When I tell people I am teaching English in a foreign country many people respond with, “Wow, you’re so lucky!” They are right, but for the wrong reason. They assume that somehow I luckily happened upon a lottery in which the winner gets to travel the world and live anywhere they want. Well, no… that part just took a little hard work and determination. Both attributes everyone can have and does not require chance.
I'm lucky to be a native English speaker!
The luck came in 1980 when I was born in one of a few countries where English is the native language. The world population was about 4.4 billion in August of 1980. The population of all the native English speaking countries was roughly a combined 330,000,000. That left me with a 7.4% change of being born into one of those countries. That’s luck. That’s chance. And a day does not go by that I don’t thank the universe for the opportunity to be able live the dream.
So, if you’re sitting at home reading this and you are also a native English speaker, don’t call me lucky. Stop making excuses and get off your ass and join me! Your lucky chance came the day you were born.
The last couple of years have been some of the best of my life so far. 2010 saw the completion of my BA from University, my 30th birthday and the breaking free of a job I didn’t like but kept at for the entire decade. I managed to complete my degree in the amount of time I planned once I decided to go back in 2007.
2011 was even better but for different reasons. I set off in January around the world on an adventurous trip through the Horn of Africa and a Middle East journey that fell short due to the Arab revolutions early in the year. I got my TEFL certification in Thailand and did some volunteer work before settling down in Sumatra. I wrote a post back in 2010 trying to predict where I’d end up living this year and Medan, Indonesia wasn’t even a place I knew anything about other than it was a port city in Sumatra. Now here I am finishing my first full year abroad and just getting going!
Here is a look back at some of the things I’ve accomplished and planned to accomplish but fell short as well as an outlook for 2012. Enjoy!
Things I set out to do in 2011…and did
Learn to iron
Learn to tie a tie
Learn another language (in progress)
Learn to play the guitar (in progress)
Drive a motorbike
Get TEFL certified
Become a teacher
Travel to Somalia (Somaliland)
Travel to the Middle East (Lebanon)
Things I didn’t specifically set out to do but happy I did
Live somewhere that I can see mountains from my house Have an article written about me by ABC News
Volunteer in a small village
Cut back immensely on drinking alcohol
Lost 35 lbs (15 kg)
Have a proper party week in Thailand with old friends
Motorbike road trip through Northern Sumatra
Things I wanted to do but didn’t do
Learn to cook
Live completely alone
Goals for 2012
Have a close friend or family member visit me
Learn to cook
Return to the U.S. at the end of 2012
Survive the end of the world
Get to see one of my best friends get married
Travel to a nearby country
Visit Java, Komodo or Flores
Some of my favorite photos of 2011
Grand Mosque at Banda Aceh
Orangutan in Bukit Lawang
Batak children on Samosir in Lake Toba
Getting into it during teacher practice at TEFL International
Royal Temple, Bangkok
Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur
Tank leftover from the Somalian civil war
Camels grazing on the beach along the Gulf of Aden
I just came across this quote this morning and thought it was worth sharing. I’m not Buddhist nor do I want to convert but there is no denying some incredibly insightful words from the Buddha.
“Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances.”
“Do not give up your authority and follow blindly the will of others. This way will lead to only delusion.”
“Find out for yourself what is truth, what is real. Discover that there are virtuous things and there are non-virtuous things. Once you have discovered for yourself give up the bad and embrace the good.”
It’s the first question people usually ask when I tell them I’m heading overseas again. “Did you get all your shots?” It’s as if they think I’m just jumping into this carefree and irresponsibly. How dare people question my planning and research? How dare people ask me such a silly inane question? The nerve of family and friends to even consider for a moment that maybe I won’t take full precaution before I leave the country! As an experienced traveler you can never be too careful and you must make sure that you do not make mistakes when it comes to vaccinations and immunizations… apparently though, I am not an experienced traveler. Oops!
The sarcasm is off now. I messed up. In all my infinite travel wisdom I decided it would be fun to wait till the very last minute to update my typhoid fever vaccination. Luckily this is my 2nd shot and it only takes a week to become effective. Also, looking up for me is the fact that I plan to stay in Addis Ababa for a week where the water is generally pretty safe compared to rural towns and villages in the countryside. The good thing about typhoid is it is pretty easily avoidable if I stick to bottled water, even for brushing my teeth, as well as making sure I keep my mouth shut in the shower.
So, if you were to ask me yesterday if I got all my shots… I would have said no. Also, I got what I deserved. A nice heavy feverish reaction a few hours after the shot. I took some Advil and laid down for a nap and it went away.
The last time I left the country for a long period of time proved that no matter how tough I try to convince myself that I am, I truly miss family and friends when I travel. So, putting the obvious aside for just a moment, these are some things I’m going to miss when I’m gone.
1. My car: I haven’t always loved driving a lot but I sure do enjoy blasting my music while on the highway. I’m going to miss that part of it. I’ve loved my Jetta since I bought it in 2002 and when I return to the United States I don’t see myself investing that much in a new vehicle again. Now I will have to rely on headphones and public transportation.
2. Quality Hispanic food: This is tough to come by outside of the United States and Latin America. I have had the chance to occasionally find tasty Mexican joints in Asia but nothing compared to what I get here at home. I can probably kiss the Cuban Sandwich goodbye as I don’t see getting a good one for awhile.
3. Cheese: Somewhat related to #2, I don’t know what it is about being outside of the country but I rarely come across good cheese of any kind. I know I probably just need to hit up a grocery store but as a whole, in restaurants it is never available. And I can forget shredded or melted cheese. It is nearly non-existent at Mexican or Italian restaurants. I love cheese. I love it a lot!
4. High fives: Seriously, this has been one of the most exciting NFL seasons I’ve experienced in a long time. I’m going to miss hanging out with my friends during Bucs games and giving high fives. Do people do that in other countries? Even if they do, will they be as meaningful with out having a true team to root for? What’s my favorite football club going to be? Should I root for Manchester United since the Bucs owner’s also own them? A high five is nothing with out some real excitement behind it. You don’t fake high fives.
5. Jeopardy!: I must confess my geeky side. I’ve enjoyed weekly Jeopardy! competitions with my roommates for quite sometime. Such a simple pleasure but it will be strongly missed. I may never answer the most questions but it sure is a good time trying.
I understand not everyone has a passion for geography like I do, but I feel that a pretty basic understanding of the political and topographical lay out of our planet is important to have. Some of you may be fellow travelers and geography nuts who are are reading for inspiration or trip research purposes but I think a large number are casual friends and family who just want to see where I am and what I’m doing. So this geography lesson is more about the latter group.
So, where am I going?
I’m heading to the horn of Africa first. This is the region of East Africa that consists traditionally of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. It has long been considered one of the most volatile regions on the continent as well as the entire world. In recent years the overall situation has improved with the exception of certain border areas and of course the chaos that exists in the southern Somali states. I’m specifically flying into Ethiopia via the capital city of Addis Ababa and making an overland journey to the northern portion of Somalia (Somaliland) hopefully ending my journey in the coastal town of Berbera. “The Horn,” as it is commonly referred to, jets out into the Indian ocean and Gulf of Aden just below the Arabian peninsula. This region is diverse in landscape and climate. I’ll find myself cooler in the Bole Mountains of Ethiopia and warmer the more arid regions surrounding the Ogaden and Somali deserts. I wrote a little bit more detail about this a few months ago here and I’ll certainly be writing in more detail along the way about the people and the politics but I just wanted to show where I’m going first.
I implore anyone reading and enjoying this blog to take out a map and really get an understanding of where I am. Very few in western society know much about the Somali people outside of what the media shows. Along the way I hope to get a better understanding myself and to shed the concept that Somalia is just a land of chaos, savages and piracy. While these things certainly do exist, there is always a deeper story.
I can’t believe it is only a week away. As slowly as the last month and a half has gone by, it feels like I’m now being unexpectedly shoved forward into my plans. Am I ready? Honestly, I never feel as though I’ve covered everything. I always have this unnerving feeling that I’m forgetting something really important or that I’m just leaving certain loose ends untied. The anxiety is starting to really kick in. I can’t tell where the anxiety is coming from mostly. For awhile I thought it was just the idea of leaving for a long time that was going to be the hardest to deal with but I may actually be getting nervous for the journey itself through Ethiopia and Somalia. I’ve done this before. I have to keep telling myself, this isn’t the first time I’ve left the country on my own to explore parts of the world that are off the beaten path. I guess this is a good thing though. I don’t travel because it is easy, I do it for the challenge. What would be the point if the week before I leave I’m overly confident and feel no emotion towards it?
I have to remember my own advice. When I usually return from being out of the country I am usually amazed at how little I really needed while I was gone. As long as I have my essentials: passport, money, identification and some clothes, I’m OK. Everything else is either a luxury or something I could probably pick up when I arrive.
Not much to update right now. I just wanted to check in. I’ve been spending time with family and friends and relaxing. The planning for the trip portion of my journey is pretty much finished and I just have a few loose ends to tie up before I leave. I’ve decided to add the Middle East to my trip and do as much as possible in the time I have available before I need to be in Thailand.
I’ll probably spend 2-3 weeks in the horn of Africa before flying to Dubai and on to Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. I will likely try to see Cairo/Giza for the Great Pyramids. My route really depends on flight costs. My research has led me to believe that flying within the Middle East is rather cheap. Also, getting from most places to Bangkok on a one-way ticket looks better than if I do it from Africa.
No itinerary is set in stone yet aside from my arrival in Ethiopia and journey across the border to Somaliland. Once in Somaliland it all depends on how I feel. I’m trying to avoid any “backtracking.”
I’ll keep everyone posted! 25 more days till I land in Africa!
It has been a year since my trip to Colombia last December and I decided to put together a video showcasing some of my photos from that trip. I hope you enjoy! I look forward to making other videos for future and past trips when time permits!
Things have sort of come to a standstill for me. I have a lot I still need to do before I leave but it seems that with the amount of time I have left, I’m doing a healthy dose of procrastinating now. This after getting so much done the first week.
I took a few hours yesterday to go see the new movie, 127 Hours. I figured as an adventure traveler (not so much a mountain climber) I should probably learn a little bit more about the story of Aron Ralston. I remember reading about him in the news in 2003 when the events occurred that the movie is based on. I watched the movie and then did a little reading about him when I got home to separate the story from Hollywood. I found out it was pretty well close to the real story with only a few changes.
The movie itself was OK. It got a bit trippy at times but that would be expected of a Danny Boyle movie. Especially one that delves into the psychological effects of dehydration, desperation and a man trapped in a situation where he faces almost certain death.
The movie and story itself reminded me of why it is important to make sure close family and friends always know where I am going. It doesn’t make sense to venture off unannounced just for the sake of having that feeling of know one else knowing your whereabouts. As enticing as that can be, it is a selfish act. There is definitely a certain rush attached to it in a sense that you know if something happens you’re on your own. I remember when I was younger and just got my driver’s license I would take off and drive north out of Tampa and just stop at random exits as far out of town as I felt necessary and then start making random turns until I got myself a bit lost. I never succeeded in getting completely lost but it would give me a small sense of adventure.
Mom and dad were fully aware I was in the Sahara
I’ve taken that same desire to get lost and experience new places and put it into a more practical hobby. I try not to blog too much about specific travel routes before I leave for a few reasons. One being, plans always change and pre-planned routes can end up being useless. More importantly though, as my dad suggested after I blogged for Morocco, It is not a good idea to publish exact arrival dates and locations of accommodation online before you arrive at a destination. Chances are slim that someone would read my blog and act on it, but why give anyone with motives to kidnap, the blueprint to locating me?
What I usually do is give a tentative itinerary to my parents and brother and maybe a couple of close friends so that they know the route I intend to take. I do my best to warn of days where I may be out of communication due to the remoteness of my location. I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than 3-4 days with out some sort of contact. If I hit a new town I like to, at the very least, check in with an email. With Facebook being as convenient as it is I’ll probably just do status updates with new locations.