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Posts Tagged ‘Latin America’

Twelve Tips For Women Traveling Alone

In behavior, cities, Crime, Health, life, travel, urban life, women on May 24, 2011 at 11:35 am
Waikawau Bay in the Coromandel Peninsula

The Coromandel, in New Zealand...Heaven on earth! Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been alone in many places: D.C., Vancouver, Istanbul, Ko Phi Phi, Palermo, Key West, Tunis. I live to travel and, many times, there’s no one with the same budget, interests, schedule or passions with whom to share a journey.

So I happily go alone.

My mother traveled the world alone for many years — all throughout Latin America in her 40s, the South Pacific, overland from London to the Mideast, India. She taught me not only to be (safely) fearless, but to keep a current passport and a passion for using it.

Here are twelve tips for solo women travelers of all ages:

Know where you’re going. What are their underlying beliefs, customs, rituals, dress? The countryside of Portugal, for example, was even tougher than urban Istanbul for relentless male attention or harassment. Even catching someone’s gaze was unwise. Some cities have their own codes of dress: wear Easter egg pastels, baggy sweats, white athletic shoes or nude hose in downtown Manhattan (or Paris!) and, yes, you’ll be viewed as a tourist and treated accordingly.

Do your homework and decide how much you want to stand out or blend in; as a woman alone, blending in is usually the wiser, safer option. (Headscarves, long sleeves, a salwar kameez, etc.) It shows respect for where you are, which will often be returned with more welcoming treatment. Speaking some of the local language is also a key way to signal this.

Do your homework. There are many ways to determine which areas, streets or neighborhoods are more or less safe for a solo woman. One of my favorite resources is The Thorn Tree, an online bulletin board on the Lonely Planet website. When I and my then best friend, two blonds from NY (albeit savvy and well-traveled) were heading off to Venezuela for a week, we posted some specific questions there and found fantastic, detailed answers (even a local travel agent we used) from a British ex-pat then in Mexico.

Read the local newspaper. Find out what’s happening, and not just on-line. Read the editorials and op-eds; what are people talking about there and why? Read letters to the editor. What sort of fun events are listed for the weekend? Key: if you’re in a part of the world where men are relentlessly going to try to catch your eye and chat you up, hiding behind a spread-out broadsheet is a great choice. Worked for me in Spain and Portugal.

Unplug from technology. For several reasons. If you’re in a poorer, rural environment, be sensitive to the lives of people who may be living on $1 -2 per day. If you’re going somewhere to see, smell, taste and hear it, be there. Remain open to it in every way possible.

A set of earbuds shuts you off from potential conversation, advice — and warnings. I would never ever walk around plugged in, alone, in many parts of the world. You must remain aware of your surroundings to stay safe.

Pay attention. This will make your trip more social, fun and interesting, but will also keep you safe. Look around — are there other women there as well? Are they safe? What are they wearing? How are they behaving? In many more socially conservative parts of the world, women don’t leave their home without the officially sanctioned accompaniment of a child, husband or parent.

A woman alone there, to the larger culture, often reads: looking…sexual…naive. Even if you’re not.

Do some of your favorite activities. I took a ballet class in Paris, and mid back-bend, stared up into hand-painted 18th-century ceiling beams. In Coayacan, a suburb of Mexico City, I took a watercolor class and finally learned how to work more effectively on larger pieces. In Los Angeles, I galloped through the dusty hills of Griffiths Park at sunset, then danced to live blues at Harvelle’s, an 80-year-old nightclub in Santa Monica. Heaven!

Take a yoga, spinning or dance class. Attend service at a local church or synagogue.

Take a hike! Get into nature, wherever you end up: walk along the river or lakeside; rent a canoe or kayak or sailboat; go for a bike ride. Pack a pair of running shoes and some comfy workout clothes so you can take advantage of the great outdoors wherever you are. Great way to meet locals — and their dogs.

Plan your evenings. I admit it, evenings can be tougher when you’re alone and female. Do you really want to venture out alone, for a meal, a show, a concert? Yes! But use your hotel concierge — or even a youth hostel’s evening group events — to help you make safe, wise, fun choices. I always search for concerts and museum shows at every city I plan to visit, and build in time to enjoy what the locals love. Splurge on cabs when necessary.

Sit at the bar. That’s where people on their own are often happiest and most comfortable, not just boozers chatting up the bartender. I had a great conversation in a dive bar in Atlanta with a young man working in finance as we whiled away the early evening. Many of a city’s best restaurants serve meals at the bar, where you can feel less obvious and self-conscious as a woman out alone, and a good barkeep will keep an eye on you.

Plan for the beach. I always take a small plastic case I can tuck into my bathing suit, which will hold my credit card/debit card/cash, freeing me to swim or snorkel without worrying someone is nabbing my stuff. If you like to sail, kayak, canoe, snorkel, surf….check out local facilities and build them into your trip; always take a bathing suit, windbreaker and golf or baseball cap to protect your head.

Stay sober. Seriously. Only once in my life (boring, but true) have I gotten really drunk, at a bar in San Francisco (not on purpose  — long day, empty stomach) and was able to stagger safely the few blocks back to my hotel. Insanity. True insanity.

No matter how lonely, depressed or vacay-ish you’re feeling, getting drunk or stoned around strangers is a profoundly stupid and potentially life-threatening choice. You’re alone. Who’s going to offer your medical history to the EMTs or ER? Or the police?

Be open to meeting people. I’ve enjoyed meals and even overnight stays in the homes of strangers I’ve met along the way, from the Cote d’Azur to the Coromandel Peninsula. One of the greatest pleasures of traveling alone, as a woman, is how many people are happy to welcome you into their lives and homes. I met a flight attendant from Paraguay at Honolulu airport, shared a cab with her and, realizing how cheaply she got her hotel room, buddied up with her for the week. In New Zealand, four lovely kids in their 20s met me at the youth hostel, adopted me, took me to a beach house, then home to a hill-top mansion outside Auckland. When they all waved goodbye to me at the airport, it was terribly hard to leave!

Not every man is out to get you or jump you! Not every friendly conversation is some sort of trap.

But some are.

Learning to quickly and accurately suss out the good ‘uns will keep you safe and send you back home with indelible, amazing memories.(My very worst experiences, i.e. criminal ones, happened in my suburban New York town. Maybe because my guard was down?)

Here’s a great website with resources for solo female travelers and here’s a list with six other smart tips.

What tips have you found helpful in your journeys?

Marriage Across Ethnic Lines Slowing, Report Says

In behavior, men, women on June 1, 2010 at 6:07 pm

I’m interested in this because my partner of 10 years is Hispanic, second-generation American, of Mexican origin — new research shows that Hispanics and Asians are starting to marry others within their ethnicity, not choosing a Caucasian.

Reports The Wall Street Journal:

The overall number of interethnic and interracial marriages continues to grow, as taboos against it have faded significantly. An estimated 8% of all couples in the U.S. belonged to distinct ethnic groups in 2008—with more than 10% in California and Texas—a sharp increase from the 3% overall rate in 1980.

But new research concludes that intermarriage rates between Hispanics and non-hispanic whites and between Asians and whites have declined or stagnated over the past two decades, due in part to a surge in immigration that has expanded the pool of people of marrying age in those groups. Scholars call the phenomenon a “retreat from intermarriage.”

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey for 1995-2008, which was released in March, sociologists Daniel Lichter and Julie Carmalt of Cornell University and Zhenchao Qian of Ohio State University identified trends in Hispanic-white marriage among 42,308 couples, divided almost equally between the 1990s and 2000 periods.

Among second-generation Hispanic women, who are the children of immigrants, the proportion who married outside their ethnicity—mainly to whites—fell to 16% in the 2000 period compared to 22% in the 1990s. The decrease in marriage to whites can be attributed mainly to a significant increase in the share of the second-generation Hispanic women who married Hispanics: 84% in the 2000 period compared with 78% in the 1990s.

“The massive influx of new immigrants from Latin America and Asia has not only fueled the opportunity to marry one’s co-ethnics, but also revitalized ancestral and cultural identity,” says Dr. Lichter.

It’s been interesting for us to negotiate our cultural differences — the irony being they stem more from my Canadian roots and beliefs and his American ones than any Anglo-Hispanic divide. On any number of occasions, he’s sighed: “This is not the time to be Canadian!” (i.e. diffident, risk-averse.)

I had spent much more time in Mexico, even living there briefly as a teenager, than he had. (The photo here is of our apartment building in Cuernavaca.) When we traveled there for three weeks in 2005, everyone assumed he was fluent in Spanish (he understands it but does not speak it) while it was I, the Canadian white girl, who did the translation. I was dying for caheta and churros and cacahuetes, the Mexican treats of my childhood that he had never tasted.

The whole notion of “assimilation” is interesting, as it assumes it’s a good thing. It can be, if it gets you the education or job or home or partner you want. But it can come with a price, the loss of your own culture. When I started dating my guy, I bumped into some pretty funny stereotypes from people who had not met him. The minute they heard a Hispanic name, a whole pile ‘o cliches came to mind.

“Does he salsa?” asked one. (The kind that comes in a jar, yes. On the dance floor, no.) “Does he wear a guayabera?” (Brooks Brothers, actually.)

We’re both driven career journos, both photographers, both world travelers who love French food. Our similarities outweigh our physical or ethnic differences.

The major cultural difference between us, perhaps, and one I value although it’s taken me ages to get used to it — he shows a lot of emotion. Expressed emotion. Verbally expressed emotion. WASPs don’t do feelings. Like money or physical pain, we may have them, but we don’t talk about it. And Canadians do tend to be more polite, forever terrified they’ll create a conflict.

Have you dated or married someone of another ethnic background? How is it?

Ten Gifts For The Would-Be Journo/Non-Fiction Writer; Good Luck, Grads — You'll Need It

In business, education, Media on May 17, 2010 at 8:39 am
Cover of "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions...

Cover via Amazon

I never studied journalism, but have taught it many times since; I was an English major at the University of Toronto. But I knew from the age of 12 this was what I wanted to do — and the only thing I wanted to do.

I also knew it would be, as it is and continues to be, damn hard. This industry is filled with rich, connected kids — of all ages — bringing social capital, huge confidence and parental financing that allows them to work for nothing. They, and thousands of others, are your competition.

Today’s fresh grads — good luck! – are clambering into the leaky, sinking lifeboats of our profession. It’s tempting to beat them off with our shredded oars, so few and so precious are the remaining seats.

From The Times of London, in a very long (but very wisely written) piece on why journalism and why it’s so damn hard:

Indeed, Justin Lewis, head of the school of journalism at Cardiff University, says that part of his role is to temper the high expectations of students.

“Some of them do come here with very idealistic notions of what being a journalist is all about,” says Lewis. “We don’t want to hammer that out of them, but we need to be realistic about what those opportunities are. Research we’ve done within the school has shown that each journalist produces three times as much copy today as they did 20 years ago. So it’s tougher. It’s tougher to get a job, and it’s tougher when they’re in a job, and we need to be clear about that.” Lewis, one expects, also tells his students that journalism is often wonderful. Return to the class of 2008, and you see young reporters enjoying extraordinary experiences. Kate Mansey, for example, was sent to Afghanistan in 2007 for a month, where she wrote a memorable story about a family of heroin addicts on the outskirts of Kabul. The youngest addict was a nine-year-old girl.

Jerome Taylor, meanwhile, has talked through the night with asylum seekers in Calais. Claire Newell went undercover to tease prominent MPs into admitting their role in the cash-for-honours scandal and the cash-for-influence scandal which sank Stephen Byers. Helen Pidd spent a day being rude to people in Perth, after it was voted Britain’s most polite town. The list goes on.

There will be those who could think of nothing worse than meeting poor Afghanis, or hoodwinking politicians, or testing the patience of Scotsmen. Fair enough — sell cars. But there will also be those for whom the idea of such encounters is intoxicating, and the prospect of reporting such experiences more thrilling still. These people, if they are lucky and tenacious enough, become journalists.

Yet several of my favorite young journos are doing just fine: one at a website; one at a small newspaper, one as a business writer at the Los Angeles Times and one as a staff shooter for the Denver Post, his first job. Woohoo! So there are jobs and these bright, talented young ‘uns are getting them.

What gifts might I offer a fresh ambitious grad hoping to enter our insane, lovely, terrifying, brutal industry?

1) A really good, comfortable chair you’ll be happy sitting in for hours and hours and hours. At home, alone, in silence. Not sitting in a cafe with with your laptop being groovy and listening to tunes or chatting with your peeps via webcam. Working. Writing is not easily or well done with a ton of noisy people all around you. It is not meant to be something people watch you do and admire you doing. It’s not the Olympics.

2) A bicycle or a good pair of walking shoes. You need to get outdoors often. Fresh air, exercise and sunshine on your face will remind you there is a world outside your apartment or car. Pay attention. Take notes, always.

3) A fountain pen. Writing is still a sensual activity. And being able to inscribe your beautiful signature will be so useful when you’re signing autographs and books.

4) Thick, lovely stationery, or a gift certificate for personalized cards and envelopes; try Papersource.com. When it’s time — and it often is — to write a thank-you note, or an attaboy, using good stationery offers an elegant, immediate point of difference from your many competitors when your recipient gets a lovely real letter, sent within a day or two of your meeting. Email, schme-mail.

5) Great business cards. Thick stock, letterpress, with your name, website(s) and phone numbers. Not: cheap, shiny, cheesy. You don’t need a job to have a card. You don’t need someone else to decide you’re a writer. Networking will open many, many doors and part of your lasting first impression is having a card and having a memorably stylish one. Just don’t call yourself a “wordsmith.” Ever.

6) A gym membership. You need to stretch, run, sweat and tap into some endorphins un-related to staring into a computer. Some of your best ideas will come when you are least focused on your work.

7) A gift certificate to a terrific bookstore, preferably a great local indie like Posman in Manhattan or Munro’s in Victoria, B.C. or The Tattered Cover in Denver. Make it as big as you can, so the pile will include reference books, a good dictionary, thesaurus and at least a dozen books of inspiration, whether Follow The Story, by James Stewart, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott or Random Family, by Adrian Nicole Leblanc.

8) The offer, when it seems right, to send your young writer to the conference of his/her choice. That’s where they’ll meet agents, editors, fellow writers of all levels. It might cost $1,000 if they have to fly/stay in a hotel and pay conference fees. Yes, a string of pearls or a handsome watch are more traditional choices, but this is one (costly) thing s/he really needs.

9) A passport and plane ticket to somewhere more than a six-hour flight off the continental United States: Mexico, Central or Latin America, Asia, the midEast, India. Anywhere but Paris/London/Prague/Berlin. They’ll get there on their own. When you’re young and (somewhat) fearless is the best time to try something new and scary. No mortgage, no kids, no spouse. Go!

10) A really good atlas. My favorite reading. Helps to know where you’re going and gives you places to dream of visiting or living in or working in. Reminds you the world is a large, complicated place.

Plus: a Teflon soul, the utter determination to get it right, compassion, a sturdy and unshakable sense of humor, a good set of fall-back skills (carpentry, languages, a teaching certificate, anything!), some money in the bank, the ability to discern a story from corporate BS. Here’s my list of “what it takes”.

What would you give? What, writers, have you gotten that you loved?

I loved this list of 10 gifts for the budding novelist by Margaret Atwood.

Cuban Woman Blogger Wins Major Columbia Award — Can She Come Get It?

In Media, women on October 1, 2009 at 11:25 am
Low Memorial Library

Columbia's campus, not easy for a Cuban to visit. Image via Wikipedia

Yoani Sanchez is 34, lives in Havana where she teaches Spanish and writes a blog about life in Cuba, widely praised for her insights and writing. This year, she won a special citation from the Maria Moors Cabot prize — awarded by Columbia University for coverage of Latin America. This year’s other three winners are male, all writing on staff for mainstream major publications — The New York Times, USA Today and O Globo, a Brazilian paper.

Sanchez is the only woman, and the only blogger.

She writes in her blog she is trying to get permission to attend the ceremony in New York, on the Columbia campus, October 14. I’ve been to one of these events, then cheering for my friend Ginger Thompson, who won it for her coverage of the area for The New York Times and it’s, of course, a terrific moment to see a journo’s talent and tenacity recognized. Women foreign correspondents in Latin America face a number of challenges, but Yoani’s toughest obstacle might actually be getting onto a plane heading to New York City.

I hope she gets to come and collect her hard-earned award.

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