Monday, August 13, 2018

Recent Reads

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Monsoon Summer by Julia Gregson 

"Oxfordshire, 1947. Kit Smallwood, hiding a painful secret and exhausted from nursing soldiers during the Second World War, escapes to Wickam Farm where her friend is setting up a charity sending midwives to the Moonstone Home in South India.
Then Kit meets Anto, an Indian doctor finishing his medical training at Oxford. But Kit’s light-skinned mother is in fact Anglo-Indian with secrets of her own, and Anto is everything she does not want for her daughter.

Despite the threat of estrangement, Kit is excited for the future, hungry for adventure, and deeply in love. She and Anto secretly marry and set off for South India—where Kit plans to run the maternity hospital she’s helped from afar.

But Kit’s life in India does not turn out as she imagined. Anto’s large, traditional family wanted him to marry an Indian bride and find it hard to accept Kit. As their relationship begins to fray, Kit’s job becomes fraught with tension as they both face a newly independent India, where riots have left millions dead and there is deep-rooted suspicion of the English. In a rapidly changing world, Kit’s naiveté is to land her in a frightening and dangerous situation...

Based on true accounts of European midwives in India, Monsoon Summer is a powerful story of secrets, the nature of home, the comforts and frustrations of family, and how far we’ll go to be with those we love."

I picked this novel up on a buy one get one 50% off special at an airport bookstore in London. It's an easier read, and I became attached to the main character within the first few chapters. Even the less likeable characters have enough humanity in them to keep you turning the pages. It's a picture of the aftermath of British imperialism, a commentary on culture and class, and it puts a spotlight on gender inequality in two separate societies as it follows its female lead. The relationship between the two main characters begins in the somewhat unrealistically passionate way one comes to expect with fiction, but as it progresses throughout the novel becomes more endearing in its emotional realism.

 Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

All leaders are constrained by geography. Their choices are limited by mountains, rivers, seas and concrete. Yes, to understand world events you need to understand people, ideas and movements...but if you don't know geography, you'll never have the full picture.; To understand Putin's actions, for example, it is essential to consider that, to be a world power, Russia must have a navy. And if its ports freeze for six months each year then it must have access to a warm water port - hence, the annexation of Crimea was the only option for Putin. To understand the Middle East, it is crucial to know that geography is the reason why countries have logically been shaped as they are - and this is why invented countries (e.g. Syria, Iraq, Libya) will not survive as nation states.; Spread over ten chapters (covering Russia; China; the USA; Latin America; the Middle East; Africa; India and Pakistan; Europe; Japan and Korea; and Greenland and the Arctic), using maps, essays and occasionally the personal experiences of the widely travelled author, Prisoners of Geography looks at the past, present and future to offer an essential guide to one of the major determining factors in world history.

If you have any interest at all in history, political science, and certainly in geopolitics then I cannot recommend this enough. Marshall succinctly outlines how geography has determined or influenced global and regional relations between countries, led to or created a barrier to conflict, and allowed the vast rise and empire building of the West, specifically the United States, while hindering the same global influence of other nations. In a sense reading this will help to get a better sense of the world and why it looks the way it does.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

With the pace and suspense of a thriller and prose that has been compared to Graham Greene and Saul Bellow, The Sympathizer is a sweeping epic of love and betrayal. The narrator, a communist double agent, is a “man of two minds,” a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who arranges to come to America after the Fall of Saigon, and while building a new life with other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles is secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam. The Sympathizer is a blistering exploration of identity and America, a gripping espionage novel, and a powerful story of love and friendship.

It took me a while to get through this book. I would read a chapter or two, then put it down for weeks at a time before picking it back up again. For me it was a hard read, and while that would normally cause me to not recommend a book, reading to the end had big payoff with this novel. War pieces don't typically hold my interest but this goes deep into identity, the social and emotional impacts of conflict, and the refugee experience in the United States as told through an all too real main character.

Love, Skip, Jump: Start Living the Adventure of Yes by Shelene Bryan

In this whimsical yet inspiring book, Shelene tells the stories of real-life paths God took her on to learn some simple truths that changed everything in her life―everything for the better.
By loving how our Creator made us to love; skipping comfort and safety to help those who can never repay us; and taking a risk to jump into the epic journey God has for our lives, the reality is we are all just one yes away from changing everything. Don’t miss out on the incredible adventure God has for you. Say yes to God―love, skip, and jump your way to his plans for you!
A friend gave this book to me as a gift knowing I'd enjoy it. It's a short, inspiring read about the author and how she began to critically assess the privilege in her own life,  and the calling she felt towards humanitarian efforts around the world. It aims to encourage everyone in finding a passion in which they can make a difference.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

"I come from a country that was created at midnight. When I almost died it was just after midday."

When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.

Instead, Malala's miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she became a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I AM MALALA is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls' education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.

I AM MALALA will make you believe in the power of one person's voice to inspire change in the world. 

I initially read this memoir when it was first published a few years ago. Earlier in the year Malala returned to Pakistan for the first time since being shot by the Taliban, and I reread it. This memoir is not only about the attack but goes into the power of education and the fight for its preservation in the lives of girls. Her love of the region in which she was born is evident on every page, as is her determination that education is the inalienable right of every person regardless of sex. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Mucho Gusto, Costa Rica

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On my Uber ride to the airport as I was leaving San Jose I had a conversation with the driver about the sun. It rises early in Costa Rica. She said it makes you get up and start your day. That's exactly how I interpreted it every morning. As much as it rained, it was never in the first hours of the day. Instead it invited you outside The clouds not yet covering the mountains. Outside of San Jose, higher in altitude, the clouds seemed to be everywhere; in the rows of coffee bushes, around the waterfalls, settling into the hot springs around Arenal Volcano, and obscuring the crater. Neither the clouds or the rain ever detracted from the beauty. Multiple times a day I was asked what I thought of Costa Rica, and my poor Spanish was never able to express how beautiful it actually is. Costa Rica, thanks for introducing me to Central America.

View from my AirBnB
Coffee Plantation Tour:

They aren't ready until they're red

La Paz Waterfall Gardens:

Arenal Volcano and Tabacon Hot Springs:

Still pretty underneath the clouds

The most relaxing three hours of the trip

Painted Oxcarts in Sarchi

Manuel Antonio State Park in Quepos:

San Jose:

Teatro Nacional De Costa Rica

Catedral Metropoliana de San Jose


A coco frio in Quepos

Brunch: El Clasico Tico at Cafeoteca in Barrio Escalante

Casado con pollo en salsa at Restaurante Chelles

Monday, July 30, 2018

i went to tulum

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I can't put into words how much I fell in love with Tulum. The town itself is great for meeting other travelers, talking to locals, shopping for souvenirs, and eating at the amazing restaurants. Then there's the beach of course, with days to be spent cabana hopping at one of the many beach clubs. Around Tulum there's also Mayan ruins on the beach, or lagunas and cenotes to enjoy. Besides this, it's also a great jumping off point to take day trips to the other ruins or cities in the region. Quintana Roo, you're a dream! 

In Tulum: 

Laguna Kaan Luum

Tulum Ruins

Tulum Ruins

Tulum Ruins

Tulum's Public Beaches

Tulum's Public Beaches

Nest Beach Club

Food at Nest

Shopping in Town

Tulum's Shops

Tulum at Night

Breakfast at Burrito Amor 

Burrito Amor

Hotel Casa Tulum

Hotel Casa Tulum
Day Trips from Tulum:

Cenote Suytun

Chichen Itza

From the top of pyramid at Coba Ruins

Coba Ruins

Coba Ruins

Cathedral in Valladolid

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


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Our first night in Edinburgh we arrived late in the afternoon from London. We rode the bus from the airport into town, deciding to get off at any place that looked interesting without any real plan in mind. Fortunately for us we ended up at Princes Street Gardens at golden hour. The castle and Old Town were bathed in the warmest of hues. I spotted the Ferris wheel and pushed back my fear of its apparent age, because as I told my mom "things are safer in Europe."  The attendant spotted my apprehension right away and vigorously sent our car spinning as we went up while gleefully laughing at my terror. The car stabilized as we were reaching the top and we stared in amazement at the view.

Edinburgh has Old Town and New Town, though both seem old to this American. New Town is made up from Georgian and Victorian architecture from the 18th and 19th centuries. Our Airbnb was in the basement of one of those townhouses. It was massive, two bedrooms, a long hallway, a light and airy kitchen, and a beautiful, bright living room with access to a garden. I'm mad at myself for not taking pictures. Every morning I woke up and sat at the window, drinking my tea and eating at least two scones, with clotted cream and jam of course.  I told myself I needed to carb up with all the walking we were doing.

One day I did actually walk to the top of Arthur's Seat, which is a pretty calm name for the remains of an ancient volcano. The climb to the top was quite the hike, a steady incline most of the way and the trail gets narrow and rocky in places, especially towards the peak. Stunning views of the city are the reward for getting a little out of breath. I was lucky enough to do it on a day with clear, blue skies and lots of sunshine. Arthur's Seat is in Holyrood Park beside the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The palace is the Scottish residence of the Queen. We took a few hours to go through it, taking in the architecture. My favorite part was the abbey ruins, which date back to the 12th century but have sat in ruin connected to the palace since the 18th century. They're a photographer's dream.

Another highlight of the trip was the museums, particularly the Scottish Gallery and National Museum of Scotland. The latter's building comprises several stories and has an open, bright atrium. The exhibits on ancient Scottish history were wonderful.

Besides museum hopping we spent a lot of time taking advantage of the great restaurant scene Edinburgh has going on. I don't remember having a bad meal, and there's such an incredible diversity of quality restaurants to choose from. We had acai bowls and matcha, four-course Italian dinners, full Scottish breakfasts, mouth watering burgers, and yes, haggis. I've been told I'm brave when it comes to trying food but I don't really see what the fuss is about over haggis. It was hearty and filling, and if you like sausage I don't think you'll mind the taste of it. I can genuinely say I liked it, and I had it multiple times while there!

Needless to day, we had a pretty fantastic time walking and eating our way through Edinburgh.