Honk, Honk!

I find it so fascinating that a certain sound or smell can trigger a memory that is so incredibly vivid in your mind. This happened to me the other day. As I was walking through the streets of downtown Phoenix in between classes, I heard a honk from a car. Why might that trigger a memory? Well, about one year ago, I visited Cairo, Egypt. If you've ever been, or have heard from anyone that has, you'll know that the streets are jam packed with cars. Literally, there is about two inches between each car on the road. And with a traffic jam comes continuous honking. I don't think I ever experienced a moment of silence more than three seconds long. Just when I thought Cairo just might've been still for a moment, BAM there was a honk. And then ten more. It was kind of hard not to go a bit crazy. But while in Egypt, my trip leader encouraged us, that every time we heard a honk while we were back home, we'd be reminded to pray for Egypt. So, while walking through the, mostly, calm streets of Phoenix, I heard the honk and was immediately brought back to Cairo. It put a smile on my face for a minute, but then it caused my heart and spirit to travel to Egypt and pray for the nation. To pray for peace during the upheaval that's happening now. To pray for the Egyptian Christians who face persecution. And to pray for peace amidst the crazy traffic jams and honking. I can imagine how stressful it can be to live in that kind of environment every day. For a glimpse, watch the video below.

Warning: If you watch this video for more than 10 seconds, you might go crazy.

Note the people crossing the street. Remind you of the game Frogger?

List I'm Supposed to Keep in a Bucket

I have so many dreams and desires, but have never really written them down, so here's to my first bucket list. New ideas will be added and old ones will be scratched out in future days. But for now, here you go.

1. Become fluent in German
2. Read the Bible in German
3. Learn to play the piano
4. Ride in a private plane above Hawaii
5. Marry my soul-mate
6. Have children
7. Visit Ireland
8. Go on a Mediterranean Cruise
9. Own a vespa
10. Be on a tv game show
11. Celebrate Oktoberfest in Germany
12. Visit the 50 most unique churches in the world
13. Walk in Jesus and the disciples’ footsteps in the Holy Land
14. Record a wide array of drum covers and post them on YouTube
15. Go on a Route 66 roadtrip
16. Visit all 50 U.S. states
17. Meet my sponsor child in Kenya
18. Eat Thai food in Thailand
19. Eat sushi in Japan
20. Take flight lessons
21. Ride in a hot air balloon
22. Adopt a dog
23. Visit South America
24. Live in another country (again)
25. Learn how to sing and sound decent
26. See the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio De Janeiro
27. Attend a symphony at Carnegie Hall and the Sydney Opera House
28. See and climb the Eiffel Tower
29. Visit the Louvre in Paris
30. Play drums at a large girls or womens’ conference
31. Go on a trip alone
32. Win in Bingo at the casino
33. Go to a Coldplay concert
34. Celebrate New Years in Sydney, Australia
35. Travel to Spain
36. Take a roadtrip around Italy
37. Have a reunion in Sydney with Hillsong College '08 alumni
38. Find a career that I love
39. Attend a worship service at each of the Hillsong churches around the world
40. Visit South Africa
41. Swim in the Great Barrier Reef
42. See the ancient Egyptian pyramids
43. Change someone's life

44. Swim in a hot spring in Iceland

The People We Ignore

Across a Distant Sea

I apologize for the extreme delay in blog posts from me lately. I've been laboring away at assignments, tests, lectures, etc... But the end of the semester is in sight, therefore I hope to have more time to write. To kick off my blogging again, here is a travel narrative that I wrote over the summer for my travel writing class. It's about my experience in Australia. Enjoy

                                      Across a Distant Sea
There I was on a warm sunny day in October in a country I had called my home for the last ten months, about to leave this place in just a few short weeks. I sat in the grass, gazed out at the deep navy water, and questioned my existence in this place. Seasoned joggers dashing past me, exuberant tourists with cameras in hand anxiously capturing every moment while it lasted, young couples lounging in the grass dreaming of their futures, the introspective types journaling their thoughts. And then there was me; just a young American girl who found this place to be her home, now about to be stripped away from its soil for who knows how long. I peered to my left at the infamous Sydney Opera House, sat like a sponge and absorbed the magnificent sight as long as I could imagine. 
Back track eleven months. It was a gloomy December day in Arizona, raindrops pattered on my window as I sat in my bedroom staring blankly at the computer screen. Mom and Dad were downstairs; mom cooking a delicious spaghetti dinner and dad lounging on the couch watching “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Alone in my bedroom, my mind began to race and my emotions ran wild like an uncontrollable tornado rushing through my body. This was it. There was no going back. In a few short weeks, I would be boarding a plane destined for a far off land for the next year of my young adult life. I didn’t know whether to be excited, sad, scared, or angry. I think I had a rowdy mixture of them all.
Fast-forward a few short weeks. The time had come. The date was Thursday, January 17th and at 6:00pm, I was leaving on United Airlines Flight 839 where I would embark on a bittersweet adventure across a distant sea; studying for one year at Hillsong International Leadership College, a Christian church and Bible college tucked away in a suburb of Sydney called Baulkham Hills. As I sat in seat 27A for 16 hours I fought back the tears when finally the familiar voice came on the speaker. “Welcome to Sydney, ladies and gentlemen, where the local time is 8:00am. We’ve got clear skies and sun in store for us today. We thank you for flying with us and we hope you enjoy your stay in Sydney.” Oh my God, I thought. Here I go. After getting off the airplane, I grabbed my luggage from Carousel 3 and met my driver along with other nervous newbies, like myself, from Canada, Sweden, and the US. We traveled 45 minutes in a van, on the wrong side of the road, (if you want to be politically correct, say opposite) through the streets and motorways of Sydney to my new home, an average apartment complex tucked away in a residential neighborhood in Castle Hill, a community of 35,000 inhabitants. As I opened the annoyingly squeaky door to Apartment “36”, I was poorly welcomed by an empty and unfurnished dwelling. Before I could get one foot in the door, I was met by my new, rather cheery, housemate.
 “Hi, my name’s Miriam. I’m from Canada,” She said.
Shaking her hand I responded, “Hi I’m Tara, nice to meet you.” She showed me my room; an empty space with four white washed walls, two small windows, and a sliding mirror closet. I swiftly met my other housemate, Lydia, from Germany then was abandoned. The two had been there for a few days now, had already gotten past the initial fears and uncertainty, and clicked well with each other. They fit together like peanut butter and jelly and I was like the bread that was stuck unaccompanied on the outside. From then on, I would nervously await the arrival of my very own roommate, whom I will call nameless from nowhere, for now. There I was, left alone in a small bedroom in Castle Hill, Australia, thousands of miles away from my real home. Overwhelmed with sadness and my heart feeling as empty as the room I was standing in, tears slid slowly down my cheeks. “How could I be so sad, when I’m starting this incredible new journey? How could I be missing Mesa, Arizona, a barren desert land, when I’m in a beautiful place like Sydney, Australia? I was born for adventure like this!” I thought. But it was at that very moment that I felt the most alone, the most out of place, and the most insecure I’d ever been in my early life. There were no familiar faces or places and I didn’t even have a phone to call my parents to tell them I, barely, survived the 16-hour plane ride. I guess this was part of the adventure. This is what traveling is like. “You better get used to it,” I thought. On a twin-size mattress in my vacant room, I secretly cried myself to sleep that night, like an adolescent girl does when a boy she was “in love” with had ripped her heart in two.
Day two was easier, surprisingly. I met some people, purchased a pre-paid cell phone, and explored the surrounding area. Just around the corner was Castle Towers, a newly built mall complete with a local Aussie grocery store called Coles, several restaurants, a movie theatre, and countless clothing stores. I could get used to this. It was a place to keep me occupied when the sadness rushed through me. By day three, my once vacant room was furnished with a wooden bed-frame from Ikea and a matching side table where I placed a picture of my best friend and I. I also filled the shelf with the few books I was able to fit in my rather crammed suitcase. When you’re forced to stuff one years’ worth of life in just two suitcases, sacrifice of certain items is necessary. If only I could’ve fit my drum set in at least one luggage bag, my life would’ve been complete. By day four, my future roomie showed up. I had just gotten back from shopping for additional home goods when Miriam popped out of nowhere…as she does.
“Hey your roommate arrived. She’s out buying stuff for her room.”
Oh no, I thought.
“Great, thanks,”  I muttered as my heart quickly started beating more than I could handle. “What if this girl hates me? What if I hate her? What if she’s uptight? How am I going to get through this year with a crazy person?” Before I could put my absurd thoughts together, there she was.
“Hi…I’m Ruth. I’m from New York.”  She informed me.
“Oh hey, I’m Tara. I’m from Arizona,” a phrase I quickly became accustomed to those first few weeks.
This was a moment for the both of us that would tell what our experience of the next year was going to be like. We were either going to dislike each other and be miserable, or we could become best friends and tell all our secrets to each other. Fortunately, it became the latter. We were making small talk, trying to figure out if we could handle each other for the next year, in my - well actually now - our bedroom when somehow she lost control of the iced coffee she was drinking and it spilled in my laundry basket.
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry! She exclaimed.
“Come on, I only have a limited amount of clothes, why’d you do that you jerk!?” Okay no, actually my personality is more, well, polite. So it went more like, “Oh it’s totally okay! Don’t worry about it. These clothes are dirty anyways, it’s fine.” Well, that for sure broke the ice. It was an awkward, but hilarious beginning to a lifelong friendship.
11 months later. There I was again, at the Sydney airport, a place I had come to know quite well over the year, about to leave for “home” in a few, very short hours. My three best girlfriends that I had come to cherish that year were by my side, not ready to send me off for what would be my home for the rest of my life, as I knew it. We sat in the airport Starbucks, waiting until the last minute to send me through the security gates, hoping that the longer we pushed our time limit, the slower the clock would tick. A heavy cloud lingered above our heads as every memory of that year began to flood into my mind. I thought of the countless late nights when my roommate and I dragged ourselves up to Coles for groceries then walked the shopping cart home where we would hold it for a few days, an act that was probably illegal.  
Don’t worry; we eventually brought them back safe and sound. I thought of when we found a large Huntsman spider, an eight-eyed Australian native the size of a man’s fist, intruding on our property. Standing atop the couch screaming like little girls, we called over our rather tough male neighbours to exterminate the furry beast at once.  When thinking about when my roommates and I found mould growing directly behind our beds, I nearly hacked up my respiratory system. On a lighter note, I remembered being proud, like a sister, watching my roommate and close friend, Richelle, dance at a conference in front of an audience of 20,000. I reminisced on the numerous times I bussed alone to downtown Sydney to grab an Iced Tall Soy Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks and watched the Sydneysiders go about their business. Those were the times I could escape my crammed and, sometimes, emotionally draining home. Put four different girls in one apartment for a long period of time and you’re bound to experience a bit of drama. Anyways, lastly I thought of mine and Ruths’ Saturday morning ritual where we invited over our best buds and cooked up delicious pancakes. We sat around our ghetto table and chairs that we had found lounging outside a house earlier that year. In Australia, if anything is left out on the roadside, the items are free to be taken, like a garage sale but without the selling. There we sat every Saturday as the weeks leading to our departures became shorter and shorter, recalling the memories of the last year we’d spent together. First, total strangers, now best friends. There I was 11 months later, not alone this time, but overwhelmed with heartache because of the wounding separation that was about to happen. My eyes like floodgates tried to keep the tears contained, but they found a way out like uncontrollable floodwaters.
Present Day. I couldn’t have imagined a more fulfilling experience in Australia than I did that year in 2008. Australia was a place I had come to know well. It was a country dear to my heart and I had left, probably for the rest of my life. I learned that adventure happens among the daily life. I learned that home is where you make it. You can travel and come to love a place for life, but you’ll find yourself stuck between two separate homes. On my 16-hour flight back to the home I had called for 18 years, I tried to fight back the tears, but was unsuccessful. I was stuck between two worlds. It felt like a dream. But now, here I am, a better, stronger, and more adventurous person having lived a year in the Land Down Under. It is a place I will always cherish in my heart. A place I dream to visit again one day. 

From Mesa to Germany in 15 Minutes

From Mesa to Germany in 15 Minutes

As a lover of all things travel related, I have found that food is a huge component of travel that cannot be ignored. I have always loved seeking out new foods whenever I’m in another country. And when I'm not traveling, I love finding ethnic restaurants in my hometown to satisfy, not only my cravings for international foods, but also my longing to be in a new culture. It's fascinating to be able to drive ten miles up the road to a locally owned ethnic restaurant and feel like I've actually entered into the country itself. It's not always just the food that's attractive, but being in an atmosphere that feels like you've been teleported out of America into a totally unique culture. The food is just a bonus.

Recently, America has seen corporately owned restaurants popping up in every corner of the country. We’ve gone from down-to-earth, locally owned mom-and-pop shops to huge franchises in a matter of years. We’ve focused our attention and stomachs to places like Chilis, Outback Steakhouse, and Taco Bell. I don’t think we realized that right outside our doorsteps there is a world of locally owned diversified restaurants, where you can get a more authentic taste than any chain restaurant. Some may think that immigrated ethnic cuisine has lost its touch, due to the overflow of delicious and affordable chain restaurants, but for anyone looking to support local and immigrated foods, here is a guide to several culturally relevant restaurants right in Arizona. Since many of us can’t afford to jump on a plane today to Germany to chow down on an authentic Deutschland bratwurst, or to go on a wine tasting tour in Australia,  I’ll take us down the street to get the same great tasting piece of meat, and more delicious cuisine from all over the world.


Zur Kate German Restaurant

Since 1983, Zur Kate has been a hidden German gem tucked in a forgotten strip mall in Mesa. It began when Günther and Irene Krause left their well-established restaurant in Hamburg, Germany and journeyed towards the ‘Land of the Free’ where they settled in the Grand Canyon State. With experience in butchering, culinary skills, and managing their own local restaurant, the Krauses’ opened Zur Kate in Mesa. They were joined by Horst Schlembauch, a 23-year-old immigrant from Bayern, Germany, who is now the owner. Walk into this little shop and you’ll be fascinated by the elegant traditional German decor. The walls are filled with a variety of paintings of Germany, assorted animal heads, and German hunting rifles. Flags from every region in Germany align the eastern wall.  A large community table, where you’ll be obligated to talk with your neighbors, sits amidst cozy booths. 
As you converse with your fellow visitors, a seasoned accordionist will serenade you with traditional German tunes. Some songs may even cause you to get up and dance. The first time I came, an old woman couldn’t help but jiggle her body to the tunes. And to spice it up a bit, the accordion player began the infamous “Chicken Dance” melody. The poor lady didn’t know the dance moves, so a young man got up and taught her. My friends and I, in our booth, did the motions from afar and were encouraged to get up on the dance floor. Sorry, but I preferred dancing from the comfort of my seat, thank you. But if you so feel led to move your body, the staff will certainly not forbid you.
The menu will overwhelm you, in a good way, with an assortment of diverse Bratwurst and Schnitzel, along with the choice of two sides, including a distinctive German potato salad, home fries, spätzle (an egg-noodle dish), and sauerkraut. The bratwurst here was just as I remembered it in Munich. There is not one dish on the menu that is over $12. If you’re much of a drinker, you can’t leave the place without trying one of the many authentic German beers right on tap. Prices of beers range from $2-$4. This highly affordable, authentic German restaurant is the best place to go if you’re looking for something to satisfy your unique European cravings.


Down Under Wine and Bistro

After living in Australia for a year, I knew I had to check this place out! I wasn’t let down. Love wine? How about having a true Aussie wine served and recommended by a true Aussie himself? At Down Under Wines and Bistro in Gilbert, this can happen to you. Roger Carpenter, a typical looking blonde hair, blue eyed Australian, came from the Land Down Under to Arizona to open what is the only Australian restaurant in Arizona. Walking in to this darling bistro, you’ll see all things wine and all things Australian….boomerangs, aboriginal art, and even a wine shop at the front of the restaurant. You have a choice of sitting at one of the glass-top wine barrel tables, which reveal wine corks from several wine bottles, or on cooler nights, sit outside on the patio. The lights are dim, the
mood is calming, and the people are friendly. I suggest you forego the classic Outback Steakhouse on Saturday night and head over to Down Under Wines, where you’ll hear live acoustic music, and if you’re a wine addict, you can sign up for the Saturday night wine tasting. For just $20, you’ll have a taste of five wines, plus an appetizer. Not a bad deal, hey? The Wine Menu consists of wines for all types of wine lovers. The sweet tooths can enjoy light wines like a Riesling or Moscato. The white wine drinkers can choose different types ofChardonnay from California to South Australia. And for the red wine lovers, there’s a Gemtree “Tatty Road” from South Australia, A Four Sisters Merlot from Southeast Australia, and various other red blends. Of course, they also carry the infamous Coopers beer, a favorite among Aussies.
Crocodile Potstickers
If you’re not a drinker, but have a daring and  adventurous spirit, come to Down Under to try  one of their infamous Australian dishes. I did. When I visited for my 21st birthday a few months ago, I started out with the Crocodile Potstickers appetizer with a plan to have Kangaroo as my main dish. Unfortunately, the server informed me that PETA had recently banned the import of Kangaroo. Bummer! Instead, I went for the next best thing, rabbit stuffed with jalapeno. Why? I’m not quite sure. It was something unique and something quite good. Other dishes include shrimp on the barbie, grilled barramundi (a type of fish), New Zealand mussels, and a range of decadent desserts, all meals for under $17. To complement my delicious dinner, the owner was kind enough to offer me a complimentary Sparkling Shiraz from South Australia. He wanted to get me started on my new life as a legal alcohol consumer. Then to top it off, the server brought me a piece of cake free of charge to wish me a Happy Birthday. Great service! If the food doesn’t give you enough reason to visit, their monthly events certainly will. July consisted of events like “Doggie Day Brunch” where you and your dog can enjoy some delicious treats together, “Karaoke Night”, and “Christmas in July” to celebrate Roger’s (the owner) 60th birthday. So, if you’re ready to try something exotically exciting, Down Under Wines and Bistro is ready for you.


The Nile Café

In this clean, Mediterranean infused restaurant in Scottsdale, you can either choose to go Greek or Egyptian for your meal. The Nile Café is run by an Egyptian woman named Souzan. I had the incredible opportunity to visit Egypt a few months ago with a group of my friends. Prior to our trip, Souzan helped us learn some Egyptian Arabic. She taught us the phrase As-salem All-ay-koom, which translates to peace be upon you. This is a typical greeting among Egyptians, and is responded with all-ay-koom salem. Souzan is very friendly and willing to answer any questions about her culture and the food. The menu consists of anything from Shawarma sandwiches to Koshari, a favorite among Egyptians, consisting of lentils, rice, macaroni noodles, and tomato sauce. I ate Koshari nearly every day in Egypt. It’s very rare to find this dish here, because it’s a very traditional meal in Egypt and not well known among Americans.                                      
Chicken Shawarma Sandwich
For appetizers, you have a choice of some very unique dishes including Babaganush, a charbroiled eggplant with pita bread, a Kibah Platter, which is simply meatballs with cracked wheat, and spices lightly deep fried, or Nile Fries served with feta cheese, parsley, and a homemade Vinaigarette dressing. If you’re a hummus lover, I recommend the sampler. It comes with five different types of hummus-regular, roasted bell pepper, cilantro jalapeno, artichoke, and sun dried tomato- and served with a pile of Pita Bread. It’s fun to try and guess which flavor each dip is. If your tummy is still grumbling after your meal, dessert options consist of Baklava, a rich pastry with layers of phyllo dough and served with nuts and honey, Kinafa, a pastry with syrup and a cream filling, and Rice Pudding. This culturally preserved restaurant will leave you feeling like you just stepped off a boat from the Nile River into Egypt.

So whether you’re an avid traveler, an adventurous food taster, or you simply would like to support local cuisine and try something out of the ordinary, these restaurants are definitely worth your time, money, and appetites. This weekend, why not change up your typical routine, grab a few friends or a family member, and head out to one of these unique restaurants. If you’re looking for a heavy European dish to fill you up, try out Zur Kate. If you have a craving for a nice glass of wine, rock up (Aussie slang for ‘to arrive’) to Down Under Wines and Bistro. If you want something really different, go for The Nile Café. Or, seek out a new ethnic restaurant you can call your own. I can bet if you pick a main road in your city and drive a few miles, you’ll be sure to find a delicious ethnic nugget much like these.

Restaurant Information:

Zur Kate
4815 E. Main Street
Mesa, AZ 85205
(480) 830-4244
Down Under Wine & Bistro
1422 W. Warner Road
Gilbert, AZ 85233
(480) 545-4900

The Nile Cafe
7051 East McDowell Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85257
(480) 429-6453
Need more ideas? Other fascinating ethnic restaurants to try include Essence Bakery, a Greek cafe at lunch and French bakery at breakfast, and Tum Nuk Thai, one of Mesa’s best Thai restaurants.

Why Do We Travel?

I have recently began an online travel writing class through ASU and I hope to share some ideas and insights I gain throughout the summer semester on this blog. To start, we had to read an article by a writer named Pico Iyer who explains reasons why people travel. Then, in our own words, we had to share and discuss why we think people travel. Included below is the article along with my response.

Why We Travel (article by Pico Iyer)

I have sat in an airport terminal asking myself this same question, "Why do people travel?" I like to sit and watch people in airports. I know it sounds kind of creepy, but I love to imagine why individuals are there and where they're going. I have found that there is a wide array of both positive and negative reasons why people travel. The lucky ones travel for sightseeing, exploration, adventure, and simple leisure. The unlucky ones are forced to travel due to a death in the family, attending their dreaded family reunion, or to visit an ill family member. Whatever the reason, we all will travel at some time. It doesn't have to be traveling to another country, or even state. People travel to different cities within their own territory. Some travel for work. Others travel for school. Some travel to find a new life. Others travel to relinquish a long lost memory. Some travel to visit family or friends. Others travel to get away from family. Many of us travel to view the world through the lens of others. We visit new places to see how people in other cultures deal with life. We travel to gain a deeper understanding of this vast world that we live in. We travel to connect ourselves with our fellow inhabitants. We travel to see just how real life is.
I really resonated with Pico Iyer's first line, "We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves." Oftentimes when I'm stressed, overwhelmed or simply bored with life, I just want to travel. I dream to get on a plane and go wherever it leads me. I travel to lose myself in things unknown. And I've found that when I am placed in a new culture with new faces and places, I seem to find myself. I think many of us feel this way. When we travel, we get away from the hustle and bustle of life, we slow down, and we get out of reality; we lose ourselves in the adventure. And because we take ourselves out of "real life", out of what's comfortable and familiar, we have the opportunity to look internally and figure out who we truly are, outside of our comfort zone.
I also agreed with the dissimilarity of a traveler and tourist in Iyer's article. While traveling with my mom, I would always tell her, "Be a traveler, not a tourist!" A tourist, I believe, is someone who wants everything to resemble his or her hometown. They grab their guidebooks, maps, and a tour guide to see the place their visiting. A traveler, on the other hand, leaves their guidebooks and maps at home and they see the world not on their own terms. They allow themselves to take a wrong turn, get lost and build relationships with locals. A tourist eats at McDonald's and Hard Rock Café, rather than tasting local cuisine. To travel is to leave behind prejudgments, assumptions, and stereotypes and to take along an open mind and heart ready to learn, not just about the world, but to learn from the world.
What do you think? What are some reasons people travel? Have you experienced any of these?

San Diego Bound

In early June, a few girlfriends and I took a road trip to San Diego, CA. Luckily, we didn't get harassed or shot at for being from AZ, being the circumstances right now regarding AZ's immigration law and all the backlash we're getting. The weekend wasn't full of sun and bronzing (the Sun was never out), but we all had a fantastic time exploring the city.

We stayed at the Hilton Airport hotel in the harbor/bay area right on the water. It was a very nice hotel, other than the $17/night parking charge. In just 4 days, we ate and shopped at Seaport Village, laid out on Coronado Island, rode bikes at Mission Beach, ate dinner downtown, and had a wonderful Mexican lunch in Old Town, among other little things. It was a fun weekend filled with laughter, good food, blasting Miley Cyrus, Ke$ha, and others in the car, getting lost, and even homework... summer classes are the death of me. Nonetheless, it was a much needed getaway! Here are a few pics of our time there:

View from our hotel room

Beautiful Seaport Village

Coronado Island Beach

Yummy pizza on Coronado Island

Biking at Mission Beach

Mexican food at Old Town