Take Me To: The Gambia, Africa

In-between my college workload and working in general, I was finally able to finish my article. The Gambia may not be my favorite place I have been to (I still have a lot more traveling to do) but it is certainly one that I would love to (and will!) get back too.

The Gambia

Travels near and far have led me all around the world, but none quite match my time in The Gambia, Africa. Maybe it was the people I traveled with, maybe it was the people I met over there, or mostly likely, a combination of both. My stay in The Gambia lasted 20 days and was truly unforgettable.

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Although it was a rough start, getting lost in Morocco at dusk, I survived and make it to the “Smiling Coast,” as The Gambia is commonly nicknamed.  I quickly fell in love with the culture, minus the bumsters, but learned to accept all aspects of the area.

It was the little things that I started to appreciate during my (far too short) stay, the smiles of people passing by, the bright clothing, and the horning of car horns as communication. I went to The Gambia with Juniata College accompanied by two professors, seasoned travelers; they knew the ropes of the area and made my experience truly worth wild.

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Some of the most depressing, interesting, and shocking things of the county were the hospitals. By American standards I cannot even call those two-story concrete buildings hospitals. As we walked in to the pediatric ward I saw blood on the floor. Continuing on through the ward a little girl had half of her face burned off, no bandages or ointment, completely uncovered. I quickly understood that people in this country do not go to the hospital for broken bones or anything minor. There were countless people on the streets with crooked fingers and tumors on their body. As we continued our tour we went to the neonatal ward. They made us take off our shoes because it was “sanitary.” All of us could tell it wasn’t…but when in Africa, so we kicked off our shoes and walked in. We saw these small children without blankets sitting in plastic bassinets. It was heart breaking to see these children, especially the ones in incubators. There were 5 incubators but only one could run at a time because they didn’t have enough electricity to run them all. Thankfully, when we were there, there was only one child in the incubator.  Going to the hospitals really made me thankful for what I have.

But then there are the bright sides of The Gambia, the people and their smiles. My two hands-down favorite people were Yankuba and Modou. Yankuba is a tailor who made me countless shirts and outfits. He was very nice and I am so happy I got to know him. In Africa they do not really have stores, so if you want something to wear you make it yourself or have someone else make if for you. I had seen some of the clothing Yankuba made and asked him to make me some. The clothing he made for me was simply amazing. I will never forget where they came from and tell everyone who complements on them that they are from The Gambia. I have had many great conversations with Yankuba and Modou (whom I also met where Yankuba works). Talks about Akon, Michael Jackson, and Manchester Untied will forever stay in my memory. Because Yankuba and Modou have left such a positive impression on my experience in The Gambia I had to give them both Lackawanna County Commissioner Cup Soccer tournament shirts (NEPSAY, my local soccer organization, hosted this event) to show my appreciation. One day I hope to come back to The Gambia to see these great people I met again.

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Although this was just the beginning of my yearlong study abroad it impacted my life greatly. I know one day I will make it back to The Gambia and see the friends I made, until then.

If anyone is interested in adding to this project feel free to contact me!

Also I have become a writer for Her Campus, an online college magazine. To check out more of my posts take at look at http://www.hercampus.com/author/kelsey-kohrs

Take Me To: Las Vegas, Nevada

I was approached about a month ago by an enthusiastic traveler, and full time mother of three, for collaboration on a small project about our favorite things places to go and things to do. Delighted at the thought, I quickly agreed and we started our project. Although it took longer then expected, we finished our articles.

Kicking the project off, here is Kendra’s article about her favorite place:

Unforgettable Times in Las Vegas With My Family

My children and husband have always known that I love to travel. Last year, they asked where I wanted to go for our annual family vacation. I wanted to go to Las Vegas, and we had a thrilling time in that unique city.

 Rocking Rollercoasters

Our teenagers have always like theme parks, and they were excited when they heard about the rollercoasters in the city. The Stratosphere is a fantastic place to view Las Vegas, but it also a great place to take some memorable rides. Our children enjoyed SkyJump, which is a ride that took them 108 floors up. They liked it so much that they wanted to go again.

 Golf for Our Guys

My husband and son have always bonded in golf. Therefore, they headed over to the Butch Harmon School of Golf. This facility features instructors who know their stuff, and can instruct novices and experienced golfers alike. Butch Harmon, the individual who used to be the swing instructor for Tiger Woods, has been known to stop by and teach a few clinics from time to time. While they were perfecting their swings, my daughter and I were getting the spa treatment. It was great for all of us.

 Food, Wonderful Food

My men have always loved to eat. Therefore, we stopped over at the Monte Carlo Brand Steakhouse to see how they would do trying to take on the “Ultimate Steak,” which features 120 ounces of terrific beef. Although they did not complete it, it was a memorable time. The next night, they challenged my daughter and me to try the Burger Challenge, which is eight pounds of burger. We did not finish either, but the food was truly memorable.

 Museums to Discover

My family has always liked culture, and we wanted to find a museum to visit in Las Vegas. We found that the Discovery Children’s Museum was a great fit. Although our children are teenagers, they really liked the exhibits. In fact, they were fascinated at the experiments and discoveries that they could do. The time seemed to fly by as we were there. We would definitely go back again.

We had an awesome time in Las Vegas. There were an abundance of things for us to do as a family that did not require us to visit a casino. With so much to see and do at times it can be overwhelming. Sites like Gogobot make it easy to read user reviews on the various hotels and even restaurants. We plan on going back to this memorable city in the near future.

 

Another Country Check!

My time in Panama has come to an end and it has been great! My research project with the A. IMG_7296collare ants proved statically significant and all of our group projects got written up. At the end of the program we all went to Boquete which is in a IMG_7208Cloud Forest. It was a great way to end the experience, we hiked to a waterfall, saw petroglyphs, went to the hot springs, shopped, and ate pizza! After rice and beans and rice and beans, pizza was a nice change of pace. The petroglyphs were my favorite part because I had never seen anything like that before and I just had so many questions. The petroglyphs were thousands of years old and largely unknown. Another interesting thing about them, was they were only found on one large rock and the next neatest site was 4km away.

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During my stay in Panama I saw some pretty cool animal species. Insects, of course, were my favorite, some we saw were the hercules beetle,IMG_6830

the clear-winged butterfly, IMG_6998and my research ants.Apterostigma, worker We also saw a sloth,IMG_7148millipedes, IMG_6859scorpions (although the photo is an exoskeleton),IMG_6965Strawberry Poison Dart frogs, IMG_6843fer-de-lance snake, IMG_7150and a quetzal. This image is from one of my fellow classmates, you can check out her blog at jtpanamajournal.wordpress.com.

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My trip to Panama was a blast and a great opportunity! If anyone would like more information feel free to ask or check out http://www.itec-edu.org.

Well I have to stay put in the United States until May when I graduate! Yikes, how the past four years have flown! I am so grateful for everyone support! Thanks for reading, until next time!

Tropical Christmas!

Because the ITEC course was over winter break I spent my first Christmas away from family and friends. But fear not! My mom sent me down with a package to open on Christmas which had IMG_6920some pop-up trees and ornaments. During my year abroad my mom littered my suitcase with cards and little gifts to let me know she was thinking about me. It was really nice and I am not sure she truly knows how much it mean to me and how much I appreciate it. Our teachers cooked a nice Christmas dinner and it was nice to be with my newly formed friends on a special day. The fact that is was a solid 90° and we had been to the beach earlier that day made it unlike any Christmas I have ever had before.

Christmas bliss ended and on New Years, well I couldn’t even stay away until midnight. I slept IMG_28321from 10 until 11:45pm spent time with everyone, we sent off some fireworks, then was back to bed by 12:15am. Classes continued as normal, IMG_7102we had been working on group projects with Strawberry Poison Dart Frogs and Plant Density in Tropical Rainforests. Just after New Years we started thinking about our independent projects. Because I have a strong interest in entomology (the study of insects) I wanted to do my project on Apterostigma collare, which are slow moving ants that live in small nests on the underside of  leave and on trees. My project focused on two aspects of the ant’s ecology, including the relationship between nest size and ant population size, along with the rate of nest repair as the function of nest and population size.

IMG_6904We didn’t really have that much down time but when we did we played cards, played cards, read, explored, and played cards. Because we were at a field station we were pretty secluded and  only had electricity a few hours a day. The initial shock of this passed after the first few days living off the gird was really nice.

 

At it again, Bocas del Toro

Someone wise once said something along the lines of once you start traveling you never really stop. Well I would have to agree with that, granted I was “home” for about 7 months but yet again the travel bug got to me and I spent winter break in Panama studying insects and rainforest ecology.

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My latest travels landed me on Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama. Early this past semester a professor at Juniata showed me this amazing opportunity to study in Panama through ITEC IMG_6731(Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation). Two letters of recommendation, a letter of interest, and a copy of my transcript later I was accepted into the program and scrambling to the credits to transfer back to Juniata. All in all everything worked out marvelously and come December 19 I got on a plane for a new journey.

The more I travel the more I hate flying and realize the first and last days are always the worst. Whether flights are getting delayed or baggage is getting lost, it always seems to be something. IMG_6729Regardless, I made it to Panama in one piece and loved the warm weather (it had been -6 when I left on the 19th).

The first week of classes went smoothly, there were 14 of us, trying to get to know each other, playing card games…lots of card games, and learning in a great environment. There were two different classing running at the time, Coral Reef Ecology and Tropical Rainforest Ecology, there were 5 of us in the rainforest class and our days consisted trekking into the rainforest to see what we could find. Lectures and debriefing took place at night and almost all of us were in bed by 9:30/10pm.IMG_6736

The first nights were pretty rough for me, I don’t know if my mosquito net wasn’t up to par or what, but I got eaten alive. Upward of 200 bites covering my body. By day three I had enough, I tripled  my nets and changed all of my sheets. That must have done it because for the remained of the trip I got minimal bites.

Oh The Places You Will Go…

My year abroad has ended! It’s just so hard to believe and I am so lucky to have had the experience! I want to thank everyone for helping me accomplish my goals, I couldn’t have done it without all of the support. Special thanks goes to Juniata College, the Gilman Scholarship Foundation, my family and friends, and of course, you, the reader. It has been an AMAZING journey, thanks!

I will be home for a month and then I am off to Virginia for an internship with a Smithsonian Research Center. I will have a blog there as well you can check that out at SummerWithTheSmithsonian.wordpress.com.

Before I close out this blog I want to leave everyone with these great words of wisdom by Henry Rollins:

I beg young people to travel. If you don’t have a passport, get one. Take a summer, get a backpack and got to Delhi, go to Saigon, go to Bangkok, go to Kenya. Have your mind blown, eat interesting food, dig some interesting people, have an adventure, be careful. Come back and you’re going to see your country differently, you’re going to see your president differently, no matter who it is. Music, culture, food, water. Your showers will become shorter. You’re going to get a sense of what globalization looks like. It’s not what Tom Friedman writes about I’m sorry. You’re going to see that global climate change is very real. And for some people, their day consists of walking 12 miles for four buckets of water. And so there are lessons that you can’t get out of a book that are waiting for you at the other end of that flight. A lot of people come back and go, “ohhhhh.” And the light bulb goes on.

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Thanks for all the memories!

Colored Divine Chaos

I know this is a little late, but here is my take on India! Enjoy!

India, with a population of 1.2 billion, is one of the most diverse countries in the world. There are 22 official languages and at least another 398 living languages. India is also the birthplace of some of the world’s major religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Furthermore, India has the third largest population of Muslims in the world. But what is India in a nutshell? Everyone wants to know. The thing is, India is too vast, too great to depict in words, paintings, or even stories. India doesn’t just fit into a nice neat box, it’s more along the lines of melted crayons on an already graffitied wall. Divine chaos is the closest I can come to an accurate summary, but even this fails to capture sounds, smells, stares, and the sheer number of people I encounter daily.

With my first steps out of the Chenni airport I was greeted with honking horns, smells of human feces, and debilitating smog. My first thoughts were how dirty the country was and how loud car horns were. Everywhere I looked there was dirt, mangy dogs, and homeless people. Driving though the slums took on a whole new meaning, thick tar-like waste stood stagnant just off of roads as nearby women were sweeping in front of their house doors. Images and smells like these are forever ingrained in my memory.

“Over in there they don’t eat cows, you know.” As an avid steak salad eater, that’s what I got a lot when people heard I was going to India. What I didn’t realize back then was it’s only the American ignorance. Ignorance on so many different levels, that India is dirty, that the WHOLE country doesn’t eat beef, and that India is the armpit of the world. India maybe a dirty developing country but almost half of all Indians actually do eat meat. After learning about yoga, That, enlightenment, and religion I have come to understand the importance of the cow. Cows provide so much for families living on nothing and it is out of respect that practicing Hindus don’t eat beef.

In the United States, cows are found in factory farms or in fields, not in India. I have seen more cows in the streets than you could ever imagine. Most of these cows cannot produce milk anymore and are therefore useless as dowry. They are then released instead of killed by the owners. Homeless cows prefer the busy smog filled streets to fields because the exhaust fumes discourage flies. These fumes also have been known to provide a slight high for the homeless animals. Weather it’s actually right or wrong to let the cows go as a means of disposal is another topic in itself but the respect people have for these animals is phenomenal.

Animals’ diets in this country largely consist of plastic garbage. More often then not I saw cows, goats, pigs, and chickens with plastic wrappers hanging out of their mouth. I later learned that the milk, eggs, and meat produced from these animals contain five parts per million plastic, far more then allowed by the USDA. While at Sadhana Forest I learned that there are enough grains to feed all of India but the government keeps them in storage and sells them to China for animal feed. On top of all this many people in India do not eat meat simply because they cannot afford it.

One of the hardest things I am still coming to terms with is seeing an older man walking down the street with a young girl, not knowing if that is his wife or child. Indian women are the hardest working people in the country and get absolutely none of the recognition. In fact, the get the exact opposite, they are abused and raped. In the rare event they choose to report the rape police officers often rape them again or tell them it was their fault and do not file a report. Women are seen as a burden on this society and cannot even go to the bathroom in public. They are so often aborted as fetuses a law was put in place, so parents cannot know the sex of their child before birth. Girl toddlers are fifty percent more likely to die due to “lackadaisical“ care by the parents and often do not receive the medical attention they need when sick. Females on the whole are also less educated or uneducated compared males. Given the choice to send a son or daughter to school families will always choose the son. The thought behind this is parents can ask for more dowry for marriage. Daughters are only seen as property, they go from being property of the parents to property of the husband.

It took me awhile to start noticing the westerners in India for “enlightenment.” These people chant, pray, meditate, and listen to holy men speak day after day. Eventually they start to think they are truly different. What these wanderers don’t realize is that as soon as they return to wherever it is they’re from, a cow will just be a cow, a beggar will just be a drunk, and honking horns will again be noted as an act of aggression rather than communication.

Then there are of course the very dark and deep sides of India. It’s sweltering heat, the bodies that are buried on the beaches because families cannot afford cremation ceremonies, and the rapes in Delhi which finally being brought into the light. It is the untouchables, the poverty, the absolute stench of the poor, grasping for life. The physically broke, the physically beaten, and the millions searching for food and shelter-only to fine there is not enough to go around. But like anything you get used to it. You start not to acknowledge the beggars and the filth of everything. The slums are gaining territory while India’s largest mall just opened in Kerala.

It’s the little things that I am just starting to realize, are why I think India is so wonderful. The dark eyes of a beautiful women, the way the elderly are so active in society, the sickening amount of chai that is offered—at least three times a day, the shop keepers who excitedly wave you to come into their musky incenses filled store, the shoe-maker working carefully with leather, yet barefoot himself, and yes, the smell of the market. I wouldn’t trade my experience here for anything in the world. I am a firm believer of the importance in seeing globalization first hand from all points of view. See how the other half of the world lives and how lucky you truly are. India fulfills my expectations in more and different ways than I could have ever imagined. This is India. Lessons that can’t come from book, it’s colored divine chaos.

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London, England April 17-23

IMG_4148 Made it to London! It was slightly warmer here but not too much better. On the 17th mom and I went on a bus tour, it was nice going all around London, the city is SO busy! We also went on a short boat ride up the Thames River and saw London from that point of view.

On the 18th we went to Westminster Abbey, as most of you know, whereIMG_4138 the Prince just got married. The Abbey was so beautiful and huge! It is not only a church but also a tomb. There are lots of bodied buried there; poets, kings, queens, and scientists. In fact, Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton are buried there! We also went to Buckingham Palace but weren’t able to go inside, but the outside was nice!

IMG_4241The next day we went to St. Paul’s Cathedral, it was gorgeous! You could spend days in there! So much to see and so much to absorb! We climbed all the way to the top (over 500 steps) to see a panoramic view of the city. Needless, to say we were a littleIMG_4454 sluggish the rest of the day! Next, was Madame Tussaud’s, a wax museum. All of the figures were so life-like! Mom and I took plenty of pictures will all sorta of famous people!

Lastly, we went to The Monument. This was in memorial of the Great Fire. Apparently if you lay the monument down it lands right at the bakery where the fire started.

IMG_4253 1The Tower of London is actually a fort. Prisoners were kept there before they were executed. While there we learned that the saying “one for the road” actually came from the criminals last walk down the road to the gallows. Bars and pubs would give the DSCN0076criminal their last drink as they took their death walk. The hopes would be that they would be so drunk that they didn’t know what was happening. “Hung over” also came from this. Hanging were huge public events and lots of people would attend and drink. They would drink so much and the next day, after the hanging was over, they would feel really crappy. It’s funny how all of these terms stuck!

IMG_4291 1We also went to the London Bridge. Many of you many not know this by it’s name but it is where the 2012 Olympic Rings were. There was a whole museum at the top and the view of London was great!

On the 21st Mom and I went to the Windsor Castle, Kew Gardens, and Abbey Road. Windsor Castle was so nice! The dining roomDSCN0089 (which was huge) had all of Knight’s Coats of Arms. Kew Gardens are a 326 acre garden that was just gorgeous! There were tons of different plants and trees there. Harry Potter’s whomping willow was cast from one of the trees there.

We went to Abbey Road by accident actually. We were on our way to the hospital to get a rash on my foot looked at and we choose a hospital a few blocks away from Abbey Road. Mom and I IMG_4676took a bunch of photo there, while dodging traffic.

The 21st was the London Marathon. It was so much fun! Initially we weren’t going to go but we saw all the festivities from the London Eye. The London Eye is a huge ferris wheel where IMG_4603you can see all of London. From there we saw the Elite Men finish the marathon, it only took the winner about 2 hours! Once we finished at the eye we walked towards Buckingham Palace, where the marathon ended, there were so many people there supporting everyone running. It was incredible to see!

IMG_4897We ended the day at King’s Cross Station to see platform 9 3/4. Although it was nothing like in the movies there was a makeshift platform. It was kind of lame, but in a cool way (if that makes sense). We had a ball taking pictures!

Our last day was spent shopping and relaxing. My time in London was a blast and I am so happy we came here on our way home! I will be back in the United States tomorrow! Wow time flies!!

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Cold and Cloudy Scotland

Traveling to Scotland officially marks the beginning of our (three week) journey home. We made it to Scotland safe and sound BUT it was SO cold! Going from about 95°F to about 40°F was quite the shock.

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Mom and I stayed in Edinburgh for 3 days before traveling to Kilmarnock (just outside of Glasgow). While in Edinburgh we saw the Edinburgh Castle, National Museum, and went onIMG_3529 a highlands tour. The Castle was gorgeous! We saw the Crown Jewels, cannons, and guns for protection. The Castle sat high on a IMG_3617hill and you could see if from pretty much anywhere in town (seems like a good castle to me!).

The National Museum was excellent too! It had just been redone a few years prior and they did a splendid job! The whole museum was interactive, my favorite part was the “Life” section where all the animal skeletons were. On our way to the museum was passed The Elephant house, the birthplace of Harry Potter.

The tour to the Highlands was fun although most of the day was spent on the bus. We took a bunch of stops along the way for some photo opps, theIMG_3716 landscape was so beautiful. Most of the mountain tops were covered in snow (surprise surprise). The tour ended at Loch Ness and we took a boat cruise around the Loch. I never really realized how big (26miles) and deep the Loch was, IMG_3844at some points it’s 300m deep! Although we didn’t see the monster there were plenty of souvenirs showing Nessie. 

On our final day in Edinburgh we went to Holyroodhouse (the King’s Palace) and Parliament. The palace was again amazing and beautifully crafted. Parliament was also nice but much more modern. Later that day we traveled to Glasgow to see my friend Stewart. He met us at the station and we went to Kilmarnock. Mom and I had an early night and slept in the next day until 1pm! Apparently we had more jet-lag then we thought!

While in Kilmarnock we went to Stewart’s rugby match (his team won!) IMG_3811and that night Stewart and I went out. His hometown is a lot like where I am from, small, quite, and nice. Also in Kilmarnock we went to the Robert 535699_562523630444671_1532581891_nBurns Museum and another museum about Glasgow and Scotland. Both were great to see!

My time is Scotland and with Stewart was a blast (even though it was freezing)!

Delhi- April 5-9

DSCN0989 After my program ended my mom (who came over a week prior) and I traveled to Delhi to go site seeing. On the first full day we went to Jama Masjid mosque. Everything about it was beautiful and amazing! We learned a little about the history and traveled to the topDSCN1006 of the highest tower. From there we got a full view of Old Delhi. There were so many cars, buildings, people, and lose wires but this is India, “home”.

Later that day we went to a Jain temple, it was closing so we were only IMG_3607able to stay for a little. While we were there we say Jains getting ready for prayer and saw the prayer room. We then went to the 1st and 7th citiies of Old Delhi. As we moved through the cities we could see how the building and architecture changed.

Our final stop that day was at Gandhi’s memorial. This was actually were he was laid to rest.IMG_2855 1 On his monument were the words “Oh God,” his last words.

IMG_2959 1The next day we went to the Taj Mahal! It was just BEAUTIFUL! There were beautiful monuments (buildings) leading into the Taj. We later found out that those monuments were for the kings other wives (the Taj was for his most beloved). My mom and I spent 3 hours inside just taking in the beauty! It was really great finally DSCN1293being there! We then went to the Arga Fort which was similar to the Red Fort in Delhi, again awesome to see!

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On our final day of the tour we were in Jaipur and took an elephant ride to the Amber Fort. The DSCN1380ride was so much fun! Once we got there we toured around the fort and saw the kings quarters and the public and private halls. It’s so hard to believe that off of this was done by hand! Talk about impressive!

After we finished there we went to Jantar Mantar, a solar observatory. While there we saw the largest sun dial (it was literally huge)! Lastly, we went to the Jaipur King’s palace. This is still where the king lives today.

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