26 December 2009

Buenos Dias, PR

Today was our last day and Stacey and I spent most of it on the beach. I am a darker shade of pale. We rode boogie boards today and I am still cleaning seaweed from every crevis of my body. Good thing there is no customs. (Our last day of Egpyt we went riding on 4wheelers and I know I brought back sand in my ears) The water is clear, but it means that you can see all the gunk in it. Maybe there is some thing to not knowing what is wrapping around your leg. I must share one particularly funny story. Stacey and I were riding the waves and Stacey's first ride out was not a successful run on top of the wave and the water came crashing down around her. When she stood up and looked back at me I started laughing...the kind of paralyzing laughter in which you can't breathe because she had just experience what I would consider the second worst thing that could happen to you in the water. Yes folks, my sister had gone topless without realizing it. Through my uncontrolled laughter she figured it out and returned her top to it upright and locked position and began laughing herself. I think we laughed for about 10 straight minutes. As one might imagine, she waited for the right wave the next time.

Signing off for now...until the next adventure.

A walled Baptist

San Juan was named after St. John the Baptist and Old San Juan is a fortified city like Charleston, but the walls are MUCH bigger. I did learn that orginally the city was called Puerto Rico "rich port" and the island San Juan which in a way made much more sense.

Emily and John had suggested not to get a tour guide and use the walking tour from the book which was a great idea because we could stop whenever we wanted along the way. The only bad thing was that it was hard to figure out where the tour started. We started our tour three times thinking we were in the right spot. We ate, did some shopping, walked around and took pictures. I could have done more of all three. In this entry, I'm just putting up some pictures of the old city. It really was gorgeous and we couldn't have asked for better weather.

24 December 2009

Q: How did you get those calves????

A: This is the first question ANYONE should ask me when they see me. Not, "Wow what a great shade of not so pale!" Thanks to Puerto Rico, I have a little calf definition to my legs but this has come with a price--for the last two days I hesitate to start walking because it is like reving the motor on an old woman. You know she can walk, it just takes her a bit to get going. I've also had to brace a bit in order to sit down. Let's hope tomorrow is a different day. Downward facing dog has not helped.

Tonight is Christmas Eve and one might think that I'd miss the cold or a christmas tree, but as you can see, PR is just as adept at Christmas decorations as we are. It rained today, but Stacey and I got some beach time in this morning and we have rented a golf cart. Jim, Stacey and I drove around in the afternoon to do some exploring of the Gated Gated community. There are a lot of gates andsome houses that were not gated. My observation....if you've got money, you gate the driveway. You want peopel to see the house...just not get to close.

Tonight after dinner, Mom made some pina coladas (we are experimenting with recipes) and off we went to look at Christmas lights. It was still drizzling a little bit, but we headed out anyway. We were not on the cart path more than 10 minutes and the sky opened up and let out all the water. A guard let us rest under a shelter until the heavy rain passed. We continued on. Jim has better pictures, my camera battery was starting to die. The picture with the village is dedicated to Bruce Anderson, Planning Board Chairman of the Town of Huntersville who does something similar in his house. We found this Christmas treasure this afternoon when I saw all the lights on the house. The village "appeared" this evening.

23 December 2009

Dear John

Dear John,

Get to the financial planner and tell him that you have changed your retirement goals and need a small apartment in Puerto Rico. Our home in Charlotte with the east and west wings may end up being a nice four-square in West End (club your car and make nice with the prostitutes--for now at least) I'm thinking somewhere near to San Juan so we can gawk at tourists like we did at C of C. Tell our unadopted children who I'm sure will be in therapy for the arrangement we will put them in that they are going to need to do well in life because they will be visitin' us in this wonderful US protectorate (so says the guidebooks). Brush up on your Spanish (maybe Santa will put some CD's in your stocking) because that is the only way we'll be able to say " Hey Boy" to those that qualify. To my unofficial neices and nephews...seriously, GaGa and Uncle John will have the most fun place to go for spring break.

Yours in common law,

Senorita (or Senora...I'm no spring chicken) Whitney Neal

22 December 2009

El Yunque

So today we went to the only rain forest in the United States (but obviously not on the contiguous 48 and not in an actual state). The views were amazing and here are a few pictures. I love the way the palm tree curves. When we were at Mt. Britton, we watched clouds come in and out. We did not go all the way to the top of El Yunque (we needed more time and I personally need better thigh muscles before that kind of climb). Now, this excusion did not meet any of my goals for this trip of reading on the beach, drinking fruity cocktails or being lazy, BUT I am glad I didn't miss it.
Stacey tried empandas today and we had dinner at (shh...don't tell anyone) Chili's. To be quiet honest we were dressed in the clothes above and many things were closed...the options were slim, but the marguaritas were tasty and definitely worth it after a long day of hiking (seriously...it was only 3 miles, but labeled "challenging" climbs). Jim practically ran up the mountain and Mom kept us at a good pace. We met a girl in school at NC State...small world. She and her boyfriend had split up in order to look for their car. We drove her around until we found him. There have been over 200 people never found in El Yunque (granted that total is from the amount of time the National Forest has been in place), but we were not about to make her and her boyfriend a statistic.
My new spanish of the day is jueves and viernes. I'll be fluent at babbling like a baby by Christmas!

21 December 2009

The Chaos on the Way to the Gated Gates

One can not imagine the hysteia of the Charlotte Airport unless you were there at 6:30 am on Sunday morning. The passengers that were there overnight waiting to get back onto new flights after the weather canceled their flights combined with new travelors such as ourselves made for a quamire of passengers - some angry, some pushy, some just trying to go with the flow. USAir did not do themselves any favors by not signing ANY of the lines. One employee tried to restore some type of order, but to limited avail to the travelors who needed to make changes and perhaps had been in the airport for 16 hours. I totally sympahized with their situation, but I was headed to the tropics and was not about to miss it. Which is why it is great to have an innocently-looking, pushing sister who "bullied" her way into a recently opened line. We made our flight thanks to her persistence, but did not have time for breakfast. I slept through "snacks" on the plane (I swear I'm going some where with this food thing).
Our rental car is a Kia Rio with manual windows and a USB port (this combination makes no sense to me). We are staying in a place called outside of Palmas del Mar Humacao on the east side of Puerto Rico. As best as I can determine, it is pronounced "oo-ma-cow" or "oo-ma-ki-o" (my Spanish needs work). This is a Gated Gated community - you go through one gate at the front and to another gate to each little community. This does not keep out the wild dogs. It takes a litle while and at least one attempt of Stacey speaking Spanish to get our condo's keys Which We get around 3pm. I have eaten two granola bars and half a coke by this time. I'm fading and fast fading. (This always reminds me of the time that Maggie and I were in Italy and did not speak for 6 hours because we went to find a building she wanted to see in our Italian guide book, written in French, Which turns out to be a hospital . We skipped lunch that day and walk for about 3 hours ... I went BA-LIS-TIC. I am surprised she ever spoke to me again). We find this restaurant in a cute place in the compound (not Jack I have not gotten pictures yet). Vanessa our waitress recommended against the quesadillas and to the nachos supreme. The recommendation was well worth it and color finally returned to my face. I had a huge carnitas burrito and was finally amoung the living again. Because of the lack of blood sugar for so long, I had to nap while the rest of the family went to the beach.

In the evening we went to Ralph's Food Warehouse! And they were not kidding about the food. I had a blast but most are aware of my obsession with food stores. Thus far, Puerto Rico is like extreme conservatives think what will happen to the U.S. if were an official Spanish language and thus far, I do not see what all the hype is about. I mean for the love of shoe sales, there is a Wal-Mart, Sally's Beauty Supply and Rave in the next town over!

Today was utter bliss! We spent the morning at the beach. Napped, Lunch, Read a whole book and Jim entertained as best we could without exerting ourselves. Mom loves the Boogie board and Stacey has painted two good watercolors.
More ahead and Love to all

19 December 2009

La Carribe--a first

Tomorrow I leave for Puerto Rico. This will be my first time to the Carribean. The journey there has been full of some excitement. Mom, Stacey and Jim were snowed in and without power. Mom and Jim had to shovel Pappy's truck out of the driveway in order to meet Stacey in Asheville where we hope the truck will stay in the driveway. All this drama in the mountains and all the weather we had in Charlotte was freezing rain (of which I would say I am a little tired of the gloomy weather). I am hopeful that our plane will be on time and without weather incident. Pictures and stories to follow.

01 September 2009

And then there was America's Got Talent

I have been looking for a book club book for the meeting I will be hosting at my house in October. Somewhat selfishly, I want a book that is about either modern day (ok....I'll extend the modern definition to the 50's if I must) Egypt or Lebanon. The ladies of book club have wanted to see pictures of my trip and I thought this would be a great way to incorporate it. Well, let's just say that this is easier said than done because a requirement is that it needs to be in the library and the book I think I really want to read (recommended by at least two FB friends) is not found in our underfunded library system (I say that completely based on the size of our city because the anyone who visited the Gray Branch Library in Washington Couty TN can appreciate anything that is not in trailer).

I am impressed by the things that you can find in your library. After years of academia and rows and rows of books that no one in their right mind would read for pleasure, finding the joys of the local library is like Christmas. Aside from the one obsure video store in town, it is the only place to find foreign films. Tonight was pork roast and foreign film night in the Hodges household. Needless to say, Liddy slept through much of the movie as she cannot read.

As it is Tuesday night and until the fall TV season starts, there is really nothing on. I could not take another week of "America's Got Talent". So I put in my new video find and watched Under The Bombs. (I found this in my search for book club books) It was in Arabic with english subtitles and it was about a mother who returns to Southern Lebanon during the war of 2006 when she cannot locate her sister and her son. According to the jacket, only two actors were hired and the other members played themselves and it was filmed on locatoin....this is the part that made it more real for me.

Now, maybe it was the translation, but I couldn't understand why she would leave her child with her sister while she was in Dubai (especially after finding out she had two miscarriages) or why her cab driver (the other main character) fell in love with her and I would even say I didn't understand the understory of his character at all. For instance, he has says he has children in the movie, but we have no idea where they are or what happened to them. Knowing a little more about him would have added a depth to the movie that it just didn't have.

Putting these film annoyances aside, the film (movies have George Clooney, Jennifer Anniston, the Wilson Brothers, etc in them or so the McDonald's commercial says) had an amazing point about how life is during a war and showed me a side to war that I did not understand when I was visiting Lebanon. I would say the point the filmmakers were trying to express is that innocent lives that were lost because of governments that had a postition to push rather than human lives to consider. The film makers didn't seem to promote one ideology of the conflict over another. And throughout the film you hear stories about loved ones lost; mothers having to leave some of their children behind and you get a sense of what looking for someone that is a refugee (in their own country mind you) feels like. As Americans, I feel confident saying....WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THAT FEELS LIKE. Perhaps Katrina victims, but that is as close of a connection I would draw.

When the movie shuts off (Wags gave me a universal remote to my DVD player that I am too stubborn to set) what is still on?...America's Got Talent and my heart saddens. Seriously, what are we really trying to escape/distract/zone out from? Are our workdays that stressful? Is the economy that depressing? Is the commute that deadly? Or do we really hate socializing that much? I had just watched two hours of what I would consider a difficult situation, but no one turned on "The Real Housewifes of...(fill in blank city)". I am saddened because the culture that I know, love and am a card carrying member of (thank you again Barbara T. Wilson for granting my freedom when it was stolen from me in the tube in London in the summer of '95) is oblivious to the world around them and I see no signs of change to this established behavioral pattern. In fact, I think we even invent more ways to isolate ourselves from one another. For all the great things that come out of social networking and Al Gore's Internet nothing replaces those human connections to each other and to the others of this little planet we all live on. But hey that's enough of a view from top this lemon tree. My culture may not understand real costs of war but at least we've got talent (ok except the comedians...they all seem to be from Canada--or as I like to call it USA North).

19 August 2009

The Local View


So, it has been a three months since I got back from Egypt and Lebanon and writing about those experiences was easy. My views recently have been more local and in the here in the sweet Carolinas and it is a little harder to make home as fresh and mysterious as my travels. But, let's face it, I'm southern; I'm from the mountains; and I had to take storytelling classes in the 4th and 5th grade. (You don't go getting a story telling center in your county without good reason)

It is summer and the humidity is high. I would argue that it makes the air sweet and maybe it is sweet because I have frozen peaches for later use and make blackberry jam for the first time. Those of you who have tried it...I need your honest opinion for next year. This summer I have called upon the spirits of my grandmothers (and one grandfather for that matter) may they all rest in peace and canned like the furry. Santa Claus (you have to believe or the presents stop comin') brought me a pressure cooker for quart jars for Christmas. Not that anything has come out the way I thought it should look, at least it was an attempt. In June, my house smelled just like Nanny's (Mom's side) and I think Granny Lou (Dad's side) would have thought the blackberry jam acceptable. Egypt took me away from strawberry season so next year it is on with the freezin' and the canning. I do enjoy smoothies with fruit I put up in the summer. I just need to find a bigger freezer.

I've enjoyed my summer (although to be quite honest I still have wanted one solid week at either the Outterbanks or Charleston barrier islands and I keep reminding myself that I will have worked only 11 months this year). This past weekend I found myself in Myrtle Beach with six of my closest friends, although there were several that joined us in spirit. Next year people. We go down nearly every year for a weekend of kid-like fun. One, we must visit Myrtle Waves and go down the "Tidy Bowl" at least three times. Two, we must divide up into teams chosen randomly by our driver's licenses and play putt-putt. The loosing team has to buy drinks before dinner. Three, a nice dinner with lots of alcohol must take place. I have successfully been on a loosing putt-putt team for the last four years. This year's score was a DRAMATIC improvement, but mine was the one cut from the overall total. The pictures below are some action shots from putt- putt. (Note: I am not allowed to publish pictures of any of the closest friends in bathing suits...that is rule 6 of the friendship and I "passed out" too quickly before taking our beauty pictures for drinks but that is a WHOLE different story)

I haven't been far from water all summer. The other two pictures are from tubing down the Green River in Saluda and white water rafting on the Pigeon. The lesson learned from tubing is that tying rafts together is fun, but I think bungee rope is a necessity. Not everyone on the trip would agree with being tied up together. When you don't go whitewater rafting with a guide, pick the guy who has only been once as your rudder. He'll guide and chances are he won't fall out and you'll get a great workout on your arms. We almost lost mom once.

The last picture is of Bryant, Nada, Nagi and I at the White House. Bryant and I went to visit some of his friends in DC and coordinated the trip around Nagi's visit. Seeing Nagi and his family was great, but short.

More adventures to come as summer does not officially end unti September 21st. Ooh and who knows where the fall will take me or what kind of hot mess I might get into. (ps I still don't get this whole picture thing yet while blogging)

09 June 2009

What Does It Mean to be "Non-Political"

This was a post I was supposed to put up last week.

I listened to most of Obama’s speech today on CSPAN because as usual, the major networks disappointed me on their coverage. One must own a higher grade of cable than myself to have programs stopped for you. But the one advantage to CSPAN is sometimes it doesn’t have commentary and lets you make up your own opinions based on what you see in front of you. Novel concept I know.

After the speech, they took callers and the callers had to identify whether they were democrat, republican or independent. I didn’t think this was needed, but I don’t run the media or political world. But what surprised me (other than the number of callers from California where it was 4 in the morning) was that a lot of the callers started off their responses with, “I’ve never considered myself political, but…” What does that phrase really mean? How can one not be political? It is almost like saying, I’m not American. One of the greatest rights that we have in this country is to vote and in essence that makes us political. By standing for or against something; choosing to participate or not participate makes one political.

Maybe the proper term is “outwardly political” and that can be rather difficult. I think of different relationships I have with outwardly political people and sometimes how unconfortable it can be to have open and honest discussions without getting angry or even agreeing to disagree. I am proud of those who choose to speak out regardless of what they are saying. Say with heart. Say it with truth and believe in the power of your voice, even if it is just C-SPAN. All 19 of us appreciate it.

28 May 2009


It is official. I have been up for 24 hours and counting. We missed our flight in Chicago because United Airlines does not live up to their time schedules and if you make it to the gate at 9:10, they still can refuse to let you on the plane. My team made it there, but I did not because I was stuck in the customs office because I have a blemish on my passport. I know it sounds super sexy to sit in the waiting room with the foreiners that they question, but maybe not when you are struggling to make your next flight. I know the next question is what is the blemish? In 1995 my passport was stolen in London and a Ms. Barbara T. Wilson made me swear I was an American and I was returned my freedom. I was told by the passport agent today that I can expect that question and fun room everytime I travel outside the country.

We thought we would have to stay at the airport, but thankfully Lufthansa set us up in a hotel for a short nap before our 6:27 flight to Charlotte tomorrow. We were 25 minutes late landing the plane because the runway we were trying to land was too short and as we almost touched down we went right back up in the air.

I'll be home I think around 9am and it is now Bryant's job to get me to my door which I hope there is a key at because my key was stolen when I lost my wallet. This is an exciting day to come. Oh yeah...my precious cell phone usage was cut short when my phone insde screen will not show anything. I can recieve calls, but cannot dial out because I have become a lazy american who doesn't remember any of my phone numbers other than my mother's and sisters (and maybe work). Feel free to call. I've got to visit the Verizon store on whatever day tomorrow is.

23 May 2009

The VP rearranged my day

I completely forgot to mention that yesterday Joe biden was in Beirut. Talk about a crazy scene of blocked off roads. We ended up not doing some things because of the traffic and the Lebanese way of changing plans. Josh, Bill and Regina saw his motorcade twice. I was not that fortunate.

The people between rock and water

I need to seriously thank my parents for a fast metabolism because without it I would never make it in Lebanon. If one thought the food insistence was bad in Egypt, it is quite worse in Lebanon. Every meal is a full spead of appetizers and then a main course (usually two plates) and then desert (thankfully fruit). It has taken me a month, but I have successfully managed to not over eat. My only goal now is to feel a little hungry and do some yoga to get my stomach area back into shape. Lebanese food is very good and very hard to pass up.

I don't have my cable cord to post pictures, but Chris is bringing it tonight so I'll put some up soon. I have been to Tripoli (I wish Pappy were still alive so I could tell him about it). I stayed with George Najjar at his farm and we had all farm fresh and organic foods. I was in heaven. George makes his own olive oil and we ate this stuff that is a soft cheese with olive oil called "lebnah". I must learn how to make it because I don't know how I will live my life without it.

Tripoli is in North Lebanon and sits at the shore with the mountains in the back drop. ok that is how one might describe most of the cities in Lebanon. We finally got to do a little hiking at Ehden Preserve. We've also been to Byblos where the alphabet originated and slept at the mediterrean on these outside mattresses (tres chic). I've seen old Beirut and learned a lot about the rebuilding of this country that I cannot wait to share with the planning folks or anyone else that I can bore. We stayed in a town called Hammana and if given the choice I think Bill our team leader would have never left.

What is amazing to me is the Lebanese resillence. I've met people who never left Lebanon through the war and to hear them explain it, it was a difficult time but life always goes on even with the fighting. It really has put several things for me into persepective because we in America live such a sheltered life. Septemeber 11th was our first real dose of strife in several generations and the Lebanese dealt with 15 years of September 11ths. They know the areas to avoid and always hope for the best. They are very flexible to change plans because there entire lives can be rearranged in a instant, but it doesn't keep them from living them.

I would go on about the politics of the region, but I think that is best on a one-on-one basis. Needless to say, you'll be hearing "changes to our foreign policy" from a top my soapbox sometime soon. The trip to Lebanon has definitly enlighten me on the importance of foreign affairs as well as really brought to the forefront of how horrible our foreign coverage is. For those of you who watch news from the right you are not getting correct information and for those of you who watch news from the left you aren't getting the whole story. If there is anything that has stuck with me was a quote by a Rotarian president last night that went something like "the media can be worse than an atomic bomb" and from a top my lemon tree, there is a lot of truth to it.

I leave Beirut on Monday and have one night and one day with my Cairo friends (miss you) and then we leave for the states. Wags is going to pick Bryant and I up from the airport because we do not get in until midnight and I hope we will make all the flights. Some how I have to let go of my safety pillow called "the Mona pillow" who has been having adventures of his own.

17 May 2009


On Tuesday I leave for Lebanon. It is the first time that a Rotary team has been to Lebanon since 2000. we've met several of the people that we will be staying with in Lebanon here at the distrist conference. I know that some of you may worry (I am speaking directly to my mother), but please do not. We are in great hands and what you read in the papers and see on the news (not pointing fingers but ESPECIALLY Fox News) is not like anything that we have found here. The political world and the people are two completely different entities. Thus far, my only fear has been when I am trying to communicate which is my own fault because I do not speak there language (ps I'm always with a Rotarian so that doesn't happen often)

The Rotary district 2450 conference is unlike anything I have ever seen. For instance, there is a large turn out for the closing session (I don't know that that has ever happened at a conference I have attended) and the Gala was a decadent affair attended by 2000 people dressed in black and white.

Like I just wrote (actually I wrote it by the pool a couple of days ago and just uploaded it), I got some rest and have put my "homesickness" behind me. I won't be here much longer and I don't want to miss any of this!

I'll be traveling when the decision for the Shops of Crossroads Village and Holly Crest come down God willing and no deferrals (hint...hint...someone send me an email).

I'll blog again when I can. Love to you all.

The Red Sea

Yesterday (5-14) we arrived at the Red Sea again. We passed by El Ein again (we were there yesterday and it is also by the red sea) on our way to Hurgada. Today is my first true day of complete relaxation. On this trip you can’t go a day without saying the word Rotary, but it has been really nice to not have a schedule and not have anywhere at any point in time. More importantly, I have spent the day in my bathing suit. For those that know me best, there is nothing I love more than being in my bathing suit all day long. My only regret is that I don’t have my bikini (someone throw out a Shag, the movie quote when Malana wanted to wear her bikini to the Miss Sunfun pageant). We are at a resort where bikinis are as common as the Russian language and some of the women only wore the bottom half. I got a pedicure and a facial. This was my first facial and it was awesome. It was nice to get the travel funk off my feet and out of my pores.

I saw all of my Alex friends last night and I loved it! Chris and I danced while listening to big band music. Ok let’s be honest, I danced and Chris held my hand while standing in place because where we were standing was a small platform step that we were sharing with other people. He was great to humor me.

I’ve come down with a cold that I believe was spread by a member of the Texas team. Perhaps it was because my Mona pillow was too close to him when Sabrina was using it, perhaps it is just a random cold germs travel on door handles; perhaps it is the air conditioning. Nonetheless, I have swallowed a cocktail of herbs and antibiotics (just in case).

Enough about germs, why would anyone read about germs. Let’s talk the Red Sea. It is beautiful…crystal clear and I would say superior to the Mediterranean Sea but not as near and dear to my heart as the waters of the Charleston Harbor (where the Ashley and the Cooper Rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean). The sea is cold right now, but awesome to look at and I have collected some amazing coral and rocks.

Tomorrow (5-16) we have a presentation to the district conference and a gala then we are off again to Cairo.

As always, my internet is spotty so I will write when I can. Thanks for the comments. I’ve loved hearing from everyone.

12 May 2009

6th of October City

As an American, one may find a date strange for a city, but this is a significant day in Egyptian history as it was the date of their victory over the Sinai with Israel. Thus far, I know it as a date, a bridge and a city. The city I was fortunate enough to tour on Sunday (the Muslem Monday). I'm not sure if it is the translation or the person I am asking, but I've asked several of the same questions and finally have pieced together some answers. I also got the presentaiton disc in English (i hope) for that lovely brown bag lunch that I'll make the planning department sit through. For the planners and interested folks in the house, one of the differences that I've found is that an elevator is not required by code until the 7th floor not like the 4th floor in the US. I haven't found out anything about if they have issues with the ability to provide water to their growing population as this is a question i just can't seem to get translated right or no one just wants to talk about.

Yesterday was a day of museums, old stuff and presentations. I say the treasures of King Tut (please insert Steve Martin song here), learned about the first feminist (name is arabic to me) and say all kinds of neat things. Then we went to the mosque at the citadel which in my opinion is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. The view from the citadel is amazing. There I finally got a post card for Ms. Holbrooks so if anyone talks to Carolyn, please have her tell Ms. Holbrooks that I think of her often.

Yesterday was probably the first day I dealt with any type of homesickness. Our first two days in Cairo begin with getting up at 6:30 and returning home at midnight or later and let's just say that it is very tiring. Today, we got to sleep in....8:30 and the day is full of relaxing types of activities and no presentations. Yesterday, it took everything that I had to make my presentation peppy and the dark circles under my eyes were a very prevalent feature on my face. Even Marwa commented.

I'm staying with Regina at the family of Sego (nickname) and Youserif (spelled phonetically I think). they have two lovely daughters, Layla and Salma who are 4 and 4 months. It is a french speaking home. ok, Sego is learning french because Layla is going to a french school. This is where I want to thank my mother and the College of Charleston for my french education. It may be a language that is spoken less than spanish, but it really is a universal language. Unfortunately, I should have practiced more in the last ten years as I have lost a lot of vocabulary, but who knew it would come in this handy. Regina says my face is different when someone speaks french to me because my brain is working hard....this is very true.

Tomorrow we are headed to the north coast and the red sea (another first) and Thursday we are bound for Hurgada and Sahl Hasish. It will be a 6-7 bus hour ride, but completely worth it. I am already planning my time at the spa and maybe even a pedi.

09 May 2009

Leaving the Med

My view today is bright and sunny and from a top the 11th-ish floor of the apartment I am staying in with the Zahrans. I'm saying good bye to my automatic shade and hot quesidillas brought to me on a tray to my room for breakfast and the black mercedes. My experience in Alex has been awesome and very different from my own life. I will miss Bahaa, my counterpart on the NC team, but will see him in Cairo. We are going to see the library and planetarium today and then we are headed back to Cairo by bus. At the end of the week, we are going to the Red Sea...I can't wait.

I don't know the population of Alex, but it is MUCH larger than Charlotte. Yesterday, Sabrina and I ran into two people that we know. It just goes to show how small the world is and how awesome this town is.

08 May 2009

Pictures from Germany, Part 2

Inside joke, but I thought the pic was funny.
Max, can we get these kind of trucks from waste management?
Bill and his kind of work.
Does this really need explanation
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Pictures from Germany, Part 1

Where we got off the metro
A plaza for my Planning folks
More urban open spaces
Bryant and his last beer before the Muslim culture.
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03 May 2009

Finally some Pictures

This is a random arrangement of photos. I don't know how to present them better. Mona sent me her photos so I thought I could at least get something up to have a visual of what I have been doing. I will get a camera cord soon!

The band is a traditional folk type band. The kittens are the Mona's new kittens (1 day old). Let me know if you have any questions.


As always in Egypt, I have been very busy. Let me first say that the family (Hamada and Zora Zahran) that I am staying with is very nice. As a family, they own several businesses in Alex, one of which is a chocolate factory (Swisza) and the other is a cookware company that makes the Tefal products and yes, that is Teflon for us americans.

I have been to see many things, one of which was the Gov. of Alex., Adel Labib. He was very nice to share his time and we talked about his visit to NC and our impressions of his countries. After that visit we went to Pharma which is a generic drug pharmaceutiacal company. I am facinated by large assembly machines and have been since my first visit to the Rainbow bread factory in kindergarden. Bryant got a sample of the cough syrup and foot spray that were being produced. The foot spray we though was clorseptic which could have been a horrible medical disaster if applied inappropriately.

Yesterday we toured Mr. Hamada's factories and sampled the chocolate. Today we went to the Arab Academy of Science and sat in a cargo ship simulator...pretty cool.

I cannot stress enough the amount of food that we consume after the hours of 4pm. I imagine that it has something to do with how they fast for Ramadan and the heat that is here. I mean, I don't really like to eat when it is hot outside and if you fasted during the daytime for a month each year, one could get used to the regiment. Monday's meal was an unbelievable amount of food from Ole, a restaurant owned by Zora (Mr. Hamada's wife and of the same family that I am staying with) sister. Sunday's meal was from Balba and it was the best fish I have ever had. Today we dined at the mediterrean in a former palace. The restaurant was called the Prince.

Today was the first day that I was able to walk in the streets. We are driven everywhere. I was the last off the bus (reminded me of my days on the school bus) and I asked Maghraby if I could walk home because it wasn't very far. I got my way and walked in the streets and it felt GREAT! We tour Alex tomorrow, but I imagine that it will be from a bus and just not the same for this city planner.

The ironic thing is that I haven't been given a map of anywhere we have been. I completely want a map and feel lost without one (insert funny puns and one-liners here). I've had one of my two vocational visits in Alex and Heba (who I met with) was so apologetic that she did not bring me a map as she is a planner herself. She did sketch me a quick map and that really helped establish my boundaries.

One last little thing about my stay here in Alex is that the Zahran world is very different from my own and I feel quite spoiled. I have been able to get a manicure and my eyebrows threaded here at the house and we've dined at the four seasons which is also a first for me. We ate at a restaurant called Fresca which is not named after the soda, but rather a waffer/waffle cookie sandwich with honey. It now ranks higher than fortune cookies in my favorite list.

02 May 2009

I had the ice

Unlike Mexico and south american countries, Egypt's water is clean. The tap water just has a different stand of bacteria than we are used to. I had ice last night with my water and boy did that one peice of cold goodness cost me. I was up before morning prayers with a cramping sensation that I have never had and I had cold chills. It got worse before getting better, but not to fear I had Mona and my Mama in Egypt at my side. I think the reluctantly sent me to Alex but I had to go.

The bus ride was long but I had a pillow that Mona gave me of which I just realized is missing...not unusual for me. I am on the trail of getting it back. The pillow helped, but I was cold. It was cloudy and rainy IN THE DESERT. This is very unusual. We all wentto a party in a town outside of Alex. I was pale and trying to hang in there of which i did for about 3 hours. The first thing we were offered at the party was alcohol. Considering this is a predominately Muslem country, I was taken aback. Once exhaustion took over, I needed a nap. After the nap I was feeling much better and I ate a bit. I had the chicken as to not upset my stomach (They feed you constantly in Egypt). Somewhere in the middle of all of this I met two adorable little old men, one of greek origin and one who was born in St. Louis that had lots to share about our countries. "Meet me in St. Louis" man wanted to fix my illness with scotch. I politely accepted, but drank VERY little and downed a lot of 7-up. "Meet me in St. Louis"man also thought that dancing would help and we did the two-step to a french song. There were a group of Rotaracts that invited the GSE team out for kareoke that night, but I declined on account of the sickness.

After the party I was taken to Alex to meet my host family for the week. I am staying with the Zahrans. Hamada and Zora are the parents and one of their daughters is living at home again. I just realized that I have forgotten her name since my sleep so I hope they use it again soon so I won't be embarassed to ask again because believe me, it is not written in any language that I can read. (An aside...I am meeting so many people that it is hard for me to remember their names and on top of that I barely can pronounce them and feel extremely embarassed. I am pushing aside that part of my ego and sucking up my lack of memory skills).

Mr. Hamada owns a chocolate factory and home goods line of cooking utensils and products. Their house is amazing and is under a little renovation which I think is exhausting Zora. They have an internet phone and I was able to call Mom. I also watched television in English...very cool.

01 May 2009

The day of rest

The day of rest/holy day is not a true day of rest, but I had a great time today. It was a galabaya BBQ. A galabaya is a long robe worn by both men and women. The women's are very formal and the men's are plain.

The BBQ was at a farm on the outside of Cairo. We went through Giza and through a very poor section of town where people wore galabaya as their everyday wear. The only thing I can compare these areas to the farm is Costa Rica. The poverty is very extreme. they are bringing sewer to some of the areas, but the roads are dirt and it is still an area where some people get their water from the Nile.

The party was lavish. The BBQ was a lamb that they put into the ground to cook for four hours and it hangs in a way that all the fat drains off. I wouldn't say all, but a good portion. Next, there was a folk-type band that played traditional music with drums and wind instruments that look like clarinets. We all danced and needless to say even in Egypt I still dance like a white girl. Everyone dances like a belly dancer and by the end of the day I was doing better, so much so that my belly is sore and so is the hip that is always sore...more yoga for me tomorrow.

One big difference between Egyptians and Americans is the buffet line. I know what you are saying, how could this be true? Buffet lines are homogenous. In the US we file these orderly lines and we do not cut infront of one another. In Egypt everyone is pushing. If you do not push, you do not eat. They swarm in and swarm out and everything is gone (except of course their version of the jello salad...no one eats that). THis is done for both the main course and deserts. Bryant and Regina almost got knifed trying to get a peice of ice cream cake--no joke. Ok the knifing might have been on accident but there were knifes being forced at the icecream cake and they were in the way.

We played backgammon and dominoes and futbol (soccer) and frisbee and danced more in the afternoon. We left after Asserf (not the right spelling of his name) began to sing Sinatra..I did it my way and we all went to a cafe on the Nile. It was very pretty and very much like sitting on the Seine or the Rooftop without the alcohol. Asserf loves stand-up comedy and anytime he wanted to make me laugh he was say "my name is Ahck-med. I am a terrorist....I kill you" It is a routine from Jeff Dunham, I think. By the way it is Ah-med. There is no Ahck-med.

It is time for bed again. I don't know when I will have good internet again. Mona and her mother moved a bed into their family room so I would have a private room and this is where their internet is. I am very lucky and I don't think this lightening will strike twice.

By the way Brad....I am looking for a vile of sand. I picked up a rock at the pyramid to take (thought that would suffice) and was told that they may hold me in customs for bringing it in. I am trying to at least not get myself thrown in jail. On the way here, Bill, my team leader, brought a bag for one of the Egyptians in NC and they had packed butter knives and cake knives in his carry-on luggage. He was detained for about half an hour at the Charlotte Airport. He had a little trouble in Germany, but it wasn't as bad. I think they took the cake knife and TSA will call him when we get back to make sure he is not smuggling anything else.

Also, it may take me longer than I wanted to upload pictures. Someone, not naming names (me), forgot the cord for the camera to the computer and will have to buy another on in Alex. Regina may have something that might work. Again I apologize for the lack of pictures. There are some good ones....especially now when we are in the galabayas.

30 April 2009

My English

First let me apologize for not uploading my computer. These last two days that have felt more like 5 days are to say the leat crazy. I don't get either home or to myself until midnight and by then I am exhausted. I had a nap today so I am better.

I am a linguistic sponge. I know about 20 arabic words..sort of, but I have completely picked up how the Egyptian English accent and word phrasing. It has been hard for me to...as my sister would say it...talk like yourself. I try not to talk to my group as much and so my Egyptian English just comes out. What is more frustrating is that I have noticed that I am typing exactly like I am thinking which now is Egyptian English with some French. I've had my second long Egyptian french discussion about when people get married in the states and how my mother does not pressure me to get married.

I love my host family. Thus far I think I am getting the most authentic experience. Regina is staying with our coordinator and she is very busy. The guys are staying in an apartment on their own. I am staying with Mona and her mother and I see Mona's boyfriend everyday. Mona's mother "mothers" me and it has been great and has made the transition wonderful.

By the way, I am not editing these posts so if I tell you my mother is behind a fag instead of behind a flag (those of you on FB know what I am talking about), just try to find the most logical choice.

I will get pictures up as soon as I can and maybe I will try to write some stories that are funnier.

29 April 2009

The wish list

I went to a bread shop today...that is another one off the wish list...wanted to say it before I went to bed. Bonne Nuit

My red belly

I think I must be shower handicap. Tonight I showered again so that if I got water everywhere, it would dry before morning and before someone else had to shower. It also gives me a little more time to sleep because there is a seven hour time difference and it is 1:30am (Thursday) here. I scalled my belly and it hurts like a belly buster in the pool (or the more politically incorrect indian burn). I am afraid it will blister which is perfect because I have a huge bruise on my knee and I don't know how is got there and my right foot just recovered from tripping on a sawed off post in sidewalk in Charleston and the torture I gave them in two separate pairs of three inch heels.

The bathroom however stayed dry. I only wish for a washcloth, but when in Rome....

While I have the public, internet chance (thank you Al Gore) I would like to say Thank You to Brad and Jack for presenting my cases and to David who had to sit through all of them. You may not think this, but I sure do....It was TOTALLY worth it for me (no sleep and all) Even if it is just for this one day.

The super street works

I have spent a lot of my day in the car. Egyptians drive differently. Car is King. Pedestrian DOES not have the right-of-way at all. I have crossed the street twice and never by myself. I almost got hit (not paying attention) in a parking lot.

There are three lanes and five rows of cars travel in each lane. ALL the major roads are super streets and I have thought of Bill quite frequently.

I went to Arab Contractors today. It is a consulting firm that does planning and historic "conservation" work. I got really confused with the conservation as we are in Cairo, but they meant preservation. They use GIS and their plans are very similar to ours. The main difference is their backgrounds. Most of the planners are engineers of some nature. I met two that did not have engineering degrees. They have similar studies that we have except they produce them in English and in French...enough about work.

This day has been incredible. I kept trying to tell myself to remember to write about that, but at the moment I am having a hard time remembering everything. My morning started with a much needed shower, unfortnuately I spent most of the time showering the entire bathroom with water. My PJs were SOAKED and so was my ego...incredibly embarrased. My driver is a Rotaract. (side bar..to anyone in Rotary reading this or can tell Jack...Take the Egyptians downtown instead of Concord Mills. They have been to Concord mills twice!! They have not explored downtown and have wanted to...even in the daytime) The Rotaract is very involved here; they are young and very hospitable. We ate lunch in a new cafe area (think Birkdale when it was built). I learned an Egyptian song and sang a solo at the Rotary Club. We went to City Stars which is a large and new indoor shopping mall. They take indoor malls to a whole new level. It was like 6 stories!

My host family is AWESOME. Youyou (spelled phoenetcally) understands english, but speaks French. My brain has been exhausted because I am operating in three languages, two of which I am not very good at and my spoken english has become very broken and I have a feeling it will translate to this blog. I have leaned about 12 new words today. Mona is my age and is Youyou's daugther. Her boyfriend is Amr (I'm still working on the proper pronunciation to his name. I think Bahaa was easier).

I left my camera at the Rotary meeting so I can't load pictures tonight. I will tomorrow, inshala (god willing). I thought the camera was lost so I am happy that I didn't loose the whole thing. Youyou's sister has arrived and I don't want to be rude.....bye (they use this word too..awesome for me).

28 April 2009

36 hours and still awake

There has been relatively no sleep for me and it is at the end of my second day. Looking at the clock I left about this time yesterday. I just wanted everyone to know that I made it to Egypt safely and am in the care of some wonderful people. I can already tell that I will be speaking more french than arabic as I think they picked up on the fact that I can repeat certain phrases back to them. I only wish my vocabulary was better.

I have so many great stories from the plane ride, but I am so exhausted. I'll get them up soon. Tomorrow we hit the ground running and I have my first vocational visit and Rotary presentation. Thursday is the pyramids....check that one off early.

22 April 2009

Fun with Fridge magnets

I think the picture is self explanatory, but the party is a longer story. Just testing out the whole blogging thing and pictures...thanks for the patience.
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19 April 2009

Egypt--One week and Counting

People keep asking if I am prepared and I keep telling them, "well, I'm getting there". I always want to be more prepred than I am, but to be honest, I'll get on the plane with just my toothbrush if I have to.

I guess I should publish why I am going to Egypt. Group Study Exchange is a program through Rotary International for non-Rotarians who are 25-40 and in a job that they can return to. It is a cultural exchange with some vocational study involved. I had to interview for the spot back in December and quite frankly didn't think that I did so well in the interview. I'm glad now, that the selection committee did not have the same sense. I found out the same day I interviewed (I was making an Irish stew when I heard the news...chopping and cooking help calm me down...the stew was horrid by the way)

There are five team members and one team leader going. You will hear me talk about them over the next month and I imagine that we will become rather close or at least close enough to know what really pisses the other one off.

Bill--our fearless leader--He works with herbal medicines and has various other start up companies. He also plays in a bass in a band.
Bryant--works for USBank and has beaten me in checkers. (See earlier post). He is from Cleveland and works as a northern translator.
Chris--is a police officer for CMPD. He has a very lovely wife Suzanne who I just got to know on Friday and hope she will come sometime to Women who Wine, and two children whom I've not met yet. Chris is from "all over".
Josh--teaches Spanish at Stanly community college in Albemarle. He has an adorable dog named Bella who has to have some Australian cattledog in her. Bella and Liddy get along.
Regina--works for Charlotte Mecklenburg School system and is working on two masters degrees. I don't know how she does it.
Me--it is hard to boil yourself down into a sentence. I guess that is why I have the blog.

12 April 2009

Why do I watch

Extreme Makeover. Seriously, it is like watching 3 lifetime movies at the same time. Tonight, the father was not shown and it turns out he died sometime in the last four months. Yes, I wear a Maybeline mascara that does run with the waterworks. The house was everything the family wanted (predictable), but the story was one of the saddest I had seen since the woman who had adopted her sister's family and all 11 of them were living in a two bedroom apartment. I think the more important question is why do I watch a show that makes me cry. I mean the at least the Hallmark commercials sneak up on you. (Oh yeah, and if you've seen the Publix commercial about the new wife in the family who feels shut out until the grandma gives her the sacred fruit/pound cake/parfait looking dessert...you know what I'm talking about). This show is relentless for the tears. I don't know one person who hasn't cried and I challenge you not to let it get to you.

To all a great Easter!

09 April 2009

Beta version--pics from Urban Adventure

These are the pictures. I only wish I could figure out how to put all of these together. Mind you, they are also in a backwards order. Where do I put the "tech help wanted sign"?
The view of Independence BLVD towards the motor mile (east)

View towards town on the Independence Bridge on Hawthorne Road.

The bus stop sign.
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07 April 2009

My Urban Adventure

I am a suburban employee. Not only do I work in a suburb of Charlotte, I also guide how the growth of the suburb will go. When I get a chance to feel like a big city girl, I take it. Today (thanks in part to my mother dropping me off) I got to take an urban adventure. It all started with the day of doctor visits. Everytime I need routine doctors visits I try to schedule these all on the same day. It makes going to the doctor less stressful. Usually I can knock out 3 at a time. Today was special because the Egyptian inbound team was making their presentation to the Charlotte Rotary. So after the dentist who is on the 14th floor of the Grant Thorton building, I walked to the Crowne Plaza. I think it needs to be said that there are frost and wind advisories all day and I am in open toe shoes. On this trip I was picked up by the wind at least 3 times. Not by much, but it was a concerted effort to remain grounded.

I found the best coffee shop called Kokomo Cafe. They let me chill out for an hour. The only downer to this cafe experience was loosing at checkers to Bryant who by the way looks different in a suit.

After the presentation, I walked down Trade to wait on the 27Monroe Road bus. This is where the pictures of the bus sign come in. A guy waiting on the 15 bus began talking to me and coming closer. He first wanted to know where my boyfriend was. I told him that he worked uptown and we just had lunch. This was a lie but it seemed like the time to lie. At least I didn't make up a whole pretend life for myself. What I noticed was this man made me uncomfortable, but I didn't know why. I'm sure he was trying to hit on me (completely not my type--I'll start with the smoking and end with the bad teeeth and overall creepiness). He asked me if pink was my favorite color because my exposed toes are shaded in pink (I think blue would have also been a good guess considering they were almost frozen solid). But I went with green. I was wearing my great green jacket and feeling very Mary Tyler Moore. We eventually parted ways, but it got me thinking about the types of experiences that you have outside of your car and the interactions you can't get in traditional suburbia where the car is king (to say that Charlotte is a transit-oriented city would be a considerable stretch of the imagination).

I got on the 27M and got promptly off at St. Martin's on 7th near Independence Park. Once finished at St. Martin's,I went to find the 39Eastway bus. This required a bit of a walk onto Hawthorne. I had just missed the bus and decided that I would walk to the 9Central which is a bus route I am more familar with as it is my main line into uptown. When I say familiar, I really mean " I have taken this route twice". On the bridge over Independence Blvd, a man stopped me and wanted to know how he, as a pedestrian, got onto US 74. For those of you that aren't familiar, that is Independence Blvd. I shrugged my shoulders and began to say that it would be very hard and a very long walk to go where he was headed, but I got him to Monroe Rd and then to Westover. He seemed up for the hike. He had an hour and a half to waste. I thought about all the things I would rather do than walk to the motor mile on Independence, but to each their own.

I continued my walk to Central. The railroad company was working on the tracks, there were detours which is also affecting the bus system so I decided to walk to The Plaza and of course along the way there are a couple of antique stores so I decided that I must stop because I am still looking for a fire king candy dish/cookie jar for Shannon. (Still to no avail...Asheville here I come). Shannon needs a "pushin' present" because quite frankly the baby is getting everything. This could also be considered a belated house-warming present. Well, once I was at the Plaza, The walk became, "I'll just make it to the next bus stop" until I was so close to home, it seemed ridiculous to get on the bus just to get off one stop down.

What you must know is that this entire journey is done in two and a half inch heels. There is a saying that a woman can do anything a man can do and she does it in heels. Like I said earlier, I embraced my inner Mary Tyler Moore and just gave my beret a big whirl in the air...heels and all.

The pictures that you see are my views on the walk. I am practicing this blogging thing before I go to Egypt...one might say this is the beta version and is still in need of serious tech support. I have 18 days to work it out, so thanks for hanging in there.