rut, keep busy, feel needed or recognized and make new friends; others to have an impact or for personal growth. And some simply think it’s the right thing to do. As Daisy Gale, a quilting instructor, mother of eight and girls softball coach from Utah says, “It doesn’t matter how much you get involved or where, just get involved! Give a little each paycheck; donate time and/or energy. You don’t have to travel overseas. Go ahead and get your hands dirty.”

Daisy and seven other women did go overseas and joined a group doing humanitarian work in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. They provided medical care, job education and trauma relief for over 150 children at The ROP Center for Street Children. Like volunteering in the U.S., they didn’t have to take the time away from their jobs, families and homes to lend a hand, but they did and every single member felt they received more than they gave. “I haven’t volunteered much in my life,” says Joanna Ransier, a nurse in her fifties. “Raising three children and going through a divorce was more than enough. I never expected this to come around.”

Dottie Webster, a sixty-three year old housewife from Arizona, smiles, “We treated them (the orphans) and opened their hearts and helped them relieve some of the fears and pains. They know we care.” This sense of giving and receiving, even in the midst of some of humanities worst suffering, consistently runs through these women’s thoughts. “I get a lot of satisfaction out of being able to give back,” smiles Caroline Sakai, a psychiatrist from Hawaii. “So many of the kids said before they felt so different and they didn’t have hope and now they feel like they have hope.”

There are over a million orphans in Rwanda and countless agencies, both government and private, trying to ease the impact such numbers have on society, by providing food, clothing, shelter and education, but there are still thousands of children living on the streets or temporarily housed in government centers, only to be released back on their own after three to six months.

The children at ROP are some of the lucky ones who have a home, food, clothes, medical care and some education. Upon entering the abandoned automotive warehouse that was once used for ROP, the team was greeted with exuberant music and dance by the children, teachers and staff. “This trip reminded me of what’s important,” says Paula Herring, a forty-year-old business management teacher from California. “Before I came I thought of the kids as having nothing and little to be thankful for, but since working at the orphanage I saw a lot of potential and a sense of hope that not only they, but most Rwandan’s seem to have.”

Some problems, both locally, nationally and internationally seem so big that people dismiss them as unsolvable, hopeless or impossible to solve. Feelings of helplessness and impotence in the face of such seemingly unsolvable dilemmas can create apathy, detachment and a turning away from the realities in the world, let alone on our front door. And yet . . . the fact is that you don’t have to solve ALL the existing problems or end ALL the suffering in the world. Yes, you can look at the big picture and provide the maximum impact for the most people possible, but it still comes down to helping one person at a time. Suzanne Connolly, a grandmother from Arizona who was teaching trauma relief with the women in Rwanda said, “We try to stay in the background and train the community. The teachers are the ones that will continue to be here when we leave, not us.” When people find ways to multiply their giving and leave tools for living, it can literally touch thousands of lives.

Most of the children at ROP are survivors of the 1994 genocide and the AIDS pandemic, which took their parents, families and relatives lives. Yet, even in the aftermath of some of the worst atrocities ever perpetrated by humans upon other humans, people have found hope, renewal and inspiration. “I think I walked into this experience with a lot of sympathy for the kids because they have so little and I, as an American, have so much,” Kelli Barber, a young nurse from Tennessee explains, “and so many of the kids were dealing with trauma and shame. It didn’t take long for me to realize that they were much more than their past or their circumstances. I was really inspired by their strength, sense of community and spirit.”

Remembering you “can’t do it all” is just as important when you volunteer, as it is with your own job or family. No matter how clear or well defined your intentions are, you are human. Everyone has different limits, boundaries, amounts of energy and personal resources. Whitney Woodruff, a nurse practitioner in her twenties, who was in charge of the medical team at the orphanage, says insight-fully, “Working with the kids here is overwhelming. I’ve seen more children in one day then I do in a week of private practice and they are dealing with such an array of issues. I’m so glad we’re taking a two day break.” All of the advice that people give to “take care of yourself” can be used when you volunteer – give your self breaks; no when to stop; find healthy ways to relax and rejuvenate; and be sure to pause, take a deep breathe and remember that you are just as important as those you are helping.

Whether you’re checking in on a neighbor across the street, volunteering in your community with children, youth or elders or flying around the world to help orphaned children in Africa, just DO something and be clear why you’re doing it. Audrey Blumeneau, a teacher and mother of five, originally from Chicago, joined the women who worked at The ROP Center for Street Children. She says, “I originally went to be with my husband, who was asked to contribute to the orphanage work, but once I was there I realized I had come home to a second home. I cared not because they were orphans in a land and culture I found fascinating or because they had experienced such great loss, but because they were just like my kids. We all need the same thing . . . to love, be loved and remembered.”

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