Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Adventures Abroad

It's official!  No, I'm not getting married, at least not yet.  But almost as equally exciting – I'm headed to Italy this year!  Belly dance and travel are my two great passions in life, and Italy has been at the top of my travel list since my teenage years. And now in 2011, I'm finally going to see the wonders of Rome, Venice, Florence, the Cinque Terra, to name a few.  With travel fever on the brain, I've been meandering back through some of my memorable moments while traveling…
Beijing, China – I'm standing in the epic Tiananmen Square, a site that has witnessed some of China's most dramatic moments in history.  There is a mausoleum built to honor the late Chairman Mao, whose formaldehyde preserved body is actually inside and on display.  Chinese farmers and villagers from rural parts of China come into Beijing to just to view him.  They line up approximately a half mile long, standing four-abreast, just for the privilege to pass through his crypt for a quick glimpse of their former head of state.  They still wear their communist-regime issued uniforms. Many of these villagers live in places so remote that they have never seen a person who is not Chinese in real life before, and certainly not one with blonde hair.  This was back in my golden mane days.  For the ones not standing in line, a number come over and approach me, asking to take my picture.  One woman even asks me to hold her baby.  Most speak only a few phrases in English, but enough that I hear Britney Spears uttered a few times.  I buy a cheap watch from one of the vendors in the Square to remember my stop here.  It's not very reliable at keeping time, but when you wind it up, with each ticking of the second hand Chairman Mao waves back at you.

Sucre, Bolivia – My brother, sister-in-law, and niece have moved to Bolivia to live as missionaries, and I have taken over 24 hours and four plane flights to come down to South America to visit them.  Sitting in the Andes, many of Bolivia's cities have an altitude of at least 11,000 feet above sea-level, some of the highest in the world.  This high up the air is thinner and the sun stronger.  In the morning, I drink cocoa tea, the natural, unprocessed form of cocaine, to combat the altitude sickness.  I join my family in their daily missionary work to observe.  We head out of the main town center to the areas occupied by the campesinos, the indigenous people of Bolivia.  They still dress in native attire and many speak Quechua, rather than Spanish.  They live in humble mud houses with dirt floors.  No electricity.  No running water. This is true poverty. As we make our way across a small, but high bridge.  I look down the 30 or so feet to the small river below.  Native women are washing laundry in the stream, colorful garments spread out before them.  I pull out my camera to snap a picture.  They spot me and begin to shout and wave. And not in a friendly manner.  I learn later that they believe by taking their picture I have stolen their souls.
Aswan, Egypt – I wake up stiff and sore from my upper bunk in our train car cabin.  As I get dressed, a cockroach scuttles across the top of my suitcase.  I smash it with my shoe.  The train valet comes by and drops off our breakfast.  Our guide has told us not to eat the food because we will get sick.  My boyfriend opens up one of the hot trays and the meat inside looks unrecognizable.  I tell him to put the lid back on before my already queasy stomach gets sick from looking at it.  I am in first class on the nicest train in the whole of Africa.  After viewing the Aswan Dam, we take a flight out to Abu Simbel. We walk down the path toward Lake Nasser, and as we round the corner, my heart skips a beat.  There they are, the four giant statues of Ramses II carved into the mountainside over 3,000 years ago.  Almost as equally amazing as the original construction, is the fact that in the 1960s, the two temples were cut apart, block by block, and reassembled 65 meters higher, so they wouldn't be flooded by the construction of the Aswan Dam.  Inside the temple there are carvings of gods, goddesses, and Ramses himself.  My boyfriend gets the camera taken away by the tourist police for snapping a picture inside. As he goes outside to recover the camera, I manage to find an empty annex room. There is a faint wind that seems to run behind the stone facade, and it whispers to me of shifting desert sands and times long ago. I close my eyes and listen. I imprint this moment into my memory. Emerging into the sunlight, the camera has been recovered. And amazingly, without even a bribe.