Monday, August 8, 2011

Ending an Era; Going Home

It's been fourteen months - fourteen months of living, learning, working, playing, loving, traveling. Fourteen months of seeing, experiencing, and I daresay growing.

In the scheme of things, a year and change is hardly a long time to be abroad alone - in my travels, I've met tanned, wizened Chinese men working in Africa on 3-year contracts; a red-bearded Israeli fellow in the process of biking around the world; and one very wild-looking Frenchman who had been out for a year and was just getting started.

That said, it feels like an age has passed - a "life of Men." Since leaving the U.S., I've been to eleven countries (or will have, after my Cairo stopover tomorrow morning), though I've only stayed in six of them - China, Taiwan, Philippines, Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa - for more than 24 hours. I have enjoyed Taipei at Christmastime; spent my birthday on a trip to the frigid Mongolian border; climbed and camped among the dunes of the Singing Sands in western China; been intimidated by policemen on the southern coast; been welcomed into the "expatriate" Uighur community of the coastal provinces; and lived in Beijing through the extremes of all four seasons. I've fallen in and out of love, and various other relationships; made several friends, and many more associates; promised dozens of people that I will meet them at the airport if they ever come to New York, and sometimes meant it. I have lived at times in palatial arrangements, and at times like a pauper. I have enjoyed several of the major vices, and refined them all back to moderation. I count among my new skills bargain-hunting, bottle-opening, and bag-tying -- oh, and my Chinese has also improved enough to be useful in both professional and social environments. I have grown more confident, less credulous, and maybe even wiser. I have seen a little bit of a few facets of the world, and in doing so come to realize how little I actually know about my own nation, let alone others.

But it's high time to be headed home, to the friends and family who speak my language and know me best. I'm looking forward to everything from my grandmother's cooking to the pressure and rewards of life at Yale.

This will be my last update from the Great Abroad: I have a plane to catch. But it will not be the last post to this blog. While at home and at Yale, I plan to flesh out some notes I've taken over the past year - thoughts I never got the chance to blog about. So check back every week or two, if you're still interested in my ideas on some of the things I've learned and seen. It's not over yet -- I'll tell you when.

See you in the world.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

arrived safely

I’ve arrived in my hostel. I’m a bit tired for the Recap Update (TM) that I was planning, so I’ll save that for tomorrow.

What’s blowing my mind tonight: 3 deaf backpackers, two Brazilian and one French (so they can’t even lip-read English). Now THAT takes guts.

Tomorrow, a new update; the day after, home!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Heading Out

As usual, I’m in a rush to leave, so this is going to be short:
I’m leaving Zambia, headed through Zimbabwe to South Africa. When I get to my hostel in South Africa (sometime tomorrow afternoon) I’ll update again.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Updates & More Photos

[Written Saturday, July 30]

Only one week left for me in Zambia; 10 days until I’m back in the land of the free and the home of the brave. 4 days until said land defaults on its debts.

What I’ll miss most about Zambia may well be the (winter) weather. I woke up at 6:30 this morning – I had gone to bed around 8:30 last night after getting too much sun and eating too much junk at the Agricultural Expo, which is supposed to be one of the country’s biggest events but frankly didn’t even measure up to the NY State Fair – and my first reaction was, of course, that it was too early for human beings to be out of bed; but once I actually got outside, I found that it was cool, crisp, clear, sunny, and generally a fantastic morning to be alive. And it’s like that every morning – not to mention toasty during the day and cool in the evening. The only thing is that it’s a bit dry, but I’d be willing to pay that price for a permanent Zambian winter.

But things change, as things are wont to do. The day before yesterday, I was summarily evicted from my room and told to move into a room upstairs. The move itself wasn’t much of a bother – after all, I don’t have many things – but my new bathroom has no mirror and no door, so I wasn’t particularly happy about that. I figure that if I’m going to move, I’d much rather that it be over a long distance, otherwise it just doesn’t seem worth it.

The reason for the move has also been the water-cooler gossip of the company for the past few days: the arrival of 3 teachers for the Chinese school that our boss also runs. Most of the talk has revolved around how cute they would be – not outstanding, though much better-looking than the last group, as it turns out. But in two weeks they’ll be moving into the school’s dorms, and anyway most of the men here are married, so any talk of the new kids is punctuated by a lot of good-natured finger-pointing and head-shaking.

The boss liked my masterpiece, so this I’ve been working on a second publicity video, this time for one of the subsidiaries; and this coming week, I’ll be making a third. Although I’d really like to share them, especially the first one, unfortunately I won’t be posting any links: I’ve said whatever I’ve wanted to about the company so far and I think it’s good policy to make sure my comments don’t show up alongside anything that might link to the company’s name in an online search. Besides the videos, I’ve also been some on-the-spot oral translation lately; today, for the first time, I’m going with the construction company’s boss to meet a potential customer.

Yesterday I was thinking about what I should include in my Zambia Kit: a transformer, a visa receipt, etc. When I get back home, I’ll have three Country Kits (TM) - the other two are for Taiwan and China. They usually fit in a Ziploc bag, and include things like business cards, SIM cards, cash, school/library/etc IDs, metro passes, and address books. (Throw in a pistol and a few passports, and I could pass for CIA.) They’re a huge help in readjusting, and can save a lot of hassle – one of the nicest surprises in Taiwan this past winter was when I arrived in Taipei and found that my half-price student metro card was still valid.

And that’s all in today’s news and ruminations. Now for...

Photo captions!

1. Lusaka’s Tuesday produce market. This picture doesn’t necessarily show it, but the Tuesday Market is surprisingly diverse – Koreans, Japanese, Indians, Pakistanis, white people, and (I’m told) a lot of regional expatriates as well.
2. Preparing 40kg of rice – a week’s supply for about a dozen people.
3. Our brickyard. The ones laid out on the ground to dry are for paths; the rest are cinder blocks for warehouse-building.
4. Speaking of warehouse-building...
5. Some of the guys who work in materials/construction having fun.
6. My (now former) housemate at the Kariba Dam, which draws hydropower from the world’s largest manmade lake. Here I should mention that, of the three people I have lived with since leaving for college, not a single one of them has been anything less than 100% cheerful and 110% fantastic. And next year I’m living in a single, so I’m not worried about that changing any time soon.
7. Water flowing from the Kariba Dam.
8. Even more water.

This weekend is a holiday I had forgotten about – aren’t those the best? - so a few of us are hoping to get together for some LAN Counterstrike (I’m rusty but I fully intend to kick ass), and maybe some Harry Potter (finally!). I’ll do my best to update once more before I leave, and then again before I leave Johannesburg. Lately I’ve been hearing a ton of stuff about Jo-burg being pretty rough – and this from Chinese, Americans, and locals – so as soon as I get my bus ticket sorted out I’m going to try to arrange transport with my hostel there.

Until next week,