Thursday, September 27, 2007

South Korea - Day 4 (Tuesday)

On my last day in Korea we visited another shopping area and went to NSeoul Tower.

In an effort to not allow my fear of heights to stand in the way of life, I decided to go to the top of NSeoul Tower. It was a little scary, but the view was really beautiful.

Here's the group of us at the observation deck at NSeoul Tower. The sailor next to me is in the U.S. Navy stationed in Seoul. We met him out the night before this. He is wonderful and meshed right into the group during my last day in Korea. Next to him is John, another English teacher in Seoul and a friend of Marius. He's from New Jersey and just might be the funniest man I've ever met in person. Kneeling is another friend of Marius, Maryanne. She's also an English teacher in Seoul, but she teaches PROPER English since she's from the U.K. These guys made my time in Korea so great!

I think it goes without saying that small children from all cultures are sooooo cute. Korea is not an exception. The little ones are freaking adorable. Here is a little Korean girl in traditional clothes. This weekend was Korean Thanksgiving and lots of little kids were dressed up like this.

I can't blog about Korea without including a section on the use of GPS systems. EVERYONE in Korea uses these to get EVERYWHERE. The girls driving on our rafting trip used it to get us to the rapids. No maps, just GPS. Every taxi uses these all the time. I promise no one really knows where anything is. They just type it in and follow the red arrow. I swear if someone blew up the GPS system Korea would go into full chaos.

South Korea - Day 3 (Monday)

Day 3 consisted of shopping, Soju and karaoke. Marius lives at the center of Seoul and is full of wonderful knowledge about the city. So he took us shopping and dining during the day.

Me with Minh at a street market in Seoul. Koreans LOVE to shop. And Seouls has about 12 billion shops.
Marius, me and Minh in a taxi at the beginning of a night to remember...or forget;)Karaoke is a very big part of Asian culture. They have these places that have a bunch of rooms equipped with video screens, microphones and a bunch of music. Everybody gets to be a rock star. Here are me, Marius and an English student (he's Korean learning English) singing karaoke.
Marius and Minh feeling good and sounding great! They are REALLY good singers!
After karaoke we hit up Itaewon, aka "the land of foreigners," for some hip-hop music and dancing. Here are me and Marius dancing with some Soju. This is magical juice. It's like Vodka light. It doesn't taste bad, can be drank alone or mixed with just about anything, and only costs $1.50 a bottle! Magic!!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

South Korea Day 2 - Sunday

We started Sunday with the plans to hit up a spa/massage parlor. On the subway we were reading the Korea Lonely Planet guide and found a tour of the grand palace downtown that was only offered at 11:30, 1:30 and 3:30 and it was already 2pm. So we decided to detour and check out the palace and then go to the spa place.This is Changdeokgung Palace, well, one of the many buildings on this huge landscape in the middle of Seoul. This was the main building where all the ceremonies took place. The king's throne is inside. It was built in 1405.
Here is me and Minh at the Secret Garden. The gardens are so beautiful! The grounds are so vast. The name of this pond is Aeryeonji, which means "loving the lotus."

So we spent a couple of hours at the temple then took the subway to Itaewon (pronounced ee-tay-wahn). This is basically the G.I. zone. The U.S. military base is 2 blocks from this area so it was covered with Americans. We arrived at the salon only to find out it was closed. What a deflated feeling. I had talked myself up to a mud scrub by little on Korean women, followed by massage, pedicures, relaxation, etc. Not happening. So we headed back to Minh's area of the city and decided to get the next best thing...pedicures.
Here's a pic of Minh's very first pedicure!! I can honestly say that I have started an addiction in her that will probably last forever. These ladies were really good!

We ended the day with a trip to sushi heaven.
This is my new best friend here. He is the sushi chef at a sushi place around the corner from Minh's house. He hooked up the goods. I know I didn't have to go to Seoul to see this, but he makes sushi and puts it on these conveyer belts that go by in front of everyone sitting around at the bar and you just choose whatever you want! Oh my gosh it was awesome. He uses this paddle to hand specially-made dishes to people. He hooked me up with some tune and Minh got an avocado roll. Yuuuuuum.
That ends Day 2 in Korea. Monday we are back with Marius for a tour of downtown Seoul, shopping, and drunken karaoke. Come on, you know I can't leave this place without singing like the rock star I am!! Stay tuned...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Trip to South Korea to visit Minh and Marius!! Day 1 (Saturday)

Ok, so I figured I would use this blog to continue the chronicles of my international travels...since those are the only ones worth reading about;) I am in Seoul, South Korea with a girl I was in Peace Corps-Burkina Faso with. She is here teaching English at a school. Also here is another guy we were in Peace Corps with, Marius - who is also teaching English, but at a different school.
So the interesting part of the story starts on the plane about halfway from Chicago to Tokyo. The flight attendants came around for our mid-flight snack, and it was nothing other than a bowl of ramen noodles!! How funny. They gave us the bowls, then came by with pots of hot water and poured them in and told us to let them simmer for 4 minutes then enjoy! I was cracking up!
So after a 12 1/2 hour flight from Chicago I had a layover of 2 hours in Tokyo. Perfect amount of time to enjoy quite literally the best sushi I have ever eaten in my life! Wow! Then it was off to Seoul. I arrived without incident and my bags even made it with me!! Minh was waiting for me outside of the custom area. It was so exciting to see her after 9 months! I got in at 9pm and we took the bus to her house. She has this cute little "studio" apartment in a really nice area of town. She has internet, her own bathroom with shower and flushing toilet, and her own washing machine. This is not Africa my friends. It's so cute. Marius came over that night and we all stayed up talking until 2am, which on any other night would have been no problem. But we had to be up and ready to go on our white water rafting trip by 6am. Hello? I was in wonderful condition. I know, you're probably thinking, who goes to South Korea to go white water rafting? I do, that's who. We went with 2 of Minh's Korean co-workers and 2 American co-workers. So 7 in all in a mini-van. Talk about comfortable. And of course one of the Korean girls was driving, and I swear every time I looked out the front window we were on the left side of the road (they drive on the right here). That's when I started praying that I just make it through the day alive. We arrived 3 hours early (yes, 3 hours - apparently Koreans are not so great at timing) so we decided to go visit a Buddhist Temple that was only an hour away. This was really cool. It was located along a river and it was really serene, especially compared to the chaos of Seoul (a city of 24 million including the burbs).

Ok, here is me, Minh and Marius on the bridge to the Buddhist temple. The mountains are really beautiful and green. The river (or bubbling creek in the background) was really serene and comforting. I can see how Buddhist monks chose this place to try to reach the enlightened level. Puhlease do not talk trash about my chosen attire. We were supposed to be going white water rafting!! I had on shorts and a tank top and had to throw on my scrubs and sweater. I was not making a fashion statement;)
Me and Minh in front of the main temple. It was really ornate. You can see a monk praying right behind me.
A closer look at the monk praying. Noice the gold Buddha. The guy on the left is just some guy praying.
This is a humongous bell (on the right) and a drum (left) that was (or maybe still is) used at the Buddhist temple. I can only speculate what they are used for...maybe dinner? That's a heck of a dinner bell. Maybe it's used to call people to prayer. ;)
Later in my blogging I will have a list of observations I have made here. One is the fact that people here, when describing pretty much anything, really abuse the word "famous."
For example, all on Saturday one of the Korean girls showed us a famous restaurant in Korea, a famous temple in Korea, an area famous for when the leaves change colors, etc. Well, she described the man portrayed here in statue form as a "very famous" poet. So I took a picture. He actually was instrumental in leading Korea to independence back in the 1940's, and was also a poet. This statue is on one side of the temple.

So after a while at the temple we got hungry...enter my first Korean meal of my life. YUMMY. We had baked fish and kimchi (the cucumber kind and the cabbage kind) and eggplant and seaweed and rice and soup.
This is a pic of a typical meal here. The little dishes are all different and they keep refilling them whenever you finish. The big plate is baked fish that we shared. Please take notice of the scissors on that plate. They use scissors to cut meat. I'm just giving the facts here people.

Then it was off to the white waters. One note I should make is the fact that the temperature outside never really got above, I don't know...68F, and it was overcast and rainy all day. I'm pretty sure I could see my breath at various points throughout the day...maybe it was an illusion, but I was COLD. And it was funny because I was the only person raising concern about the fact that we were all probably going to get pneumonia. So when we arrived at the place, of course we were the only people rafting that day. What the heck? Who goes rafting on a day like that? We do, that's who. Oh yes, many wise decisions were made this day. No filling out any waivers or forms or anything, I don't even know the name of the company (not that I could pronounce it anyway). Just jump on the rapids and go. I don't know if you have been rafting before, but in order to make it through alive you generally need a good guide and some people in the boat that aren't completely without sense. Well, we had a good guide. And we made it out alive, even though Minh busted her ass on some rocks we went climbing around about mid-way through the trip down the river. I know, why were we climbing around on rocks when we were supposed to be rafting down the river. It's Korea my friends.

So we finished and changed into dry clothes. We were all pretty tired and the trip was only halfway over. The Korean girls then decided to drive the rest of the way across the country to the coast to have seafood. South Korea is only the size of Indiana, but the middle of the country is mountains. So it took a really long time (another 2 1/2 hours in the minivan filled with 7 of us) to get to the coast. Please remember that the girl driving favors the wrong side of the road, and now we are driving through the mountains. Wow. Still praying to make it through the day alive. I know this blog sounds cynical, but at the end of the day I saw a lot of South Korea and it is really really beautiful. Really. And I got to be with Minh and Marius and learn about their time here. So we made it to the coast almost at sunset and it was really beautiful. The thing about the beaches here is that they are lined with barbed wire fences, to keep the North Koreans out. That was a sight I haven't seen before. So we stopped for dinner...another awesome 5-course meal including raw fish and tons of vegetables and seaweed and kelp, etc. 5 of us shared this meal that could have easily fed 10, and they say 2-3 Koreans usually eat it. How are all these people not walking around obese? Because the meals consist of the good stuff, not McDonald's. Point taken. After dinner we jumped in the van and headed back to our side of the country. In total we drove 9 hours yesterday. Coming off of 22 hours of traveling across the world by plane, I am happy the we went on this trip, but oh so happy that we are back.

Friday, August 24, 2007

some pics

I know most people stopped checking this long ago, but just in case, here are some pics. I never got the elephant pics from Audrie's mom... but here are some to leave you with.

Here we are crouching, looking for the elephants. You see here the guide that ended up leaving us high and dry;)
The view out my front door during a rain storm.
The baby of one of the women in my association.
My boys playing with the bubbles my dad sent.
More bubbles. They loved it!

I do miss them.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Good-byes and dog bites

For a slew of reasons I have decided to end my service as a Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso. I said tearful good-byes to my host family already. They will always hold a special place in my heart. I am finishing some end of service administrative stuff this weekend and I fly home Monday (getting me to Indy Tuesday).

So, last night I went out with some other volunteers here in Ouaga for a little good-bye celebration. As I was waiting (outside, with my back facing a waist-high wrought-iron fence) to use the restroom, I felt something grab the back of my leg, really hard. I thought it was one of the other volunteers just having fun, but when I turned around I came face to face with one of the biggest dogs I have seen in this country. He had stuck his head through the fence and bit me! OUCHY! I was wearing jeans and those teeth went right through and sunk into the back of my thigh. Not a ton of blood, but OUCHYYYYYYYY! So today I had to get a rabies shot. DOUBLE OUCHY! And I will have to have the follow-up shot Tuesday. TRIPLE OUCHY! Good Lord! Get me outta here! I'm kidding...but what the heck?


I will add a few more posts as I get my pictures uploaded (since that seems to be what people love the most:) A little more to share, so stay tuned. I am so happy to have had this opportunity to come here, see what I've seen, learned what I've learned, and share it all with you. If anyone has questions about my experience here please feel free to contact me at Thank you all for checking in to learn a little about my experiences here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Just thinking

One thing I have time to do here is think. There are much fewer distractions from thinking here than there are in the U.S. I don't have TV or constant radio in the car (car? what car?), I don't spend an hour everyday "getting ready." I just have a lot more time to really think in silence; to ponder many things I have wondered about.
So I was sitting here frustrated to no end the other day and I started wondering why I was so grouchy. Life is hard here (and I have it easier than 99% of the people who live here) and I realized that there hasn’t been a whole day that I have lived in this country throughout which I was comfortable. I’m grouchy because I am constantly uncomfortable. But what gives me the right to expect to be comfortable? Because that’s all I’ve ever known. I have always had a temperature-regulated environment; I have always had access to cold beverages; I have always been able to eat what I want whenever I want; I have always been able to take a nap when I want, or go for a run, or visit my friends or family, or fly to Jamaica for vacation. All 30 years up until now have been comfortable and easy (and I know this is because I live in a country that allows me these freedoms, and I come from a family that has provided the means for me to do anything). My natural instinct is to seek comfort because that’s all I’ve ever known. I wonder what I would seek if I never knew comfort.
I have always all my life been able to get or do anything I want. I feel so fortunate to be a woman in this world and be able to do anything I want. If I want to move to a 3rd world country and live amongst the poorest of this world, I can. If I want to move to the U.S. and make $100,000 a year, I can do that too. If I want to watch a movie, get a massage, paint my toenails and go to the store in my bikini, I can. Imagine a life in which you couldn’t get or do what you want. Imagine being a Muslim woman in Saudi Arabia and not being allowed to walk to the store without being escorted by a man, just because you are a woman. Or imagine being born into a family here with no money and your only option is to work you family's fields in order to eat for the rest of your life. Or imagine a gazillion other scenerios you could be in. Having the luxuries of freedom and choices are the ones I treasure most. So many people in this world don’t have and will never know these.

More pics

How funny is this?? Meet Aaron, perhaps the funniest volunteer here in Burkina (except for me of course).
A view of the countryside on the way back to the waterfalls.
Rose, Veronica, me and Erica back at the falls. It's so wonderful there.
And you thought I wouldn't get the total international experience by coming here! These are our favorite non-Africans here in Bobo. Walid on left is Lebanese and owns the most beautiful nightclub here (Please notice the speakers, mirrors on the walls, air-conditioning in the background. It has tile floors and flushing toilets! We are talking NICE...considering most clubs here are outdoors in the dirt). And Rami on the right is Syrian and owns the supermarket where we get all our non-African goods (like Ben&Jerry's ice cream, cereal, milk, cheese, WINE!).
The roaches here are ridiculous! When I first moved to my house there were 40 of these crawling around my latrine at night. Can you imagine? I had to put a stop to that really quickly! I haven't seen any for a long time. Thank God!

Africa pics

Ok, ok gee-whiz! Technology these days has made people so demanding! The requests for pics is overwhelming, so here are some to pacify you...

I'm pretty sure this is who Jay-Z is rapping about when he talks about coming from "the school of the hard knocks!" No doubt. This is about as hard as it gets.
Have I posted this one before? Who knows, who cares. These are my boys Latif and Oseifa coloring on my front porch with the sidewalk chalk my dad sent. They are always running up to me saying "Nanette, dessiner SVP? dessiner?" (which means they want to draw please:). Genius idea dad!
I'm not sure who brought in the mass shipment of fussball tables to Burkina, but you can find one on EVERY street corner in this country.
Here is a typical vegetable market. I'm really lucky, because most volunteers don't get this many options in village.Yes, this picture absolutely means you are never, never allowed to complain about your commute to work again. Period.

Monday, June 18, 2007

When it rains it pours!

People who live here really love the rains because it cools everything off and it provides for a good harvest. I love the rain too. There is something peaceful about it. And when it's blue skies and scorching sun 99% of the time, a little rain is a nice change of pace. The only thing about rain here is that it comes without warning in a matter of minutes (no Dad, I can't just flip on the Weather Channel to check the TV. And even if i had one the Weather Channel wouldn't be an option. Only Burkina news and African dancing videos.), and when it rains it really does pour. So last weekend me and another volunteer were on the other side of town visiting friends and decided to head home around 9pm. We were a 20 minute bike ride from my house. About 5 minutes into the trip she got a flat tire. We asked around for a bike mechanic, but they were all closed. So we decided to walk our bikes. We noticed there was a lot of dust in the air, but figured it was because of all the cars driving past. Well 5 more minutes down the road and the winds kicked in. The winds are no joke! Dust was flying everywhere in hurricane-like winds, we couldn't even see. Then I felt a drop. Thank God for the kindness of people in this country. We were just walking past 2 girls and one of them yelled that we had to come into her house. Just like that! So we followed her and 5 seconds later the rains hit like Katrina. All the houses here (well, most of the houses here) have tin roofs, so when it rains it is defeaning. And this girl didn't have electricity, so we sat in the dark for a few minutes before she brought out a kerosene lamp. So there we were, sitting in this stranger's house, looking at each other by kerosene light, not able to speak because it was too loud, and I giggled as I thought to myself "I would never be in this situation back home." It rained for a long time and I must have dozed off because I woke up to this little old man with only one arm telling me in the local language that I could sleep on the mat that he had prepared for me on the floor. And if that wasn't ok, I could have the girl's bed. Never, never would this happen back home. I just smiled and thanked him profusely and told him it really wasn't necessary. I think it rained for like 45 minutes before we heard the rain calm enough to be able to continue walking. We thanked the girl and the old man for their hospitality and off we went. Many people offered us rides or just to push our bikes and walk with us. Gosh people are so helpful here. Sometimes on my rough days here I forget that. This was such a great reminder. We made it home eventually, grabbed a beer and stayed up laughing and talking about how funny the night turned out to be and how this was just another experience to add to the many we've had in Burkina. Never a dull moment.