Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Yes, I am alive!

My apologies for not updating anyone the last couple of weeks! This is a lame excuse, but I have been soooo busy, in a place where deadlines don't exist and technology is scarce. Things are going very well though.

First off, I would like to thank everyone who supported me in my fund raising efforts. I raised enough to stay in Ghana for two more months and get the Women's Development Program moving forward. There are just so many things I want to do here to help, but I have more enthusiasm than time or energy :-)

To address the latest concern coming my way via email...the elections. I am safe and all is well. The election was held on Sunday and they do not have the results yet. This election was a big one for Ghana. The equivalent of Republicans were in office and much of the country was ready for change. The results are within tenths of a percent of each other...split right down the middle. So, we'll see what happens. It has been peaceful so far, and they don't expect anything major to happen. Our town has increased security just in case, but life is going on as normal.

Speaking of which, it is amazing how location means very little...you just get into a routine and life goes on. I have gotten to the point where this life feels more normal, and my life in the States seems like a distant land or dream. Just throwing that out there. I am very busy with teaching. My students have come so far. I literally get tears in my eyes when I see how much they have progressed. We go on holiday break the middle of next week, and I will start volunteering at the hospital every day. I am really excited for that. I am also helping a gentleman find office furniture for his school. He has computers, but no desks...should be an easy enough task. I have done my research and tomorrow will be having a brainstorming session for the Women's Development Program. So, I have plenty to keep me busy!

I am finding time for fun too! Two weekends ago I went to the ocean on the west side of Ghana. I traveled with two other volunteers and our intentions were to visit a remote village which is built on stilts above a lagoon. The village has a population of 500 people and they all live above the water...even their pathways and shops are above water. We knew it would be a long journey, but had no plan...not even bus ticket or hotel reservation (would I do it any other way?). So after 12 hours of traveling - including venturing down roads that would not be considered drivable in the States, in the equivalent of a 1989 Honda Accord - we found a nice little hotel on the ocean. It was fate! They had room for us...and it was beautiful! We asked around only to find that our stilt village was still another 6 hours away. So we decided to spend the entire weekend relaxing on the beach. It was totally secluded and pristine. One of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen! The rooms were gorgeous, we had a self contained toilet, and they had a real live french trained chef! But, just as you thought it couldn't get any better...they also had red wine on the menu! I ordered a bottle for myself...which the bartender found odd...but I showed him and drank every single drop! So yummy!

The only things I have really missed are red wine and pizza...and today I had a craving for chicken fingers with ranch dressing. But, not having the option to eat any of those things has done wonders for my health. The pounds naturally shed and I have so much more energy!

Ok, back to the travels. Since this last weekend was the election we were not supposed to travel. But, we did get permission for a day trip on Saturday. A group of us went to a bead factory to learn how to make beads. The owner is a world reknowned jeweler...and really does some beautiful work. Unfortunately I do not share his talent, and may have made the ugliest beads known to man...but it was fun. They're slogan is "quality, not quantity." They hold true to that. Everything is done the old fashioned way...all beads are put into a kiln and shaped with stones and sticks. I'm simplifying the process of course, but it was amazing to watch it all and realize that this business is still very successful without giving in to the Western ways.

Well, it is time for me to go home and go to bed. I tend to babble when I am tired. I will write again soon, I promise! Please know that I am safe and truly enjoying every moment of life.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

This year I am thankful for....

you! I don't even know where to begin when counting my blessings this year. I have made some pretty big changes with my life and do not have a single regret. I am so thankful to be surrounded by such an awesome group of friends and family. None of this would have been possible without your support. I do not have a final tally, but from my current estimate, I will be staying in Ghana another 2 months! I am truly grateful and promise to make the world a better place with your support.

It doesn't really feel like Thanksgiving considering it is in the 90's every day, but we are gearing up for turkey day. I have been put in charge of Thanksgiving dinner this year. I did not have the heart to tell anyone that I don't know how to cook, so I am just going along with it all and figure it will work out just fine.

Yesterday, I traveled 2 hours by taxi to Ho, the nearest town. I stopped by a house to pick up my turkey and then headed off to the grocery store with my list. Well, this is where I was slapped in the face with the reality that I am in Africa. For starters the store was the size of my neighborhood 7-11. I don't know what I was expecting, but they also don't carry things like cream of mushroom soup, cranberries, etc. But, I won't give up on my famous green bean casserole. It is going to be one interesting Thanksgiving. I wish I had the time to list the random things I bought at the store. My brave colleagues have no idea what they are in for. I did buy two packages of chocolate chip cookies to make amends if necessary.

Well, I have so much to share with you, but unfortunately only have time for this short blurb. I didn't want to miss the opportunity to say Happy Thanksgiving and to let you know I am thinking of you. These last few months of traveling have given me the opportunity to do a lot of thinking and realize how blessed and fortunate I really am.

If you are traveling, please be safe. Enjoy your time with friends and family. And please do one nice thing for someone else...it can be a random person on the street...just make sure you pass along some goodness to the world.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lovo! Lovo!

It is pronounced Yavo and is the Ewe word for White Man. Children shout it on the streets, from their yards, pretty much every where I go. It is not meant to be derogatory, but I do feel like I am constantly in a parade. The children shout Yavo in hopes that I will wave and say hello. They love to touch my white skin and soft hair, which are both mysteries to them.

After two weeks here in Ghana, I am starting to get settled in. I believe it was day three when it all hit me and I realized the seriousness of what I am doing. The doctors did a good job getting me paranoid about malaria before I left, which I now realize is the least of my worries. Malaria is actually like getting the flu in the US and is easily treated. What the doctors don't warn you about are the infections from a mere paper cut or the nasty skin irritations we're all battling. But diseases aside, this is hands down the best experience of my life.

I am teaching 2nd grade and am loving it. Things started out kind of rough as the students tested the boundaries and I tried to figure out what the heck I was doing. But, come to find out I am a natural born teacher! Not sure how I would do in the States as things are a bit different here. My classroom has dirt floors, most of my students can't afford a pencil, and many bring their drinking water in old motor oil bottles...or if they can't find those, vodka and gin bottles seem to work well too. After realizing that most of the text books were missing half of their pages, I created my own plan of attack. I teach a lot of English and Spelling...and I pound it into their heads. They haven't revolted yet, but I am sure the day will come. I gave them their first exam ever this week, which consisted of 5 spelling words. I had 6 of my 26 students get them all correct, which seriously brought tears to my eyes. These students are full of potential, they've just never been challenged before. Ok, I'm sounding like a real teacher now going on and on about my students :-)

This past Friday I volunteered at the hospital, which was a life changing experience of its own. There is only one doctor for the entire hospital and they currently do not have the funds to repair their only microscope. I had the opportunity to help out in the prenatal clinic.

Before going any further I should explain that there is this thing here us white folk refer to as the Yavo Privilege. This means that if you are white you get to jump ahead in line, and it can be assumed that you have the knowledge to do just about anything. So needless to say, I am able to do a lot of things that would never be allowed at home....like my day in the prenatal clinic.

I started by looking through women's medical records to get the basic information, but quickly moved on to the actual examinations. I learned how to find the babies head and determine whether or not it had entered the birth canal. You grab the head through the woman's stomach and shake it. If it shakes it hasn't entered the canal and if it doesn't you're getting pretty close to labor. I also checked for the babies' heart beats too. It was an amazing experience. There are dark sides to it all as well. Many of the women have HIV. There is a medicine out there that women can take to reduce the risk of passing it on to their baby, and then a medicine for the baby in the first 48 hours. But, unfortunately many women refuse it out of fear. There is definitely a need for education around here.

I have also been given the opportunity to revive a Women's Empowerment Program, which will help reduce the number of HIV cases in the area. In Ghanaian culture men are allowed to have extramarital relations...which means they bring HIV back home and pass it on to their wife, who then passes it on to future babies. So the purpose of the program will be to education and empower these women so they can support themselves and their families...giving them the ability to leave a harmful relationship, rather than feeling trapped. I will be teaching women basic accounting skills, marketing, PR, management, etc. so they can successfully sell their goods and services. It is a huge task, but I have a lot of support from locals and other volunteers.

So as you can see, I'm as busy as I kept myself in the US. Some of my local friends joke that I am the busiest Ghanaian in town. It is so amazing to directly see the results of my hard work. This is by far the most selfless thing I have ever done and feel so blessed to be here helping people who really need it. There is so much knowledge I possess that I have taken for granted for years, but now see that it isn't considered common sense for the rest of the world. I am seriously considering coming home and going back to school to become a nurse!

Adjusting to the third world has been challenging at times, but has gone surprisingly well. The hardest thing is the bathroom. We have Western toilets in our house, but honestly do believe they are the only toilets in town. The majority of people do not have running water, and the concept of a toilet or even an outhouse is foreign in these parts.

I have had the opportunity to do some very fun things too. My first week we hiked to a beautiful waterfall. Last weekend a group of us went to the ocean. It was gorgeous! Very different from anything I have ever seen, I guess I would compare it to the Pacific Ocean if anything. While there we did a canopy walk above the rainforest. We also visited the main slave castle of West Africa...quite an eye opener. After Auschwitz and the slave castle, all I can say is that my ancestors where a bunch of assholes.

This past week we took a rigorous hike to some old caves. After my tailbone incident in Jamaica I have learned to play things a little safer, so I did the hike but skipped the caves. They were so dangerous, it wouldn't be legal for people to visit them in the US. So I don't feel like I missed out there. I have had a few dance lessons and have learned how to make batik, which is traditional African fabric. I actually had some traditional African clothing made so I would fit in a little better. I even had a church dress made! Yes, that's right, Jenni D went to church this morning! My classroom teacher invited me to church with her and then back to her house for lunch with her family. Most church services run close to 5 hours long...I lucked out and got away with 2 hours. The entire service was in Ewe, so I didn't understand anything, but did use my time to pray. Then I went to my teacher's house, met her family, and had an excellent African meal. I am diving into the culture, which the locals love so they have taken me under their wings and take very good care of me.

Sorry to jump arond, but I almost forgot to mention the US election! It was very interesting experiencing it all over here. 99% of Ghanaians, and Africans for that matter, LOVE Obama. I think they were more excited about he election than we were! Everywhere we went, people would yell "OBAMA!" We started to get a little nervous, wondering what would happen if Obama lost...the weight of the world was litterally on his shoulders. I don't know if he even realized how much this election meant to the reast of the world. But he pulled through and won. In 24 hours the US transitioned from the most hated people to heroes. Obama was on the cover of the newspapers and Kenya even named November 4th a national holiday in his honor. It was awesome to experience it all through the eyes of Africa.

I realize this is getting pretty long, but I had some catching up to do...it's been a couple of weeks. So, I must say I have never felt better. It is so gratifying to actually see how much our group is changing lives. Now that I am getting into the swing of things I am seeing how much more I can do. I am scheduled to come home in a little less than 3 weeks. When I signed up, 5 weeks sounded like so long, but I now realize it isn't even close to long enough. I am going to try to extend my trip an additional 7 weeks, which leads me to the next task at hand, fund raising! You will all be getting an email from me tomorrow which will outline my plan of attack and ask for your generosity in my quest to save the world. I truly hope I am able to get the financial support I need, because it will make such a difference here. This experience puts a lot into perspective and if nothing else has made me realize how much we all really have. I will never again look in my closet and say "I have nothing to wear" because there are people who litterally don't.

I miss you all so much!

Jenni D

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hello from Africa!

After over 36 hours of travel, I arrived at my new home in Hohoe, Ghana. What a long two days! I am feeling pretty good though and made the transition well. I had no idea how much my time in Jamaica would prepare me for this journey. Not that the two places are the same, but it makes Africa feel a little less foreign. Many of the things that are brand new to the other volunteers seem pretty ordinary to me. This is a good thing, but I also have to remind myself to be patient with them. There are currently about 15 volunteers, one gentleman is 61, then there is me, and the rest are in college or fresh grads. I think the next time I do a trip like this, I need to dive into the culture a little more and will probably stay with a host family. It's tough when you're surrounded by Americans. Although, I do have my own bedroom, so that works. Ok, on with the details...

Ghana is absolutely beautiful. Where I am is definitely not a tourist destination, and I wouldn't recommend it to 99% of the people I know. Only because you have to truly be comfortable with saying good-bye to every single comfort from home. It is 100% 3rd world country. It is a totally different way of life, but I am really enjoying it!

The weather is HOT, and we just entered the dry season so it is very dusty. The dirt is red, so your clothes just get caked with the dirt. They say it will start to get very hot during the day and very cold at night, so it should be interesting to watch their season change. Staying hydrated is a task of its own too. They really don't have bathrooms (except in our home), so you have to keep that perfect balance of hydrated, but not to the point where you pee :-)

I had my first day of teaching today. My students are adorable! I will be moving from grade to grade within my school, but am currently teaching 2nd graders. They range from 7 to 12 years old...all in one class. They are full of energy and will prove to be a challenge. Today I showed them pictures of my home, family, and friends. They all want to come home to Chicago with me. They loved seeing what life is like in America, and someone even stole one of my pictures of me and my sisters. So, I am guessing someone had a crush on one of my sisters :-)

I am so happy I did this and am excited to dive into this experience. I need to adjust to living with others, but other than that I'm feeling pretty good about things. The locals are so friendly and really make me feel at home.

I am off to the Cape Coast this weekend with six other volunteers. We rented huts on the beach and will be touring a slave castle and doing a canopy walk above the rain forest. It is an eight hour drive each way, so I am sure I will see a lot along the way.

Internet service and electricity are sporadic, so I do not know if I will be able to check in as often as I thought I would, but I promise I will try my hardest. Also, my apologies for poor grammar and typos along the way...not enough time to proof or edit. Since I am taking in sooo much, it is hard to determine which details to share when writing, so please feel free to ask me specific questions if you're curious.

Love you and miss you!


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The journey continues...

Well, I've been back from Europe for almost a month now. In that time, I spent three weeks in Kalamazoo experiencing motherhood...which may be my greatest lesson thus far.

I stayed with my sister Stephanie and her husband Brian, who had August James Lemmer on September 23rd. I (suffering from a horrible case of jet lag) arrived 10 days later to be thrown into the center of life with a newborn, young marriage, new house, and two dogs. Want to talk about long hours and stress. To all the mothers in the world, you deserve a huge hug and a day at the spa; I think you might have the hardest job out there. But, I wouldn't trade the last three weeks of my life for anything.

I definitely learned to stop thinking about myself so much. The baby doesn't care that you have to pee, sleep, eat, or even shower. And just as you have the baby happy, the dogs need to go out. But wait, the baby is now hungry and we're out of clean bottles. So with a baby in one arm, trying to fool him with a pacifier, you sterilize bottles. Needless to say, I gained a wealth of new knowledge. (Please see the P.S. at the end of this post)

More than anything, I learned unconditional love. I reconnected with family, friends I've had since kindergarten, my first boyfriend, my high school sweetheart, friends from college, colleagues from over the years, and mentors. I am surrounded by a phenomenal group of people. I have had the amazing opportunity to step back from my life and take a good look at where I've been, where I am, and where I'm going. I have realized that I am truly a fortunate person.

Unfortunately, one of my oldest friend's mother passed away while I was in Europe. I was able to make it back in time for the memorial service and another dear friend's wedding. It was an awesome experience. My core group of friends, who now live all over the country, came back together for an entire week. It was so good to catch up and reconnect. We've all grown up so much, and as mature adults, we still have a great time together. We're still there for each other through good times and bad. We were able to pick right back up where we left off...even if we hadn't seen each other in a year, or even five. I think we all realized how lucky we are.

I caught up with the people I've worked with over the years. I am finally able to acknowledge my own growth and accomplishments. In college I landed a part-time office job with an awesome company. Since it took me six years to get through school (Super Seniors unite!), I have many wonderful memories with the company :-) I have also kept in touch with the people from the firm I just left. And as dysfunctional as we may be (think Home for the Holidays), we are family. I had some great conversations with my mentors. I still don't know what the heck I want to do with my life, but I am getting closer.

So now, I am packing for my next adventure. I leave for Ghana, Africa on Friday at 2:15pm. In all honesty, I just now checked the time of my flight and it is sinking in that I don't have that much time! I will be over there for five weeks, in the town of Hohoe. I will be living in a home with other volunteers; I believe there are 20 of us, ranging in age from 18 - 61. I am really excited about my assignment. I will be teaching children English and basic arithmetic as well as organizing fun activities for them! I will teach 3 hours, Monday through Friday. Then in the afternoons we have cultural activities and excursions.

For all of you worried about my safety, I appreciate the concern. I have done a lot of research before making this decision. I am confident in the program I selected with Cross Cultural Solutions. Follow this link to learn more about the program and Ghana http://www.crossculturalsolutions.org/where_you_can_go/ghana/default.asp. This is a reputable organization and I have found them to be extremely organized and professional. Ghana itself is a very safe country and I have registered with the US Embassy over there. My group has been invited to submerse ourselves in Ghanaian culture while giving back to the world. The community embraces the program and welcomes us.

I have so many mixed emotions right now. I am so excited, but also anxious. I have moments where I think, I can't believe I am actually doing this. But I had those thoughts right before I quit my job, then again right before Europe. I not only made it through both of those milestones just fine, but also became a stronger, wiser, and more mature person. For those around me right now, thanks for dealing with me and any of my odd behavior. It's hard to disconnect from one culture to prepare for the next.

I will continue to blog while in Africa, but internet service will be limited. Just assume no news is good news. Also, I can't figure out how to upload the freakin' pictures, so I have included links below. Thanks for your patience!

Click on the links below to see the pictures from Europe:

Kalamazoo (actually just pictures of the new baby!)

I will miss you all! Giddy Up!


P.S. I really want to start a program where high school freshmen have to stay in a household with a newborn baby for one week. I'm totally serious too, I would love to hear feedback.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Already have a job in Croatia!

I have just exchanged my tech services for free internet access. 3 days here and I already have a consulting job. It got me thinking...it really could be possible...being that I am a jack of all trades...think of all the things I can help people with. Computers, fixing toilets, putting things together, marketing, calibrating copiers...the possibilities are endless!

I have fallen in love with Croatia, the people are so friendly. I finally made some friends my first night here...with a couple of handsome men. They were the Australian and Canadian Ambassadors in Moscow. They invited me to meet up with them later for drinks. I accepted, but needed to take a nap first after my 20 hour train ride. And guess what I did...slept through my alarm. Guess that adventure wasn´t meant to be.

I am so sad to have to leave here, but am truly looking forward to seeing everyone. Having a month to do nothing but think really puts things in perspective. You learn who your real friends are, what your real priorities are, and maybe even what you really want out of life. Well, I must sign off...I have just been hired for more of my stellar computer skills...I am seriously just burning CDs, I could really get used to this job :-)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Hello from the beautiful Adreatic Sea!

Hey there everyone! I finally made it to Croatia and it is beautiful! I am on the island of Hvar, on the Dalmatian Coast. I have a cute little studio apartment with a view of the sea. I really don´t want to leave this place...but I have to come home and see my new nephew!

August James Lemmer was born Tuesday afternoon and was 11.1 pounds and almost 24 inches long! Ouch! My mom sent me a picture and he looks just like my sister...kind of creepy!

The first leg of my travels has been amazing, I can´t believe the month is almost up! I have been to some amazing places and learned so much. When I get back on Wednesday I will continue to post to the blog and will get everyone caught up on Prague, Slovakia the second time, and Croatia.

And, I am sure I will have a lot to share as I attempt to help with cooking and cleaning in a household with two dogs and a newborn. I miss everyone so much and cannot wait to get back and catch up. I definitely enjoy traveling by myself, but I am starting to get lonely from time to time. Dinner by the sea would be much more enjoyable with a devistatingly handsome man with a great sense of humor...a nice bank account wouldn´t hurt either :-)

I want to give a shout out to all of my friends at GLP (my former employer)...I hear the studios have switched sides of the office. No more East Side / West Side wars. All I have to say is Jenni D will always rule from the Upper East Side :-) Holla!

I am paying for internet by the minute now...so I have to keep it short. I fly from Croatia to Vienna on Tuesday, then Vienna to Chicago on Wednesday. I will be back to drive you crazy before you know it. Miss you all and I will be in touch soon.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hello from Prague!

This is just a quick update to let you all know that I am alive and well. I have been in Prague the last few days. A very cool city. I planned on moving on to Croatia today, but my lack of planning has finally caught up with me.

Dubrovnik is considered a summer destination, and since summer was officially over on Saturday, that was the last day of flights...well, affordable flights anyway. The price is now $600 each way! I can take a two trains and two buses to get there...which I may still do, but in baby steps.

I have a 3:30pm train to Bratislava where I will spend the night with friends, then I figure out my game plan from there. I have just over a week left to do whatever I feel like...so we'll see where the wind blows me.

I am having a great time, but this last week's whirlwind tour has left me exhausted and with a minor injury to an ankle...so it is time for a little rest and relaxation. I'll touch base when I know where I'm going next.

As for Prague, they have awesome beer and the city itself is beautiful. EVERY architect in the world should visit at some point. The attention to detail in every single building is amazing. I took an 8 hour tour of the city yesterday and was able to take in most of the big sights.

Anyway, good-bye for now! Talk soon. Oh yeah, tomorrow around 2pm Easten time, I will officially be Aunt Jenni! So excited!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Watch out Prague, here I come!

Hello everyone! I'm just killing some time before my 10:20pm train to Prague. This week has worn me out...I am definitely looking forward to heading south for some warmth and sunshine!

Today I went to Auschwitz...soooo gut wrenching. I don't even know how to put it all into words. Parts of the tour literally made me want to vomit and I definitely fought back tears a time or two. It was difficult to really process it because you move through everything so fast. There were tons of tour groups walking through, I've never seen anything like it. Definitely life changing. It just makes no sense to me why anyone would judge or discriminate to begin with...but then to see an operation like this on such a massive scale...I don't know how they got away with it for so long. It's just sickening. All I can say is think twice before you judge someone for being different from you; whether it is skin color, social class, religion, nationality, whatever the reason...it is unacceptable. That horrible genocide could have happened to any of us...what if one day someone wanted to kill everyone with blue eyes because it made them feel inferior. Ok, I'll quit my preaching, you get the point.

Now for my tangent. Tour groups consist of 95% old people. I think it's great that the older generations are getting out there and exploring the world. But for all of you baby boomers who are getting ready to retire and travel, I have a few words of advice for you. Ladies, if you are in your 70's and have a hard time walking as it is...do not wear high heels to tour a concentration camp! Seriously?!?! Ladies and gentlemen, if you are confused about what is going on around you it is because you're not listening! Relax, take a deep breath and ask someone for help. Panicking will not get you where you're going. Ok, enough of that, but the high heel thing was killing me today. Try being the only person under 60 in your tour group!

Well, it is cold and raining again so I am going to find a nice coffee shop and warm up with my book until my departure. I will touch base from Prague.

Bon Voyage!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I am in LOVE...

...with Krakow!!!! I LOVE this place! Honestly, there isn't a single person I know that wouldn't enjoy this city. It is so clean, liberal, inviting, vibrant and energizing (even with the gray skies). The population is under a million, about 20% are college students...so it is considered a college town. And it definitely has that feel. It is actually quite fashionable...I definitely standout as a tourist in my fleece. Krakow is considered the intellectual and cultural center of Poland...and it has proven to be just that.

Being a college town, most people speak English...with a Midwestern accent. So for the linguistically impaired (such as myself), this is the perfect city for you. The restaurants are excellent, with so many to choose from. Dining out is an experience here and people dress for the evening and enjoy themselves. When you consider the quality of the food, drinks, and ambiance, the prices are a steal in comparison to a nice dinner in the States.

Ok, I could go on and on about how I love this place, but I sound like a tour guide. One last plug...my room is soooo amazing. If you are ever fortunate enough to have the chance to visit Krakow, let me know and I will give you the info for my hotel. Also, I will be back, so if you're interested, count me in!

It is a small city, but there is just so much to do here. You could literally spend a week here and not get bored. I started my afternoon with a nice little nap. Then bundled up and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring parts of Old Town...so beautiful. After all of my traveling and walking I realized I was in need of some serious calories.

I had an awesome Italian meal, where I dined in an old underground cavern. So romantic, I enjoyed the candlelit dinner while loving myself :-) There is actually a lot of Italian influence here in the architecture, culture, and food. It just makes me want to visit Italy that much more.

After 12 hours of sleep, I woke up ready to tackle the world. I went for a wonderful breakfast in the cutest cafe, tucked away on a side street. There were antiques and old books as decorations and the walls were lined with letters from the late 1400's through the 1600's.

Then I explored all of Old Town. Krakow was a medevil city at one time and it is so cool to see the remnants. The city itself used to be surrounded by a city wall and a mote (the official city history actually includes a dragon in the story). This mote area was turned into a park that surrounds the entire city. There are so many amazing buildings and churches to see, but the castle is definitely the most intriguing. Since the 1500's, each new King has built added a new chapel to the existing church within the castle grounds. Each addition respected the architecture of the era. I believe there are 15 differnt types architecture on one building.

After my sight seeing I did a little souvenir shopping, then headed to the travel agency. I booked my tour of Auschwiz for tomorrow morning at 9:20am and also booked the night train to Prague tomorrow night at 10:30pm.

I did also stop into a few camera stores in search of a card reader, but they all suggested a store in the burbs. So no pictures yet...I do promise I'm taking them though.

Anyway, after my errands, I stopped for a nice late lunch consisiting of fried sheep cheese and potato pancakes. Very yummy! I washed it down with a couple of beers and I must say, Polish beer is quite good!

After all of that, I am catching up on emails and packing. Heading to bed early as I have an early start tomorrow followed by another night of travel.

This time I am going to save myself the headache and book my room in Prague ahead of time...actually in about 10 minutes from now :-)

Sorry for rambling, but the moral of the story is that I love Krakow; if there are a million spelling errors, my apologies, but I don't have spell check; thank you to everyone for leaving comments...I haven't responded to them, but they really do brighten my day; and thank you to everyone who supported me when I knew this is what I needed to do. I was so right and am so happy to have this opportunity.

All right, I'm logging off. I'll update everyone from Prague!



Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Two weeks into things...

I am busy, busy, busy! I had a good-bye celebration with my host family on Monday morning. Dad made a big breakfast, then opened a couple of bottles of wine. Mom made me two sandwiches and Dad gave me a bottle of wine for the road...so I wouldn't go hungry or thirsty. Then they took me to the bus station, where I headed off to Budapest.

Now, you all know that I am an optimistic person and can usually make the best of any negative situation. Unfortunately, Budapest broke my spirit. I'm not sure if it was the constant rain and freezing cold, or the fact that everything I wanted to see was under construction, or the fact that every street was under construction, so I couldn't find my way. The possibilities are endless. Needless to say, I couldn't wait to get out of that city. I did stay over one night, and was able to see how the city could be very charming on a beautiful day. Oh yeah, in my fit of self pity, I broke down and ate Burger King. It was the best Whopper I've ever had!

So last night I took the night train to Krakow. I upgraded to a "couchette" so I could get some sleep during the 10 1/2 hour ride. I didn't get much sleep, but it was nice to be able to lay down. I arrived in Krakow around 6:30 this morning and guess what...it was cold and raining! It was too early to get a map, exchange money, or even get a cup of coffee. So I wandered the streets for 3 hours....in the rain...checking out hotel rates that were all too rich for my blood. That's when I realized it was time for a reality check.

I stopped in a coffee shop, grabbed a cup of coffee and a delicious pastry and took a time out. I pulled out my guidebook, which I hadn't read yet (no wonder I'm always getting lost)! I read about a few hotels and discovered the one that I was determined to find. It took me awhile, but when I arrived, I think I heard angels sing. I even got a 10% discount for just showing up! The rooms are so cozy and warm. I took a HOT shower...trust me, it was waaaay overdue. I am now doing laundry in the bathtub, checking my email, and feeling like life is back on track.

So, Negative Nancy is out of here and Jenni D is back. In all of my wandering this morning, I did get to see about half of Krakow and it is amazing. I can't wait to explore. Tomorrow is supposed to be warmer with very little chance of rain, so I should be able to get some sight seeing in. I know I'll be here for two nights, then will probably head off to Prague Friday morning and do a couple of days there. It's crazy how fast the time has gone by...one month isn't even close to enough!

I will write again tomorrow with more after I've done a little more exploring. This city is awesome, I'm sure I'll have lots of stories to tell! I'll try to get these pictures uploaded too :-)

One last thing, I don't know what the heck you're all doing over there in the US, but I'm watching the value of the dollar drop multiple times a day! It is very interesting to watch it all on the news from the European point of view.

I miss everyone so much! I'll be in touch soon.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Where in the world is Jenni D?

Hello everyone! Well, the nice thing about not having a plan is being able to take it all one day at a time. I am still in my little village, but moving on tomorrow. I booked a hotel room this time, so I am really going :-)

I was all set to go on Friday, but was then invited to a birthday party and a goulash fistival. It would have been rude of me not to stay since I didn´t have a set itinerary. I am so glad I stayed. After being in a small village for a full week, I can´t even begin to tell you how much I have learned and experienced. The sincere hospitaltity of the people here is absolutely amazing. Being from a family of all girls, it has been so much fun staying in a home of all boys. I don´t even know how to begin to thank this wonderful family for letting me into their home and taking care of me for a week.

So Friday was the birthday party, where I got to meet all of the village bachelors. The older ladies would like to see me find a nice Slovak man to marry. It was quite funny to try to talk to all of these guys without speaking each other´s languages. One thing that doesn´t require communication...beer. I literally had 3 or 4 beers lined up on the bar at one time. I think every bachelor in town bought me a beer...and I think a few married men too. And since I have declared Slovak rum as my favorite, everyone in town offers me a shot when they see me. I have learned to say "No thank you " in Slovak quite well!

It´s not really all about drinking though. I lived a normal life all week full of errands, chores, and sightseeing. Friday and Saturday were like a weekend in the US, meeting up with friends and even a little foozball and dancing at the bar. No worries, I didn´t bust out any classic moves for them...but did teach everyone how to "bounce" (if you´ve ever been to the club with me, you know what I´m talking about). Anyway, it has been such a great experience and I have met so many wonderful people. It has helped having my host as a translator, I have learned so much about language and communication while here.

So, I now have to cut a little time out of Croatia, but I have no regrets. I will be heading to Budapest around noon tomorrow and will arrive there around 4pm. I have booked a hotel and will spend tomorrow and Tuesday sightseeing. Then Tuesday night I will take the night train to Krakow, Poland. I will do a day of sightseeing in Krakow, then a day trip to Auschwitz. I have a feeling Auschwitz is going to have a profound affect on me. When I mention I am going, most people remember back to a time they visited. I have watched grown men tear up as they recall their own experiences. So I can only imagine how much it will move me. After Krakow, I´m going to hop on over to Prague for two days. So, I´m hoping to be in Croatia by Sunday.

I am looking forward to traveling on my own again, which will allow me to do a little self relfection. It is amazing how much my perspective has changed. Actually, not so much that my perspective has changed, the experience has shown me that my perspective on life is shared by others. The European way of life suits me well :-)

A dear friend of mine who is also traveling the world right now, is just a couple of steps ahead of me in this trip. He is leaving a hidden treasure for me to find in Split, Croatia. It is the most fun scavenger hunt I´ve ever been on! Well, I am going to sign off and read my book before going to bed. To all of those who suggested I read The Razor´s Edge by W Somerset Maugham...excellent recommendation! I can´t imagine a better time to read it.

I think my next hotel has internet, so I will be in touch soon.