30 June 2007

6 Trains, 2 SkyCars, A Taxi & A Flight Later…Getting To SA

It all started in Brussels at 12:30pm when I left the Decrop’s house for the train station. I had to get to Dusseldorf to fly to Frankfurt and then on to Joburg in South Africa. My plans had changed somewhat and I wasn’t in Dusseldorf (obviously), so I had hoped to skip the flight from Dusseldorf to Frankfurt and go straight from Brussels to Frankfurt by train, thus cutting out about 6 hours of pointless travel. “That’s impossible,” the Lufthansa woman told me, when I called the reservation line. “You must start your flight at point of purchase, and Dusseldorf is your point of purchase. I’m sorry, there is nothing I can do unless you want to pay $150 change fee.” Mind you, I didn’t want to “change” anything. I just wanted to skip a flight, empty a seat, give them a chance to make more money. Not an option.

So I took the train from Brussels to Koln, then Koln to Dusseldorf then Dusseldorf to Dusseldorf Airport. From there, I took the “SkyCar” to Terminal A, walked a half-mile to the Economy class check-in, and dropped my baggage. “You have a middle seat,” Elsa told me. “46E.” I showed her my confirmation, which said I had a window, 50A. “That seats taken.” Sorry. Super. Then it was through security, where I had my water bottle confiscated again while my bag was being checked for bomb residue. From there, I went to my gate. Because of the train situation I was 3 hours early but already, my flight was delayed 2 hours, which meant I was going to miss a dinner date with my friend Lori, who is working for Commerzbank in Frankfurt. She didn’t have a cell phone and the Internet station was down, so I decided to text Ben in DC to email her in Frankfurt and explain. No immediate reply and Lori and I are supposed to meet in an hour, so I text Kyle. He replies, letting me know he is at work (a restaurant, so no computer). Then I decide to text Dana (also in DC) who doesn’t know Lori but can get her info on Facebook and send a message to her for me. She replies with “will do.” Success! Then she replies again, letting me know her info is set to “private” on Facebook, but that she sent her a Facebook message. Good enough.

Another hour passes and the flight is further-delayed due to bad weather in Frankfurt. Now it’s looking like I’m going to miss my connection, so I head to the ticket counter. “Not a chance that you’re getting to South Africa tonight,” Freida tells me. “No way, but I will confirm you for tomorrow.” Well that’s good enough, I decide. As this airport stuff happens to me quite often, I was marginally un-phased. That meant I needed a place to crash in Frankfurt, which meant I needed to get a hold of Lori! Now in crisis mode, I decided to spend the $18 to use the airport’s wireless network.

I get on G-chat. Luckily, Lori is online. I explain everything and she says I can stay with her. Glorious! Then she types, “my address is” and at that moment, Gmail goes ballistic and our chat is cancelled. So, I have a confirmation that I can stay but I have NO IDEA where she lives. Being resourceful, I get on AOL Instant Messenger, find Ben online and ask for Lori’s screenname. “She’s on gchat. I’ll ask,” he tells me. Meanwhile, I am on Facebook posting on Lori’s “wall” explaining what happened. A few minutes pass. “Her Instant Messenger isn’t working. What’s up? I’ll tell her.” So I proceed to ask Ben (who is in DC simultaneously hosting a conference call at work and updating the Alpha Phi Omega website) to get Lori’s address, as well as a phone number. He begins acting as middleman and I get what I need. Then he offers to get a map online for me, which he sends via iChat. By now, Lori’s Instant Messenger has decided to start working once again, and we’re chatting directly, though I continue to chat with Ben.

We both decide a phone call would work better, so I Skype her from my computer in the Dusseldorf airport. We finalize the plans and I hang up. Then I call the office in DC to explain that I’m going to be a day late to South Africa. Right in the middle of our conversation they announce that my flight from Dusseldorf to Frankfurt is now CANCELLED, which means I’m back at zero. I quickly hang up with the office and ask the woman what to do. She explains that I need to get my luggage then go to “Re-ticketing” to find a solution.

I go to the baggage carousel. It spins and spins with lots of bags, but not mine. 15 minutes pass and I ask an attendant what to do. He says “I don’t know.” Now, he works at the airport. Shouldn’t he have just the slightest idea what I should do? I head to lost luggage, wait in line with the other 50 people and discover that my bag was “flagged” as unattended (probably because I was supposed to be getting on plane) and put into quarantine. Another 30 minutes and they produce it, wrapped in an air-tight black bag. Hmmm…

So it’s now 10pm (I started this game at 12:30pm) and I’m running to “Re-ticketing,” where I have a lovely discussion with an Australian and South African who explain how they never lock their doors because their countries are so safe, “not like America.” Then it’s my turn and I explain that I’d like to get to Frankfurt tonight, so as not to spend a fortune on a hotel room. Linda (lovely woman) gets me on the next train out of Dusseldorf, so I scurry with all my luggage to the “SkyCar,” which takes me to the Dusseldorf Airport train station, where I attempt to log on to the wireless and email Lori with my updated plan. The network is (shockingly) down, so I decide to use my cell phone, only to discover the cell network is also down! No email, no internet, no phone. Can it get any worse? Obviously, yes.

I get the next train from Dusseldorf Airport to Dusseldorf Main, only to find that my connecting train (from Dusseldforf to Koln) is 15 minutes late, which means I am going to miss my last train from Koln to Frankfurt, and the next one isn’t until 1am! By now I’m starving, as all I had eaten was a croissant and a waffle when I was still in Belgium. My choices are McDonald’s or Pizza Hut. I choose Pizza Hut and decide (why, I do not know) to go with something new and get a slice of Indian Tandoori Chicken Pizza. I take a big bite and within seconds my mouth is ON FIRE from the spices. I reach to the side of my bag to get my water bottle, but there is nothing there. It was confiscated when I went through airport security. I dart to the vending machine (backpack on, suitcase rolling behind me) and stuff my money into the coin slot, pounding on the water button. The machine is broken, and it won’t return my $2! My lips are now numb and I have no control of my tongue. Remembering that bread actually cools the burn, I turn to the snack machine and cram more money into the slot, pressing “1-6” to get some crackers. The little sprockets spin to release the bag and right as it’s about to drop, the bag gets lodged into the spiral. I dig through my pocket looking for more change. I need 1 euro and I have 95 euro-cents. No crackers for me. At this point my train pulls up and I have to board, eyes watering, nose running.

Because this train was late it was also very full. Knowing that I was going to miss my connection from Koln to Frankfurt anyway, all sense of urgency had left my system. I sauntered in to find that the only seat left was in the SMOKING CAR. Again, perfect. The ticket agent came through to stamp tickets. I handed him my plane ticket stub, on which the flight attendant had scribbled in pen, “Good for the train” and initialed it. VERY OFFICIAL. The train attendant looked at me like I was crazy. I began to explain the last 11 hours to him, my eyes still watering from the pizza of death. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll figure this out,” thinking my tears were tears of sadness. I was totally fine with this confusion. I hadn’t lied about anything and hopefully something good was going to happen.

He picked up his walkie-talkie and started speaking in lightning-fast German to someone, then he disappeared into the next car. He reappeared five minutes later to let me know that he had “phoned ahead and made sure the train would wait for us to arrive. You will need to run though,” he told me; and run I did. Like the wind. And scream. Like a 12-year-old girl. “WAIT! WAIT! WAIT!” I yelled, as the train attendant started to board. I jumped in and within 10 seconds we were moving again. For the first time in nearly 12 hours something had gone right.

From there, everything when smoothly – the train was on time, I got a cab easily and he took me right to Lori’s door. I’m about to drift off into dreamland now, but lets recap:

Train to train to train to train to skycar to middle seat to water confiscated to waiting in the airport to texting America to get a hold of someone in Germany to gchatting to skyping to flight being cancelled to quarantined luggage to skycar to train to train to pizza of death to vending machine of doom to train to smoking car to misinterpreted tears to running to train to train to taxi to bed. NOT TO SOUTH AFRICA, all because Lufthansa didn’t want to let me skip my 20-minute flight from Dusseldorf to Frankfurt. Thanks Lufthansa. Thanks!

The Gear of A World Traveler

In all the commotion of gettin’ going on the World Tour, I forgot to introduce the “cast of characters,” if you will. While I’m the only human traveling, I’ve had plenty of objects to talk to, all of which are helping me get around the world without collapsing from a nervous breakdown. There is, of course, the MacBook Pro, which happens to be brand new thanks to lemon laws that say after you’ve had the hard drive, processors, battery, keyboard, screen, RAM and motherboard replaced, you’re entitled to a new machine.

Then there is the video camera, A Sony HDD Hard Drive camcorder that comes in somewhere between tourist and commercial grade. Despite a few issues focusing, it’s not a bad piece of electronics.

There are, of course, the external hard drives, which now total 660 gigabytes of space. Don’t act like you’re not impressed.

I’ve chosen to go with Pumas, as they’re my favorite shoe. Nice and narrow! The real selling point is that they’re made entirely of rubber and mesh, perfect for Monsoon season in India.

Then there is my trusted, tried and true Canon digital camera. I love it. This is my third one (I left the first one in a movie theater. The second one was stolen in China). Perfect pictures all the time. Highly recommended.

The Moleskin notebooks are keeping track of my every move, not to mention all the interesting (and hopefully insightful) thoughts that enter my mind. Hemingway wrote “A Farewell To Arms” in once of these. Who knows, they could be lucky…

Due to some telecommunication errors (my cell phone was stolen in China and the replacement broke) I was forced to take my Mom’s old phone (covered in hearts) on the World Tour. Fortunately, my replacement black faceplate arrived before departure, but after this photo was taken.

Last but not least, the backpack. After Air China DESTROYED mine on my flight back to the US, I opted for the Eagle Creak travelpack, complete with detachable daypack and zip-away straps, perfect for air travel. As most of the flights do not originate or terminate in the US, I am restricted to one bag of only 20 kilos (about 50 pounds). To those of you who know me, you understand what an impressive undertaking this was for me. I usually pack heavy – really heavy - as in, three 75-pound bags when I moved to Brussels for four months. My uber-cool shirt and pant organizers, combined with the random disappearance of two shirts, a pair of pants and 6 pairs of socks, means I’m rather light on weight at the minute.

So that’s everything…me, this stuff and the World. Exciting? I think yes!

Breaking Point Reached - Climbing Rocks, Swinging From Trees and Poking Jellyfish To Clear My Head In Belgium

Lets say my breaking point is a ten. That would put me at a twelve right about now. Nearly four weeks of continuous 16 to 20 hour days combined with 2 intercontinental flights, 2 regional flights, 44 hours on a bus, 12 hours on a train, 9 hours in taxis and 25 unique places slept equals total exhaustion. I’m not sad or irritated or wanting this trip to end, I just really want a big nap…and an In N’ Out Burger…and another nap. I have an idea – I’ll work on the naps while you figure out how to make that burger happen…

Back with the Belgian host family, I was able to take a few days to myself, which couldn’t have been more enjoyable…don’t be sad. Be happy. If I couldn’t keep my eyes open, I couldn’t write a blog…or take a picture…or film a video…or be mistreated by airline employees. Wait, I’m sure airline employees would find a way to mistreat me no matter what.

Anyway, here’s what I was up to during my time off:

We started with a few days away to Astrid’s (the younger Belgian sister) boyfriend’s (his name is Gerald) family beach house in Knokke. Once there, we lip-synched some all-time classics (and a whole lot of Mika) into TV remotes…

Frolicked on the beach…

And poked at Jellyfish…

Gerald even let me borrow his scooter, which I used to take a ride out into the middle of nowhere, escaping “it all” for a good three hours (I love scooters. Mine just happened to be stolen in broad daylight locked to a fence in a covered parking garage at my University 6 weeks after I bought it).

From there I did a little indoor rock-climbing with Antoine, the French Spiderman who lives in the family’s basement. It’s not as sketchy as it sounds, I promise.

I was also able to convince Marc to join me in the trees of my favorite Belgian fun center, “Adventure Parc.” Located out in the middle of the woods, you swing, climb, repel and zipline through the forest while safely clasped to a people of wire. So fun, and SO HIGH!

I finished the trip with a night out on the town dancing with Clemence (the older Belgian sister) who had – that day – passed her last exam to move on to her next year of University. Definitely something to celebrate!

Of course, I spent most of my time with the Belgian mum, Anne, who is totally wonderful. After a surprise visit for my college graduation and a two-week escapade in China, nothing could phase either one of us, including some divine unmatched pajamas and an improptu photo shoot…

Last but not least, Belgians eat a lot of this – raw meat. It’s name, you ask? Filet Americain! It’s named America! We would never eat that!

Speaking of Americans, I also got a visit from one Conor Lanz, AU grad and boyfriend to the stars. A star in his own right, his luggage was lost at London Heathrow. While one bag came the next day, his garment bag (full of suits for his important meetings) somehow ended up in Milan. Nevertheless, I dragged him around Brussels for a day and half, pointing out all of my favorite things and forcing him to love this great city. I think it worked…check out he and his girlfriend's travel blog here. He also posted a few pics of his time in Brussels.


Ok, break is over! Time to get busy in South Africa!

Trains Hate Me

I was up early to catch my train to Germany. Correction: trains. I was going from Brussels to Liege, Liege to Aachan, Aachan to Bochum. Now, when I think of train travel in Europe I think clarity, ease of use and timeliness. Wrong, wrong and wrong. My first train from Brussels to Liege left on time but moved slower than a horse-drawn cart (literally, a horse-drawn cart passed us), meaning I missed my connection in Liege. After checking the big board with train departures I discovered the next train to Aachan didn’t leave for another three hours. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, only the train station in Liege is completely under construction, which meant I got to spend three hours sitting on the curb listening to and watching big cranes build the new “futuristic” station.

When my train finally arrived I was shocked to find that it was full of trash (there was actually a layer of garbage lining the floor). It appeared to be a throw-back from the Soviet block. My third train was commuter rail, which meant we stopped every three minutes for an hour and an a half. The bad luck continued throughout my trip. The next day, when Sophie and I went to visit Germany’s first-ever Youth Venture team, we got on what we thought was our train that was supposed to take 20 minutes to get to our destination. An hour later when we never passed our stop, we got off the train, only to find out that there was an error in the track assignments, meaning we had actually gone an hour in the wrong direction. AWESOME. On the way back from the site visit we took a short train ride to the subway, then got on the subway going the wrong direction. When we finally realized what had happened, we got back on going the other way, only to miss our stop because we were both totally engrossed in our conversation. PERFECT.

Then I had to take a 40-minute train from Bochum to Koln for our big event with Staples. I boarded but had no seat assignment, assuming no one had a seat asssigment. Wrong. Each seat had it’s own little sign for the day that indicated when the seat was reserved. I had no seat assignment, however, I didn’t understand the system in the slightest so whenever we stopped and picked up more people, I was obliged to move to another seat. I moved seats 7 times in 40 minutes and did NOT get a nap, like I had hoped.

Of course, it did not stop there. I had decided to upgrade my return ticket to Brussels from three trains on commuter rail to one high-speed train that would cut two hours off my trip back to Brussels, all for only $5! No-brainer, right? Only if you actually get on the train…I was up at 7AM to catch the 8:14AM train. The board (and my ticket) said track 8, so I went to track 8. The big screen their said “8:14AM – Brussels.” Right place, I thought. Then, 10 minutes later, the sign changed to “8:18AM – Amsterdam.” It was only 8:08AM and my train had yet to arrive, so I asked the very friendly (read sarcasm) train attendant what I should do. “This is the right place. Just board the train at doors D, E or F and you will go to Brussels.” So the train (to Brussels even though it says to Amsterdam) pulls in and I board at door D. 8:14AM comes and goes and we aren’t moving. 8:16AM and I decide to ask once again, as nothing inside the train (signs, etc.) offer any indication that I might be going to Brussels. I step out and ask the attendant. He points to cars E and F, which are now pulling away and says “Oops. I guess it was just cars E and F. Bye bye train. It looks like you aren’t going to Brussels right now! Haha.” Haha? Why, dear German train attendant, is this funny? By now it’s 8:18AM and the doors of the train to Amsterdam begin to close WITH MY BAGS ON BOARD. So my stuff is going to the Netherlands and I am stuck in Germany. I jump back on the train, throw my big backpack in space to stop the door, strap on my little backpack (with my computer inside) jump over my big back and then pull it out of its wedged position in the door, all whilst this train agent stairs and watches me. I ended up having to spend $4 more to get the next high-speed train, which didn’t leave for another 2 hours…thanks Germany, thanks.

Belgium & Germany Pics Up!

Photos from my time in Germany and Belgium are up! Check them our here:





Staples & Ashoka Rock Out With “Party Republic”

Youth Venture’s international expansion has been funded in several countries by Staples, the office supply store. In Germany, both organizations are relatively knew, so Staples invited Youth Venture to their annual corporate showcase to speak about what we do. Lilli and Sophie, our team in Germany, had to sum it all up into an 8-minute blurb that they then repeated SIXTY times to small groups of managers and corporate execs. SIXTY TIMES!

After a short break at Sophie’s parents’ house (I got to go swimming, take a long bath and read in the garden) we headed outside Koln to a once-factory and warehouse that had been transformed into an uber-party extravaganza and let me tell you, it was nothing like what you’d find at a corporate party in America.

It kicked off with a man juggling…and juggling…and juggling, to which the packed audience responded with numerous “Oohs and Ahhs.” This was followed by a rather long presentation of awards and accolades, which led to another juggling break and finally, the “staff member and store of the year” awards. After each winner was announced, the DJ would crank up “Simply the Best,” the US classic rock song. I heard the segment “Simply the Best. Better than all the rest” at least 25 times.

Next came the sing-along section of the evening. All 250 trainees – those people who did not go to University and instead enrolled in a one-year training program with Staples – took the stage to sing the “Staples Song,” complete with dance moves, solos and a big finish that evoked tears from some. Throughout the entire piece the audience took to their feet, doing the wave with lighters in their hands. I, of course, joined right in (minus the lighter), photographing the entire escapade, thinking about what a great blog entry this evening would make. I mean, the corporate love and excitement and unity that Staples had built here in Germany was inspiring. I was getting chills!

At this point it was time to eat. They announced just that: “Go eat,” and all 500 people in attendance headed to the bar at the same time. It was madness! Pasta, wok ingredients, salad and beef were flying all over the place as people dove into every course of the meal all at once. Lilli and I grabbed the last two forks in the bin, wrestling them away from some girl who was clearly in the “cool kids” clique in high school and now enjoyed bullying foreigners and people working in the social sector.

From here we ate…and ate…and ate. Ready to work it off, we welcomed to the stage “Party Republic,” the GREATEST COVER BAND OF ALL TIME. The lead singer, a Brit, opened by saying “Staples crew, are you ready to rock,” in her perfectly rockable British accent. The crowd went wild, and we danced for a solid two hours.

The highlights had to have been Santana’s “The Game of Love,” which included a riveting solo by the Portuguese guitarist, and the Scissor Sister’s “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’,” which had a new bongo section solo that I don’t remember from the original…the 65-year-old Moroccan on drums did a fabulous job with that.

At 2AM, after some girl wearing a really long red dress ran off with my tie, we decided to call it a night. Stomachs full, our need to groove fulfilled, we left the Germans of Staples to rock the night away with their newest sensations, “Party Republic.” Rock on. Rock on.

27 June 2007

Webisode #8 - Joburg, South Africa

Here it is, the latest webisode! I'm in Joburg, South Africa meeting with some amazing teams. One of them joined me for this little diddy. Enjoy!

The link, if that doesn't work:


25 June 2007

Witnessing “Birth”

I was fortunate enough to be in Germany to witness the actual launch of our first two teams there. After visiting Argentina and Brazil, both now with over 50 teams, and coming from the US, which boasts over 1000 teams, I was excited to see where it all begins. Interestingly enough, it starts the same place every team starts – developing action plans and defending their ideas before a panel. We held the first panel in a large room at the Bochum community center. It took about an hour. There was a giant pad of paper (like the ones used in Pictionary) for the team to use for any charts or ideas they wanted to jot down.

After their presentations, we all sat outside and talked about “Compton, the Bloods and the Crypts, Snoop Dog and what it was like for me to grow up on the “West Side” while the panel deliberated. I sat on a wagon. No fan-fair, no hoopla. Just a focus on service. When I asked the teams how it felt to be the first teams in Germany, that idea didn’t really phase them. “It’s exciting, but we just really want to start our project and fix our school.” That’s what’s so amazing about these young people; they just want to do it, get in there and fix the problem and at some level, they don’t even realize just how special they are, or how important their work is. They’re so ingrained in the doing, the bigger picture passes them by.

I do my best to remind them that they’re the “leaders of tomorrow” and “part of a global movement” but charmingly, modesty prevails, which makes them even more superstar-esque in my mind. Of course, I’m always asking the question of why people don’t idolize these young people who are doing something worthy of idolizing (unlike going to jail for driving drunk THREE times, twice on a suspended liscence), but the answer has yet to come to me.

I also got to visit one of the two projects, which is run by a group of five guys and one girl at a local high school. All Turkish immigrants, these kids have struggled from the beginning to get the education and attention they need to succeed. This spurred them to take action in their public school, attended almost entirely by other Turkish immigrants. The school is in decent shape, though heavy rains have caused major erosion of the grounds, particularly the area between their main building and the cafeteria, where every students passes twice a day. “When it rains everone slips and falls. Two kids broke their legs last year. It’s not ok.”

They’ve begun an ambitious repaving project to upgrade an entire section of their campus and help avoid future injuries. At the same time, they’re using it as a way to teach other students valuable skills that could help them get jobs in the future, fighting against the vicious cycle that kept their immigrant community oppressed for as long as they can remember. “I’m lucky. I’m going to college,” Sefa told me, “but not everyone has that chance. They need life skills. Hopefully we can give them some.” Major work starts this summer, with more projects to follow over the next few years. Their spirits are high, and despite everything they have faced, all they could do was laugh and smile about everything. We played ping pong, ate ice pops and even did a mini photo shoot, which they deemed their entry into “Germany’s Next Top Model.” Oh, and Niyazi asked me to send him an autographed photo of Snoop Dog, as well as a picture of me in Compton. I’m going to get started on that right away!

Big Change, Little Country

Home to both the Battle of Waterloo and the Battle of the Bulge, Belgium – despite it’s small size – has played host to the front lines of two World Wars as well as the collapse of Napoleon’s Empire (though that is ironically fitting, as Napoleon was small and so is Belgium). Despite all this “bad,” there’s still quite a bit of “good” coming out the Belgians, especially in the department of social change. With Ashoka launching soon and Youth Venture to follow, I had the opportunity to visit with two teams whose big ideas seem to be busting out of their small country.

The first was Transmission ASBL and their annual conference, flash2006. Olivier Gaillard has developed a program for youth to come together once a year where they can learn about the private sector, the public sector and the citizen sector in an environment that allows for instant clarification and understanding of how the three elements work together. The initiative also aims to define what their role is as young people within the system. While Olivier offers the overall vision, the event is entirely youth-led, youth-planned and youth-run. Flash2006’s reach is impressive, touching thousands of youth from dozens of schools. The conference lasts several days, with participants traversing through different “zones” that deal with everything from how to identify social problems and find solutions, to understanding what it means to be an active citizen in a political context. The whole thing closes with a huge blowout concert by one of Belgium’s top rock bands. Definitely a “big” idea!

I also met with Marc & Severine from Amasis, a youth organization that hosts an annual competition for young people to come up with social projects aimed at solving systemic social problems (sound familiar?). The idea is to spur innovation within young people by encouraging them to think critically about their communities and the unique problems they face. Marc and Severine offer up to $10,000 in funding for the top team, with amounts decreasing for the runners-up. New this year, the winning team leaders will also receive two tickets to the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo, all expenses paid. Now this is a big deal, and definitely a motivator. Tickets to this event or both exclusive and next to impossible to get. “I must admit, I had a long-time connection,” Marc told me. Hey, whatever it takes!

Christelle (the Director of Youth Venture France) and I talked with them about possibly working to fill the gap in funding within the organization. That is, not every team is guaranteed money to pursue their project (it’s just not in Abasis’ budget), which could discourage these young people from continuing on with their work. By offering some start-up funds to every team that participates we can encourage them to “keep on truckin’” when it comes to social change. That’s definitely the theme here in Belgium – constantly pushing forward no matter what the odds of success may be. It’s in their history. It defines their country. Well, that and the most delicious waffles and chocolate in the World.

20 June 2007

LiveEarth - I Need Your Help To Go Green!

Ok, so here's the deal:

I am attending LiveEarth in Johannesburg on July 7th, 2007 (7/7/07), one of seven concerts to be held on the same day at the same time on every continent (including Antarctica) to raise awareness in the fight against global warming.

Now, my flying around the world has really boosted my personal CO2 emissions, leaving me very far from neutral! If I'm going to show up to this thing and talk about Youth Venture while touting the great work that some of our projects are doing to reduce CO2 emissions and improve the environment, I've got to be able to put my green-ness wher my mouth is in an effort to save this:

You know, THE PLANET! This is where you come in. We've come up with a little way you can help me go green by "sharing" some of your carbon emissions with me! It's fun, easy and only takes a second! Click here or follow this link to tell me how you can help!


We've come up with a few simple ways you can reduce your own emissions to help offset mine. It is now 19 days until the concert, so please act now! I'll keep you updated on progress!

Thank you!


19 June 2007

I Miss My B-Day Twin...

There are two days every year that I always wish I was in the US - Christmas, and my birthday. Christmas is obvious - I love the whole family extravaganza!

The birthday has really taken shape thanks in large part to becoming great friends with Miss Sarah Reed, my birthday twin. She (along with miss Cella Gillis and in 2006, Becca A) was largely responsible for the creation of our themed double b-day party that became rather famous inside the beltway. 2005 saw the rise of Barbies and Hot Wheels, along with my scooter (which was stolen in broad daylight just months later). For 2006, we went with Anchorman, and I wore a big wig. Needless to say, these two celebrations (along with that awesome surprise party Carly through me when I turned 13) really set the bar high and therefore, I dedicate this entry to the best birthday twin a guy could ask for...the incomparable Sarah Reed! Miss you mama!

Some pictures, to pay tribute:

This would be Barbies & Hot Wheels...

This would be Anchorman...

18 June 2007

It’s A Small World (With No Window)

As is usual for me, no flying experience ever seems to go “well,” if you will. Brazil to France was no exception, and neither was my little blip of a flight – Nice to Paris – after four days in the South of France. After my surprise upgrade from Buenos Aires to Sao Paulo, where I basked in the lap of luxury, including a fold-flat bed, my non-reclining, end-of-the-row, right near the toilet, 18 inches of space with no pillow seat was rather depressing. Eleven hours later I couldn’t feel my tail-bone and I was munching on a microwaved croissant. Meanwhile, the woman next to me looked like she had just stepped off a runway. How do people do travel and stay pretty? I look more like I’ve been hit by a truck.

Fast forward to Nice, six days later. The flight to Nice was wonderful: one hour, free chocolate and a short nap. Not so on the return. Of course, it wasn’t just the flight. The Nice Airport is a good, oh, THREE DAYS from the city of Nice and since I’m on quite the budget I decided to take the airport bus. I lugged my enormous backpack up the enormous hill to the not-so-enormous bus station and waited, sweating profusely. The bus pulled up. I went to board. Apparently this wasn’t allowed, as the driver literally “gave me the hand” to which I talked, completely confused. He then explained (in lightning-speed French) that I had to go to the other side of the street to board. So I exited, crossed the street, and waited for him to pull a u-turn, at which point he opened the door and greeted me with a smile, as if our encounter of five minutes ago had not happened. Forty-five minutes later we arrive at the airport. Correction: we arrive near the airport, at the bus terminal. From there, it was a ten-minute walk to the actual terminal.

I went inside and searched the screens for my flight. It was now 7:50PM and I had a 9:05PM flight. Still good on time, I thought. It’s domestic. The only problem was, none of the flights on the screen were domestic. I tromped (I say tromped because my backpack ways about 50 pounds, which makes regular “walking” and even “striding” impossible) to the info booth to get some info. No info person. I had forgotten that it was Sunday. No one works on Sunday in Europe. All stores are closed. Life all but stops, especially when your need concerns info. It’s now 8:05PM and I’m getting concerned. No planes seem to be flying anywhere inside France and my tromp is becoming a sludge. At this point all bets are off and I’m asking any person that passes to help me. Finally someone knows the problem: “This is terminal one. You need terminal two.”

I now quickly sludge out the door with the hope of walking next door to terminal two. Wrong. Terminal two is actually in Spain, or at least it feels that way. I actually have to take a twenty-minute shuttle to terminal two that stops at every parking lot, bus stop and bike rack we pass. 8:30PM. I’m nervous.

I arrive at terminal two and decide to drag my bag while scurrying to baggage check, where an American attendant decides to lecture me on being on time rather than check my bag and give me a boarding pass. I stand there, no energy to argue.

Then it’s a dash (remember, my big bag is checked, so dashing is doable) to security, where I am stopped because of a water bottle in my backpack. Search time! Yeah! Meanwhile, they force me to put my laptop in a plastic bin WITHOUT its cover on, tossing it around like it’s a dodgeball or something. Um, can you please be careful with that, I’m thinking, but not saying. After all, I did try to bring mineral water on the plane…

9PM sharp and I’m walking on the plane, the second time in a week that this has happened. I’m seat 30A, which is nowhere near the front of the plane. In fact, it’s the very last row, and I don’t have any neighbors! The back of my seat is actually NAILED to the wall behind me and obviously does not recline. This time, however, I experience an airplane first: my row has NO WINDOW. Just a white wall. I was the only person on the plane in this situation, naturally.

We land in Paris, I grab my bag and try to follow the signs that lead to nowhere, attempting to get back to Paris. The subway ticket machine is (obviously) broken, so I am obliged to take the bus, which I don’t do. I just get on the subway. The pay-at-the-end machine (shockingly) doesn’t take US credit cards and is currently not accepting paper money, which leaves me trapped between the airport express train and the city of Paris, sludging along with a big backpack.

I eventually made it back to my crash pad, with total travel time at just over five hours. That’s how long the train takes from Nice to Paris…Hmm…

France Pictures Up!

Just posted all the best pics from France to Flickr. You can click here or use the link below. Enjoy!


15 June 2007

“No, I Really Love America”

Posting with a German keyboard, so forgive the errors...

It’s no secret that traveling as an American these past few (seven) years has become increasingly difficult for an onslaught of reasons that I do not need to defend here. They’re obvious and if you don’t agree, take off your blinders and stop living in a box. Needless to say, I travel with a certain calm and sense of apology at all times, doing my best to prove that one man does not speak for an entire nation. This method has been fairly successful and surprisingly, I have been well received in every venue, particularly in France!

What we’ve done to France in the US is appalling and rather embarrassing (freedom fries? I mean, come on. They aren’t even French to begin with. They’re Belgian). Still, French youth, from bustling Paris to tiny Puget, were overwhelming positive about the US, writing things like “Long live America” on the FRANCE banner! This shocked me at first, and I wanted to figure out why.

A dinner party in Puget with the incredible host family helped me to understand. “Even still, war aside, you can go to America and do anything. Be anything. Make it. Live the dream. Plus, Americans are always so helpful and so positive about everything. It’s so refreshing,” a Brit who grew up in France told me. It’s true that while that dream is slowly slipping away at the hands of big business and bad policies, American society lacks a certain social structure that confines people to the “rest of their lives” at a very early age.

In the UK, if you go to school to be a social worker then by golly, you’re going to be a social worker! In the US, you can go to school for just about anything and then work in just about any field. It wasn’t just this girl or just in France. Young people told me the same thing across Argentina and Brazil, a welcome surprise to what I had expected. I didn’t want to be perceived as the “big bad American” travelin’ around the world tellin’ people how things should be, and it looks as if I may be succeeding...

I do not really have pics that match this entry, so here are a few funny shots, just to lighten the mood:

One of these is not like the other...

The Star Trek control pad of a European car. Why dont we get cool stuff like this?

Wait, did they really use innertubes as the wheels of a wheelchair? They did. They did.