Archive | Travel

Marriages and Safaris: Beauty. Dung. Sometimes Rainbows.

It’s Valentine’s Day and a friend just asked for advice about planning a safari, so it seems appropriate to re-post this meditation on love, marriage, shit, and rainbows. You know, just your basic extended metaphor but with hippos.

One of the gifts, for me, of being on safari, is all the time spent in the jeep staring out at the landscape as we drive around looking for animals, birds, whatever.  Of course, that’s also sort of the downside, too: you spend a lot of time looking for things and sometimes you’re lucky…and sometimes you’re not. It is the proverbial crap shoot, with a literal emphasis on crap (more about that in a minute).

As it happened, this safari of ours happened a week before Husband and I celebrated our fifteenth anniversary. Fifteen years starts to be a rather long time, don’t you think?  Which is fantastic and also means that we are getting freaking old.

The two things started to come together in my mind as we drove around (or actually, as we were driven by our guides–the marvelously named Jelly, in Samburu, and Daniel, in the Mara), and I started to think that maybe safaris and marriages aren’t really that different, when you get right down to it.

Consider: when you first get married, you’re all we’re married! There’s that whole happily ever after thing, which lasts for …maybe a week/month/year and then it starts to be weird toenail clippings, and undone laundry, and why do you have to straighten up when I’m napping on the couch, and whose turn is it to do the laundry, and why am I taking care of the kids, and for the love of god get off the computer, and no we’re too tired/poor/busy to go to a party/dinner/theater/movie, and who messed with my Netflix queue?  (At least, that’s what I hear from other married people. Husband and I have had fifteen years of uninterrupted bliss.)

Life starts to look a lot like this, except without the little birds:

IMG_0300

Consider: on your first day of safari, you’re all safari! And you take pictures of everything, thanking the lord that someone invented digital photography: you’ve got thousands of pictures of the jeep, your camp, the guide, each other, the hotel manager’s pet dog. It’s all vastly, amazingly exciting. You see A LION. You see AN ELEPHANT.  And it’s exhilarating and amazing, until it starts to be a little bit of  LOOK!  A BIG BIRD THAT MIGHT BE AN EAGLE OVER THERE. NO, OVER THERE. And you jounce and jolt along the trails, hour after hour, and it’s mostly amazing…and a lot of grass.  You bounce along, bumpety bumpety, and you get closer and closer to Maybe It’s Something and…it’s a rock. Or a tree. Or a bunch of rocks. Or a warthog. Which is like a rock but with tusks and a little tail.

See the analogy? Bouncing along, never quite knowing what you’re going to find? One day you’re incredibly lucky and fulfill every fantasy you ever had about being a photographer for National Geographic, and then it’s hours of driving along looking at the same trees you saw yesterday and the day before. And they’re very nice trees, you know, and you’re very happy to be on safari but…is this it? Driving around looking for stuff?

Here’s another thing: when you embark on marriage, or on a safari, no one tells you how much you’re going to learn about poo. Whether you’re married with children or without, other people’s poo will become your business. It should be written into all marriage contracts—anyone settling into a long-term partnership, gay or straight, married or just shacking up—that separate bathrooms are a prerequisite. Because really. Do any of us need to know our beloveds that intimately?

On our last safari, we learned a lot about poop, which surprised me and meant that I was a little bit more prepared for stuff that looks like this:

IMG_9875

Those of you with cats might have a sense of what we’re looking at: crap with fur in it. Which is to say, furry shit.  You might think, oh my cat who grooms herself and had a fur-ball left something like that in the litterbox (although actually fur-balls make cats puke, so front end and not back end).  Nope.

That there is lion poop. A lion what ate an antelope fairly recently.  Fur, it seems, isn’t digestible.

Aren’t you glad you know that? You’re welcome.

So yes, you get out of the jeep sometimes, look at poop, or at ants, because hey, that’s what the safari threw you that day. And so it is with marriage: roses one day, yelling about the laundry the next.

But sometimes, just as you’re getting completely fed up, there are rainbows in a cloudy sky.

IMG_0413

 

Continue Reading · on February 14, 2019 in Abu Dhabi, family, Kids, marriage, Travel

Traveling with Toddlers

The first time I traveled from the US overseas with a four-year old, I packed cans of soup.

Yes, soup.

That’s what he ate. He was three, wildly underweight for his age, and he was my first kid. I happily paid the baggage surcharge in exchange for knowing that I’d be able to feed my child. (Second child had to more or less fend for himself, but that’s another story.)

Yes, my bag was ridiculously heavy (although it was lighter on the return), and yes, I realized after we arrived in London that Campbell’s chicken-noodle soup is available in most major grocery stores.

And yes, the toddler grew out of it.

But apparently, TrumpyTrump hasn’t. Check this story from The Guardian about Trump’s travel plans for his “big foreign trip,” which include making sure that steak-and-ketchup are served at each formal dinner.

When we went to London, the toddler (mine, not the one that belongs to the United States) also talked about his “big trip” and he carefully packed a little bag to bring on the plane: two Star Wars figures, his blankie, a small beanbag teddy bear, and a glow-stick necklace.

My inflight bag contained sticker books, lollipops, a lift-the-flap counting book, several small “surprises” to unwrap (mostly Hotwheels cars), and assorted crayons and paper.

In this picture of The Big Toddler and his nanny wife, it doesn’t look like Melania is carrying a bag–or even has a pocket (or could even sit down in that skirt, which is about two shades off from the toddlers “tan”).

 

photo from The Guardian

I’m hoping she’s got supplies stashed on the plane: jumbo bottles of ketchup, a few sticker books, perhaps a match-the-foreign-leader-name-to-the-face coloring book, maybe a connect-the-dots map of the world? Otherwise it’s gonna be a long flight–and it’s no fun trying to deal with a toddler’s temper tantrums when you’re 38,000 feet in the air and seven hours from landing.

Bon voyage, kids. Have fun. I’m pretty sure they sell ketchup in Riyadh.

Continue Reading · on May 20, 2017 in Children, expat, Kids, Politics, Travel

Waiting for a train in Austria…without the Von Trapps

In October, I had the joyful experience of spending a few days in Vienna and Salzburg with my siblings and my mom. We laughed and drank, listened to music and walked through wonderful old streets exploring Austria’s history–real and imagined. There were the real spots–Mozart this and that, Beethoven here and there–and the imagined spots, most of which had to do with Maria-the-singing-nun and the Von Trapp family.  Did you know that all those landmarks from the movie are spread out all over the city of Salzburg? Movie magic at its best, along with the fact that the Von Trapps skipped merrily over the Alps to freedom, just ahead of the Anschluss.

While we were in Salzburg, we saw a very different picture of people escaping repression: trainloads of refugees from Syria being herded along the train platform and out to the Red Cross tents that had been set up in the parking lot. Where these people were going to go from there is anyone’s guess. But I don’t think they were going to be skipping and singing any time soon.

My article about the refugees, real and imagined, appeared here in The National.

 

photo credit

Continue Reading · on December 1, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Politics, The National, Travel

Traveling While Female…

Hi there blogosphere….

I seem to have taken an inadvertent hiatus from blogging for a while … it’s the kind of thing like forgetting to write your grandmother: the longer you wait, the more it becomes A THING and the more it becomes A THING the harder it is to write.

So today, I am metaphorically writing my grandmother (may she rest in peace) and alerting you to my column in The National today.

In the column I’m wondering about how we female-type people travel alone without fear — or rather, how we manage our fears and anxieties while still exploring the world.  And by “explore the world” I mean everything from climbing Everest to going out to dinner alone in the neighborhood.   How can it be that after so many centuries, a woman alone still presents such a target/threat/opportunity/challenge to men–and why is it that so many men persist in believing that a woman alone is pining for his company?  See: fish, bicycle, necessity thereof.

Enjoy. And if you have your own travel tips (or horror stories) feel free to share them in the comments.

PS I love you, grandmother.

Continue Reading · on March 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Feminism, Gender, NYC, Politics, The National, Travel, UAE

a decade of caleb

This face of joy is Caleb, at one, at Barnegat Light on Long Beach Island.  He’d learned to walk at nine months, which meant that despite having a brain about the size of a walnut and a diaper the size of a basketball, he would climb up stairs, stagger along the curb, or waddle straight into the surf, utterly without fear.

This August, we spent our tenth summer on LBI and it’s Caleb’s favorite beach (which, given that he’s now spent time on beaches in the Maldives and Sri Lanka, is quite a compliment).  Our first summer on LBI, I was hugely, gigantically pregnant and wearing a maternity bathing suit that was so hideous it can be only excused by pregnantbrain. Why else would a woman in her last weeks of pregnancy purchase and wear a shiny teal maternity tankini? On the upside, I suppose I was responsible for any number of teen-age girls not getting pregnant  that summer. They took one look at my spherical teal body and told their boyfriends to back the hell off

But Caleb. My sweet, fearless Caleb, who still plunges into the ocean with the grace and abandon of a seal, he’s ten. He’s learning Arabic and computer coding and the trumpet; he wants to be an author, or maybe a spy, or maybe a mad scientist, perhaps a basketball player.  I think he might be headed for the stage, because the boy has never met a hat he doesn’t like:

calebinnurseryschoolnursery school graduation

calebindiaIndia – tiger safari (no tigers, just a hat)

calebsingaporeUniversal Studios Singapore: minion loot

This boy who loves hats and computers, who doesn’t read books so much as devour them, and who was as happy with his book about military history as he was about an envelope containing 300 dirhams (about 80 bucks, and okay, he was a bit more excited by the cash), doesn’t yet realize the strength of his own gifts.  He measures himself against his older brother, not willing to concede the difference that almost four years makes.  I think that might be why Caleb learned to walk so young: he wanted to keep up.  Now, however, with the dawning of pre-adolescent self-consciousness, he sometimes doesn’t try to keep up because he’s sure that he’ll never catch his brother.  It’s a funny trick of growing up, isn’t it, the way the confidence of childhood evanesces just when we need it most?

Caleb is our current-events child; he reads the newspaper and tells us what’s happening in Gaza, in Syria, in Ferguson–and then asks the hard questions that we should all be asking and attempting to answer: how do these things happen, why do these things happen, why do people care about the color of other people’s skin or the way they worship?

We moved to Abu Dhabi on the eve of Caleb’s 7th birthday and the traveling we’ve done since we’ve been here means that he’s been to more countries by ten than I had by thirty-five.  His passport looks weather-beaten, as if he were a career foreign services officer–and who knows, perhaps that’s where he’s headed.  I can’t even begin to predict what he’s going to be when he grows up–perhaps the stage, or maybe he’ll go concoct strange potions in some jungle laboratory. Who knows.

All I know is that our lives for the past decade have been richer and more joyous for Caleb’s presence.  I can’t wait to see what’s next on the journey.

calebsand

 

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Continue Reading · on August 24, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, birth, Children, family, Kids, Parenting, Travel

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