gratitude-a-thon day 2075: the unusual (part one)

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Our travels took us through Puglia and Basilicato, the heel of the boot.

I feel as ancient as the 9,000 year old city we just came back from! But the jet lag is a teeny tiny price to pay for such an extraordinary trip.

So, just to give credit, where credit is due, and boy is it due, I must call out Linda Plazonja of Morso Soggiorno. She is the reigning Queen of curated travel. This is the second trip I’ve taken with her company and it will not be my last. Check out her website, for future trips, or just because it’s so pretty. Not all her voyages are yoga retreats, but this one was, as was my first. Our gifted yoga teacher Roni, of Roni Brissette Yoga is so enormously adept at inspiring while gently nudging us each toward our potential, I feel like Iyengar himself after each class.

I had never been to Southern Italy before, that place right at the heel of the boot. I also hadn’t done much research on our itinerary, because I knew I was in good hands (Linda’s) and it would be awesomeness and work and life took over, so I just went with it.

You can’t judge a book by its cover and that goes for monasteries, too.

Which is what actually made it even more stunning and even more fun. Our first few days were spent staying in a former Franciscan Monastery,  ll Convento di Santa Maria di Costantinopoli . No none of the monks were there, but you wouldn’t believe what was.

Opening the door of Il Convento, a splash of red and then, a bajillion artifacts from all over the world.
Every corner, equally interesting and provocative.

On the outside, it’s just a simple stone building, nothing-to-see here kind of architecture, (except I find even the dullest anything in Italy gorgeous) but then you feel like Alice dropping into Wonderland, opening the door into a seriously interesting and quirky art collector’s mind. Artifacts and folk art and textiles from Africa, Mexico and India, and other places the owers have visited on their extensive travels. Antiques, carved figures, paintings, sculpture, and more than 1,000 books make each of the theme rooms and common areas a visual party. No nook, no cranny has been left unadorned. There are unlimited places to read, meditate or just take in the atmosphere and chill.

And then there are the plants and flowers. Every outdoor space is filled with pots of lavender, succulents, colorful blooms. There are pomegranate trees, palm trees, and cactus. An Olympic sized pool beckons, surrounded by a drool-worthy setting you’d find at a spa you couldn’t afford.

The garden near the pool, of the many, many gardens, both container and earth-bound that made this place so spectacular.

 

Breakfast of champions. I was hoping this would be waiting for me when I arrived home, but no such luck.
A typical dinner. Salad was fresh and beautiful. Prawns, not my thing, but our table was swooning. Not photographed was the simple homemade pasta with a Pomodoro sauce and basil. Delizioso!

Did I forget to mention the food, Pierluigi, the warm and talented chef creates a full breakfast buffet burgeoning with pastries and irresistible breads and 10 jams and homemade granola and just made juices. Dinners were beautifully prepared and attentively served and careful thought was paid to the finicky (me). If this is how monks live, sign me up. I’d be remiss not to mention Athena, the owner of this property, who lovingly restored the convent, with her husband, the late Lord Alistaire McAlpine, to its current perfection. Shortly after it was finished, she lost Alistair to heart disease, but his design aesthetic and love of art, books and curio are present everywhere. And then there was Gloria. Gloria is a warm and lovely mid-sized white shepard-ish looking dog, who guards her home and welcomes guests like the concierge she is. She even did yoga with us.

Gloria, overseeing the fabulous food coming out of the kitchen.
Stacks and stacks of earthenware on a shelf in the kitchen. I wanted to steal it all.

 

The cozy room we all retired to after dinner to talk and laugh and yup, drink more wine.

This is a unique and magical and crazy amazing hotel. The kind of place you might see in a wacky movie, or in a dream. The kind of place you just have to visit to really believe. And pictures do not replace a thousand words here. There was no way to capture this oasis on film or video. The grandeur can only be appreciated in person.

Our wonderful little group of intrepid travelers who all love yoga laughing, food, wine and the out-of-the ordinary.

Gratitude for the unusual. I live for an experience like this, that both surprises, amuses and leaves you breathless.

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Linda and Jonathan of Morso Siggiorno, saying goodbye to Athena, the owner of the unusual and extraordinary Il Convento.

gratitud(e)-a-thon day 2052: if not now, when? Turning 60 in Spain

 

A missed connection, due to Boston weather, but greeted by this, plus champagne and rose petals on my bed. Happy birthday to me!
Barcelona is electric and eclectic and on the beach, to boot.

So, I did it, I turned 60. This is the thing about birthdays, no matter how you feel about them, they’re coming for you. You never get to say, “Hey, I”m busy, can we do this another time?” And while I was dreading it, with a deep feeling of panic, it walked in, sat down and there we were.

 

But, where we were was Barcelona, Spain. In a beautiful boutique hotel with a bed covered in rose petals and a bottle of bubbly in a bucket with a rich chocolate mini cake that read “Happy 60th Birthday.” Let me just say right here, this could take the sting out of turning 107. So, yeah, my advice, if you’re dreading a birthday, is to get the heck out of dodge, put yourself in another place and ride it out. The “after” is almost always tolerable, it’s just the before that bites you in the ass.

It seemed like this store was set up to take pictures of. Kind of perfect.

 

One thing that was really super cool is that I got to do and see something that I had always wanted to do and see. We drove the five and a half hours from Barcelona to Bilbao, where the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum is located. Since the first time I saw this whack-a-doodle building in a magazine, 20 years ago, I have imagined seeing it in person. It captured my attention in an almost obsessive way. It always felt far away and like I probably would never get there, but once I knew we were going to Barcelona, I was sure I would make this side trip happen. And it did not disappoint, in the least. And the inside is just as great as the outside, not only in its architecture but in its works–beautifully edited and I would have to say, actually perfect. It’s overwhelming to turn a dream into a reality. I know this sounds like a Disney commercial (cue up It’s a Small World, if you want), but I don’t know how else to put it–I had always wanted to see that museum and I got to, after 20 years. That’s damn good shit.

I made it!

 

 

Hotel Maria Christina in San Sebastian. This was a very special place. And there were churros for breakfast!

We saw so many beautiful places. Spain is so much older than the US, that no matter what you’re looking at, it’s hundreds of years older than the most historical monuments you can find in the U.S. This means even the ordinary is a treat to look at.  I loved the Joan Miro Museum, located high on a hill and overlooking the city of Barcelona. I’m not terribly into abstract painting, but his work has always captured my heart. The Picasso Museum is special, not just for the work, but also for the old, restored building it resides in. Gaudi is everywhere, including the sidewalks of Barcelona, which are flowers. You can only imagine how much I loved this! The Real Alcazar, a royal palace in Seville is breathtaking. This place is surreal. In scale and architecture, its beauty is a 2,554,987 on a scale of 1 to 10. Go to the Dali museum if you don’t want to do LSD, but want to feel like you have. And of course, we saw numerous churches, extravagant and lovely, rivers, the sea, the steps on which some character in Game of Thrones died, a seaside town dressed in nothing but blue and white (oh, my beating heart).

It was a magical trip and I thank Linda Plazonja for giving me so many tips. If you haven’t been to her site, click her name and you’ll be there. And if you think her website is beautiful (it’s one of my fave sites ever) you need to go on a trip with her. She is the absolute Travel Queen, with a thorough knowledge of a place and a gift for seeking out the extraordinary. You can also have her plan your trip. (CAN’T RECOMMEND THIS EMPHATICALLY, ENOUGH–YOU WILL NOT BE SORRY!)Also, I have to shout out the Mercer Hotel in Barcelona (which Linda pointed me to, of course), which acted like our home away from home, which we kept leaving and coming back to. Exceptional and thoughtful service in a sleek and modern boutique hotel that’s built into a 4,000 years old wall).

 

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My travel companion in Spain and life, Peter. A keeper!

So, gratiud (this is Spanish for gratitude, in case you thought I left off the “e.”), so much gratitud for a mind-expanding, dream of a 16 days. I am 60. And I am just fine.

gratitude-a-thon day 2052: the pasta

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Busting out the major gratitude for Italy. Where is the ugly in this place? I am thinking it doesn’t exist–here it seems the garbage is attractive. The renovated farmhouse we’re staying is situated inside of a postcard. I actually think I might still be asleep and dreaming when I wake up and step outside. But then I feel the dew on my feet and I find I’m really awake. As I write, a conference of exuberantly chatty birds are in the distance and the sheep are waking up and ready to be herded into the valley. It feels like they come out just for me–to give me a show.

We learned to make pasta last night. Simona showed us how to roll out our dough Twiggy-thin, which looked effortless in her hands and gave me an intense upper arm workout–Pasta Padasana–a new yoga pose. Simona then, like magic, turned her dough into bowties and linguine and a cornucopia of delectable shapes.

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When our pasta was served (and fortunately nobody could tell which were my mishappen noodles), I became a human Electrolux. Not even kidding in the least (I have witnesses). I simply could not get my fill of the homemade pasta. I had six servings, almost half a platter by myself, and still, I could have eaten more. I had to force myself to leave the table (mostly so I wouldn’t eat it).

While the unspeakable is happening in the U.S., I am trying to ignore it until I arrive back to the shit show in 48 hours and just nourish myself with the dolce vita of this place, these people and did I mention, the pasta. Gratitudine.

 

gratitude-a-thon day 1019: low expectations, or see ya later Fodor’s

It has come to my attention that maybe not planning a trip can make the trip better.

Buh bye Fodors.

This little trip we just took, had several twists that we’d not anticipated and they were like finding out pancakes have no calories (with syrup, of course).

Our diverted-due-to-weather plane to Florence, where we were to rent a car and drive 90 minutes to the resort the meeting my husband was attending, brought us instead to Bologna, where we had to wait for our luggage and a bus that would bring us the hour back to Florence. By that time, we’d traveled 16 hours straight and  were like, “done,” and decided to stay in Florence for a night. My brother-in-law’s sister who happens to live there gave us the name of a hotel, where we were able to get a room. FIRST UNEXPECTED AWESOMENESS: the hotel was amazing, smack in the middle of EVERYTHING, steps from the Ponte Vecchio and Arno, blocks from Il Domo and the Ufizzi and shopping H-E-A-V-E-N.

Of course, it was not easy for us to get there. Peter and I had never driven in Italy before, always taking trains and cabs, so that was a frat party all by itself. All was going rather splendidly, in fact I thought Peter was actually driving better than he usually drives when we got into Florence proper and we not only lost the battery power of both of our phones, which we were using as our GPS, we couldn’t find the car-hook up. Panic at the disco.

You never want to see your phone wearing this, but especially when you are ridiculously lost in a car in a foreign city.

It was raining and sunny, and getting dark and the light was a photographer’s wet dream when I realized I had not only forgotten my camera but had no phone with which to record the religious lighting.  We were totally mystified because our phones not only contained our trusty GPS, but also the name of the hotel. NO, WE DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THE NAME OF THE HOTEL We were stopped in front of a convent, and I half thought we might have to begin the discernment process, become nuns, and live in Florence for the rest of our lives, when I, thrashing through the car, found the battery hook up was, usually in plain view, hidden in the middle console thingy between the seats. Numerous victorious Hallelujahs ensued, and I kissed goodbye the idea of looking like Sister Bertrille for the rest of my life (and thank God for that, I look dreadful in a hat, I can only imagine how I’d look in a Habit).

On account of my large Italian and Jewish nose, I cannot rock a hat so good we found the car battery charger, or who knows.

Anyway, we drove through downtown Florence, down one-way streets, with angry Italians yelling at us, arms flailing, “crazy Americans” in thought bubbles above their heads, talking to the hotel on the phone, practically driving through the Domo for an HOUR.  It was like Matt Damon in one of the Bourne movies, if he drove slowly and was old and exhausted with a wife beside him who was swearing about leaving her camera at home.

We finally arrived and crashed into the most comfortable bed in a gorgeous room. Lights out until 9, when we woke up still exhausted, but hungry and forced ourselves to go out to dinner–how could we waste a night in Firenze? The hotel hooked us up with a small intimate restaurant, where we indulged in pasta and fish and plenty of wine. It was UNEXPECTED AWESOMENESS all due to a diverted flight.

The next day we tripped around a sunny Florence, and left for the conference in the afternoon, which was way up on a mountain, and where several other unplanned moments of fun occurred, including actually getting lost in the hotel, which was the size of a small Italian village (this is an example I am known to use frequently as a joke, only, in this case, it was true), an obstacle course hike to a small scenic town with one of Peter’s colleagues that was magical,  and writing outside with the snow-peaked Dolomites in view.

We’d purposely, or maybe just lazily left our last few days open and were trying to decide where we would explore, having never been in the Tuscany region before, but our time in Florence convinced us to go back. On the way there, we stopped in Pisa, again, somewhat of a whim, and were shocked to find that the leaning tower’s most amazing characteristic isn’t that it’s leaning. This structure is absolutely exquisite. And the surrounding area of churches, which is quite large and elaborate,  is equally gorgeous. All around, people are posing in an effort to look like they’re either pushing over or holding up the tower. It’s very, very funny, so funny, in fact, we began taking pictures of it. We ate a perfect lunch of ham and cheese and olives and tomato salad with the tower staring us in the face. We walked through the University area and realized that Pisa had so much more to offer than just a structure that was tilted. ANOTHER UNEXPECTED MOMENT OF UNPLANNED FABULOSITY.

There she is. This tower would be beautiful, even if it weren’t an architectural wonder.
The area around the Tower is amazing all by itself.

The only thing better than the Tower is seeing people pose with it. It’s an attraction all by itself.

Back to Florence (where we once again got lost going to the hotel, but this time we had phones and it only took us 15 minutes of breaking the driving rules to find our way). We were set up for success in so many ways. The weather was perfect, as in sunny and in the mid-’60s, which s a piece of UNEXPECTEDNESS that you simply can’t plan (especially because of the forecast I’d been following for weeks, called for three days of rain, which never occurred). Next, the location of the hotel allowed us to easily hit all the hot spots, of art, fashion and stuffing our American pie holes. Still plagued by the fact that I did not bring my camera, I still managed some wonderful pictures (including, I should mention, capturing some of that mystical, magical rain/sunlight during our own version of”Bourne” when I grabbed Peter’s phone, on its last legs of battery–4% left, and took pictures of the Domo, while he was screaming for me to read the GPS. But nobody normal could resist that light, even if we were spectacularly and hopelessly lost and about to lose our map–this is how I am).

Taken from the car, in a panic not to capture light I would never see again, I took these with the 4% battery we were relying on to find our hotel. But seriously, Could YOU resist?

I will not drone on about our every move, but I just have to detail our visit with my brother-in-law’s sister, Ande, because it was so unusual, and a night I will not ever forget. We wanted to take her to dinner, but she’d just come from the States, was jet-lagged and had a new puppy, so instead, she invited us over for drinks and appetizers. Only a few blocks from our hotel, we entered a large and spectacular building, which was outside, in the middle of a bustling area, but on the inside was quiet as a library (well, a library without ME in it). Hugs ensued, new yellow Lab Hugo introduced himself, the wine was poured (and poured) olives he size of my head, and salami and truffle butter, and crusty bread were spread before us. She gave us a tour of her magnificent abode. It was cavernous and beautiful and at the end of the tour, she said, “Now this is why we took the place.” She lead us downstairs and showed us the laundry room, which she was quite happy about because most Italians don’t have laundry. This is why I thought she was enamored of her space, which I could be convinced of because –EVER HAVE TO GO TO A LAUNDROMAT. But it turns out, nice as that laundry room was, that was not the clincher, as I soon saw her leading us to a small office. “This is why we moved here,” she began, as she opened a door, which unveiled a private balcony that overlooked the most beautiful church. Created for some earlier aristocrats to attend services privately, this balcony allowed Ande and her husband (and friends, and three grown kids when they were in town) to watch weekly concerts, as well as the current multimedia exhibit the church (the Church of Santo Stefano al Ponte), was having of the artist Klimt. MINDS OFFICIALLY BLOWN, we headed back in for more wine, and Italian delicacies, then she told us that in an hour there would be a concert we could watch. We talked about family and kids and dogs, and the inevitable political nightmare the States were living through, and then we took all our glasses of vino, plates of food, and the puppy up to the balcony to watch opera! Through a door in her office. INTO THE CHURCH. It was totally surreal. Who’s fabulous apartment comes with Jesus Christ, himself? ONE MORE UNEXPECTED AND OUTRAGEOUS MOMENT (I should say here that Ande travels a fair bit and might not have been home when we were there, and in fact, had arrived home, just as we arrived, so this was another bit of unplanned luck we encountered by not planning).

I did drop my iPhone into the toilet, which was wildly upsetting, but a 12-hour rice bath, and I was back in business. That was pretty much the only bad thing that happened on this trip. My husband and I agreed that it was one of the best trips we’d ever taken and discussed why it might have been. We both decided it was because we didn’t plan it, as we usually do, setting up expectations and often not being able to meet them. This trip’s expectations were definitely at a minimum. Or were we just happy to get out of a Boston winter? I’m still not exactly sure why those eight days were so perfect, but I’m pretty sure it’s something to do with BLISSFUL UNEXPECTEDNESS. Whatever it was, I wish it was tangible and I could use it on every trip I ever go on. Gratitude to the unplanned, and of course, magical Italia.

gratitude-a-thon day 1017: travel

I am childish when it comes to traveling. Which is to say, I am gleeful, delighted and utterly beside myself with the novelty of the foreign. Give me new sights to see, a  different language to decode and the flavors and coffee that accompany them and I am as happy as Trump on Twitter.

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I think I had this same dumb smile on my face the first time I was in Florence, too.

I didn’t set foot in Europe until I was 30.

Imagine.

But I  would never have appreciated it in the same way if I had gone when I was younger. My kids have been many times already, and will never know the crazy smile I had pasted on my face for the three weeks I spent in Zurich, the Alps, Basil, Copenhagen, Gotland, Rome, Venice and Florence, that first time.

Along for the ride, I’m with my husband, at a scientific conference in Tuscany. A diverted flight due to weather allowed us a surprise night in Florence, where we’d not been since my virgin visit. We fell in love with it, and are headed back for the last few days of our stay.

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Our hotel. Yeah, it’s up there.

The hotel we’re in is the size of a small town, poised on a hilltop overlooking small villages and mountains–some that are even snow capped. When we arrived it was rainy and foggy. At one point, you couldn’t even see anything out of our window, but like magic, in the morning, there was a storybook view, a movie poster perfect scene.

On day two,  we visited Lucca, a small walled village with many beautiful churches, in fact, one I might have to give my “Most Beautiful Church Award” to, and the second pace I’ve been to with a wall–the first is in Gotland, Sweden, in a town called Visby. I hope never to  have to visit any walls in the States, if you know what I mean.

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This church in Lucca knocked me out. It looked like it was carved lace in marble.
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The olive oil of Lucca! I love that label.

The food is wonderful. I mean, fresh pasta, cheese, wine. BUT, there is instant coffee in my room, and the dining room, which is buffet style, but quite good, HAS COFFEE MACHINES. Thank GOD we were in Florence, where they still served you a nice POT of coffee, or I would be very disillusioned. Italy, coffee machines–does not compute.

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Barga is beautiful from the distance, as well as up close.
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Barga wasn’t supposed to be special, but it was!

Yesterday, one of Peter’s colleagues and I headed to a small town called Barga, which I was told, was unremarkable. The hotel gives a funny little flyer on how to walk there. Well, let me tell you, I was thinking of my grandmother Constantina, who it is said walked on the steep hilly terrain and winding mountains of Calabria for food and water because on this walk, we were on vertical hills, gravelly, broken pavement, uneven rocks, all along a deep embankment, through deep woods. It was not a clear path and certainly not one a major hotel would ever give you in the States. After an hour of climbing hill after hill, on this major obstacle course, we arrived at the sweetest town, with yet more hills! But we didn’t mind, because the colors and buildings were so breathtaking, we just kept walking, in total awe. We ended our visit with a glass of wine and two decadent desserts, in the friendliest patisserie. This stop also included a hot chocolate that turned out to be chocolate moose heated up!

Gratitude for the fully immersive experience of travel. It’s a mind, body and soul cleanser.

gratitude-a-thon day 900: 24 hours of travel takes you to another world

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Zanzibar from the rooftop of the Emerson Spice Hotel, a gem of a place filled with antiques and a gorgeous courtyard where we ate lunch.

 

I thought I would be able to blog.

HA!

I went on a jam-packed two week trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar, and I thought I would be able to blog, on not one, but two blogs while I was there.

HA!

That so did not happen (but you already know that). Between our schedule being rigorous, and the internet service, and my computer telling me my start-up disc was full, which didn’t allow me to download my pictures, and the runs, and general exhaustion, blogging was just impossible.

But my gratitude meter was on! Like, SO ON.

This trip was extraordinary on 1,394,571,398 levels.

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Taking the ferry from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar (an adventure in self-preservation) here’s a taste of the colors you see everywhere.

It was the first time I had ever visited a third world country, and it didn’t disappoint in terms of BLOWING MY MIND RIGHT OUT OF MY HEAD. There are pockets of poverty that are unimaginable. I started to feel like I was in a Sally Strothers Save the Children commercial. This is a heavily populated Muslim area, so women wear hijab, and their colorful mix of patterns against the dingy, dark colors of downtown Dar es Salaam was especially stunning. (The way the weather hit my hair making it look look like so many dry cornfields we saw later in our trip, I considered pretending to be Muslim for a few weeks, with all due respect, of course).

Here are some sort of random pics of the trip. I have yet to sift through my almost 1,000 photographs!

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Taking PK’s at the National Stadium.
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Fabulous dinner at Fatma’s house. I kept thinking how my dog Riley would be in the center of this meal!
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National Stadium.
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Masai hanging out in Stonetown.
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My new friends.
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A boy writing his name at The Big Tree School.
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Three out of 11 of the only white people at the game of Young Africans against Ghana.
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A beautiful bridge at the Protea Hotel in Zanzibar.
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The Masai village micro-lending program group.
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Some of Fatma’s family, including her grandmother.
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Goat lunch with the Masai village.
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Soccer with the New Generation Queens.
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All of us at the Mbweni Ruins in Zanzibar.
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Ally with one of the Young African players.

The city of Dar is a chaotic mix of commerce and traffic, with every kind of vehicle jetting around, including women and men carrying everything from garbage to bananas on their heads, not to mention the occasional goat or cow. Traffic lights are a few, and when they are encountered they’re treated like a suggestion more than a law. Oh, and did I mention they drive on the other side of the road? Yeah, you not only feel disoriented by the vastly different surroundings, but also by the fact that you think you’re going to crash into oncoming traffic every few seconds.

There were eleven of us. Four adults, and seven kids ranging in age between 13 and 18. The trip was planned by a teacher Ally had for a class called Global Leadership. His grandfather began an organization 70 years ago called Pathfinder International, which helps women worldwide with sexual and reproductive healthcare. It’s an exceptional organization, and we were allowed to visit several sites to see the kind of work they do. We visited a small village outside of Dar es salaam where we sat in on a 20 year old woman getting counseled on her birth control options (she had a four year old at home and a five month old in her arms). We then visited the hospital she would get that birth control. We had a raucous party with the Dar Pathfinder staff, visited their office in Zanzibar, where we were taken to a six week parenting class for parents and caregivers to learn how to talk to their kids about how to stay safe. The kids were there for this particular class and it was very emotional to see the conversations take place (even though we couldn’t understand them because they were in Swahili). This was a group of people trying to change cultural norms. It was moving. We also visited a Masai village to learn about micro-lending, where we were greeted with the most joyful song and dance number EVER! We planted trees together and ate goat (well, some of us did). We met with religious leaders in Zanzibar, where we exchanged questions and answers. We visited a maternity ward named for Ally’s teacher’s wife, because she and her husband helped build it many years ago. We met women who had just had their babies a day ago, and the amazing doctors and nurses who worked there. We went to a private school in Zanzibar that rivaled an American private school and which had a beautiful orphanage attached. We met with the kindergarten class, who gave us so much attention and pure unadulterated joy not one of us could stop smiling. We went to The Big Tree School, which a passionate teacher opened in his brother’s house, where three year old’s and five year old’s learned the basics in a bare bones building without many supplies (you will hear more about this, as I am interested in helping this school build a new building and offering them supplies).

We went to a soccer game in Dar where we were literally the ONLY WHITE PEOPLE. Heads swiveled when we arrived, but everybody was incredibly nice to us. It was eye opening to be in the minority.

We also worked with Coaches Across Continents, who uses sports and in particular soccer to instill educational messages. For instance, they will put together a soccer game where boys will come to play and slip in messages about domestic violence, and rape, and birth control. We played soccer at The National Stadium of Zanzibar (where we saw many young people running without shoes, which prompted me to pledge having a sneaker and clothing drive when I arrived home), and soccer with The New Generation Queens, the only girl’s soccer team in Zanzibar. We also played with several other groups of mixed age boys and girls. We learned about how girls playing soccer has not been acceptable because of it being thought of as a “masculine” game. But we saw and heard first hand how it empowers girls and women when they play. There were also lots of pick up games with little kids, who could charm the clothes off your body.

Lastly, we went on safari at the Ngorongoro Crater. It was INSANE! Lions, zebras, wildebeasts, wart hogs, elephants, hippos, gazelles, monkeys, ostriches, and a very distantly visible rhino.

And of course, we learned to bargain (some of us learned to bargain better than others). We swam with dolphins (sort of), and we ate a lot of Indian food.

The people of Tanzania were generous, warm and welcoming. All the Pathfinder staff were incredibly nice to us. We all wanted to bring home our guide in Zanzibar, Fatma, a 22 year old biochemistry student at a University in India, who was the epitome of warmth and grace, and who even invited us to her home to have an enormous dinner with all the things she’d witnessed we’d eaten during our time with her. Her extended family greeted us warmly and treated us like part of the clan. We have invited  Fatma to come visit us. We know we’ll stay in touch with her. She is a bright star and we’ll never be able to thank her for her presence or the wonderful gifts she gave us the last day we spent with her.

This trip was something I will be processing for months to come. It was mind expanding and changed my perception of what I spend money on, and how that money could hugely impact a life in Tanzania.

You will hear more over the weeks, but the gratitude I feel about having this adventure (and missing the Republican convention) is YUGE.