What I look for in stories to post:
- Vibrant writing
- A distinct voice, one that's all yours!
- Lots of heart
- Unique story
Blog post written by guest contributor Jesse Gustafson
The Shaman's Name is Miguel
The shaman’s name is Miguel. He’s younger and skinnier than I expected. His hair and dirty clothes say ‘I don’t bathe much’ but his light blue eyes against his dark Indian skin say ‘I get laid a lot for a guy who doesn’t bathe much’. He calls everyone Hermano.
I’m with three other Americans. They’re all friends from Mississippi and I’ve never met them before. The dark little hairy guy introduces himself as Lobo. The Tall Guy with dread locks keeps telling me about himself even though I’m not asking. The Pizza Guy works at a pizza parlor in Biloxi and wants to be a masseuse. I like the Pizza Guy best.
We head off to Plaza San Blas where the five of us and a driver cram into a tiny, beat up hatch back. After 45 minutes of awkward silent driving we end up at the top of a mountain above Cuzco and pile out into a wooded field with knee high grass. The hatch back and driver take off.
After a 10-minute walk down a goat path we arrive at house and courtyard surrounded by a mud wall. The whole set up is nicer than I expected. The courtyard has a garden and several hammocks and umbrellas for shade. We sit on the ground in a circle and Miguel breaks out a small blanket and lays out some trinkets. He says we can use them if we want. I don’t want.
Miguel disappears into the house and comes back with four pint sized glasses and two bottles filled with a muddy amber liquid. He pours the liquid, which comes out like syrup, into the glasses. He tells us to meditate, ask the liquid a question and drink the entire thing at once. I think long and hard about my question. I ponder the direction my life is going. I wonder if I’m strong enough to get to wherever it is I’m headed.
I knock the glass back. It’s horrible, like drinking snot. One of the Mississippi boys gags.
While we wait for the cactus to kick in Miguel tells us stories in broken English of Indian warriors and how they used to take this stuff. He says it made them crazy warriors and made them better at killing the Spanish. He tells us about a warrior who had a stone for an eye that would run into hordes of Spanish with a sword in each hand and kill as many as he could while the young warriors watched.
One by one the Mississippi boys vomit. Miguel says this is normal and not a big deal. I lay down on the ground, still and silent. I don’t vomit.
“Ha ha ha.”
One of the house dogs nuzzles up beside me. The Mississippi boys get antsy and decide to go for a hike in mountains. Miguel goes with them for protection. I lay there with the dog, looking up at the sky while my mind begins to run.
Blog post written by guest contributor Eric Misbach
The Mountain of God
|Foreground: Eric and herd, Background: Oldonyo Lengai|
We didn’t go to sleep that night. We packed the bare essentials and piled into the safari jeeps. After the jeep lurched and bounced with the crevices scattered across the lowland desert and we reached the dusty trailhead, we still could not see our mountain. It was midnight, and pitch dark. Baba Jack – who was not only our Academic Director but had also been a protective father figure during this semester abroad – now introduced us to the Maasai guides, and said his goodbye. Our challenge: to climb the active volcano called Oldonyo Lengai, which in the Maasai language means “Mountain of God.”
The climb was slow. The path – or lack of path for that matter – was volcanic ash, and our steps were sluggish. Then the steepness came. After a few hours of climbing, I realized that there was more than just one reason for climbing this thing in the middle of the night. We already understood that it was to avoid the daytime heat, but now I realized that none of us would continue the climb if we were able to see how incredibly steep it was. I eventually got to the point of crawling with my hands and knees.
I had no idea what time it was, but it had probably been about five hours of climbing by the time we reached the top of Oldonyo Lengai. Now it was cold! The guides, without explanation, had wandered off across the crater, and the other students and I huddled to keep warm. Then our guides came rushing back to us in excitement, demanding that we follow them to the other edge of the crater. When we reached the other side, we saw the lava. Small vents were spewing the red hot substance, right there in front of us. It came in a pattern; we would hear and feel rumbling under our feet, then the vent would spew the lava ten feet high, the spray would blow with the wind off to the side, and the lava would fall to the ground to cool. The red glowed in contrast to the darkness of early dawn.
Slowly the rising sun began to join the red glow of the lava. I stared as the sun emerged directly behind Mt. Kilimanjaro, putting Africa’s tallest mountain in silhouette. The horizon developed a deep red-orange stripe as the sky above me kept its dark blue. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. As the glowing ball of fire rose above Mt. Kilimanjaro, I closed my eyes and let the sun warm my chest and face. I did not only feel the heat; I felt something else. In past times that I have told this story, I referred to this feeling as my first real spiritual experience. I stand by that. I felt life; I felt the world; I felt a higher power shining on me; I felt ecstasy hitting me in the chest. In one moment, everything I had learned so far in Tanzania engrained itself within me. The people I had met, the places I had seen, the wildlife I had studied, the culture and ecology I had learned, all laid below me with the same light shining upon them.
Blog post written by guest contributor T.E.Z. (requested use of initials only to protect privacy; note that T.E.Z. is a 20something man from Lebanon, which helps set up the characters of his narrative)
It was hardly two days since my arrival to Beirut before the first harpy unhinged her jaw and slithered straight for the kill. Helpless and shackled by societal decorum, I could do nothing but watch the oncoming onslaught…
“Habibi, you have lost so much weight!”
“Thank you aunty”
“You still need to lose more, yalla bon courage!”
“Yes, thank you”
“We are all glad to see you are back and expect great things from you. Your mom must be so proud”
“Thank you, I am sure you are a proud mom as well”
“I understand you are doing politics, it is a pity you did not choose medicine”
“Let me introduce my daughter Lamia to you, do you remember her?”
“Hello, nice to meet you”
“You do not remember her? You played together when you were kids”
“No sorry, we must have been very young”
“And now look to how much both of you have grown”
“Yes we have”
“She is a junior in AUB now, she is doing Business”
“Anyway, Lamia was telling me about this new movie in the cinema where you can wear those glasses with the 3D”
“Yes, Ice Age”
“Have you seen it?”
“No, not yet”
“Oh! Lamia was just telling me how much she wanted to see it. You two should go together!”
A mother-daughter pimp team is not something new in Lebanon. Three years ago at the funeral of my aunt Vida - who died tragically from lung cancer - a woman who met my mother just once before introduced herself and her daughter to me and then invited me to her house after the burial so we can get acquainted. All the while the daughter was smiling and batting her eyelashes - in full makeup. This works both ways as well, my female cousin got a few “we would like to come and visit” proposals from several buck-toothed dudes and their moms that day as well. They like to get you in funerals, you are vulnerable then. As shameful as it is, arranging marriages is something that is still practiced in my community, and the older generations whether they have kids or not immensely enjoy pontificating on who they think would make a good match. A good match is usually based on how much the mothers tolerate one another, how high up the father is in society, how much money the son is making, and whether the daughter can birth at least one male child and has burned all evidence of her high-school nose… My parents are well off and are respected in their community, I am a recent graduate from a good school with a good salary (and an only child which means no pesky siblings dividing any inheritance), and more importantly, I was Druze.
“You and my mom were talking you said?”
“Yes! I mentioned to your mother, whom you know is my dear dear friend, how much Lamia loves the cinema and she told me how much you love movies too!”
“My mother said that?”
“Yes, we thought you should go and see this new movie seeing as how much you have in common!”
I doubt Lamia and I have anything in common, not unless she too harbors desires for her hot brother.
Blog post written by guest contributor Kate Mannle.
The one thing I wanted to do in Vietnam was visit the “Lunch Lady.” She’s a famous street vendor featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show “No Reservations” and recommended by a Vietnamese colleague. With poor street directions and a vegan travel companion who had little patience for seeking out meaty street vendors this story is not, however, about the Lunch Lady’s bowl of noodles.
Like all of my best travel memories, it was completely unplanned: in remote mountain town eating the best bowl of noodles of my entire life. I was in Prao to help run a workshop for Forest Protection Department (FPD) rangers. Nestled in the Truong Song Mountains that run along the border between Vietnam and Laos, Prao sits at the intersection of the Ho Chi Minh highway and the nondescript 604 road. Aside from the occasional overnight guest (like the Scottish cyclist biking the Ho Chi Minh highway that I ran into at our tiny guesthouse) the town doesn’t receive many foreign visitors. Apart from a few coffee shops, general stores, the FPD office, and the newly built People’s Committee center, there’s not a whole lot going on in Prao.
|The Truong Son mountains and the Ho Chi Minh highway near Prao.|
One morning, we had to get to the forest early to avoid the afternoon rains. Awakened at 4:45am by the omnipresent “Voice of Vietnam” – a radio program broadcast on loudspeakers posted throughout town and is reminiscent of the “Wonh, wonh, wonh” of teacher from The Peanuts animations – we had to find an alternative to our bustling restaurant which didn’t open early enough. We poked our heads into a tiny place and asked if they could prepare our breakfast. They waved us in and we sat down on miniature plastic chairs and gazed sleepily up at an oversized poster of possessed-looking twin girls (we eventually decided it was an advertisement for infant formula).
|My travel companions walking along the Ho Chi Minh highway in Prao|
|A typical meal at our usual restaurant spot (no pictures exist of the best bowl of noodles)|