I posted this quote on the On The Bright Side Facebook Page earlier today. Since it received lots of likes and comments, I thought I would share this here too.
— USE YOUR EXPERIENCE – In a world obsessed with youth, experience is often undervalued. But your unique experiences are priceless. They give you many advantages. Cherish them. Use them wisely: at work, with your family, in relationships, in planning ahead.
What’s been interesting for me is that since I have returned from an 8 year stint abroad, I find it increasingly difficult to actually talk about the experiences I cherish, the moments that have changed my life forever and made me the person I am today. All that international travel experience is unique and it is priceless… to me. Very few people in the US can relate to living overseas, and in such places like Japan and Vietnam. It’s a shame, really. It’s those experiences I value the most and have made my life full of value.
As I’m getting more and more up to speed in the Twitter universe, I am meeting some fantastic people. It’s been particularly fun to read some other people’s travel blogs. I wish I had known some of these folks before I set off on my own travel in 2008!
One of the blogs I’ve come across recently is a young lady named Ali. Her blog, Ali’s Adventures shares her stories as she winds her way through the seven continents of the world! I’m so impressed!
One of the things you’ll notice when you first log on now is the stunning photography of Antarctica. The shots of amazing icebergs and cute little penguins…it’s enough to make you want to pack your bags and go! Great photography accompanies all of her informative posts.
I also identify with Ali a lot, as she is so personable. You feel she’s writing a letter just to you with an enthusiasm that’s infectious. She well describes her adventures and makes you feel like you’ve just been there with her.
If you are looking for some travel inspiration, to learn what life is like traveling the world, or just a great read, I suggest you have a look and bookmark Ali’s Adventures! She’s great! And I am inspired!
An interesting topic was brought up today via an innocent little Twitter tweet. Someone posted a list of great volunteer programs in Chiang Mai Thailand. Another Tweeter thought it was wrong to pay for volunteering. I raised the issue of the cost of accommodation and food – who should bear those costs? I also commented that I thought if a donation to the organization was included in the fee, that was ok. It all depends on the organization, of course and what the program involves.
For small organizations who operate mostly from the ground, with a few volunteers coordinating efforts, it’s impossible for them to pay for food and accommodation, airfare, and such. And in those cases, I don’t mind covering my costs and making a donation in addition to volunteering my time.
I suppose the main point is – does the organization tell you how much of the fee is a direct contribution to their cause? Do they provide a breakdown of costs? Do you know how your donation is being spent?
I do believe that in light of the many recent disasters in our world, we’ve learned that the NGO/NPO’s are not as forthcoming in providing information as to how your donation is being used. And as a donors, it is our responsibility to hold the organizations accountable…make them show you where your money is going. We are well within our right for asking and perhaps if more people did, we wouldn’t find so many organizations skirting the issue.
With any other type of travel, you do some research, you ask questions, you ensure that you are getting good value for your money. It should be no different for voluntourism. Make sure the organization is sound and willing to outline the program fees. It would also be wise to consider what contribution you are actually making and what is the value of that. For example, are you digging ditches and building an irrigation system or are you training elephants? What impact will you have by volunteering your time? Is building a house for a victim of a natural disaster a bigger contribution than picking grapes in a vineyard? That all depends on you, what you hope to contribute and what experience you are seeking. For me, I’m happy to pay a higher fee/donation for an organization I believe is really making a difference for those less fortunate or who are recovering from a disaster. I will be happy to pay a fee to cover costs and make a minimal donation for something which is more to my benefit (like training elephants).
The skeptical tweeter said, “Reasonably priced to volunteer? No such thing.” For me, that just doesn’t compute. I expect to pay my airfare, my accommodation and food and I do expect that some of my funds will go directly to the organization. That’s reasonable to me. I might be volunteering my time, but at the heart of the program is the fact that I am making a contribution. And when I volunteer, I want both my personal and monetary contribution to count.
As always – happy to hear your thoughts!
In the photo: Can-Do.Org I’ve mentioned this organization several times now, because this is the type of NPO which puts your donation directly to work. I respect and admire them very much for making great efforts to prove to donors that the money is directly helping the people it’s intended for.
I’m not sure I really knew what traditional Moroccan food tasted like. I think I thought there were lots of spices involved, as it is a country which is known for its spices. So call me surprised when I didn’t find the food to be all that flavorful. In all my time there, I had just 3 good meals. The first was at my riad in Essaouira. After eating really bad food at the cafes, (I even tried a pizza one day to have something “normal” and was sorely disappointed. How do you screw up a pizza?) I asked the staff at my riad to prepare dinner for me. That was a good meal. A fresh salad, a delicious tagine, good wine and fresh pomegranate seeds for dessert. Yummy.
The second meal came while on my camel ride in Essaouria. On the banks of the sea, a little man in a tent cooked up the meal you see pictured here. The salad was simply tomatoes and onions. The tagine here is chicken with tomato, onion, olives and a variety of parsley. Super simple and yet tasty. The bread in Morocco is also quite delicious. It’s a round loaf which is a cross between a pita and french bread. Really good.
My last meal in Morroco was at my second riad, my last evening in Marrakech. I also asked the staff to prepare something (I let them choose). I was offered a delcius soup which was similar to a minestrone. Then some couscous with veggies and a baked chicken with onions and such. Also very delicious. I think the common thread to the level of yumminess is that all three of my best meals were home cooked. Not from a restaurant. Even at the glamorous events of the trade show, the food was just so-so.
I’m sure if I did a bit of research and more hunting, I could find some awesome restaurants in Marrakech. I know they exist. I know there are some terrific dishes I haven’t had a chance to try. Again – next year!
Tagine – receives its name from the clay pot it is cooked in. Over the base is a triangular top, all of which is cooked over an open fire. It’s like an old fashion crock-pot! Put all the ingredients in and cook!
I had to do it. I’m in Morocco, at the beach and there are camels. It was very touristy, but it was a hell of a lot of fun. A full day camel trek on the beach did my back no favors, but I am so glad I did it! I mean, when the hell am I going to ride a camel on the beach again?
With all of the work piling up in my inbox and back at the office, I felt more than guilty to be staring at a few days of “me” time. I nearly changed my flights and returned early. But I remembered with distinct clarity that in the year I’ve worked with Apple Tree, I’ve taken just 2.5 days of annual leave. That fact alone helped me not feel so guilty. I planned for the free time when I booked my flights, just not all the internet connectivity problems in London, of all places. That glitch really threw me out of whack. It did nothing but put me WAY behind in work. I already have enough to do. I didn’t need the pressure of being so behind nor to feel culpable for taking much needed (and deserved) vacation. I stuck with my original plan and took a few days to myself.
As soon as the car peaked the hill and the ocean was in sight, my cares seemed to be swallowed up by the strong breeze from the sea, and I knew I had come to the right place for rest and rejuvenation.
(Borrowing from Wikipedia for a moment)
The present city of Essaouira was only built during the 18th century. Mohammed III, wishing to reorient his kingdom towards the Atlantic for increased exchanges with European powers, chose Mogador as his key location. He directed a French engineer, Théodore Cornut, who had been captured and enslaved, and several other European architects and technicians, to build the fortress and city along modern lines. Originally called “Souira”, “The small fortress”, the name then became “Es-Saouira”, “The beautifully designed”.
The Medina of Essaouira (formerly “Mogador”) is a UNESCO World Heritage Listed city, as an example of a late 18th century fortified town, as transferred to North Africa.
The fishing harbour, suffering from the competition of Agadir and Safi remains rather small, although the catches (sardines, conger eels) are surprisingly abundant due to the coastal upwelling generated by the powerful trade winds and the Canaries Current.
There are only a handful of modern purpose-built hotels within the walls of the old city. The medina is home to many small arts and crafts businesses, notably cabinet making and ‘thuya’ wood-carving (using roots of the Tetraclinis tree), both of which have been practised in Essaouira for centuries.
I found Essaouira to be quaint and charming. It was low season, so there weren’t many tourists, some of the shops were closed, the cooking class wasn’t on due to the major holiday, but I enjoyed fewer people. The weather was splendid, if a bit windy on two of the days there. I particularly enjoyed my long walk on the beach. Nothing like sand between your toes and the sounds of the waves to lift your spirits. Its the San Diegan in me. I will always love the beach. I will always enjoy traveling to new coastlines, dipping my toes in waters all over the world.
Essaouira was just the medicine I needed. I have been so overly freaked out about work, stressed to the max and just not myself lately. That walk on the beach in particular was a chance for me to reconnect with the Shanna I enjoy being. A me that I need to reclaim. Desperately.
If you’re an avid reader of my blog, you’ll know that I love markets. You can tell a lot about a culture simply by taking a good look at life in the markets. You can gather what food people eat, what items they may have in their home, how the locals treat each other, how they negotiate, what people wear, how much English and other languages are spoken and also how touristy the area is or revel in its authenticity.
The souks in Marrakech were fascinating to me because the paths are totally chaotic, it’s noisy, a bit smelly and crowded, except when it’s time for prayer. There’s no real organization save a section where all of the metal works are done. Mosques are found nearly anywhere, but I would be hard pressed to recognize a doorway without a guide. When I walked alone, I was often the focus of attention for my blue eyes.
Moroccan men are not shy, that’s for sure. When they would call after me in French, I ignored them. When they figured out I speak English, a few had it in them to run after me and say, “Madamme, madamme. One question. One question, please.” When I would agree they would ask, “What is your name?” Sometimes I answered truthfully and sometimes not. On one occasion, I went with Maria. After I answered, they would follow with, “Where are you from?” But then I would smile and wag my finger and say, “Nope. That’s two questions. Have a great day.” And I would walk away. This drove them nuts!
Usually when I am in a new place, I love buying treasures which I hope to keep forever. I still have mementos from the Caribbean, Russia, Italy and other trips from long ago. But oddly enough, I didn’t do that much shopping on this trip. Of course I bought some Moroccan shoes – that was fun. A gorgeous red pair, which would normally be worn at a wedding is a pair of shoes I will keep on display somewhere. I bought twenty smaller pair on keychains to give out as gifts to friends and some staff at the office. Other than that – not much else was possible.
I would have loved to have bought a lamp, some pillows, even a carpet. But that’s not really practical with a suitcase packed for a 20 day business trip! If we go to this show again next year, I am definitely planning and packing and shopping way differently! I really like the Moroccan style, particularly what I saw at the 2 riads I stayed in. So next year, Marrakech – look out!