I’m not a very politically active person. I have never voted in my entire life. Politics is just too big of a commitment for me; I will state my educated views, but that’s about it. Yet, if there is an opportunity for me to extend my civic duty that doesn’t require too much effort on my part, sure, I’ll play the patriot.
Proposition 8 was a hot button issue in South Carolina the fall of 2007. Charleston is one of the more liberal cities in the state, and the university-town atmosphere fueled a debate of “to vote or not to vote” for this issue. I was a member of the Gay-Straight Alliance at the time – my coworker was the moderator, my best friend had just come out to me. It just felt like the right group to join.
Members of the GSA were getting ready to canvas the city, pass out buttons, fliers, etc. One of the things they provided as a passive aggressive approach to gaining voter approval was a plastic sign you could pitch on your front lawn or place in your window. I picked one up for my apartment. There. I did my part.
Walking home from the meeting, sign clenched within my armpit, I passed a familiar College of Charleston character. He was of the hippie persuasion, had an odd name – like Allister or Timothy, or something. He was one of those people that you see around campus and can recognize, mostly because he doesn’t fit in with the majority of WASPy attendants CofC is known for.
Charlemagne, or whatever his name was, had wiry brown hair and an extensive beard set into a ponytail with an elastic hair tie. He wore a stained brown shirt, green cargo pants, and Birkenstocks. He called out to me.
“Hey,” he began. “Where do you think you’re going with that sign?”
I was puzzled. I had actually just assumed that Patricio was a hippie and upheld liberal values. Was he a secret conservative in disguise? I became defensive.
“I’m taking it back to my house,” I bluntly replied. If he was going to start shit with me for befriending gays, this was going to get ugly.
“And what do you plan on doing with it?” his words were like a lawyer’s – threatening, gruff and intimidating.
“I’m going to put it on my front lawn so that people can read the message!” I shot back. I could feel the color rising in my cheeks. My heart beat at a rapid pace. If this Jet was hunting for a battle of cultural sensitivities, he was rumbling with the wrong Shark.
Ulysses was taken aback, as though someone had pushed or startled him. I braced myself for the cat-call.
Caught unawares, he simply replied, “Oh.”
“Well that’s great then,” he threw a fist into the air. “Thanks for spreading the word!”
My blood pressure slowed, and I smiled at him. “No problem,” and we carried on, walking in opposite directions.
Lancelot had judged me because I wore a polo shirt with Bermuda shorts and looked like the conservative sorori-whores that shared the same block as me. He wouldn’t put it past those types to dispose of such a sign promoting values they did not share. He was just keeping trying to keep the peace.
What Hugo – actually, I think that may have been his name, Hugo – what Hugo apparently did not remember was that three years prior, I had seen him naked. He was a nude model for one of my studio art classes. But I suppose he didn’t recognize me without my charcoals.
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland.
I didn’t know what to really expect during my week-long trip to Edinburgh. Apparently I’m Scotch-Irish, but the only real things I knew about Scotland were Loch Ness (I used to be obsessed with the unsolved mystery as a child) and that Mike Myers can do a mean Scottish accent. And that apparently haggis is some kind of food boiled in a sheep’s stomach. But that was it.
Edinburgh is one of my favorite places now. It’s totally unique, in people, places, and things – a nice, refreshing break from the sometimes stodgy culture of London, which was starting to wear me down. On our first day we were met with nothing but lovely Scottish hospitality though. During some free time, my friend Maggie met some Scottish musicians. They had a guitar and some bongos out at a local restaurant and they even made up a song for her. And these guys were also smokin’ hot Everything was just so different from what we knew back in London. It was great.
We lived in the United Kingdom during the heat wave of 2006, so everywhere we went in Edinburgh was sunny and warm. Since it was farther north than London, the days were tepid, and not unbearably hot, especially at night time. I climbed up to Arthur’s Seat and got a fantastic, clear view of the city. All of the castles we visited were also lovely to see in the sun and warmth. “This is very unusual for us,” our Scottish friends admitted. “It’s almost sort of weird really. You need to come back to Scotland when it’s foggy and rainy, that’s how it really is.”
Edinburgh is where we got my best friend, Lindsey, drunk for the first time. The Bank Hotel was hosting karaoke and for every song you sang, you got a free drink. Sure, it was only an Archer’s lemonade, but it was enough to get her wasted, and we all had fun. Now she’s the best drinking partner I have!
Dachau is a former concentration camp located outside of Munich, Germany.
In Krakow, I’d opted out of visiting Auschwitz based on the recommendation of a friend. “It’s become more of a tourist attraction than a substantial historic site,” she told me. “They sort of rush you through the grounds, don’t let you process the feel of the place. You’re welcome to go of course, but I know places like Terezín, or Dachau, might provide what you’re looking for.
What I was looking for, was to feel something. Sympathy. Distress. I wanted to be affected by where I was. We were in Krakow for such a short amount of time, I decided to leave Auschwitz for another time – Krakow is a wonderful city, and I know I’ll be back soon enough. But when we headed to Munich, and passed by German road signs indicating to the place, I took a leap.
“Do you ever bring groups to Dachau?” I asked Peter. “You know, as a side trip?”
He thought a moment. “Generally, no. It’s too depressing, really. You have to have the right group really, and there’s never enough time.”
I nodded. I don’t really know what I expected – for Peter to take the entire coach and go to this “put stop” just for me. I guess I figured other people would be interested too. But he was right, it was getting late and we had the Hofbräuhaus to look forward to. I went back to my seat, and closed my eyes.
When I woke up, we were definitely not in Munich. Peter made an announcement – we were taking a short break to see a historic site of significance. He talked a little about the Holocaust, what happened, and where we were going. And then, the bus dropped us off at Dachau Concentration Camp.
The site is sobering, for sure. We were the last visitors of the day, so we had the entire grounds to ourselves. There isn’t much – a smattering of original barracks, a museum, the open courtyard, a park dedicated to the dead – but it’s enough to send chills down your spine. In the museum, I learned about prisoners from all across Central Europe. It was nightfall by the time we left, and the grounds were eerily quiet.
The ghosts of those people who suffered terrible crimes were slowly floating about; I could feel them.
Charleston is a city on the southeastern coast of South Carolina.
I am a College of Charleston alumni. Applying to college was difficult for me; of course, all I wanted to do was travel the world, but my parents wouldn’t have any of that. All of my friends were getting into Ivy League schools I could neither afford nor accept rejection from, so I decided to find somewhere far away from my home as an escape. I figured, “If I have to go to college, at least make it somewhere warm, and beautiful.”
The Charlestonian way of life is laid-back, and thrives on creativity. The campus is in the heart of the city, meaning that once classes were over, I could visit a museum, shop at the open-air markets, bike down to the Battery gardens and watch dolphins dip up and down where the Cooper and Ashley Rivers met. Charleston also has an eclectic dining scene with unique restaurants you won’t find anywhere else, so my foodie desires were very much fulfilled. Living in Charleston was the best decision I ever made.
There was always something going on in Charleston, and I was never bored. But if I couldn’t find any cultural things to do, there were always the house parties. There is an ordinance in Charleston that preserves the historic beauty of the city – you can alter the inside of a house all you want, but the outside must remain preserved in its original state. So everyone in Charleston lives in a historic house from the 1800s, filled with character and charm. People like to have a good time in Charleston, and the historic setting only enhances that aspect (especially the houses rumored to be haunted…)
I’ve never heard anyone say a bad thing about Charleston. If you haven’t already visited, do add it to your bucket list, or contact me for some great tips! You won’t be disappointed.
Accra is the capital of the West African country, Ghana.
My volunteer group flew into Accra on June 16; almost 24 hours total flying time, and a roller-coaster ride landing. We arrived in the dead of night and had to use our torches to lead us around. The next day, we ate jollof rice and plantains at the University of Accra, sleeping amongst spiders and non-working toilets in their dormitories.
The second time I went to Accra was about four weeks into our volunteer experience. It was a long-weekend stay, and we explored the art markets, the local restaurants. We stocked up on Western groceries to take back with us – Pepsi, Snickers bars, cheese, powdered milk. I thought I’d been ripped off on a sale at a local market, I paid more money for an ebony wood statue than I should have. I remember crying in the back of the tro-tro because I’m usually sensible when it comes to spending.
The last time I traveled to Accra was at the end of August. My group had traveled around the shoreline of Ghana, visiting Cape Coast, Elmira and Takoradi. We spent time on the beach and ate luxurious meals at Big Millie’s campground. There were white pineapples to be eaten every day. I remember being worried because I’d have six days between returning to the United States and going back to college. I had no time to detox, no time to process my reverse culture-shock.
I would like to go back some day, and see what it’s like to really live in Ghana’s capital city.