Thursday, August 8, 2013

Why Madrid changed the things I knew about food.

So it has been a while. A long while. 7 months of Arabic training. A month of other random training. Some home leave. Some vacation. A curtailment. A reassignment. And here I am in Manama. About to write about Madrid. No Libya for me at the moment, a fact that made my family very happy. But in a post-Benghazi Foreign Service world I am making the most of my "snow days" resulting from an "abundance of caution". Between D.C. shutting us down and the Eid holiday and my passport being held who the heck knows where I have been given ten days to get to know my apartment. 

I have always been a gal with a healthy work-life balance but I arrived here to be the Deputy Pol/Econ Chief and was immediately acting as the Chief, a fact which led me to be a workaholic for the first time in my life (helped also by the limiting social options of Ramadan and the sad fact that everyone I work with is either married with young kids or works for me in some capacity). I find it ironic that just when I am fully and absolutely loving my job and wanting to be in the office with all my plucky little heart I am not allowed in!!!!! I think it is the universe putting me back in my place....

And having already spent time dancing randomly around my apartment, reading lots of Game of Thrones (dang that is a long book, don't buy the four book pack on the takes so long to even go 1% up....egads), watching bad TV downloaded to my iPad, finding the Navy Base and trying a spin class for the first time (ouch), having the interns over for dinner so they can say good-bye to their old apartment (yeah the 5 interns lived in my apartment before me, Real World Manama), I am now finally getting around to a long overdue project....getting my pictures in order.

When in Pakistan I thought my computer wasn't working because I had too many pictures on it so I put them all on memory sticks and deleted from hard drive (is that what it is called?). Turned out that one of the times I dropped the computer must've harmed it and it needed a new hard drive (again I think that is it). But when I finally came back online I realized all my Facebook albums had been deleted also.  I felt kinda like a character in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind since my memory not so great and I used my Facebook albums to remind me of what the heck I'd been doing. 

So now....I am reuploading my photos to Shutterfly...and I've decided to work on posting them here in batches telling the stories of the trips so I can have a record. I'm starting with Madrid December 2011. Because they were the first photos I uploaded. Yeah that is how organized I am. 

Scenesetter....I was living in Pakistan. In Karachi on a compound. All travel, requested at least 24 hours in advance, was in a fully armored vehicle with an armed guard to destinations pre-approved. So no strolling the streets, no whimsical side trips, no chance meetings or making new random friends. Sad since Pakistanis are ridiculously nice and inviting and there appeared to be a lot of silly fun to be had on the streets. Thankfully the people I worked with ruled so compound living for me was kind of like a big adult dorm, a lot of drinking and laughing but without the drama. After a while though it could feel pretty repressive so my trip to Madrid was much needed....

Madrid, December 2011. 
Madrid is pretty!!! Simply walking the streets was so much fun.

 Check it out! No bodyguards. Leaves changing color. Clean, crisp air. Going running in the sunshine on the streets. Nobody cares, nobody stares. I soak in the beauty of the European architecture on such a grand scale.
 Fountains just because. And people walking around feeling safe and living their lives. And I get to walk among them. Lovely.
 Man, I miss that purse. Look, fun little boats!
 And statues. So nice.

 Here's my friend Maggie and her boyfriend. I met Maggie when I was living in Philly and working at Moody's. She's Bulgarian and living in Spain (now London). These two ruled. They picked me up at the airport. My luggage was lost, boo hiss, so I borrowed clothes from Maggie but I bought some new underwear. Now European sizes in general are smaller and I know that. Americans have gotten bigger and bigger and the clothes industry in an attempt to still have a market in popular stores have resized clothes so that today's size 10 is yesterday's size 14 probably. But not in Europe! And I knew that. And I thought I adjusted for that. But I sadly did not so I spent the first night until my luggage arrived with my knickers in a seriously uncomfortable knot. Way too much information. Sorry I digress. But Maggie and her boyfriend were awesome.

This is a cool tapas bar. You just keep picking out things and then pay at the end. Yum.

Me and Maggie. She took me to an awesome restaurant to get Paella. I had never been a huge fan. BECAUSE all my life I'd been eating some craptastic fake paella. Holy heck the real paella is wonderful, beautiful, life-altering. My mouth is watering thinking about it. I might have to go back to Madrid. Like now. Crud....just remembered my passport is, well I don't know where it is, but that is really irrelevant to this story.  Or maybe lack of story.

Yeah. Those are pork legs. They seriously love the pork in Madrid. Traveling there from a Muslim country, I was overwhelmed. Ham everywhere. Including amazing ham that comes from little black pigs that eat acorns. Seriously. Heavenly. But not like that crappy Heavenly Ham that my grandmom always had for Easter when I was a kid. I mean, I used to love that stuff. But then I had real ham in Madrid. Kinda like the paella experience. I didn't smuggle a pig leg back to Karachi (though I thought about it) but a few packs of ham and some really good riojas and some manchego might have jumped into my has a mind of its own!!!!

Nighttime revelry. I really had no idea what was going on but there were a lot of people.

My Maggie again! She's so pretty!

This sangria bar ruled. We navigated through some fun old school European streets and then went underground (okay down stairs to a basement) to what really looked like a cave. The walls were crumbling, the tables were worn, the banquettes were kinda greasy. And the sangria was divine. Kinda like the paella and ham experiences.

On another note, see the bracelet....My mom had sent me a bracelet like that when I lived in India and even though I had never been a bracelet kind of girl I loved it and started wearing it everywhere. Until I was in Sri Lanka and I took my bracelet off and left it in my hotel room when I went to the spa. And...okay really this is another story that I won't tell here....well, monkeys broke into my room and among other things (Holly's birth control, my cigarettes, Wasa bread, these monkeys knew how to PAR-TAY) they stole the bracelet. I was super sad. A year later in Pakistan I get a birthday card from my mom and the bracelet is inside. And of course my first thought was "How did my mom get it back from the Sri Lankan monkeys????? She is MAGIC." Once I talked with her though the more likely scenario of her going back to the vendor and buying a new one emerged. Sigh. I kinda loved the idea of my mom being in the know with the monkey thieves.

Oh I forgot about the bar we went to where they served some sort of mojito but it was made with crushed strawberries. And it was amazing. I loved Madrid. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

A note on hardship posts.

I haven't written for over a year. I'm not sure if I legitimately did not have the time or if I did not have the mental space to process everything I was experiencing. I'm still not sure I have the latter. But for those who keep asking me incredulously, "Are you still going to Libya?" I wanted to write about why I still feel safe while officially abroad.

I left Pakistan after a one year tour as economic officer in Karachi on September 4, 2012. My last day in country a vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) struck a U.S. government vehicle in Peshawar resulting in American injuries. About a week later massive protests at the compound I called home for a year saw a protester shot to death and many of my colleagues temporarily left the country for their safety.

Next I am slated to be the information officer in Tripoli, Libya. During my home leave, an attack in Benghazi, Libya resulted in the death of my ambassador and three colleagues, none of whom I had yet met but whose families I pray for. I had the strange distinction of knowing that both the post I had just left and my onward assignment were currently on draw down.

When I left for my tour in Karachi, I made a concerted effort to explain to my family all the reasons I wouldn't really be in danger. I explained that security procedures existed limiting my movements and providing pretty much a bubble of safety for me to do my work in. I stressed the dedication and professionalism of our Diplomatic Security agents and the Marine Security Guards. Admittedly though, I downplayed the threats that existed while stressing how well I was being taken care of.

My downplaying of the threats led to one comically heated moment with my mother. While on my second home leave in June I went to a wine tasting at a vineyard near her home with her. She was talking to the owners and inquiring about the vines' health because there had been an early frost. "I've been praying for those vines, I was just so worried" she intimated. "Really Mom? Really? You've been praying for vines?" I incredulously spat out. "What? Of course I prayed for the vines!" my mom innocently retorted.  "Your daughter lives in the most dangerous city in the world and you are praying for vines?" I shot back.  "But you told me you are perfectly safe. What do you mean dangerous city?" she asked worriedly.  "Mom, the cover of Time magazine a few months back was Karachi: Pakistan's dark heart and the cover story went on to call it the most dangerous city in the world." I replied.

And then wished I hadn't. I prefer her to pray for vines and not know the threats I face.  Because when I tell her I'm perfectly safe I mean it.  I trust my security officers. I follow their instructions. I trust the host governments in the countries I serve. Because when I serve abroad I am not just me but rather I am a U.S. diplomat. And so if something happens to me, it doesn't just affect me and those who care for me. If something happens to me it literally could become an international incident. So the incentives to keep me safe are so high that I trust my security people and the host governments.

I know though that outsiders looking at my situation can't understand the levels of security that exist to protect me and allow me to feel safe.  They haven't met the diplomatic security teams, the agents of high integrity and deep knowledge who do my worrying for me. They don't understand just how much thought, time, money, effort, intelligence, care, planning, training, and drilling goes into designing how I will be kept safe. They don't appreciate how much HAS NOT happened because of this attention to detail.

Nothing is ever 100% though. But nothing is 100% safe in the United States either. Every day when I get out of bed here in D.C. there are risks I face in the world. Every day when I get into bed there are risks I face in sleep. Life has risks. While I am abroad the threats and the risks are greater because my status as a U.S. diplomat means that unfortunately there are people out there who want to do me harm. But when I am abroad my protection level is also greater. And in balance I feel nearly as safe abroad as I do when I am home, with the amount of good I feel I can do abroad justifying the risk differential.

Successful attacks on U.S. government targets do happen. But they are rare. Just as plane crashes happen. But they are rare.  Lightning has been known to strike people but I still walk in the rain. Because I feel the risk is small in relation to the reward.

Recent incidents have allowed the nation to appreciate the sacrifices that diplomats make. Ambassador Stevens' death challenged the public perception that diplomats spend their time in tuxedos attending champagne receptions and generally wasting U.S. taxpayers money.

As diplomats we do important and difficult work overseas. And we face threats. Most of the time the areas where the work has the most impact are the areas where we face the deepest threats. But we face those risks. Because the rewards are worth it.

We must remember that those who want to do us harm are a minority. A dangerous minority. The majority of people in the riskiest areas hope for a better life for themselves and their families. As diplomats, our interactions with those populations bring hope and promote understanding that  inspires new solutions and speeds progress. When we stop engaging, we allow the minority that wants to do us harm opportunities to grow their base.  For me, the opportunity to engage in the areas where hope is needed most gets me out of bed in the morning. The rewards far outweigh the risks.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


The flight to Hawaii was uneventful. But arriving there was amazing! Perfect weather, beautiful skies, so much to look at! Going through customs, the immigration officer asked really did you go to all these countries on THIS trip? As this is not the first time I've had this sort of confrontation, I just smiled and said yes I've been gone for a year. He asked are you a student? And I took another breath and said no I'm a diplomat that is why I have that diplomatic passport you are holding. He looked at me incredibly confused, flipped through my passport a bit more, and then handed it back to me. He failed to stamp it but I didn't want to take the time to point that out. Then the normal airport hassles, finding my too huge bag and hauling it onto the shuttle to get to Enterprise for them to YET AGAIN not have the size car I booked and instead force me to pay more than my reservation because I don't want to take a pickup truck. Ugh. But how upset can one get in paradise?

I check into my condo and it is gorgeous!!!! A beautiful view of the sea from my balcony, a golf course at my door, a huge misty mountain in my backyard. Perfection. I go to the grocery store and have a near epileptic fit at the huge variety of stuff to buy, a whole aisle of cheese and whipped cream and sour cream and cream cheese and then the fruits and vegetables! Avocados that will taste like avocados!!!! Tomatoes that will have taste! Heaven. And Bagels!!!!! Hello old friends!!!! The place is so clean and people give me a wide berth to just explore and noone tries to step on me or sweep stuff over my feet and it is so beautiful. An aisle just for ice cream! What a country!!!! I'm so happy to be back in the USA!

I lounge, I read, I watch bad t.v., I do laundry, I make awesome fresh meals, I hang at the beach, I go to yoga - this is my first 18 hours in Maui. Actually at yoga I give a random woman a ride and turns out she owns a vineyard in the Willamette Valley in next stop! Crazy. And then I go pick up Michele! And it is so easy. I park the car, I walk to the baggage claim, she is there. There are no hordes and hordes of people camping out and clogging the only tiny little exit aisle that passengers can come through. Nope. This is America!!!!

I take Michele back to the condo and we go to the beach. We book ourselves a luau for later that night. Oh the luau! At the end of the day it was cheesetastic and a total tourist trap but the food was good, surprisingly so given how many people they were feeding, and the alcohol kept flowing and the dancing and singing and fashion show acts were entertaining. At the entrance they were giving everyone either a Mai Tai or some nonalcoholic drink. When Michele asked for a Mai Tai they carded her 35 year old self and then stamped her hand. I asked if I needed to show I.D. and the woman kinda laughed at me as she snidely said um no. Darn India has aged me! Like a lot. I gained about 20 pounds and 15 years of wrinkles. Worth it. We ended up getting total prom pictures taken at the entrance and then buying them. We went up on the stage to learn the hula. We got lost going through the hotel complex to try to find a cab.

At the condo, we decided we wanted to go out. So we walked across the golf course to what looked like a bar. We walked in the back door. Hmmmm no people. We keep walking through the restaurant until we come to a bar area with two dudes who look very much like they are closing up. Heavy metal is blaring. Michele asks if we can get a drink. The gentlemen very nicely tell her that the place is closed and they are just finishing up. She asks well where can we go then? And they call a cab and give a recommendation. They let us use their bathrooms. Michele uses the dude's room and then comes out to congratulate the nice guys on how well kept the dude's room is, something about wow it has soap and everything. Then, with Van Halen blasting, she tells them your music sucks. Making friends and influencing people wherever we go!!!! The cab comes. We leave.

Next bar. A sort of Mexican theme. Beer, we get local draft beers. Again Michele decides the music stinks. Her solution? Put $20 in the jukebox since she has no ones. The result? A few songs repeated multiple times because they are just that great and man it is hard to remember what one already played!!! Poison's Ain't looking for nothing but a good time and Lita Ford's Kiss Me Deadly got some pretty heavy rotation. There was dancing though there was no dancefloor. There were a lot of random conversations with barflies. All in all a pretty sweet night.

The next day was a bit ouchie. But we went to the beach and enjoyed the beautiful water and sand. We went to dinner at the restaurant on the golf course that we had terrorized the night before and that had been gracious enough to call us a cab. Good dinner. Another amazing sunset. We woke up early so that we could go to Haleakala National Park. Early morning driving through Maui and the amazing light. So many people surfing or on those stand up and paddle surfboards as we drive along the coast, huge cliffy misty mountain to one side and spectacular sea to the other. And then we turn more inland and there are sugar plantations surrounding us as we start driving towards the monster of a volcano that is Haleakala. So starting at sea level we drive maybe 30 minutes but gain 10,000 feet of elevation. At one point we drove right through a cloud! And it starts to be FREEZING. Yeah should have thought of that. But it is beautiful and crystal clear and we can see the hollowed out looking area with all the lava rocks in it and we are above the clouds so there is a mer de nuages and the air is so crisp and you can see for miles and miles and miles and the sea is gorgeous and some other islands are in view. Ah. Oh. Lovely. But alas, it is time to head back down and take Michele to the airport, twas a quick but eventful visit! And then there was just me again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Learning All the Time

Hey look I finally learned how to add if I could only figure out how to play scrabble on here I could give up Facebook!

The Long Way Home

So here I am back in the U.S. of A. And yes it is magnificent. And marvelous. And mesmerizing. Especially the long, clean, bright rows in the grocery stores and the wonderfully sparkling bathrooms everywhere I go. And I can plug things right into the wall and the electricity never goes out and I can drink water RIGHT from the tap. I'm in my sixth week of home leave and I still get teary eyed at the little pleasures.

On the long way home I first went to Australia. Well after a bit of hassle. I had trouble shedding tears leaving India. I knew that most of my coworkers I would see again. There are people who I knew I would miss but at the end of two years there I was exhausted and just ready for clean air and roads I can walk down and smiles from friendly faces instead of (given not malicious but mostly only curious but still) empty stares. So I didn't cry at my farewells at work. And I didn't cry when leaving my wheel's up.

And I was told that I would share my car to the airport with someone who would be arriving at Post that evening (sunrise, sunset). But then it was changed because what if my flight was delayed and the car couldn't get there in enough time? My response was I wouldn't be checking flight times and I was going to the airport at my designated time come hell or high water because one way or another I was getting on a plane that evening!!!

I get to the airport and I turn over all my stuff - keys, forms, blackberry - to the driver. I head in and yet again the whole airport is arranged differently and security procedures changed but not explained (I lived there 2 years, flew into 18 different Indian airports, visited Sri Lanka thrice, saw Bali, Bangkok, Singapore, had 10 visitors fly into Chennai....I had a LOT of experience with what I declare tied for the worst airport in India...and hands down winner of most disgusting bathrooms in any airport in the entire world in my experience but I digress).

I make it to the front of the line with my oversized bag. The check in dude asks me for my ticket and passport. I give him my dip passport (one of two on me but the one with the Indian visa) and he asks me where my Australian visa is. I explain that I will be traveling on my tourist passport and a visa is not required. I give him my tourist passport. He still insists I need a visa. Then he explains that I needed to check in online with Australia. He tells me to go do that. I calmly ask how do you expect me to do that now? He basically tells me to have my people do that and chastises me since my travel agent should have done this (yeah don't get me started on the ineptitude of the travel agent at Post, the rest of the management section was a dream and far exceeded my expectations but wow was the travel agent a dud, a contracted dud). Deep breath and I explain I can't do that, I don't have my phone, I don't have internet access. He gives me a does not compute look and just repeats that I need to check in and get pre-authorization before I can board.

I bawl. Hard. Sobbing, gasping for air bawling. The does not compute look turns to pure why is the white lady crying panic in check in dude and he gets a manager. A very nice manager who takes my passports and says he'll go in his office and do the check in for me. The startled check in dude tells me I need to step aside and wait until the authorization comes through. I cry again and say I just can't move this big bag any further. He starts to tell me I have to but I gasp my tears and he sends a dude to move my bag for me. Okay so maybe I was milking it at that point but once I started crying I couldn't stop and all the amazing things about India came to mind and the fabulous family that was created in our community was in my thoughts and I realized that I really would miss so much about this country of absolute extremes and had I ever stopped to process the effect all of it would have on me? So the tears at first may have been for show but once started I could not stop and I just plunked down on my bag and had at it while incredibly terrified dudes tried to stay as far as possible from me.

Seriously, why did I learn the trick to getting personal space in my last hours in India???? Maybe I should write the CLO and have it put in the manual for new arrivals.

The nice manager guy comes out and asks me some silly questions and I give him some silly answers. Eventually I procure a boarding pass and head to Kuala Lumpur (such an awesome airport!!!!) and then Sydney. At Sydney I hand the immigration officer my tourist passport. He looks it over, does some computer stuff then asks do you have any OTHER passports? Um, yeah I say and hand over my other two dip passports. And that is how I learned what the Australian look for my isn't this person shady looks like. The nice immigration officer asks me to wait.

Another immigration officer comes and takes all my passports and leads me to a bench. Gulp. And yes the irony of having just been a visa officer for the past two years and then not knowing the visa requirements for Australia and then being taken a little tad bit to almost secondary was not lost on me. I sit on my bench thinking about it but mostly just laughing and loving that I AM IN AUSTRALIA!!!!! The immigration officer comes back, asks a few questions, tells me that my online application had been done on my dip passport and that my first and middle names had been entered as one and then he welcomes me to Australia and tells me to enjoy my stay! I'm in!!!!

I get my bag and get in a cab and am in love with cars staying in lanes and the quiet of the road, no honking, no yelling, no fireworks, no public urination/defecation. Sydney is nice. I check in and exhaustedly make it to my room. After spending 9 months vegetarian (about 2 of that vegan) I call up room service and pretty much ask them to back a cow and a knife and a few glasses of red wine up to the little table. It was delicious.

The next day I go on an amazing tour on a bus with a driver who thought I was shady because I said I was "between places" when asked where I live. We first went to a really cool zoo where kangaroos were just hopping all around. I got to feed some of them and then they fought each other for the cone that my food had been in. Rad. Later in the trip I ate kangaroo on a pizza with cranberry. Delicious. Apparently kangaroos don't want to kill each other when they fight. And usually they fight over chicks. So once the beaten kangaroo just puts his face down on the ground, basically saying uncle, the fight is over. If you are ever being beaten by a kangaroo remember that. Poor kangaroo probably just thought you were after his woman, put your head down and stay away from his gal and you'll be fine. I also got to pet a koala bear. Omigosh it was so cute and cuddly!

Then we drove into the blue mountains, blue because of the eucalyptus trees. Some hiking and we saw the three sisters monument. Then we went to Scenic World and did a really cool cable car and then the world's steepest train which used to be just for coal and then I walked through the rain forest and saw old wreckage of coal mining equipment and it looked right out of the show Lost. And then we went to the Olympic village and took a ferry through the harbor and I got my first view of the Sydney Opera House. A festival was going on and all sorts of crazy light show effects were happening on this already surreal looking monument.

The next day I did the Sydney Bridge Climb. I took the sunset tour which started at 3 pm. They made us wear strange suits and get ourselves all attached to these cable things but it was still really cool walking up the support system of the bridge and then being on top for sunset, looking down at all the cars and looking out to the amazing view of the harbor and the city, watching the sunlight fade and the city lights turn on. And did I mention they did this on America's Next Top Model?

I had so much fun on the Blue Mountain tour that I booked again through the same company and ended up with the same driver for the Hunter Valley wine tour. A beautiful day learning about Shiraz and watching the grapes grow. Yum.

The last day in Australia I had a reservation at Quay, listed as the 22nd best restaurant in the world. It was a cold but clear day and I first walked down and around the harbor and the Opera House. The restaurant is right on the harbor with excellent views of the water, the Opera House, the bridge. I chose the tasting menu with wine pairings. Ten beautiful courses and wines. The sommelier at around course 5 asked if I was driving. I said no and she said oh thank goodness because I've been pouring you kind of heavy. I said I know and THANK YOU! What lovely food although I'm still confused about the "ethical foie gras". I asked and they said they don't force feed. Hmmmm. Wow I just realized the time.....well next time I'll talk about finally getting back to the U.S. because I left Sydney and arrived in Hawaii!!!!!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Monkeys, do they love me or hate me? Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the Buddha.

I'm skipping a LOT here....the camel safari, the Andamans, Bali, Udaipur and my Bond adventures...but....MONKEYS!!!!! As I type scores of monkeys keep crossing my path. Some juveniles just got separated from their parents and at least THEY find me threatening enough to keep some distance. Oh no, there they go finding some adults and passing my balcony again.

Holly and I are staying at this amazing hotel. Up in the mountains, on a lake, designed by Geoffrey Bawa to be a part of the mountain. I'm siting on the balcony having tea but there is another line of pillars about 6 feet out from the hard part of the building that has vines growing all over it to give the hotel a green cover and hide it away. between the balcony and the pillars/vines is a criss cross of beams and on that and the vines the monkeys are ambling around.

The first day in this paradise I do see a few monkeys at breakfast but they were very well behaved. Then we went to Sigiriya, an ancient fortress where we climbed and climbed to see breathtaking panoramas and 900 year old cave paintings and then headed to Polannaruwa where I got to see my huge Buddha out of the mountain carvings. Then home, no crazy monkeys, just cute ones as scenery.

The next morning I decided to have tea on my balcony. And many monkeys came by to scope the joint. But for the most part left me alone. Well except for one particularly curious one that I chased away by saying "Bad monkey, BAD monkey". Then I went for a massage. When I got out, I saw a Holly storming up to me demanding "Just what state was the room in when you left it?
..."umm, what do you mean?"..."Well was your computer missing a key? And did you leave the music on?"...."Huh, negative on both counts."...."Well then we got a problem."

Holly went on to tell me that the room looked as if it had been ransacked but that the balcony door was locked and nothing of value appeared to have been taken. However, my cigarettes were mostly missing and the remaining strewn all over the place, my tea cup had been smashed, her toiletries bag had been opened and her medications stolen, and yes, my music had been turned on. Which actually was quite a feat....iTunes was up and downloading but the monkey would have needed to go into the music and press play....I guess the monkeys were just desperate for some OK Go. Apparently Holly's first thought was that I had done all of this. Her second had been that a monkey was still in the room so she had gone around searching, to which I ask "What would you have done if you had in fact found a monkey under the bed?"

Okay, fine. A bit inconvenient but no major harm done. We laughed. Holly especially just kept imagining the fun the troupe of monkeys must have had. So I finish reading my "Seven Years in Tibet" and start reading my "An Open Heart" by the Dalai Lama. And let me just say, Buddhism is hard. I mean, you are supposed to think through why you get mad and take the time to disable the thought. Well, I really do love the tenets of Buddhism but man is it a lot of work. But I start thinking I'll give it a try.

So the following day we head out to Anuradhapura, a city of ruins with some fabulous stupas. And then to Dambulla Cave Temple. So at this second stop we walk up a LOT of stairs. And along the way some sweet old ladies ask if I want to buy some flowers. And I think, well maybe I can't stop myself from being an angry lady but I can buy some flowers to put by the Buddhas. So I get my handful of lotus flowers and keep trudging up the stairs. And I feel virtuous. So much so that when all the little kids and some adults continue barraging me with the Hello Hellos I say hello back and smile and they go off giggling. Event the teenage boys being rowdy and well, teenage boys, are not getting me down. Cause I'm going up, to give flowers to Buddha. And then I feel a tug at my hand and look down and there is a monkey running away with my flowers.

Growing up, my dad always left the car and the house unlocked. And when I asked him about it he just said that if someone really wants to come take the stuff they probably need it more than him. Did the monkeys really need my computer key, my Wasa bread, my cigarettes, my flowers, Holly's insect spray and medicine more than me? I suppose some mysteries will always be unanswered.

just realized i forgot the best part in part 1

At the Christmas Eve dinner, there was a band. A totally cheesetastic cover band. And a smoke machine. And the song Careless Whisper which followed me and Michele throughout India, pretty much on repeat in the Himalayas. Anyhoos, it popped up again here in Sri Lanka, the island so nice I visited it thrice.