Contemplations


DSCN9924

(c) 2014 Kathryn Pharr

London is apparently a place that I see slowly (and infrequently-it’s been almost ten years since I’ve stepped into even Heathrow). When I was at Oxford for a summer, each trip to London involved doing only one thing a day: a West End show, Sherlock Holmes house, the V&A (to be fair that would take all day), a show at the Globe, Hampton Court. So it was unsurprising to me that when I had a day to layover in London after Morocco, I focused on one thing: the Tower of London. To be more accurate, I was determined to see the amazing “Tower of London Remembers” Poppy display.

DSCN9933

(c) 2014 Kathryn Pharr

To recognize the 888,246 who died during World War I, which began 100 years ago, one ceramic, handmade poppy was planted in the moat or around the Tower to commemorate each death. The result was stunning. After November 11, they began taking the poppies down, and when I arrived on November 23, there were only a few left. Still, it was amazing to watch the volunteers disassemble the poppies and prepare them for shipping to those who had bought them. In the United States, World War I is overlooked, with most people fluent only on the details of World War II. There is only one museum for World War I in the U.S. In Britain, however, the first World War is very much in everyone’s memory. It changed the social landscape of Britain and continental Europe as well as beginning “modern warfare.”

Thinking about WWI while touring the Tower of London gave an interesting perspective. My dad and I have had a lot of discussions about mustard gas and other chemical warfare that occurred during WWI, but stepping into the torture chamber at the Tower underscored that war has never been genteel.

DSCN9831

(c) 2014 Kathryn Pharr

The most recognizable photo of the Tower is the White Tower, which holds the famous Line of Kings (previous Kings’ armor and that of their horses), so I was pleasantly surprised to realize how many different architectural styles there were throughout the fortress.

It is said that the Tower will be safe unless the ravens ever leave it, which made me realize this was the first time I had ever heard of ravens being a good omen. Maybe I watched Sleeping Beauty too many times.

DSCN9830

(c) 2014 Kathryn Pharr

I strongly recommend taking one of the Yeoman Wanders tours; this is not just because I am a big fan of Yeoman of the Guard. It was interesting to learn that the Tower minted money at one point. Seeing the “Royal Beasts” saddened me as I thought about what harsh conditions those animals endured to get to England and how unlikely it was they were to have been properly cared for. I did tour the crown jewels, but I preferred the detailed embroidery of the Supertunica (a robe of gold cloth), which contained symbols of Scotland, England, and Wales.

If you are spending an afternoon at the Tower, make time for the All Hallows Church next door. It’s the oldest church in London and has an active congregation. Another recommendation is where I stayed near Bayswater: the Grand Royale, a beautiful Edwardian building with reasonable hotel rates (especially at Bookings.com).

 

DSCN4127-001

(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

Frankfurt has made me think of Christmas since I was a little girl watching Heidi, where Shirley Temple is taken away from her grandfather on the mountain to live with a girl named Clara in Frankfurt. Having a layover in Frankfurt is rarely high on business travelers list, but it should be during the Christmas season. Frankfurt has one of Germany’s biggest Christmas markets in its lovely city center (get off at Hapswache).

DSCN4139

(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

When I alighted onto the train to take me from the airport into Frankfurt’s city center, I asked a gentleman next to me how to get to the Steigenberger hotel. He ended up giving me directions that involved getting off at Hapswache where I could see the deserted beginning of the Christmas market. No one had opened their stalls at 7 in the morning next to the Katharinenkirche (St. Catherine’s church, which is Protestant). Finding KaisenstraBe, I walked along it until I came to the Steigenberger Frankfurt Hof. This amazing hotel had an old world charm and was so close to the Christmas market, I thought I must be dreaming. Turns out, I was. I actually had a reservation at another hotel owned by the same company: Steigenberger Hotel Metropolitan, which was closer to the Main Hof train stop. The walk between the hotels, in reality only about 10 or 15 minutes, felt longer in the drizzling morning rain after a red-eye flight. Still, I can honestly say I was thrilled with my actual hotel because having read my note on my reservation about my arrival, they actually had my room ready when I checked in at 8 AM. Most of you know how much that means. The Hotel Metropolitan is a good location, just more modern with smaller rooms than the Frankfurt Hof.

DSCN4125

(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

After awaking in the early afternoon, I sauntered down now familiar streets to the Christmas market where I sampled Gluewein (mulled wine) from the local Lions club and a wafflen zimt und zucker (cinnamon and sugar waffle). As much as I enjoy the Christmas markets in New York City, it’s impossible to compare with a market surrounded by historical buildings from the people that brought us Christmas trees. I was surprised to learn how many of my parents’ ornaments are German since I don’t remember their going on a trip there. Yet, ornaments I’ve never seen on anyone else’s tree where for sale in many of the stalls. Perhaps what was most interesting is that, unlike my Christmas in the holiday land, so much of what I saw in Frankfurt reminded me of how we celebrate Christmas back home.

The one Christmas tradition from childhood that I knew was German was the angel orchestra my mother would display on the piano each year. These wooden angels were hand-carved and could stand upright while playing various instruments. She also has a few angels that hang on a wreath of ivy from the chandelier. When my sister came home from Russia and stopped over in Germany, she looked for the angels without success. Today I was thrilled that after checking twenty stalls, I found what I’d been looking for. I also learned they are available online now, so I will never again be stuck if I run out of ideas of what to get my mom.

Amman in Snow Dec 2013

(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

Some of you may be wondering what I was doing in Frankfurt in the first place. This week, our GIST program hosted a boot camp in Jordan with awesome entrepreneurs! Imagine arriving in Amman to discover that the hills are covered in snow. The only thing stranger was arriving in Frankfurt which had no snow and was warmer than Amman! It was hard to literally be in the Middle East only long enough for the work event (I arrived an hour before the welcome dinner and left the hotel 3 hours after the event ended), but it was still nice to be back.

I have to admit it was a bit surreal to take a cab from the Jordanian airport and as we came closer to the city of Amman be offered views of olive tree fields covered in snow. This is the most snow they have had in twenty years, and I can’t help but be pleased to be in a place with more snow than home has in December. Walking into the hotel lobby, I was greeted by a poinsettia tree, very like the one in Cairo back in December 2010. It’s a truly lovely idea, and is next to a prominent, edible gingerbread house that has beanbags and coloring books for kids. Also like Cairo, I can smell the dust in the air even in the 5 star hotel. Everything is familiar and yet not simultaneously.

I got into town in time to join everyone for a wonderful supper at a local restaurant on Rainbow street. One thing I really miss when I go to Middle Eastern restaurants at home is not having enough people to justify ordering all the mezza/saladas that make the meal authentic. They even had an eggplant and lamb recipe similar to one I tried out a few months ago from my Jerusalem cookbook.

I did hear the adhan once. I even tried a Jordanian shiraz, which was quite good. This trip was good, even if a whirlwind, but I’ll be happy to be home in time to celebrate Christmas with my family.

DSCN2025

(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

Back in high school, my world history teacher asked me if I’d like to have a penpal from Morocco to practice my French. While I was terrified that my French wasn’t good enough to write anything beyond an initial letter, I agreed. I struck up a friendship with a girl my age living in Fez named Houda, and since our sisters were the same age, they also began corresponding. While my sister managed to spend part of a summer in Morocco and was able to stay with this wonderful family, I was not so fortunate. Joan and I continued to plan a “sisters trip” there, which continued to get postponed due to life. This winter one of the grants I work on with the COACh program to advance careers of women in science in North Africa moved the regional workshop to Casablanca from Tunis. Not only was I suddenly going to the location of one of the best films of all time, I would be able to meet Houda, my penpal from high school.

DSCN2237

(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

Casablanca is a commercial center, Morocco’s largest city, and a strategic port. While the Old City is lovely, overall it is not a tourist destination except for those who insist on visiting “Rick’s,” which I did not. Mostly, I was working, but our group did manage to do a little bit of sight-seeing. On the last day, our group visited the Hassan II Mosque, built to honor King Hassan II and was paid for in part by essentially a nation-wide tax. Hassan II Mosque or the Grand Mosquee Hassan II is the 7th largest in the world and the largest in Morocco with the world’s tallest minaret. At the edge of the coastline overlooking the Atlantic, it is magnificent.  Geri and I had traveled to Rabat one day for meetings and made sure to pause long enough to see the Hassan Tower  and Mausoleum of Mohammad V.

Learning about the obstacles that North African female scientists have was very eye-opening. For example, lack of high-tech equipment makes research, collaboration, and publications difficult.  Researchers use intracountry connections to alleviate these issues but not regional or international connections as frequently. Industry does not monetarily value Ph.D’s; therefore, more women follow the graduate school path and then stay in academia. Overall, the university systems do not seem to reward research. There is little to no research budget within the university and few obvious outside opportunities to obtain DSCN2199necessary research funds. The local culture of only men gathering in coffeehouses after work prohibits women from accessing the same network; women are supposed to be with their families in the evenings.

As much as I enjoyed learning about the science and seeing the sights, I truly enjoyed the Moroccan culture. One very appetizing dish is the delicious Moroccan tajine, a mix of meat and vegetables cooked in a ceramic pot called a tajine. It’s a Berber dish that can involve a variety of ingredients. Another dish I fell in love with was the bastilla. The name comes from pastry, but there is no letter ‘p’ in Arabic, so ‘b’ was used instead. Often it is made with pigeon, but I was only able to find one with chicken.

DSCN2263

(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

One of the local participants was kind enough to invite a few of us to an evening of local Andalouse music, which is a North African style of folk music that originated out of Muslim Iberia in the 9th-15th Centuries. It was incredible. One of the instruments, the rebab, was the precursor to the violin. To get to the concert, we walked through silent, dark streets of Casablanca that truly could have been in the movie and that reminded me of other ancient Arab villages I’ve visited. It was a magical night.

Saying good-bye to my new science friends and colleagues, I boarded a train to visit Miriam and Houda in Tangiers. This coastal town is fascinating both in location and history. Situated where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic, Houda and I had a tea in an outdoor cafe where the Atlantic was on our left, the Mediterranean on our right, and Spain visibly across the way. Houda and Miriam took me around the souk, where I bought two beautiful original leather bags for work. The old buildings have character: some Arabic, some colonial but none cleaned up for tourists. The city, known for its long history of diverse tolerance, has a sense of “realness” that isn’t apparent everywhere.

DSCN2369As magical as seeing the city through locals’ eyes was and going to an amazingly fancy penthouse party one night was, best was finally getting time to spend with Houda and Miriam. It amazes me how very alike we are. I hope that Houda really can come to the U.S. this summer!

I watched the last presidential inauguration from a small house in Galilee with other American volunteers, some of whom had been part of the Civil Rights Movement. This year was the first time I was in Washington, D.C. for an inauguration. Even  if it wasn’t the “milestone” that 2009 was, it was impressive to witness firsthand the number of people who come from all across the United States and even

DSCN1936

(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

One of my friends secured tickets for the inauguration itself. We spent quite a bit of time wandering around the “green section” in front of the Capitol,  trying to find a spot that would enable us to see something of the stage or one of the screens. As is often the case, being close actually meant that we had a hard time obtaining a view. It was quite cold, and my feet were frozen before the ceremony started. For me, one of the most exciting parts of the ceremony was that my rector, Luis Leon, of St. John’s at Lafayette Square gave the benediction. This might be a good time to be honest and admit that I have never made it through listening to a full inaugural speech (but with Bush could you blame me?) or ceremony.

As important of a symbol of our republic as the inauguration ceremony is, I will freely declare that my favorite part of the weekend was going to one of the many inaugural balls. I’ve been trying to figure out a “black tie” event to dress up for ever since I moved to the nation’s capital. There are of course the two official balls by the White House, but many other societies also throw balls; the tickets to some can cost a thousand dollars. Our group settled on the one given by the Society of South Carolina.

_DSC0107

(c) 2013 Chris Kagy

Not only was this ball on my metro line (my criteria) and given by a certain state (this made Ali happy), the venue location was the Natural History Museum. Who doesn’t want to dance the night away around a stuffed elephant?! The clincher to be honest was the amazing value: $150 for open bar and heavy hors d’oeurves, a great venue, and a live band. Many of the balls had tickets from $300 to over $1,000–mind-blowing our group agreed.

Our cohort were thrilled to pull out college or bridesmaid dresses. We decided to order pizza and drink champagne while “doing hair.” A few lessons learned: 1) never expect to get a cab during inauguration weekend, 2) do not wear your fancy heels while metroing to swanky event, and 3) do not believe the Society of South Carolina when they tell you you should eat dinner beforehand. They served catfish, collard greens that were actually yummy, and some of the best mac ‘n cheese I have ever had. The band played beach music, and frankly, nothing could have made the event better.

It was surreal to walk by the Hope Diamond and other famous jewels dressed up with a glass of champagne in hand, that I was half waiting for a heist like in Entrapment. For better or worse, no Catherine Zeta-Jones character materialized.

The one small drawback to the ball was that since it was the night before the inauguration (the series of balls starts on Friday and goes through Monday), I was pretty tired when I had to wake up early to go to the actual inauguration the following morning.

Special thanks to Chris Kagy who did a photo shoot for us before the ball.

_DSC0025

(c) 2013 Chris Kagy

 

My first experience with snorkeling or scuba diving was during my trip to the Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea in 2009. The February water was cold but calm, and the sights were amazing: purple, blue, and orange fish, red and orange coral reefs. Looking down through my mask, I could see the scuba divers in our group, who could go wherever they liked whereas I was limited to how long I could hold a breath. I had never been a strong swimmer because I got nervous trying to take a “real” breathe in the middle of strokes. Scuba diving seemed like a great alternative because I would be able to breathe normally, ironic though it sounds.

This winter after trying a indoor pool Discover Scuba course with my sister, I thought now was as good of time as any to become a scuba diver. I wanted to try something adventurous that wasn’t just about traveling. As with all things, it took a little time to get everything in order, but in April I’d signed up for the classroom and pool exercise portion of the certification. Little did I know how much of an adventure and saga it would turn out to be.

Every evening one week after work, I read the book, did the exercises, and watched the videos on scuba diving. Friday night and Saturday morning, I was in class reviewing, then passing the written exam. As we headed to the pool on Saturday afternoon, I loaded my gear into my car then to the pool and questioned why I wasn’t doing more strength training at the gym. It was almost too much to carry the 50 lb. air tanks and then return for the gear bag that weighted about 50 lbs as well. Then we were loaded down with gear and took the “big step” off the edge of the pool and into the 12 foot water. Turns out the swim test was more difficult for me (it challenged me physically) than any of the scuba skills like  clearing your mask, switching to the alternate air source of your buddy, or having your air tank “turned off” at the bottom of the pool. Clearly, passing most of the skills is all about using your head.

Everyone else in our class of ten was talking about their big, upcoming scuba trip, which got me to thinking that I could probably dive in Greece when I traveled there at the end of May. Everyone in our group completed the pool skills that weekend and tried to figure out when they could do the four open water dives that were the final test. Some people do those on site of their exotic trip, but  really had no desire to waste precious vacation days running through the four certification dives in a lake or ocean when I could be enjoying the dives and exploring the area.

So the following weekend, I drove three hours to Lake Rawlings (an hour south of Richmond) for the two days of certification dives. I had a great dive buddy Dave, whom I met as we put on gear. The lake was still cool from the winter, but the April day was sunny. The two Saturday dives went well; it was exciting to be in the lake and performing skills on the underwater platforms. The Nottoway Motel’s restaurant reminded me of the Redwood in Lexington, which made me feel at home. By supper time, it was pouring buckets.

The next day, the rain had not let up. It was really quite chilly. I had recently read A Night to Remember, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic; I had also watched the new BBC mini-series. During that Sunday morning dive, I got very cold and started shivering as we waited our turn to navigate underwater, and I thought how much colder the Arctic waters would have been for those who did not make a lifeboat on the Titanic. I supposed that all those petticoats would not have been as warm as my 5 mm wet suit. Yet, here I was very cold; no wonder the survival rate in the Arctic was less than 20 minutes. We finished the dive, got out of our gear and suits, and tried to warm up for an hour in the cars as we ate our lunches. When we went to put our suits on for the final dive, the Dive Master saw me shivering. He correctly identified hypothermia and told me I couldn’t do the final dive. I was upset but realized he’d been right when I couldn’t get warm for the next day or so.

Determined to dive in Greece, I drove to the quarry near Haymarket, VA, two weeks later to complete my certification with the final dive. For reasons I still don’t understand, perhaps the tightness of the new 7 mm suit with the hood on, I started to have trouble breathing underwater when we reached the 12 ft platform to perform the mask removal. I felt as if there were a weight on my chest, but I focused on my breathing while the instructor tested the other students. When my turn came, I managed to get my mask off but not fully back on. In trying to clear the mask, I kept inhaling through my nose, instead of exhaling. I couldn’t manage to breathe in and out through the regulator or so it seemed with the suit so tight around my neck. I was having an underwater panic attack.

Quickly doing the math and realizing I wasn’t very deep at 12 feet, I decided to do a CESA (controlled emergency swimming assent, where you blow air out until you reach the surface). So, I spit out my regulator and made it to the surface, feeling pretty proud of myself for quick thinking. The Dive Master, who had been holding onto me the whole time and trying to force the regulator back into my mouth, was not so impressed. Upset might be a better adjective. I completed the other dive activities but not the mask removal. Even though he was very patient and went back into the water with me after everyone else was done, my stress and adrenaline made another attempt impossible that afternoon.

Having finished the classwork, the pool skills, and the first two dives, I qualified for a Scuba Diver certification, which meant I could in fact dive in Greece with a Dive Master and limited depth. I was terribly nervous to try again, but I reasoned that it would be good to get back in the water when it was for fun, not as part of a test. Sure enough, I love seeing a wreck and starfish and seaweed swaying like wheat on a prairie, not to mention swimming alongside the underwater volcano in Santorini. I was once again determined to get my full Open Water Diver certification.

In July, I practiced with a friend in a pool doing the mask removal, using my snorkel as a pretend alternator. (I quickly learned that this only works if the snorkel is NOT connected to the mask.) The first time I tried, my heart was in my throat as the memory of the panic attack came flooding back to me. In the end, however, I completed the task: the remove my mask, replace it, and clear it while remaining underwater.

I contacted my dive center, but it took till the end of September before I could coordinate a weekend to go back for the final dive. Since my last dive had been months ago, we agreed I’d do Dives 3 & 4. So, one sunny and warm Saturday morning, I headed again to the quarry near Haymarket. I had even planned to have friends over that night to celebrate in an effort to think positively. I arrived, suited up, and got the bad news: the quarry’s visibility wasn’t even six inches. The Dive Master canceled our group’s dives. Three tries down, but I reminded myself that two (low visibility and hypothermia) had been beyond my control.

We agreed to drive to Lake Rawlings the next day, and I offered one of the divers a ride. That morning, at 6:30 AM after I’d picked him up and when we were about 3 miles from his house, my car died. I won’t go into details about the sheer terror of driving a car and watching the speedometer go to zero as you continue down a highway or of pushing the car down a hill without power steering when your breaks aren’t working. My friend’s parents got up and drove his car over and, God Bless them, took care of my car, so we could drive and get certified. I had a moment when I wondered if maybe I should stay with my car, but we all agreed I really needed to try to dive. Just think: if I hadn’t offered to carpool, I’d have been alone when my car died, likely on I-95, and never would have made it to Lake Rawlings.

The lake was perfect, and I executed all the dives perfectly. The water was warm and crystal clear, and frankly, it was just a phenomenal day. Afterwards, we had an early supper to celebrate getting certified! After so many tries, it felt like quite the accomplishment! Thanks to my instructors in Alexandria for being amazingly supportive of me in this endeavor.

It was quite a saga, but the certification means so much because I had to work so hard for it. Kinda like that B.S. in Chemistry. Sometimes it’s good that I’m so stubborn…I mean Scottish.

Usually my posts are full of my adventures abroad, but I’ve come to realize that some of my domestic trips are awesome and also deserve some coverage…

This year I moved my annual trip to New York City from December to September (don’t get me wrong: I love the decorations, just not the biting cold and crowds). I can’t elaborate enough on how wonderful it is to get on a bus about half a mile from my apartment and not be the one driving up to the Big Apple. Sadly, I haven’t found the magical time to leave D.C. Over the last two years, I’ve tried the noon, 2 PM, and 6 PM buses and ended up in traffic somewhere along the way. Yet, hope springs eternal, and the visit is definitely worth the drive.

This trip I chose the 2 PM bus, so that I would not arrive so exhausted at 11:30 that I hug Samantha before I fall onto the sleeper sofa in her studio apartment. While this is my third visit with her in New York, I still can’t get over the fact that she has a Murphy bed. Somehow as a kid, I’d assumed that those had sadly disappeared with the 1960s, which filmed the movies  in which I learned of these amazing disappearing beds: one minute a living room, the next a bedroom! I will also admit that part of me loves coming to Greenwich Village/Manhattan because it is one of the few places in the good ol’ US of A that makes my apartment look like a steal!

Still, Sam’s place is really perfect: 5th Avenue near Greenwich Village, which was her dream when we were in college. The apartment building is old and complete with gilded elevators and lobby decor. It is close to so many cool and interesting things: we walk into Soho, we meander along the 5th Avenue shops, and we window-shop into the fabulous pastry and ice cream stores. In Soho, we ate at I Tre Merli, a fabulous Italian restaurant where I savored Ravioli di Cinghiale al Porto (homemade wild boar ravioli in a Port reduction sauce), perfectly paired with a lovely Montipulciano. I felt absolutely no guilt because Sam loves to walk. Each day I calculate we walked four to six miles; it was like a day in Europe.

(c) 2012 Kathryn Pharr

Because Sam is a walker, we also hike it along the High Line, which offers car-free strolling and lounging (courtesy of wooden beach chairs) along the historic freight line above Manhattan’s West Side. She first took me to the High Line last December on a particular cold day (25 Fahrenheit with winds) and insisted I should have the imagination to envision it covered in tourists and locals on a balmy summer day who were drinking cocktails and walking their dogs and generally enjoying the weather as if they had vacated the city altogether. This time, we tried a cold (but significantly warmer) Sunday morning, and I have to say that while I will one day get around to complaining about the heat while I’m at this park, I truly enjoy it even in the cold.

Seeing New York with a native (Sam’s first words were “Yo, taxi!”) brings the city to life in a way you never can capture as a tourist. She and Josh took me on a wonderful day trip to Governor’s Island, which though a free, 15 minute ferry ride from Manhattan, seems a world away. We had packed a picnic lunch and ate in the park watching ships and boats sail by the Statue of Liberty. The island was a Coast Guard station until 1996; one of our friends from college actually lived on the island for several years, which had its own schools. Now the island is a park with a fun playground (see photo to the left, we did not harm the actual Statue in any way that we will admit) as well as some lovely and interesting art galleries. The island is also partly a ghost town or that’s how it feels as you pass the dilapidated public library that is boarded up. Also, the stone church apparently has been de-sanctified. You pass what were clearly nice brick homes and then look out onto Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a big surreal and a great, affordable day trip while in the city.

(c) 2012 Kathryn Pharr

Another neat thing we were able to squeeze in was a visit to Little Italy for their annual Feast of San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples, a New York City tradition that began in 1926. More noticeable than the banners of Italian flags, the tonnes of cannolis for sale, and the carnival games is the fact that Little Italy is now less than four streets. On the positive side, most Italians have assimilated into the broader city culture–a noticeable contrast to the ever expanding Chinatown. Naturally, my favorite part of the festival was the stages were locals were singing Sinatra and Dean Martin–just classic.

Of course, no trip to New York for me would be complete without a show. At the South Seaport TKTS booth (which seems to have increased in popularity since my college days), we found tickets to Nice Work If You Can Get It. On the last trip, Sam, Josh, and I had seen Sutton Foster in Anything Goes, and with Nice Work having input from P.G. Wodehouse and music by the Gershwins, I figured we were in for a stellar evening. We sat in our great seats at the Imperial Theater and as the show progressed I couldn’t figure out when the Gershwins had written a play that had all their hits in it. I was pretty sure at least one song was from “O, Kay!” Turns out I was right. This is a new musical with the Best of the Gershwins that melds the plots of several of their musicals. The result is a light-hearted and fluffy fun musical comedy. Kelli O’Hare was brilliant, and it was great to see Matthew Broderick live. However, I have to say that for me Michael McGarth as Cookie McGee stole the show; he was incredible!

(c) 2012 Kathryn Pharr

And once again, another fabulous New York weekend–this time in Autumn. This last photo is of the new World Trade Center, which as Sam and Josh were quick to point out doesn’t actually fully fill in the whole left by the Twins.

I am coming to realize that perhaps no matter how many tricks I learn with my camera and how much I try to optimize the settings, there is no substitute for not enough light, especially when photographing people, who rarely sit as still as posters do. I’ve spent the last two days photographing the boot camp and trying to record interviews with participants. I’m now wishing I’d taken a crash course in doing public affairs on a shoestring! It was also interesting watching everyone wear headphones to understand the translation between French and English. I’m glad we picked a Francophone country; the U.S. tends to mostly focus on former British colonies to avoid a language barrier.

The event has had more participation than we dreamed with over 150 entrepreneurs on the first day. Our local partner is amazing, and there is such energy and appreciation of the program. Our local and U.S. mentors are hailed as marvelous. Perhaps because of jetlag, the only time I’ve been really animated beyond talking with participants has been when I’ve discussed ideas with our partner on how to change the format from lectures to an interactive format. Yes, I really am a teacher at heart.

Still, one of the best things as we shuffle around rooms and try to remember things is that we can hear the ocean crash against the rocks below from just about everywhere at the hotel if doors are open. The weather is much cooler than it was in D.C. last week and the change is welcome. However, the rooms aren’t really air conditioned, so our formal American business attire has been stifling. Jeff and I will start out with blazers that are quickly set aside by late morning.

At the closing of our event, each of the U.S. mentors spoke and said the same thing. They had decided to come to Senegal because they had never been before and wanted to see what was happening here although they didn’t expect much. Then they talked about how impressed they were with everyone’s startups and ideas and the level of advancement that was already here. While I understood where these men were coming from, I internally cringed at the language. I’m so grateful they had had a transformative experience but their ignorance didn’t necessarily need to be shared with all participants. To my ears it sounded degrading, but then, I was the only American who had traveled to Africa before. I had seen amazing local projects in Zimbabwe and Ghana. I had read books and articles about Africa; I knew the people were strong and resilient and inventive: you couldn’t survive here otherwise.

Which lead me to my own internal struggle with my I wasn’t feeling better about being back in Africa. Yes the airport wasn’t air conditioned and wasn’t as high tech as you’d expect in the Middle East or U.S. Still, that had never bothered me on my other trips. Was I still just tried from the five day loss of electricity fiasco last week in Arlington? Then I realized that every time I had been to Africa, I had been during that country’s winter. Apparently all my acclimation to the heat during my year in Israel has finally worn off completely. Then again, I expect Algiers to be quite toasty but welcoming without the humidity of D.C. or Dakar.

This line of thinking leads me back to what I thought during the Arlington power outage last week: that we have gotten very weak indeed. We can’t stand much fluctuation of temperature; we must have dehumidifiers, central heating and air conditioning, WiFi 24/7, and jobs that require only moving our fingers over keyboards for eight hours. Coming from someone with terrible allergies, it may sound ironic, but I think it has value.

I’m also reading The Blue Sweater, about an American who goes to Africa to work on microfinancing for women. It’s well worth reading.

 

Next Page »