Sunday, September 30, 2007

Where Next?

Ah, what next?  Where do I want to go, what do I want to do, in the next few years.  During the past twenty, I’ve manage to take a look at over sixty countries, some of them more than once:  the UK, France, China, India, Nepal, Turkey, Croatia  - then there’s Canada -   Is that a Foreign Country?  I guess so,  for many Americans.  For me, it  seems more  an extension of the US (excepting a few  idiosyncratic pronunciations).  But I’ll count it.  

But back to the future:  Just before I’m to spend three weeks in Africa, I’ll take off for several days in Los Angeles area for a two day symposium on TE Lawrence, that most interesting and  enigmatic man.

Then,  I’m off to   Capetown, on through Botswana and Namibia to Victoria Falls.  Reserves and preserves - a chance to see forests and animals native to the area.  I don’t go to zoos for penned and tied up animals, human and otherwise, shrivels my soul.    I worked in a prison  and was in and out of jails in a past life; no more!   To share in  the freedom of  two and four legged creatures will be a delight.  My roommate on this trip has spent time with baboons in the wild so  I’m looking forward to learning from her experience.  Anyway, that is October, the month of my birthday, no longer  a particularly  festive event.  Just the march of time imprinting itself on my being!

Moving on, I will be in Yemen for Christmas and maybe   Oman.  Not enough signed on for a tour with  dhow cruise so I am considering doing it independently.  Hate to waste the  reading on Oman, which had the SAS charging around in the fifities and seventies and James/Jan Morris accompaning the Sultan on an inland  tour in the fifties.    

March 2008  is planned, if all goes well, for Afghanistan.  I will be part of a Global Express people-to-people group, focusing on Women Making Change.  I plan to stay over an additional few days and   work something out with a local travel firm; find out how much of the countryside I can safely see.    Having finally finished Hopkirk’s The Great Game, I’m ready to take a look around this country that has been  the center of  political activity for all so many years.  I even   bought my BA tickets to Dubai - they were having a sale - so all I need do is purchase fare onto Kabul, which I will do when I return from Africa.  

Then onto the UK for a couple of weeks  in May-June 2008 with Elderhostel, a group I usually avoid.  It’s expensive and the participants are pretty  much a While Bread bunch, at least at the few things I’ve attended.  But the topic drew me in::  The Man Behind James Bond; celebrating Ian Fleming’s 100th to be followed by an extension: The Cambridge Spies.  The first gathering in London and the second in Cambridge.  I’m fascinated by this bunch of upper crust guys who signed on to the Soviet Union’s cause.  I’ve read the books of  Rebecca West, Nigel West  and Philip Knightley on the topic.  I’ve also read a bio of St John Philby, Kim Philby’s father, which may explain something of Kim Philby’s personality.  What sold me, despite the expense, were that the speakers include not only  Nigel West but Andrew Lownie, who wrote a bio of John Buchan, another of my heroes. And interestingly, I’ve been reading books by and about Fitzroy Maclean, said to be one of the models for James Bond.   And I plan to get away to  see some performances.  

No other commitments but plans:    tentative  for October is to volunteer for a archeological dig around the Hejaz RR in Jordan, the area covered by TE Lawrence during WW1.  Brits are sponsoring this and there was an article about last year’s results in   History Today.  Since It’s a twenty year project, I’m hoping to sign on in 2008 as the Africa trip interferedwith  this year’s trip..

And nothing definite for December, my  other travel month.  Never  home for the holidays is my mantra.   

I have a list, god knows I have a list:  Mali, Libya (whenever visas are available), Sudan (also no visas -  unless you’re Madonna or Jolene  adopting), Algeria, Eastern Europe (Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Poland, Romania), the Baltic countries. Laos, Kurdish part of Iraq, Dubouti, Eritrea and then back into Ethiopia.  And somewhere along the way, either an Arctic or Antarctic cruise.

At the moment, I’m not interested in Central or South America, at least not until I work through the rest of the list.  There is a desert trek in Egypt close to the Sudan-Libya border that could tempt me; I think it’s by truck rather than camel.  Camel may be the cool way to go but I don’t appreciate the camel’s  spit - and I can’t project a good response! 

Monday, September 24, 2007

To Visa or not to Visa


Until three years ago, I did my own visas.  Got the forms, filled them out,  and FedExed them with the passport to the appropriate consultant or embassy.  I always had my fingers crossed as I sent the packet off, but the system worked.  Until Bangladesh!

I had already obtained the necessary Indian visa and, per usual, I downloaded the  Bangladesh forms, completed them and sent them with passport and payment to the address I found on the internet.  Time passed.  I finally telephoned and E-mailed the Bangladesh people.  No one, nada,  had any knowledge of my application and passport  despite FedEx showing delivery.   Which lead to my  having to frantically  hassle and get a new passport and visa forms which I FedExed, but not back  to the Bangladesh embassy in Washington DC but, for a Sixty Dollar service fee, to an agency handling visas.  Who. also for a price,  processed my new request for  Indian visas.   

While the agency was handling all the visa requests,  I received a E-mail from the Bangladesh people - they had found my now invalid passport with application forms and what did I want them to do with it. My   unspoken response was pretty vile. My spoken response was for them to simply return everything.

Since, I have debated about going back to handling visas myself.   It’s certainly easier to mange what with everything being computerized.   And it is cheaper!  But I have memories of Bangladesh.  So I have surrendered to paying a goodly sum for a private   agency to handle it for me.  Which probably paid off on this trip.  For without them, I would have gotten two visas I don’t need.  

For recently,  not only did I need a visa for Zimbabwe, but I needed pages added to my passport.  I was  afraid of sending the passport in to SF for pages what with all the overflow and delays at  the US  Passport Agency.  So I sent  everything in for the private agents  to handle.  In the meantime, I got a notice from the tour people:  they required  I have three other visas, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana,  in advance of my trip. When I  talked with  both the  passport agency and my travel advisor, I got a mixed message until the passport person E-mailed me info from US government posting on the countries concerned.

US citizens did not need visas for South Africa and Botswana and one could pick up the visa for Namibia at entry.   Which saved me close to Two Hundred Bucks, as using the Passport agency isn’t cheap.  However they really earned their money in researching  requirements for me.   

So, I will continue to use them.  At least, I’m assured of getting the passport returned  with a visa, even  at a cost.  Or not getting a visa as conditions require!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Trip to the Past

I tend not to focus on the past - it’s over and done with.  It’s not my style to return to the scene of the crime, e.g.: reunions.  I’ve managed to stay hidden from both Universities that I attended, but somehow, have been found out by my midwestern high school who had a sixth reunion scheduled for September.  And you must realize, I left  for the West Coast upon graduation. never returned and didn’t keep in contact with anyone.  I did not have particularly fond memories of my adolescence.  I felt I didn’t quite fit in,  which is difficult for a young person.  (It turns out I still don’t fit in the conventional mold,  but I have come to terms with it.)  

So I probably would have ignored the reunion notice if it wasn’t that my seventy-two year old nephew, living in Minnesota, was scheduled for a kidney transplant in August.  We had not been in close contact. I hadn’t seen him or his younger brother in fifteen years and before that,  maybe half a dozen times at most, dating from diaper days. There was some E-mail contact and Christmas cards. I decided  we should get together before one or the other of us bit the dust.  

So, combine nephew in Minnesota and reunion in South Dakota.  Why not?    Seeing Jack was high on my agenda; attending the reunion was low on the totem pole.  

So courtesy of Northwest Airlines, I flew back, in more ways than one.   The Minnesota visit   was beyond any  expectation:  the younger nephew showed up from Wisconsin with his wife so we had a leisurely four days to get (re)acquainted.  The older brother, a retired computer type,   lives on a lake, a resort area though many people work in the nearby town, amidst trees, wildlife and 42” circumference mushrooms.  It’s an area where his mother and father had had a cabin; he and his wife  built a place nearby and then purchased some sixty acres across the way, so effectively, he has his own park.  

He is a keeper; doesn’t throw stuff away:  has snowmobiles, boats and a Triumph Spitfire among other keepsakes.  But then, he has places to store stuff:  attics, barns and sheds.  (I could have snuck off with the Spitfire!)  

Though poles apart politically, it turned out my younger nephew, an attorney and former judge,  and I were familiar with the same books and music. All of us  had the same weird sense of humor.   We  shared much of our lives,  contributing family information one or the other was unfamiliar with.  Both wives were  a wonderful  asset and    We may not have had much of a “past” but we certainly now  have a “present”.  

And the great thing was that  the transplant was successful.  

When I left, I really didn’t care how the rest of the trip turned out:  this had been a great experience.  And as I had no real expectations for the reunion, it  couldn’t be a  disappointment.

There were three gatherings, one at a classmates home atop a ridge on the edge of town.  About twenty of the eighty in our class of l947, appeared.  .  Another twenty or so had died, leaving twenty left floating about in space.  Name tags saved me, an   unknown at these affairs.  A number had remained in the area and another bunch seemed to be regular attendees.  Several I recognized by sight but the rest - nada!  There were a few  who went out of their way to greet me,  but generally I felt there was little change in the pecking order;  I was still identified as the “Superintedent’s Daughter”!  Which was one of the reasons I escaped with no intent to return.  I was (and am)  determined to be my own person!  
The other reason I left,  was the lack of privacy in a small town..  Still true.  I walked the several miles to the  classmate’s home for a  lunch.  That night and the next day, I was now identified as the unique individual  who did the walkabout. (Since I didn’t have a car and didn’t see a bus, I don’t know how else I was to get there; I did hitch a ride back.)

That  afternoon, I went to the home of a woman, who had been my close friend in High School and who didn’t attend the reunion.  We talked for an hour or so; life hadn’t treated her well or vice versa, but I was glad to see her.  The next morning I was asked what I was doing on that particular street!  

I did enjoy wandering about, seeing the changes but  also  amazed at the remaining homes and buildings I remembered.  The businesses had changed; I could find almost none from the high school days.  The old library had been torn down and a well designed new one built, named for my father; I did get there and talked with the head librarian.  The football field was the same but both my home and the neighboring Episcopal Church had been torn down.   

It was a trip to the past.  I don’t regret going, but been there, done that!  

(interestingly, the day after I returned,  I had dinner with a former coworker from at least forty years ago; he and his wife were visiting the Bay area from Pennsylvania where he retired from college teaching.  Again, we were dredging up memories from the past.  Loved seeing him, but enough already!)