Saturday, March 03, 2007

Ship Out of Water

Hi everyone. I hope all is OK in Iowa. Kristin told me it snowed in Iowa in the past few days. It is very HOT here and right now it is pouring down rain.

Today I got my first tour of Banda Aceh. It was very interesting.

A very nice journalist named Ahmady is driving Kristin and Jocelyn around during this trip. This morning he took Kristin to a bank so she could change money. But the bank didn't like most of Kristin's money. Can you believe that? I thought US dollar bills could be spent anywhere in the world! Kristin says that some countries only like certain US bills. I had no idea!

Here they don't like dollars printed in 1996 or any of the new colored US dollars. The bank also didn't like the wrinkles in Kristin's money. I'm not sure I understand why (and I'm not sure Kristin even understands why).

I was very worried at the bank when Kristin could only change a small portion of her money into the local currency, the Indonesian Rupiah. How was Kristin going to pay for food and her hotel room? Kristin later told me not to worry too much. She has other ways to pay for the hotel and food. Whew!

Once Kristin had some local money, Ahmady took her to get a special chip for her cell phone. The chip is called a "SIM card" and now Kristin has an Indonesian cell phone number. How cool is that? But Kristin told me that she will only use the phone in case of an emergency. I guess that means I can't call Aunt Lynn. :(

Ahmady then took Kristin and Jocelyn on a tour of Banda Aceh. Kristin told me a big wave from the ocean called a tsunami washed away lots of houses and buildings here in 2004. She said the wave was SO big that huge boats were pushed into homes. I didn't believe her until I saw this.

WOW! Can you see how that very big boat crashed into that house? Kristin says this house is one mile from the Indian Ocean. I can't even imagine how big the wave must have been to push the boat that far from the ocean.

The house with the boat on top of it is near the fish market. A woman living near the market was selling octopus. They sure didn't smell good. And I don't think I would want to eat one, would you?

I think it is sad that so many people lost their homes during the tsunami. So I felt better when Kristin told me there are many people from around the world (including the US) here to help people rebuild their homes and businesses.

During our tour of town, I saw small wooden houses that Ahmady said were "temporary." I also saw small colorful houses that Ahmady said were brand new. You can see an example of a "temporary" and a new home in the photo below.

About an hour outside of Banda Aceh, I saw a lot of tents with blue tops next to the road. Kristin says the people living in the tents are still waiting for a "temporary" house.

I asked Kristin how long it would take for these people to get a "temporary" house. She says she has no idea. I think Kristin could tell I was very said when she said this. She told me the best thing I could do was to be thankful that I have a nice home in Iowa. She is right. But I wish the people living in tents in Aceh also had nice homes.

On our way back into Banda Aceh, Ahmady stopped at a beach on the side of the road. There was another BIG ship that was stuck in the sand. Ahmady says the ship has been stuck in the sand since the tsunami.

I really wanted to swim in the Indian Ocean, but Kristin told me the waves were far too high. Plus she says she didn't bring her bathing suit. :( But she did let me play in the sand and look for seashells.

Here I am at sunset along the beach. Kristin says the sky reminds her of the sunsets in Muscatine. I guess I'm going to have to pay better attention to the sunsets in Muscatine when I get home.

That's all for now. Until next time....

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Greetings from Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Hi everyone! Kristin and I have finally made it to Banda Aceh, Indonesia! sure took a LONG time to get here.

Our flight from Singapore to Medan, Indonesia was only an hour. But then we had to wait almost 7 hours for the flight to Banda Aceh. I keep forgetting that I must be patient when I travel.

When we reached Medan, Kristin had to get her luggage and police officers in customs had to run her bags (and me) through an x-ray machine. I guess I must have looked OK on the x-ray because Kristin made it through customs without any problems.

As soon as we walked out of the customs area, tons of taxi drivers kept walking up to Kristin and asking her if she needed a taxi. Kristin kept telling them no, but the men would not stop asking. Kristin didn't seem to be bothered by all of the taxi drivers talking to her, but I decided to stay hidden in her purse (don't tell her but I was a bit afraid of all of the people surrounding us).

Kristin finally found the place where she had to pick up the ticket for the Banda Aceh flight. But she soon found out that we would have to wait several hours outside of the airport before she could get her ticket. It is REALLY hot here and I wasn't so sure I wanted to wait outside of the airport in the heat with all of the taxi drivers. Luckily, someone else on our flight to Medan was also waiting for his ticket to Banda Aceh. His name is Ernie and he works for an organization called Save-the-Children. Ernie is from Australia and is very nice. He has been to Indonesia lots of times and he told Kristin it would be best to wait at a local hotel until she could get her ticket.

So Kristin and Ernie took a cab to a local hotel. I wasn't so sure Kristin should leave the airport with a stranger. My Aunt Lynn tells me I shouldn't go anywhere with strangers. Kristin says my Aunt Lynn is right; I shouldn't go anywhere with strangers. But Kristin said I was with her and everything would be OK. I decided to trust her on this.

It turns out everything was fine. The hotel workers all knew Ernie when he got out of the cab. He helped Kristin change money and check her e-mail. He also took us to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. The food was very good.

The hotel workers then brought Kristin and Ernie back to the airport. Kristin had no problems getting her ticket and our flight left only a few minutes late.

LOTS of taxi drivers greeted Kristin at the airport in Banda Aceh. There sure are a lot of taxi drivers in Indonesia! I asked Kristin if we were taking a cab to the airport. She said no. Just outside the airport, Kristin found her friend Jocelyn. Jocelyn is a journalist working with Kristin and Keith on the radio program. She is very nice.

We are staying at the Swiss-Belhotel in Banda Aceh. It is very new. Kristin seems happy with the room, but this isn't as nice as the Hotel Kempinski in Djibouti! Kristin told me she expected the hotel here to be worse than it is. She also told me that we are lucky to have hot water and air conditioning. She says most hotels in Aceh do not have hot water or air conditioning. I had no idea!

I am very, very tired from that jet-lag stuff. Kristin says I am tired from the travel and because we are 13 time-zones AHEAD of Iowa time. I am still not sure I understand the time-zone thing. But I do know that when it is 7:00am Friday morning here in Banda Aceh, it is 6:00pm Thursday night in Iowa. How cool is that? It is Friday for me LONG before it is Friday for you in Iowa.

I think I need to head to bed to get rid of this jet-lag stuff.

Until next time....

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Greetings from Singapore!

Hi everyone! I am writing to you from Singapore. See if you can find it on the map.

Kristin and I are here so we can catch a flight to Medan, Indonesia. Once we are in Indonesia, we will take another flight to our final stop, Banda Aceh.

Man...Singapore is a VERY long way from Chicago. It took two flights and almost 21 hours to get here!

Our first flight was from Chicago to Hong Kong. That flight was 15 hours! Before we got on the plane, Kristin told me she was able to use her rewards to get a better seat. I was very happy because I know this means Kristin gets a bigger seat that works like a recliner and better food. Kristin then told me she had a really special seat. I asked her why it was so special, but she told me I would have to wait until we got on the plane. Man, being patient is SO hard!

When we got on the plane, the flight attendant told Kristin that she needed to go upstairs. Upstairs?! I didn't think planes had two floors. Kristin smiled and told me that our plane was a Boeing 747 and it has two floors. Who knew? Kristin says the upstairs is called the "upper deck." I had no idea!

Being upstairs was super cool! I could see the pilots getting ready for the flight from Kristin's seat. Here I am in Kristin's seat in the "upper deck."

I am SO glad Kristin gets rewards for flying all the time. I thanked her for getting us such a cool seat. Kristin says I should thank her friend Susan in Iowa City for the cool seat. Susan is Kristin's travel agent and she is the one who got us the "upper deck" spot. THANKS SUSAN!

Kristin's had her very own TV screen. It has this really neat map channel. The map shows the route of the plane from Chicago to Hong Kong.

I was still tired from the trip to Djibouti so I slept most of the flight. But Kristin woke me up when the plane flew over the North Pole. I know we flew over the North Pole because the TV map showed our plane going over the North Pole. Do you know who lives at the North Pole? Santa Claus! I peeked out the window but I couldn't see Santa's workshop from the plane. I must remember to tell Santa that I flew over his house in my next Christmas letter.

Once we landed in Hong Kong, Kristin told me that we had to change planes. We waited for our new plane in the business lounge. If you look real closely, you will see the United plane we took to Hong Kong behind me.

Guess what? Kristin got to sit upstairs on the flight from Hong Kong to Singapore. How cool is that? But she says I shouldn't get used to the special seat. Kristin says she won't have special seats for the flights to Indonesia. :( I guess I should be happy that I got to sit upstairs in a plane twice on the same day!

Kristin says we will be here in Singapore for several more hours. Then we will fly from here to Medan, Indonesia to catch another plane to Banda Aceh. Whew! That's a lot of planes for one trip!

Until next time.....

Monday, February 26, 2007

On the Road Again!

Hi everyone! I am SO excited. My friend Kristin from the Stanley Foundation has just asked me to go on another trip with her. Can you believe it!? We just got back from Africa two days ago!

Kristin says this time she is traveling to a place called Banda Aceh, Indonesia. See if you can find it on the map (hint....Indonesia is in Asia).

Kristin says we will leave from Chicago tomorrow (Tuesday) and fly to Hong Kong, China. We will then fly from Hong Kong to Singapore. We will then fly from Singapore to Medan, Indonesia. And finally, we will fly from Medan to Banda Aceh. Whew! That's a LOT of airplanes!

And, Kristin says if you look at the map of the world very carefully, you will see that she and I will have traveled almost entirely around the world in 5 days! How cool is that?! Kristin says the only part of the world we will not fly over is the Indian Ocean.

Kristin is going to Aceh to help someone make a story for the new radio program she and Keith are working on. The story will be about how the US government is helping people there recover from something called a "tsunami." Kristin says a "tsunami" is a giant wave of water that forms in oceans after a big earthquake. I had no idea! Kristin says a very bad "tsunami" hit Banda Aceh and many other places in Asia just after Christmas in 2004. She says many, many people died and even more people lost their homes as the big wave of water flooded their towns and villages.

I always have great adventures when I am with Kristin. She has already warned me that she may not always have Internet access in Banda Aceh. So, I will send updates when I can.

Until next time...

The Long Journey Home

Hi everyone! I am safely back at home in Iowa...but I had many adventures along the way.

We left Djibouti on Friday morning at 11:30AM. Tony from Camp Lemonier picked Keith, Kristin and Malcolm up at the hotel and took us to the airport. Tony helped Keith, Kristin and Malcolm all week. He is very nice and I am going to miss him. Here I am with Tony as he dropped us off at the airport.

We flew from Djibouti to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Kristin told me before we got to Ethiopia that we would be staying there for at least 1o hours before our next plane ride. I figured that meant we would stay at the airport. But as soon as we arrived, the airline (Ethiopian Air) put Keith, Kristin, and Malcolm on a bus and drove them to a hotel far away from the airport. I asked Kristin if she knew we were going to a hotel. She said no. Keith later learned that the airline takes people to hotels in Addis Ababa if they have to wait longer than 7 hours for their next flight.

I thought this was a good idea...until I saw the hotel. I was not impressed. It sure wasn't like the hotel in Djibouti. I asked Kristin to take a picture of the bed in her room. Yuck!

I noticed when Kristin got to her room that she had to use her room key to lock the door from the inside. I have never seen a lock like that in a hotel room.

I thought all hotels had credit-card like keys. Kristin says she has had to use keys to lock her door from the inside in hotels in many countries. I had no idea!

Here's a photo of the view outside Kristin's room. The houses near the hotel had metal roofs. They sure didn't look like a place I would want to live in. I am so glad I have a nice home in Iowa.

FINALLY, the bus picked us up and took us back to the airport. Our flight to Paris left on-time. Since I have traveled so much with Kristin, I knew I had better sleep on the flight or I would get that jet-lag stuff. So I slept the entire way to Paris.

We stayed in the special business lounge in Paris until our flight to Chicago left. The flight to Chicago was very nice. Keith and Kristin got upgraded to the business section. You know what that means.....a nicer seat and better food!

When we landed in Chicago, Keith and Kristin told me there was a major storm in Iowa. Oh no! King Tut must still be mad at Kristin! Just outside of Chicago, the weather started to get bad and the roads were very slick. By the time Kristin got to Davenport, it was snowing so hard outside that I couldn't even see outside of the car window! I am so glad Kristin is a good driver. It took a lot longer to get home, but we made it!

I want to thank Keith and Kristin for taking me with them to Djibouti. I had fun at Camp Lemonier. I met so many nice people and I learned a lot about the military. I also want to thank my new friend Malcolm for being so nice to me.

Until my next adventure....bye!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Djibouti Souk

Hi everyone! Today is my last full day in Djibouti.

Kristin woke me up very early again. She said we needed to get to the base early because we were going on another field trip. Man, the military sure likes to start early in the morning!

Tony picked us up at the hotel and took Kristin, Keith, and Malcolm to Camp Lemonier's cafeteria again to get breakfast. Kristin told me that we were going to see some special military training. And she told me if I was really good, I would get to ride in a Humvee just like the ones the soldiers in Iraq ride in. I was REALLY excited.

But as soon as we got to the place on base where the Humvees are parked, Tony found out that the military training had been cancelled. I could tell Kristin, Keith and Malcolm were disappointed. I was sad because I wanted to ride in a Humvee. :(

I asked Kristin why we didn't get to go on the field trip. She said we had to get special permission from the Djibouti government to go on the trip. Tony had worked most of the week to get the special permission and he told Kristin that the permission slip was approved last night.

Tony made a few calls and we later learned that the Djibouti military that was supposed to train with the US soldiers had to cancel the training. I'm still not sure why they had to cancel the training. I think Kristin knew I was disappointed I didn't get to ride in a Humvee, so she had Keith take a picture of us by the Humvees.

Keith, Kristin, and Malcolm then decided they wanted to visit the local "souk" or market so Malcolm could get some more pictures for TV. I thought the "souk" would be like the ones I saw with Keith and Kristin in Doha and Dubai. But this "souk" was very, very busy. It was also loud, dirty, and hot! I told Kristin that I wanted to stay in her purse to stay cool (I was kind of scared when I saw all of the people...but don't tell Kristin I said that). Here are some of the photos Kristin took in the souk.

This one is Kristin's favorite.

Kristin had to be very careful when taking these photos. Sometimes the police would stop Keith, Kristin, and Malcolm. I thought they were in trouble but everything was fine once they showed the police a special piece of paper Tony gave to them. Kristin says the paper was a "press pass" that allowed them to work in Djibouti. I think this is like the hall pass we have in school.

I was SO happy when we left the "souk." A cab driver took us back to the hotel and then Tony picked us up an took us back to Camp Lemonier. Malcolm did something he calls a "stand up" for TV. A "stand up" is when a reporter talks in front of the camera. I had no idea! Tony then took a picture of Keith, Kristin and Malcolm.

Then they set up the radio and TV equipment in a big conference room so they could interview Rear Admiral James Hart, the head of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. When the interview was over, Admiral Hart and several other people from the base ate dinner with Keith, Kristin, and Malcolm in the large cafeteria on base. I think this was very nice. I know the Admiral is a very busy person, so it was cool he had dinner with Keith, Kristin, and Malcolm on the last night we were in Djibouti.

I was so busy looking at all of the soldiers in the cafeteria that I forgot to ask Kristin to take a photo of me with the Admiral. After dinner, Kristin stopped at one of the stores on base she calls the "PX." She bought me a backpack and some things to share with my sister and brother. Thanks Kristin!

I would have had a picture taken with my new things but I had to help Kristin get it packed as soon as we were back at the hotel. We leave tomorrow for Iowa. Kristin says it will be a LONG trip, so I had better get to bed now.

Until next time.....

Camels, Camels, and More Camels

Hi again!

I was so excited to see all of the animals on our field trip to the school and hospital. I had never seen so many camels in one day! I told Kristin that I didn't think I would see that many camels again. Guess what? I was wrong!

The day after we visited the school and hospital, Kristin got me up very early AGAIN so we could go on another field trip. This time we were going to see places where the people from Camp Lemonier have built water wells. I wasn't so sure I wanted to spend the entire day looking at water wells, but Kristin told me that I would get to see plenty of camels.

Our friend Tony took Kristin, Keith, and Malcolm to the base so we could meet several people from the 1132nd National Guard well digging unit from North Carolina. They were our guides for the day. There were so many people in the group that it took several SUV's to get us to the well sites. Keith, Kristin, Malcolm and I rode with the the leader of the group, First Sergeant William Robert Brown. He is very nice and he drove a much nicer SUV than the one we rode in yesterday!

It took almost three hours to get to the first place well in a place near Yoboki. Yesterday I saw hills and volcanic rock. Today I still saw hills and mountains, but I also saw lots and lots of sand.

We went to Yoboki because there is an oasis there. I saw an oasis in Egypt. This oasis in looks like it is in the middle of nowhere. But it does has some places where water bubbles up from the ground. We stopped at what looked like a small pond. First Sergeant Brown told Keith and Kristin they should touch the water because it was really warm. But, they had to wear a special blue glove. That's because there are germs and other bad things in the water that might make people sick. Who knew? Here I am with Kristin as she "tests" the water.

They didn't have a blue glove in my size, so I didn't test the water. But Kristin told me it was as warm as bath water or a swimming pool in the middle of summer. I am going to have to trust her on that!

Right after Kristin tested the water, we started to see people coming toward our group. Kristin told me they were nomads.

Do you see the animal skin in the photo above. Keith says it is from a cheetah! I didn't see any live cheetah's, but the skin was really cool to look at. I was hoping to see more animals and while I was waiting for Kristin to interview some people, I thought I saw lots of animals past the small pond.

I told Kristin but she looked closer and told me I was seeing something called a "mirage." She says that sometimes the heat in the desert makes it look like there is something in the distance when there really isn't anything there. That means I wasn't seeing animals after all. Don't tell Kristin, but I still think I saw animals as she took this photo.

While I waited for Keith and Kristin, a few camels did start to come out of the nearby trees (see...I knew I saw something out there!). Then it started to get very windy. The wind started swirling the sand around and then I saw something Kristin calls a "dust devil." It was really cool! It looked like the tornadoes I see on TV.

We decided to get into the SUV when more dust devils started swirling near us. First Sergeant Brown then drove us to a well built by soldiers. It wasn't working and the soldiers with us were using special equipment to mark the location of the well on a map. Kristin said they were doing this because they are coming back in a few months to fix the well.

I couldn't understand why the soldiers built a well in the middle of the desert. Kristin said the well helps clean the water so the germs won't make the people and animals near the oasis sick. I guess this makes sense. Kristin also says the well was built in this spot because it is next to an important trail. First Sergeant Brown told us that people and animals have walked on this trail for thousands of years. WOW...that is a LONG time!

The trail doesn't look all that special to me, but soon I started to see LOTS and LOTS of camels. I have never seen so many camels in my life! Kristin knows I love camels, so she took lots of photos for me.

After the soldiers finished at the well, the group decided to have lunch. Kristin had packed a few things from the cafeteria to eat. But the soldiers also had these funny looking bags with them. They are called ready-to-eat meals or MRE's. Keith says soldiers who are working away from their main camp eat MRE's. I had no idea!

The MRE was really cool! Keith's had candy, crackers, and spaghetti! The spaghetti wasn't cooked. The soldiers didn't bring a microwave with them, so I wondered how Keith was going to cook the noodles. He told me the bag was very special. He poured some water into it and then put his box of spaghetti in the special bag. The bag got very hot and a few minutes later the spaghetti was cooked. How cool is that?!

After lunch we drove to two more wells. We didn't stay at the first one very long. But the soldiers did test the water at the second well.

It looked like the well was pretty popular. Here, a woman is pouring water into a big yellow jug. One of the men pumping the water then took the jug up a nearby hill in a wheelbarrow and poured the water on a vegetable garden.

First Sergeant Brown and the rest of the soldiers drove us back to Camp Lemonier after visiting the last well. I was very hot and tired, so I feel asleep before we got back to the camp.

Until next time....