29 July 2006

Country 89 – Latvian Girls Love Flowers

In April I detailed my momentary infatuation with Estonia. I had never been anywhere in the world where I felt quite as comfortable, including the USA, but I knew it couldn’t last simply because the WINTER is so ferocious and debilitating and I love the SUN. In visiting Latvia I returned to a Baltic country and for the first time in my life I experienced the barely ever setting sun. I have to tell you that I love the sun. I have great memories of playing stickball late into the summer evenings back in the USA – let’s say as late as 9:30 when you finally couldn’t see the ball being pitched to you. In Latvia, and Sweden as well, it is bright way beyond even that. There is enough sun to play stickball as late as 11:30 just in case some American kids wish to play on the streets of Stockholm or Riga.

Anyway, getting back to Latvia, I have to admit that Riga is every bit as charming as Tallinn within the old city. There is construction everywhere you look in Riga. My thought is that Riga had further to progress than did Estonia but I don’t know if that really is the case.

What I found interesting during my visit to Latvia was that these were the people who, as part of the Soviet empire, were intent on killing Americans. I explained to one Latvian that as a child I would go to the basement of my school and sit facing the wall and fold myself into a big ball – all based on the evils of the Soviet and their desire to rule to world. This same person showed me a picture of his mother taking shooting instruction based on the same concept – the evil USA and its intent to destroy the Soviet.

Clearly these people were as interested in having a good life then as they are now. I have long learned that parents simply want to raise their children in happiness and pray that they will succeed beyond their wildest hopes and dreams. I am certain that the Latvian’s wanted for their children in the 1950’s what I want for my children now. The lesson for me is that politicians breed distrust. We both laughed about the absurdity of it all.

What I also discovered in Latvia is that flowers dominate. Everyone brings flowers to give as a present. As I arrived at the airport in Riga I walked past throngs of people awaiting their loved ones and they all seemed to have flowers in hand. I asked what that was about and I was told that all Latvian girls love flowers. Next time I will arrive with flowers in my hand.

14 July 2006

Being Part of Something Big in Macedonia

Please take a moment to watch this video. I was part of something much bigger than myself. Our project changed a nation, albeit a small nation.


Everyone should strive once in their life to be part of the greater good beyond their own personal needs.

My Journey to Atilan

When I decided to start writing BLOGS I did so with a belief that each story would either be humorous, or at least tell a story about the place I was visiting. While I found Guatemala very interesting and beautiful, the story below doesn’t really say very much. All I really did was work so there was a paucity of opportunity to find fun. The highlight, if there was one, was sitting in a Mexican restaurant watching the Mexico v. Argentina world cup match. I totally predicted the final score of 2-1 in favour of Argentina but the best part was seeing the nationalism play out right there in that restaurant. It was as if the pride and stake of each nation was on the shoulders of the 22 men on the field. Mexican’s would rise in anticipation as their striker moved the ball forward only to be countered by Argentine fans who are pleased that the attack has been repelled. The World Cup is over and Italy won. My favourites were eliminated one by one in painful succession but that is grist for another story.

The Road to Atitlan…

As I write I am sitting in the back, the very back, of a Chevy Tahoe being driven by a USAID driver who is taking us back to the other side of what has to be one of the most beautiful lakes on the face of this earth. I have been duly informed by one of my travel companions that Lake Atitlan is listed as one of a thousand sites one must see prior to the end of his lifetime. So here I am the 6th passenger in a 5 passenger Tahoe traveling on a bumpy and mostly winding road with computer on my lap looking out the window on a rainy and foggy day.

My journey started yesterday as we left the capital and drove several hours to the small lakeside town of Panajachel. I was dreading this trip only because I dislike not having ready access to the Internet. The purpose of this trip is built around that exact issue – how can USAID play a role in providing Internet access to the schools, health centres and residents of Lake Atitlan. I enjoy being the “Johnny Appleseed” of Internet connectivity without ever thinking about how maybe paradise isn’t ready for Internet access. Such thoughts rarely enter my thought processes – for better or worse I am a foot soldier in the spreading of the Internet.

The drive from Guatemala City was very scenic but nothing along the way prepared me for the beauty of Lake Atitlan and the town of Panajachel. We arrived very close to dusk but enough light to see the Lake and the four volcano’s. In fact, there are three visible volcanoes which dominate the skyline but the fourth is actually the remnant cone in which the lake sits. One can only imagine, given the size of the lake, that the volcano must have shot up at least 20,000 feet or more above where I was standing at the edge of the water. The three remaining volcanoes sit at 12,500, 11,500 and 10,500 feet and their footprint is no where near the collective size of the lake. It must have been quite an explosion.

The other beautiful thing about Panajachel is the wide array of fabrics produced by the indigenous natives. I am so attracted to the orange, tans, purples and basic fall colours of the fabrics. It reminds me of the fabrics I have seen in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. It almost seems as if the people of these countries have purchased their goods from the same manufacturer – but obviously this cannot be the case.

It turned out that my fears of lack of internet access turned out to be unfounded as the hotel in which I stayed had substantial connectivity enough to feed my incessant need to be connected to the Internet.

There were many things about Guatemala that make it a very nice place to visit. The food is fantastico!! The people were incredibly friendly.
Well I left Guatemala two weeks ago and was hoping to finish this blog while still there but work, and other circumstances, all conspired to derail my plans. Suffice to say,