What I Know For Sure

quote-i-havent-been-everywhereEach month, Oprah writes a column titled “What I Know For Sure” for her O Magazine.  After recent events, I am inspired to write my own article on “What I Know For Sure” about travel.  For me, travel is all about “The Travelling Be’s”…

Be Flexible
Travelling is like gambling…sometimes you win, other times you crap out. I would love to say ‘always bet on black’ but you might get caught in a blackout and I can’t have that on my conscience 🙂  Not every trip will go as planned…and that is the beauty of travel.  The adventure you experience along the way.  You may have a bad experience or 2, but hopefully the good travel memories blot out the bad.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Remember this…you are somewhere AMAZING (hopefully…sorry if you aren’t…that does suck for you…and if that is the case, get a ticket and go somewhere amazing, k?)!

Be Kind
You’d be amazed how far a smile & great attitude will take you.  It will open doors to experiences you wouldn’t otherwise be privy to. People are more inclined to go that extra mile for folks who are kind & really embrace experiencing their culture.  Travel is stressful but don’t let the small stuff ruin what could be a fabulous vacation.  Delayed?  Strike up a conversation with a fellow traveler…you never know what tips you can learn!  Going on a tour?  Take the time to get to know your tour guide. My guide in Fez took me under his wing and had his wife & sister-in-law take me for a memorable hammam experience!

20121227-145616.jpgBe Informed
I research…then research some more on each destination I travel to.  I recently learned the hard way about going somewhere unprepared.  You don’t want to miss out on seeing/experiencing something amazing!  But you also want to make sure you are safe.  A small investment in a guidebook (I love Rick Steves…followed by Lonely Planet) makes all the difference.  Also, I’ve gained LOADS of tips from fellow travel bloggers which has enriched my own travel experience!  Don’t just rely on guidebooks though…search the web. I highly suggest keyword searches on “sexual harassment + name of the city you are visiting”, etc.  Guidebooks are meant to entice you to a particular city/country.  Try to gather information from various sources to make a well-informed decision on your next travel destination.

Be Patient
Lord knows I struggle with this.  Flight delays, long lines at museums, cranky people…the list can go on and on.  There isn’t much you can do about delays.  I travel with my Kindle, iPad and camera to keep me entertained during unexpected downtime.

Be Open-Minded
Remember you are a guest in someone else’s country/state/city.  Their ways may not be your ways.  Open your mind, forget the stereotypes and embrace the journey you are about to take!  Try new foods, check an activity off your bucket list…get to know the locals.  Beautiful memories of a trip create a travel scrapbook for your soul.

Maya Angelou

Be Relaxed
The purpose of a vacation is to “vacate”. I am guilty of constantly checking my iPhone for work messages while I’m on vacation…then end up spending precious moments in a fabulous locale troubleshooting drama back home. Which defeats the purpose of the trip.  I am also guilty of scheduling a lot of tours/activities because I want to experience everything. What I know now is to choose my top 3 activities and spread them out.  Balance sightseeing with doing absolutely nothing but relaxing.  Relax, Release, Rest.

So…what do I know for sure?  Travel is unpredictable, addictive, educational and magnificent.  Yeah, you can have a bad experience but I like to treat them to the Harry Potter effect.  If I’ve gone someplace that was awful, I don’t even speak its name…it is now known as The Country/City/Place That Shall Not Be Named.  Think of it as a lesson you learned to make your future trips better.  If you aren’t travelling, then start.  There is a whole world waiting for you!  Remember “The Travelling Be’s” and start your adventure.  Happy travels!

The Life of a Nomad

The life of a nomad isn’t an easy one. Sweltering heat, freezing cold, scorpions and snakes…these are just a few things to worry about living in the desert.  I had the pleasure of meeting a nomad family during my visit to the Sahara.  My first reaction was one of sympathy…but by the time I left, I felt humbled.

Nomad camp

In order to get around in the Sahara, you have to either walk, ride a camel or drive a 4×4.  As we were on our way to our own camp, we were invited to visit with an interesting nomad family.  Luckily we had our fabulous guide, Tata, to translate and inform of us traditional customs.

I was told that there are 9 people who make up the nomad family I spent time with (a mix of men, women and children).  What immediately struck me were the “structures” that were built for cooking, showering and shelter.  I assumed that nomads were constantly moving from place to place with no sense of permanency.  However, I found out that these nomads usually stay in a place for 3-4 months before moving on. The catalyst for the move is usually the fact that the food source (grass, etc) has dried up for the camels & animals they raise.

The Sahara covers 3.5 MILLION MILES.  And while the popular thought is that deserts are dry & barren, the Sahara has pockets of areas that are abundant with food and water sources.  However, these sources aren’t unlimited which is why nomads have to move on in search for new sources.  They do tend to come back to the structures they built before…after enough time has passed so that grass has been able to grow again.  Kind of like these settlements are their 2nd, 3rd and 4th homes.

sleeping quarters

The ladies allowed me to spend time investigating their housing structures and asking questions.  I noticed that there were 3 separate sleeping quarters.  One area was completely covered on all sides to protect them from rain and harsher elements, while the second was more open to allow for air during the hot, dry months.  The third seemed to be a combination of the two…walled but open ceiling.  I also noticed that there were a lot of toys…big wheels, bikes, dolls, Transformers, etc.  The kids had plenty to entertain them.  I don’t know what the adults do…there is no television.  And they don’t seem to understand how much their life is lacking because they can’t watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

While these women did not have a lot of “wealth”, they were so gracious to offer us mint tea.  Which seems to be typical of Moroccans.  They may not have a lot of material things, but they are the most hospitable people I’ve met.  You can count on being asked to stay for tea and cookies.

Since our guide knew this family, the ladies were open to answering my questions.  And I had a lot.  Below are some highlights.


Q.  Why do you opt to live in the desert moving from place to place?  Why not living in a city with a more permanent home?

A.  This is what we know.  We grew up as nomads and find the desert to be peaceful.  Cities are too chaotic and noisy.  Too many people and sounds.  We like the solitude of the Sahara and not having to constantly see other people.

Q.  How do you get food & water to feed your family?

A.  We dig wells to get water.  Once a month, our family will drive into Merzouga [the city right outside the Sahara] and get supplies.  Mostly grains to make couscous and vegetables.  We are also able to find food here in the desert which we will catch or gather.

Q.  How do you get to Merzouga?  Do you have a car?

A.  Sometimes we are able to borrow a car from another family.  Other times we use our camels to get us to the edge of the Sahara then ask for a ride into town.

Q.  How do you earn money to buy supplies?

A.  The men offer the camels to tourists for rides thru the desert.  The women and children sell trinkets.  Usually small toy camels or dolls that we make from scraps of cloth we are able to find.

During this time, a little boy around the age of 2 has started crying.  His mother tells the guide that she is worried that something is wrong with his legs as he has refused to walk all day.  We take a look to make sure there is no swelling, redness or tenderness.  Then, the guide says that he will escort them to the hospital to have the boy examined.  But, the mother says that she cannot leave without permission of her husband.  She pulls out a cellphone (I know…who knew they had those?  And the next question I wanted to ask was where she charged it since they had no electricity?) and tries to get in contact with her husband to no avail.

As we end our visit, our guide gives the mother his number with the instruction to call him once her husband came back so they could take her son to the hospital.  He even offered to pay the medical bills. 

The next morning, while hiking thru the sand dunes, I am stopped by 3 little girls.  They told me they were 8 and 9 years old.  When I asked if they went to school, only one said yes.  She lives in Merzouga with her mother but comes to the Sahara during the weekends to visit with her father.  During the time I’m asking questions, they have spread out their trinkets to sell.  While I didn’t buy anything, I did give them some money so that I could take their picture.

3 nomad girls

I grew up with plenty of advantages…and the expectation that not only would I graduate from high school, but I would graduate from college as well.  So, it was mind-boggling to meet children who don’t go to school.  While it is hard for me to grasp living without electricity (I mean, I get the shakes when my iPhone dies and I don’t have a way to charge it for a couple of hours), there is a certain tranquility in being able to unplug from the world and just enjoy the solitude.  No emails or text messages to answer.  No demands.  No stress.  No noise (not even crickets…it is dead quiet).  Just stars lighting up the sky.

While some children grow up and leave the nomad life, others are content to raise animals and move from place to place following in the footsteps of their forefathers.  It’s an interesting life…one that I know I’m not strong enough to live, but I am smart enough to respect.  If you ever have the chance to visit the Sahara (and I strongly suggest you do…it is unbelievable), please take time out to visit with a nomad family (but definitely go with a guide…don’t just show up saying, “Hi, got some mint tea?”).  The next time I visit, I plan to take them supplies (grains, vegetables, toys for the kids, blankets, etc.).  If you can, I recommend you do the same.  As Oprah says, “pay it forward.”  The great thing about that?  You can pay it forward anywhere in the world.

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Doggie Daycare…An Elite Black Ops Training Facility

Don’t let the sweet face fool you!

I have become obsessed with watching my dog, Riley, on the webcam at doggie daycare. I know, I know…I need to get a life. But, it’s just so freaking cute. After a couple of days, I started to notice that the dogs seemed to have their own little “culture”. And, as I was bored, I just created a story of what I think is going on at Barking Hound Village Doggie Daycare.

Riley is working as part of the Secret Service security team. Apparently, someone noticed that he has exceptional guarding abilities and that he is able to detect unsavory characters from a minimum of 20 feet away!!! He was originally recruited for the job of “First Dog” but felt that there was no future in that position. It’s all photo-ops. However, he did agree to allow Sasha and Malia to pet him each day for a couple of hours. He is so selfless. Riley talked about it when he was a guest on Oprah’s Next Chapter. Below is a transcript:

Oprah: Welcome to the show, Riley!

Riley: Oprah, please call me Mr. Pitts, okay? We don’t know each other like that.

Oprah: Sorry, Mr. Pitts. You know, I had a dog that looked just like you. Her name was Sophie.

Riley: Are you calling me a girl? Oh, so now all Cocker Spaniels look alike? Have you learned nothing from Obama? America is “supposed” to be post-racial now!

Oprah: You are right. It was a slip. Rush Limbaugh is rubbing off on me.

Riley: No probs, O.

Oprah: Don’t get overly familiar, Mr. Pitts. Remember what happened to James Frey. So, tell me about your exciting new position in the Obama-Biden administration!

Riley: Well, basically, I am in charge of canine security detail for Obama. I coordinate all the dogs that work for the Secret Service. I’ve been training them at our training facility known under the code name “Barking Hound Village”. Most people think it’s a doggie daycare…that’s how we fool them. They never know what goes on during nap time. That’s when we run black ops simulations. Anything can happen, Oprah. Constant vigilance!!!!

Oprah: Wow, that is amazing. How were you recruited?

Riley: I was running a rogue operation a few years ago and was betrayed by this Shih Tzu (you can’t trust anything that fluffy. Yeah, they look cute but those suckers are as cunning as they come!). The Shih Tzu, Mr. Giggles, sold me out for a bag of treats and a new titanium collar (he’s worse than Diddy when it comes to wearing bling). Next thing I know, I have been picked up by some outfit known as Cocker Rescue with my picture placed on their website. Major breach of security. Anybody could’ve seen me. I mean, you didn’t see Jack Bauer’s picture on a website! Anyway, I got adopted by this nice lady. My new “mama” took me to obedience school which was a joke. I can’t be brainwashed, okay? Ask her about it. She knows that I still pee in the living room just to show her that nobody rules me. Understand?

Oprah: Totally. Then what happened?

Riley: Well, after I was able to convince my mama that I needed “socialization” with other dogs, I started recruiting at this doggie daycare and within a couple of months, started a new organization. With the doggie daycare as a front, nobody would suspect that we were a group of elite fighters who rooted out terrorist dogs throughout the world. However, as with any organization, you always have someone go rogue. I call it “The Mr. Giggles Effect”. We had a Doberman named Targa go bad. It was unfortunate but he had to be eliminated after he slighted me in front of my minions. You don’t disrespect me. I didn’t earn the name, “The Punisher”, for selling cupcakes to the kids. Turns out that Targa was a double agent, working for an outfit by the name of “Paws for Dogs”. I had been trying to infiltrate them for months to get to the brains behind the outfit. Someone who we only know under the pseudonym of “Doggilicious”. The only intel we had is that he hangs out with Snoop Dogg a lot. Anyway, our first break came when Killa Mike (he’s one of Michael Vick’s old fighting dogs…a real find) heard Targa humming “Gin and Juice”. No self-respecting dog hums a Snoop Dogg song. That’s played out. After cornering Targa, we broke him using a new torture tactic called “Operation Solid” which is basically making him listen to an endless loop of Ashford and Simpson’s song “Solid” for hours until he begs for mercy. He can’t even stop himself from cowering when someone comes up and screams “Solid as a Rock!” We broke him and found out the pertinent information, shut down the terrorist group and received a special commendation. That’s how Obama heard of us. He told me that he needs someone who doesn’t trust anybody. Do you think I let someone roll up on my mama’s car? Hecks no! You better stay 50 feet away! If I hear kids walking down the street talking loud…IT IS ON! I DON’T PLAY ANY GAMES!

Oprah: Wow, I think I could really use some security like that.

Riley: Call my assistant, Miss Stinkpot, and she’ll set you up.

Oprah: So, are you still recruiting?

Riley: Yeah, but it’s difficult. I tried to recruit my Granny’s dog, Payton, but he refused to come out of retirement unless he was given an astronomical amount of treats. I asked him if he had read the Huffington Post which reported that employment was down. Then, my cousin Cody sent me his resume. Sigh. Apparently, he labels himself as “The Assassin” and had pictures of all the chew toys he had destroyed. This was supposed to be evidence that he has the guts for this grueling job. I decided to give him a chance. Unfortunately, when we were on a stakeout, someone’s car alarm went off and he peed in the car and hid under the seat. He’s been reassigned to an office position. Well, thanks for having me on but I gots to run. The O man needs me. Oh, be on the lookout for my new book, “It’s Hard Being Me”. It’s out in stores this summer.