Category: Tales (Page 1 of 2)

Driving the Croatian Coast

There is something so exhilarating about buying a bus ticket at the station, grabbing a coffee at the station’s overpriced café and then heading down to the bus. You never know what you’re going to find… is this a clean new bus with reclining seats or one with paper towels stuffed in the holes the torn-out lightbulbs have left in the ceiling?

I’ve seen both.

Feeling a little penned-in in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, I woke up one morning needing to just get out of town (which, is a story unto itself – how could a person need to get out of town when they’re only in town for 3 days anyways?). My hostel was booked for two more nights and my official bus out of town was a night bus to Zagreb two days later, so I couldn’t just pack up and move on. Instead, I headed to the bus station and checked a map.

Split Croatia, a resort town on the Adriatic coast, is 160km from Mostar and is typically on the route of backpackers heading through the Western Balkins. Google maps said it was a 2.5 hour drive. I said the magic words “one ticket for the next bus to Split please” and off I went.

For a day when my body needed to relax but my mind wanted to go, taking the CroatiaBus from Mostar to Split was one of the best spontaneous and uninformed decisions I’ve ever made. The only thing I knew about Split was that it was on the ocean and was geographically close.

Contents of my day bag:

-Umbrella

-Sweater

-Water bottle

-Wallet

-Phone

 

Things that should have been in the day bag that weren’t:

-Sunscreen

-Sandals

-Camera

Just FYI, Split is a beach resort town. Chances are, it is not going to be raining and cold. Don’t lug an umbrella 160 km with you if you’re going to Split.

A bus ride from Mostar to Split stops quite a bit and actually ends up taking around 4.5 hours, so my day trip idea ended up only allowing me 2 hours in the town itself. But that was enough to get lunch and ice cream, walk around the old town, crash some tours in English that gave me bits and pieces of historical information, and enjoy the goings on of the ocean and harbor. And despite only having two hours on-location, the ride itself was worth my time and ticket money.

Driving from Mostar to Split is a 4.5 hour trip up a skinny little highway that directly borders the coast. This mountainous, small-town-riddled coastline comes in twists and turn as the bus climbs higher and higher, letting riders stare out the huge bus windows into some of the best views of the Croatian coastline one could find. On the right of the bus are tall mountains and waterfalls cascading the turquoise water only found in this area of the world. On the left of the bus is crystal blue water that stretches on until it meets the blue of the sky at the horizon. It’s almost magical.

I chose my seat placement strategically on the ride back to Mostar that night. As the sun set over the water and the bus moved on, I knew I’d made a good decision. Sometimes a traveler needs a day of relaxation that also involves seeing beautiful things. A bus along the Croatian coastline definitely fit that bill.

If you are in Mostar, or considering a trip to Croatia – I recommend taking your bus trip during the day and making a trip out of the coastline drive, the views are worth it!

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Nothing Was Left : Mostar

Unlike in Sarajevo, there are no buildings marked with bullet holes in Mostar, Herzegovina. No dents in sidewalks from long-ago shells filled in with red paint to cause an emotion filled memory as one walks past. No signs on walls pointing to long-forgotten shelters, no pieces of UNHCR reusable bags left clinging to remnants of barbed wire fences. Unlike in Sarajevo, there are no faults in the concrete outside third floor windows that look like pigeon holes until you remember bullets used to fly here more often than pigeons. But in Mostar, this absence could almost lead someone to wonder whether the civil war of the 1990’s even touched the city at all.

No, Mostar has no pock-marked buildings left from the war because the war left no buildings to be pock-marked. In Mostar, nothing was left.

In Mostar, there are shells of buildings that used to be. More bullet hole than wall, more empty space than building. Trees growing around cement and rebar that resembles in no way the structure that used to stand there. In Mostar, even almost 20 years later, the buildings that were built before the war almost camouflage into the rubble rock that tumbles down the mountains behind them. There are no innocent bullet holes here.

In Sarajevo, the old town has parts where if you look closely, you can see the areas that had to be repaired. The town hall looks almost new, as it’s burning (along with the burning of a priceless library collection) was done as an act of war. But in Sarajevo, the bridges still stand and the majority of the ancient buildings stand, now holding stories of their resilience throughout the siege.

In Mostar, nothing was left to hold onto stories of resilience. Every building and every bridge in the old town has another country’s name on a plaque beside in. UNESCO, Luxembourg, Turkey, Italy, European Union, The World Bank, the list of nations and organizations that provided funds for the reconstruction of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s cultural heritage goes on and on. Because everything in Mostar had to be reconstructed — everything from the bazaar in the old town to the Ottoman bridge crossing the river Neretva to the most basic of buildings on the sides of the streets. The war leveled Mostar and while it looks like the ancient structures remain, they are in fact reconstructions of their prior glory, funded by countries other than the one so wracked by conflict that it could not prevent the atrocity in the first place.

And it seems so right then, that as I sit writing this on a bench beside yet another reconstructed building, the sniper tower looms in the distance in front of me. Once a bank and apartment complex, the height of this structure and its location on the front lines gave it a deadly purpose in the 90’s. For while every ounce of cultural heritage was destroyed by war, the symbol of the war itself remains standing, so much stronger and more imposing than the buildings that now crumble across the street from it. I dare not trespass alone to climb it, but if I did, I know the views would be incredible. Because while the tower hasn’t changed since 1995, the reconstruction of the town has been fast and complete.

Even now, construction is everywhere: bulldozers filling the streets between two hollowed out former-buildings. Men with heavy gloves and neon vests hanging from ropes on bridges that cross the river that moves faster than my eyes can follow. Mostar moves on, but don’t come here looking for bullet holes in buildings and stories of wartime resilience. Those are in Sarajevo. In Mostar, there are no original buildings left for those bullet holes and stories to find themselves in.

 

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A Slippery Winter Wonderland

“Are you okay?” Asks the nearest tourist in English with the heaviest accent I’ve ever heard.

Brushing my butt off and cringing, I say of course and rush off, trying to loose myself in the crowd that’s swirling around. Not 5 steps later, I find myself on the ground again, another stranger’s hand pulling me up and checking for broken bones.

Whoever told me that it doesn’t snow in Western Europe was wrong. While it does not snow often, Brussels, Belgium turns into an ice skating rink the mornings when the world wakes up to a winter “wonderland.” Cobblestones become boulders, ready to catch your skate and make it impossible to escape the embarrassment of smacking your nose on the pavement.

I could have escaped it. I could have listened to the lovely family I was staying with who informed me that it was slippery and that I should be careful. With my too-cool-for-school attitude however, I stuck on my fanciest city-living black booties and headed out to explore my new surroundings at 9am, less than an hour after the most recent snow had fallen.

Ooft, three steps out the door and I was already on the ground. I could have turned back. Changed shoes. Drunk some coffee and waited a few hours. Put on an extra layer.

But, the stubborn child within me said no, I am all powerful, I can do this. And I continued.

Through the Grand Place, slipping into the panoramic elevator by the Palais de Justice, up to the Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudula, sitting on the steps of the Mont des Arts because there was no way I was walking down those. My boots became skates, shuffling instead of walking, turning me into a penguin. As the snow melted, it made the smooth cobblestones slicker, then freezing again, like my fingers and toes into ice blocks that made smooth movement impossible.

In an attempt to warm up and to experience Belgian culture (I had just arrived after all, might as well jump right in), I ordered a cone of fries, then remembered that finger foods and gloves are incompatible. Without gloves my ice-block fingers couldn’t grip the food, but with gloves, I got a mouth-full of wool every time I tried to taste potato.

Almost in tears, I found a café with free wifi and found the easiest, warm-public-transportation using, way home, where I jumped in a hot bath and ditched my cute, now frozen, shoes.

Now, three months later, as the crocuses are just peeking out of the once-frozen ground, I walk my friend around my adopted city and give the tour that is tainted by memories of the snowy day that I messed up. “Here’s the square where a tourist from Bulgaria helped me up” I say, or “Watch out, the white tiles set into the road are slipperier than the cobblestones.” Honestly, I’m surprised the fall I took on those steps right there didn’t permanently dent either my butt or the pavement itself.

I pluck a bluebell from the ground outside the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula and tuck it behind my ear. “It matches your eyes,” mentions my friend, the one lucky enough to not know the extreme toll these pavements took on me back in January. “But really, next time, you should just wear better shoes.”


Do Witzenia,

Sarah


A version of this post can be found published on the Total Travel Tag Magazine website HERE! A huge thanks to their curators for spreading my writing further into the world, go check them out!.

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10 Practical Tips for When in Brussels

A collection of practical, pre-trip tips to (hopefully) prevent too many embarrassing moments. As I recently had a friend who said he would love a reality TV show following my Belgian mishaps, I’ve added an extra piece to this post — post a comment here or on Instagram to hear the funny embarrassing stories that created these tips! Each tip has a suggestion of a story that’s worth hearing.

  1. It rains a lot here, so don’t forget an umbrella! The cobblestone streets are slippery and uneven,  watch your step or choose to walk on a smoother sidewalk. If it’s snowing or sleeting, expect to fall on your face a few times. Ask me about my first full day in Brussels.
  2. Once the bus doors close, you can only enter at the front entrance. if you’ve just barely missed the closing of the doors, run to the front and you’ll make it! Blue buttons request a stop and open the door while at a bus stop. On some cars in the metro, you have to PULL the door handles for them to open. Ask me about the multiple times I’ve missed a stop and missed meetings because I couldn’t open a door.
  3. While the shops dedicated to waffles and their endless toppings are tempting, the best waffles are from the yellow food trucks that are parked around town. They are all 2 euros (plus 1 for toppings). Ask me about the time I bought a waffle with toppings from a shop and then struggled to actually eat it.
  4. The south of the city is generally safer than the north. Areas around Schuman (European Quarter) or Cimetière d’Ixelles are filled with students and internationals, great spaces to eat and go out.
  5. Belgian chocolate is expensive. Belgian beer is not. Ask me about my poison of choice.
  6. There are so many parks! If you have the extra space and the weather’s okay, bring a Frisbee, a picnic blanket, or running shoes! Ask me about the time I wished I was a boy scout.
  7. Download the STIB app,  it shows schedules and maps for all of the public transit in the city! Make sure Google maps is downloaded as well, it shows walking routes, driving routes, and also integrates public transportation routes. Ask me about my life pre-google-maps-download.
  8. Don’t worry too much about a language barrier — you can speak English! While French and Dutch are the most widely spoken languages in Belgium, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in Brussels to who doesn’t at least speak a few words of English. For most, English is their second language (as opposed to their third or fourth, which, shock of shock to Americans, it is normal to have). Ask me about my attempts to learn Dutch or the quality of my “Franglais.”
  9. A good lunch can be purchased for 5 euros (a simple sandwich usually costs 3 or 3.50). Coffee (espresso, remember! Check out this post for more caffeine help!) is anything from 90 cents from a vending machine to 4 euro cappuccinos. Dinners or restaurant lunches will probably cost between 15-20 euros per person. Ask me about what living with a host family does to one’s coffee consumption.
  10. Belgians aren’t picky about fashion. Wear whatever makes you comfortable. I’ve seen everything from heels and dresses to sweatpants out on the streets. No fashion judgement here. Ask me about the time I showed up  (Belgian-minded) ready to go to a bar in Ireland and was sadly under-dressed.

Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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Ground Zero

The city of Paris has permanent plaques and signs with descriptions of historical events and people in each memorable place. 50 Boulevard Voltaire, about a 10 minute walk from Place de la République, has two.

The first is worn from years of weather, similar to the others in the city with the title engraved in red “Histoire de Paris.” It tells the reader that this address holds a building called the Bataclan. Designed in 1864, this building was a café and dance hall in a Chinese style with a pagoda roof. Best known for vaudeville performances, it became a venue for rock concerts in the 1970’s. Historic and well known, the Bataclan was a constant for Parisians, like the Notre Dame or Eiffel Tower.

The second plaque is simpler. Gray marble engraved in somber black. Without time for history to weather its engravings, it looks brand new. In reads simply “En memoire des victimes assassinées et blessées en ces lieux le 13 Novembre 2015” or “In memory of the victims assassinated and hurt in these places November 13th 2015.”  This sign doesn’t reflect a long standing tradition and pride in a unified history. It doesn’t show relics of the past that continued and evolved to still be relevant today. It shows anger and fear, pain and sadness.

img_0713On November 14th 2016, there are piles waist high of bouquets of flowers in all colors and types gracing the front of the Bataclan. There are tea lights flickering and dissolving in the wind. There are notes, there are pictures, there are colors seeping off pages wet from the rain into the stream that leads into the mass of flower petals and wax. Poems and memories and physical representations of the sadness, the vrai tristesse that the people of this city have gone through.

img_0717There are people there too — people like me. Taking photos, paying respects. Wishing we had answers and ways to calm the fears of the world and yet knowing we have none. Viewing memorials and reading names and taking pictures because we have no other way to show our solidarity, to show that we wish we could have been here, that we almost wish it was us instead. Because heaven help those who fly away, but heaven help those who are left to stay and place blame.

img_0703Down the street at Place de la République there is a memorial with the same never ending flags and flowers, candles and messages. I spend a few minutes helping two girls my age re-light the lights that we think might have a chance of surviving the punishing wind. Leaning one tea light above another, shielding the flickering flame with our chests. Hoping to reignite a tiny light in the dark world that comes after the hour long state memorial ends, after the reality sets in, after the fear takes over hearts and the electoral damage is done.

Place de la Républic has a history too. Created in 1811 and named to create a sense of unity and pride in the French republic itself, the personification of fraternité, égalité, and liberté graces the center in the form of Marianne holding an olive branch. An olive branch. For peace. For national pride. But above all, for peace. This place has held protests. It has held organizations, events, markets, groups of skateboarders and intellectuals. It has held millions of mourners, leaders of governments and foreigners like me in moments of national pain. Whether for free speech or solidarity against extremism, this square has seen its fair share of large groups. But on 14 November 2016, its just me.

img_0737Well, me, and the other hundred people milling about. Eating dinner, reading books, skateboarding recklessly. This ground zero goes on. This place continues. Its history has changed, changed for good and not for the better, but it will go on.

We cannot give into fear. Historical markers do not get placed to terrify us about our future. Historical markers are placed so that we are informed. That our curiosity is picked so we can learn from our past to create a better future full of love and support and hope for an even better future for those who come after us. Because no matter how scared we are, the world does go on. We need to be ready.

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Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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The Parisian Crêpe

You’ve heard of it. You’ve dreamed of it. You’ve tasted knock offs and Americanized versions, but you simply can’t wait to get your hands on the real thing. The Parisian Crêpe.

And then you get there, to Paris, and you’re suddenly hit with crêpe problems. Maybe all you wanted was a snack crêpe but you mistakenly bought a meal. Maybe you timed your visit to the Eiffel Tower wrong and you end up needing a crêpe lunch when the only places nearby are charging an arm and a leg for a basic food. Maybe you can’t find a crêperie to save your life and you’re thinking “isn’t Paris supposed to have crêpes on every corner?”

To solve all current and future crêpe problems, here’s the How To Crêpe In Paris, written by someone who could probably rival the world record quantity of crêpes eaten in one day.


What exactly is a crêpe? There are two different types of crêpes: Salé (salted) and Sucrê (sugar). The only difference between the two is the teaspoon of either salt or white sugar that is added to the batter and the type of things used as fillings.

Ingredients for crêpes are as follows:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • White flour
  • Salt or Sugar (depending on the type)

They’re thin, tasty, and without too much substance. To make the crêpe, cooks will pour a cupful of batter onto a round hotplate, then use a wooden stick to spin the batter around, filling the pan. Seeing them made for the first time is almost as exciting as eating them for the first time.

Where does a person find a crêpe?

Crêpes are all over town in various forms. A “crêperie” is a restaurant that primarily sells crêpes or gallets (crêpes made with buckwheat flower). Most crêperies require you to sit down and eat your crêpe with a fork and knife. They also charge more, as a sort of rent for your time spent sitting with them. These are great for real meals, not for snacks.

Street crêpes are sold either at small stands or an open window into a restaurant. These types typically only sell crêpes and they will be much less expensive because you take the crêpe away with you.

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How to eat a crêpe: Just do it. It might get messy. Just do it.

In all seriousness however, street crêpes will be handed to you in either a plastic or cardboard sleeve with a napkin around it. Roll the sleeve down as you go so you spend less time touching the food and more time eating it. Keep the napkin, it’s often necessary.

Tip: Try not to eat in the métro. Whether it’s the French obsession with long social meals or the tendency not to snack, Parisians rarely eat on the métro. Munching a crêpe is a clear sign that you’re not from here and you might be a prime pickpocket target since you clearly have your hands full of food beauty. That being said, I have broken my own rule many a time.

Crêpe stands and crêperies will be fairly plentiful around tourist destinations, although watch out for the high prices. They will also be plentiful around popular nightlife destinations like the area around the Pantheon (5th arrondissement), Montmartre and around the Saint-Denis metro stop. That being said, crêpe deserts do exist. It is possible to walk for an hour and not encounter a street crêpe stand. These tend to occur around large parks, major places (Place de la Concorde), luxury areas (Place de la Madeleine, Champs-Elysée), and very residential areas (Passy, Place d’Italie, the outskirts of the city). If you find yourself walking for what feels like an extreme amount of time simply to find the perfect crêpe, my advice is either to 1) Give up and find a perfect boulangerie for a pastry instead or 2) Take the metro to one of the areas listed above with larger nightlife scenes. If you’re feeling adventurous and have lots of time, try walking from wherever you are towards crêperie-dense location. I’ve been known to walk over four hours through the city exploring, but also in search of the perfect, cheap crêpe.

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While it’s clearly up to you how much you are willing to pay for a crêpe, here’s a basic guideline. Cheap sugar crêpes should be sold for about 1.50 Euro and a really cheap Nutella crêpe usually goes for 2 or 2.50. However, as long as the Nutella crêpe price doesn’t cost over 3.50, you’ve found a decently priced crêpe stand. Stands with whirly lights and lines of tourists are likely to try and charge you 5 Euro for a Nutella crêpe.

Salé (Salted) crêpes are likely to cost around 5 Euro or more because they are more of a real meal — I’ve seen the fanciest crêpes sold for around 10 Euro. Choose your flavor based on your level of hunger — the salé crêpes can easily create a lunch if you so choose.

As for paying, street vendors like you better if you pay with coins and in exact change rather than using them to break that 50 the ATM gave you. Often if you hand them a bill they will give you a blank stare until you show them your change purse to prove that you really don’t have exact change. Obviously they will take your money in whatever form it is given, but try to give a quick thought to the quantity of coins in your wallet before you order a 2 Euro crêpe and realize you only have a 20 Euro bill. In crêperies and restaurants, larger bills are much more acceptable.

Here are some of my favorite flavors, to inspire your next visit to the crêperie:

Citron et sucre (Lemon and sugar): Hands down my favorite. Sweet but with some flavor, typically the second cheapest thing on the menu. I highly recommend this flavor.

Nutella: I mean what could possibly go wrong with this combination of a hot pancake filled with gooey nutella. While you do have to pay a little more and it won’t constitute a lunch, nutella crêpes are the best comfort food and also an incredible thing to hold in your hand on a rainy day.

Complête: This salé crêpe is filled with cheese, ham, and an egg that you watch them crack onto your cooking crêpe. Your crêpe chef will often ask if you want it salted and peppered — always go for that extra flavor if you can. The crêpe (or galette, they make this flavor on buckwheat pancakes too!) complête is a perfect lunch or dinner.


Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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Cathedral Sainte-Chapelle

Do the unthinkable. Put your headphones in your ears and listen to the most tranquil song you have on your device with the volume turned up as loud as you can stand it. Drown out your world, even while you are standing in one of the better places the world has to offer.

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And then, after your sense of hearing is blocked by classical violins or choir boys or the sounds of crickets, walk up the steep winding steps to the upper chapel. And open your eyes.

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Tune out the historical facts, the stories of relics and kings. Tune out the hoards of tourists surrounding you and the security guards’ warnings in hundreds of languages. Tune out the notion that you have a schedule to keep, that you have a life waiting, that you have work and a family and friends and problems.

Just look.

Stand in awe of the glass, the lights, the beauty that humans created out of a natural process and a religion that taught them to value it. Sit on one of the many chairs along the edge and just repeat your song until you feel as though you’ve come to understand life.

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It sounds impossible, but I promise that this Sainte-Chapelle experience can be mind clearing, stress reducing, even life changing. Eventually, one must remove the music and take in the attraction as a tourist would, reading the signs and taking millions of photos. But for a few moments, pretend your life is a film set in Paris and that you are the star.

St.Chapelle


Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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Top 5 Things to Learn

A vacation to Aruba is typically a beach vacation — days spent relaxing on the sand, reading and sunbathing to your heart’s content. My last trip to Aruba was different. No all inclusive resorts — instead, my days were spent doing cultural things as well as beach bumming.

The island is 75 square miles, and I managed to drive almost all 75 of them. One can drive through the Arikok national park and see undeveloped desert land bordered by rocky ocean on all sides. On the other side of the island you can see high rise hotels and white sand beaches. The complete opposites that are shown by the cacti and ocean are gorgeous.

A hand-built sand-man on a beach in February.

Following are the top 5 things I learned about Aruba.

1) Getting lost is to be expected. There are street signs, but only on major roads of which there are few. Each map will orient the island a different way, and the island itself doesn’t go directly north south or east west which really throws off any sense of direction you think you have. Even the map with the advertisements won’t show you exactly how to get to the place advertised. The roads aren’t always paved and many of the side roads are dirt with cacti for fences. There are absolutely no street signs on these roads and most of them aren’t even on the map.

2.) The sun is very different than anything you have ever experienced.

In Aruba, I was diagnosed as having allergic reactions to the sun after a pretty rough sunburn that resulted in a swollen face. I’ve been badly sunburned before, but the sun in Aruba is different. It takes less time to get burned, and apparently, when you do, it will affect you more than a sunburn elsewhere would. To avoid this, avoid mid-afternoon sun at all costs. If you’re on the beach, spend the mornings and evenings there, but take shelter between 11:30 and 3.  Tanning is all well and good, but you don’t want your face to end up looking like a puffy snowman, or your back sending out snow showers of peeling skin. It’s not fun.

Church on a windy hill

Church on a windy hill

3.) There is no single culture or language.
Grocery stores in Aruba are often named Asian names and there are a lot of oriental restaurants, as well as Italian, French, and Cuban restaurants. Everyone speaks 3 languages — Papiamento, English, and Spanish. There’s a culture festival every Tuesday night at the historical museum, which I sadly missed seeing. There’s also a lot of Dutch since Aruba was initially a Dutch colony. Many packages in stores are labelled in Dutch and so are a lot of signs.

4.) If you are in need of a doctor:
If it’s a minor injury (like my previously mentioned swollen face), just go to a pharmacy, which they have next to the major grocery store. The pharmacist is authorized to give prescription drugs without an appointment. There are also two hospitals on the island as well as an urgent care place specifically designed for hurt tourists.

5.) The Aruban economy is:

  • Tourism management
  • Oil refinery
  • And that’s about it. The Aruban people understand just how important you as a visitor are.

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And there you have it, my top five things that you should be aware in Aruba!


Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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Funding to Ciego: A Lesson in Generosity

To travel is a luxury.

The 2016 Ohio Wesleyan University trip to Ciego de Avila included 8 college students and 2 faculty members, none of whom were rolling in cash to be used on a (roughly) $2000 Spring Break service trip. Here’s what we did to fund our trip (Feel free to use them for your own causes!) :

  • 60/40 Raffle at a men’s basketball game
  • Bake sale in our university’s late night library room
  • Participated in the Chipotle fundraising program and ran shuttles from campus to the store
  • Individual letter writing to friends, churches, and relatives

For many service trip groups, this would be enough.

Our group was still many thousands of dollars short from our financial commitment due to an expensive initial cost and a few surprise costs. After a health emergency and a rejected grant application, our staff leaders called the group together to discuss postponing the Cuba Immersion trip until the next year, despite half the team being unable to attend the next year for various reasons.

Here’s the reason myself and seven classmates were able to go on an inspiring and incredibly educational nine day trip to Ciego de Avila, Cuba: generosity. By getting the word out to alumni and influential people in the university’s administration, thousands of dollars were donated to an unassuming group of college students with the understanding that we would share what we learned when we returned. It was extremely unexpected. The news that our planning was going to play out rendered us speechless.

I would not have been able to swing on Cuban playgrounds had it not been for our donors.

I would not have been able to swing on Cuban playgrounds had it not been for our donors.

When you donated to my team of aspiring world changers, you didn’t just donate to our finances. You donated to our confidence, showing us that this trip was worth the time and money that we poured into it. You showed me that my wish to travel was valid and worth the energy I pour into it. You proved that our personal interests were strong enough to put into action by visiting a place that demonstrated them perfectly. We, the Cuba Immersion team from Ohio Wesleyan University 2016, cannot thank you enough.

This towel, folded by our hotel staff, accurately shows how our team felt about the Cuban people.

This towel, folded by our hotel staff, accurately shows how our team felt about the Cuban people.


Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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Putting Education Into Practice

Tip for the optimal travel experience: Learn something about the place you visit before you arrive. The more you know before you show up, the more you will learn and remember when you return.

My team from university included International Studies, Spanish, Fine Arts, Sociology, Politics and Government, Pre-Med and Religion majors as well as one American with Cuban heritage. Each individual applied to the team and had their own academic reasons for traveling to Cuba. When we arrived, questions from team members to Cuban leaders included questions about politics, medical systems and art.

The Ohio Wesleyan University Cuba Immersion Team 2016

The Ohio Wesleyan University Cuba Immersion Team 2016

As an International Studies major with strong interests in international political policy, my luck allowed me to talk to my English tutorees each night about their thoughts and opinions on politics and cultural differences with few language barriers.  Here is a conversation I had in writing, practicing spelling and written grammar with Alex, one of the few men I had the chance to talk to:

Alex: “To open the restriction depends on the new president who will take that place.”

(Me): I agree, I study politics and right now it is very interesting. Do you follow the election [2016 Presidential]?

“I see the news every day.”

That’s better than me! What do you think of Republicans?

“I prefer Democrats. We are in a bad situation now but it can change in the next few months.”

Everything can change very quickly! I think the Cuba/USA relations will depend on the new president, but I think most Americans want good relations.

“But unfortunately it’s not up to them.”

But, Americans are the ones who choose their president by voting. I know it can be corrupt and sometimes not turn out how I like, but I still have hope.

“Are you really studying politics?”

My major is a mixture of politics, sociology, economics and languages. So yes.

“Then I hope you will fight so hard to close our relationship, I mean between our two countries.”

It’s hard, but I would like to. If our countries were friends, what would change?

“For me, this system should be changed in order to improve our lives.”

Three of my usual nightly tutorees. My written conversation partner is on my left.

Three of my usual nightly tutorees. My written conversation partner is on my left.

In contrast to his wish for change, two of my other tutorees were less concerned with the future of the political system and more concerned about their personal futures (employment, moving to live with family, marriage, ect.). Every Cuban I talked with in the country felt positively about the opening of relations between the United States and Cuban governments as well as the opening of domestic policies in Cuba. While these opinions could be biased because of who I was interacting with or the fact that I am American, I understood these biases and still believed these conversations to create a fairly objective sample of the political feelings of Cubans.

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Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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