Where I Have Been Map

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Life Back to Normal (Part 2)

As I laid in the giant inflatable tube, my permanent excited smile from the past couple days suddenly faded. What was I thinking? I looked down at my feet, resting on the wet inflatable plastic, squeaking and slipping with every bump of the waves the boat tugging us along. Then I glanced at my hands, gripping (until my knuckles were white) the only two 1-inch wide handles that would be holding me to this tube once the boat hit full speed. Finally I looked over to Odyss on the other side of the tube. He caught my glance and shouted "WOO HOOOOO!"

Why did I let him convince me to get on this death trap again? Oh yea that's right, I was the one who all but dragged him to the dock and hopped into the first available tube we could find. The name of the tube should have been warning enough... "The Fly Fisher". Considering we were not about to go on a deep sea fishing adventure, you can assume the only things flying in the air were two innocent victims. And those two victims happened to be me and Odyss.

The boat started picking up speed. Water began to splash over the tube and onto us. The waves began tossing us all around. And my smile came back. I had forgotten I love this kind of thing. So what if in the next 5 minutes the tube would be completely vertical, leaving us standing straight up in the air 50 feet... and flying back down to our doom (once again only holding on to two tiny straps). If worse comes to worse and I slip out of the tube while in mid air, then a broken arm or two could make for a very interesting story!

The boat was going faster and faster. Picking up speed and hitting the waves harder with every notch added to the speedometer. Suddenly the time between the tube hitting the waves and hovering just over the water started getting longer and longer until... WOOOOSH. My eyes closed shut when the butterflies swarmed around in my stomach, but once they settled down I opened my eyes and looked down at my feet to the the ocean 50 feet below us. Then I looked up and saw the entire coast of Sunset Beach, and all the people playing in the water no bigger than little garden gnomes. The view we saw was just moments that would last forever. And seemed like it would! Until we plummeted back down to the water, and back up again, and back down again.... it was a rush to say the least.

After that adrenaline rush, it was hard to imagine how relaxing the entire day had been. We started out playing a game of volleyball. The Mediterranean at the Sunset Beach was so calm with absolutely no waves, and the shallow water stretched out for hundreds of feet, so the water was a perfect place to get in a circle start a game of "keep the ball alive" volleyball.

Zaina, the most "experienced" volleyball player of us all (the quotations serve a sarcastic purpose) ALMOST got to quite a number of balls that fell right in front or behind her and into the water. She ended up getting the MVP award for suffering injuries after the game (she jammed her little pinky).

After the game, and some frappes (Cypriot iced coffee) we all laid out in the sand. I joined in on Abel and Zaina's conversation about the Greek/Turkey war in Cyprus. Abel talked about how every Cypriot is suppose to work 2 years in the army. He is almost on his second year now. He talked about how it was hard at first to realize he had to give up two years to the army, but what keeps him going is the pride and the brotherhood of the army. Abel also said how most Cypriot people don't harbor bad feelings towards the Turks. Everyone knows this is a political issue, not a personal one. I was so impressed. Never before had I witnessed an entire country acting so mature when it comes to political issues and war. And never before had I seen two opposing "sides" get along so well with each other during the fact. It made me realize that something like this could never happen at home, or in most other countries for that matter. Hurt and anger and pride are attributes that come all too easily from the workings of a political system craving power. But as Cyprus has shown is very possible, just because the political powers can be greedy, doesn't mean it has to affect the mind and actions of the individual people. The people can overcome that and live as peacefully as they can in any situation.

After really being inspired by our conversations, I almost didn't want to leave when the group told us that the paddle boat we had rented was ready. I considered staying with Abel and Zaina to continue talking..... until they told me we got the paddle boat with the giant slide.

Getting the boat out into the water was an adventure. There were just enough paddle seats for everyone but 3 people to help paddle. I got to be one of those 3. Instead of paddling, I climbed up on top of the slide and shouted out directions of where the paddlers should go. I'm pretty sure everyone ignored me haha, but I was entertaining myself. After floating out way to far, fighting with a clasp to hook onto the anchor, and getting yelled at by an Australian dude that sounded much like Crush from Finding Nemo and kept starring and smiling at Jenna.... Vas got the paddle boat hooked up and we were ready for using the slide.

When we got bored of sliding down the normal way, we started jumping from the top of the slide into the ocean. Being the 4th of July, we found it very appropriate to scream out "AMURKA" as you jumped... or another favorite saying "STON KOLO". All of a sudden, we realized our volleyball was gone. It had floated off from us before, and was retrieved by the Australian dude who clearly wanted Jenna's number in return... which she didn't allow. Not seeing our volleyball anywhere in sight, and not wanting to call back the Aussie for help. We pretty much decided the volleyball was long gone. That's when we looked over at Danielle being awfully quiet with a sly grin on her face. She swam forward and the volleyball popped up right next to her. She had been standing on it for the past 15 minutes watching us look around aimlessly for it. Oooh Danielle.... haha

When we finally drove back home, we got caught in major traffic. Odyss, Marianna, Vas, Demi and I kept ourselves entertained by playing car games such as the one where you say something mumbled and in a weird way and everyone tries to guess what you say. Vas was the best at it, until we realized he was changing his words once we guessed them.

Later that night we had our last family dinner all together at the Syrian restaurant. After one final card game, a delicous meal of swaharma, and watching Jenna get down on her knees and publicly apologize to Odyss after choosing a new Swagger partner over him the night before... we all walked solemnly to our apartment knowing all that was in store for us was a couple hours of hardcore cleaning and leaving for home.

But, to our surprise, our Cypriot friends walked up to our apartment with us.. and started helping us clean! I walked into my kitchen at one point and saw Vas mopping the floor, and it looked better than it had when we got there. When all the packing and cleaning was finished, we looked at the clock and saw it was 1:50 AM... which mean only 10 minutes until the bus was suppose to pick us up and take us to the airport. This left the perfect amount of time to film our final music video.

When the bus pulled up, the guys helped us drag our luggage down and we sad our goodbyes. We got on the bus and watched our our friends disappear as we turned the corner towards the airport. As we drove on we all began to feel so sad, wondering if we would ever see all of them again. That's when we heard beeping... we looked outside our window and saw Abel driving like a mad man after our bus and waving goodbye. Best last image we could ask for.

Jump forward a couple days and we were back home. Being reunited with free water and refills were the best thing that had ever happened to me.... but I still felt out of it. Like something was missing, like I could not go back to normal. That feeling didn't end until I went to Cinncinnati and Knoxville and introduced my best friend and boyfriend to my Cyprus Tennessee group, and even my Cypriot friends via Skype. It took merging my old life with my Cyprus life to really have everything click again. Instead of feeling like one life was a dream... it all became a reality. I said before that I felt like I could never go back to normal... well that is true. I will never be the exact person I was before I went on this trip. But that is a good thing. I was changed on this trip... changed by a little old lady who works the souvenir shops, changed by the unique students on the GLS trip, changed by the Cypriot characters we met and the taxi drivers who yelled at us, changed by 7 new Cypriot best friends I can't wait to go back and visit, and changed and inspired by 7 other new best friends from Tennessee... who I can forever share this experience with.

If you look at life without seeing the meaning in the smallest of things, then you are looking at life with one eye closed. To all the people who I met on this trip, thank you for opening my eyes.



Thursday, July 8, 2010

Life in Reverse (Part 1)

I have been home for 2 days now, and I am still in a haze. I find myself waking up at 5 AM and looking through pictures on facebook, just to make sure it was all real. My head is in two different places, home and Cyprus. I know this is all an effect of reverse culture shock, but I really wonder if it will ever stop. I love seeing my friends I had missed so much, but when I'm with them I oddly feel as if I am in a dream, and will wake up in Cyprus the next morning. After the experience I had, in just one month of seeing a whole new place, become close to a whole new group of friends, and essentially living a whole new life... I don't know if I can ever go back to normal.

Cyprus from the airplane

The 14 hour plane ride back seemed quick. I tried to watch the movies, but ended up just falling asleep in the awkwardly small chair half in the isle and half on Halie. I remember waking up as the plane was descending into Chicago. Normally, after being away from home for a month, it would be normal to feel ecstatic to touch down in America once again. But all I could relate to Chicago was the departing and separating of the 8 people in our Tennessee group that had been together 24/7 for the past 5 weeks. We had all been talking about this point of our trip since day one.

In the words of the always positive Jenna, "The only bad thing about our perfect lives here is that it will end."

And she was right, our trip did end... all too soon for any of us. The last image of Cyprus I had in my head was watching the tiny island grow smaller and smaller from the window of the plane. I hate to admit it, but I teared up. Not just at the thought of leaving this beautiful island with it's white sandy beaches and regal mountains. But I was leaving behind some very important people. Yes they were just in my life for a very short time, but they have no idea how big of an impact they made on me. Let's go in reverse and start from the beginning....

We had all had our share of annoyances from the Cypriot guys on the island. They made a simply walk to the grocery store impossible without honks and cat calls. They scared us from time to time with their stalking behaviors and persistency. They were a tad sketchy while juggling multiple girls. They could oil a full size SUV with the amount of product they put in their hair. At least the Cypriot guys we had met thus far. And when we ventured to Club Toy for the night, we once again were getting hassled by a group of guys who were laughing at our annoyance.

That's when we met Odyss. As a native Cypriot that goes to school in Tampa, Odyss and our group talked about the States, shared the feeling of absolute necessity for corn dogs and American Football... and bonded with us instantly. He hung out with us for the rest of the night. He even got the creepy Cypriot guys to back off.

Odyss introduced us to his friend, Abel. Without this guy convincing Odyss to come out that night, we would have never met either one of them. I could tell from the first conversation I had with Abel, that we would be great friends. I instantly felt like he was my long lost best friend that had been separated by 4,000 for the past 20 years of my life.

The first memory I have of Abel was spelling his name "Abell" in my phone. He was less than trilled. "I know my name sounds like a bell but you don't have to spell it like that!" and I replied, "hmm doesn't ring A BELL!" His emotionless glance my direction let me know he did not find that humorous. I cracked up more.

The next night we invited the guys to come to dinner with us to meet the rest of our Tennessee group. As we walked over to meet what we thought was going to be just our 2 new friends, we were greeted by a group of 6 guys. That is when we met Vas, Alex, Alexi, and Demi! Half of the group had British accents, most were at least half Cypriot, and all of them were some of the nicest guys I have ever met.

Jenna schooling Odyss in cards at the Syrian restaurant

We went and ate at a Syrian restaurant, one we had come to love because of their hilarious admiration of Zaina. Once we walked into the restaurant we would be greeted by 3 to 4 waiters leading us to our table and saying things like "Zaaaina, Zaina we missed you! It's so good to see you! Where have you been?!" Then the meal would progress into free coffee, meals, and desserts for miss Zaina Budayr. Score.

That night we all just hung out in our apartment and taught the Cypriots some American cards games!

Anytime we played cards during the trip, we all saw a whole new side to Danielle. A very competitive and slightly scary side. I don't know how many times I was Danielle's partner for the card game Euker.... my easily distracted personality plus Danielle's determination to win did not tend to mix very well. But a couple of "ANNIE.... FOCUS." later, we dominated just about every game we played.

Our adventures with our new friends did not end there, the next night we watched the Ghana game at our favorite pub, Brickyard. After the exciting game, a couple of karaoke songs, and more card games.... we found ourselves being pulled on stage by a group of Argentina guys dancing the salsa. Zaina recognized the group from our Egypt cruise we had taken a couple of weeks back, and asked the guy she was dancing with... "Egypt?" .... he replied "FERNANDO!" as he pointed to himself excitedly.

Dancing with the Argentinians

Later that night we went to a club called Nuovo. The clubs in Cyprus are so different from the clubs in America. They are HUGE, very high class, and have the best music! After dancing the night away "Waving Flag" by K'naan blasted from the speakers. This being the final song of the night, as well as the final song we came to love on our trip, we all danced in a big group hug and teared up a little as we looked back on how many experiences we had in this island.

However we didn't realize at that point that we still had the most epic 4th of July weekend ahead of us. We woke up the next morning and drove off with our new Cypriot friends to Ayia Napa. We relaxed on the beach all day and Halie, Danielle, and I even took the plunge off a giant cliff! We tried to convince Demi's girlfriend, Marianna, to jump off with us. But when she looked out at the sharp rocks below she shook her head and laughed at us for trying. Luckily we missed the scattterd rocks at the bottom and came back home alive.

Well home was actually a one bedroom apartment... intended to fit 9 people. The boys all stayed in the living room, which meant 2 twin size beds for 5 of us girls. We accomplished this task by pushing the beds together and sleeping long-ways. This left no room for movement, and everyone woke up sore. Everyone except for me, that is... who, as Jenna informed me the next day, made myself comfortable by cuddling with her and taking up way more than my space. Whoops.

Waking up sore, for most of the people in the group, could only be fixed by one thing.... Sunset Beach. This beach was the most beautiful and relaxing beach I had yet to see in Cyprus, and that's saying a lot considering every beach I had been to until that point took my breath away. But the beauty of this beach could only add to the experience we had this day. The best 4th of July I had ever had.... and I wasn't even in America.

(to be continued...)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Evils of EDITING....

We may look happy now... but 6 hours later, sitting in the same spot, it was a different story...

There is something worse than homework. Something more time consuming than studying for finals. Something more frustrating than taking a test for a class that no matter what guarantees you a C. The true thing that makes any journalism major cringe at the thought is just one simple action.... Editing.

However, simple is the very last thing I would describe this inevitability of film making as. I never really appreciated the work behind making movies and documentary films until this trip. These last couple days in Cyprus have been spent correcting our documentary. This included re-shooting every interview where the audio peaked or the wind was too strong. Which meant throughout a corse of a day we had all changed clothes at least 4 times to redo the shots so it would look like the same day. Then we would have to upload the footage, which took up to 45 minutes at times.... and if anything was wrong, we would have to re-shoot it all over again.

Filming was quite a difficulty as well, it was always an obstacle working with all the camera equipment. The last filming we did was the most difficult, at the traditional Cypriot candy factory. The factory was dark, noisy, and cramp. The last three things you want to hear as camera producers. As my teammates wrestled with the cameras around people to get a good shot while not accidentally filming the boom mic or any of the other cameras... I was in charge of holding the boom mic. I had never held the mic before, but the idea seemed easy... hold it over the head of whoever is talking without getting it in the shot.

Way harder than I expected. The mic, although not ridiculously heavy, became heavier with every second I had to hold it high above my head... especially when I had to elongate the pole to reach over big crowds. At one point it got too heavy and I accidentally let it drop, hitting poor Alex on the head. The most frustrating part about that process is getting back home, uploading the footage, and then realizing the factory machines in the background made all the audio I had try to capture unusable.

But the story I want to share is our long editing night of working with the Candy Factory footage. We spent the whole morning figuring out a plan of action for how the episode was going to turn out. Then we all sat in the living room and worked on what the introduction blog would say to introduce our film. This took 3 hours.... and 20 empty chocolate wrappers later.... we were ready to start the interviews.

The interviews of our group was actually my favorite part. We would mic up someone from our group, and just ask them the most random questions and crack each other up. We have so many blooper reals we could make by the end of this trip.

Then the editing process began... and lasting until around 3 am the next morning. Every little detail.. matching up audio, cutting at the right places, putting in transitions.. it was exhausting! We all took turns editing while the rest of our team would run down to the 24 hour market and get food and drinks to refuel. I drank a red bull that night... which kept me up until about 5 am... yikes.

We started going crazy by around 2 am... sitting in front of a computer screen for an entire day will do that to you. At one point, while in deep concentration. We saw a bright flash and heard this tremendous BOOOOOM go off that shook the entire apartment building.... thinking someone had decided to bomb Cyprus... everyone froze. I ran outside to see if we would need start making a bomb shelter in the middle of the living room. The booming starting going off one after another, we all saw our lives flash before our eyes. But then in the next room we could hear the excited Dina, "Aaaaaah guys!!!! Fireworks!! To the roof! Let's run to the roof!!!" ... so we realized the danger was gone, laughed it off, and realized how out of it we were.

There is one thing that keeps me coming back to the long, tiring process again and again. The feeling you get... the feeling our entire group gets... when it is finally over. Unlike most other time consuming things, when you are editing the result is something you can see right in front of you. All your hard work shows through the screen. And on top of that... you can share it with others. Hopefully if made the right way, with the ability to inspire, to make people laugh, and to entertain. I think we successfully did this after our last month of working on this one half hour documentary. One month for a half an hour.... seems crazy doesn't it?! We must all really love this!!

(Video Documentary of Cyprus coming soon)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I'll take you to the candy shop!

The Cypriot candied fruit (Pinneaples, oranges, apricots... even whole walnuts shell and all!)

Anyone who knows me well, knows what my two favorite things in the world are... candy & bacon. So when we discovered that our last filming event would be at a candy and sausage/meat factory, it was as if I had just been told we were going to Disney World. Only instead of Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh... I'd be snacking on a little Piglet :(

The candy factory was like nothing I had ever seen before. In my head I was imagining the mass machinery popping out colorful gum drops and lollypops by the hundreds. But instead all I found was a very hot, very cramped room with many people hard at work. No, they were not Oompa Lumpas (to my dismay)... but they were Cypriot women dressed in hair nets and aprons, busy taking out the seeds of apricots, mixing a syrup mixture in a pot, and dipping & jarring each separate piece of candy... all by hand.

This process took such a long time, 2 weeks to just make one jar of candied fruit! The traditional Cypriot sweet, called Soutzoukko, takes a lot less time... however it looks very unappetizing at first glance... and second glance... and third. In all honesty this might have been the only candy I have ever NOT had the desire to consume. They make it by threading almonds together on a string, then they dip the sting into a hot, thick mixture of rose water, flour, and grape juice. When it finally dries... the only way to describe this candy would be a giant stringy blob of nasty brown clumps. Yum?

I finally worked up the courage to try a piece of this interesting candy. I put a bit of glump into my mouth and started to chew... it felt as if I bit right into a gel candle (which I actually have done before). All I could taste was the grape juice and almonds... but there was no real evident sweetness to the candy. Needless to say, it was not my favorite.

So very happy with the interesting experience, but with a bad taste in my mouth... I was ready to journey to the Sausage & Meat Factory to eat some bacon! However... I did not know we were going to be eating a very large Meze for lunch before we got to the last factory. After piles and piles of pita bread, humus, lamb, chicken, and pork... meat was the last thing on my mind. When we walked through the door to the factory, a gust of smoke and cooked meat overwhelmed us.

They took us into the freezer first, to see how the meat is prepared. I was shocked to see rows and rows of meat soaking in blood. Chills went down my spine... both from the cold, and from disgust. But thankfully we were told that the red liquid was actually red wine and not blood.
That made our view in the room much better, however whatever relief I had felt was quickly eliminated when we were told to go into the next room... the smoke room. The room, only 10 feet wide at the most, was not enough room for 2 people... let alone 6 WITH camera gear! We crowded around what looked like a burned out fire pit... I didn't know where to step. Turns out I stepped one too many times and found myself ankle deep in white ashes. Trying to shake off my dusty feet and look around at the same time, I looked up and found myself staring face to face with a huge slab of hanging meat only inches from my nose.

All in all this experience was quite terrifying, but I must say the meat did taste delicious. What made both the meat and candy so good (despite the odd acquired taste I had to get use to) was simply the tradition behind it all. The factories were family owned for decades and they took time to hand make every thing they sold. In this case, quality far passed quantity.

(Most of the pictures from this video are from Jenna!)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pieces of a Puzzle...

I have been extremely blessed with amazing travel opportunities. At only 20 years old I have gotten the opportunity to travel to over 12 countries and 4 continents, with almost every summer since I was 10 years old spent abroad. Realizing how lucky I am, I try to gain something culturally everywhere I visit. Whether helping myself grow as a person, or taking something interesting back to share with friends, this determination to learn something new about another culture has always proven to be extremely beneficial and formed me into the person I am today. The problem, however, is that here in Cyprus... I have been having an extremely difficult time figuring out the culture. I have all the pieces to the puzzle, but putting them together in a way that forms a picture of Cypriot culture is much harder than I anticipated. Here are the pieces to the puzzle I have discovered so far...

The Greek influence is very strong, especially in the south side of the island, where we are staying. What I have learned about the Greek culture so far is that they are very passionate people, both in love and in war. The war side of the passion we have experiences more times than any of us would have wanted. Many of these occurrences happened during our souvenir shopping adventures. Just the other day Jenna, Halie, and I went shopping in the old city. After looking at t-shirts in a shop for quite sometime, Jenna decided to keep looking around hoping she would find some cheaper. Sure enough in a store not far down the road she found the t-shirts for a Euro or two less than the other store. Well, on our walk back she decided to get a coffee mug from the original store we visited. After seeing the t-shirts Jenna had bought, the owner got very angry, very quickly.

"You say you got that cheaper somewhere else, that is offensive to me."
"You just wait and see the quality of those shirts. Mine are better!"
"You bring those in my shop, that is disrespectful."

Insult after insult, Jenna just put the coffee mug back down and walked out of the store, confused about what just happened.

I experienced the same anger through the taxi drivers. Many of them get frustrated when they cannot understand our accent over the phone, which is understandable. But one taxi driver in particular became furious when we decided to wait for our professor to come pick us up instead of take a taxi ride home. By the time our professor arrived I received a very offensive text message on my phone. Needless to say, we won't be trusting him to drive us around in his taxi anymore.

On the opposite side of that, the passion of love is also very strong in the Greeks. Their love for one another, their love for their family, and most impressive their love for strangers have been apparent to me throughout our visit. From the first friend I made, the older souvenir shop lady named Maria who called me her daughter after only taking 10 minutes out of my day to talk to her.... to the countless waiters and shop owners who want to be your friend after just taking an interest in their culture, or even just smiling in their direction... it is easy to feel welcomed on this island.

Another very apparent quality of Greek culture is the pride they have in their heritage. You cannot walk 2 blocks without seeing a giant Greek flag waving proudly. Everyone keeps up with all the mythological Greek stories and legends. And everyone keeps up with the traditional Greek dancing, which we actually got to experience first hand.

When the waiter pulled us around to the back of his restaurant last night, we had no idea what to expect. We saw a young boy dancing and two girls sitting on the ground clapping. The waiter told us to sit like the girls and mimic, so we did. That's when the boy started swinging his legs over our heads and sliding on the ground right up to us. He would slap the girls' feet and jump up and yell "Opa!". Then he grabbed a chair and tried to balance on it, but instead had to jump off before he could fall on his face. He looked like he was having the time of his life. He grabbed our hands and pulled us in the center with the other girls. The only direction he gave us as to how to dance like the Greeks was, "Step with one foot going behind the other and walk like a drunk old man".

This we picked up relatively easily, however I was up for the challenge... I wanted to do the hard stuff. If I had a plate in my hand at that moment I would have definitely broken it and screamed "Opa!". But for the sake of the restaurant and it's limited plates, I instead decided to attempt the slide. I jumped up and down, took a deep breath, prepared myself... they full out lunged into a slide. Bad idea. I had forgotten I was wearing shorts and landed on a very rocky floor, which was not appreciated by my knees. The bruise on my knee is a constant reminder that I am no professional Greek dancer.

After our short, but epic Greek dance experience... we interviewed the waiter for our film project. During his interview he confirmed all the Greek culture traits I had picked up on. However, he also added how many other cultures influence the very unique island of Cyprus. For example sitting on the table during our interview was a Hookah. This original Arabic past time is now smoked after dinner, sometimes even with Cypriot coffee.

Once he said this, I recalled that right down the street from our apartment was a popular Syrian restaurant with Arabic food and Syrian workers. I also remembered that most of the waiters and store owners I had talked to all over the island were from Bulgaria, Lebanon, Nigeria, all over the world. Also European tourists could be found EVERYWHERE. And the influence of Britain, from being a part of the United Nations, was apparent with all the strange spellings of words in English. Like "Colour" instead of "Color". And of course on top of all that half the island is Turkish.

After realizing this, my head was spinning. I thought I was back to square one with figuring out this whole Cypriot culture puzzle. I hadn't factored in all the other outside influences, and had no idea what to make out of it?

That's when the waiter we were interviewed cleared everything up for me. I asked him what his favorite part of the Cypriot culture was.

"I love how we have a mix of everything and every type of person. We take a little from every culture to make it our own. And when tourists or people from other places come to visit Cyprus, or even come to live... we greet them warmly. Our island is so small, that when these people come, it feels like they are coming into our house. We offer them coffee, we sit and talk with them, and we learn from each other."

When he said this it all became clear to me. I was trying to put together a puzzle of Cypriot culture to make a picture I could understand. But what the waiter was trying to tell me is that the pile of puzzle pieces WAS in fact the finished project. There are so many people from all over the world coming to Cyprus and influencing the culture, and the original Cypriot welcome the people with open arms.

The Cypriots are known for putting their family first... but I didn't realize to know just how BIG of a family they have.. the entire island is their family. And, without questions asked... they let us become part of their family too.

(Pictures by Zaina!)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Panama City of Cyprus...

Ayia Napa. Before we had even ventured here for the weekend, we had heard stories upon stories about how amazing it would be. We heard that the beaches would be crystal clear with warm golden sand, the restaurants would be plentiful and with much variety all along the main strip, and the nightlife... oooh the nightlife... in a city that never sleeps the rows and rows of dance clubs packed with people would be sure to continue to the wee hours of the morning. All of these proved to be true, however they left one important thing out... how the tourists ruin the high expectations.

The moment we arrived to our hotel in Ayia Napa... our adrenaline hit
an all time high. One look outside our hotel room windows and we were outside in our bathing suits in under 5 minutes. We had never stayed in a hotel with such an amazing pool area.

But it just took 50 more steps outside of the pool area to realize just what we were in store for that weekend. We traveled down a little stone path with tropical plants aligning either side of the sandy way, and just over the last sand dune we saw the most crystal blue water I had ever seen before. This beach was beautiful. We spend most of our mornings, afternoons, and yes evenings laying on this beach. We enjoyed our time building sand castles, relaxing on the beach chairs, and swimming against the waves. Except for a random piece of lettuce we saw floating around, the water was incredibly clean.

After soaking in all the sun possible, we could not ignore the growling of our stomaches any longer. We found a restaurant not far from our hotel with burgers and fries for a very cheap price. Although not very Cypriot, we took advantage of the money we would save. The next day we dined at an Italian restaurant with delicious pastas with so much per serving, none of us could finish it all. Two out of the three preconceptions of this place, the beaches and the food, had proven true... now all that was left to see was the nightlife.

The first night we met up with some of our Cypriot friends who took us to a beach dance party. This was like nothing I had ever seen before. As we walked down the wooden steps our feet met something unexpected... sand. Now, sand at a beach party sounds like they would go together. But in our minds we imagined the dancing would occur on a platform NEAR the beach. Well, we were not just NEAR the beach... we were right smack in the middle of it. The waves would creep up and wet the feet of the farthest dancers in the giant crowd.

The crowd... this was another adventure on its own. With amount of people crowded around this coastline dancing, you would assume Lady Gaga was about to come on stage and preform. There were people everywhere... and FROM everywhere. That night we met tourists from all over Europe, however most of the people there were Cypriots. The DJ at the front of the crowd played everything from Greek, to French, to American dance music. The best part was the Cypriot guys, who seem to be very respectful from what I have noticed, did not try to grab you to dance every ten seconds. They instead gave all the girls their space. With all the thing going on at this dance party, I didn't know whether to dance, play in the waves, or build a sand castle. All in all this event was something I have never experienced, and would love to experience again.

The next night was a very different story, however. We decided to explore around the main square, the clubbing wonderland for all visiting tourists. We walked into the first dance club, the lights were flashing and music booming, but the crowd was very different from the beach dance party. There was no mistake for a Lady Gaga concert here, even though Dina went up on stage, grabbed the mic, and sang a Lady Gaga song as the entire crowd cheers and took pictures. The crowd was, instead, relatively small... and consisted of many, many creepy guys.

My favorite creep of the night was a man that stood about 5 foot tall. His scruffy beard and greasy hair made him look as if showers were optional in his mind. He wore a button down shirt that he unbuttoned way further than necessary. His favorite game of the night was scoping out girls, choosing his victim, and attacking them with his horrible dance moves. The worse part was once he picked you out, he wouldn't stop dancing with you until he found a new victim. This happened to a number of girls in our group. We even developed a system, every time he would try to dance with one of us the rest would for a circle, a barrier, to keep him away. Apparently this act, stern glares, and even saying "I don't want to dance with you" did not phase this guys determination. He would just shake off the rejection and continue his tactics on the next girl.

"Find the creepy tourist" was a game of the night that proved to be far too easy. Through out our adventures that night we found ourselves getting scammed, getting offended, and getting shocked by the people we saw and the way the acted. None of these people were Cypriots.

The last place we ended up at was the nicest club we had seen, complete with two pools, flashing lights, and Bob Marly reggae music blaring from the speakers. The only thing missing was a crowd. This club didn't open until around 3 or 4 AM and stayed up until the next afternoon. Exhausted from the night, most of us went home before the club could open.

All in all we experienced a part of the island that the tourists took way too far in the crazy direction. We experienced what I can only compare to a night at Panama City Beach, something that most people go to, but never want to go back to again. I think I would go to Ayia Napa again to see the beaches, enjoy the food, and maybe go to another beach dance party. However, as far as the other tourists go, I think I'll just stick to hanging out with the Cypriots.

There's no place like home

Imagine sitting comfortably in your home after a hard days work. You stretch out on the couch with a warm cup of coffee. As you set your coffee down on the table next to your toast, a midday snack, you grab today's newspaper. Opening it to the first page, you take a deep breath... and relax.

Suddenly you hear screaming in the streets. Sirens begin to ring. You look out of your window and crowds are beginning to run down the street. That's when you see it. Hundreds of Turkish soldiers invading... ordering an immediate evacuation. You drop everything, find your family, and leave your home.

36 years later, a photographer sneaks his way around your city of Famagusta. The streets are deserted except for the occasional stray cat, which still looks lonely and out of place in this ghost town. The photographer takes pictures of deteriorating buildings and dusty roads, until he stumbles upon a little house... your house. He focuses his lense to peer through a window and into the living room. In this living room he sees a dusty couch, a broken coffee table, what looked like could have been a comfortable family room so many years ago. He focuses his camera on the table. All that is left is the remnants of what looked like use to be toast, an empty coffee mug, and an open newspaper with the date August 15, 1974. The day you, as well as thousands of people, lost your home, your stores, your life the way it once was.

When the Turks invaded Cyprus in 1974 the took Famagusta, a booming city with golden beaches and busy city life. This place brought in the most wealth for the island from tourism and was home to thousands upon thousands of people.
The Turks evacuated the city and drew a line of barbed wire and Turkish soldiers around it. Still to this day no Greek Cypriot has crossed that line to get back to their home city. The city is a dying ghost town today.

There has been no progression to the situation today, and the future does not look promising. So many residence of Famagusta, who are now parents and grandparents, will never be able to take their family back to their home city. They will never see their old shops and beaches. One woman who was a little girl when the invasion occurred said all she could think about for months was her diary she left under her bed, never to be seen again.

It's sad to think that we can do nothing. As much power our country has, we can easily give back the city to the Cypriots. But complicated by political issues with both Turkish and Greek alliances, we are doing nothing. I hope one day these families can see their home again and rebuild their city. I know too well after studying abroad that there is no place like home. But I get to see my home in just a couple of weeks. I couldn't imagine not being allowed to go home for 36 years... 36 years, that is... and counting.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

If you think this water is clean.. you are in Da Nile!!

Floating down the Nile on a boat for lunch!

First I must start off by saying the title was unfortunately not my original joke.. all credit goes to Alex Van Tilburg. I could not stop laughing when she said this as we were standing right next to the longest river in the world, The Nile. As we were looking out onto this dark green river, everything I had learned from my 6th grade World History class started flooding backwards from an unknown source - where I keep my knowledge of calculus and random facts about the Backstreet Boys - and back into my head... just like the backwards flow of this incredible river. My history books were coming to life right before my eyes.

This amazing experience, one I will remember for the rest of my life, occurred in just one weekend. We had decided a couple weeks ago that we would take a boat to Egypt and go on a tour once we got there. The only other time I had been on a boat to travel from one country to another was in Brazil. The boat we took then was ancient. The metal was rusted and the wooden boards were rotten, it's a miracle no one fell through the boat and into the water while we were puttering down the mighty Amazon!

When we stepped onto the dock ready to leave for Egypt, every one of our mouths dropped. This was not just any boat, this was a cruise ship.

However, this ship was unlike any cruise I had ever been on in a very diversely cultural way. Just walking down the dock I could distinguish at least four different languages. Even the cruise workers were welcoming us in Arabic! Or so we thought. One cruise worker shouting something to us, and Zaina replied back, "Some of us can speak Arabic you know." And the entire crew started laughing hysterically. Zaina later told us that the man had said "Oh American girls! I will party and drink with you hotties!". Needless to say we were all very happy to have Zaina around, and that was my first of many cultural experiences during this week.

The biggest culture shock came from realizing how little I knew about Egypt. When the engine of the boat stopped, thus shaking the entire ship and causing us to fumble around aimlessly off balance, I ran outside having no idea what to expect. I knew of Egypt's magnificent pyramids and vast dessert, but what I saw when I stepped outside was an old run down, dusty city.

Shocked, but still excited to be there, we ran out of the boat and had our first encounter with the Egyptian souvenir sales man. Aggressive was too calm of a term to describe these men. They were suffocating, not taking "No" for an answer. One even shoved a bag on Dr. Legg's arm, grabbing his hat off of his head, and put it in the bag. They have a very rehersed way of making you feel guilting into buying something. The most common game I heard was when one would give you a "gift" because he liked you, then 10 seconds later ask for a Euro in exchange for the "free" gift.

As tough as it was to ignore the souvenir salesman, was no comparison to see were the children who were working as salesmen. I had seen little kids before used as beggars or workers, but it never gets easier to see. The children run up to you, trying to be as aggressive as the adult salesman. Sometimes they get annoying, but in the back of your head you cannot help but feel sorry for them. They are just children.

One little boy ran up to Zaina and asked her to buy a postcard for 1 Euro. Zaina replied back to him in Arabic that she didn't want one. Knowing only how to say "1 Euro" in English, he began to tell her how tired and thirsty he was in Arabic, and how he cannot stop selling these postcards until he sells every single one. She leaned down on his level, handed him 5 dollars, and said, "You take this money and don't tell anyone you have it. Take it for yourself." His smile was from ear to ear as he walked away from our group.

The aggression of these souvenir salesmen make you think the biggest part of Egypt's economy is tourism. However, there is no comparison to the amount Egypt's economy gains from their agriculture. We drove past vast acres of farms growing cotton and rice. We even drove past what looked like giant rock towers. Our tour guide explained that they use these towers for pigeon breeding. A delicacy in Egypt is pigeon, they eat them for weddings and fancy dinners. I was overjoyed to hear this. My past experience with pigeons had been less than enjoyable. I never will know what the second half of that cookie would have tasted like.

The tour guide continued about Egypt's agriculture, so exited to teach all of us about her country and culture. You could tell from the first moment she began telling us the story of Ancient Egypt how proud she was of her heritage. That seemed to be a common trait among the Egyptians. Their museum was magnificent and very well kept in order to teach all of us all about Ancient Egypt and specifically King Tut. We walked into one room in the museum, and almost had to squint from the glare of the massive amounts of gold. The tombs were gold, the chariots was gold, even the beds were made out of gold. And the detail on every work of gold was incredible. The headdress/mask of King Tut was one of the most detailed piece of artwork I had even seen.

Not only was it made in pure gold, but the paintings on the face were flawless. The stones used for his chest were cut in tiny, perfectly rectangle squares. But the most fascinating was the inside of the mask. What could have easily just been smooth, pure gold was decorated in tiny hieroglyphics all over the inside of the mask. Each drawing must have taken such a long time to create, yet they had hundreds of them in a place no one would even see. The same went for the tombs King Tut was buried in. They did not just use one extraordinarily decorated golden tomb, but instead made four that fit inside of each other. Around that they build many rooms for all the King's belongings. And on top of that they built an enormous pyramid.

Seeing these pyramids with our own eyes was an indescribable experience. We had all thought we knew what to expect, the Egyptian pyramids are all over movies and media. However the size of these pyramids we all greatly underestimated. One block, just ONE block of these pyramids was almost as tall as I was. We got the opportunity to walk inside one of the pyramids. They warned us how claustrophobic it can get inside the pyramids, but once again we greatly underestimated what they meant. We found ourselves hunched over in a 90 degree angle, holding on for dear life to the only skinny rail along the way as the steep incline took us down a seemingly black endless hole. When we finally entered a tall enough room to stand up, we found ourselves starring at a tomb that was left wide open. Stephen danced inside of it. Hopefully he will not be cursed now.

Almost immediately after we entered, we turned around and made the uncomfortable climb back out of the pyramid, walking past a little girl with tears streaming down her face. "It's fun I promise!" reassured Stephen. The disbelieving glare on the little girls face let us know she would more than likely be scarred for life.

After emerging from the pyramid and taking many pictures, I decided to try something my dad tells me over and over again to do while traveling to another country. Try to blend in with the culture.

This is what ended up happening.

We had seen the pyramids, the Sphinx, the museum filled with gold, tools, and household objects from the Ancient Egyptian times. And the final event on the agenda was debatably the most culturally enriching experience yet.

We traveled to a small store where they make and sell Papyrus. Papyrus is the first form of paper ever discovered. They take a stalk of the Papyrus plants and cut it into layers, then roll the strips and weave them into a square. Then they let it dry. This process takes weeks, but the outcome is amazing. The paper is extremely durable and the artwork they paint on it is breathtaking!
How to make Papyrus

On the bus ride back to our cruise ship, I only had one thought going through my mind as we drove past the broken down buildings once again. The Ancient Egyptians spent hours, weeks, even years on details. They decorated everything with gold, despite the expense. Their appreciation for the little things in life was evident. Their patients to make giant works of art such as the Sphinx and Pyramids was incredible. The effort and time they put into their works of art and religion created a culture that still be admired thousands of years later. It was crazy to me to see that this seemed to not be upheld by Egyptians today. Maybe it has to do with lack of money. Maybe it has to do with lack of enthusiasm. But I could not help but think that if King Tut himself had seen the half constructed buildings we drove by, he would have been shocked. However, the ancient Egyptians believed in slavery and that is how a lot of their monuments were built. Freedom is well worth the cost of beauty to the city, but if Ancient Egyptians could build masterpieces with nothing but their bare hands, surely the freed Egyptians today can get together and make their country historically breathtaking once again.

That was my initial thought on the bus ride back to the cruise ship. But the more I thought about it, the more ignorant I realized I was being. Yes, it is easy for me... a middle class American with so many opportunities, to criticize a country for not caring enough to upkeep the streets and buildings. Never did it cross my mind that maybe this country is trapped between a rock and a hard place, struggling with the intense gap between the extremely wealthy and the very poor social classes of Egypt, with little in between. And on top of that, trying to survive in a unevenly rationed world... with my own country being one with alarge portion of the wealth. When you are not given the money, you have to survive any way you can.

Instead of looking at the apparent lack of "beauty" of the city.. maybe I should have been looking at things from another prospective. Yes the streets might be dirty, and the buildings might be falling apart, but the real beauty is how the common people, the everyday Egyptians, survive. Everyday they must watch as hundreds of rich tourists come into their home. I wonder what goes through their head when we walk by? We go back and stay in fancy hotels and have nice houses to go home to. While living in a building most of us at home would label "condemned", they are still able to have pride in their heritage and survive in the most difficult surroundings.... That is the true beauty of Egypt.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Exploration Leds To Discovery! ... "60% of the time, it works every time"

One of my favorite things to do is take off by myself and explore. Just ask my mother, whom if she could would install a tracking device and shock collar on me so she could let me know I'd gone too far.

I actually remember a conversation I had with my mother before I left, where she hinted she would buy me an international phone. Unlike any other daughter in the world, I refused the present. One, because I knew my mother would text me at least 20 times a day with information such as "I just saw a pretty flower, did you see a pretty flower today?" And two, because I knew the GPS system is what really appealed to her intentions for the phone.
 My mother... what looks like love to some, 
                                                                                                   is actually physical restraint 

During our weekend trip to Limassol and Paphos, I desperately wanted to explore. The bus tour we took on the first day was torture. Sure, I loved hearing all about the places we were seeing from a Cypriot tour guide, but when we got to some amazing places, in particular the birthplace of Aphrodite, I desperately wanted to walk closer and look around.  We were so close, yet so far away as we looked off the interstate bridge down to the ocean during our 5 minute stop at this sight.
Between the first two rocks is where legend has it, Aphrodite formed. 

So when we discovered that the next day was a free day for all students, we decided to take full advantage. We woke up that morning and headed straight to the beach. I was surprised to find myself walking in black sand and looking out to a dark Navy blue ocean. The beach itself was only 50 feet wide, and rocks aligned the border like a natural wall. This place looked as if you were looking at a regular ocean through a camera with the darkening lens cap on... it was bizarre! However, a beach is a beach and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there.

When we came back from the beach, we headed over to the pool. A relaxing and anti-salt way to cool off in the intense heat. However, I still wanted to explore. So when Stephen mentioned he was going to walk around the city, I jumped out of my beach chair and all but starting running in front of him, ready to start the adventure!

We documented through pictures our walk... and here are some things we found..

 At this part of the beach, they sit on inflatables!   My first time seeing the Mediterrean, water sooo clear I could even see my flip flop tan line!

We had to balance on a ledge at one part, my lack of balance was almost hazardess... Stephen used his Zin to help him cross. Show off. lol

Crossing the scariest ledge possible! Might as well be rock climbing!

And of course it wouldn't be Cyprus if we didn't run into a huge area of dirt filled with 20 cats

We came back exhausted and dehydrated... but so fulfilled! So there you go, exploration always leads to discovery. No, we did not discover a buried treasure, or a secret part of the island.. but sometimes you have to look past the obvious. During our 2 hour walk Stephen and I talked about all topics.. religion, culture, what we want out of life, even the World Cup. In just that one walk I learned so much about Stephen, and even myself during many "Aha!" moments. That is why I am addicted to traveling... it is so inspiring. You take yourself out of your comfort zone... out of your normal way of thinking... and are forced to viewed the world from someone else's eyes. In doing this, opening your eyes to a life other than your own, you learn so much about your own life. These conversations wouldn't usually come up in daily conversation back at home, and sometimes it just takes seeing something new to spark the conversation. The things you learn about the world, and about yourself... are the things you never forget and treasure forever. And that is the discovery I found.