Sunday, August 30, 2009


Only breezing through for a girls weekend, I spent most of the time on the beach, noshing over drinks at outdoor cafes on Ocean drive or Espaniola way, and dancing in huge clubs you could get lost in.

We hit all the tourism traps but probably did not mind as much because it was a whirlwind.
Best restaurant: Nexxt, huge delicious salads. Had to get used to eating outside in the heat, probably no need for a straightener in the future.

The beach was amazingly calming. White sands, very little seaweed, schools of little fish weaving through the water. The temperature of the water made me want to stay in the whole time, and I did, as it was almost to hot to lay out.
Puddle jumping to Gainsville...
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Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Bonneville Salt Flats - are flat.

A friend of mine from Seattle flew down to see Salt Lake City with me, and I convinced her to drive to the Bonnevile Salt Flats, near the border of Nevada. We drove for what seemed like forever, through beautiful scenery.

While in Salt Lake City, you can see the most amazing mountains right out of your window, as we got closer to Nevada the land was extremely flat.

And then out of no where, the ground was white. I'm not sure we even noticed where it changed over. And then there was this sign:This is the site of testing of high speed race cars. It is an extremely large flat salt pan, which forms where water pools. The water that doesn't sink into the ground remains on the surface until it evaporates, leaving behind the salt.

We ran out onto the salt, which gave the eeriest feeling of being out on a lake, as if we jumped too hard, we might fall through. We then tasted the salt. It was salty. Then we turned around a drove back.

Salt Lake City

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The last time I traveled to Utah, I was rafting in Moab, which was amazing. Since I was traveling to Salt Lake for work, I had high hopes it would be beautiful, but not having too much time to be outside, the expectations were a bit lower.

First stop, Temple Square. This is an area in the heart of Salt Lake City, that is owned by the Church of Later Day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon church:

The Temple is of limits to visitors, Mormon or not, and only "Spiritually prepared" people can go in. It was very beautiful.

We walking into the North Visitors' center, and were rushed into a tour that was just departing. The tours are lead by missionaries from all over the world, and they had badges with flags from where they had come from (ours were from Canada, US, and Brazil). Apparently, according to wikipedia:

The visitors' centers and grounds are staffed by sister missionaries, and senior missionary couples exclusively; no single male missionaries are called to serve on Temple Square.
I can only really describe the visitor center as the Epcot center for the church of LDS. The tour lead us through carpeted rooms with stories of the church, with soundtracks and lcds with videos about the church. Very frequently one of the sisters would start her discussion with "I'm grateful to the church because", so it wasn't exactly the museum experience I was looking for.

While everyone was extremely friendly, there was a more of a sense of persuasion rather than description. I thought we were visiting a museum, but I think it is more for recruitment. We were bombarded with cards to evaluate the presentations, and to give out our mailing information, to receive materials. I also didn't get a sense that the sisters, who were no doubt in their early twenties, knew much more than their scripted descriptions.

I asked very plain questions, so as to not seem too aggressive (which is sometimes difficult for me), and straightforward answers were not forthcoming. For example, why there were no women Apostles or Prophets? This is a question I assumed, incorrectly, that this young woman might have contemplated. She had no answer, and changed the subject. I assumed that a tour guide at a facility like this would be able to answer questions such as that in a more confident and compelling way.

The rest of Temple square was very clean, and well maintained, with some ornate fountains and other buildings.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Being part of history

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401 pictures later, back in the warmth of my friends apartment, I sit down to recap on an amazing day.

After two hours of sleep and a bowl of oatmeal we headed out, before the sun came up, to the train station. While at different times the crowd was overwhelmingly packed, the tension dissipated easily in light of the event we would all be witnessing.

We navigated to a place we could get a good view of one of the jumbotrons. It was a good ten degrees colder than the opening ceremony concert, and many people were huddling, or jumping around.

Others brought blankets and cards. Luckily we had a blanket, although we ended up using it for warmth more than keeping clean.
This was the scene as the sun was coming up. They replayed the concert from Sunday, which as I said, kept people moving and warm.

An overwhelming amount of people were wearing some type of Obama paraphernalia, including myself.

We watched all of the famous politicians and cabinet members, and random lucky celebrities file in, and then it was like electricity when they started the ceremony.

After the swearing in everyone put the cameras down to listen to the speech. It was very moving.

I stand here today humbled by the task before us...

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

... we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

were some of the more memorable phrases I could remember. Everyone was silent for most parts during the speech, which was almost eerie since we had all be jumping around trying to keep warm, but it was a complete pausing point, and it was pretty amazing to be there. Worth every second of the whole weekend just to be there for the speech.

Always wanted to walk on the highway

Crazyness. Total chaos. In all directions.
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Can you see me?
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Today I brought a blanket to sit down on, like these folks next to me. Much better.
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Dawn on inauguraton day

Next to the Smithsonian....the crowd is so much larger than Sunday!
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Cops out on the street

Basically every block, even at 3 am. Bars are even open later today specially! Get ready for it!
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Monday, January 19, 2009

Inauguration opening ceremony at Licoln Memorial

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As I said I headed down about three hours early. When I walked onto the Mall, it didn't seem all that crowded. Of course there was a lot of security/sniper looking camouflaged men and women.

The weather looks dingy in the pictures, but it wasn't that bad. Probably about 30 F, but I had on two hats, two pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, a sweater, a hoodie, and two pairs of gloves. So I was ok with the weather, and didn't really get cold for the five hours I was standing around.

Then I started to walk down towards the Lincoln Memorial, and they shuffles us to the sides and into very long lines. The lines moved pretty fast though, so I wasn't there for more than half an hour. After they made us take out all of our electronics and turn them on, I got a quick pat down and I was in.

That was where I found all of the people. Folks had parked themselves all over the areas around the reflecting pool. Many had blankets and food, and cards and other forms of entertainment. The rest of us just stood. I walked up as close as I could get and over the course of the next few hours it packed in. At some point all of the people who were on the ground ended up standing up and there was no room to be had.

When the ceremony started the speaker that was closest to our corner wasn't working, so all we could see was the screens, and people started to shout, and chant "Turn it up", for about five minutes until it was resolved.

There were people climbing trees, and even on the tops of the port-o-potties.

It was hard to see the stage, but we all had views of multiple screens, and had made friends with the people sharing your personal space over the last three hours, although there was a few people who's disposition worsened over the course of the wait. I tried to just focus on standing properly so I wouldn't get tired.

The speakers and performers ran the gamut of different celebrities, the most enthusiastic were Bono, Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, Usher, Stevie Wonder, and Mary J. Blige, although there were many more. Of course Obama was the biggest crowd pleaser.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Behind me

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In front of me at the Lincoln memorial

Three hours early and there are already so many people here.
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Retracing the path Abraham Lincoln took in 1861

Pulling into the train station ahead of Obama's vintage train that was retracing the path Abraham Lincoln took in 1861, was most likely the closest I will get to him over the next three days. They hustled us off the train through a cloud of security, including probably about twenty police dogs. I was a little disoriented and stopped to ask one of the people in uniform where the front of the station, and she just yelled at me to keep walking. Okay. Thanks.
Once we were inside the gate there, there was a crowd waiting for him, but since I had a backpack roughly the size of my body, and some other luggeage, and my college roommate who was picking me up was outside, I didn't wait around to see him pull in. Apparently he didn't either.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Obama's train

Some of the delay must have been because Obama's train was in front of us. We just pulled into Baltimore right next to his train and a lot of security. After passing him, at every stop, every street that had a view of the tracks had cops and people lined up waving and taking pictures. Even people waving flags! It's sort of like being in a high speed parade!

Starting off a long train ride waiting..

The pricey ticket seemed worth it for bypassing traffic on 95 south heading to the largest celebration Washington has ever seen. Now sitting at union station in New Haven looking up at the hours worth of delays on all south bound trains I wonder if there wasn't a better way to get there. Maybe by bike?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Last day in Ghana, trouble with the law

The day we were due to fly home we decided to try to drive an hour away to Lake Volta to take a ferry ride. We were slightly pressed for time because we had to catch the ferry at 10:30am, which lasted until 4:30, make it home pack up, say farewell and head to the airport at 7:30pm. Needless to say, if you know me, you know it was on my mind.

Now I should preface this antidote with a story about the first proper day we were in Accra. We were sitting outside at Rhapsody's having a few beers, sweating a bit more than what I consider comfortable, but again, first day...

All of a sudden there is a commotion going on in the adjacent parking lot, literally 25 meters from where we are sitting. A cop was harassing a taxi driver. Screaming at the top of his lungs for him to sit down, flailing his hands and his rifle all over the place. The driver was barely responding at all, maybe this further angered the cop, because he started to beat him with his hand. He was roughing him up pretty aggressively. I was pretty shocked.
"Welcome to Africa" Akwasi smiled.

After discussing this with a few other Ghanaians, people came to agree that the police in Ghana are quick to get angered, and are often looking for a bribe. Needless to say it struck me, and set the tone for any interactions with authority for the rest of the trip. Luckily, besides roadside checkpoints, there was very little interactions with police.

Fast forward to the last day.
First off after a series of unfortunate events, which included forgetting someone behind, and a flat tire, we were running a little bit behind schedule. Now a friend of Charles' had loaned us a car he had recently imported into the country. Because it was imported it had temporary plates. In addition to the temporary plates you have to carry a log book with all the details about why the car has the temporary plates. Ok fine.

So after helping Akwasi with his flat, Chandra, Charles, his sister Pricila, and I headed off to Akosombo. About twenty minutes down the road, there is a police check point. We pull up, and two cops lean in both windows. One asks for the log book. Charles has no idea about that... so the guy takes his gun off quickly and yells at us to pull over. It was the taking-off-of-the-gun that made my stomach drop a bit. Charles got out of the car, got yelled at, and after about 30 minutes and a crisp bill, we were off.

Ten minutes and all of the sudden we were at another one, except this time the cop flew off the handle immediately. Ranting and raving, we pulled over, and sweated out in the car. He made us get out of the car, claiming that he had to impound the car. No bathroom, no water, two hours of raving madness, marching, and huffing. Even some of the other cops there commented on the fact that the ring leader was being unusually unreasonable.

Finally Charles' parents came from their home, over an hour away, and talked the guy down. I don't know if money was exchanged, but we missed the ferry, and were in general exhausted.

While I felt extremely safe for the most part of my trip, the only time I felt uncomfortable in Ghana, was around the cops.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

After the club ...

Victoria came in on Sunday morning and said "After you go to the club, you go to church."

I think I may have noted in a past blog that church is slightly longer for Charismatics, which is what Akwasi's family is, than an American Catholic service.

Although Adwoa said something about 2 hours, after 3.5 hours Chandra and I started to wonder. Four hours in total the day we went. No air conditioning either.

Charistmatics are closely related to pentecostal Christians, and speak in tongues. True to the name, parts of the service were very vibrant.

My favorite part was seeing everyone dressed up.

That and Chandra nodded off at one point during the service (it was hard to stay awake especially since it was so hot) and an older lady sitting behind us told Victoria to wake her up. Victoria made Chandra come and sit by her. Flashback to St. Thomas.