Tag Archives: Foreign Correspondents

February 24, 2012

Animal Encounters in Central America

Our third Foreign Correspondent has returned from her travels! Mary, her husband, and her two children traveled to Central America this winter. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part three of their adventure. To learn more about her family’s adventures, check out her The World is a Book blog.

Family Trip to Mexico

During our excursion, we visited the country’s only zoo despite our limited time in Belize.   The Belize Zoo was established in 1983 as a haven for animals used in a forest documentary.   In time, it became a refuge for animals that have been orphaned, rescued, or donated from private owners.

This is unlike any zoo we’ve ever visited.   It currently houses over 150 different animals all native to Belize. Animals lived in thick landscapes much like their natural habitat instead of concrete cages.  The enclosure fences were shorter.  We were able to see most of the animals up close. On some exhibits, we could have reached in and touched them.  Of course we were tempted, but didn’t.

Family trip to Mexico

The zoo was so large, we had to come back a second day to see the rest of the animals. There were no giraffes or elephants here – much to my kids’ disappointment at first.  Instead, we were instead treated to animals we have never heard of or seen before. Ever heard of a tapir (Belize’s national animal that looks like an anteater), a Jabiru stork, a quash (racoon relative) or a motmot (bird)?

Family Trip to Mexico

We also had the opportunity to visit a monkey exhibit in Roatan, Honduras during this trip. I was particularly nervous of letting my kids step inside but was assured the monkeys were safe.  Once inside, the monkeys instantly clamored to find the nearest arm or shoulder to climb on.

Family Trip to Mexico

These animal encounters were one of the trip highlights for our kids.  They were introduced to new animals and learned about the importance of their native habitat.  These were memorable experiences that certainly fostered their love and appreciation for animals.

Visit our Studio T blog tomorrow to learn about the family’s experience in Mexican markets.

February 23, 2012

The Temple of Masks

Our third Foreign Correspondent has returned from her travels! Mary, her husband, and her two children traveled to Central America this winter. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part two of their adventure. To learn more about her family’s adventures, check out her The World is a Book blog.

Masks in Mexico

In Kohunlich, the most impressive site was the pyramid-like Temple of the Masks. The center stairs were flanked on each side by three levels of sculpted stucco masks at about 6-8 feet high each.  They were believed to represent the Maya Sun God “Kinich Ahau”.  The diverse faces were also thought to represent ancient Kohunlich rulers.

The giant masks were magnificent and remarkably preserved considering they were built around 500 AD.  Some of them still had hints of their original color.  The faces were the only three-dimensional areas.  There were many symbolic messages on the masks with many different interpretations.   We saw the masks up close by climbing the steep staircase.  It was worth the climb to the top for some spectacular views of the forest canopy.

 

View in Mexico

In order to keep up our kids’ spirit of exploration, we engaged them in some activities. We asked them to identify items they saw around the masks and what its meaning could be. Travel after all is a learning experience.

Masks in Mexico

My husband and I knew that visiting the ruins would be a challenge to hold our kids’ interest. They kept themselves occupied by looking for animals and exploring hidden corners.  Sometimes, kids have more important things to discover.

Visit our Studio T blog tomorrow to learn about the family’s animal encounters in Central America.


February 22, 2012

Exploring Mayan Ruins and Temples

Our third Foreign Correspondent has returned from her travels! Mary, her husband, and her two children traveled to Mexico this winter. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is the first part of their adventure. To learn more about her family’s adventures, check out her The World is a Book blog.

Mexico is expecting a record number of tourists in 2012. This is due to the myth of the December 21 apocalypse prophecy based on an ancient Maya calendar.  While we’re not one of the doomsday tourists, our family did visit Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and the Maya ruins on a recent trip.


Family Trip to Mexico

We chose the Kohunlich (pronounced KOE•HOON•LEECH) archaeological zone to explore.  It was located near the town of Chetumal, about five hours from Cancun and two hours from Costa Maya.

To get there, we took a long tour bus ride that went through many small towns.  Our guide pointed out schools and churches along the way.  We also saw kids selling items on the streets.  It was a good eye opener for our kids, at ages 6 and 9, to see how kids their age lived in this part of the world even if it was only a glimpse.

When we finally arrived, Kohunlich felt mystical and offered some of the region’s best preserved ruins. It was completely surrounded by a lush, tropical jungle where it was eerily quiet at times.  It was remote enough that it wasn’t swarming with tourists.  Its name was adapted from the name “Cohoon Ridge” after the abundance of Cohoon palms throughout the area.

Trip to Mexico with Kids

The ancient city was full of fascinating religious and residential structures to explore – a sunken palace, an acropolis, a ball court, courtyards, temples and expansive plazas.  Archaeologists believed this used to be a regional trading center between 300 – 1200 AD.

Family Trip to Mexico

Kohunlich was elaborately planned with stuccoed buildings mostly painted in red.  It was amazing to see how large they were and the effort it took to build them during their time.  Even with trees and plants enveloping crevices of the structures, we could still envision the grandeur.

We also did an interesting exercise with our guide.  He asked us to close our eyes and imagine being transported back to when this ancient city was thriving with life and visualize their daily routines.  He then played instruments that imitated bird and animal sounds of the jungle.  It provided a different perspective to experience the ruins.

While these ruins involved a lot of walking, the plaza was perfect for kids to run around in!

Family Trip To Mexico

Visit our Studio T blog tomorrow to hear about the family’s adventures in the Temple of Masks.


September 16, 2011

Foreign Correspondents: Traveling with Children

Our second  Foreign Correspondent has returned from her travels! Stacy, her husband, and her two children traveled to Istanbul and Jerusalem this summer. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is the final part 5 of their adventure.

The best part of our trip is being reunited with our family and friends.  Of course, my husband was born and raised in Jerusalem, so his ties run deep.  And I worked in Gaza and the West Bank and lived Ramallah for several years, so it’s a bit of a coming home for me too.

When we visit now, because they are older, our kids can play with their new cousins (more and more every year) and our friends’ kids.  It’s fun to watch their friendships deepen each year.  It’s also a great opportunity for them to work on their Arabic.

There is so much joy as we travel and spend time with our family.  But there are difficulties.  I would be remiss to not mention them too.  One of the more difficult aspects of our trip is now that our son is seven, he is aware of the situation around us.  He can’t help but notice the deteriorating political conditions and occupation surrounding him.  It’s difficult to explain to him why we are pulled to the side at the airport for exhaustive questioning, why soldiers took his cousins – the bride and groom in full wedding attire – to a police station on the way to their own wedding, why there is a 25 foot high wall separating long standing Palestinian neighborhoods in half and long detours to get to a checkpoint to wait in line to be allowed to cross through.  And then he asks why we can cross through the wall but so many of our friends and family cannot (we can because of our US passports but some of our friends and family cannot because they hold West Bank IDs which does not allow crossing from one side of the wall to the other).  It’s difficult for an adult to comprehend this, but it is impossible for the children.

Police holdup on the way to the wedding.

One evening, we were driving, and we heard the adhan, or Muslim call to prayer, over a loudspeaker.  It’s beautiful and haunting at the same time.  Our son asked about it, and I explained that many people say a prayer when they hear this call each day.  He asked what they pray for.  I sat kind of bewildered, trying to think of something to say and, before I had a chance, he answered his own question, “Maybe they’re praying for freedom and justice and friendship.”  I think he’s exactly right.

It’s interesting and sad (and inevitable) to see the time your child first becomes aware that not everyone lives a carefree life.  This is true for many, many people wherever you live, of course.  But for him to not just see but to also feel such glaring disparity and question it at such a young age makes me sad for him because a piece of his innocence is lost, but proud too because he is an aware and sensitive and thinking person.

Our hope for tomorrow is a more just and livable life for the entire region.  It will take leadership and bold steps and pragmatism which has been sorely lacking for decades.   In the meantime, we will savor our lasting memories of the good times had, the love of our family, and the eager anticipation of next summer’s adventures.

Our Foreign Correspondent program is ongoing. If you’re interested in sharing your family’s international adventures with us you can find out more here.

September 15, 2011

Foreign Correspondent: The Food of Jerusalem

Our second  Foreign Correspondent has returned from her travels! Stacy, her husband, and her two children traveled to Istanbul and Jerusalem this summer. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part 4 of their adventure.

Sprite in Istanbul

To say that we ate well while vacationing this summer would be a gross understatement.  What can I say?  The food was amazing.  My husband waits all year in great anticipation to return home and eat his mother’s cooking.

My husband’s top three Palestinian meals are:

  1. Maklouba – “upside down” rice with veggies (cauliflower, carrots or, my personal favorite, EGGPLANT) and chicken or meat.  After a number of steps (!), the ingredients are cooked in one pot, allowed to cool, then flipped over onto a serving platter and garnished with toasted pine nuts.  Served with plain yogurt on top.
  2. 2. Waraq Dawali – stuffed grape leaves.  This meal is a true labor of love.  It’s not that it’s particularly complicated, but it is incredibly time consuming to make.  Small bits of lamb meat and rice are placed on a grape leaf, rolled up tightly and then cooked in tomato juice stovetop.  We  prefer to eat this only in Jerusalem with either my husband’s mom or one of his aunts preparing it because, for some reason, the grape leaves just never seem to taste quite as delicious at a restaurant here.
  3. Mujaderra – rice, lentils, caramelized onions, cumin, and cinnamon.  This is a very, very popular vegetarian dish.  It’s more often made in the chilly winter months, but my husband and the kids can eat this for breakfast, lunch or dinner twelve months a year.  They absolutely love it.

Food in the Bedouin Tent

We had a number of incredible meals throughout our trip – In Istanbul, lamb and tomatoes served over taboon-baked bread and yogurt and a sandwich/wrap called doner (usually lamb or chicken cooked on a vertical spit and sliced off to order).   In Jerusalem, we enjoyed going out for meshawwi, or barbeque.  Favorites are ground meat mixed with onions and parsley skewered , cubed chicken marinated in lemon, olive oil and garlic and then skewered, lamb chops, and fresh tomatoes, onions, and peppers.  One night, we sat under a Bedouin tent in a lovely garden, sipping tea, eating a wonderful barbeque meal with my husband’s parents, two of his brothers and their families, and our kids.  The kids ran around and we just ate and ate.  It was such a perfect night.

September 14, 2011

Foreign Correspondents: The Old City

Our second  Foreign Correspondent has returned from her travels! Stacy, her husband, and her two children traveled to Istanbul and Jerusalem this summer. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part 3 of their adventure.

After a quick flight, we arrived in Jerusalem to reunite with my husband’s family and friends.  We had some excitement in that within the first three hours of arrival, we ended up in the ER.  Our daughter was beyond overexcited and while playing broke her wrist.  She had a cast on for the first eight days of the Jerusalem leg of the trip.

One of our favorite things to do in Jerusalem is to visit the Old City.  This is the walled in city within a much larger city.  I don’t think I can describe how special, how spectacular the Old City is.  The view is breathtaking from nearly every corner of the city.  It’s home to many very holy places for Muslims, Christians, and Jews, and people from all over the world travel here to pray, tour, and experience.  It’s divided into four uneven quarters – Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian.  Tens of thousands of people live, work, go to school, and play inside the walls of Jerusalem and, for the most part, things are fairly separate in that the Armenians live in the Armenian Quarter, the Christian Palestinians live in the Christian Quarter, etc.  One can travel freely (for the most part) between the quarters, but there is a demarcation which is always interesting to observe from a tourist’s perspective.

Over the years, my husband and I have traveled up and down the winding alleys of each quarter – together and separately – my husband first as a child and me initially as a college student.  Since the kids were born, however, our plans have been, shall we say, less ambitious.  We want to show them the Old City, have them love the Old City and, eventually, be able to wander throughout the Old City.  But for this trip, we kept it short and simple and entered through Bab al-Khalil (Jaffa Gate) and walked through just a few alleyways for some conversing, shopping, snacking, and observing.

We bought some beautiful traditional Palestinian pottery pieces for our house and some gifts for friends and family.  We’ve been collecting it for years.  The pottery is made and hand painted in the West Bank town of Hebron.    The colors are bright, the patterns are cheerful, and it makes a lovely table setting.

We also stopped by a terrific place where we bought a side table years and years ago.  The little shop sells furniture, chess tables, dressers, mirrors, chairs – all beautifully handcrafted in Syria from walnut with mother of pearl inlay.  Our son sat right down and started playing with the chess boards.  We picked up some pieces for him, and I have my eye on a stunning table/chess board that we will need to save for many, many years before we’re ready to bring that piece home with us.

September 13, 2011

Foreign Correspondent: Sites in Istanbul

Our second  Foreign Correspondent has returned from her travels! Stacy, her husband, and her two children traveled to Istanbul and Jerusalem this summer. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part 2 of their adventure.

We set an ambitious itinerary for the last full day in Istanbul before traveling to Jerusalem.  It included the Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, and the Grand Bazaar.

The Baghdad Pavillion inside Topkapi Palace

We started at the Topkapi Palace and, I’ll be honest, I could have stayed there all day long but the kids burned out after the third hour. Basically, the Ottomans ruled the entire Empire from here for hundreds and hundreds of years.  It was their cultural and political center – there’s a library, the treasury, a concubines courtyard, a kitchen that fed thousands of janissaries and soldiers, mosques, reading rooms just to name a few of the highlights in the sprawling compound.  All of this plus incredibly ornate and intricate architecture and sweeping views of the water that can be seen from throughout the walled compound.

Basilica Cistern

Unfortunately for us, the lines to enter the Hagia Sophia were just too long.  We kept moving a short distance to the Basilica Cistern.  Other than knowing that it is the largest of several hundred underground water systems in Istanbul, we had little idea what to expect.  As it turns out, the kids loved it.  First off, it’s dark, lit by candles and about 20 degrees cooler than above ground.  It was built in the 6th century during the Byzantine Empire to supply water to the palace complex nearby.  In fact, the water level is not very deep these days, but it is deep enough to house many fish which swim around and add to the atmosphere and the kids’ happiness.

Blue Mosque

We continued on to the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) which is truly a magnificent sight to behold – up close and throughout the city.  We sat inside the courtyard and took in the beautiful prayer tiles written in Arabic calligraphy, the stained glass, minarets.  Another cool and really helpful thing we noticed were tons of high school aged kids in blue shirts with something like, “can I help you?”, written on them.  We saw them all over the tourist spots and eventually, I asked them what’s up.  As it turns out, they are volunteers for the Istanbul municipality, tasked with helping tourists maneuver the city’s intricacies while receiving school credit and practicing their English.  Such a clever idea, and they really were very helpful.