Did you feel like something was missing from your life last year? Damn right, some of your friends, if you still remember them. Every year a few adventurous Yalies flock to faraway places and come back kind of kooky — but in a cool, worldly way. You ask them how their time abroad was, and they scratch their newly acquired facial hair, mumble something in a strange tongue, and then awkwardly excuse themselves to get a bowl of frozen yogurt. But no worries, scene is on the… well… scene. We caught up with some of these intrepid explorers, and here is what they have to say:
Peter van Agtmael ’03
It’s not easy to take photographs after getting teargassed, nor after vomiting on your camera. (Un)fortunately, I managed to do both while working as a photographer for a newspaper in Chile. On the day before a major protest, my editor called me, his token gringo photographer, to his desk and asked if I wanted to cover the mayhem. The next day — after a restless night of drinking and packing my big, toolish photo vest — I set off for the city center for my big break. The 5,000-person protest started down the main drag calmly enough, with workers chanting for workers’ rights, students chanting for student rights, indigenous peoples chanting for… you get the idea. Then some wise guys had the stunningly logical idea to throw rocks at the riot-gear clad police lining the street. And so the s—-storm began. The police came running with their nightsticks, accompanied by “guanacos” — large, armored trucks with water cannons on top. The guanacos barreled in, spraying lances of water mixed with gas at the protesters. As I photographed a man getting arrested, a guanaco drove up and sprayed the group of protesters surrounding me with gas. I stumbled away, trying to tear out my burning, burning eyes. Tear gas? Ha! More like burn gas! And I slumped into the doorway of a building, where I promptly threw up on one of my cameras, my camera bag, the steps and my dignity. After recovering (which was hastened when I noticed an old lady cringing at me lying in a pile of my own filth), I went and shot the rest of the riot, ultimately having a two-page spread of my photos in the newspaper the next day.
Colleen Kinder ’03
No sooner than my two female travelmates and I were dumped off at an empty bus stop in the heart of the Dominican Republic did a swarm of locals begin to congregate around us. Each curious opportunist was thrilled to inform the salient gringas that there were no more trips to Constanza that day — we would have to stay in their town, eat at their aunt’s cafeteria, and sleep at their son-in-law’s hotel. But we were determined to arrive in Constanza, the country’s lush valley of vegetation, carefully tucked away in the Cordillera mountains where beach-loving tourists never bother to venture. Bargaining in the local tongue earned us no cheap cab rides, so I proposed what seemed to be our only option — hitchhiking. Our helpers shook their heads and lowered cab prices a bit, but it was too late, the plan had already stuck. There was a road that lead to Constanza, and we were going hop on the first moving vehicle that passed through it.
We weren’t expecting to end up lying in the bed of a sweet potato truck, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers when night is just behind the mountains. As the sun fell, we settled into leafy roots and lumpy tubers and rode the truck’s steep ascent into the palm-covered hills. As we drifted away from civilization, our three eager chauffeurs stopped at each “colmado,” or small village store, to sell their goods. “Vendame una rubia!” villagers yelled, when they caught view of alien blond heads ensconced in their daily produce. Sell me a white girl, an American, that rich pale thing that I see only on my television, between power outages. One man hopped onto the truck, proposing marriage to my blue-eyed friend.
Three hours passed as we rode on, winding through views that rendered me fumbling for THE picture that would never capture the majesty whizzing by, blowing exuberantly through my hair, and enveloping me with a growing coolness that signaled our approach to Constanza. We were creeping into the clouds, and discovering the secret, sunbathed mountain peaks that they tucked away from view. A world away from sweltering hotel-lined beaches, I discovered the real jewel of la Republica Dominicana. It was in the air. By the time we reached our destination, the sun was long gone and only a sudden collection of twinkling lights below offered a visual of the hidden valley of Constanza. But the brisk mountain air had met us miles before. Photographing was futile, speaking just as senseless, and so we wrapped our bare arms around recently sunburned shoulders, and breathed in Constanza.
Karen Weise ’03
After long hot days criss-crossing the districts of Azerbaijan, I often crashed on my carpet-covered couch with a cup of cold water in hand. Suddenly, in the distance, I would hear a low, yet distinct, “thump thump. thump thump.” An amorphous shadow would slowly transverse the lacy windows that separated me from the porch of the guesthouse where I was staying. Were I in Jurassic Park, I would know that doom lay ahead with a T-rex around the corner. Yet I was in central Azerbaijan, and it was Lieda, the friendly housekeeper, who reared her head. A smile of anticipation spread across her face as the light twinkled on one of her gold teeth: “Hello Karen. Did you eat yet?”
And so I was greeted every day by Lieda, the half-Russian, half-Azeri who officially claimed me as her child. Lieda was omnipresent at the guesthouse –a luxury afforded to us, expatriate humanitarian aid workers. Our laundry was always neatly folded, our shirts ironed, and a bowl of fruit from the garden sat on the table.
While Lieda was lucky to make $40 a month for this job, the two of us had countless conversations where she told me simply, “My life is hard.” Amidst 110 degree heat and the stress of an ailing mother, Lieda feared her job was slipping away. Lieda reminisced about her Soviet past, where food was constant and a doctor always nearby. So while on any given day I would work with rural communities for equitable living conditions, I would also stare out the window of the car and wonder how Lieda would make it through that day.
Eve Gutman ’03
I had just flown to Munich alone to meet my mother. She was born here, after World War II in a displaced persons camp outside of Munich that had been an SS training camp. On my first day in Germany, we decided to visit Dachau — the first concentration camp set up by the Nazis, in 1933. The walk through Dachau was disturbing, not so much for what was there, but for what was not. They had torn down all but the first two barracks, and you imagined that the German government didn’t really want you to relive the oppressive environment of so many buildings in such a small amount of space.
The cab we was waiting for us at the entrance. In the cab, my mother and I discussed how my grandparents had survived the Holocaust. The driver spoke English quite well, but I hoped he wasn’t listening. He offered to play some music and he put on some Jewish chanting that he had recorded at a synagogue that he attended, despite not being Jewish. He started saying that Germany had lost many of its greatest thinkers and musicians in the Second World War. I began to feel uncomfortable. As we were about to exit his cab, he told us that he was a member of what he called a “religious group,” and handed us a pamphlet. The pamphlet explained his view that the world was going to end, and although he was interested in Judaism it would not lead to our salvation. My mother calmly told him she was happy that something had turned him off drugs (he had been addicted to heroin.) But the exchange reminded me of Martin Luther, who had initially been tolerant of the Jews, and then
became frustrated when they refused to see the light. I still didn’t know what to make of a Germany, that was both so friendly–and so strange.
Ben Schrader ’03
Despite the fact that Yale’s residential college system is based on Oxford’s and Cambridge’s, a number of quirks differentiate the English scheme from its American counterpart. Each college is furnished with its own bar, run by students and offering cheap pints on tap. The trim grass courtyards forbid a frisbee toss: students may only walk on the grass in the spring, and then only if they are playing a game of croquet (no joke). Dining hall hours are abysmal, although the food is surprisingly good (and affordable): dinner runs strictly from 6:00 to 6:45 (although it varies according to college), and servers bus trays from your table after you finish. The plus is that twice a week, for about $5, the college holds formal hall, a full-service dinner usually begun with a Latin prayer that requires attendees to wear traditional black tasseled vests known as commoner’s gowns.
The major difference is stratification, with certain aged Oxbridge colleges disproportionately funded and resourced (academically and otherwise) over the newer, smaller, poorer colleges on campus. And socially, the colleges remain very insular: there is no Old Campus to draw a class together, and it is only possible to eat at another college’s dining hall if accompanied by a member of that college. For me it will remain Bizarro Yale, or perhaps Yale is really Bizarro Oxford…
Emma Ashburn ’03
Today is Easter, and I woke up homesick. But then I went to my new friend Sun Jie’s house for her birthday lunch, and her family taught me the phrase, “Chi bao le, bu xiang jia.” If you’re full, you won’t be homesick. First we ate french fries, with real packets of ketchup, because I’m American and so I love french fries best of all. Since sea slugs are a rare, expensive delicacy, I couldn’t refuse the whole dish of brown mollusks that taste like chewing on your lip. The sea worms were chewy pink chopped up slices with scallions, but once I got past that there were blackened spare ribs and clams that were like sucking little jewels out of their shells. We ate crab claws and shrimp with roe that was so sweet. And then salty sauced noodles and glazed chicken wings and fish… and since I was special guest of honor, I got to eat the firm baby fish from the belly. Christ has risen. Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.
Marc Holden ’03
Western Europe, Central Europe and Morocco
With the full moon over the Charles Bridge you could see just where they had filmed the opening scene of “Mission: Impossible.” It was early April, and the streets were empty, leaving our group alone in the cobblestone streets of Prague, the spires rising up into the sky and the music from the clubs barely breaking the silence of the night. All told there were seven of us: me, two Irish guys on a one-year “career break,” an Aussie bouncer named “H” who stood 7 feet 2 inches tall at 250 pound, a 20-year-old Norwegian who, after publishing his first book of poetry, was traveling for inspiration, and two Spaniards out for a weekend of disturbing the peace. We ended when the sun came up after countless jazz and dance clubs, 18 crown (50 cent) beers, and more language snafus than we’ll ever remember. We were a motley crew formed by chance, travelers all and brought together by a cheap hostel in the center of town, and I’ll likely never randomly find a more unlikely group of such quality folk.
Drew Baldwin ’03
I met some Austrian high school girls who only had a few nights in Florence for a school project, and there was a Japanese girl there too, who was one of their new friends. So I made a joke in Japanese, slid into the conversation. It was time for me to leave, so I asked the Japanese girl, how do you say “goodbye” in Japanese? She told me and as I was turning to leave, this Austrian girl grabbed my hand and said in a husky German accent, “and this is how we say goodbye in Austria,” grabbed my hair, and shoved her tongue down my throat. And I thought Sacher Torte was the only Austria I would taste!
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