Travel Tuesday: How to travel the world without leaving home

Today, I’m sharing some great photos and posts from British blogger Rebecca Ruane, who writes to inspire others to travel and to be more adventurous at home. Her recent series combines those two ideas for a perfect pandemic getaway.

Kirk and I have chosen to take a week off to celebrate our one year anniversary. To make it feel special we’ve planned a week of travelling the world from our home!! Each day we will visit a different country, eating foods and drinking drinks from those countries, as well as trying different activities we feel are linked to these countries.

Rebecca Ruane, blogger, Rebecca Travels the World

France

Croissants for breakfast, Tuna Niçoise for dinner, and From Paris With Love to end the day. To see all of this très bonne journée, click ici.

Greece

Mezze of hummus, stuffed vine leaves (Dolmades), tzatziki, halloumi, olives and flat breads, and cleverly creating instant Greek pottery out of terracotta and markers! To see all of this fun day, click here.

Mexico

Nachos for lunch, churros for a snack, and do-it-yourself tin art. For recipes and how-to instructions click aquí.

India

Day four of Rebecca’s week was India. Take-away from a local restaurant brought them , and Rebecca shows how to draw your very own mandala. See how-to’s here.

Origami art kit turns first-timers into paper folding experts.

Japan

Soy milk donuts, dumplings and origami. For more on Rebecca’s day walk down memory lane in Japan, click here.

China

Bao buns for breakfast, egg fried rice for dinner, and Tai Chi in between. To see all of Rebecca’s day-at-home-in-China, click here.

Italy

We actually wanted to get married in Tuscany. Logistics of getting married abroad meant we decided not to but we were lucky enough to find a venue in the UK which embodies the Tuscan feel. Therefore our wedding day still had an Italian feel with the wedding breakfast being Caprese salad, Italian meats and bread followed by lasagna and then tiramisu.

Rebecca Ruane, for more on Relaxing in Italy, click qui..

New York City

New York City’s daylong homage began with all American pancakes and peanut butter and ended with pizza and Goodfellas. Check out all of Rebecca’s Big Apple day here.

Adventures and experiencing new things are the key to life no matter how far you travel for them!!

Rebecca Ruane, blogger, Rebecca Travels the World

Swimming, Singing, and Diplomacy

My father, Robert C. Amerson, was an American Foreign Service officer with the United States Information Agency during the Cold War. Building relationships was an essential part of his diplomatic responsibilities, “winning hearts and minds” for America.

Growing up as the perpetual new kid in school gave me the ability to quickly make new friends. That may be one of the reasons that I so enjoyed teaching exercise, and when I moved to South Florida and the venue became outdoor pools, I was a very happy camper. Trust and guided support allowed my adult students to relax and discover the joy of moving in a pool. Buoyancy and resistance are a marvelous combination.

There is nothing better that witnessing 60+ year-old women overcome their fear of the water and float for the first time in their lives, smiling ear-to-ear like happy kids. And when adults progresses from being unable to put their heads under water to swimming the freestyle across the pool, there’s no stopping that kind of confidence.

You may also know how important the water has been to my survival and recovery from a near-fatal illness last year.

Today, I want to share another person’s story. It combines my father’s chosen career and swimming. I came upon this delightful anecdote in Bonnie Tsui’s new book, Why We Swim. I am a complete fan.

Why We Swim is a gorgeous hybrid of a book. Bonnie Tsui combines fascinating reporting about some of the world’s most remarkable swimmers with delightful meditations about what it means for us naked apes to leap in the water for no apparent reason. You won’t regret diving in.

Carl Zimmer, New York Times science columnist and author of She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity

Bonnie Tsui writes about Joseph “Jay” Taylor, an American diplomat in Baghdad who received an award from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009 for teaching his fellow Green Zone colleagues to swim. The Green Zone was where the international community lived, and where the American Embassy was housed in Saddam Hussein’s royal palace, which included a luxurious pool.

… adorned with eight-foot fountains and lighted with standing chandeliers for nighttime swimming. Jay couldn’t believe that he got to swim in it, even if on more than one occasion he had to jump out of the deep end at the scream of an air-raid siren and, still dripping, clamber hastily into a concrete bunker as the boom boom of exploding mortars vibrated around him.

Bonnie Tsui, Why We Swim

The swim lessons began when Jay offered to teach a colleague from Madagascar who thrashing about the pool without much success. Soon, he was teaching two classes a week.

Cooks, drivers, translators, peacekeeping troops, helicopter pilots: People from all over the world, from all kinds of places and backgrounds, wanted Jay to be their swim coach … Honduras … India … Ukraine … Lebanon … Mexico. It was a miniature United Nations, a global diaspora of people who had never learned to swim.

Bonnie Tsui, Why We Swim

They called themselves the Baghdad Swim Team. They formed a community, forging bonds and finding solace in a common pursuit. I get that. Some of my most intimate friendships have begun in a pool. More importantly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recognized Jay Taylor’s efforts with an award for teaching those wartime swimming lessons. For building community.

My Dad could have been one of Jay’s students. He almost drowned as a kid in rural South Dakota and was never comfortable in water, making this memory so much sweeter. It was the only road trip I ever had with just my father. We drove from the East Coast to Iowa for the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. It was hot summer, and the small outdoor pool at the Illinois motel where we stopped for the night was perfect temperature for after-dinner relaxation. We bobbed in that pool for about a half-hour. It was probably the longest Dad was ever in a pool, and I got to be there.

Snooky, Elaine, Bob, Terry, and Jeanie

Dad built community with music, a habit learned on the South Dakota prairie. From hootenannies with expats in Rome, to música folklórica in Bogotá, to flamenco guitar sessions in Madrid, Dad loved nothing more than an informal gathering of music-makers. He celebrated his 80th birthday with his siblings the way they grew up — harmonizing!

Foreign Service Training

I’m happy to be following a fellow blogger who is a Foreign Service Officer. She connected with me yesterday to say that she got her government start at the Voice of America, after serving in the Peace Corps in Macedonia. She’s been posted to our embassies and consular offices in Uzbekistan and Australia, and she is on her way to Mexico. Her clear and candid writing brings us beyond the headlines and behind the scenes to experience who this diplomat is and how she carries out her life as she represents us abroad.

She is midway through an intensive Spanish language course at the Foreign Service Institute, the State Department’s training institution in Washington, DC. Here’s some of what she’s written about that experience:

“I just finished the fourth week of Spanish language training at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in Arlington, where the State Department sends its diplomats and staff for training ahead of overseas assignments, sometimes for months at a time. In my case, late next spring I will become Deputy American Citizen Services (ACS) Chief at our consulate in Cuidad Juárez, México, so I get six months (24 weeks) of Spanish. FSI teaches dozens of languages and tradecraft courses, so you’ll find employees from across the U.S. government studying there, too …”

“…This is my third time studying at FSI. I was there full-time for nearly a year from the time I joined the Department in mid-2014. I did A-100 (the introductory course for all new diplomats as they come in), then six months of Russian, followed by area studies, ConGen, and various other courses before departing for my first tour in Tashkent in May 2015. I also came back in mid-2017 before my second tour in Canberra to take political and economic tradecraft training. Last month I hit 14 total years of federal service, and I have to say that never in my career have I had as much excellent training as the State Department provides. It is truly an incredible opportunity to be paid to assemble the skills you need to be better at your job.

When Dad was hired by USIA in 1956 to work at our Embassy in Caracas, his Spanish-language proficiency was not tested. America was in good hands, however: Dad was born, as Mom said, with languages on his lips, and his summers in Mexico during his journalism studies at Macalester College had given him a strong base. He’d teach himself Italian via his Caraqueño barber before being posted to Italy, and he learned Portuguese via tape during his commute when his responsibilities included Brazil while we were in Washington, DC. Italian and Spanish remained in-family code for the rest of his life.

The American University Press, 1995

Where he did feel at sea, however, was filling the role of “diplomat.” He reflected on that concern in his book about serving as Press Attaché in Caracas, How Democracy Triumphed Over Dictatorship, recounting his feelings during his first day on the job. It was July 4, 1956, at the Ambassador’s annual Fourth of July reception for the who’s who of Venezuelan diplomatic relations:

Back home [on the farm in South Dakota], ask anybody to associate a descriptive word with “diplomat,” and you would most likely hear “elite” or “striped pants” or something similar. All I had ever read about the US Foreign Service suggested that American diplomacy traditionally meant Eastern Establishment, professional practitioners trained at exclusive prep schools and Ivy League universities. People born to the social graces, accustomed to cocktail parties and big receptions. One simply assumed that those assigned abroad to an American embassy personified — or should — years of applied preparation: mature men truly educated on the major aspects of our own history and culture; conversant with the most erudite thinking of our greatest institutions; skilled in negotiation and able to articulate all this fluently in the language of the host country.

Instead, here was I, expected to assume duties tomorrow at Press Attaché and Information Officer, American Embassy, Caracas, Venezuela — after only two months of practical orientation in Washington, preceded by five years of corporate public relations, a BA from Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota, and roots reaching all the way back to a one-room school on the prairies of South Dakota. Not exactly elite.

His start may not have been elite, but Dad had what Eisenhower was looking for when he created USIA in 1953 to help project America’s image overseas and deal with the public aspects of diplomacy. Augmenting VOA direct broadcasts, USIA officers would handle cultural programs as well as placement in foreign media of information favoring US interests. Dad wrote:

Word got around regarding opportunities for employment overseas. Hundreds of us with modest professional experience in fields of communication — men and women who had never considered working as civilians for the government, but who had developed deep interests in international relations — found ourselves querying Washington about this new line of “foreign service” work. Not that many of us aspired to instant conversion into polished diplomats … Nevertheless, amazingly, Washington seemed hungry. Overseas employment became an imminent reality.”

Mom (and me) in her passport picture
Dad’s first diplomatic passport picture

Dad worked for USIA from 1955 to 1979, serving in Caracas, Milan, Bologna, Rome, Bogotá, Washington DC, Madrid, and Rome (again!). He rose through the ranks from Press Attaché in Venezuela and Italy; Director of USIS in Colombia; Public Affairs Advisor to the Latin American Bureau of the Department of State; Assistant Director of USIA for Latin America; and Public Affairs Officer in Spain and Italy. His final position was as the Murrow Fellow in Public Diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

The farm boy became a professor at one of those Ivy League schools of diplomacy.