After a long week of boat time, we finally arrive in Cape Town, South Africa. I had a lot of expectations for South Africa: Shark cage diving, skydiving (maybe), bungee jumping, and more. However, the trip didn’t quite start out as planned…
I found out the night before we got to port that, because I was 15 minutes late to the breakfast I was supposed to have with my global music class before our field lab, I was to have four hours of dock time. Dock time is kind of like a time-out. You have to wait on the boat as everyone gets off when we get to port, and as soon as the boat “clears” (when everyone gets off), you have to turn in your ID and start a timer for however long you’re assigned to stay on the boat, and for my case, that was four hours. I claimed this to be bullshit because: (1) It’s not like I made the bus late or made anyone wait for me that morning, and I didn’t miss any important information; and (2) For every 15 minutes you’re late for something like that, you’re supposed to get 2 hours of dock time, not 4. I went to complain with another student with the same problem, but they wouldn’t change it.
Also, I somehow managed to catch a stomach virus the night before we got to port, and woke up multiple times in the night to puke. It continued to the next morning, so I didn’t really mind having the dock-time because it gave me time to recover in bed. I started feeling better right as my dock-time ended, coincidentally, and went out to get my day started. However, the first two days in port the stomach virus caught up with me again and prevented me from going out the first two nights, which was a letdown.
On the upside, I still ended up going shark cage diving, and went seal diving (which was surprisingly more fun than shark cage diving, and no one else thought to do it). Also, the beach house I found for us to stay in turned out to be amazing, and despite the noise complaints we got for throwing parties and the damage of a pillar on the front porch, they STILL gave me a good review on the rental site and I didn’t have to pay for any of the damage. I also got to eat amazing food (had sushi twice, which is probably the thing I miss most about being stuck on the boat with the ship food), and I got to see a friend from BU who was studying abroad there. I got a great taste of Cape Town, and I definitely want to go back. I could even see myself living there for at least a semester, it was that beautiful, and has so much potential for someone like me who aspires to work in film/photography/fashion.
We also got to have a really close connection with the people there, especially the taxi drivers. We had two taxi drivers the entire time, Abe and Ish, who was abe’s son. It was so weird to have taxi drivers who would always be there for us, they would even wait for a few hours if we asked them to. I guess natives don’t take taxis very often, and our business was better for them or something. They told us a lot about the area, and we grew to know them as friends.
The last day before we had to get back on the ship, I went to go up Table Mountain’s cable car alone. Mostly everyone else either didn’t want to go, or had already hiked it while I was feeling sick, and I actually could use the alone time. The only thing that sometimes sucks about Cape Town is that the weather changes so quickly all the time. Arriving at the mountain, I was hoping it would stay clear so I could actually see something at the top, but the fog crept in and by the time I got up there, it had taken over more than half the top part of the mountain. It was disappointing to not get a good view of everything like most others did, but also kind of cool to see the fog. It just gave me another perspective, I felt like I was on a mountain in Wyoming in the spring, except it was a little bit warmer. It also gives me something else on my bucket list to do when I return to South Africa.
I felt similarly to Cape Town as I did about Barcelona. I needed to go back there, and even though my expectations weren’t quite met, I still found a way to enjoy my time there. I would definitely say that it was my favorite port, over all.
So I’ve been pretty distracted lately with getting transfer applications in and such, but now I’m back to just focusing on the trip and catching up on writing. Africa in general has just been a really fascinating experience. It flew by so fast, but now that we’re on this long stretch across the Atlantic, it’s time for me to reflect a little.
We went to three countries in Africa: Morocco, Ghana, and South Africa. Before we got to Morocco, I had to put on a demonstration at cultural pre-port about what/what not to wear. Cultural pre-port is a meeting we have every time before we get to a country and where teachers and lecturers give us information about the culture of the country we’re about to port at. So I presented what not to wear, while my friend presented what to wear. I wore shorts and a tank top. She wore a long skirt, a long sleeve shirt, and a scarf. This was the first time I was going to a country where I really needed to cover up because of the muslim culture in Morocco. Our teachers kind of freaked us out by saying that the women would be groped and yelled at a lot, probably no matter what we wore. Also, women in Morocco weren’t going to look at us, and just generally weren’t going to be very friendly. I was really afraid of testing any boundaries in this country, so I made sure to wear a long skirt, sweater, and scarf just to stay as safe as possible.
As soon as I got off the boat, I felt an IMMEDIATE culture shock. My friend and I were surrounded by tons of taxi drivers asking to give us a ride… It was chaotic. We tried to walk right past them so we could find an ATM. As we got to the street, I was really shocked by how dangerously the drivers drove; there were absolutely no rules on the road. The signs were all in Arabic, and the environment was just a little more dirty than the cities in Europe had been. I didn’t feel like I was in Africa exactly, but I suddenly got a new picture of what Morocco truly was, and it was beautiful to me. I was absolutely fascinated by everything around me, all I wanted to do is take pictures of everything, but I tried to stay low-key.
The second thing I noticed after the dangerous driving was the number of cats running around the streets. It was absurd. Every block or so, there was a new, starving cat. I would squeal every time I’d see one, hence my extreme obsession with cats, but I’ve never in my life seen so many sad looking cats. It so unexpected, and as much as I loved seeing cats, it put me down a little. We called Casablanca “Catablanca.”
The very first place I wanted to go to after getting money was Rick’s café, which was the famous café featured in the movie Casablanca. My friend and I had a little bit of trouble finding it, even with my google maps because my phone didn’t work as well as it had in Europe (which wasn’t too surprising.)
Suddenly, we approached a school where all the kids were getting out for the day. This was just so cool to me… I don’t know what it was… maybe just the picture I had in mind before we got to Africa of little school children that I had seen in videos and movies. The classic African-school-kids-in-uniform scene, and as I had suspected, my friend and I definitely stood out from the crowd. Little girls came up to us and started speaking French, which totally confused me, and it hit me “of course they speak French!” Morocco’s two official languages are Arabic and French. And so, right away, I slipped into French mode, and the kids and I were all pleased to have a language in common.
I told them we were looking for Rick’s café, and they insisted on taking us there. The kids asked their parents if they could walk us there, and surprising the parents seemed okay with it. On our way there, more and more kids tried to join our group, and kept asking what our names were, “comment vous appelez-vous?” and as I responded they would giggle with delight and typically run away. I tried to talk to the girl who was leading us there, and one of the things I found out is that she (and most of the other kids) spoke five languages. That absolutely blew my mind… These kids… probably about seven years old, spoke more languages than I – or any other typical American – would ever speak in our lives.
We finally arrived at Rick’s café and said our goodbyes, and headed in for our lunch. I hardly remembered what the café looked like in the movie, but either way, it was perfect enough to make anyone feel as if they were in one. The middle part of the café where we sat was a white marble floor with extremely high ceilings, which had a dome of windows letting the natural light into the room. There was a grand piano, and nice old-fashion jazz music playing during our meal. I couldn’t help but smile the entire time, the scene was just flawless. So was the food and especially the mint tea. Everything was perfect.
The next day, we headed Marrakech early in the morning to get picked up by a company to take us to the Sahara for our camel trek. The van ride took us about 6 hours to get to the desert. I had signed up for this program very last minute, so I didn’t know the details, and had no idea that it was going to be that long of a ride to the Sahara. We drove, winding through the mountains, passing towns and towns, most of which looked as if they were made out of sand and abandoned for years. As we got closer and closer, the winding mountains eventually turned into a flatter, much sandier high way, leading us into the desert. We got on our camels by late afternoon, and rode them further into the desert.
Riding a camel was actually a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. It was pretty uncomfortable, and more bouncing than any horse I had ever ridden. And it got harder the further we went because the sun was setting and most of our ride turned out to be in the dark with just a few flashlights to help light our pathway. We arrived to a circle of cabins where we stayed the night. The cabins were so much nicer than I imagined – instead of just camping in the desert like I thought we were going to do, we stayed in nice beds with beautiful blankets on the walls and beds. We spent the night sitting in a circle, telling stories, drinking mint tea, lighting a bonfire, and by 2 am a few of us were left to sit on the dunes and watch the stars.
I think that was the clearest star-watch in my life. It was amazing to finally see all the stars without the city lights glaring them away. In that moment, I remember feeling how small and insignificant we were. How big space was and how far we were from everything else.
We were woken up about 6 in the morning and watched the sunrise on the dunes. It was so unreal being in a desert (which is, by the way, bigger than the United States), watching the sun rise, and observing the daily routine of the camel leaders with the camels. It is so strange to think that this is a typical morning for them. I was taking pictures of my camel leader with the camels (trying to be discrete about it) and he suddenly calls me over. He looks at my bracelets and picks one out of all of them: the one with metal skulls that I had gotten in New York over the summer. He asked to switch that bracelet with one that he was wearing, and of course it was worth it. I’ve been wearing it as an anklet ever since.
On the way back to Marrakech, we stopped in a few stops that we didn’t get to stop by on the way there. I remember one time we stopped near a town, and right away kids ran up to the bus. I was kind of excited to talk to them, considering my last encounter with Moroccan kids went so smoothly, but this time they weren’t interested on what my name was or anything. They were begging for food. Most of the other people ignored it, partially because nobody had any food left, but I suddenly remembered that I had some cookies in the bus so I went to go get them. As I was about to walk out, I saw another girl had given them a bag of peanuts, and they all started fighting desperately over it and broke the bag.
I’ve never seen anyone, not even a homeless person, squabble for food like that. I tried to be strategic about how I was going to give the kids my cookies so that everyone could get some, so I broke each of them in halves and thirds and give them out one at a time. As soon as I got off the bus, the kids saw the cookies and tried to grab them from me. I started giving them pieces one at a time, and asked them to share, but they weren’t concerned for each other one bit. It was literally the Hunger Games; the kids took the rest of the cookies out of my hand and ran for it, leaving more than half of the kids with absolutely nothing.
I’m still having a hard time to put the way I felt about that situation into words. It was a mixture of sympathy, sadness, and more than anything else, anger. I was angry that they couldn’t share with each other. I was angry that they weren’t even polite about me giving them food, they didn’t say thank you to me or the other girl, and they hardly even asked for the food when I was giving it out, they just grabbed whatever they could, as if it were already theirs. I don’t mean to sound harsh, I do understand that they’re just kids. And of course, I can’t claim that I would have acted differently if I were in that position.
I guess when it gets to the point where you are actually starving, and struggling to live, it naturally becomes an individual fight. The thing that makes me angrier than anything else is that there is just no right answer to a situation like this. Yes, I feel so lucky to have what I have, to even be fed on the daily and have a place to sleep. But does that mean that we Americans are obliged to give African kids food as soon as we walk off that bus? How much of a difference does that even make when you end up getting those disappointed faces looking straight at you anyway, begging for more even when you already gave everything you could.
These people clearly need help, or else they simply won’t live. But even Africa as a country, which is rich on resources and getting money from Americans like us, what use is the money and resources if there is no organization? There needs to be a system, but we don’t have any right to take over. And in that case, we also certainly don’t have to be obliged to give someone else food at all.
How much help is too much help? How much can we Americans watch these disorganized cultures struggle before we feel like we have to take action? The only thing I know I can do right now is to be thankful for the things that we have. To be aware of what’s going on, whether or not we take action to actually help. These things do exist, but perhaps money isn’t the main issue. All we can do for each other’s cultures is to share the perks. Yes, on our parts, maybe we should go in and give money or food, but we must also try to see what really goes on over there. Let these people from Africa teach us how to be happy, and actually make a connection to these people. It’s not a secret that there are more happy Africans than there are Americans. African people know, or think they know, how money runs our lives especially in the West. Money might not be the answer, but when it comes between life and death, we all need something to get us by.
We also can’t just throw money at them. If anything, that adds to the line we draw between our cultures. If everyone in America had a true connection to someone in Africa, I believe that would make a difference.
In Ghana, I really feel like I made a connection to those kids. I wrote in my essay for SAS how it’s different, seeing from the outside. You can’t come up to the glass of this African snow globe with your fancy camera and expect to get pictures of the real thing. The pictures come out distorted. You have to jump into the lifestyle. Form a relationship. And especially for people who take pictures, make the process one you can share with your subject. The majority of the time I spent in the village, my camera was around the neck of one of the kids. One would normally presume that to be a pretty stupid idea. Anyone in their right mind in need of money could easily run off with a nice camera like that. But with just enough caution and a little bit of trust, I was able to show these kids how to use the camera. Half of the pictures were taken by the kids I was staying with, and over time, I have to admit, the pictures weren’t half-bad.
To go back a little bit, I stayed with a host-family in Ghana. It was kind of a last-minute decision, I really wanted to get some cultural experience in my schedule, and I didn’t have anything planned so I jumped on one of the trips that SAS was doing. We went to a village (Atomkwa village), received tribal names and had a ceremony, met our host family and basically spent the rest of the night with them. Right when we got to the village, the kids all came up running next to the bus. They were all so happy we were there.
As soon as we got off, everyone had at least one kid holding their hand, leading them to the ceremony, and from that moment until we left the next morning, the kids never let go of our hands. It was a little strange having kids all over the place and constantly holding both my hands, but also comforting in a way. They were just so genuinely nice and happy, and that was a magical presence to be around. We spent just about every minute with these kids except for when we went to meals. Each time we went to the village center to get food for lunch and dinner, the kids would drop us off there and we would see them as soon as we got out. However, when they dropped us off for dinner, I realized that they were literally waiting outside while we were eating. I had assumed that they must have been eating their own dinner or something while we were in there, but they weren’t eating at all. It didn’t make sense to me why we couldn’t all just eat together. During dinner the rest of the SAS-ers and I exchanged stories, and one of the girls said that one of the daughters in the family said they were “happy but suffering.”
The next morning we visited their school. We didn’t get to spend much time there because we were in a time crunch, and it started to rain, so going back and forth between classrooms (outside) was a bit of a hassle. As we were leaving, some of the kids started crying. Some kids that I hadn’t met before came up to me and asked if I could give them my camera. Of course, I couldn’t do that, so I awkwardly apologized and said I didn’t have anything to give. Another boy ran up and asked for us to send him a bike. I laughed a little when I heard this, not to sound mean, but sending a bike over was a little unrealistic. I felt so bad, but all I could do is say goodbye and walk away.
I didn’t know exactly what to expect from Barca before I got there, but I had a gut feeling that I would love it… and I absolutely did. Everything was amazing about it: the architecture, the people I met, the way the city was arranged, the beach, the tram that stretched over the city to the top of a mountain, the nightlife, the shopping… I could go on and on. I simply fell in love with it. I could definitely see myself spending a significant amount of time there, similarly to how I felt about Paris. Although the only problem I would say was the language barrier, it didn’t get too much in the way because there were a lot of people who spoke English.
I tend to write notes when my mind starts racing, so as I was sitting in a bar on the first day, I wrote:
“Sitting at a bar in Barcelona, watching the sun hit the buildings, making them golden. Getting that feeling again: a tense, edge-of-the-cliff feeling. On the verge of tears of joy. It hits me again: a punch of pure happiness.
I want to be a filmmaker. I want to travel the world. I never want this to end. Everything in my life has led me up to these kind of recent, sincere moments. This is the truth, and I can finally face right at it. I want nothing else but this right here. Now, I have a purpose. This is really living.
Looking back on this, I don’t really know how else to explain it. Sincere moments are sincere in the moment, but feelings are mostly temporary. Sometimes I get so into the moment that I feel positive that I know what I want to do for the rest of my life, but in reality I’m never sure. No one ever is, or ever has to be, really.
I could go on and on about what we did/where we went/the people I met, but I’ve got to stick to the most important parts of these trips, and I feel that the flight from Barcelona to Seville (where we would then go to Cadiz to meet the ship) was a significant point in the trip, and in my life as well.
As our plane took off from Barcelona, I immediately, totally randomly felt a jolting string of bad vibes. The plane started turning sideways as it was going up and up (a little more extreme than a plane normally does), but there was something different.
It occurred to me right then that I was afraid to die.
In the last year or so, I’ve treated the subject of death quite casually. People live then they die. If I died, then I died. It just didn’t seem like a significant event in timeline of eternity in our universe. Life didn’t automatically have a meaning, so why should it mean anything if I just, wasn’t present anymore?
But it just then occurred to me, that (this is what I started to write on the plane):
“Life does have a meaning. This thought is subjective because I’m finally giving my life meaning. And I am here for a reason, because I’m giving myself a reason. And I make my vow now and until the rest of my life, that I will treat it as a gift, because it is. At least to me. I don’t know what will come after it, but I don’t feel the need to look forward to heaven, or hell, or the next life, or limbo, because I can have everything I want right here.”
The entire time I was writing this, the plane would start shaking spontaneously and vigorously every few minutes. This felt like an hour-and-a-half of torture. I was on the plane with one other SAS girl, and she finally woke up from her nap mid-way through the flight when the plane jolted so hard that everyone grabbed onto their seats, and the seatbelt sign turned on. An announcement in Spanish over the intercom said something (or at least I think it said) about turbulence, and that everyone should remain in their seats.
Before I even realized it, tears started rolling down my face. It had been a long time since the last time I actually cried, and this plane ride was officially the scariest ride of my life. I tried to keep my hands steady enough to keep writing – anything to keep myself distracted by the shaking and the strange engine noises. I started writing a letter to my parents. Not that I was expecting someone to check my phone after the plan crashed with all these people in it, by any means. But I had to at least get what was on my mind out, and the only people I wanted to talk to were my parents.
There’s something about dying in a plane that is very different from any other way of dying. You’re thousands of feet in the air, in this automobile that is [supposed] to keep you safe. And no matter at what time during the crash you go unconscious, your body is going to be going through a long process of falling through the sky, and most likely getting either smashed by your surroundings or burned to death, and there is nothing you can do. Best-case scenario, at least from that height, you could only hope to go brain-dead before you have to consciously suffer through this process. (Sorry if this is graphic…)
The shaking just never stopped, but it was almost time for us to land. I really wanted to at least see the ground, but the clouds seemed endless. We flew lower and lower for about 15-20 minutes before the land was finally revealed, and I was praying the entire time. I wouldn’t say that I’m a believer or God, but definitely a believer of some kind of higher force. Whatever that force was, I was praying to it.
I just wanted another go, I couldn’t leave this earth yet, there was so much I wanted to do. I made a mental promise that if I made it through the flight, I would change.
The landing was pretty rough, but I was a bit more relieved as soon as we got close to the ground, and then finally let out the rest of my breathe as soon as we landed. The hour-and-a-half tension that I, and anyone else as scared as I was on the plane, was going through was finally over, and I was not coming out of there the same way as before. That was important, and in a way, just what I needed. A real wake-up call.
Long story short on Portugal: I spent the day surfing, doing yoga, and chillin’ on the beach. It was my first beach day since summer, and was the perfect, chill day. At night, I hung out with some girls, went to the bar area in Lisbon, which was insanely crowded but surprisingly fun. It kind of reminded me of Rome, with all the small streets filled with shot-bar after shot-bar. Ended the night at this beach club, which was fine… just until we were leaving the club.
It was one of those clubs where they give you a card and you charge your drinks on it, and pay at the end. Of course, it’s a great way to get drunk people to pay a stupid fee at the end of the night of 50 F****** EUROS!
It’s hard for me to go into too much detail about what went down after that, but lets just say that the people at the bars were extremely aggressive. The girl I was with (who also lost her card) got slapped by a bartender, and two other kids from my program got physically assaulted. I really don’t think that any of these people on my program provoked the bartenders/bouncers enough to get physically abused by any means, but to say the least it put a bit of a damper on the night. Also, I stayed with the girl who got slapped till about 6:30 AM, and had to run back to the ship to pack and make it to my flight to Barcelona at 9AM. Luckily I made it JUST in time, along with four other girls I was traveling with.
Sorry it’s been hard to keep the updates going. It’s because 1. Internet is literally impossible on the ship. 2. I’ve grown bored of just listening what I do in every place. Instead of writing boring shit, I’m going to write what I want to write about. There were a few things that happened this weekend that I want to focus on. If anyone has questions on what I do on a daily basis/the places I go in each country, feel free to ask. For now, I hope y’all can find a way to enjoy some writing about more personal stories.
Sunday morning, three friends and I rented bikes and biked to Howth, north of Dublin, Ireland. We were pleased to find that not only was the whole bike ride wonderful and city of Howth a calm, beautiful town, but there were also cliffs that we could hike up on. We biked halfway up, left our bikes, and hiked to the top. There are just no words to explain what we found up there. We spent about three hours up there, and every second the experience got better and more beautiful.
As I was scamming the field, I saw from far away some wild horses. Right away, I wasn’t satisfied with the distance between those horses and me. I had to get closer. I started walking towards them, but quickly realized how hard it was to get to them… Between those horses and me wasn’t just a field, it was hills after hills of beautiful plants, which included sticks, spikes, bees, and a good chance of poisonous plants. As soon as the bees started to touch me, I started to run. I had already gotten this far, and I wasn’t about to turn back. Finally I reached a clear patch of grass, and it led to a fence, which said “Donkey Barrier,” blocking me from the horses. And that barrier, consequently, was the furthest I could go. All I could do now was admire the horses from afar – closer than I had been up the mountain, but still not as close as I wanted to be. I turned around a few minutes later and headed back, looking down at the scratches on my legs and feeling quite foolish for running through all that shit without even thinking twice.
Suddenly, this old man holding a painting, an easel, and a box is walking up my direction up the mountain. As he waddles past me, I say, “excuse me, did you paint that?” pointing at his painting. He scruffs and nods, and continues to walk. After him I say louder, “It’s really beautiful!” Something about this moment didn’t feel real. This guy could have come from anywhere. He could have been a local, or a traveler. He could have been out of our time or straight out of the 1700s. He was different than just any other artist.
As soon as he passes me by a few feet, he stops, drops his stuff, and just walks away. After about a minute, I realized that he was looking for something to paint. I took a few pictures of his painting, and waited. I was dying to know what he was going to paint. I literally felt like a stalker. He seemed to be the private-painter kind of artist, although to me it was so frustrating. I was just dying to see him in action, and to document it. Combining two art forms together! That’s the way to do it these days, isn’t it?
I then stopped myself. I actually understood this man. I couldn’t blame him for not letting me in, because I couldn’t let others in either. We were the same way.
We finally decided to leave the cliffs together after we had all independently explored the mountain, and biked down the mountain. When we got to the bottom, one of the girls, Anna, said to me, “I keep feeling as if I’m forgetting something.” As we got on our bikes, the other two girls kept on checking their backpack pockets, as if looking for something.
It was true, we all had that feeling. We might have not left anything behind in the physically sense, but we had all left a little something of ourselves. Perhaps a little baggage. We had left too quickly to be satisfied, and as fulfilled as we felt, we couldn’t take enough back with us to explain where we had been. It was one of those places you wish you could keep with you forever, however there was a slim chance that either one of us would ever be back there again.
That same night, we started at this bar that Anna wanted to go to because her friend who lives in Dublin was there. We took a bus with this other girl, and already felt weird about the situation as soon as we realized how far the bar was. We thought it was close to where the other bars were in the Temple Bar area, but it turned out to be about a 20-30 minute bus ride.
As soon as we walked into the bar, it was dominated clearly by old people, specifically old drunk men. The other girl, Maria, came to the bar with me, ordered shots and she sat on the edge of some woman’s seat. The woman turned around and said something along the lines of “uh, excuse me, I’m sitting around” in an extremely sassy way, so we backed off and moved out of her way. After, this man next to the old woman was trying to say something to me, but I couldn’t understand what he said so I turned away to talk to Maria. Next thing I know, he picks up his beer, slowly gets up from his chair and starts coming towards us. It was in that moment that I not only realized that he was extremely drunk, but I also saw what a big man he was.
Right away something clicked: Not only did I want to avoid another drunk fight (those are not fun, and I’m talking from experience…), but I definitely did not want this 60-year-old drunk Irishman to get anywhere near us. He was unmistakably NUTS for wanting to come at two small girls…
I ran over to Anna and said we had to go, and ran outside to get a cab. I was officially freaked out and would do anything back to be in the Temple Bar area again. As the other girl and I waited in the cab outside for Anna, the old man came outside, walked over to our cab and slammed the door yelling “go home!” My friend was still quite drunk so she started yelling at him, but thankfully Anna came outside and jumped into the cab, and we jetted out just before the man got to the car.
The rest of the night was fine for the most part - I started to feel better and actually stayed out late with everyone – but then there was the ride home. As three other people and I were traveling in a cab back to the boat, I hear a THUMP on the back of our cab. We all quickly turn around to see a girl get up beside the cab and run away. We were so confused because clearly the cab hadn’t hit the girl, but the girl must have just run into the back of the cab, drunkenly. We watched her run towards the bridge, and second by second I felt more and more tense. She stopped and started to take off her coat, her bag, her shoes, and we all knew what was about to happen. We all ran out of the cab to stop her, but it was too late. She climbed right over the edge and jumped into the river. As she floated on her back, all I could see was her face bobbing in and out of the water. I knew that my jumping in wouldn’t help the situation at all, so all I could think to do was to yell “Someone call an ambulance!” Two men went after her, trying to drag her out of the water, but she just wasn’t having it. She just kept yelling, “No, I want to stay here! Stop!” A woman next to me yells, “Don’t they know that she doesn’t want to get out!??”
About a minute later, ambulances and police showed up. They grabbed the two men out of the water, but the woman was out of sight. My friend whom was crying and freaking out came up to me with a bag of needles and what looked like heroin. “Jackie, look what I found on the ground…” I gave it to the policeman who had just gotten there and he ran ahead to find her downstream. There were lifeboats in the water trying to find her, and I turned around to see a couple going through the girls’ things, laughing, and taking her bag and her shoes with them. Made me sick.
We couldn’t wait there all night, but we needed to see if she had made it. We asked a cop if they had ever found her, and he claimed that they did, which is hard for me to believe because the lifeboats were still in the water, but we took their word for it. There was nothing else we could do.
Being back in Paris again was an amazing feeling. It’s one of the only places on the trip that I feel comfortable in. I got an apartment in Montmartre and shared it with a few other girls. The best part about it was the rooftop, where you can see the entire city—Eiffel tower, Montmartre- etc.
I’ve been realizing more and more my purposes on this trip, the things I respect about being limited, and the things I miss about a regular life. I have such a strong desire to document this trip in pictures and video. I’m so excited to see the end results, but the thing that makes me frustrated is that I can never do enough – I can never take enough pictures or video footage, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day and not enough days.
It was such a struggle leaving places like Paris because it was so beautiful, and I felt so comfortable/happy just staying right there. I definitely want to live there in the future. For a photographer/videographer, it’s nice to visit new places because you can see the differences between what you’re used to and what is different and unique about the city you’re visiting. However, being a photographer in the city you’re living in is a deeper connection. You might be able to still pick out the differences, but understanding the people around you makes it more personal for yourself and your viewers. I felt strange communicating with people in Paris because I quickly realized how bad my French was, it was sometimes more effective to speak in English. French people typically don’t really let you practice your French with them if you’re not fluent, which is kind of a letdown. Staying in one place, you quickly get comfortable doing the things that Parisians do, and I would love to get that opportunity sometime in the future.
Traveling to Paris was the first time I spent alone. I really wanted to go to Paris the first day in Belgium, and I wasn’t going to wait for anyone. I even missed my train back to meet the boat in Le Havre, so I ended up taking that train alone too. It’s sometimes hard to travel alone, but traveling in big groups of Americans is even more frustrating to me.
I’ve also realized how much I actually respect the space between myself and the people on the boat, and the rest of the world. There is just no way to go on the internet on the boat, and even in port it’s a difficult task to find Wi-Fi. I thought I’d be missing a lot from not being on Facebook a few hours a day or surfing the internet, but I didn’t miss too much. Going back on Facebook just felt so unimportant. I just don’t miss it. Being kept on this boat makes me make a list of the things I want to do when I get back to the states. This is my break from reality, and it’s just about perfect timing.
All I see is pros and cons from this studying abroad. Differences. Seeing the whole picture, there is good and bad no matter what, and the more good, the more potential bad. That’s something no one will be able to control about this life, but it is what you make of it.
So we spent the weekend in Hamburg and Berlin, Germany. Hamburg was – too my surprise – really great. The city wasn’t huge, but there was still a good amount to do for the amount of time we spent there. We walked around during the day, did a little shopping, and saw some churches. Then at night we went around the red-light district, which was wild. There were bars after bars and a lot of bright lights. There were also a LOT of strip clubs, more than I’ve ever seen… Turns out prostitution is legal in Germany.
Early the next day, we took a bus to Berlin. I was extremely excited to go because I have a few friends who told me that Berlin was a great place to visit. It was a struggle getting there because not only was I hungover from the night before, but I had also caught a cold. Also, I put off trying to find a hostel, which wouldn’t have been a problem seeing that everyone ends up sleeping at each other’s hostels, but I didn’t want to have to figure that stuff out at the end of the night. My friend let me stay at her hostel, so I felt a lot better about the situation. We started walking around, after we figured out where to stay, and right away I felt comfortable in Berlin. It wasn’t at ALL like I had pictured it. I imagined it to be a hilly place with tall buildings, but it was the complete opposite: flat land and small buildings. Here are the things I noted:
- Lots of bikers. Almost had a Portland-ish vibe.
- Lots of graffiti, which I loved.
- Broken bottles and bottle tops pushed into the ground everywhere. I guess that’s a German thing?
- Just about everyone we met knew English pretty well.
- Really awesome stores and boutiques
Each night we were there, we went to this festival called Berlin Fest. It was held at this huge venue with 3 stages, plenty of bars, a cool outdoor portion, and more. I saw Boysnoize the first night, and Justice and another band the second night. The only thing that bothered me about the venue was that it looked like a warehouse, and I usually prefer smaller rooms. Although, on the upside, it never got too crowded and it turned out to be a great set up with three stages and an outdoor section.
I had a great time at the festival, but I was still sick which was pretty sucky. Also, I really with I could have experienced more of the nightlife in Berlin. I’m glad we caught the festival, but I really wanted to see what the real clubs and bars looked like. But at least that gives me a reason to come back!
All in all, I just LOVED Berlin. So much I could totally see myself living there for a bit in the future. I loved the graffiti everywhere and how chill people seemed to be. It seemed like either a biking or driving city, which I liked. Although it did have a nice transportation system as well.
I spent most of today sick in bed (sick from seasickness and a cold). I drank 6 boxes of OJ and two water bottles of vitamin C powder. I should be out on the deck, seeing that there’s a party going on right now, but I’m determined to get better before we get to Hamburg, Germany in two days.
Right when we get to Hamburg, we’re getting train tickets and going to Berlin for a two-day music festival. A bunch of artists are playing during those two days, but we’re just going to the nighttime shows when Justice and Boysnoize are playing. It’s going to be very hectic trying to get there, find a place, and do all the touristy stuff during the day and whatnot, but I definitely don’t want to do any of that while I am still sick…
I’m really excited about the rest of the trip. I have plans in just about every country we’re going to in Europe, and the ports after that get even better (Ghana, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Cuba).
Before we get to each port, we have pre-port meetings for the two days before we port. They talk to us about the history of each place, and tips on what to see/how to get around/etc. I found this to be incredibly boring at first, because I never really cared much about history, but it’s actually getting interesting. When else could I learn about this stuff and experience it for myself?
“Here I am, standing right next to Flo Rida grabbing a drink at an event I had to shoot. As I leave the party, the first thing I see is a group of hobos laughing and smiling, holding huge white bags filled with god knows what.
This feeling is indescribable. If anything, I’d say I’m extremely curious about the differences between these people’s lives.
How did these hobos get here? What did people like Flo Rida do differently?
And the biggest question on my mind: Which people are happiest?
Right now, I am happy. I can’t imagine heaven because I feel that we are already there. I’m not scared of losing this feeling because it will always be there if I just look up. And I’m not scared of looking down because I need my lows to keep my balance. I need the extreme symmetry in my life – the kind that almost kills me, in exchange for the kind that makes me feel most alive.”
Highlights of Russia:
- Didn’t run into any more racial problems.
- Didn’t get put in the Drunk Tank (The drunk tank is where they put people who get too drunk in a room with no windows or furniture, and charge them $100 an hour until they sober up. So basically it’s prison and I’m not planning on going there anytime this semester…)
- Got to see a lot of cool stuff like the Hermitage, Church of the Spilled Blood, etc.
- Really really wanted to see Swan Lake but didn’t get tickets in time
- Wish I hadn’t slept so much. The time change (losing an hour every night on our way here) kind of messed with a lot of people.
Now we’re on our way to Hamburg, Germany. SUPER excited for the trip for these reasons:
- We’re gaining an hour of sleep each night
- There’s this soccer tournament that I signed up for coming up in the next couple days. It’s been FOREVER since I played.
- Having a workout plan for at least 4 days of the week.
- Really getting into my classes this week.
- Hanging out with people on the boat. Russia really brought us all together, and I feel that I’ve made really great friends so far.
August 30, 2013
I wake up Thursday morning at 07:00 to announcements being made on the intercom. We’re finally arriving at our first port: St. Petersburg, Russia. The boat slowly stops, and I suddenly get this feeling that something’s off.
We have to wait for about two hours to get everyone off the boat, and the entire time I’m feeling a bit claustrophobic. Instead of being conscious of waves and movement, I’m conscious of gravity, and the feeling of being pulled down by the earth.
The entire time before we hit Russia, I honestly wasn’t too excited. Russia wasn’t ever really somewhere I felt the need to visit. And to make things even less appealing, we had meetings on meetings on how to be safe in Russia, and to be very careful of pick-pocketters and homophobic/racist people.
If you are gay/lesbian or even express that you’re pro-gay/lesbian, you can be sent to jail. It really shocks me that there are places in the world that have laws like that. It makes me want to protest, but unfortunately that could send me to jail as well. Plus, it isn’t my country, and I would hardly be making a difference.
As soon as we get off the boat, we hunt for a doughnut shop that a Russian girl on the boat told us to go to. Luckily I have google maps, so we’re able to find it in not too long of a time.
The doughnuts are probably the best doughnuts I’ve ever tasted. It’s slightly similar to a French cruller - but smaller – and they sprinkle sugar on top. The family of four sitting next to our table is eating about 30 doughnuts, which isn’t surprising because they’re so incredibly easy to eat. However I do my best to stick to four…
The rest of the day we spend exploring the city and meeting new people. We ran into this Asian guy who speaks five languages (one of them being Russian) which is very convenient considering that the language barrier has been making it really hard to get around/communicate with anyone. We run into a bar with Wi-Fi and food, and get birthday shots for one of the guys in our group, Cam.
We didn’t run into any problems in terms of the homophobic Russians, but I was walking around with at least two black friends of mine the whole time. A couple times we got a Russian or two coming up to them wanting a picture, but there were also times when people were really rude to my friends. For example, we went into one of the churches and after a few minutes of walking around, my friends stood in line to get some water at the “holy water” place. I sat down two seats away from this old Russian lady as she was staring at them, shaking her head and mumbling. After they got their water, my friend Tony came up to me and tried to sit in the chair in between me and the old lady, but she stopped him and angrily scolded him. He said to her in English,
“Sorry, uh, I don’t understand you…”
Her response to that was a hand-motion telling him to go away and a Russian word that meant n***er. That was definitely our cue to leave.
For a few hours after the church-incident, my friends Tony and Cam were really freaked out. But that was the last problem we ran into. The people we met at the bars were very friendly, and if anything, just wanted a picture or two.
Later that night when we got back to the ship, a few friends and I stumbled into a deep conversation on the deck. I’m not sure how it started, but it was really eye opening. It made me realize that everyone on this ship is on here for a more specific reason. It’s not just, “I wanted to study abroad.” It’s got to take a little more than that to get on a ship for the first time of 900 strangers, limiting us to so many things we’re used to doing.
I look back on my last year at BU, and I definitely wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for all the bad stuff that went down. I was really pushed off the edge at multiple points, which actually then pushed me to do this study abroad. I found out so much about myself through all that madness, and I’m expecting to find out even more on and off this ship in the next few months. However, this time, I’m seeing all the madness and change as a good thing. No matter what I end up doing spring semester, I feel like this is the place I need to be for the next few months.
Today and yesterday I had my first two days with all of my classes. Yesterday I had my Intro to Cognition class and World Music, today I had Photography and Acting. My acting class is absolutely amazing! I was really unsure about taking this class - given especially that it’s been years since I’ve taken an acting class – but the professor really sparked my interest.
As we went around class, playing that game where you tell the rest of the class random stuff about the person sitting next to you, my partner mentioned that I used to be a music performance major, but that I now minor in music performance and major in film, and aspire to be a director one day. As soon as he heard that, he interrupted and started asking questions about what I wanted to do with film. I was pretty caught off guard because I’m still so new to the field that I literally have no clue what I want to do with a major like that, but he really seemed interested in my passions. This was nice coming from such an intimidating teacher. As soon as our short conversing stopped, he said to me,
“Well, this class will be just perfect for you.”
As the class went on, I soon discovered why he had such an interest in my life.
Lately I’ve been on the hunt to find people who came from the same upbringing that I did. This professor grew up playing classical trumpet, and went to his first year of college as a trumpet performance major. Then as things got way too competitive, he switched his major to Theatre. From then on, he told us he had experience in directing and acting in films, and he eventually became a teacher at Virginia Tech.
It’s so inspiring to meet someone who has a past so similar to mine; It really makes me feel less alone, like I have something mysterious but great to look forward to.
Now I’m in the computer lab waiting for the add/drop period to start, so I can drop Cognition and get into the Psychology of Stress class. It’s not that I have a problem with Cognition, necessarily, or even the professor (The same professor teaches both classes), but the Psychology of Stress seems to be more up my alley. As 6:15 pm comes around (or as we call it on the boat, 18:15), I press the button and get into it, even though there are a lot of other people trying to get into it. So yeah, I’m really happy and excited about taking that class as well. :)