This is my Journal. After having worked in Sénégal for 8 months, then 1.5 years in the Democratic Republic of Congo; I have now returned to Washington D.C.

September 21, 2014

Day Two - Ziplining near Miramar

The next day, we got picked up bright and early (again, sigh) for a two hour ride to Adventure Park near Miramar for a day of ziplining. 

After a zigzagging road, we embark on the adventure.  It's best left to what's said on the lodge's description:

There is no fun participating in zip line and canopy tours in artificial conditions. At Adventure Park Canopy Tour you enjoy your zip line flights inside real forests, over real waterfalls. And not just a couple of waterfalls, you will cross 11 waterfalls in Costa Rica during your canopy tour. While travelling from one zip line to another, you cross the famous Costa Rican mountains and water falls that adorn the ancient rain forests.









 

September 20, 2014

Our (hopefully) Exotic Costa Rica Vacation


We decided to go to a new country for vacation!  We'd heard so much about Costa Rica that we decided to give it a shot for a week.



All packed and ready to go at 3:00 a.m. for our 6:00 a.m. flight.  Oh what a joy...



And though we seem all bright eyed and bushy tailed...
Coffees were needed to stay functional.




We finally arrived in Hotel Le Bergerac in San Jose and had a quick lunch of carbs and more carbs









I wouldn't say that San Jose is a spectacular city, but it has its charms, despite the non-stop rain in the afternoon.



After a local meal of beans, rice, plantains, fried onions and tough (but flavorful) beef, we walked home in the dark, coming upon an impromptu gay dance routine in a bar.  We got a free eyeful. Fun times were had by all!

June 14, 2014

Mandarin Cake

Ever since watching The Wonderful Life of Walter Mitty, I've been craving Mandarin Cake. Finding none anywhere and being particularly desperate, I started preparing one as soon as I woke up on Saturday (sadly at about 6:30 am.)

Now you must understand that I NEVER bake. I cook rather often,  but baking is a whole other beast, necessitating special cookware and at times elusive ingredients.

While I was mixing the olive oil, milk, vanilla, and mandarin zest portion, I called my sister in Australia.  Getting her on the phone can sometimes be a crusade, given that she lives in Australia so is about 12-14 hours ahead,  she's an ER doctor, and her schedule changes from working nights to days more often than I change my underwear. ANYWAYS, I managed to connect to her this morning.  And get this.  She was just about to sit down to eat the fresh Orange Cake she just baked!

If I believed in a cosmic connection, this would be a strong contender for one!


http://www.marthastewart.com/sites/files/marthastewart.com/imagecache/wmax-520/images/content/pub/ms_living/2009Q1/mld103941_0109_mandarin_hd.jpg

October 17, 2013

Ephesus


Sigh.  There were so many interesting sights last weekend, when traveling down the Western Coast of Turkey, that if I tried to write them all here, I would be discouraged before even starting.

So let me talk about the best sight near Izmir, and mostly post photos :)

Ephesus, within the Province of Izmir ("the Ibiza of Turkey") was one of the most famous cities of antiquity. Its beginning of human settlement occured at the Neolithic period, around 6,000 B.C. With the waves of migrations it became a larger city until Alexander the Great conquered it in 334 B.C. and it experienced a period of prosperity for 50 years. After hundreds of years of conquerings and lootings, earthquakes and being silted up from river deposits, Ephesus was abandoned in the 14th century.
 
In its heyday, it had:
- government buildings,
- a hospital and pharmacy,
- fountains, latrines (doing your collective business with 48 other men) and public baths,
- a sewage system with clay pipes,
- shops lining the various walks,
- the 3rd biggest library in the world (at the time),
- a Greco-Roman amphitheather with stage for 25,000 seating capacity (used for festivals until 2001),  and
- a posh city center for aristocrats with frescos adorning walls and constant water even during dry periods.

The site is now mostly ruins with painstaking reconstructions, but it leaves visitors in awe of what an amazing city this was...

 Ephesus Library was once the 3rd largest in the Empire

 Frescos in what was once a neighborhood for wealthy families

 Cats own the ruins of Ephesus
 
Men were lucky to have clean latrines... But you'd better be comfortable doing your business with up to 48 other people.


 The smaller site of Bergama, with its intricate columns...
 

Amphitheater built into the side of a hill...
 
Breathtaking view...
 
And obligatory rug seller, was no less impressive!
 

 In the afternoon, we finished by visiting the House of Mary (apparently, Mary ended up in Southwestern Turkey after her son Jesus died -- don't ask me for the geographical logical of that one), and we added our wishes to the Prayer Wall
 
We ended up the town of Sirinc, with its 900 people, but seemingly overrun by tourists (and yes I was one of them)

October 13, 2013

Gaziantep

On October 6, 2013, I spent a good part of the week in Gaziantep, a city of about 1.8 million, located not too far from the Syrian border. 


I walked in the old city market, full of tin spice grinders; dried red peppers on a string (looking like enormous cranberry garlands we hang on Christmas trees); hand carved wooden brushes; and ubiquitous cheap Chinese plastic goods. Turkey was on the Silk road, and today there are still barrels and barrels of whole and ground spices, many of which I’ve never seen before.
 

Alauddevie Came (Mosque) under Construction
 

The city is renowned for having the best Baklava in the country (that dessert with a crispy pastry top, a gooey honey base, topped off with a delicate dusting of green pistachio powder), so of course, it was my duty to have at least one per day. Then every day, I had minced meat, flat bread, and my fill of peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Though the food is simple and always good, I could easily tire of the repetitious ingredients here.

Who ever thought that a mosaic museum would be interesting? But it really was. During excavations in 2000, archeologists uncovered amazing mosaics in the city of Zap that lined the floors of pools, hamams (spas), churches and courtyards in Roman and Late Antique Periods. They carefully excavated them, working around the large missing pieces stolen by looters, and brought them out for public display. With a strange feeling of cognitive dissonance, I suddenly finally understood what my history teacher told me all those years ago: the Romans had more lavish lifestyles than most people today.  People in Gaziantep living in half-built cement houses on dusty sand floors, with spotting access to water or a good sewage system.
 
 Mosaic Museum
 

Finishing the day with tea in the open-air courtyard of Tutun Hani
 

First Day in Istanbul (Again)

This is my second time living in Istanbul for work, working on regional affairs.  I was here exactly a year ago for 2 months, and will be living here again for 4 months.

View from my Hotel Room
 
I arrived in this big Turkish city on October 1, 2013.  The first leg from DC to London was 7.5 hours. The second leg to Istanbul was 3.5 hours. For some reason, the shorter of the two felt intolerably long. An older man sitting next to me was reading was seemed like the Q'ran on his phone - a beautiful, flourished arabic script, trailing his finger along the words for the entirety of the trip. In contrast, I was watching "Monster University" :/

Upon arrival, the sky was very overcast, adding a sense of moroseness to the cement buildings in the outskirts of the city. Driving through the city center though, I saw an ancient aquaduct, and dozens of minarets of mosques overlooking the red roofs of some of the more elegant and older buildings. The view from my suite is beautiful, I can catch some of the Bosphorus sea, and the cramped city center, Sultanamet...

I checked my bb upon arrival of course. I already had a packed schedule, traveling to Gazientep for a few days. A rather inauspicious start for someone who likes her down time as much as I do.
 

January 05, 2013

My 2012 In Review


My year has been a very busy one.  I feel it's a good exercise to remember what as accomplished in 2012 (mostly because it makes me feel better about not being such a lazy bum).  Here’s a quick summary:

A) Worked at the Department of State, in Washington DC.  Traveled to Congo to monitor elections.  Worked in Istanbul to support projects on democracy and governance.  Currently working at USAID on Congo-related projects.

Lesson Learned: keeping track of 5 different email addresses, 3 calendars and 2 blackberries is no easy feat. 

B) My house is still standing up.  I waterproofed the basement so the rain won't keep on flooding it.  But I refuse to spend another dime on the place - unless some freaky natural disaster happens.

Lesson Learned: freak accidents of nature happen more often than expected. 

C) My brother got married.  It was an awesome set of ceremonies.  And then he and his wife were kind enough to invite me to spend part of their honeymoon package in Saint Martin over Christmas.  And it wasn't even super awkward!

Lesson Learned: when someone offers you free housing on a tropical island, accept it graciously – even if you ARE the third wheel.

D) My sister is still kicking ass in Australia finishing up her medical residency.  Will she ever be done?  Who knows, but it feels like she's been doing it for ages.

Lesson Learned: 4 years can feel like 10 years when you miss people you love…

E) I tried to freeze my eggs this year.  I felt like I was carrying two soft watermelons in my ovaries for two weeks, making even sitting down quite a trial.

Lesson Learned: If it doesn’t work, try try again (?)

e) After months and months of course and paperwork, I finally obtained my fostering certificate.  So I might be fostering children soon. An equally exciting and terrifying prospect.

Lesson learned: Obviously, I can’t stand being bored.

f) I broke up with a boyfriend, and attempted to date several other people in the meantime.

Lesson learned:  I don’t believe a romantic relationship is in the cards for me – so why do I pursue  them with aplomb everytime?

g) I bought a car to make grocery shopping and hiking easier.  I already added a number of miles, using it to attend a training in Suffolk VA (3 hours away) and lending it to a friend to obtain her driver’s license.

Lesson learned: they may say DC is a walkable city, but owning a car really opens up a wealth of opportunities.

Looking forward to a quieter 2013 J

December 07, 2012

Spray Tanning

In preparation for a Christmas trip to Saint Martin - where, I have no doubt, I will easily be the pastiest person on the beach - I'm trying out a session of Spray Tanning on Saturday.

A day before, the Spray Tanning assistant asks me: “Saturday from 10 – 3 pm, we have a gay male technician.  Are you ok with that?”

That’s probably the strangest thing I’ve heard this week.



I really hope my results look like this... Wouldn't hurt to hit the gym to tighten up the abs too...
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