It’s 9am and a woman wearing an apron is leaning over me yelling in Thai, waking me up from a nap with an urgency no alarm clock could match. I’m panicked, not sure for a moment where I am, or what I did wrong, or maybe if I’m covered in spiders (millions of spiders?!) until I notice she’s hawking food — a tray of a dozen small, folded banana leaf bowls full of shrimp, fried noodles, and a few indiscernible vegetables — and I’m not about to die. There are zero spiders.

“Mai,” I manage to grunt as I squint my eyes in the morning sun, one of the few Thai words I have on the tip of my tongue. No thank you, my eyes say. And also, maybe don’t wake up a belleagured traveler by yelling in his face next time if you want him to buy your stuff? I collect my bearings.

The train is stopped in Nong Pladuk Junction. Steamy air fills the rail car. Nong Pladuk is the starting station of the infamous Thai-Burma railway, more commonly known as “Death Railway.” It stretches from here to Nanchanaburi, the town a few hours down the road from which I am returning to Bangkok. Nearly one-hundred thousand prisoners of war and forced laborers had their lives forfeited to the construction of the Thai-Burma back in the 1940s. It’s a dark place to wake up to on a sunny Monday morning. It plucks at the melancholy I’m feeling in my heart.Keep Reading

We pile our bags on a little side street in downtown Bangkok. It’s 8pm, the city’s lights are waking up, and busses fill the street. A double-decker bus drives by, inside on the top level a man is singing karaoke to the rest of the travelers. We’re waiting for bus #3, our nine-hour overnight ride to Chiang Mai, a rural town in northern Thailand.

We can’t find our bus.

Mike and I are sitting on the stoop of a closed shop, the dozen pieces of luggage and gear scattered around us. We are drinking a beer and appreciating the calamity of the moment: unsure of where we’ll be in the moments that come, what it will feel like, and how we will be getting there. It’s one of the best things about traveling — the constant uncertainty, the focus on the moment, the near-to-nothing being granted — if you can learn to appreciate it. Admittedly, it’s an acquired taste. It’s my coffee. It’s my wine.

After some confusion and stress, we learn our bus has already arrived. It’s been waiting for us.

We don’t know what to expect inside. The conditions of the bus, the seats, the air, the noise. We’re hoping to sleep, but first we’re hoping the seat recline functions. I can’t help but think back to the bus I rode from Cairo into the middle of the White Desert (the half-day of one-hundred degree sun, the broken air conditioning, the overcramped seating, the failing engine).

We pile into the bus and find that we have a private room in the front half of the lower level. Eight seats all to ourselves. I wouldn’t have hoped for anything better. The seats recline. It does get better. And there’s air conditioning. I could die happy on this bus.

The bus jerks into gear. A strange smell sweeps through our cabin. We might die on this bus.Keep Reading

I’m excited for Thailand. I’ve heard so many amazing things.

I’ve spoken with people who have immersed themselves in the culture, and had opportunities to reflect on things that were previously invisible in their lives. I know a couple people who have gone and never returned. That says a lot about a place.

I’ve talked with activists who are doing tremendous things in the worlds of gender liberation, sex worker advocacy, and social justice education. I’ve learned so much from them already, from afar, from email.Keep Reading

I arrived in Dahab in the middle of the night, the Red Sea choppy with a half-moon floating above in its own sea of stars. Even at 2am, I could see the silhouette of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia set against the constellations.

I stood on the walking bridge near my hostel for more than a few minutes, watching the small waves lap the shore, listening to the gentle sounds, breathing the salty fresh air. A person walked by me on the bridge, “Perfect night,” he said with an accent I couldn’t place.

“Perfect night,” I replied.Keep Reading

I’m on a bus heading from Cairo to a town in the White Desert. From there we will hop in a 4×4 with a Bedouin man who will guide us further. I’m part of a small party consisting of a German by way of Lebanon, a Canadian by way of Jordan, and an Iranian (-American) by way of Israel.

The bus is massive but largely empty. The seats are comfortable and recline. Both were unexpected, but super appreciated. There’s one mosquito flying around that no one seems to be able to kill. We just hit a parked car while backing out of our spot, but of course we did. We’re heading out on a six-hour journey to the middle of the Sahara.

As the bus slows in the first town, reacting to traffic, a small boy hops on and starts dropping rolls of mints in everybody’s laps as he walks down the aisle. Then he returns to the front and tells each person, “Pay me,” in Arabic. That’s one way to sell a mint.

I wake up several hours in at a building that I have a hard time believing exists. It’s a small, but bustling restaurant, miles away from any civilization with nothing but stretcing sands in between. As the bus is refueling, we step inside to grab some water and stretch our legs. The place is full of people, all stopping in the middle of some journey to somewhere, eating and drinking. Outside, the desert crawls to the horizon in all directions.

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I wake up again and we’re near the end of the road. A small town where we’ll meet Abdul, our Bedouin guide, who will be driving us deeper into nowhere. A full day’s worth of travel and the adventure is just getting started.
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I’m writing this from the back seat of cab heading from downtown Cairo to Zamalek.  My driver just smashed a side view mirror off another cab. This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this. In fact, my record so far in one cab ride is three accidents. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The traffic in Cairo is a truly amazing site. It’s either a complete jam, or wide open. I’ve yet to experience anything in between, nor to learn how to anticipate which it will be. I’m already 20 minutes late for a lunch meeting (sorry, Farida!), but I’ve been assured that by “Egyptian time” standards I’m quite alright. I initially thought the lack of promptness here was an artifact of the generally laid-back culture, now I see it as more of a psychological survival tactic.

Traffic. Is. Chaos.

Last night I was told that fatalities by car here are in the top per capita worldwide (Number one! Number one! Number one!). I haven’t fact-checked this, nor do I plan on it, but I have little doubt in my mind that it is true. Here are a few reasons why that might be:Keep Reading

I arrive in the airport in Cairo at 2am on Thursday. I’ve been traveling since 9am Tuesday. Three hours to Houston, ten or so to Amsterdam, layover for the day there (Pancakes! Walking the canals! Coffee shops!), then a four hour flight to Cairo.

Leaving the airport, I get hailed into a cab that I thought was occupied. In the front two seats are the driver, his wife, and two children. In the back seat is a third child. The kids all have paint on their faces, red and black for the boy, red and white for the two little girls.

“Do you speak English?” I ask. I try in Arabic. “Bititkallim ingileezi?”

“Yes, yes. Taxi? Get in.”

“I’m going to Dina’s Hostel. Know it?”

“Yes, yes, hotel. Get in. Welcome.”

Then we start driving. We’re flying through what little traffic there is. To the right there is a moped that has three men riding on it. I’m impressed. To the left there’s another moped with three men riding and one is holding a suitcase. Now I’m disappointed in the first moped.Keep Reading

For the past several years I’ve been social justice comeding. And I’ve been going H.A.M. I’ve made a bunch of different things. And more. And I haven’t taken a day off.

Well, the time has come.

I’m the perfect combination of completely excited, completely exhausted, thrilled, depleted, optimistic, and completely-lost-hope-in-humanity-because-of-Buzzfeed for a change of pace. I need a refresher. A break. A time to breathe. A time away from this god-forsaken laptop (kidding, I love my laptop). But I am going to abandon it for a month.Keep Reading