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Embassy Days Part 1: Island Hopping

5 May

The typical tourist highlights of DC are monuments to American leaders, and museums about American art and history,and institutions of American government. And while the National Mall is a great place to visit, so is Embassy Row.

The annual Around the World Embassy Tour invites guests to visit the embassies from Africa, Asia, Oceania, the Middle East, and the Americas. On this one day, the doors are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the embassies host special exhibits and performances. The free tour is part of Passport DC, a yearly month-long celebration of international cultural awareness hosted by Cultural Tourism DC.

More than 40 embassies were participating today, but my friends and I only made it to five. Had we started earlier and not stopped for Cinco de Mayo margaritas, we maybe could have made it to more. However, some of the embassies had long lines and were not necessarily very close to each other.

At the end of the day as we enjoyed our Cinco de Mayo suishi, our group of 10 realized that  we only visited island nations.

The Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia

Indonesian embassy

Indonesia had the most beautiful embassy. Since my visit, I have learned that it is in the Beaux-Arts style and was a private residence. When you walk in, your eyes follow the cherry staircase up to a stained glass ceiling. In the back, in the Garuda Room, there’s a massive Baroque wood organ next to the golden eagle of the Indonesian coat of arms.

When we arrived, they were doing trivia and were preparing for a performance of child dancers. But because it was a bit stuffy and crowded, we worked our way outside to watch the martial arts demonstration. I was surprised to see that they used scarves when fighting. I was even more surprised to see that scarves could be an effective combat tool. Other than putting the opponent in a choke-hold, the scarves seemed to be more effective as a defensive tool by grabbing and redirecting an opponent’s fist, knife or foot.

The Bahamas

The Bahamas reminded me the most of my childhood Global Day experiences when each elementary school class would represent a country and other students would come to visit and learn (though in second grade we weren’t a country…. we were space. Leave it to the gifted kids.) At this embassy, we never stopped moving. We snaked through some rooms with displays of handmade crafts and posters talking about the history and industries of the islands.

As we followed the queue outside, we heard music and were handed samples of delicious, moist rum cake. Some of my friends won key chains as we moved past a table where they asked trivia questions such as how many islands make up The Bahamas? (Answer: 700) The next thing we knew were back on the street, looking for a new embassy to explore.

I don’t even have photos of the embassy because it all happened so fast.

Haiti

The end of the earthquake number

We followed the crowd at the Haitian embassy up the stairs to a large empty room where we were told to sit. A man in jeans introduced himself as the Haitian ambassador and then handed the floor over to a dance group and drummer. The dancers had three numbers: an attention-grabbing an opener, an emotional interpretive dance about the January 2010 earthquake and then a big party number complete with umbrellas and Haitian flags.

After some deft leaps and twirls, one of the dancers in a butterfly mask fluttered on the perimeter of the audience and offered me her hand: She was inviting me to come up and dance. I gave her an incredulous look and shook my head, gesturing to the purse and camera on my laugh, “I have all this stuff!” She wasn’t taking no for an answer so I looked at my friend Jamie who told me to go for it.

So I handed my stuff off and followed the dancer to the center of the room where thankfully other audience members were also jamming out. At a certain point my dancer left to drag in a little girl and give her a flag to wave. I danced aimlessly around by myself until it the music subsided and I found my way back to my seat. I danced in the Haitian embassy; not many people can say that.

Dancing at the Haitian embassy (I’m on the right in turquoise)

On our way out, I grabbed a paper cup of punch to quench my growing thirst.

Australia

The only photo I took at the Australian embassy: The photo-op aboriginal packing up at the end of the day

Australia was the only embassy where we were able to try both food and drink. As we made our way through the metal detectors, men in cute straw hats and striped shirts handed us tickets for wine – my sweet, bubbly pink stuff was certainly tasty. Women walked around with big trays of Vegemite on toast and I felt a little apprehension as I slowly put it in my mouth. I had heard awful things about Vegemite. Turns out, it’s not that bad.

While at the embassy, I accompanied my friend as an Australian daughter of a serviceman gave my friend a temporary tattoo of the Australian flag. We had started to walk into the auditorium to see the aquarium exhibit but we turned right around when we saw the big yellow snake.

Trinidad and Tobago

We headed to the embassy of Trinidad and Tobago because one of the girls in our group had a friend from there, but the festive street-party-like atmosphere pulled us all in. The ringing of steel island drums competed with the sound of Andean pipes drifting from the neighboring Embassy of Peru. Men walked around operating massive puppets that danced. It was an upbeat way to end the day.

It’s kind of cool because it looked the massive puppet was sitting on the operator’s shoulders. Their feet were connected and the operator could control the arms with sticks.

The humid, up-hill hike walk around Massachusetts Avenue  today was one of my favorite experiences in DC. Where else can you wander from country to country in one afternoon? Not even EPCOT can compare. Next weekend I get to do it all again with the European Union member embassies during “Shortcut to Europe.”

I highly recommend planning your next trip to the capital around the Passport DC events.

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In 2011, I…

31 Dec

…had my first multimedia projects published.

…helped the UF chapter of Get Carded win the first-ever Jaime Montoya Memorial Challenge.

… organized and ran the Catholic Gators’ first-ever Student Lenten Initiative fundraiser.

….graduated from the University of Florida, saying good-bye to a beautiful community of friends and mentors.

…witnessed the first of my friends to get married and was a bridesmaid for the first time.

…started a short-lived freelance journalist/videographer career.

…worked with children and even enjoyed it – most of the time 😉

…moved to Washington D.C. to live outside of Florida for the first time.

…started a year of service as a volunteer with a Catholic non-profit, Franciscan Mission Service.

…made new friends and enjoyed the company of old ones.

…spent my first holiday away from my family.

…cut down a Christmas tree for the first time.

… met several famous journalists.

…experienced many trials and frustrations.

…was blessed beyond measure.

Thanks for being a part of a great year! Stick with me to see what 2012 brings. Have a Happy, Healthy and Holy New Year!

Vandaveer and Ben Sollee in concert

20 Nov

Vandaveer joins Ben Sollee for a special number (cell phone pic)

You’ve never heard of Vandaveer or Ben Sollee?!

Well, I hadn’t either until my roommates invited me to their concert. You have to check them out.

Roomies Rachel and Susie (cell phone pic). Thanks for inviting me!

Vandaveer is my roommate Susie’s favorite band right now. They’re a folksy duo lead by a songwriter from Kentucky. Their set included several ballads, one of a ghost and one of a murdered girl. But not all their songs were so dark.

Ben Sollee is also from Kentucky. My roommate Rachel loves him for his signature instrument, the cello. He was classically trained but now plays a genre-bending mix of rock, folk. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine I was standing in front of Paul Simon. As if the cello and Simoneque sound weren’t wonderful enough, many of his songs had great meaning behind them. He’s definitely now one of my favorite artists.

I haven’t been to many concerts, and I found the experience of live music to be simply amazing. Our early arrival at the small venue meant we were only a few feet away from the musicians. (Side note: The Red Palace on H-street is a bar that Robert Ripley would appreciate for its mummies and oddities. I don’t know how he would feel about the cat Al that walks up and down the bar to his cardboard box.)

Before a song, the artists would talk about it, why the wrote it, what it means to them. That’s something you don’t really get from a CD or MP3 recording and I really enjoyed that personal sharing.

Watching Ben and his percussionist Jordan Ellis play together was like watching a jam session or a playoff as the musicians went back and forth, feeding off of each other’s energy. That passion and fun get lost in the translation of music to recording too sometimes.

Ben Sollee signs Rachel's ticket (cell phone pic)

After the concert, Rachel got her ticket signed by the performers. After she got Ben’s autograph, he stepped up to Susie and I, “Hello, friends.”  While Susie was a bit starstruck, I was at a loss for words. What do you say to a  musician you didn’t know but heard for the first time  right there from the front row? I didn’t want to look ignorant. We settled on “Your music is so inspirational.”

 

She’s leaving home

27 Oct

Here’s the song of the day: “She’s Leaving Home” by The Beatles.

Well, hopefully my parents are not as depressed as the parents in this song. I want them to be happy and excited for me and this opportunity, but appropriately sad that they won’t see my shinning face every day.

I do, however, expect my poor puppy to be distraught. He suffers from separation anxiety, which means he cries when I go to the mailbox. I won’t see him until Christmas, and I don’t think I’ve ever gone that long without seeing him. Since May — and especially since August when my sister went back to school — Reiley and I have spent so much time together.  I’ve been his primary walker, feeder, groomer, doctor, player, chauffeur, cuddler, etc. — a two-member wolf pack, if you will. He’s probably devastated to have lost his pack… Or he’s taken over my room and claimed my bed as his own.

My parents can come visit me and talk to me on the phone. The dog? Not so much. Hopefully he’ll learn how to appreciate Skype so I can see at least see his cute little face.

Anyway, check back for updates on the move to Washington DC!

New favorite quote!

9 Aug

“Don’t think of organ donations as giving up part of yourself to keep a total stranger alive. It’s really a total stranger giving up almost all of themselves to keep part of you alive.” — Author Unknown

Thanks to my friend Kendall for sharing this with me!  She knows I’m a huge advocate for organ and tissue donation. I’ve spent the past three years with Get Carded UF trying to persuade people to register as donors.

For some people, it’s their faith than inspires them to register; for others it’s the story of a donor or recipient; for others it’s the numbers (111,741 Americans are waiting for a transplant; one organ donor can save eight lives). Some people are inspired by their community (minorities make up more than half the waiting list but are least likely to donate); some people aren’t even inspired at all when they register, they just shrug and say, “I’m not going to need them when I’m dead.”

Perhaps this quote will be just the inspiration someone needs.

Lazy Sunday afternoon

6 Mar

Reiley bed

Tzatziki?

5 Mar

sandiwch

Publix had buy-one, get-one free Green Mountain tzatziki sauce so we bought roast beef and pita for a delicious and different lunch.