Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
Hello friends and family,
I have arrived in Kandahar, after a long week in Kabul. The military base called KAF that I am on is huge, like a mini-city. There are approximately 35,000 people here. It is quite dusty and loud because of all the aircraft that come and go all day and throughout the night. I haven’t moved into my room yet, but I should in a few days. As for now I am staying in a barrack style housing, that I am sharing with one other guy. I have a couple of days of orientation, meeting people I will be working with, then I start my job.
I am on a Mobile Outreach Support Team which means I will be traveling around the province supporting and advising the District Support Teams (DSTs) with any projects they are implementing. The projects include working with the local Mayors, Governors, Ministry Officials and tribal elders to set up Rule of Law & Governance, helping to establish the justice and court system (maybe law school after this?), Health, Education, Infrastructure and Agriculture and Economic Development, helping farmers put value added on their products and getting them to market or for export. I am also integrating myself with the military, I admire their structure and discipline, I think it helps me. I work long hours, 7 days a week 10 hour days, except Fridays are a half day. I’ve already been told to start planning my first Regional Rest Break for the end of May, I am looking forward to it.
The base is also known as Camp Cupcake because of all amenities it has. There is an area to hangout at called the Boardwalk, it’s got TGI Fridays, KFC and other places to eat as well as other shops to buy just about anything you want. The Boardwalk is made of wood, raised and covered, it does feel like you’re at the beach, well almost. It circles a soccer field, beach volleyball courts and an outdoor hockey ring for the Canadians. This is a NATO base, so there are troops from many countries here. I hear every Saturday there is a bazaar where we can buy local goods and crafts. The base is dry, which my liver will appreciate, although I have had a couple of nonalcoholic beers at some of the restaurants.
More information and news at www.wesaidgotravel.com
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April 18, 2012 | 9:59 am
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
I blame my wanderlust on my first love—my grandfather. He was the one that got me hooked on National Geographic by having a full magazine collection in his basement that I’d pour over every summer vacation, launching a full-blown childhood dream of becoming a travel writer. And then my parents clinched it by allowing me to tag along with them to Europe when I was an impressionable ten years old, and I’ve never been the same since…nor have I wanted to be.
For the next two decades after that first taste of international travel, I’d aimlessly create lists of countries that I just knew I’d visit as soon as I became a jet setting grown up. But I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that this list sadly gathered dust in my drawer as life’s realities—college, career, relationships—took first priority. Sure, there was that brief study-abroad stint in Buenos Aires, and the occasional tropical vacation. But when it came to becoming a bestselling travel writer, I filed that dream away on a shelf.
I did hold true to my roots though and studied non-fiction creative prose at Penn (class of ’04) and pursued a career in magazine journalism, and at one point I thought I was getting closer to my goal when I landed a job at a national travel magazine in New York. Score! Now I’d get my chance to sip cocktails with foreign correspondents and interview mysterious sources in exotic locales—not. As I reported from my desk about African safaris and the Great Pyramids of Giza without ever checking off either item from my bucket list, I felt empty inside, and worse…like a fraud.
That did it. I handed in my articles to my editor, pulled out my dusty list of countries back home, and started scheming about how I could take a year off to experience the same adventures that I only wrote about. I adopted a budget for the first time in my life, found a roommate, and scrimped and saved for more than a year until I stumbled across a simple but brilliant way to travel. It’s a form of voluntourism called work exchange, which trades the sweat of your brow—rather than the money from your pocketbook—for room and board with locals abroad. Wait…that meant that my trip suddenly got cheaper! So I immediately bought a one-way ticket to Sierra Leone via Morocco, gave notice at my travel magazine, let my adorable apartment go, and stuffed all my goods in storage. There was no turning back now.
Starting on January 1, 2011, I took my first step off a plane and into a solo round-the-world adventure that included 19 countries on six continents. My work exchange led me to teach HIV/AIDS orphans in Kenya, become a desert guide with the Bedouin tribe in Jordan, teach English to Tibetan Buddhist nuns in Nepal, mend fences on an aboriginal cattle station in Australia, shuck oysters on a black-pearl farm in French Polynesia, save baby sea turtles in Guatemala, teach music to Roma (gypsy) children in Romania, and herd a thousand sheep as a nomadic shepherd in Austria. Oh, and I can now finally say that I’ve been on an African safari and have also stood in the shadow of pyramids…
I returned to the States just a few months ago on January 1, 2012—exactly one year after I left—and I’ve been trying to find the right words to describe my last year to friends and loved ones. “Life changing” seems too anticlimactic. When I look up other superlatives in the thesaurus, I get more of the same. All I can say is that you need to throw caution to the wind and launch your own grand adventure to understand the inspiring journey that I experienced.
Oh, and what about my dream of becoming a bestselling travel writer? Well, now that I’m represented by a bona fide literary agent, I can say that my prospects are definitely looking up for the first time in my career.
March 27, 2012 | 3:51 pm
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
Change has been good to me. I have been evolving from having a fixed mindset to a more growth-based model, and from a heavy, single girl unsure of what to do next, to a sassy skinny married one who is a traveler, teacher, blogger, now appearing in a major women’s magazine!
Not only have I changed; now our blog has undergone a shift. We have joined our two web sites and left both Weebly and Blogger for the widely used WordPress. I hope you enjoy our new and improved site. Please send us your comments as we continue to finalize all the parts and pieces.
This transformation requires support. I must personally thank many of my friends, family members and mentors and would like to publicly recognize our website Advisory Council, including: Kit Herring of The Backpacker’s Handbook, Dave Thompson, Dave’s Travel Corner, and Dr. JessieVoigts and Ed Forteau from Wandering Educators. Also the technical wizard on our team, Ateeq Khan. Without them we would not be ready for this next step!
I also want to thank First for Women Magazine for including me in their story and the capable team that prepared me for my first Magazine photo shoot!
My First for Women Magazine Photo Shoot Team:
Photographers: Amy and Stuart
Stylist: Krystina Van Dyk (Banana Republic Gemma Wrap Dress, Laura Elizabeth Jewelry)
Hair : Stefanie Cuesta for Fiore Beauty
Make-up: Phoebe for Fiore Beauty
Hair Color: Mark LaRocco at the Beauty Collection
More links, photos and stories at http://www.wesaidgotravel.com/
March 12, 2012 | 9:51 am
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
Recently I was interviewed for L.E.A.N. Traveler about staying fit while traveling. I lost sixty pounds from when I first met George to when we got married!
Here is part of the L.E.A.N. Traveler interview:
What are your top three tips for staying lean while traveling?
My top three tips for staying lean while traveling are:
1. Don’t let yourself get too hungry. Take a snack or have a piece of fruit in the afternoon so you can say “NO!” to the breadbasket.
2. Walk everywhere you can. I personally lost weight while traveling in Asia for a year because we walked all the time.
3. Portion control: if you are traveling with someone, share a entrée since portion size in the USA has gone haywire and restaurants serve enormous quantities of food.
Look for photos to come in the March 26 glossy magazine: First for Women!
Our YouTube channel went over 10,000 views! Which of our 35 videos is your favorite? The most recent one Exploring Penghu Islands in Taiwan or Taipei with over 3300 views?
There is always more on our website: www.wesaidgotravel.com
March 7, 2012 | 9:53 am
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
The upcoming holiday of Purim and the story of Esther remind me to reveal myself and take off my mask. Many Jews celebrate Purim by dressing up and putting on a mask. The semester I lived in Jerusalem, was the first time I saw Purim could be as large a celebration as Halloween in Los Angeles. Wandering the streets of Tel Aviv, I was amazed at the number of Esthers, and Hamens that bumped into me in the celebrating crowds.
This holiday celebration includes being confused about good and evil. This shadow between good and evil and the line of intentions and when they become actions informs some of my travels and decisions. Sometimes we forget that at the corner where we work at the 7-11 is a man who is from Burma who speaks five languages and was a tour guide at Schwedagon Pagoda. We forget that this man in front of us has a history and wears a mask. Most of the people we interact with have some issue that plagues them and causes them to wear a mask and hide some part of themselves.
While I have often picked easy costumes for my work, such as coming to school as a Crayola crayon, in other areas of my life I have proceeded differently. Lately I have picked problematic travel destinations. Being in Sri Lanka this summer, so soon after the civil war ended caused me to really examine why I travel and where do I go. Being in an area with barbed wire around the beaches was nerve-wracking for me, but meeting people who were so happy to have peace and so welcoming to us as strangers to their country made it worth it.
Having recently watched, “Strangers No More”, the Academy Award-winning Documentary Short film about an amazing school, I am thinking about Tel Aviv, Strangers and Masks. In Billy Joel’s song, “The Stranger,” he sings, “We all have a face that we hide away forever, and we take them out and show ourselves when everyone has gone.” Travel allows us an opportunity to break from our every day routine and get outside ourselves.
When I travel, I hope to learn about the place, the people, the history, and the culture. Mostly I learn about myself. When my husband George and I were away for nearly a year, I cried in the beginning on almost every country. I even cried while snorkeling one time. I thought he would not notice. When we travel, our masks are off and we are the strangers. I frequently need help to find the bathroom, the bus, the hotel; everything is up in the air. Our daily routine no longer is there to support us.
I think of the young students showing up at Bialik-Rogozin School, having survived long walks in the desert, seeing parents killed and now managing their first day of school in a language they do not understand. The teachers seem so kind, compassionate and willing to help. The children of Darfur, South Africa and Eritrea who show up and move forward with hope and potential inspire me.
Adam Rosenthal writes in Koach:
“Each of us has emotions, thoughts and aspirations which we conceal on a daily basis. We hide these parts of ourselves by presenting others with a prepared image. We wear masks, denying others, and sometimes even ourselves, a glimpse of the vulnerable “stranger.”
I am thrilled that our travel blog will have this new home at the Jewish Journal but now I wonder if I can really show my travel stories and travel foibles and take off my mask to reveal what our travels are really like. I ask myself: will anyone care to read about our adventures?
Travel has given me the opportunity to evolve from a sidekick to a superhero. I have learned so much about my relationship and myself. I did not want to quit my job and travel for a year as a test of our relationship. I wanted to be engaged or I would not go but I did go and eventually we did get engaged.
The story of Purim remembers Esther who hid her Jewishness in the beginning and Haman who hid his anti-Semitism. In the end, both must reveal their true selves. This is what travel does for us. We must show up as who we really are without our masks.
Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai foil the plan of Haman, King Ahashuerus’s prime minster, to exterminate all the Jews of Persia. All secrets are revealed, all masks are off, and once again the Jewish Story continues. Join me March 24 to hear about the story of how the Jews have been welcomed and sent away for centuries in Morocco.
The Megillah Esther literally means “to reveal what is hidden,” join me as we wander and wonder about the history of the Jews, our planet and mainly ourselves.
March 4, 2012 | 8:11 pm
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
Here is the beginning of the Interview:
Lisa Niver Rajna is our Geography Awareness Editor, a world traveler, and a science teacher in Los Angeles, California. Think that science isn’t international? Think again! I’m impressed with the work that Lisa does with her students - exploring the world, and the people in it. She’s the publisher of two websites that combine her love of travel and teaching science - We Said Go Travel, and Science Isn’t Scary. She embodies the true meaning of international education - and practices it every day.
February 27, 2012 | 9:58 am
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
At 1:30am as I lay on the cement step outside the bathroom. I thought, “Hmm, why am I on the ground? How did this happen?” Leaving Los Angeles for a summer of sun in Samoa and the South Pacific, I had no idea about the Survivor Stories that would unfold so quickly.
I had eaten the chicken at dinner, apparently a mistake that night.
During the dark hours before dawn I fainted at the edge of the bathroom steps and there I regained consciousness, scraped and bruised on both arms and chin. I guess when I needed to run to the bathroom again and again I should have woken George, especially after falling, but I was so stunned that I ended up face-planted on the ground. Once back in our room I lay on the mat, moaning. George woke up and asked what was wrong. After hearing my tale of woe he offered to help. Because of his concern, and despite the many earlier explosions, I was finally able to rest.
This video shows some of the gorgeous beauty of Virgin Cove, our nighttime arrival and the many steps to the bathroom. All aspects of travel are not beautiful but some of them do make us appreciate better the postcard days!
Video: Drama at Virgin Cove
February 17, 2012 | 11:51 am
Posted Richard Bangs
There is a place whose people have been on a never-ending quest to achieve a concord between life’s jagged puzzle pieces. And some believe they have found its secrets.
Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong: three pearls in one exquisite setting. Each distinct, yet bound together by a cultural veneration of harmony. Just as a wick needs a flame, some of us can’t live without exploring our existence, and I inevitably find myself turning to the East and the wisdom of the Ancients in search of the roots of the human desire for harmony.
Harmony implies balance and the ability to integrate different elements into a pleasing unity. It incorporates the Chinese concept of Yin and Yang, opposite forces that come together to form a whole.
Chinese philosophers and religious leaders have long honored harmony as an ideal. Confucius, the great Chinese thinker, spoke of “harmony without uniformity.” He taught that the world is full of differences and contradictions, but that righteous people should try to balance them to achieve a vital equilibrium.
Taoists believe that by following practices that achieve balance in daily life, they gain harmony with the universe. And the Buddha said that for the enlightened one, harmony is his joy, his delight and his love.
Read the rest of this article….
Watch the new PBS special, “Richard Bangs’ Adventures with Purpose: The Pearl River Delta-Quest for Harmony” airing now nationally. Check local listings.