Category Archives: traveling

follow the wandering muse

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During my longer-than-planned break from this blog, I’ve been insanely busy with my writing as well as the starting of a business I hope to have for the rest of my life.  

My new project is called “Follow the Wandering Muse” and you can see the website HERE.  It’s a blog filled with writing prompts, adventure prompts, writing tips and travel tips, and the promise of much more to come.  It’s for writers who travel, which is different than travel writers (people who write about traveling while doing it).  

I realized recently that I needed to somehow combine my passion for travel with my passion for writing.  And I checked online, I looked everywhere, and I couldn’t find any website designated to writers that happen to travel, or use travel as a way to inspire their writing.  Everything was for travel writing itself, or just writing, or just traveling.  If anyone does find something similar to my new blog, please feel free to let me know, as I always want to be aware of sister sites to be sure I can keep my own content fresh and unique (like my post about writing from the point of view of a monkey🙂  

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So, right now, before you do anything else, go and check out my new site!   And get ready for workshops, writing retreats, a book of writing prompts for writers who travel, an Etsy store where I plan to sell things I sew (like great shoulder bags and belt bags for writers who travel and want to stay minimalist), and someday I’d like to have retreats on a Wharram catamaran as well as a “follow the wandering muse” tiny house on wheels that I can rent out to solo writers looking for a tiny house retreat in various locations.  

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Big dreams here, but I’m used to having big dreams (and usually making them come true)!  Wish me luck.  And before you go, try this simple prompt to get yourself writing:  

Open your door.  

Step outside.  

Walk until you find something you love.  

Sit down.  

Write.

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Minimalist Backpacking with a Toddler in SE Asia: the Extras

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Blogging from Thailand proved to be outside of my range of abilities (this time!).  Honestly, I was too busy walking around Krabi town, spending time with new friends, meeting Deaf Thais, getting sick in Bali, getting tattoos, and amusing my 2-year-old with subsequent treks to an intersection of stone elephants, a park filled with animal sculptures, and long tail boat rides to some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen.

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In the coming weeks, I plan to write more posts about the experiences we have had, but first I’d like to write a much belated continuation of my previous post about budgeting a trip to SE Asia with a toddler.  And the good thing about me writing this after our trip is that I can speak from everything we experienced throughout the entire 10-week-long journey.  


With any trip to the other side of the world, there are always extra expenses you do not foresee ahead of time when planning.  The easiest way to deal with this is to either have a lot of extra cash or credit cards with a few thousand dollars on them for emergencies.  I cannot stress this enough.  

When I traveled to India in my twenties, twice I changed my return flights and instead of being able to just change the flights, I had to buy new tickets and throw away my old ones.  That taught me to be prepared for something similar happening during any trip I take.  Traveling as a trio when you have a toddler old enough for his own plane ticket definitely adds to the necessity of enough funds at your disposal to fly straight home if something horrible happens.  Thankfully, we only had to throw away a couple hundred dollars worth of Air Asia flights, and purchase about $500 worth of new Air Asia flights during our trip.  

That wasn’t the only “extra” we faced though.  


So many extra expenses pop up while traveling, from boat rides you don’t plan but don’t wish to miss out on, to a lucky week at a gorgeous resort because you made a new friend, to a safer ride in a car with a child seat verses a public bus with no seat belts, to a suitcase you decide to buy at the end to hold the beautiful brass wok you found in Krabi town and all the wonderful fabrics and clothes you couldn’t resist buying from the markets.  

We completely went over budget with this trip, but I don’t regret anything.  And I know better now to plan for the “extras” as carefully as I planned for the essentials.  


One thing I learned from our fiasco with the Air Asia flights is: don’t buy them too far ahead of time (I mean before you arrive in SE Asia), especially if you have a toddler.  Anything can happen to change your plans, from volcanoes erupting to just feeling too tired and sick to venture to a new and unfamiliar country.  You might miss out on a random $10 USD ticket from Malaysia to Cambodia, but if you wait and buy the flights exactly when you are sure you want to take them, you’ll get to do exactly what you want and you’ll get that extra spontaneity that is so essential to traveling like this.  


For those of you who love numbers, I’d recommend an extra $1,000 USD for every 4 weeks you spend in SE Asia – just for those precious extras that you might never find nor get the chance to experience again.  Of course, you can decide to be content with the shells and corals you find on the beaches, but sometimes, taking that one extra long tail boat ride to a beach with caves and burning your bare feet on the docks because you forgot you might need shoes is worth every extra baht. 

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Minimalist Backpacking with a Toddler in SE Asia: the Budget

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I’m currently in Thailand with my 2-year-old and partner, Rob.  We came here half for me to do more extensive research for the YA science fiction trilogy I am currently writing that is set in this area, and half for Rob to research Thai cooking and woodworking.  I also want to expose my child to as many other cultures as possible throughout his life, so that his understanding of the world is built upon his experiences rather than from words on paper that he reads from the inside of a classroom.  Books are amazing, but seeing things firsthand is something you just can’t replicate on the page.

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This first post from Thailand is more of a logistical one than one of reflection because I’ve decided to keep track of our expenses for other people out there who are like me.  Before going somewhere, I always wonder things like – how much does it really cost if you only eat street food or if you try and find the cheapest guesthouses?  How much is a good budget for extra stuff, like fisherman pants or a brass wok?

 

Today is day 8 for us in Thailand, and from spending a few days each in Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, I’m ready to give a small breakdown of costs:

 

THE ESSENTIALS

 

Food and water – if you stick to street food (which, honestly, is the most authentic experience, the food is fresher, and it tastes amazing), two people and a toddler can eat three meals a day and spend only about $10 USD.  Water depends on where/if you buy it.  We planned to buy it from stores until we came here and found a bunch of water booths on the side of the roads (see below) that boast fresh water through reverse osmosis and you can fill up a 1 gallon bottle at one of these for only 3-5 Bhats (10-15 US cents)!  

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Otherwise water runs at a cost of about 50 US cents per litre when bought by the litre (or $1 USD for a gallon).

 

Guesthouses – again, this is all a matter of preference, but we are fine with shared bathrooms and the possibility of only cold showers, which you can find for around $10 USD per night here (in Bangkok, however, a room with just a double bed that you share with your toddler can set you back between $12-15 USD per night).

 

So, without moving between cities much or doing tours or filling your hiker backpack with scarves and jewelry and small elephant statues, this comes down to about $20-25 a day.  (I’ll write more about the stuff you can buy here in another post.)

 

We commuted between the cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai by train.  The second class sleeper trains (non A/C means you have open windows and can take photos or just enjoy the breeze) cost roughtly 500 Bhat ($15-16 USD) from Bangkok to Chiang Mai per person (toddlers are free), and you sleep in what resembles a bunk bed with one person on the upper narrower berth and the other on the lower berth with your toddler.  Bringing a lot of snacks, even on the overnight trains, is recommended because sitting for so long made us just want to eat stuff!

 

I recommend spending 1-2 weeks (or more if you can!) at a time in one place in Thailand, especially if you have a toddler.  It gives you time to get to know a place and time to get your child used to a new country.  And, most importantly, time to make a few friends, both local and foreign, that you can visit on your next trip!

 

In comparison to other countries I have spent time in during my solo travels, Thailand is easier and feels safer in a lot of ways than India, Kenya, and Morocco.  I’m glad we didn’t try one of those countries on our first trip abroad with our son, but I still want to go back to them within the next few years.  

 

I’ll post more soon, but I just want to get this out there in cyberpsace, because I think a lot of Americans are afraid to backpack in SE Asia alone, and likely more afraid to do it with a toddler.  

But honestly?  You shouldn’t be.  

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It’s amazing and children under age 7 will be able to take in so much more than anyone else from these kinds of experiences – especially when it comes to language skills.  I may not be able to hear my son try and speak Thai words, but I love that he’s doing it as well as picking up on the gestures and body language of the local people more so than a hearing child who isn’t already bilingual with ASL and English.  And despite my own deafness, I love trying to speak Thai.  It’s a challenging language, but when you speak even a few words of Thai to a local person, their faces light up and they open themselves to you.  It’s beautiful.

motherhood and art

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This is me being honest: I have truly struggled with motherhood.  

I love my 2-year-old son, but I don’t enjoy the immense responsibility that goes along with being a mother.  I also feel overwhelmed most days with my schedule of part time working, writing novels and poetry, AND watching my son.  But every day, I manage it somehow.  Every day, I learn to keep up with the important things and let the less important things go.  

Letting things go that I want to get done and just can’t is so hard for me.  I grew up as an only child.  I’m used to doing whatever I want, when I want.  I’m used to traveling when I want to, writing for 13 hours straight when I want to, and focusing on myself.  

All of that changes when you have a child.  It’s frightening.  I remember reading somewhere that having a child is like having a piece of yourself exist outside of your body, a very fragile piece, that’s new and vulnerable to the world.  I get anxious all the time.  

I’ve gone through plenty of times of self-doubt and self-criticism, but being a mother exacerbated all of that.  I feel guilty all the time when I need to do some work and my son wants more attention.  Or when I give him all my attention and don’t get the time to write.  

It’s a constant battle, inside and out.  

But It’s worth it.  I know it is, and every time my son does something ridiculously cute or impressively smart for his age, I get excited and I forget to worry about the precarious balancing of work and childcare that I do.  

Two nights ago, my partner went to sleep early.  I wrote all day, so I was ready to take a break from writing and focus on my son for a few hours.  I realized that maybe he is old enough for markers or crayons, and I realized that I still had 30-something wooden blocks cut for him, that I’ve been planning to paint for him for a year and a half.  I took everything out and we had an amazing time drawing together and he drew on some blocks while I painted other blocks.  

It reminded me of the time I spent teaching mural painting in an Irish primary school.  I loved teaching art to kids.  It was one language that I could speak with any child—from the Irish-speaking kids of Dun Chaoin to the Nepali and Indian kids of Kalimpong.  

When I’ve taught art, the fact that I can’t hear kid’s voices or read their lips doesn’t matter.  My son signs, of course.  I don’t have a communication barrier with him, but I have a hard time playing with him in a way that excites me, too.  

I am so relieved, and so thankful, to have found a new language and a new way to play with son that makes me forget my work, my writing, and even forget that I’m fully responsible for this tiny person, I’m a mother now, not just a daughter, or a wandering writer and occasional muralist, or a twenty-something-year-old with a passport filled with stamps, or a sailor living on her own boat.  

I’ve resisted motherhood for a long time, but sharing art with my son helps me embrace it.  

This is a blog post for new mothers—it’s hard as f**k, but if you can share things you love with your children, it makes everything better.  

(I am sure this is old news for many people, but sometimes it’s easy to get sucked into our own needs and stressed over also meeting the needs of our family, and I think it can be easy to forget that when you share things you love with the people you love—older people included—life feels more free, happy, positive, and invigorating.  And then when we go back to our work or our responsibilities, we realize they aren’t so overwhelming after all.)

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The Rest of Me

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This is a poem I wrote back in 2005, for my Hearing dog Willow:

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THE REST OF ME

Sometimes when I am away,

I find myself longing for you like a lover.

I want to bend your ears,

feel the pads of your feet pushing against my thighs.

You lick tears before they even come.

You sit close to me when I am

stuck in bed with bodily aches.

And you know the greatest medicine of all

is your head, resting heavy,

across my stomach.

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Instead I am sitting on a jagged gray rock,

the wind trying to steal my hair

or these pages.

Pulling at me as you have done.

I am here because I can fly.

I can put an ocean between us and

you are left, staring

into the sea from the other side.

While on Commenole Beach in Ireland, I hold

handfuls of sand in my fists because

it is the color of your fur.

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In the deep brown of your eyes,

widely searching my own, I see—my body:

the home you guard with the passion

of twenty panting lovers.  Your tail: pumping

like a heartbeat.

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But I call you

as I’m supposed to.

I call you by your given name.  Though

when I write such words to myself,

such prayers, I call you—

My Love,

My Everything,

My Body,

And I know you as

The Rest of Me.

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I spent all of Willow’s life leaving and returning to him often, because I couldn’t be without a dog and I couldn’t stop traveling either.  My parents, who always had dogs, gratefully accepted Willow as their grandson and always took care of him while I was in India or Kenya or Ireland for months at a time.

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When Willow died last year, on August 1st, I felt myself adding up all the months I spent away from him.  It broke my heart that out of his almost 11 years, I spent a total of 2.5 of them away from him.  Now I’m more understanding of my own needs.  I need a Hearing dog, I need that companionship and the social comfort they give me, but I also need to immerse myself in other cultures.

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I’ve come to understand that it’s okay for our dogs to be shared between us—that only means they have more people that love them, and more people they can love in return.

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I have more to say about Hearing dogs, and dogs, but I’d like to keep this post a dedication to Willow, the greatest dog that ever lived, who will always be “the rest of me.”

I’ll never stop longing for him, I’ll never stop feeling the shadow of his fur against my legs when I run, and I’ll never stop seeing his face between the trees of a forest, or popping up over the marshes, eyes on fire.

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I suppose there are worse things to be haunted by.

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magic, deafness, being divided, and dogs

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(what else happens in my life, besides the intersection of these things?)

I was speaking with a close friend and cousin today about magic: Not the witchcraft kind (not exactly), nor the sorcerer either.  How sometimes, things just all come together magically.  It’s not just the big things that do this, but the little things, too.  Like when I get just enough writing done to go for a run and then cook dinner, and the baby sleeps for just long enough for me to get everything done that I want to get done.  Days occasionally go perfectly.  And there’s so many beautiful accidents that happen in the world.

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I believe this happens when we are feeling particularly positive, flexible, and open.

When we have nothing against the Universe, and the Universe doesn’t seem to have anything against us.

I think this happens for everyone, though I’m sure there are exceptions.  But THIS—this exact feeling of:

Positivity.  Gentleness.  Awareness.  Friendliness.  Kindness.  Hopefulness.

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THIS is a GOAL for me.  This is something I try and wake up every day to feel, but of course, I might start days like this sometimes, and other times, I’ll feel an entire aversion to everything having to do with the morning (having to get up, make coffee, walk the puppy, feed the toddler, start working) from the first second I open my eyes (and those days usually go badly, from those first seconds).  Life happens in between these two opposite situations: the positive and negative things that revolve around us throughout our days.  And I think it’s hardest in the middle, divided between opposing reactions, opposing feelings, essentially stuck with a love/hate feeling for the whole world.

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Deafness does this.

Though more specifically, the kind of deafness I mean is, having spent the first decade or so of life hearing mostly-everything, and then within a decade, hearing a lot of noise, but no words, not anymore.

I hear a lot, but it’s a lot of “nothing”—groaning, yelling, car engines, boat engines, toilet flushes, crying, rushing wind, and my own voice.

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I wonder if that’s why I still do LOVE the sound of my own voice, and I love to give public readings or tell stories to my child in spoken English, even though I also sign stories to him in ASL.  I love the poetry slams and cafe poetry readings, even though, unless the poet gives me a copy of their reading beforehand, I can’t hear them.

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I love all these things, but I hate them, too.  I hate them because of the words I can’t hear anymore, and I hate them because they make me feel selfish, they make me feel disabled, and they make me feel divided (between hearing and deaf cultures, two vastly different entities that I didn’t even realize existed before I crossed from one of them to the other, and back, and forth, and back).

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So what do I do here in this middle ground—this place between the positive and the negative, the two cultures, the love and hate?  I’m not calling hearing positive or better, I’m calling it different than deaf, equally positive and negative on its own.  Just like Deafness.  There’s no path that is better, but being deaf in a group of hearing people feels exactly lovely and awful at the same time.

Lovely, because they are my friends or my family, and awful because they are speaking a language I can’t hear anymore—so it’s not like the English I can speak myself, it’s like they’re speaking Arabic or Mandarin.

I love all the new things I notice because I can’t hear anymore: like new outfits, the look of guilt or sorrow someone’s trying desperately to hide, new hairstyles or the way someone’s standing and what it might be showing of their deeper feelings, or the way the wind is moving over the water or through the leaves.

Some people might think it’s romantic and dreamy to be deaf, and sometimes on t.v., we are shown as this: a dreaming angel, eyes noticing everything and mind constantly thinking about “romantic” things.

And some people think its the most horrible thing in the world: “Oh, my God, you can’t HEAR ANYTHING?  I don’t know what I’d DO without my HEARING!  Oh my, can you actually drive a CAR?!  How do you go to a RESTAURANT?!”

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But really, my deafness often feels like, every day, I wake up and people have decided to speak a new language, and everyone knows it except ME, and by the end of every day, I think, “Maybe by tomorrow, I’ll understand more of it,” but then tomorrow comes, and it’s a whole NEW language all over again.

And honestly, some days I’m too tired to even TRY lip reading.  Or being in a group of people speaking this “new language.”

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And through all my changes, I’ve learned the language of deafness, which in this country is called ASL or American Sign Language, and I’ve learned that I feel closer to dogs than humans.  The language of dogs, their whining, their barks and groans, the way they roll on the floor or wag their tails, has not changed!  Dogs have always spoke this way to me, and they always will. It’s the sort of “constant” that’s a blessing in my life, something that helps me on the path towards being more positive (which is one reason I have Hearing Dogs).

I’ve also learned that some humans have a strong sense of community and generosity, and some do not.  (Or in another words: Not all humans are as sweet as dogs.)

The language of the wind has remained the same, too, though that dialect is the most exciting when you live on a sailboat.

And humans are the most interesting to me when I wake up in an “actually different country,” not America, and have difficulty hearing Hindi or Thai or Tibetan.  (I feel less disabled in India or Kenya, than I feel in my hometown.  Could this be WHY I’d rather be in India?!)

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It’s strange, what the body can remember of our history. (Read: Body, Remember, a fantastic memoir by Kenny Fries)

Or is it, when something dramatic happens that changes how everyone must relate to us and causes us to be a little more difficult to communicate with, it’s then that we see who our true friends and family are, and what they each will do to meet us in the middle ground, in this divided, blessed space?

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This blog post is partly inspired by my dear friend and previous advisor: Bhanu Kapil (read her blog), who I will see in two short weeks, on Ghost Ranch, in New Mexico for AROHO’s 2013 Women’s Writing Retreat!  If I am ever out of ideas for a blog post, I will read her blog.  It’s filled with “Prose Incubation.  Social Theory.  Dogs.” and so much more, from the everyday to the sublime.

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To those caught in the middle, however you might be divided: good luck to you.

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love and bombs

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DISCLAIMER:  The following post is a reaction from reading countless Facebook posts and Media online.  I didn’t actually get the chance to have signed or spoken dialogue with people, or to hear any radio shows etc, that would allow me to phrase my words in a more compassionate manner.  One of my best friends has also reminded me that being deaf does cause my access to information to be slightly different than the average person.

I haven’t changed my opinions below exactly, but I would say them differently in hindsight (wouldn’t we all?).  I’d like to just say that I felt the way that I did because of my own personal fears and in reaction to posts from people who are filled with anger and desire to kill after such an event.  I had real fears that the Boston Marathon bombing could potentially start a war if people didn’t keep their heads on straight.

So, I’d like to preface my post with this, instead of deleting it, because I do feel that if you are able to read my words with compassion of your own, that you might see the point I’m trying to make is that we as humans should love each other, not bomb each other, and all bombings are tragic—but each one is also an important time for people to come together and help one another.  I have been really touched by some of the ways that local people are taking that kind of action, and my heart goes out to everyone involved.

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I feel the need to admit here that the bombing at the Boston Marathon did not surprise me and it didn’t fill me with sadness.  I don’t know if it is because I realize there are countless bombs going off, every week, around the world, and to fill myself with sadness every time it happens would certainly make for a depressing life.  Or maybe it is because I’ve seen real poverty in various cities of India and Kenya, from dying dogs to humans suffering from leprosy on the roadsides.  I don’t actually feel desensitized as much as I feel like I understand our society.

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Humans are so intense at times that we confuse ourselves with the outpouring of our rambling thoughts and emotions.  We fear death, we fear each other, we fear ourselves.  I think fear is the culprit here more than anything else.  If we don’t help each other when we are able to, it’s usually because we are afraid of something, whether it is catching someone’s disease or opening ourselves to a stranger, or we are just caught up with self-preservation.

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Something we are missing when we try so hard to protect ourselves is that we are the same as everyone else – not the same, meaning, we aren’t all unique and beautiful and ugly in our own particular ways – but EQUAL.  I see dogs as equal to humans, because I honestly believe that dogs are better humans.  Dogs help remind me to cool my own anger when I’ve been hurt; to turn from pain, and instead of lashing back out against someone, my dogs have reminded me to give them love.

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Love is just as powerful as a bomb, and once more people realize this, maybe there will be less bombs.

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For now, though, I’d like to end this with the post my partner put up on a social networking site (okay, on Facebook…), because what he is saying needs to be thought about and heard beyond “Facebook”, because too many Americans are feeling such outrage, anger, and pain, but honestly, I am sitting here thinking, “Why NOT America?  Why should only places like Iraq, Kenya, India, Thailand, Pakistan, etc, etc, get bombed?”

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Here is the post:

“My heart goes out to the victims from all over the world who were affected by the bombing in Boston, USA. I will continue to think of you, Boston, as well as other cities that have suffered none too distant attacks of this nature. Baquba, Iraq. Jurf Al-Sa, Iraq. Bagdad, Iraq. Khalis, Iraq. Mullazai, Pakistan. Madre Muerta, Columbia. Taloqan, Afghanistan. Yathrib, Iraq. Kirkuk, Iraq. Rural locations in India. Rural locations in Afghanistan. Rural locations in Pakistan. Damascus, Syria. Josefina, Philippines. Landi Kotal, Pakistan. Mubi, Nigeria. Hawija, Iraq. Wajir, Kenya. Loti, Pakistan. Mukalla, Yemen. Taloqan, Afghanistan. Dujail, Iraq. Mogadishu, Somalia.Fallujah, Iraq. Garma, Iraq. Sitamarhi, India. Abu Gharaib, Iraq. Madalla, Nigeria. Jos, Nigeria. Gadaka, Nigeria. Damaturu, Nigeria. Tank, Pakistan. Mussayab, Iraq. Parta, India. Sapele, Nigeria. Peshawar, Pakistan. Tambon Al Yer Weng, Thailand. Karachi, Pakistan. Hangu, Pakistan. Tambon Katong, Thailand. Geedam, India. Mosul, Iraq. Ban Klang, Thailand. Rural locations in Somalia. Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Chandanigahapur, Nepal. Orito, Columbia. Salarzai, Pakistan. Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan. Raman, Thailand. Ban Ton Phai, Thailand. Essai, Pakistan. Quetta, Pakistan. Dibis, Iraq. Rural locations in Chile. Jamrud, Pakistan. Tathong, Thailand. Khan Bani Saad, Iraq. Landi Kotal, Pakistan. Boya, Pakistan. Buenos Aires, Argentina. Locations in Senegal, Kenya, Russia, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Indonesia, Greece, Italy, West Bank and Gaza Strip, Mexico, Ivory Coast, Germany, Honduras, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Turkey, Portugal, Congo, Mali, Ecuador, Myanmar, Ukraine, Indonesia, Sudan, Kazakhstan… I wish I could add more to the list, but I only have time to review one and a half months of statistics. Let us always keep those hurt by these heinous acts in our thoughts, and learn to love each other just a little more.”

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I concur with the above and I share it with you, because I haven’t taken the time to research and I cannot myself name all of those places.  But they should be named and lamented along with Boston.  Because the world is much bigger than just America.

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I’ve recently had my first child and many people seem to think I should stay here in my birth country, but I don’t agree.  I don’t plan to stop traveling, or put off traveling, because I want to raise my child knowing places like India and Africa as closely as his birth country.  I want him to know other cultures, other languages, and to return to America and share that knowledge.

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If we feel like we know each other a bit better, I can only hope that loving each other will be easier, too.

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