Love It Because It’s Different

I’d left Dublin via bus to reach the little town in Ireland with the “kicky” name of Ballylickey.  Without lodgings known, I wondered what I would find when we reached this relatively small, but fun, town.  I asked another bus rider what she would suggest.  She mentioned the name of a small hotel just this side of town.  

I took her advice, so when the driver called the name she’d mentioned, I pulled the cord to ring a bell to stop the bus, letting me off.  The owner of the small hotel greeted me at the door, with two large tan dogs at either side of her. I’m always carefully wary of strange dogs, so our conversation was carried on at a little distance.  But the price was right and the view of the hills across the road, divided by ownership or use by white fencing, was so appealing that I overlooked the dogs and registered for a week’s stay.

That week of exploring the little town about a fifteen-minute hike down the road and its nearby “interests”—playing with the now-friendly dogs, eating calorie-laden Irish meals, and hiking some open nearby hills, and taking a small boat out to an island—was completely eclipsed by the absolute fun of attending an Irish wedding.  That “fun” was actually the reception which followed the church portion of this big celebration of “tying the knot” by two popular not-so-young people.  

Dancing music performed by energetic “saw-ers” on fiddles and other stringed instruments, plus some untrained voices singing traditional Irish tunes, and the inevitable tricks already being played by some of the guests on the bridal couple, created a wedding celebration the likes of which I’d never seen. Excited dogs, priests, parents, grandparents, smiling friends, all ages of children, and a couple of other guests like me filled the small hotel’s main room.

Then the tricks began.  You need to see them yourself; I don’t want to spoil it for you.  But let me just say, it was so much fun, that I kept brushing away my tears of laughter. With the last name of Ryan, I’m allowed.

I explored this town, always treated with courtesy and helpful advice. I took a tiny boat, certain it would sink any minute, over to an island that someday will be world-famous. I did a little shopping, but none of it reached the heights of a three-foot-by-three-foot painting of an Irish sunset.  The painter’s name is Klee, but I don’t think “he’s related” to the other Klee.  Maybe he is.  One doesn’t ask.  And I had a heck of a time getting it home.  But it’s still a favorite of mine.


Angels Protect the Young and the Foolish?

One year, I had the bright idea of taking my two eight-year-old grandsons to Ireland, Scotland and England. (We all survived, despite the odds being against that!) The cousins were amiable enough and were good travelers.  Then in Ireland, I went into the shop of a line so expensive that I only had one piece of their famous dishes.

Right away, I knew I’d made a big mistake.  The first clue: there were no other children in the shop.  Other parents were smarter than this grandparent obviously was. The second clue was that the two boys suddenly appeared to have grown, not just in height, but in width.  The latter quickly became a slight problem, since the aisles were somewhat narrow.

The third clue was a combination of things:  a clerk became visibly aware of “the Matt and Zach.”  A second clerk joined in that awareness.  I was blissfully roaming through the shop, greed, jealousy, and avarice (worse greed) finding a home in my emotions, until I noticed two clerks were trailing us.

Then the ball fell.  I knew what the problem was:  my two boys.  Just their physical presence, even if they stood absolutely still with their hands in their pockets, was enough to worry clerks in this store. (I am deliberately leaving out the name of the store.  Just think of the most expensive one in which most of us dream of shopping.)

I caved first. “Boys!  I’ve seen enough wonderful things, so let’s leave now and drive on in to Dublin.”  The sighs of relief that were almost obvious told me more than loud shouts would have—that my decision was the right one. The boys, who hadn’t been even slightly interested in counter after counter of beautiful trays, bowls, glasses, dishes—ran for the car.  Yes, for the car that had been new, but now had lost one outside rearview-mirror.  I wondered if it had the same reaction when the boys approached as had the store clerks. And I didn’t blame either faction.

It’s a wonderful thing to expose children to broader fields than the ones here at home, but one should really “pick one’s fight” in choosing which field to plow.

Peace Corps Visit to Africa

A recent ad in my International Travel News magazine caught my eye—one huge advertiser was advertising trips to Mauritania with the slogan “New.” I settled in for a memory trip as I paged through the article, wishing I’d written it.

I made a trip to that West African country 25 years ago to visit my Peace Corps son stationed in that almost unknown land.

Then my trip really started as I had watched our school’s French teacher disappear down unlit stairs with three police escorts—because he’d refused to get the required shots before going to this out-of-fame country.  I refrained from saying “I told you so,” but it kept repeating in my mind.  I’d warned him that he needed the shots, but in typical French fashion, he’d waved off my advice.  I didn’t see him again until we were both back in Tulare, CA.

To describe the trip from Senegal’s capital on a small airplane only marked the differences, challenges, and even some concern that I found.  First of all, I had two large suitcases, really large ones, filled with peanut butter, boxes of “add water” meals, son’s clothes he’d asked me to bring, as well as my own possible needs, and anything else I thought I’d need, the names and quantities beyond admitting to now.

Seated next to me on this dangerous-looking airplane was a nice man from the United Nations.  He was to work on a plan to bring needed supplies of varying kinds to the medical facilities that were next-to-absent in Mauritania.  The conversation was interesting, but it didn’t calm my concerns about my ability to adapt to this country for the two weeks I planned to be here.  A few days in my son’s town, then I planned to take him to Senegal for a few days’ R and R, then we’d part there, and he’d fly back to his duties in the small village a long taxi ride from where his site was into Mauritania’s capital city. He’d decided that a trip by “taxi” from Nouakchott to his village would not be very comfortable for me, so he took a few days’ “leave” to join me in the capital.  Right off the bat, the taxi situation was almost funny, but more on that later.

When I climbed down the swaying steps of the wobbly ladder placed against the side of the plane, the wave of heat was almost overwhelming.  Yes, I knew it was summer, but that was the only time I could travel; school duties kept me tied at home.  After a brief hug, we picked up the two heavy suitcases, took a ride on some sort of mechanical vehicle that wouldn’t quite fit the name “car” in order to get to the home where he had stayed when he first came to the country.

It was a comfortable home, but that was probably the last time one would use the word “comfort” in any of its forms for those living here.  Introductions became the byword of any time I was in public.  The most fun was when we visited the family with whom he’d spent most of his time.  Two late-teenage daughters were delighted to check out my clothing, my shoes, my haircut—then we all ran out of things to talk about.

I’d noticed the girls had colored lines on their arms and legs, so I inquired about them.  Thinking that I was “taken” by these, they asked if I wanted them to color my hands and legs, too.  Of course, I agreed; conversation picked up right away.  (Those lines—henna art—remained with me for several weeks, creating considerable conversation at home.)

Mark had responsibilities that my visit couldn’t interrupt, and rightly so.  One day the phone rang.  It was the embassy, I guess, warning me to remain inside and everyone in the house should stay inside; there was to be a demonstration.  That sounded interesting.  Soon a ramshackled truck began passing the house, with white-garbed men (this was a Muslim society, so women didn’t count; I think that has changed a bit since then) yelling and waving sticks and some things that didn’t look like sticks.

One day, a French fellow who knew Mark asked if I’d like to drive out to a fishing village.  Of course, I said, I’d be delighted, since I could tell Mark was feeling some stress from trying to entertain me (when there was nothing with which to entertain anyone) and do his work.  I also had some packages to deliver to other Peace Corps volunteers, packages from their parents who had learned via the Peace Corps grapevine about my trip.

The pickup needs no describing; I couldn’t do it justice anyway.  The driver, Franz, seemed delighted to show me all the sights on the way to the fishing village.  I had one package to deliver on our way back, but I didn’t want to leave it in the pickup, which obviously had no way of locking the doors in case we got out to walk through the village.

Franz assured me that no one would steal the package. “Just leave it in the pickup,” he said.

“But someone will take it and it’s not mine; it’s from the parents of one of the volunteers.”

“No one will take it.”

I wondered if this was what they called a standoff. “But,” I kept insisting, until he finally said,

“Here’s why no one will take it. A thief gets his hand cut off.  And they have to make sure which hand, because one hand is for shaking hands and the other is for wiping oneself.”

It took me about two seconds to realize what the one hand was for. And I knew that hand would never be used for shaking hands with others or for eating. But I couldn’t resist asking, “What if the thief stole again?”

He shrugged, always a Frenchman.  “They cut off the other hand.”   Then I realized how awful that would be.  The man wouldn’t be able to work—nor to eat—nor to wipe himself. And, equally serious, would instantly be identified as a thief….even with just one hand gone, but now with two.   A thief had more problems than I’d ever imagined.  How did he earn a living without hands, I asked Franz.

He shrugged; the French do that a lot. “His family has to take care of him….and he’s disgraced within the family. So he dies sooner than he would have.”

I decided to leave the package and go watch the fishermen bring in their catch.  And that was truly something.  Huge waves, tiny boats, extra-large fish, blue, white-capped waves, and the bright sun overhead.  Where was a camera when I needed one?  But my son had forbidden me from taking pictures, because in the old tradition, something that was true in some U.S. Indian tribes, the taking of a photo meant “stealing one’s soul.”  No pictures.

And no one stole the package either.

I met some other volunteers and gave the rest of the packages to the right offspring.  I went to bed early that night.  Sometime during the night, evidently someone entered the house and stole several thousands of dollars from the owner of the house.  But no one seemed upset about it the next day, when the theft was discovered. I thought we should take up a collection to make some effort to return some funds to the woman.  That idea was shot down so fast, I thought my head would swim.  I never knew the reason.  Had she lied? Was she hoping I’d take up a collection for her?  Was everyone afraid?  Who knows?

We went back to Nouakchott, where I found the days to be too long, so I asked if I could help out in the embassy or whatever it was called.  I spent two days compiling some sort of lists, which even to my math-challenged brain, didn’t add up. So I told whoever was my superior there that there was a $250,000 discrepancy in the fund report.  He shrugged.  I wasn’t asked to return the next day.  Hmm.

The heat was terrible.  I decided to take my son down to Dakar for a few days, and he rec’d permission to do so, where he’d then put me on the plane home.  So, we flew (yes, again) to Dakar, stayed in a lovely hotel, ate food I could recognize, which hadn’t always been the case in Nouakchott, did some shopping, and my son lazed around the pool.

When we were away from the hotel, however, he took on a different persona.  Watchful, more guarded, careful….not because of me, but because of possible theft.  We saw a case or two of that while we walked around the city.  This city had been one of the major departure places for African slaves being shipped to the U.S. and probably to England.

There were some things I noticed, which may have changed by now.  I love to bring home from my travels things that the people in the country produce for sale to visitors.  None there. When driving outside the city, there were signs that intrigued me:  Train crossing ahead. (There was no train, period.) Watch for autos merging or merging traffic. (No autos; no traffic). Stadium ahead.  No stadium in sight. (There may have once been a stadium, donated by Spain?) But there were no trains, and few autos.  It was as though someone, with a kind heart, had rounded up signs we might see in the U.S. and Europe and “donated” them to Mauritania.  And one didn’t want to ask questions, because that might have been seen as being critical.

This all was at least 25 years ago; things may have changed by now.  My son met and married another Peace Corps volunteer, Judith, and they have two wonderful children: one is a French (yes, of course) teacher; the other is nearing the end of law school. At my son’s wedding, several parents of Peace Corps volunteers came up to thank me for taking the gifts to their own children.

If anyone is considering volunteer work, which is needed everywhere, but one wants a foreign experience, nothing beats the Peace Corps.  And one doesn’t have to eat worms any longer, as we thought was once a requirement.  Just a good sense of humor, patience (lots of that), and a desire to help others in some way…..look into the Peace Corps.


How to Get a Job on a Cruise Ship

The first part of this story probably isn’t recommended action, but it’s a part of the story of how I became Destination Lecturer on 30 cruises on Norwegian Cruise Line. On an earlier trip to England, Northern Europe, and Russia, I went in to hear the D.L. since I’d forgotten some history lessons about Norway and Sweden.  I was calm. (That’s a clue.)  His talk was terrible; he had one slide but it was so black all one could see was a red line that ran through it. He said it was a river.  I began to simmer, then stew, then got mad. (That’s the part I don’t advise that you copy . . . unless you want to.)

His talk got worse; I became more angry. Finally, he was finished and I headed for the ship’s lobby where I bounced up to the desk, and demanded: I need to talk to the Cruise Director. (No one should ever ask to talk to the C.D. I must have looked “desperate.”)   The young woman behind the counter waved me around a corner.  I knocked on the door. “Enter,” a voice said. I was still “steamed.”  Poor fellow.

“How do I get a gig like that one I just saw in the lounge?  I could do better than he did with my arm behind my back.” (I never said I was original.)

He calmly (they practice that on cruises) told me to contact “To Sea With Z” out of Florida. (She, Z, has now retired.)  When I got home, I did just that. She evidently checked me out and decided I wasn’t a threat to any life, so we began a several year relationship. (Recently, I wrote to NCL, gave them my background with them, and asked about being the D.L. on a ship in 2016.)

Alaskan cruise ship

Alaskan cruise ship

When I first started “talking” it wasn’t required that I use an overhead, but by my last talk on NCL, they wanted the speaker to use overhead displays along with the talk.  (Btw: on a 10-day trip, I usually had a 45-minute talk for maybe four days of the cruise. That’s pretty good “pay” per hour . . . do the math.)

Oh . . . pay.  My trips for myself and one other person of my choosing were “complimented,” so we stayed for free in a room that was usually (I checked) $4,000 for each guest . . . roomy, windows, etc.  So, I took friends, my daughter, some grandchildren.  Visits to the shops and spas, and bars (if one went there) etc. were charged to us, but our meals, of course, were not, since that’s included in the room cost.  You foot your own bill for transportation to the dock and back home.

Besides being D.L., there are other similar “employees” on the ships, in case you are interested.  For example: how to fold linens (once, the “folder” became flustered, and Sally, my roommate that trip, took over); a class in genealogy by a Mormon retired FBI agent; a writing workshop; holding card games; supervising dancing and exercise programs—whatever your talent/interest, it might be of interest to a cruise line . . . not just NCL. There are many other lines.  I was lucky; no one demanded that I have outstanding expertise; some lines do.  I had a wonderful time.  People kept chasing us around the ship, to ask questions, etc. Sally said, “Even if we hide in a lifeboat, they will find us!” We (whoever was with me) went to Germany, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, England, Argentina, Alaska, Central American countries, and other South American countries, and Mexico.

I tried to make this short, but failed. If you are interested in sharing your skill or background or ?, write a professional-looking inquiry to the ship line, ask them who their agent is for that type of employment, then contact the agent, and then . . . have a great cruise.

How to Volunteer with Global Volunteers – And make a Difference World-wide and in the U.S.

One of the most inspiring, helpful, enjoyable, and worthwhile things to do in one’s life is to become a volunteer in some activity—there are many avenues.  One such avenue is an organization, Global Volunteers, which has for several decades offered such uplifting—and downright personally satisfying—opportunities.

Brief background:  a young couple—two lawyers—were getting married, and the wife-to-be was given the task of planning the two-week honeymoon.  The husband was dreaming of lolling on a beach somewhere; the wife had slightly different ideas.  “One week for “lolling” she said, the second week “for helping other people who needed help”—but she allowed it could be in a foreign country.

Years later, their fulfilled dream is Global Volunteers, sending volunteers of all ages to countries around the world and to places in the U.S. where help is needed.  Not an easy task.  You will recognize places as holiday travel for many of us, but China, Hungary, Honduras, Mexico, among many other countries, now became a two-week, a three-week, or a month home for Americans eager to help with farming, schools and colleges, orphanages, clinics, hospitals, foreign government agencies… wherever a need is, GV wants to be there.  Today, there are new programs to Vietnam and Cuba! (I am so tempted with the latter!)

Age is never a factor.  Teams with high school students, (Mexico), teams with an 81-year-old woman, (Hungary), teams with the wide variety of ages between those two, and with a similar variety of skills, and of interesting cultural or business backgrounds to share in the evenings over dinner.

Even the training program in Minnesota was fun.  The wife, mentioned earlier, demonstrated something by using a large black frying pan and an egg.  I now don’t remember what the scene meant, but laughed at her energetic abuse of that egg.  And we learned! (I didn’t want to be hit with the frying pan!)

A fellow Hungarian volunteer at least a decade ago, is still a good . . . no, a great . . . friend of mine today. A fellow volunteer in Mexico, now a retired special education teacher, is still a wonderful friend. We’re talking many years. Besides the children and the others we met—and fell in love with—we grew to appreciate the happy energy of our American colleagues.

Let’s talk cost.  A volunteer pays:  program cost depending on length of program which includes all housing and meals and in-country needed transportation. Volunteer pays the cost of transport to and from home to volunteer site, and personal incidentals, of course.  (The transport cost may…may…be deductible.  It used to be, but always check with your tax person….maybe today even part of the program cost is deductible. Note use of “may.”)

An attractive new catalog has just been published, which has great pictures of the places included for the upcoming year.  As you browse it, think—besides of the great good you could do—of the cultural, historic, and visuals that you will learn and see—no cost for that!

I could talk forever about GV.  Also, they do not know that I’m writing this, nor have they asked that I do any “recruiting” for them.  This is just my own experience with the 8 programs I’ve been on with them.   Their address:  Global Volunteers 375 E. Little Canada Road, St. Paul, MN, 55117-1628     Think about it!  Chloe  

Chloe digging with Global Volunteers

Chloe digging with Global Volunteers



Be Sure to Visit Hungary!

We were an odd lot of people to be the first team into Hungary, ranging in age from an admitted 79 years to early 20’s people. One volunteer couple who owned a winery in California looked forward to learning about famous Hungarian wines. What Sally Swartz and I knew about wine was that we enjoyed drinking it, but we were assigned to a high school.

What a delight the students were. Eager, smiling, welcoming, with enough mischief to make them fun…..but they were also smart, Hungary - 2003 008well-behaved, and open to learning, unlike my then-current clutch of U.S. high school students. One morning the Hungarian students came into my classroom, all excited. (In this small European country, everyone knew “stuff” in the news, far exceeding typical U.S. interests, unfortunately.) What had excited them today? The election of a governor in a state in the U.S……yes, in California and it was Arnold Schwarzenegger—who they instantly claimed was of Hungarian descent. Now, what U.S. student would know where Hungary is located, much less who the leader of that country was? I was learning more than I was teaching.

Hungary - 2003 003The teachers took us on weekend day trips, visiting small towns with big histories—walking through cemeteries with centuries-old dates of burial, the fallen in some long-forgotten war; visiting fabled churches with soaring vaulted ceilings and walls showcasing Hungarian artistic talent; strolling past statues, some funny, some respectful of people in Hungary’s past. That past included a cruel Nazi invasion before the U.S. was involved in WWII, but we felt the anger and sorrow shown by our Hungarian friends as they told stories of unbelievable German brutality, particularly as it focused on the large Jewish population of the country.

Hungary - 2003 005But we had time to visit the markets, filled with food and other items that we didn’tHungary - 2003 004 even recognize. We walked the streets, admiring all those statues that showed the talent of Hungarian artists. And, we happily ate the plethora of food—especially the mashed potatoes one young lady ladled onto my plate. And, Irish or not, I couldn’t possibly eat all those potatoes.

If you haven’t been to Hungary—put it on your visitor list. Food, festivals, friends….and then to top it with a visit to Budapest, the two-pronged city divided by a lovely river.Hungary - 2003 006

Hungarian Goulash

Hungary - 2003 007There’s a country that few Americans visit, but a student of history and culture should include it.  That country is Hungary, a small nation which warring armies of many countries crossed and nearly destroyed on their way to somewhere else.  It’s a European history book in one small, amazing nation.

Sally Schwartz from Las Vegas and I were privileged to spend several weeks in Hungary a few years ago as part of a Global Volunteer opening effort to “help” a school in a small town, the name of which I still can’t pronounce.  We were the first team into this country from GV, and it was a privilege to “open” it to future teams.

Sally and I were assigned to a high school—warned we were not there to “tell themHungarian classroom how to run their school”…..but it took a bit of tongue-biting for me to keep my mouth shut, even concerning such simple things as the layout of the classrooms and stairs.  But all that faded in our appreciation of the welcome mat that the teachers laid out before us.  They invited us to their parties; took us on “field trips” to famous sites; and nodded agreement when I raised an eyebrow at some aspect of the school’s operation.

But it’s Hungary itself that is worth a visit.  It’s that history book already mentioned. Hungary - 2003 001 The Crusaders passed through Hungary on their way to the Holy Land; centuries later Adolph Hitler made Hungary the #1 country in his aim of European conquest.  Today, the country is peppered with amazing statues, building structures, and markets that entice and intrigue a visitor.  I’ll be writing more about Hungary and what it offers to the world.  Such a small country; such a wealth of beauty, art, and friendship.