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Excerpts from Afar

There are times when living along the Door Peninsula can seem isolated. For those of us who live north of the canal, or for that matter north of the peninsula’s tip on Washington Island, it’s easy to feel detached from the world-at-large; however, 2008 at the Pulse was refreshing in the fact that we had a number of contributors who shared their journeys to far off lands. These voices from afar not only gave our readers a glimpse at lifestyles not entrenched in the tourism industry, but they also offered up perspectives on the ways in which our little peninsula is far more connected to the rest of the world than we think.

A Tragic Chinese New Year for Many

By Brian Linden

We expected to see a rush of people as we exited the Guangzhou train station on January 24 on our way to Hong Kong. We arrived the night before China’s largest snowstorm in the past 50 years cut off the southern half of the country from the north. The snow worsened an already dangerous situation, as over one million migrant workers tried to make their way north from the industrial and affluent regions surrounding Guangzhou to spend the holidays with their families.

My son, Shane, held his camera high above the crowds as we forced our way through one mile of passages filled with a surging crowd trying to enter the station. The constant push of people from behind forced him to abandon the task. We arrived in our hotel hours later exhausted and frightened from the experience. The 500,000 Chinese trying to leave however had just started their tragic ordeal.

The snow hit central China that evening, cutting off electricity and closing rail and road connections with northern China. Buses and trucks were stranded in areas not prepared to handle this natural onslaught. The hardest hit areas, northern Guangdong and Hunan Provinces, known for their balmy winters, had over 16 inches of snow. Electricity did not return to some of these areas for over 10 days.

The Chinese government mobilized 250,000 soldiers and 770,000 militia members to assist with disaster relief efforts – this at a time when every Chinese hopes to be at home with family. Many of the travelers never made it home.

My youngest son, Bryce, asked me how many people were 500,000. I tried to explain that it was like having all the people of Milwaukee crushed into an area the size of a city block, or like having a football stadium filled to six times its capacity. He gazed into the distance and said, “That sure makes the lines at the grocery store in Door County seem pretty small, huh.” I could hardly agree with him more!

Both Sides Now

By Caitlin Leline

Since arriving in London a month ago, this has been my job. My plan had been to spend the winter studying in the city’s art museums and painting on my own, but curiosity and an overwhelming exchange rate led me to answer an ad in the library by an artist looking for a model. This led me to the three-legged stool in Catherine de Moncan’s studio, where, for three hours every morning, I sit as still as possible.

Catherine, who signs her work, Moncan, is French. In the 1960s she studied under ةdouard Mac’Avoy at the Académie Julian in Paris, where she showed great artistic promise. Her drawing of a nude figure won that school’s Grand Prix in her first year, and in the years following her graduation her oil paintings claimed several other noteworthy prizes in Paris.

Her talents are not limited to the canvas, though, and after illustrating Marcel Proust’s novel, Combray, in the 1970s, Catherine put down her paints to write. She wrote novels for some 20 years, moved to London and, in the late nineties began to paint again.

Since taking up her brushes again, Catherine has developed a style that follows more faithfully her models’ features and expressions. It is a more classic style of portraiture, and one, that with an infinite amount of small, different-colored brush strokes, shows the influence that Impressionism has on her work.

Over the past month, through an accumulation of five-minute breaks during the painting sessions, Catherine and I have become friends. Her work has inspired me in my own painting, and she has invited me to paint alongside her when she begins her next portrait in a few weeks. I am extremely lucky to have found a mentor at the same time as I did a job, and the opportunity to paint alongside such an accomplished artist will surely be one of the highlights of my winter in London.

Catherine is nearly finished painting me, and in a few days I will cease to be model and will begin work as a cheesemonger in the busy Borough Market. In the meantime I’ll continue to sit through the painful and peaceful moments, dreaming of my return to the other side of the canvas.

Bhutan’s Environmental Planning: A Model For The World

By Roger Kuhns

It is often the case that we must look farther afield to learn what we need here at home. A colleague and I recently traveled to Bhutan (that small country between India and China) and learned what a progressive nation is doing to protect its environment.

Bhutan’s environmental policies serve as an example of forward thinking for the rest of the world. A key foundation for Bhutan’s policies is included in their Constitution and requires that 60 percent of the country remain in forest cover for all time to come. His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s goal of happiness sustained by Bhutan’s distinct cultural identity and a pristine ecology has led to an environmental strategy of “treading the Middle Path to sustainable development.” This strategy is being tested to increasing degrees as the pressures of population growth, development, and increased use of natural resources press on the natural areas of Bhutan.

We were fortunate to have met with government officials and local residents to learn about the environmental vision of Bhutan. We also had the opportunity to discuss experiences from the environmental pitfalls and problems in the United States and other countries. Of particular interest was learning more about the cumulative impacts of growth and development from land use that is not balanced with ecological understanding. They don’t want to make the mistakes the U.S. has made.

All in all we were very impressed by the environmental policies of Bhutan and there are lessons learned there that can be applied to projects and regions in the United States.

Doing My Part – Saving the Sea Turtles

By Erin Leline

On the beach in the Parque National Jaragua in the Dominican Republic, walks an elderly man with a rifle over his shoulder. He is watching over the 1,000-pound Leatherback turtles nesting in the sand.

Blanco, now 82, has been saving Leatherback turtles from poachers for some 50 years on this beach. He has deep wise eyes, a youthful grin, skin as dark as the night, and a look about him that reminds me of the turtles.

Working for a conservation group called Grupo Jaragua, Blanco lives in on a small plot of land with five little cement houses and many produce gardens. Four of the houses are inhabited by his family, and the fifth is a special hut containing up to 60 coolers, which are used to incubate delicate turtle eggs for 60 days until the hatchlings can be released back into the ocean.

I met Blanco at the end of my last trip to the Dominican Republic. I had been working at Hogar Doٌa Chucha, a boarding school for underprivileged girls. During that time, I also volunteered for a weekend to walk the beach at night with Blanco and alert the conservation group when we found a nest that needed to be moved. Around 2 am, with my headlamp on, I watched a 15 foot female leatherback dig a nest, lay approximately 80 eggs, bury her nest and spend a half hour making designs in the sand to hide her nest. That moment in time impacted me in a way I had never expected. From that night on I was hooked.

In May, I will be headed back to the Dominican Republic. Of course, upon my arrival I will spend time with the girls at the Hogar; being my fourth visit, I have made friendships with the children that will last our lifetimes. However, the focus of this month long trip will be weekly trips to the beach to track and document the activities of the Leatherback sea turtles in order to continue the conservation group’s progress, as well as build upon the existing framework toward sustainability.

These gentle creatures of the sea date back more than 200 million years and have survived the dinosaur extinction and the Ice Age but are now struggling to survive the pollution of their waters and beaches. Currently, all seven sea turtle species are on the Endangered Species list and I am focusing my energy on educating myself and those around me about the conservation and preservation of these species.

My March of ‘08, Part 2

By Dr. Sicnarf

I arrived back in Krakow with just enough time to run across the old town to the Filharmonia, Krakow’s symphony house. Seeing the Krakow Symphony is always a treat for me, and the ticket price of $5 is still affordable to this poor American. The next day was my last full day in Krakow. I hit all my favorite places downtown and bought a ton of Polish groceries to bring home. I had my last dinner at Pizzeria Cyklop and had one more beer at the Irish pub. I crammed as much Krakow into my last day as I could.

That Sunday I woke early to quick attend the pchli targ (flea market), one of my favorite Krakow events. I was able to get a cool Czech world atlas, an old metal flammable sign from communist times, and an old hammer and sickle badge for Zack’s bear skin cap. After sad good-byes, I lugged my souvenir stuffed bags onto the bus, the tram, the tram, and the train out to the airport. I was already mentally preparing for my sad departure from Poland.

Once at the airport, I scanned the departure board for my flight. It wasn’t there. I pulled out my month-old itinerary printout. The sound of my hand smacking my forehead echoed around Krakow International Airport once I realized that I didn’t have to fly out till MONDAY. I was at the airport a day early. At first I felt like the world’s biggest fool, but then it set in that I had ANOTHER FULL DAY IN MY FAVORITE CITY!

My unexpected “bonus night” in Krakow was most enjoyable. I hit all my favorite places AGAIN, and enjoyed every minute of it. Life was good.

One reason why I had found such inexpensive tickets to Krakow was that on my way home I had a 15-hour layover in Vienna. This was my fourth time in Vienna for the month. I decided I wasn’t going to waste my time there in the airport, so I headed into town. My one night in Vienna cost me as much as a WEEK in Poland.

The next morning, after a most ordinary European breakfast of deli slices on dinner rolls, I caught the train to the airport, where I caught the plane to Chicago, where I caught the bus to Milwaukee, where I was most graciously picked up and brought to the Palomino. There began my delicate process of re-Americanization with a rare bacon cheeseburger and a side of tator-tots and hush-puppies. I was home.

Salut from Senegal

By Martha Aurelius

Once I finally landed at the airport in Dakar, Senegal, I could immediately feel the heat rising in the late humid night, and my stomach began to twist and turn for what amazing adventures were in store for me.

I met my host mother, Binta, right away with a warm smile and a strong handshake. She showed me around the house, which is an entire level of an apartment complex and has a beautiful terrace on the roof. Later that night I met my host father and my host siblings, Pascal and Raissia. Each day I learn something new about the family…My host mother is Muslim and my host father is Catholic, which makes a very curious Martha!

In the mornings, I have a piece of bread and mix together instant Nescafé coffee, with condensed milk, and sugar for my morning coffee. I’m still missing my Leroy’s fix that I have almost every day in the summer, but I’m slowly perfecting my instant morning coffee so it’s not too bitter, but also not too sweet.

Every moment is a new adventure for me, even if I am just walking to school with other American students. My route to school consists of passing the mosque, walking past the fruit stand on the corner, turning left at the colorfully painted truck tires, and trying to cross the busy street that is filled with honking taxis, horses, “Car Rapides,” stray dogs, and busses.

Before I arrived in Senegal, I had no idea what to expect. I had never been to a developing country before nor placed into such a unique situation like this. There are great disparities between construction and nature, and poverty and growing prosperity…The bright bananas, pineapples, and oranges in the fruit stands bring life to the sandy construction zones that I have to walk through. Delicate pink flowers crawl up the walls and grow along the barbed wire fencing that guards some of the houses. There is the rich harmonic Senegalese music that hits my soul and is heard on every corner throughout the entire day, which erases some of my anxiety and makes me want to dance!

Never have I seen so many genuine smiling faces and met new neighbors who welcome me into their homes. There are many adventures that I have yet to experience and new friends to meet here in Dakar. I will try to share many of those moments and also share with you the true beauty and love from Africa that I am currently experiencing.

Siberian Sabbatical: A Farewell

By Sam Kahr

I am in quite an interesting position right now for writing a final article. I have left Russia, but I still haven’t quite made it home. I am sitting in South Korea, waiting for my flight to the United States. Arriving home is so very imminent. In a little under 24 hours I will be back after 11 months in Russia.

I am delighted in the fact that I have survived these 11 months, but not so in the fact that it is over. In Rotary, I stepped up from being an inbound, a student who is in a foreign county, to a rebound, a student who has completed their exchange. Being classified as a rebound gives me so much satisfaction – the satisfaction of succeeding and not giving in to the pressure forced upon me.

My departure from my friends and family, though, is quite an interesting one. It was like a scene from an old movie. I left on the train so everyone gathered on the platform. There were so many people, people who I hardly knew but must have had a big impact on, who came to see me off. My host mom was expecting a quiet departure, just my family and her, but when about 15 girls showed up, she gave me quite a sharp jab in the ribs.

Everyone gathered around me telling old stories and making fun of stuff that I did, most with tears streaming downing their faces. Then the conductor called out my train. I climbed on and started to move out. As the train started to leave everyone ran after it. My last memory of Irkutsk was that of me hanging out the window and my friends trying to keep up with the train. With that memory, I feel that a part of me died then and there. I never thought that it would be so hard to say goodbye to a place like Siberia.

From that first plane ride to the last, I have gained new insights and values that most people, let alone a teenager, will never gain. This year has given me a very different and new view of life. As I wrote in my last article, I cannot wait for the day I am able to analyze and access my “new” home in the United States, it absolutely blows my mind that day is tomorrow!