By Saba Hamedy, Former Daily Free Press Editor-in-Chief, Fall ’11
Home to the punk rockers, foodies and everyone in between, this London hub is probably one of my favorite places I’ve adventured in so far. From eating “Dutch dunkers” at the open market – which features stands of dishes from all over the world – to buying a 9 pound hand-crafted clay ring – the neighborhood isn’t a disappointment for anyone who visits, including me. Both during the day and at night, the area is filled with the most eclectic group of people and has something for everyone.
By Saba Hamedy, former DFP Editor in Chief Fall ’11
I can’t stop smiling. I’m always in a good mood. I sleep often. I eat what I want when I want it. Yep, you guessed it: I’m in love. Continue reading
It’s a good thing I have some experience with cities that refuse to make sense. On the first day of my Contemporary Irish Society class, our professor explained to us that we shouldn’t be too concerned about the fact that street signs in Dublin are hidden away on the sides of buildings, or that there aren’t uniform city blocks so much as there are places where streets accidentally intersect with other streets. In short, it won’t be long before we’re used to the fact that Dublin is actively trying to confuse us.
“The city’s a bit like a sponge. It’s like SpongeBob,” Frank, the lecturer, explained. “It sort of festered out from a central notion.”
This is a pretty poetic way to talk about buildings and streets being jammed together haphazardly, the same way they are in Pittsburgh, where I spent my summer. (In Pittsburgh, we mainly just curse out our GPS and focus on weaving through the construction cones.) The Dublin tourism bureau would probably tell you that kind of poetry is typical; this is the city that gave us James Joyce, after all. The home of Oscar Wilde, who has an encyclopedia’s worth of witty quotes attributed to him, some of which he may not have even said. Maybe I’ll finally be inspired to finish my first novel here. At worst, here’s hoping I’ll be motivated to keep up with this blog.
Growing up, I heard a lot about the Irish writer-dreamer-poet from my mother, who’s nearly 100 percent Irish and always made us listen to rebel songs about kicking the English off our land on St. Patrick’s Day. I saw a lot of green decorations and shamrocks year-round at my uncle’s house in Ohio; he was proud of the family name, McCartney, and wanted to make sure we all knew we were Irish and damn proud of it. In fact, when I first told him I’d be going to school in Boston, he almost teared up. “All those Irish Catholics in Boston, honey,” he told me. “Couldn’t be going anywhere better.” (For the record, I am fairly certain he thinks I go to Boston College.)
I probably got a lot of the same stories and images as a lot of American kids whose great-great grandparents came from Ireland, growing up, so I consider myself pretty lucky to have wound up here. Of course, I have to change the way I describe myself – at home, when the topic of heritage comes up, I can comfortably call myself an Irish-Lebanese Pennsylvanian (rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?). Here, I’m not Irish. I’m from the States.
One of the more interesting things about wandering around another country has been hearing about the way other people expect me to be as an American. That same lecturer who brought up SpongeBob has talked to us about the American image of explorers, loners, cowboys roaming through wide open western spaces. The young guy who interviewed me at the magazine where I’ll be interning was more frank: “What do you mean you don’t have an iPhone? You’re an American!”
It wasn’t worth explaining that I have a Droid, which is as baffling and excessive as any iPhone. Like it or not, I represent the States from sea to shining sea every time I open my mouth here. I’m expected to be on time, even though Irish people are apparently expected to be late for everything. I’m already tied to Bill Clinton and John Wayne (I’ve been told) by virtue of my birthplace, and I’m cool with that. This is the fun part – this is the part where I put names and faces and personalities to Irish people who aren’t Bono and the Edge. This is the part where I learn my way around Ireland.
I can’t even remember where my last blog left off but wow, life in Sydney is certainly anything but dull. Last weekend, I decided to sign up for Surf Camp – a two-day surfing adventure at the Seven Mile Beach National Park. ‘Twas an adventure, to be sure. Being the often lazy person that I am, I didn’t fully understand what Surf Camp entailed. For those of you who are contemplating paying $250 to stay in cabins and go in the ocean in 50 degree weather, I would suggest doing more research than I did. I have never wanted sweatpants so bad in my entire life – and I always want sweatpants.
The bus ride to Seven Mile Beach was a breezy two hours. You could tell everyone was jittery and felt smug about surfing in Australia, a quintessential Oz experience. Upon arriving at the small town Genowa at around 9 p.m. and stepping off the “luxury” bus, I heard people gasping, “Look at the stars!” I craned my neck and heard myself utter a similar gasp: thousands of miles above me, hundreds of stars were blinking and shining. I had never seen anything like it, even back in my hometown.
The juxtaposition of the accompanying trailer park, however, was startling. Here lay a few hundred small houses (“houses” is a nice word) lining the edge of the beach, only a few of which were lit up. The other residents obviously have other homes that they live in during the winter. We were led through a dark maze to a group of multi-colored cabins surrounding a series of benches, a grill and kitchen counters. I immediately experienced terrible deja vu, traveling back to the last time my dad took me camping and I had a panic attack. Surf Camp was, indeed, camp. For some reason, I had expected something more luxurious – I almost didn’t bring shampoo because I thought they would provide us with some. Nope. This was the definition of roughin’ it, minus the cabins and beds. So I’ll rephrase: this was my definition of roughin’ it and my definition of hell.
These were my initial thoughts. But then I snapped back to reality. I’m in Australia. There is no reason to complain, even if the musty, seemingly bed bug infested bedsheets and military-like style isn’t exactly my thing. So the next morning when my roommates and I were roused awake by the infuriating Nokia alarm tone, I tried my best not to complain. Even when I was pulling on the freezing cold wetsuit, I didn’t groan (too much). Before I knew it I was out in the ocean, feeling weirdly at home.
I hadn’t been to the ocean in years. I used to go with my family to North Carolina in the summers but that tradition died out. And Ocean City, M.D. isn’t a desirable location in my book. So swimming in the Pacific Ocean for the first time brought me back to those carefree days when catching a wave bodysurf-style was my only worry. I instinctively kept looking for my dad, who never failed to swim with me on those vacations. (My mom was usually sunbathing on the sand, unnaturally afraid of the “cold” water temperature.) It was a truly liberating moment after two semesters of hell.
It’s hard to blog about Sydney when you’re falling asleep in your bed in Sydney but I’m gonna attempt it.
Today was… today was long. We travel writers had to come up with presentations overnight on bloody boring topics (see what I did there?) such as Captain Cook, the man who found Australia and claimed it for England, and… wow, I can’t think of something else. It was three hours of taking notes and attempting to muster up some energy – I wanted to mostly because our professor Marilla is so adorable. This week has definitely reminded me that I am not on vacation, although I’m treating myself like I am considering the amount of money I’m spending. Like an idiot.
For example, I signed up today for two trips: surf camp, which I’m attending this weekend (I’m super excited to look like a noob in a wet suit – it’s been too long) and a trip to the Great Barrier Reef and surrounding rainforest. Let’s just say the amount of money I threw down for those trips is enough to instill a panic attack in a Buddhist monk. For the next few weeks, I’ll definitely be living modestly – less clubs and bars is key! It’s a good thing I didn’t buy that pair of leopard print heels I so desperately wanted.
(I’m getting really distracted right now by my roommate, who is making odd humming sounds as she writes music for her A cappella group. She doesn’t realize how hilarious it is. As hilarious as it was when she was shaking during yoga today.)
But yeah, back to how I’m poor. Traveling alone and with limited funds is very hard. I can deal with the homesickness, probably because I don’t feel it that much, and adjust to the culture (and accents!) far better than I can adapt to the ridiculous prices of food and drink. Because the Australian dollar is worth 1.0745x the American dollar, you’d think that prices would be relatively similar. Nope. Minimum wage is $15 here, there’s no sales tax as we understand it and you get fined $700 for setting off the fire alarm in the BU dorms. In other words, I don’t get it.
Yeah, so I should go to sleep. Update later!
It’s my first lazy day in Australia and I couldn’t be happier. My legs and back are sore due to the poor quality of the twin beds they’ve provided us with here at the dorm. I won’t be happy to go back to the States but I will be happy to sprawl out in my queen-sized bed. Right now, I’m watching R. Kelly’s infamous “Trapped in the Closet” with some friends so you know I’ve given up completely on making this day at all productive.
Today I went grocery shopping and was amazed by the amount of bread, dairy and pastry items available. I had heard that Australia was generally less concerned about fat/sugar in foods and so calorie counting is not a big thing here. That’s great and all but I don’t want to come back to the U.S. a fat cow. So I bought watermelon, hummus and crackers, yogurt, sushi, tiny cheesecakes and a frozen pizza as an indulgence. I am hoping that will balance the chardonnay and Coronas.
Speaking of chardonnay, my roommates and I had a bunch of people in our room last night to hang out after heading down the street to Bar Broadway. At the bar, I decided to play pool with a new girl I’d met and we were approached by two locals to play doubles. One of the guys’ names was Adam – easy enough. But in true Megan Riesz form I forgot the other guy’s name and approached him to ask again. The conversation went something like this:
“Sorry, I forgot your name, can you remind me?”
“It’s *unintelligible J-sounding noise*.”
“No, it’s *unintelligible J-sounding noise*.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Jerry.”
“It’s not Jerry. It’s *unintelligible J-sounding noise*.”
“No, it’s Jard. Like how you get your pickles.” (Referring to jarred pickles.)
The worst part was that he was trying to make me feel like an idiot. So we ended the game early and went back to the dorm, where we decided to drink (cheap) boxed wine so that we wouldn’t have to continue paying $6.20 for a glass of wine or $8.70 for a beer. It was eventually decided that we should all play “Never Have I Ever” as if we were back in high school, so I learned some interesting things about my fellow students and they learned some interesting things about me, none of which I will repeat here.
We in the Travel Writing program have seven hours of class tomorrow, starting at 10 a.m. and ending at 5 p.m. How very reminiscent of high school! So I will be hitting the sheets (or sheep) early in an attempt to prepare myself for the oncoming pain.
I’ve been in Sydney for almost a week now and I have already decided to apply for jobs here when I graduate in 2013. When I got off the plane after the surprisingly decent flight from LAX, I was overwhelmed – I hadn’t showered, I had to go through a million different checkpoints (the guy looking at my passport seemed sketched out at the fact that I now have blonde hair because it’s brown in my photo) and to top it all off, it was pouring.
The staff had the responsibility of ensuring I – and about 90 other students – didn’t fall asleep upon arriving at the dorms, so we had an orientation session and went to a cute little cafe called Julia’s to eat (and drink, obviously). Upon finishing my first glorious $4 beer, I felt as if I had been hit by a truck and went back to sleep with some of my new buds. Hitting the sheets at 7:30 p.m. resulted in my waking up at 4:30 a.m. with my roommate Kirsten, who coincidentally lives in the same apartment complex as me back in Allston!, which made for a miserable day.
Still, I wanted to meet everyone and hit the town – I know that every second of this trip will go by fast. So a brigade of us traveled to the, um, classy club Scubar down the street from our dorm on Regent. Let’s just say I’ll probably be sticking to bars and pubs down here in Sydney. I was confused beyond belief at the dancing etiquette here – apparently the thing is “twirling,” so I was feeling very dizzy and culture shell-shocked by the end of the night.
I got back to my room at 2 a.m. and woke up for class the next morning feeling tired and, once again, overwhelmed. I obviously signed up for this program with the idea that I would be exploring Australia and forgot that I’d be learning how to “travel-write.” I thought my first exercise went pretty well but after reading it aloud and talking to one of my ex-columnists Casey afterward, I realized that what I had written was word-for-word something I would have written for an editorial in The FreeP. Ugh! I guess I have a lot more to learn here (and a lot to forget!).
But by far, the past two or three days have been some of the greatest days I’ve had in a few years. The atmosphere is contagious – no one can stop talking about how lucky they are to be here, how much fun they’re having or all of the things they want to do. As for me? I’ve never been somewhere so beautiful. The Royal Botanic Gardens, the harbor that boasts thousands of Caribbean-esque villas and yachts, the friendly locals who aren’t annoyed to give you directions, the modern lounges and even the adult bookstore on the street with video booths all contribute to the spectacular vibe here. And it’s only day 5.
Day 1 (a couple of days late!)
I have been traveling for almost 12 hours. For someone who is used to taking one-hour flights from Baltimore to Boston (or vice versa), 12 hours is arduous. Especially with the knowledge that there is still a 14-hour flight separating me from the shower that I so desperately need already.
I am participating in the Travel Writing in Australia program with BU, so I’ll be living in Sydney for two months and going on a semi-cross-country trip to interview locals and get a feel for more of the rural Australian towns. While I’m beyond excited to live across the world until July 20th, I am currently basking in my misery at LAX. Although I did see a semi-famous person within five minutes of departing my plane – Eric Stoltz, look him up – I do feel slightly out of place amidst the colorful fashions and general summer attire. I am dressed in all black down to my sunglasses, repping the east coast all the way.
There is a possibility that this half-day flight could be doable, however, if there is an electrical socket in/near my seat. If there isn’t, I am doomed to die the slowest death imaginable and will arrive in Sydney a hardened corpse. But I am praying to the Airline Gods that they understand flights from Los Angeles to Sydney are in the top five most horrendous travel experiences imaginable (I assume) and will be merciful enough to hook a sister and her fellow sisters and brothers up. If not for the simple fact that I bought two seasons of “Mad Men” and season one of “The Wire.”
At this point, I truly have no idea of what to expect. I have to admit that as much as I am excited, I am exponentially more nervous. I am not one for icebreakers and I am certainly not one for awkward conversations – I’m the type to reveal something about myself that ends up completely shocking the other person, in an attempt to demolish the ice in one fell swoop. Adjusting to life at BU in that first week was difficult and as I sit in this terminal waiting to take a shuttle, surrounded by what I know to be other program attendees, I am experiencing déjà vu.
Of course, I have nothing to complain about – I’m going to Sydney! I suppose it’s just natural to have these initial fears, none of which involve the plane crashing into the Pacific Ocean, surprisingly. I could be having the problems some of my fellow students are having, which is that their travel agents (in connection with BU) CANCELLED THEIR TICKETS by mistake. I’m actually watching a guy hyperventilate. At least I know I’m getting to Sydney and am only worried about the actual arrival.
So cheers, mates, and I’ll report back after settling in!
Sunday March 13. I’m undergoing a minor existential crisis as I sit cross-legged on my bed, continuously looking from my laptop screen to my open cell phone. The first claims that it’s 1:21 p.m. while the other insists that it’s actually 12:21. Yesterday they were in full agreement. The Equator isn’t supposed to disrupt the time-space continuum, is it?
Turns out my American computer has reverted to daylight savings time while my phone, though of American origin, has decided to go native and stick to Ecuadorian time. My belongings are dividing themselves along nationality lines. This could be dangerous. I’ve got a million pages of One Hundred Years of Solitude to read and a paper about human rights abuses under the Argentine dictatorship to write; I really don’t have time to mediate any sort of warfare, especially not for nationality-confused pieces of plastic.
But it doesn’t stop here.
Today, as I chatted with a friend online, I responded to a funny anecdote with the following incestuous monster: “haja”. You see, proper to my background, I normally express digital laughter with the Anglophone “hahaha” instead of the Hispanic “jajaja”, which still makes me picture a miniature Bob Marley prancing around my screen.
Latin-ness is slowly creeping up on me, kidnapping my phone and infiltrating my very writing.
Yet a significant number of people whom I’ve had the chance to converse with here insist that American and Ecuadorian culture are essentially at odds.
Two nights ago, a few friends and I gathered in “Strawberry Fields,” a Beatles-themed bar in which black and white Paul McCartneys and John Lennons freely stare you down from their framed perches on the wall as you engage in whatever drunken debauchery you choose.
Within seconds, a group of skinny-jean and multi-color-scarf-toting Ecuadorian hipsters (oh yes, they’re here too) sat down beside us and asked us the inevitable question: “Who’s your favorite Beatle?” The debate began and quickly progressed to the faults and merits of “Across the Universe,” Animal Collective and as these things tend to go lately, Ecuador versus the U.S.
I can’t help but smile when a cigarette-brandishing Ecua-hipster who essentially borrows his identity from U.S. culture proceeds to call it “the trash of the world” – the aforementioned phrase said as he enjoys a smoke and a drink in a Beatles-themed bar.
A similar instance occurred last Carnaval weekend, which I spent at the beach at the kind invitation of an Ecuadorian acquaintance. One of the 16 Ecuadorians with whom we shared our quarters insisted that Americans are sheltered and ignorant of the world’s poverty – all the while he and his Hollister-clad friends tossed a football by their privately-owned home in one of the most luxurious resorts of the region.
I am continually amazed that upper-middle-class Ecuadorians who benefit from their status as members the 12 percent elite of the country accuse Americans of being blind to the world’s reality. Certainly, they live amid the poverty that accompanies a “developing” country; however, they are able to comfortably watch it from behind the screens of their luxurious automobiles.
Boston University students, like most college students in the U.S., may not cross dozens of trinket-selling children on their way to class every day, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find one who doesn’t work a part-time job or have some sort of summer employment to help finance his or her tuition.
On the other hand, the vast majority of Ecuadorian students with whom I attend school will hold their very first employed position only once they’ve graduated university. My attention to this particular detail is not meant as criticism of my classmates, but merely as a way of pointing out a significantly different financial reality.
Without hesitation, so many pelucones here launch into virulent attacks on our country of origin the second they find out our group of BU exchange students hails from the U.S., without any qualms about potentially offending us (as evidenced by their subsequent requests for our phone numbers).
I must add that this does not represent the majority – I am still struck by the kindness and hospitality of so many Ecuadorians I have met in my two and a half months here. But I find it quite sad that those who do contend that all Americans are ignorant, dumb, “the trash of the world,” [insert equally degrading qualification here], can’t find a way to recognize that such generalizations point to their own ignorance, and not that of their Northern neighbors.
Latin and U.S. culture do not have to be considered opposite extremes – in fact, the constant exchange between the two makes this particular concept a ridiculous falsehood. As nations the world over become progressively more intertwined, we ought to leave behind petty prejudices and reap the richness of greater interconnectedness. I’m Franco-American, grew up in Belgium and currently reside in Ecuador. Who the hell am I to single-mindedly condemn any one of those three continents?
So I’ve adjusted my laptop to Ecuadorian time and may even begin to write “jaja” to express digital amusement. I’m an American in Ecuador, and I don’t find that to be an offensive anomaly.
- Meaghan Beatley, DFP Staff
I’m sitting in my Boom Latinoaméricano class, half listening to a presentation about yet another story featuring an execution via crucifixion/forbidden incestuous love/violent photographs come to life/insert equally morbid scenario (Latino literature is amazingly cheery). What’s really captivated my attention, however, is a rose bud right outside the window that separates me from the outside world. It appears to be dancing, quietly swaying left and right in the breeze that accompanies a light rainfall (the rain season has prematurely begun on the Equator), taunting me by reminding me that I’m incarcerated inside this classroom for the next hour and a half when just two weekends ago, I rode a Chiva through the rainforest.
As it softly rumbled over the pebbles of a seldom-used road in the Amazon, my fellow travelers and I hung our heads out of the vehicle, silently capturing the green expanse of our surroundings. Trees and vines the height of typical buildings around Government Center surrounded us and a roaring melody of insect songs filled our ears.
In what appeared to be the middle of jungle-nowhere, our Chiva slowed to a stop and six uniform-clad boys ranging from approximately seven to 14 years of age clambered on and sat themselves on the empty benches that remained. And on we went. At intermittent periods of time, one by one they whistled to the driver to stop the vehicle, hopped off and slunk into the rain-forest. Within seconds, their blue uniformed sweaters became lost in the thicket as nature engulfed their figures. Where were they going? How far off the marked path were their homes? Weren’t their parents afraid they’d be carried away by a giant, Amazonian, man-eating fly?
The product of a society in which civilization is almost entirely distinct from nature, I’m amazed by this apparent symbiosis of man and the elements.
Though we mildly integrated ourselves into the jungle’s ecosystem during the three days we spent at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station (a research center developed by the University San Francisco de Quito in collaboration with Boston University, located in an area with the greatest species concentration on Earth), I’m afraid our clown-like pants prevented us from fully assimilating (see picture below).
Led by Mayer, our infinitely-wise and inexhaustible guide, we marched through the rainforest like a legion of acidly-colored aliens (I’m still amazed we didn’t chase away all of the jungle’s non-color blind residents) or a slightly more pacific and futuristic version of the Iberian conquistadors of old. Unlike Pizarro’s men however, we had Mayer at our side. Having lived all of his life in the Amazonian region, he knows the medicinal properties of virtually every plant in the forest and the risk factor associated with touching any one of them. He never went to school beyond the sixth grade, but his knowledge of the jungle could fill volumes upon volumes. When I suggested he put some of it to writing, he meekly responded that he’d rather teach college students such as ourselves in person.
Thanks to his amazingly keen eye, we were able to watch spider and howler monkeys leap through the trees and do whatever it is monkeys do. “Aqui!” he’d whisper before swiftly launching through the forest in pursuit of a quadruped up ahead, as the rest of us hobbled behind him. And as a special jungle treat, he had us taste hormigas de limón, lemon-tasting ants which even the vegetarians of the group enjoyed.
My experiences are colored by the people I meet, and thus my Amazonian odyssey was primarily shaded by Mayer’s kind and thoughtful presence. Up in the canopy, he confided that ever since his wife of over 50 years passed away last September, the jungle had become a necessary distraction to cope with his loss. When I answered that I could only imagine how he felt, he smiled and responded that thankfully, I could not.
So two weeks later, I sit in class watching that pesky flower swing to and fro, thinking back to Tiputini and Mayer as I overhear exclamations such as “death!” and “madness!” from the classroom’s front. Like many others, I may never be “one with nature” as some people amazingly are – those school boys who shared our Chiva and Mayer come to mind – but I believe I’m grounded to this earth by the small attachments I forge with individuals I meet. We reap so much from our relationships with people – as temporary and transient as they may be – and through them we are linked to something infinitely larger than ourselves.
- Meaghan Beatley, DFP Staff