Day 275: Stuck in Lima Peru with the Coronavirus Blues

Yesterday, the coronovirus finally caught up with us in Peru.

Since the virus started in Wuhan in China back in December, the pandemic seemed largely confined to east Asia. Our friends in China and South Korea reported local quarantine procedures, testing and self isolation. Schools that went on holiday back for the lunar new year took an extended holiday of a few extra weeks of distance learning hoping the lockdown would slow the spread of the virus. It appears to have worked and many of our friends who have left these countries have gone back in the hopes of going back to work soon. President Moon of South Korea wants to share how they slowed infections with aggressive testing.

Meanwhile, things in the West have gone batshit crazy. In the last 2 weeks, country after country have reported new cases which has had a cascading affect of denying entry to travelers from infected areas, shutting borders and hoarding supplies. Entire sports franchises are not in operation. Conferences and concerts have been postponed. A trillion dollars of wealth has evaporated from the stock market. Flights have been reduced and Trump’s travel ban from Europe has caused a deluge of incoming US passengers that have inundated airports and now risk infecting one another in these high density areas and taking the virus home to middle America. With layoffs and bankruptcies on the near horizon, coupled with the fact that most Americans have no or unaffordable healthcare and live paycheck to paycheck, economists are forecasting a recession that may decimate the world economy.

For us, these troubles seemed like a world away. Upon landing in Lima just over a week ago, we visited our new school to be while visiting potential apartments and casing our local neighborhood. Our school in Peru was in session as of Monday the 9th, but the edtech department was ramping up its professional development of distance learning tools. The next day, a local school closed in Lima with one infected person, by the end of the week, our school was shut down and would commence online learning. But life would continue as normal. So we thought.

On Wednesday, we took a series of ‘Peru hop’ busses that would take us south from Lima to Paracas, from Huacachina to Nazca and then hopefully from Arequipa to Cuzco to see the famed ruins of Machu Picchu. We thought that the rural setting and hand washing would keep us safe.

Upon boarding an overnight bus from Nazca to Arequipa, our guide, Christian told us that the Peruvian government was starting to set up checkpoints and administer random temperature checks at road side stops so we should be prepared for that. Villagers, normally embracing tourist busses whole hog are now shunning the crowds and their tourist dollars to keep their local communities safe. Upon arriving in Arequipa the next morning, our British traveling companions told us their tour company had cancelled their Machu Picchu tour and the window of getting a flight back to the UK before lockdown was rapidly shrinking. If they didn’t commit, they risked being stranded. That afternoon we got an email from LATAM saying our flights to Colombia had been cancelled and since our flights to the Caribbean were through Bogota, we’d have to conclude a year of travel a little early.

So It Begins for Us

Yesterday morning at 6:00 am, we had a knock at our door. The receptionist from ‘Casa De Avila’ in Arequipa said a representative from our tour company ‘Peru Hop’ was in the lobby asking us if we were ready to leave for Lima.

Not today.” I said. “We’re planning on going to Cusco tomorrow.”

All travel is shutting down today.” He told me. “This is the last bus back to Lima. If you don’t take it, you’ll have to stay here. Where you are at midnight tonight is where you’ll have to be quarantined for 2 weeks as said by the Peruvian government.

Rousing Lisa from her sleep, we had only a minute to debate (while half awake) whether or not to board a long haul bus back to Lima or risk getting stranded in the small mountain town of Arequipa. On top of that, we were battling a touch of food poisoning that gave us diarrhea for the past three days. (Luckily, no fever, cough or cold) In the end, we decided that being in the capital of Lima would offer better access to flights and other services need we be evacuated.

Ten minutes later, we were packed and out the door not even picking up our laundry and boarded a 17 hour bus for Lima with only two five minute stops. The food poisoning kept Ava vomiting all morning in the bus’s bathroom and the diarrhea kept Lisa and I visiting as well. We were hangry and tired when we pulled into Lima at 11:30 pm so we splurged on a nice hotel and booked a room for 3 nights. After some late night room service, we were fast asleep.

Lima Becomes a Ghost Town

This morning, we woke up to a very changed city and things were moving fast. Initially, our hotel told us we could walk the street if we had passports in hand, but by noon today, police were only allowing singles for pedestrian travel. Staff at our hotel have been keeping their distance and we’ve been self-quarantined to our room. On the street, all shops are closed with the exception of pharmacies and grocery stores and the streets are completely empty. It’s kind of creepy.

By mid day, or school in Lima had reached out to us and kindly offered to put us up in a school apartment for 2 weeks until the travel ban lifted and save us a ton of money on hotel fees. By mid-afternoon were getting updates from the embassy, enrolled in STEP and had news trickling in from Whatsapp groups and Twitter hashtags. Multiple nationalities were stranded all over the country with little to no heads up and no way to get to the capital. We were lucky.

Homeschooling Goes Free

One silver lining to this crisis is the number of homeschooling resources that have gone free. Since another casualty of this pandemic is public education and New York and California have joined the growing list of states that have shut down school for online learning, many companies have offered to share their resources.

  • Scholastic– Online catalog of literacy resources. Great books for students and teaching guides for parents.
  • Brainpop– Multiple topics to create a rigorous well-rounded curriculum.
  • RangerRick– This childhood classic goes free.
  • Khanacademy– Sal Khan’s platform for mathematics. Great use of formative assessments.
  • CK-12– Great content platform with readings, videos that you can tailor for any subject.

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Day 144: The Middle East Starts in Oman

The middle east has always captivated us.

Growing up in America, you are practically conditioned to be afraid of the region. As a child of the 80’s and 90’s, I got a quick synopsis of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict in ‘Western Civilizations‘ class in high school, but 9/11 was the coffin nail to the last throes of tolerance for many, and after that, the vicinity became synonymous with terrorism and violence.

So, it only made sense that we visited the middle east to learn more about it first hand and take advantage of seeing it through the eyes of friends we have in Oman, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. Iran and its fabled cities of Shiraz and Persepolis were on our list, but were too tough to get visas for. Saudi Arabia has introduced new tourism initiatives and is even hiring travel influencers who are trying to give the country’s image a makeover from their double standard of rights between men and women and the country’s grisly public beheadings. That too would be a visit for another time.

Because we landed at 2:00 am in Muscat, we got an airport pickup that took us to a hotel and we were in bed an hour later. The next morning, the Cabalunas (our friends from Korea) met us at the hotel swimming pool and we spent hours in the cool water under the roasting Omani sun with temperatures rising up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. “It’s just starting to cool down, thank God.” our friends told us. With some locations in Oman reported having hit over 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, I imagine some people bursting into flames.

The next day, our friends took us boating in the Gulf of Oman. It was refreshing to be on the water and after driving to the marina, we learned that local workers on a tractor back your boat and trailer in the water for you and you signal to shore when you want them to pull you out. Thomas captained us to a secluded bay and we dropped anchor and waded our supplies to shore to set up camp.

The day was one of those ‘magic’ days. While sitting in the sun drinking beer we adults caught up, the kids explored the wadi and the family dog ‘Jude‘ found a tasty goat’s leg boat to chew on. As the heat became too much, we transitioned into the ocean and played ‘keep away’ with a water ball. Kids against the grown ups and vice versa until the sun went down.

Google Expeditions

We had started reading ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe‘ while in Oman, but the big news on the education front was preparing for Egypt. Ava had found a book called ‘Ancient Egyptians‘ of the ‘Horrible Histories‘ book series and had read it cover to cover dozens of times since we started our trip in June so she was looking forward to seeing the Giza plateau and the temples at Luxor. She was fascinated by the process of mummification and I thought mummifying a chicken would be a nice applied learning project to learn more about the process, when we learned that old friends had recently settled in Cairo and we would be staying with them instead of an Airbnb. Doing surgery on poultry in the privacy of a stranger’s house is one thing, asking your friends to use their teacups for canopic jars is another.

Image courtesy of Google Expeditions

Google expeditions came in handy as a nice supplement to learning more about this process. I found an expedition on ancient Egypt and we researched the societal structure way of life and construction of the pyramids which Ava added to her learning notebook. The virtual reality interface gives students choice and are an immersive experience that (contrary to popular belief) one does not need VR headsets to experience. Can’t believe that we’ll actually see these structures next week.

The pyramids have endured for 4,500 years and are one of the wonders of the ancient world. Think they’ll hold up 5 days longer?

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Day 136: Big Things in Tiny Malta

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Day 136: Big Things in Tiny Malta

Sometimes the littlest things can have a big impact.

A pawn can force a checkmate, the small keystone keeps the integrity of the bridge, and a small island in the Mediterranean can serve as a tactical and strategic bastion of war for over two millennia.

The tiny island of Malta is such a place. Inhabited as a neolithic site going back 7,000 years, it was eventually used a a stop by the Phoenicians that sailed from Tyre (modern day Lebanon) westward to trading ports in Cadiz and Carthage. Soon after, it became a staging post by which the armies of Hannibal sparred with the Roman empire back and forth through the ages in the time before Christ. The Knights Hospitaller beat back onslaughts from the Ottoman empire and turned the tide of Ottoman rule through their persistent gunnery from the fort ramparts in the 16th century in what was known as the ‘Great Siege of Malta‘. Control of the island was ceded to Napoleon en route to his Egypt campaign, and the island was bombed heavily in World War 2 as the allies and axis powers fought for control of north Africa. George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev would aspire to meet here following the fall of the Berlin wall. In short, this island has hosted some of history’s most historical events.

Showing signs of modernity, Malta has preserved its culture. Multimillion dollar yachts sit nestled in its harbors, protected by the elements from forts Angelo and Elmo. The whole island feels like an entire city was dropped in the coliseum of Rome and expected to function as usual and adapted by weaving roads under ancient arches, building adjacent to giant buttresses and building new buildings atop 50 foot protective city walls.

Because of its kaleidoscope of cultures through the years, Malta has a culture that is emblematic of everywhere. Maltese is the Sicilian infused dialect and French, English and Italian are widely spoken with whispers of Arabic from taxi drivers. Bar room conversations spill out onto the streets at night much like you’ll find in Portugal. Maltese cuisine has adopted the best parts of Europe with pizza and pasta readily available with a cheap wine not too far away.

Tips for Sightseeing in Malta

As we’ve been traveling for over 4 months now, the novelty of ‘making it count‘ is starting to wear off. I’ve read about long term travelers hitting a wall of travel fatigue and wanting to see less and less when they arrive at a destination and instead opt for doing whatever they feel like on any given day. In this sense, we’ve come to live more like locals, often waking up and going for walks around the harbor, scoping out cheap eats and free thrills. Another challenge with sight seeing in Malta is contending with the large number of tourists swarming out of cruise ships and snapping up limited tour times. Our Airbnb apartment in Senglea overlooked the harbor and any given day there would be 3 massive cruise ships moored up outside. (*Side note: On our last day, the ‘Azamara Pursuit’ which we’d board in January for Antarctica docked a stones throw from our flat) Because of this, certain tourist sights can fill up mid-day and if you’re keen on taking a tour, consider buying tickets in advance.

  • Strolling Valletta – This charming finger jutting out into the bay has a lot of sights to keep you busy for a whole day. Start with a visit to the ‘National Museum of Archeology’ and then head to St John’s Cathedral if you need a gilded church ceiling fix. Wind your way around the edge of the peninsula by visiting the ships of the Valletta waterfront, War Rooms and St. Elmo’s fort. Be sure to stop for lunch and craft beer at ’67 Kapitali’ which has fantastic sandwiches made with Maltese bread. We did twice.
  • Vittoriosa – This trip across the bay is definitely worth it. Fort St. Angelo was tremendous and commanded some amazing views of the island and harbor. The interpretive displays of its role over the ages were more than impressive and it gave us the opportunity to walk along multimillion dollar yachts along the wharf and day dream of opulent wealth.
  • Hal Saflini Hypogeum – This 5,000 year old underground burial chamber was only a 30 minute walk from our place and our high hopes of visiting were soon dashed when we learned that tickets were booked months in advance. C’est la vie mon ami. Apparently, you can get last minute tickets through cancellations through Fort St. Elmo in Valletta or the Gozo Museum of Archeology. If you’re near either of those two places, it pays to ask.
  • Transportation – The easiest and cheapest forms of transport we used were Bolts and water taxis. Since Uber is not available in Malta yet, Bolt is the other ride sharing platform we used in eastern Europe which came in handy. Water taxis between points were only 2-3 euros a ride and came every few minutes.

Google Book Creator

Being in Malta gave us time to resume Ava’s studies. We started reading ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe‘, tested out of ‘Decimals’ and ‘Plane Figures’ in math, but the big news was Ava finishing her brochure (one of her writing pieces of the year) on the African safari. We settled on ‘Google Book Creator’ which allows one to publish the book online as a shareable link, download it as an iBook, or share it via social media platforms. This is a lead-in to her larger persuasive writing piece that she has started on “Why Rhinoceros Should be Protected” that we hope to finish in a couple weeks.

On the Job Hunt: GRC Fair

Speaking of being on safari, the GRC fair in Dubai is on the horizon for us and we’ll be showing up there in 11 days on the hunt for teaching positions for next year. Gone are the days where you could show up and get 6 offers with a valid pulse; the deteriorating state of education and slow pace reform is sending more US teachers abroad so it’s imperative to work hard in order to stand out from the pack.

Most international schools have their declaration dates as November 15th or December 1st, so we’re a bit early, but are having some nibbles on our candidacy and have had a handful of Skype interviews thus far. Here are some tips that have helped us with our searches in the past and will be invaluable when the fair starts:

  • Design a Killer CV – Browse through CVs online and find a format that is clean, scannable and a step above the typical Microsoft or Google doc templates. Most recruiters spend only a few seconds to decide whether a CV is a ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ and some basic graphic design skills can give your profile a sparkle that can set you apart from the rest. I used ‘Adobe In-Design’ for ours.
  • Quantify your Accomplishments – In your work experience section, try to be as descriptive as possible. Instead of saying ‘Co-chaired XYZ Committee‘ instead say ‘Improved 30 units of study in our school’s IT innovation curriculum by teaching 10 staff members best practices.‘ This is more exemplary of leadership and shows results.
  • Have Multiple Cover Letters- This might sound like more work (and it is) but if you’re applying for 2-3 different positions, you want different cover letters to reflect your philosophy, experience and passion for each one. My wife and I have our sights on 2 different positions for each of us so we’ll have a dozen copies of each one for handing out in earnest.
  • Shortlist your Top Schools – Of the 76 schools attending the GRC fair, there are 10 schools with valid jobs for both of us, 6 schools that are our top choices and 2 unicorn schools. We’ve applied to all of their positions online and have emailed schools indicating our attendance, positions for which we’re interested and desire to set up an interview.
  • Research Schools– Take some time to research your top schools through their websites for upcoming initiatives, PD and information from their annual report so you know their history and culture of learning. Be sure to highlight how your own experience aligns with these programs and thus how your experience will be an asset to help this school achieve this vision over the next 2 years. Side note: I once sat in on an interview of a notable PhD candidate who was interviewing for a high school science position. When asked what they liked about our school, they said they ‘didn’t really know anything about‘ our school and thought their academic attainment would compensate. We passed on her.
  • Practice your ‘Elevator Pitch’ – You might get lucky in meeting an administrator in a lobby or elevator and have their ear for a minute. In that time, summarize your interest in their school and what job you and your spouse are well suited for. If you have your CV and cover letters on hand, this may lead to an interview.
  • Use your Professional Learning Network. As our digital footprint has grown and we have friends all over the world, we now have friends at many of the schools at which we are applying. When admin are facing a pile of hundreds a resumes, sometimes a kind note from a well respected colleague of a particular candidate can rocket their application to the top of the pile. Facebook has some groups to this effect as well.
  • Get Some Exercise on the Morning of Interviews- I recently had a Skype interview two hours after my morning cardio workout. The physical activity gave a rush of endorphins and I was much happier, focused, and much more well spoken than an interview two weeks ago when I was sick in bed.
  • Line Up Early and Strategize- The conference hall sign ups are a bit like a fire sale and you need to get in line an hour before the doors open. Other candidates will be doing the same and if you’re in line first, you’ll survive the stampede and can get to the tables for signups.
  • Be Open Minded– There may be schools in countries you’ve never considered, but don’t give up on them. We never thought of South Korea as a destination and chalked up our initial interview as mere ‘practice’. However, after meeting the administrators with whom we instantly connected, found the school to be a great fit and Korea having many recreational activities we would come to love.

The job hunt for international teachers is one of the most stressful things we’ve gone through in our lives. In most cases, you have to declare your intent not to return so your own school can change the vacancy from ‘tentative’ to ‘definite’ and the uncertainty of not having a job before leaving your current one can cause even the most seasoned educators to feel creeping self-doubt and insecurity. Have faith in your abilities, don’t settle, and take advantage of opportunities that such conferences can bring.

It’s your teaching career. If you’re not looking out for it, who will?

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Day 93: Tanzania Part 3- Ngorongoro, Serengeti, Tarangire

Daddy, wake up! I heard something!” Ava said while rustling me awake at one in the morning.

I don’t hear anything.” I said sleepy eyed.

Just outside our tent. Listen!

Sure enough, I heard some footfalls that sounded faintly like ‘clopping’. Moon shadowed shapes danced across the fabric of our tent and I heard plants being pulled up from the ground around us like a group of gardeners hard at work.

They’re most likely just some animals grazing. Nothing to be worried about. Probably not a lion or there would be roaring.

Probably not a lion!? I’m just a 9 year old little girl who has never heard a lion in her life. Can you check it out for me? I’m scared!

As she needed to go pee (and I too which became a nightly occurrence when I hit 40) I slowly unzipped the tent and stuck my head out. In the moonlight all around our tent was a herd of a dozen Zebras that had snuck in and took advantage of the cool evening grasses in our camp. They let us pass without any confrontation to the bathroom and back again reminding us that anything can (and will) happen on safari.

View overlooking Ngorongoro crater

Traveling from Zanzibar to Arusha

We gave ourselves two days to get from Zanzibar to Arusha which is the port city for safaris departing into northern Tanzania. As we’re on a budget, we originally thought we would do overland travel from Dar after the Zanzibar ferry to save money. There are a number of bus companies that offer transport between Dar Es Salaam and Arusha and most of them advertised trip times of 8 to 9 hours. However, most of the customer reviews who took the trip said it was really more like 12 to 13 hours and a bone rattling one at that, and advised against it. A one way ‘Precision Air’ flight for all three of us was $320 from Zanzibar town up to Arusha which was only $100 more than the ferry and busses put together. Add snacks, and taxis to the bus station from the seaport and the cost was essentially the same. A two night stopover in Arusha was more than ample to stock up on provisions before our foray into the bush.

We got picked up early from our hotel where we met our guide ‘China’ and the other guests for our trip. The first was a French couple named Lea and Jeremy who worked in IT, two Argentinian doctors named Berta and Victor, and lone Slovenian who joined us only for the first day. Having Berta and Victor was great for us to dust off our Spanish and after a few days the words and phrases poured out without having to think about translating phrases from English in my head. Lea and Jeremy were kind enough to throw a few licks of French at Ava. Ava’s French teacher, Mademoiselle Luu would be proud.

Our safari crew

Ngorongoro Crater

We drove west to Ngorongoro crater national park which is an ancient volcanic caldera and is one of Africa’s seven natural wonders. Its floor covers over 3,000 square miles and the wildlife that lives in the crater don’t migrate so it resembles a mini biome akin to ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’. We drove down from the edge into the bottom and were greeted by a herd of wildebeest, zebra and gazelles. Soon after spying them, we were surprised by the elegant ‘secretary bird’ and a group of warthogs. A herd of elephants greeted us and everywhere we looked were new species to be discovered.

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On safari at Ngorongoro crater. Northern #Tanzania

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We drove around finding creatures we only saw in zoos. A group of ostriches darted across the plain (males in black feathers the females in grey) and by late afternoon we found our first lion. It was a female panting heavily in the sun. China told us that lions are more active at night or dusk and spend their daytime hours in the shade trying to keep cool. Ava found a ‘lilac crested roller’ perched in the acacia bush.

Do you know why it makes its nest there?” I asked Ava?

I don’t know.” She replied.

The acacia bush has sharp thorns, so building a nest there is protection from predators. The roller eats insects so they have a symbiotic relationship.

So they live together and benefit from each other?

Baobab tree project with ‘Paper 53’ One of Lisa’s many life science lessons.

Olduvai Gorge

After a night of zebras invading our camp in our Ngorongoro rim camp site, we set off on a long drive to Serengeti national park. On the way, we passed by Olduvai gorge where the Leakeys fossil findings of the mid 20th century turned human evolutionary theory to fact. The first time I learned about Olduvai was in a freshman year anthropology class back at college in Iowa, and the site in northern Tanzania seemed so far away, it might as well have been another planet. Now, it was in front of us.

DJI Osmo Action In Stock, Unleash Your Other Side.

Serengeti National Park

At 15,000 square kilometers, Serengeti National Park is the third largest in Tanzania and is reputed to be the best place to see ‘big cats’. China said it was his favorite of all the parks. The vastness is what makes the Serengeti unique and soon after entering through the southern gate of Naabi we found a female cheetah and her two cubs in town on the prowl across the plain. We went to our campsite and set up camp so we could enjoy an evening safari. We saw random animals like dik-diks, jackals and black faced monkeys. We came across a small lion pride resting under a tree and a troop of baboons mixing with a herd of impalas.

There is only one male with this group of impala.” China said.

The males will compete through a duel and the winner will be the only male that will be with this group of females. He will mate with as many as possible until he is challenged again. Females will mate with the strongest and best looking impala.

Just like humans.” Jeremy said.

It was then that we witnessed quite possibly the most awesome scene in nature that we’ve seen in our entire lives- a duo of female lions stalking and killing a zebra.

It started slow, with the two lions separating and keeping low. The herd of zebras was making its way across a field down to a small creek in which hippos were wallowing. The hippos grunted.

The hippos grunt to warn other animals of danger.” China said. We learned that wildebeest also co-mingle with zebras as the zebras have a better sense of smell and can alert the group (gnu) of impending danger. Another symbiotic relationship that keeps everyone alive. Usually.

One of the females worked her way around the side to flank the unsuspecting zebra. In this display, it was amazing to see cats worth together communally, patiently waiting for the right opportunity to strike and having learned the tactics to do so. From where we were, their strategy was more than apparent. One would flush the zebra to the other. But which would move first?

The lions crept from 50 meters to 40 meters to 30 meters to their prize. The zebra suspected something was amiss as it kept a steady gaze onto the field. The lions were far enough away from one another that they were not in the same field of view, so when the ungulate was watching the area near one of the cats, the other advanced low and to the ground. It would shift its gaze in the other direction and other one would move up. All told, the whole hunt took about 30 minutes. “That zebra is gone.” China said matter of factly and without remorse.

Before he could finish his sentence, the attack happened in a plume of dust, and it was over quick. As the zebra darted away from one of the females, it inadvertently ran into the arms of the other. The zebra’s defense is speed and kicking and when the ambushing lion was within reach, it launched its full weight on the rear haunch of the zebra weighing it down with its massive weight and claws to hold it steady. The zebra was unable to run, essentially being buckled down to its knees and within seconds the other lion was upon it with its teeth around the jugular. By the time the dust settled, the zebras thrashing went still. The nearby dazzle of zebras neighed their agast horror.

Fifteen minutes later, one of the blood covered females made her way back to pride to announce the dinner bell and other guarded their kill from the hyenas who had already caught the scent and advanced on the perimeter.

How did that make you feel to see that Ava?


But, know this: the food will keep the lions fed and their baby cubs too. If there are too many zebras, they’ll eat too much of the vegetation. The lions keep the population of other animals down.

Are lions endangered, or are zebras?

Lions are vulnerable and their population is decreasing. Zebras are very plentiful. We have to make sure to protect lion populations as they are also the top predator and there are not many top predators in any ecosystem.

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The Maasai

The night in Serengeti was a good nights sleep and I was awoken at 5:00 am from a lion whose growling announced that, yes, a lion was in our camp for real this time. Somewhere behind the bathrooms best I could tell. I decided to let Ava sleep in until it wandered off.

We stopped at at Maasai village on the long drive to Tarangire national park. We were met by ‘Olle’ who was the chief’s son and had three distinct cut marks under his eyes. The villagers greeted us with a welcome dance and invited us to participate in their courtship displays of singing, dancing and jumping. The village was laid out in a high, circular perimeter fence with 15 mud huts made of thatch and wood and reinforced with mud. The Maasai practice polygamy and Olle confessed that he had 2 wives but wanted 3 more. We visited his house and met his family and I wondered how his wife felt about the prospect of sharing her husband with other females. Was there a kinship or sisterhood within which they could bond? Would they be nothing more than competitors for his affections? I was curious if any Maasai from his village were drawn to city live and left looking for a better life but I decided against asking.

Ava, would you like to stay here?” Olle asked as Ava picked up a goat. “You could play with the goats and cows all you like.

How about I trade you Ava for some of your goats?” I said jokingly.

For her, I would give 50 cows and 20 goats.


Oh yes, a young girl with her skin would be worth a lot.”

Tarangire National Park

Tarangire is known for its baobab trees and watering holes so it has a distinctly different feel than Ngorongoro and Serengeti. There were three large watering holes in Tarangire and they brought in herds of zebras, gazelles, elephants and giraffes so there was always a lot of action. The baobab is one of the strangest looking trees of the world and they can grow to be thousands of years old. The tree below was around at the time of christ.

At every location we camped, Ava was by far the youngest person in the camp with the next oldest being college students. One night at dinner, we walked in past a group of well-to-do looking travelers with our 9 year old in tow and the conversation fell to a hush. We saw this disapproval on their faces as their eyes narrowed as if to say:

What kind of parents bring a child to Africa? Shouldn’t she be in school where she can learn something?

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Day 70: Tanzania Part 1-Dar Es Salaam

Day 84: Tanzania Part 2- Zanzibar

Day 84: Tanzania Part 2- Zanzibar

“Jambo!” “Hakuna Matata!” “Hello my friend!” These all announce your arrival in Tanzania’s most famous island. The turquoise waters were an iridescent blue I hadn’t imagined in my wildest dreams.

We boarded the Azam Marine ferry at 9:30am and made the two hour voyage to Zanzibar Town on the west side. Our guidebook said to be wary of unofficial people on the boat requesting dubious fees and sure enough, we shooed away a couple of charlatans in dated uniforms and smudged credentials asking for a boat tax. Upon arriving, we met our driver and were whisked to the Makofi guest house after an hour and a half drive to the island’s northern most point, Nungwi beach-known for its sunsets and beach life.

Nungwi Days

Staying at Makofi brought us back to our backpacking years in Southeast Asia. All three of us slept together on a single queen sized floor mattress under a mosquito net and the shared bathroom and showers were downstairs. Having a shared bathroom was an accommodation which we haven’t had to endure since our late 20’s, however, the seven night stay for all 3 of us was just under $400 and that included breakfast every morning so budget-wise, it was great. It hosted 5 dollar lunches and a $12 barbecue every other night and the staff were wonderful.

Having a week of beach time with no agenda meant we could resume Ava’s curriculum of study in the mornings which had been on hold since Budapest. She made tremendous progress on Zanzibar, (mainly in math), where she breezed through 20% of her yearly curriculum in ‘Khan Academy’. The big news however, was that we started (and finished) our second book, ‘My Side of the Mountain‘ by Jean Craighead George which tells the story of a boy named Sam Gribley and how he leaves city life to live off the land in the Catskill mountains in New York State by himself. I was surprised how much Ava took to the book and she was awestruck at how effortlessly Sam pulled trout from the stream and fashioned clothing and necessities out of thin air. Before long, Ava was carving spears with her knife, inquiring how to make a snare trap and even trying to start a fire with a small flint our friend John had given her for our trip. A fitting end to our unit on ‘survival’ and I hoped her interest in the beauty of nature would continue through such greats that inspired me like Edward Abbey, Gary Snyder, and Aldo Leopold.

Ava’s MP3 recorded with ‘Garage Band’
The mixing board in ‘Garageband’

We used ‘Garageband’ to record an MP3 with a faint background track and hosted it through ‘Soundcloud’ to share her reflections. A few years ago, I had helped the high school English department and their students record family stories and they too used ‘Garageband’ with multiple audio tracks including parent dialogue in Hangul which made for amazing podcasts as they ended up being more than mere projects, but cultural artifacts.

Now that I’m on the subject, I’ve been thinking a lot about the digital divide since we’ve been here. As many of my colleagues around the world post innovative videos of their students making 3D printed products, autonomous robots, coded arduinos and independent raspberry pis, I’m reminded of the sobering opportunities that students have in the developed world and private sector compared to the developing world. While out for a walk one afternoon, we passed a primary school and peering in the windows, I noticed that the students didn’t even have workbooks on which to write. Blackboard chalk was a luxury. Here, STEM is not taught in schools but is rather a tradecraft passed down among family members. Mothers teach their daughters how to weave baskets, and repair fishing nets. Fathers and older brothers teach younger siblings how to carve and press boat hulls at the shipyards and bring in a catch that will feed the entire village. Here, children leave school when the family needs them to: and their apprenticeship becomes full time and forever.

Pwani Mchangani

After a week at Nungwi, we took a shuttle to the east coast to stay at the ‘Waikiki Zanzibar Resort’ on Pwani Mchangani beach. The resort might as well have been a 5 star luxury resort in the Maldives as we had an en suite bathroom, a queen bed for the two adults and a single, separate bed for the girl. There was a ceiling fan and air conditioner so we enjoyed afternoons napping and watching movies on our Macbook to stay out of the sun. Our room was serviced daily and had a nice porch on which to have sundowners before dinner. On this side of the island, we caught the sunrise rather than the sunset and the reef was an unreachable 1 kilometer walk through a minefield of sea urchins. We went through 4 bottles of sunscreen and Lisa and I read a new book every day. The resort was run by Italians and their wood burning oven meant we had some of the best pizzas outside of Italy and we split two for lunch every day so our the waistlines of our pants felt snug at check out.

Zanzibar Town (Stone Town)

Stone town has an eclectic past to put it lightly. Sultans of Oman erected huge palaces for their harems here and under their tenure, slave trading flourished as enslaving muslims was against their religion. In the mid 19th century, nearly 600,000 slaves who were abducted from as far west as Congo passed through Zanzibar en route to European plantations, many at the hands of dreaded merchant ‘Tippu Tip’ whose home here still stands to this day along with the slave quarters which have been turned into a church.

The winding alleys are an intoxicating stupor of smells and sounds both Arabic and African at the same time. Since it’s been a trading port since before the time of Christ, one can’t help but feel fortunate for drifting through this storied place and contributing a sliver to its history. I wondered what late night shenanigans sailors on shore leave got up to over the years, what fashions looked like in the 800’s, if pioneer town bars still stood and which buildings among us housed ambergris and gems from Araby.

Our friends the Fossgreens joined us for a weekend night at the ‘Warere Guest House’ in north Stone town and we had a gluttonous night of seafood for dinner, creme brûlée for dessert and gelato on the walk home. After they left, we spent our days getting lost in the old town, sampling the best Indian food in town and clothing shops to get us ready for safaris.

We gave a hug to our friends at the sea port on Sunday; each of us wondering where and when we’d meet up next time, or if we ever would again.

By Ava

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Day 54: Laying Low in Bratislava

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Day 54: Laying Low in Bratislava

At just an hour and 20 minutes, the bus ride between Vienna and Bratislava was the shortest ride we’ve taken on our trip between cities. I sat next to a woman who was nervously clutching the purse on her lap and across the aisle, a textbook frat boy. Oxford blue long sleeve shirt rolled up above the elbows, khaki shorts, leather penny loafers without socks and a neatly trimmed quaff just starting to show signs of thinning. He wore a permanent smirk for our entire trip. Probably for his life.

Bratislava is a more subdued European capital than its big brothers and sisters of Vienna and Prague. In either of the aforementioned places, you’re more likely to bump into more tourists than locals, so Bratislava feels like an ‘authentic’ town where people actually live and don’t just cater to visitors. The smaller size means it’s a very walkable city. Here are some of our highlights:

  • Walking across the Stary Most bridge for view of the city and Danube
  • Sampling craft beers at the ‘Craft Beer Bar’.
  • Enjoying some of the best Ramen in Europe at ‘Ramen Kazu’
  • People watching on Venturska walking street.
  • Having the duck confit at Bratislavsky Mestiansky.

Bratislava was our last stop as a family of three before coasting into Budapest tomorrow to stay with our Saigon family, the Macs, for two weeks of catching up, playing cards and lots of laughs. It’s been 2 years since we’ve seen these good friends of ours, and we were so eagerly looking forward to a reunion we seriously considered just leaving our pre-paid hotel a day early.

Ava’s Digital Story: Avigail’s Story

Bratislava did give us time to complete a big literacy project. After a month of drafting and revising, Ava finally finished her narrative essay, inspired by her trip to the Jewish Ghetto in Riga, Latvia. Aside from all the grammatical benchmarks, one standard still remained, which is using technology including the internet to publish writing an to interact with others.

W.4.6. With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.

For this standard, digital story creation comes in handy. A digital story is a multi-media creation that uses photos, videos, along with narration, sound effects and music to evoke a richer experience. We used iMovie and published to youtube in the hopes of getting some viewer comments either there or through wordpress (hint hint) to interact with others.

Layering media such as narrations, sound effects in ‘iMovie’

Although digital story creation can be time consuming to teach and make, it’s generally worth the wait as students learn that ‘literacy’ has come to encompass digital literacy skills as this medium is now a mainstream form of communication. Here is a guide I made to walk you through the process.

Here Come the Malarial Side Effects

Today was another important date for us, as we started taking our malaria drugs to prepare for a 5 week trip through Tanzania and Kenya straddling late August into September. We got our last few vaccinations in our final weeks in Korea but we had to start taking Malaria drugs (Mefloquin) two weeks prior to arriving and 2 weeks after leaving. I wasn’t looking forward to the after effects again and we felt nauseous all day after taking our first pill this morning.

The last time we took Mefloquin, Lisa and I suffered from horrible, long term hallucinations which is a typical side effect. It was always the same- we woke up in the middle of the night convinced that we were covered in spiders and would hyperventilate ourselves awake while frantically fighting off the imaginary arachnids slowly bringing us from nightmare to sweaty lucidity. Although the episodes faded away over time, their intensity didn’t, and it wasn’t until 2 years later that we were back to normal. Just the other day, a Cambridge student interning in Madagascar opened the door of her light engine plane and fell to her death. Anti-malarials are the suspected culprit. I hope the medicine doesn’t hit Ava too hard.

At least we’ll be with friends.

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Day 48: The Czech Republic

By the time we arrived in the gothic capital of Prague, it was late and the sun was going down over the Jiraskuv bridge. Bridges cross the Vltava river every few hundred meters or so, but the crown jewel is Charles Bridge which is shut off from cars and open only to pedestrians and statues that adorn the ramparts.

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Fun day exploring #Prague castle and Charles Bridge.

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Prague is one of the historic ‘old towns’ in Europe, and life comes alive here at night. The brew pubs (some of the best in the world) fill up with patrons and spill out onto the street when stools are scarce. Parks fill up with groups huddled onto park benches and get louder into the night like in Lisbon. Sadly, the days of Prague being a ‘cheap’ destination are gone, but it’s still better than most of the big cities Westward. There are more tourists in Prague than any other city we have visited thus far.

The strangest thing in Prague are the ‘minimarts’ and christ almighty are there a lot of them. Here, the minimarts sell three things: brass knuckles, absinthe and hemp products, and they’re almost exclusively run by Vietnamese people hailing from Hanoi. Our Airbnb was in little Asia so we had a number of Korean and Vietnamese run food marts that we could engage and reminisce about our time in the ‘old country’. The Koreans were more than affable and the conversations went like this:

You lived in Korea! Where?” Asked the shop owners.

Pangyo. Just south of Seoul. We lived there for 4 years.”

I never meet non-Korean Koreans here in Prague. I can give you a discount if you’d like.” which we were typically greeted with at check out. After a few phrases in Korean dialect, we knew we made a friend for life. The Vietnamese, not so much:

Are you from Hanoi?” I asked in Viet at the checkout counter.

Yes.” They’d usually reply.

I used to live in Saigon. For 9 years.

Um, ok. Would you like a bag?

Trying to wrap my head around the disparity of kinship of my Asian brothers, I can only assume that Czechs are preparing to defend themselves against the onslaught of the zombie apocalypse and are hoping the minimarts will be their essential survival supply bastions. I mean, really. What other scenarios in life would implore you to buy brass knuckles and a bong at the same time? And who the hell drinks absinthe?

Screencast for Avigail’s Story: Second Draft

We’ve been using the writers workshop model with ipsative feedback to guide Ava through her narrative writing piece. Back in Riga, she started a draft of a girl that was separated from her parents during WW2, inspired by our visit to the Jewish Ghetto. Ava had some good ideas, but she didn’t transition well from topic to topic so I used screencasts to give her reviewable feedback using ‘Screencastify’.

Screencasts are just video recordings (typically with voiceovers) that people use for instructional or informational purposes. I’ve also had students use screencasts using quicktime for movies and digital stories, but I learned a handy way of using the ‘Screencastify’ chrome add on to give video feedback which saves time writing comments in the margins digitally, or by hand. Here’s how it works:

Install the ‘Screencastify‘ app on your chrome browser. From here, you activate the desktop or screen recorder and can choose to embed the webcam of yourself talking. (If I was better looking, I would. But as I’m bald and bearded, I look like a penis with a face and kindly opt out) Here’s the cool thing- after you finish the recording, you upload it to youtube (one of the options that ‘Screencastify’ offers) and upload it as an ‘unlisted’ video and add the link as a direct comment.

Adding a direct comment with an unlisted video for the student.

Unlisted videos can only be seen by those with the link, so in my youtube dashboard, I can see how many times Ava has looked at my screencast and I don’t have to repeat myself over and over. There is nothing more deflating for teachers than spending countless hours on giving student feedback and then not having the student read or act on it.

The unlisted screencast shows 2 views.
10 Books for Early Readers

South to Cesky Krumlov

After three days in Prague, we took a bus down to Cesky Krumlov, a small UNESCO town near the Austrian German border. The whole town looked like it was born out of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale- meandering cobble stone streets lined with old pensions and restaurants adorning the city.

The next morning, I went on an early morning walk and got some nice drone footage before the tourist buses came at 10ish. By then, the city was flooded with German, American, Korean and Chinese tourists walking around with their selfie sticks permanently jutted out in front them, eager to document every second of their visit.

For some reason people, people in Cesky Krumlov (when seeing me coming down the street or alleyway) gave me a wider berth than usual time and time again. I guess they do have reason to be suspicious. I’m six foot six, two hundred and sixty pounds, bald, bearded, tattooed and when I’m wearing sunglasses and pursed lips I look like I could kill an entire family. If I’m ever arrested and put in a police line up, I’m sure I’d be singled out from my looks alone and would simply put up my hands up to save time. I’d announce: “It was me. I did it. Let’s move on shall we?

Nevertheless, we had a full day of fun. In the morning after Ava’s school work, we visited the castle and nearby gardens followed by lunch at Krcma Satlava. Satlava is an institution in Cesky and after eating here, you’ll find out why. They have a massive grill and slow roast tenderloin, chicken, potato pancakes and pork roast served up with sauerkraut and potatoes so succulent, you’ll start eyeing long term rentals when you stagger out. The local beer is a nice chaser to the horseradish and mustard garnished morsels and for entertainment you can enjoy watching the other patrons recording their dishes on video. It’s a slice of heaven for the senile.

After a post lunch gastronomic siesta, we went river rafting. We found a company that allowed us to take a raft with no supervision or helmets out on the river for 2 hours for only forty-five dollars. To be out in nature was curative after the crazy hedonism of city hopping for the last month. We spent most of our time swimming, laughing or laying back on the raft looking up at the sky and wondering why life can’t always follow a pace like this.

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Day 38: Poland Part 2- Auschwitz Birkenau

The day after arriving in Krakow, Lisa and I took turns visiting the most infamous concentration camp in the world.

Unless you’ve been living on the moon or dropped out of high school, the name ‘Auschwitz‘ brings a chill because of the atrocities committed there. From 1941 to 1945, over one million Jews and political prisoners from all over Europe arrived with false hopes thinking they were coming to yet another ghetto or labor camp. When the cattle car doors clanged open, letting in the first sunshine and first fresh air people had seen in days, the ‘separation‘ commenced by SS soldiers and frothy-mouthed dogs on leashes. Crying, screaming, pleading families on one side imploring for compassion met only with shouts of ‘Shnell! Schnell!” and “Actung!” by the other.

The purpose of the separation was simple: identify laborers who could work and get rid of everyone else. In all, 80% of arrivals were marched into the gas chambers just moments after their long journey with false promises of a shower before being shown their new bunks. They shuffled into large rooms, docilly, after being stripped and having had their heads shaved. The rooms were sealed and instead of water coming from the shower heads, Zyklon B was poured in from above and the suffocating commenced. Those closest to the ducts died quickly, those in the corners lived 20 minutes more in agony.

If the staff of Auschwitz were going to hell, a special place was reserved there for Josef Mengele. I heard of Josef Mengele when I was younger, but the horrors he committed have cemented my view that he might just be the most vile human being ever to walk the planet. Mengele was so aptly called the ‘Angel of Death‘ and carried out numerous, sadistic experiments on the populace in the name of eugenics and finding out how to build a better ‘master race’. His experiments and lab (which we saw) involved castration, genital mutilation and gender reassignments surgeries. He had a soft spot for twin children as he could use one as the baseline and inject the other with debilitating diseases. Whereas Rudolf Hoess, the commandant of Auschwitz was found guilty at the Nuremberg trials and sentenced to hanging next to the crematorium of Auschwitz as retribution for his crimes, Mengele slunk out of Germany and died while swimming in the ocean in south America. A fascinating and horrific read from a first hand account is ‘Surviving the Angel of Death‘, by Eva Mozes who wrote about experiments done on her and her twin sister Miriam while imprisoned there.

travel, holidays, accomodation, Agoda

Visiting the Park

Auschwitz Birkenau was just over an hour outside of Krakow. Although it’s possible to take a bus, I recommend an organized ‘skip the line’ tour from City pass which leaves from Krakow and cost 180 Polish Zloty. An organized tour also provided us with a guide and headset to listen to the extensive history of the site from local experts. When we got back to our apartment, we watched the six part, BBC documentary: “Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution” which combined historical archives, CGI and reenacted scenes leading up to its construction.

What age is appropriate to visit?

After much debate, we decided not to take our 9 year old daughter. After web searches and talking to people who had been there, we felt that she was just a ‘tad’ too young. That being said, there was a middle school group visiting in rapt attention and other parents who brought children as young as 5 to play outside the building’s exhibits while the parents visited inside. In Auschwitz 1, there are graphic pictures of naked, emaciated women and children which may be too much for young eyes.

The personal artifacts are what haunted me the most. At the park, entire rooms are used to house clothes, eye glasses, human hair and shoes from victims of all ages. As you visit, you can’t help but think- in every pair of shoes walked a different person. A different person with hopes and dreams. A different person from a loving family who was loved and who loved someone back. Different people from different backgrounds reduced to nothing. Just ash. Like that.

Enter NewsELA for Current Events

The bus ride back was somber for everyone. Looking out in the windows at the rolling countryside of green with cheerful looking towns, I asked what people have been asking about the genocide for decades: “How could this happen?” In the 1930’s, legions of European Jews were denied asylum in the United States and other places as many thought of these immigrants as vermin who would take their jobs, mooch off welfare –sound familiar?– so they got sent back to Europe and their eventual doom. ‘Not my problem’ was one refrain. “They’re Communists” was another.

Just recently, Poland has passed a new law making it a punishable offense to insinuate that Poland was somehow responsible or complicit for any part in the holocaust. During the war, Germans utilized Polish police forces for rounding up Jews and for logistical support and if they didn’t help, they would have most likely been killed themselves. All over Europe, the third reich bullied the local garrison into doing their bidding. During wartime, people will do anything to survive.

Assessment Blueprint for Un… by Nomadic Edventures on Scribd

I found this new law fascinating and was excited to find it on NewsELA. As we have been reading more and more current events and informational texts, I have introduced Ava to “NewsELA” which curates popular articles into different reading levels for readers and can be assigned for reading and tracking.

Assignments in Ava’s dashboard.

In addition to being able to read articles of varying length, NewsELA also has post reading questionnaires that measure information text understanding of common core reading standards.

A post reading questionnaire: Courtesy of NewsELA

Never again” I repeat to myself, knowing that the ‘Never again‘ mantra goes only as far as those who have seen it. ‘Never again‘ didn’t make it to the shores of Cambodia, the mountains of Yugoslavia, jungles of Rwanda, or Armenia, or Darfur and millions more died because of it.

“Those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it”

-George Santayana

After the visit and after all the books we read and documentaries we watched, two distinct moments hang with me. The first was a video interview of a prison guard at the camp who was asked: “Do you regret what you did?” “No.” he said. “I thought the Jews were terrible and we needed to get rid of them. It was my conviction that they were awful people and the cause of our problems.” The power of propaganda.

The other was from Eva Kor shortly before being liberated by the red army. While having freedom to explore the grounds for the first time, she came across a river and across it on the other bank was a young Polish girl her age. The young girl carried a backpack and was wearing her school clothes and was on her way to a lesson. The other girl had been carrying on with life as usual, inured to the horrors across the bank while Eva was covered in rags and recovering from torture. “How could you not have done something, anything?” She thought.

Combating Modern Day Fascism

One of the more interesting articles on social media use I read recently was ‘The spread of true and false news online” in Science 2018. The authors point out that fake news gets spread quicker than facts because it’s novel, and uses the availability heuristic combined with false consensus to make the sharers feel like they’re part of something; and their tribe is bigger than they think. People just don’t want to waste time checking their sources. Or be told that they’re wrong.

Anger and fear are seeds that germinate war. Forgiveness is a seed for peace.

-Eva Mozes Kor

Truth is discourse. In order for that discourse to develop we have a responsibility to share these truths with all the facts to back them up. We have a responsibility to stand up to newly emboldened white nationalist trolls, holocaust deniers and anti-immigrant populists who cajole fear. We have a responsibility to call out this ugly behavior and vote out of office politicians who either support it, ignore it or wield it themselves.

Never again.” We’ll tell them.

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Day 34: Poland Part 1-Eastern Delights

The day we arrived in Warsaw, one of the biggest music legends in the world was playing at the PGE Narodowy coliseum.

I would not have normally gone to see Jon Bon Jovi, but with standing arena tickets costing only $40, we had to do it. Bon Jovi dominated the romantic rock genre since he started in 1983 and has been riding it strong ever since, without too many trips to rehab or scandals as rock stars are known for. As many archetypes of the classic rock heyday age into playing casinos or second tier rock concerts, Bon Jovi has been playing to sold out arenas (like they did a few nights ago) by starting with songs off their new album ‘This House is Not for Sale‘ and then launching in their classics causing such a rise from the audience that menopausal women started ovulating.

I remember in the 5th grade when, while in gym class, Rusty Henderson pulled out a cassette tape of Bon Jovi’s ‘Slippery When Wet‘ and we gazed, sitting transfixed on the album cover while thinking we were looking at soft porn for the first time in our lives. Since then, rocking out to ‘You Give Love a Bad Name‘ and ‘Living on a Prayer‘ has been a rite of passage for people around the world. Even though Jon can’t hit the high notes of 30 years ago, his band carried the harmonies, giving him time for the requisite hip shakes, which every time, released more eggs from menopausal moms.

Exploring Warsaw

Since we went to bed at 2:00 am after the concert, we had a bit of a sleep-in before exploring Warsaw. Poland’s capital city blends history with modernity. Unlike the medieval towns that we passed through in the baltic countries, Warsaw has embraced new construction and high rise development without the cumbersome resolutions of being a UNESCO heritage site.

The Old Town

The old town has had quite the renaissance since the war. We saw black and white pictures of the city in 1945 and most of it was destroyed with the bombings with nothing more than a few empty shells of buildings and piles of rubble. Since then, they’ve rebuilt buildings to a new shade of the former grandeur.

The Uprising Museum

One night, we watched ‘The Zookeepers Wife’ which chronicled the story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski who sheltered 300 jews in their zoo right under the watchful eyes of the nazis. Ava is not typically into dramas, but the story mesmerized her and helped her finish the first draft of her narrative essay on ‘survival’. The Warsaw uprising was a last ditch effort of citizens in Warsaw to rebuff the nazi occupation by launching a guerrilla offensive to liberate the city. The old Warsaw Ghetto has been destroyed and only a few dilapidated brick walls remain with a memorial to its sad history.

The museum is a testament to this event. The interior is made to resemble a city overrun with strife. It’s dimly lit. Flood lights passing overhead. Exhibits look like fortifications with propaganda posters and war memorabilia.

Hilton Hotels

The Nicholas Copernicus Museum

When I heard about the Nicolas Copernicus museum, I immediately started front loading content about the Polish astronomer so Ava would be familiar with his work. Copernicus wrote his seminal work on the revolution of earth around the sun just months before his death which would be instrumental to Galileo years later that was begrudgingly accepted by the public (and eventually the church) who denounced them as heretical. We used ‘Quizlet‘ to introduce new terminology (See below) and Insert Learning to turn web pages into lessons.

Quizlet allows teacher to use flashcards or build their own to build vocabulary.
A lesson with ‘Insert Learning’. Dashboard on the right can highlight words, or insert discussions or questions for students.

Ironically, the Nicholas Copernius Museum was less about the man and his life and more about hands on experiments and activities that children can do for hours, which, for the children, is awesome. As a former teacher who has taken hundreds of students to museums, this might just be the most interactive museum in the world. We had to drag our child away.

Onto Gdansk

On Tuesday, we took at 3 hour train ride to Gdansk on the northeast coast. We met our Airbnb host, Pawel, who introduced us to local lingo by berating my English and my inability to correctly identify our meeting place.

I’ve had hundreds of other guests and you’re the first not to come to the building!” Pawel said.

You see that?” I said pointing. “That is a building, so is that, and that. Building can mean many things and is very vague.” I replied.

Yes, but we call where we live a building.

How am I supposed to know what locals call a building? The train station is also a building, which I associate with the impersonal description of not being a ‘home’ and where I thought you said you would meet us.

Fearing I might tarnish his 5 star average review rating, he let it go and walked us up to our spacious one bedroom that had a big enough living room, 2 TVs and a washing machine of which we were in desperate need.

Gdansk is beyond charming. Old cobblestone streets and brew pubs make it cozy, intimate and fun. Street musicians playing classical to jazz to swing hang out in the tunnels, utilizing the acoustics for more ‘pop’. The colorful building facades stand up like Crayola crayons and the quay is the heart and soul of town inviting river cruises, boat rentals and rubber-neckers to watch it all go by.

Since we got Ava’s Bon Jovi concert t-shirt washed (which she wore every day we were in Warsaw) it’s bound to make an appearance for our train trip tomorrow back down to Krakow. By the way, ‘Ovulating Menopausal Women‘ would be a great name for a rock band.

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Day 22: Teaching Tolerance in Riga, Latvia

The day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, a teacher in Riceville, Iowa planned a lesson that would change the world of education.

Knowing that her 28 third grade children could not understand discrimination without experiencing it for themselves, Jane Elliot devised an experiment wherein blue-eyed children would wear blue collars and the brown-eyed children would wear brown ones. The blue eyed students were treated better, told to ignore the brown eyed students, and over the course of the day found that brown eye students were even taunted on the playground by their blue eyed peers proving that discrimination was a learned behavior. Mrs. Elliot was thrust into the public spotlight and the reaction by some was swift:

How dare you try this cruel experiment out on white children? Black children grow up accustomed to such behavior, but white children, there’s no way they could possibly understand it. It’s cruel to white children and will cause them great psychological damage.”

Nigger lover

Jane Elliot eventually went on the speaking circuit to teach similar lessons around the world, wrote books and established herself as a hero for teachers around the world with her lesson as a bastion of lore on the power of applied learning rather than just reading a passage from a book. Academic research in the 90’s showed that the exercise ’caused stress’ for participants and should be eliminated as an effective strategy to reduce racist attitudes, but her children (now adults) conveyed how powerful the activity was years later.

Teaching Discrimination in the Modern Era

Could Mrs. Elliot’s experiment be replicated in our current climate? In a time of xenophobia and entrenched nationalism, lines have been drawn with rival camps unwilling to listen to the other on issues such as immigration and politics with our news feed keeping us firmly seated in the belief that everything we’re doing is right and the other side is wrong. As a teacher, this makes teaching something controversial extremely difficult because of the ensuing backlash.

“Part of being a parent is also wanting to protect your child from the cruelty of human nature as long as you can.”

Teaching Tolerance

Being able to teach our daughter ‘how‘ we want for an entire year on the road with only ourselves to answer to is one of the perks of this trip. As we landed in Riga a few nights ago, tendrils of the nazi’s reach started showing themselves so Lisa and I debated on whether or not to teach our 4th grader the atrocities of the genocide here during world war 2. Would she be able to understand all the geopolitical forces at work? Probably not. The Holocaust is typically taught to students between grades 8 and 10 in traditional schools as they learn the history of western civilization, and have a stronger stomach for it. But as Jane Elliot proves, education is a powerful thing, capable of turning even young children into racists, and back into tolerant people with the right direction. After all, hate and empathy are learned behaviors.

We went to the Jewish Ghetto Museum of Riga, where thousands of Jews were deported to before being killed in the Rumbula forest in the swiftest large scale killing before the advent of extermination camps. The gruesomeness and cruelty of their deaths were left out of the exhibit and instead was a testament to the lives of the victims while they were alive. The questions poured out of Ava like a faucet:

What happened to all these people?

Where did they come from?

Why did this happen?

Is something wrong with Jewish people?”

Why did they die?

Building Comprehensible Input for Narrative Writing

The afternoon of teachable moments was a sign that Ava’s narrative writing piece could be to write from the perspective of a 9 year old Jewish girl living in the ghettos during world war 2. Her narrative writing piece is a larger, more process writing piece that she could share digitally than her daily journal entries, so we started building up her word bank of target vocabulary and content knowledge.

Assessment Blueprint for Un… by on Scribd

CK-12 CK-12 is a free learning management system that can deploy content to students via a classroom you set up, or to other platforms like ‘Google Classroom’. Below is a snapshot of a lesson that I found that was written for a 7th grade reading level and allowed Ava to highlight passages for discussion later.

Assigning content in CK-12

Youtube Playlists– One of the more useful tricks in youtube is to create playlists of videos. Simply log into the app and ‘save’ videos to a playlist which you can see on your left hand navigation bar.

Epic I’ve written about ‘Epic‘ before and found some great books for Ava’s lexile (reading level) about World War 2. We read a great book last night called “Rebekkah’s Journey” which tells the story through the eyes of a girl about the same age as Ava who emigrates to the United States with her mother to seek asylum, but the loss of her father during the war is a constant reminder of the past. Just this morning, we read about Anne Frank.

‘Rebekkah’s Journey’ Courtesy of Epic
10 Chapter Books

Graphic Organizers and Notability. CSI or ‘Color, Symbol, Image’ is a powerful visible thinking activity that can be used as either a formative or summative assessment. I downloaded the image as a picture into my photos on the iPad and then uploaded it to ‘Notability’ a note taking and drawing annotation app that is done more easily with the apple pencil than a mouse.

CSI template of ‘Genocide’.

We’re on our way to Lithuania and eventually, Krakow where just outside lurks the ‘Auschowitz-Birkenau‘ concentration camp. I think we’ll spare our daughter the horrors inside its walls, as that would be a lesson for another day.

In the meantime, Ava has started work on her narrative story and is about two pages in, filling her pages with details around us and echos of history as a testament for peace.

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