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Question of the Month: Memorable Trips

by Susan Henderson on August 4, 2008

Tell me about a memorable trip you took. It can be a ride to work on the city bus or a trip to another country to spread someone’s ashes. The trick is it had to set you on a new path or transform you in some way.

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Wednesday, come back to meet the hosts of the new NPR feature, DimeStories, and hear how a trip on a motorcycle created this opportunity.

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For those of you attending the Backspace conference, I’ll be there Thursday, August 7th, on a short story panel with Jessica, Amy, Charis, and Jon. Stop by and introduce yourself!

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Last week was maybe the worst I’ve had in a year, just one of those times you bottom out and lose your belief in everything. I don’t know about you, but I find that good things are constantly sitting right in front of me if I’ll just open my eyes to them. And here, in the middle of my funk, I found a long lost roommate and probably the nicest and most protective person I’ve ever known. Completely turned my week around. So here’s to my dear friend, Chuck! If you click the link, you’ll see he’s in fine company, but scroll all the way to the bottom to see the best of the bunch.

{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

BradleyParker August 4, 2008 at 1:46 am

In the week before my wife and I married we saw each other on four consecutive days – a first in our relationship. Understandably my honeymoon was no mere vacation; it was a chance to get to know my new wife.

During our courtship she was a starving artist in New York City and I was a Navy officer in Virginia Beach. We dated for about ten months before our engagement and for about 18 months before our wedding. I left the Navy on July 1, 1998 and we married on July 25, 1998.

Two days after the wedding my wife and I flew to Costa Rica for our honeymoon. I used my last two paychecks from the Navy, the proceeds from selling my car, my laughably small savings, and the full extent of my measly credit limit to fund an amazing five week vacation. Since my wife was a freelance worker at that time, we were both essentially unemployed. Unemployment is a great excuse for an extended holiday.

During those five weeks we: stayed in $10 per night hotels where we learned the difference between “hot water” and “heated water” (the latter being an electrical element in the shower head that slightly warmed the water as it left the nozzle), hiked mountains in sandals, zip-lined through the forest, went white water rafting, toured the rainforest with Japanese tourists, surfed (unsuccessfully), drank to excess (very successfully), hung out with remittance men, hijacked a taxi full of German tourists, and travelled between towns on motorcycles, retired bluebird school buses, and on horseback. Our final honeymoon adventure was our return to New York, where I had to repel six stories down an airshaft and climb into our apartment window. We forgot our keys in Florida and had no money for a hotel. (I didn’t try to carry my wife down that airshaft.)

That was ten years ago and the adventure continues. Since then we’ve lived in New York, New Orleans, Tampa, Biloxi, and Yokosuka, Japan. I’ve worked in Nigeria, Kuwait, and Afghanistan. And she’s worked at raising three wonderful boys who love Mardi Gras more than Christmas and who think the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is a holiday. (Isn’t it?) Our subsequent vacations: We climbed the big pyramid at Chichen Itza while my wife was 7 months pregnant and the Eiffel Tower while she was 2 months pregnant.

Now if I can only figure out how to manage a flat in Montmartre . . . .

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robinslick August 4, 2008 at 6:57 am

It actually just occurred a few weeks ago – I went to Canada tagging along on tour with my kiddies and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it to the point where I’m already plotting and planning how I can make living there happen within the next few years. Just walking down the streets in Quebec City had my creative juices flowing…and now that I’m back in the U.S., well…seems like my month was as bad as your week.

Speaking of that, I’m bummed you had a bad time of it, Sue, but knowing you, you will come out of it stronger than ever. I’m so glad you’ll be in NY Thursday – that’s the day of my Backspace panel, too, (Edgy fiction – what else?) and while I’ll be there for the reception that evening as well, I can’t make it on Friday so I’ll be training it home Thursday night…yay…at least we’re in walking distance of Penn Station this time.

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kategray August 4, 2008 at 8:53 am

My most memorable trip was with my father’s sister and her family, down to Puebla, Mexico. I actually wrote about it and have the narrative up elsewhere. I’d always wanted to see where my aunt & uncle lived, and worked as missionaries. At that point, it was only a short time removed from them having spent four years back in the states while my aunt recovered from typhus and parasitic illnesses, but they were back fully into the swing of things.
Everyone was so wonderful to me, and I left that trip, at the age of 19, having had a lot of “a-ha!” moments. Before it, I was sitting in community college, not really convinced that my once-coveted archaeology degree pursuit was so great after all. After reminding myself of the eons of history still waiting to be revealed, as well as the sociological impacts of “invader” cultures, I went back, determined, and got myself to Chapel Hill, where I finished my degree.
One day, I hope to be able to drag my kids around the world, so that they can have their eyes opened to all the things it has to speak of, remind us of, and educate us all about.

this is the story of my trip:
http://www.webook.com/shortstory.aspx?p=5e00fdb16c2f457f9218a4a66637e974&sit=0d5bcce707394bccbd42a9ada418cdb8

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kategray August 4, 2008 at 8:55 am

That is one awesome tale. Kudos to you two for being willing to fly it by the seat of your pants!

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Betsy August 4, 2008 at 9:10 am

I once drove from LA to Boca Raton with a ‘boyfriend’ in a Honda he paid 50 dollars for. It was, um, ill-advised. But I needed to get out of NY, and it seemed like as good an idea as any I had at that moment (okay, clearly good ideas were few and far between for me at this juncture). 3000 miles and just as many traumas later, I ditched him and New York. It was an excrutiating trip, truly. But it really spurred my need to leave NY once and for all, and after I got back I packed up my stuff and the rest is history. I’ve been in Chicago ever since.

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maryannestahl August 4, 2008 at 9:20 am

On Thursday I am going to San Francisco to visit my son in his new house and new job (at http://www.Yelp.com). I will also be spending some time in Berkeley and meeting up with some Zoetropers from the Bay area. I am sure this will turn out to be a memorable trip!

Hope this week is a good one for you, Sue.

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aimeepalooza August 4, 2008 at 10:18 am

My most memorable trip was skydiving. I jumped from the plane free fell for a long time and when the chute finally opened I realized I was leaving my fiance 2 months before the wedding. It was death and the idea that if I died in that moment, what about my life would I regret? I left two days later with nothing but a change of clothes, a brush, and a toothbrush.

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gailsiegel August 4, 2008 at 11:10 am

Juicy question. I have taken countless amazing trips. But unlike most of my college friends who hopped across Europe, most of mine were here in the states — road trips and camping. Which was best? No clue. One of the most life-changing was a 2 month road trip with my grad school roommate — 28 years ago. We camped everywhere from Grand Gulch Utah to the High Uintas in Wyoming, and crashed with friends in a small coal town in Southern Illinois (Herrin), in a tiny bungalow in Albequerque, and classy apartments in San Francisco (where we saw The Elephant Man.) And rendezvoused with many friends along the way.

Susan, I hope memories of all your adventures in life help sustain you today, and keep you in a good space.

As for space, for the meantime I am stuck here in Chicago. And if any of you are in town tomorrow night, I’ll be reading at the Butterfly Museum. As follows:

ALISON SWAN presents Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakes; she’ll be joined by contributors Judith Arcana, Susan Firer, Donna Seaman, Gail Louise Siegel, and Judith Strasser. Part of the Chicago Public Library’s Read Green, Live Green program. Tue 8/5, 6:30-8 PM, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Dr., 312-747-4050 or naturemuseum.org.

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DoreenOrion August 4, 2008 at 11:37 am

Obviously, I’m going to say my QUEEN OF THE ROAD trip. My husband came home one day and out of the blue announced he wanted to “chuck it all” and travel the country in a converted bus for a year. I asked, “Why can’t you be like a normal husband in a midlife crisis and have an affair or buy a Corvette?” We’re both shrinks, but obviously, he’s a much better one, because we soon set out to spend 24/7 in a 340 sq ft bus with our 60 lb dog and 2 cats who hated each other – and no agenda. Although I had to be dragged kicking and screaming on the trip (I’m sort of the Elizabeth Gilbert Antichrist in that way), but the end, I was the one suggesting that instead of selling the bus, we sell our house to full-time in our rig.

I think the biggest change was that even though I was perfectly content in my old life, I hadn’t realized how routine it had become; it’s important to keep challenging and stretching ourselves. Even though we had our share of disasters throughout the US (fire, flood, armed robbery and finding ourselves in a nudist RV park, to name just a few), we also met amazing people and had incredibly diverse experiences from Maine to Key West to Alaska.

If anyone’s interested in seeing pictures of our trip, our bus, our (adorable, natch) pets, and just a bunch of fun stuff (including video of the nudist park – don’t all crash my website, please 🙂 head on over to http://www.QueenOfTheRoadTheBook.com . I think the book has done so well (it just went into 5th printing during its 8th week out) because we ARE all fascinated by road trips – especially transformative ones.

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jessicaK August 4, 2008 at 2:49 pm

Susan, I’m so glad your week turned around. Made me think of this quote from Abe Lincoln that’s on the wall of my study: “Every adversity, every failure, and every heartache carries with it the seed of an equivalent or a greater benefit.”

My transformative trip:
I took a trip from Boston to Atlanta 27 years ago. My girlfriend was going to Law school at Emory and invited me to come visit her for a week in July. I was a New Englander who’d never been down South. The summer before that, I’d devoted my summer reading to Southern writers: Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, Faulkner, Walker Percy. I was dying to go. Now I had my chance to see what all the hoopla was about—this mysterious, lush place that inspired great writing and a terrible war.

I stayed in her one bedroom, unfurnished apartment on a semi-highway. Hotter and more humid than anything this Northern girl had every experienced, I distracted myself with new sights. I’d never seen such tall pine trees. The magnolia flowers were bigger than elephants. The roach that scampered across my friend’s apartment floor looked like a rat. My friend didn’t have an air conditioner or an extra bed so we shared her double bed. I slept on thin, sweaty sheets. Huge 28 wheeler trucks (if there are such things) roared past her open windows all night long. I couldn’t sleep.

On my second day in the South, she introduced me to her locker mate. He was a beautiful, blond, blue-eyed man with an odd name. Barr. Barr? Short for Barlow—a family name. When he shook my hand, he shook everything inside of me, especially my heart. When he talked to me, he smiled and sat close and asked question after question. I laughed often at his silly, southern accent. He said Limon instead of Lemon. He pronounced Atlanta as if it didn’t have “t’s. He was smart with a delightful but quirky sense of humor. When he showed us around Emory University, he insisted we peek into the men’s bathroom to admire its twenty-four marble urinals. Then we walked past a church. The doors opened. A bride and groom appeared on the doorsteps, followed by dozens of men and women dressed in colorful summer clothes. The wedding party surrounded us. Who knew what a message the universe sent me that day. Two years later, I married this guy from the South. That trip to Atlanta 27 years ago changed the rest of my life.

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amylizwrites August 4, 2008 at 9:49 pm

Bradley Parker reminded me of the trip that was probably the beginning of my love of travel. I don’t think I could pick just one trip that changed me. I am a travel freak and every one of the places I go makes me just a little bit different and it all started when I was 7 and my family moved to Lagos, Nigeria. I don’t know if I knew enough at the time to be frightened, but I did have many discussions with my friends about the possibilities of lions and other wild animals I’d have to watch out for. We decided, in our 7-year-old experience from watching Wild Kingdom brought to us by Mutual of Omaha, that I would be living in a grass hut. Would I know how to survive? Would I get eaten or taken captive by tribal chieftains?

On the transatlantic flight over I had taken a carry on filled with nothing but my Barbie doll paraphernalia–clothes, shoes, tiny Barbie-sized furniture and more dolls. About halfway through the flight my mother couldn’t find me and the line to the bathroom was extending down the aisle. When the stewardess (that’s what we called them back then) came to get my mom to get me out of the bathroom, they found me surrounded by wet Barbie clothes laid out around the miniature room. The airplane bathroom was the perfect washateria for Barbie clothes! The small bowl sink the perfect washer, the little air-conditioner vent the perfect dryer! My Barbies and I had set up shop in the airplane bathroom. When my mom said, “Amy, there are other people on the plane who need to use the facilities,” I pointed across the aisle to the little door and said, “But there’s another bathroom, I’m using this one.” It was that trip and that new residence outside of the United States that I learned to be very self-sufficient. The next residence was Lima, Peru, then Cochabamba, Bolivia and so on throughout my life. Sometimes you just have to make the best of a situation, and a long flight can sometimes be as good a place as any to start.

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Ric August 5, 2008 at 9:07 am

Many trips, all memorable, but transformative? In October of 1969, when so much was happening in our world, I dropped out of college, filled a backpack, and headed out. A night with my cousin in Detroit (fulfilling a two year sentence as a draft resister by working at a mental hospital), on to Ann Arbor where the White Panthers seemed less than interested, spending the night in a cornfield in northern Ohio, visiting my brother at seminary in Kentucky, traveling eastern Kentucky with a 22 year old coal mining engineer who saw nothing wrong with strip mining. Hooking up with a Marine in Knoxville on his way to Cherry Point, NC in a vintage (well, it would be now) 66 Chevy with an eight track player and only one tape – Iron Butterfly.
Finding myself in Atlantic Beach in October looking at the sea, and feeling the draw experienced by the Elves in Lord of the Rings. Spending three days with messed up Army guys from Camp Lejeune using unknown chemicals to cover the memories of Vietnam, realizing how much they were like me before and never going to be again, and going to a bar whose featured band was…. Iron Butterfly.
October 15 as the dawn came, I was sitting on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. By nine, about 50 others had joined me. Tourists would go past saying things like, “Should we spit on them?” At eleven, PBS and other camera crews showed up and asked who the leader was and everyone pointed to me. (There is footage somewhere – most likely in an FBI file). At noon, I got into an argument with Sam Brown, the congressional aide who had planned a big demonstration of staffers and Congressmen to silently protest the war – he demanded that I move and I said I was there first, thereby wrecking his picture of suits and ties with one long haired scruffy looking kid in bluejeans and a backpack.
Mid afternoon, another kid and I took our packs and walked into the Capitol. Asked a security guy if we could look around and he said, “Sure, It’s your Capitol.” Wandered the halls with our backpacks on, right into the chambers and everything. Wandered down to the Washington Monument, heard Coretta Scott King speak, then holding candles and walking four abreast marched past the White House demanding an end to the war. (Nixon wasn’t even there).

I came back home. Went back for the big demonstration in November as an organizer. Stayed with the anti-war movement until Kent State, when they started shooting at us, it was either get radical or get out. I chose the latter.

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aimeepalooza August 5, 2008 at 9:11 am

Wow. You are way cooler than I could ever be. I wish I had your guts when I was that age!

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SusanHenderson August 5, 2008 at 10:04 am

You all have some fascinating stories to tell – wow! I’ll be back for individual comments as soon as I’ve made my work goal for the day.

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SusanHenderson August 5, 2008 at 2:17 pm

What a fabulous story, and it says so much about you. You should write a book about $10 a night traveling.

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SusanHenderson August 5, 2008 at 2:19 pm

I’ve only been to Canada once, and I had the same feeling. PLUS, they give out super writing grants because artists are actually valued in their country. Can’t wait to see you tomorrow, Robin. Er, Thursday. Would be just like me to show up on the wrong day.

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SusanHenderson August 5, 2008 at 2:20 pm

Love stories like this.

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SusanHenderson August 5, 2008 at 2:22 pm

Betsy! Long time, no see. I think I might have gone on a drive with this same ‘boyfriend.’ Was one long trip.

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SusanHenderson August 5, 2008 at 2:23 pm

Thanks, MAS. Who are you seeing out there? I love Zoe gossip.

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SusanHenderson August 5, 2008 at 2:23 pm

That’s brilliant.

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SusanHenderson August 5, 2008 at 2:27 pm

I wish I could be at your reading.

And just by the way, if you count our drive from your place to that Night Train reading, you are one of my favorite roadtrippers!

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SusanHenderson August 5, 2008 at 2:27 pm

Wow. My husband bought high-tops for his mid-life crisis.

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SusanHenderson August 5, 2008 at 2:31 pm

I also had a summer of O’Conner and McCullers that made me all woozy for the south and made me rule out American University and Howard for grad school so I could go to Nashville. Except my experience there made me run back north and not look back.

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SusanHenderson August 5, 2008 at 2:32 pm

Amy, you have the best doll stories. And how did I not know you lived in Nigeria?

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amylizwrites August 5, 2008 at 2:33 pm

Skydiving! That makes Nigeria sound like a doze on the beach. I did skydive once–right after my divorce and I was doing crazy things without thinking. I still try not to think about it–it makes my stomach queasy. I wonder if I should have gone before I got married? You probably did it in the right order.

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SusanHenderson August 5, 2008 at 2:33 pm

Helluva story, Ric.

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SusanHenderson August 5, 2008 at 2:35 pm

I would never skydive because I know I’d dare myself not to pull the string. Similar to the reason I won’t hang out on a balcony.

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amylizwrites August 5, 2008 at 2:44 pm

I didn’t even realize until you said that, that both of the stories you’ve heard from me were about dolls. And my novel has a doll that plays a pivotal role–Mrs. Beasley. Hmmm. I wonder what that says about my psyche. Hollow center? Legs that don’t bend at the knee? Yellow yarn hair? Stuck in childhood?

The Nigeria part–well, it’s not like it comes up much in conversation unless you’ve mentioned the $5000 charge on your credit card where someone in Nigeria purchased a TV and had it shipped to themselves on your dime.

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gailsiegel August 5, 2008 at 3:02 pm

Wow. We DID have a fabulous gabulous trip. I wonder how many other people have been to Dixon, Illinois on a literary road trip??? That was a great journey — not only your company, and the Night Train reading, but when you took on the Bob Arter collection as well. I adore you.

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lance_reynald August 5, 2008 at 3:20 pm

lol.

great question. tales of vagabondage always seem great to me…
there was paris, madrid, toronto, alcala, taos…

but, nothing really matches the long strange trip I seem to have been on these past 8 months… I don’t know fully where it’s all going…but, I’m certainly changed.

xo.

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Betsy August 5, 2008 at 4:08 pm

Oh, no…

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maryannestahl August 5, 2008 at 4:35 pm

well, other than my son and his cohorts, I’m seeing Donna Storey,
Webb Johnson, Gary Barker, Barney Govan, Terry Dehart, Meg Pokrass,
and hopefully Jordan Rosenfeld et enfant. Anyone else in Bay area I
should know?

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chuckles August 5, 2008 at 5:44 pm

I take a special journal on my travels and love to read my recollections while on the road of one trip after the other, feeling myself age and grow as I turn pages with notes from 20 years back to ones scrawled just a few months ago. But the one trip that really changed everything was the trip to Seoul in August 2005. Seoul gets hot but the people there always looked cool and sophisticated; the streets rang with every imaginable noise; food and fashion and han-geul were everywhere. Subways straight out of 1960 spirited us around in surreal serenity, and vistas totally foreign to us in every way unfolded down every alley. Ancient fortresses rebuilt after destruction by occupying forces towered over us with polychromatic eaves that sheltered our amazed eyes from warm rains. It was a world so full of color and vibrancy that my mind stopped trying to absorb and fell back on mere perception.

Three days into this trip, we were handed a four month old baby who has been our son ever since. I cradled him to my shoulder; he sighed and fell asleep. As we walked the two blocks back to our guesthouse, my son collapsed over me in a posture of total trust, and I smiled a smile that wrapped all the way around my head. An old man was walking past us. He and I shared almost nothing – not language nor culture nor likely worldview – but when he caught my eye he gave my grin right back to me, with interest. Come to think of it, maybe he shared more with me than I gave him – or myself – credit for.

We return to Korea in two or four months, as a triad – to come home as a foursome. I bet that trip is just as transformative, but there’s no way it could be moreso.

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Ric August 5, 2008 at 6:57 pm

THAT is a transformative trip. Congrats on the soon to be new arrival.

The old man is just perfect and rendered so.

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SusanHenderson August 5, 2008 at 7:00 pm

Have you all seen the Paris Hilton response video yet? http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/64ad536a6d

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SusanHenderson August 5, 2008 at 7:01 pm

I think you have another doll story in the making!

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SusanHenderson August 5, 2008 at 7:02 pm

Yes, you are definitely on the trip of a lifetime right now. xo

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SusanHenderson August 5, 2008 at 7:04 pm

That is the loveliest story. If you happen to photograph a few pages of your journal and post them on your blog, be sure to link them here so we can all see.

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SusanHenderson August 5, 2008 at 7:05 pm

What a fine group of writers to hang with. Kiss Jordan and that cute baby for me!

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Ric August 5, 2008 at 9:46 pm

Funny – sadly true, but funny.

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Ric August 5, 2008 at 9:48 pm

Actually, I was extremely naive and most of my energies were geared towards getting laid. Thanks for the compliment.

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Nathalie August 6, 2008 at 12:43 pm

The most life altering experience I have had is probably a trek in the desert.
It did change my view on water certainly and I fell in love with sand dunes, even if they gave me hell in the climbing. Many stories were born from that trip and the dreams that continue to haunt me.

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carmelovalone August 29, 2008 at 9:23 pm

A field trip to NYC to the MET when I was 15. We went to the museum and then I convinced me and my friends to ditch the rest of the class and just go cause some mayhem in Manhattan. We wound up ice skating at Lincoln Center, hung with street performers, played in Fao Schwartz, and then tried to break into “Late Night With David Letterman to no avail.
The police were called after were declared ‘missing’. It was a grand day of non-conformity. I was banned from field trips for about a year.

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SusanHenderson August 31, 2008 at 10:08 pm

You should write more about how that trek changed your view of water. That’s so interesting to me.

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SusanHenderson August 31, 2008 at 10:10 pm

Hey, welcome! I’d say that trip of freedom and non-conformity was probably worth any punishment you took for it. What a great day!

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Nathalie September 1, 2008 at 4:31 am

Some of this went into the last story published by Qarrtsiluni.

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cmaria September 1, 2008 at 6:32 pm

The most life altering experience I had was 8 years ago when I received a call from a former supervisor from NYC. She was truly an inspiration to me and was working in post-war Kosovo through an international rescue program.
Her contract was ending and she called to ask me if I’d be interested in going over to work. I had one week to decide. Never one to turn down a challenge, I accepted and went with one suitcase and fear of the unknown ahead of me.
I learned more than I can ever describe- about strength of the human spirit and endurance and Turkish coffee of course.

Oh- and I also met my husband there 😉 He had just returned to Kosovo and his family after the war and in a week we were inseparable. We’re here in the US now and he is the greatest gift to me.

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SusanHenderson September 2, 2008 at 9:36 am

Love that story. I have friends who did relief work in Kosovo, too. Wonder if we have mutual friends?

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cmaria September 3, 2008 at 6:43 am

Hi Susan!
Do you know what organization she worked with?

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SusanHenderson September 3, 2008 at 8:07 am

Hi. Yeah. She worked as a Human Rights Officer with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (for Sarajevo and Bihac, Bosnia), a Human Rights Officer for the Center for Non-Violent Conflict Resolution (for Nis, Serbia), a Research Specialist for the US Department of State (for former Yugoslavia), an Analyst for East European political-military affairs for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and a Political Officer for the US Embassy in Turkmenistan, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars funded her most recent work in Kosovo (something to do with government stability).

The other friend I mentioned mostly did work in Uzbekestan (she worked as a Russian translator) under Condoleeza Rice (when she was still an academic supervisor at Stanford) and was only in Kosovo on unofficial business to visit this other friend.

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