I Found a Giant Golden Butt

I am not sure how people work in office jobs their whole life. You literally sit all day, and makes you feel like a productive potato ( if you get things done). Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and I have loved designing things for the organization, but sitting for such a long period is a struggle. The only times I have really had to sit like this was writing a paper or finishing a project in college. The good thing is my office is open office, so the set up does not cramp you up into a cubicle. When I worked with AmeriCorps in Virginia, I would never have time to sit because I was doing direct service and managing the kids and all the Boys and Girls Club logistics the work day. Now that I work behind the scenes, things are different, but nonetheless, I’m designing important things and exercising my creative juices, which makes me happy!

I’ve been trying to analyze Louisville to see how I feel about it, and I do have some initial feelings, that are biased because I haven’t seen much so far. In terms of murals, Louisville doesn’t even come close to Richmond’s murals that fills its walls everywhere. This is something I hold important to feel a city’s magic. However, I discovered something else Louisville has– BIKE RACKS! Louisville for the past few years has tried to become more bike “friendly” by incorporating bike lanes into its roads, add new bike shops, install city bikes, and bike racks. In 2001, the Louisville Downtown Management District commissioned local artists to create unique back rack sculptures that sprinkled across various parts of Louisville. I’ve shared some pictures below of the ones I’ve seen, but I want to start collecting more photos as I see them, because they are AWESOME!

Maybe I should stop comparing Louisville to Richmond, and seek out things that make Louisville unique. So far, the Big Four Bridge and the bike racks seem to be my favorite things about this city. With more time and saving some money, I can discover other things and slowly work myself to feel some of the magic Louisville has to offer, even if it means not as much street art.

In NuLu, which is an artsy-hipsterish area where they have flea markets, expensive ice cream, and cute designer stores. They also have this funky mural for the Royals Chicken restaurant, that serves their famous fried chicken!

At the Flea Off Market, watching a man use plexi glass, or maybe real glass, to burn and create artwork on wood.

Found near Bardstown Road, we haven’t explored this area much, as we were here in passing, but seeing this awesome mural, means I gotta go back!

Downtown Louisville on a Sunday!

Wheatpasted posters of a famous festival here called Forecastle

What a beautiful…sky!

30 foot statue of David (inspired by Michaelangelo) is sculpture by Turkish conceptual artist Serkan Özkaya. It was originally made for Istanbul Biennial in 2005, but it took 6 months to build and it collapsed during installation. Two replicas were made, one to be displayed at a park in Eskişehir, Turkey and the other was acquired by the 21c Museum + Hotel, right here in Louisville, KY.

Walking endlessly under the hot sun, only to look for the giant gold Statue of David downtown!

Found another horse!

Inside the 21c Museum + Hotel for their “Dress Up, Speak Up: Costume and Confrontation” exhibition, that featured amazing artists, like Kehinde Wiley ( the artist who made Obama’s official portrait.)

Bike rack next to my job

More bike racks + Khaled pretending to be a bike rack

Tim Burton-esque bike rack

Tall horse bike rack

Not a bike rack, but still a public sculpture that invites people to promote this city’s Bourbon District

Lots of rainy days this summer, not sure if it’s the same in New Jersey, but I don’t remember anywhere raining this much. Keeping my Silver Dollar weekly free food routine going, so I am happy about that! Booked a trip to Miami in September, and keeping myself happy and healthy. Now, I need to start planning for winter months with my bike, hoping I can bundle up properly…

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Peace from Louisville!

Developing Legs of Steel

It’s been about a month living in Louisville. Slowly getting to know this city, even though there is so much more I could with a car. Thankfully lots of free events happen near my job, like Waterfront Wednesdays. This is event happens every first Wednesday of the month, during the summer. They have organizations set up booths with information and spin-the-wheel prizes, and typical carnival food like corn dogs, burgers, lemonade, and lots of beer. There are live bands that play on stage, and lots of people set up chairs or a blanket to lay and enjoy the summer sun. Other’s peek from above on the Big Four Bridge, just like I did for the Kentuckiana Pride Festival.

On most days, I don’t do much because I’m tired of staring at a screen all day, and I just wanna get home to eat and relax. Other times, I force myself to text either one of my coworkers, or someone on Couchsurfing, to meet up with them after 6pm. I’ve been trying to wiggle myself into routines, that can add a bit of momentum to my 9-5 workday, while still exploring this city. On Mondays, as I’ve mentioned before, I made it a habit to go eat at the Silver Dollar bar, where they sell cheap drinks and serve free food for their Industry Night. I invite some of my coworkers and try to bring people together, making sure it doesn’t go past midnight. Then on Thursdays, one of my coworkers and her friends, have this Thursday tradition where a bunch of people come together and serve tacos for everyone. A different person takes turns hosting it every week, but it was started by 3 friends, and now has grown to a weekly tradition for over 2 years. It’s a good deal because you get to meet new people and eat good food.

Work is absolutely great! I’ve been creating artwork that I want to create, I’ve been exploring more of my design style, processes that help me release creative juices, and I am super content overall. There is only ONE problem…I work next to Ehrler’s Ice Cream, and I cannot say I always have the will power to resist. I have ice cream at least once a week, which is terrible, but it is so delicious and right next store!

Waterfront Wednesdays

Taking advantage of the weekend to bike somewhere new. My legs are going to be rock solid from all this bike riding

Khaled and I swimming at a cute little creek, a 40 minute bike ride from my house in Louisville.

About to jump!

Speed Art Museum that is exhibiting Picasso and Pollack

I always love the contemporary art section of any art museum

next to artwork

Belle of Louisville: it’s a steam boat for cruises on the Ohio River, lunch/dinner, a history tour guide explanation, or all the above. Sometimes they host special events, the staff dresses up in costume, and everything needs online reservations.

Free watermelon at the flea market!

4th of July on the Waterfront!

Biking to Indiana after work

I FOUND A MURAL! It was the only one I found in the area, but it was in Jeffersonville, Indiana. The artist was right next to me and explained to me the city of Jeffersonville had commissioned him to do the thing, trying to turn the surrounding areas with murals.

The only cute bakery or establishment on that road, everything else looked a lot less colorful, or just closed.

I loved finding that mural in Indiana so unexpectedly. I know there are murals and street art in Louisville, I just haven’t taken the time to seek them. I will, I will!

It rains a lot in Kentucky, like every 4 days. Which is not ideal for a biker, but I should probably invest in a rain jacket and rain pants. But when it does rain, I take the public bus. Apparently there is another bus that rides down town called the LouLift, it was an $11 million dollar investment for the city of Louisville. It allows anyone to get on for free, on specific routes that take you from downtown to the Kentucky Derby Museum. It’s also a fast-charging, all-electric bus that produces zero emissions, how cool! My house is near one of the stops, so today when I go check out a flea market downtown, I am able to see how it works, timing issues, etc.

Well, that’s about it. Right now, I am looking for an apartment, because my current landlord is selling the house I live in. This has also taken up my afternoons, looking at apartments, setting up appointments, and spending hours looking through Craigslist ads. I’ve done well with budgeting and so far my last grocery store run has lasted me over 2 weeks. I have now entered the territory of resident and tourist. Residents tend to not prioritize site-seeing, taking advantage of the days, etc, while tourists make room for all activities in one week. I need to take my head out of “resident,” buy some bike lights for night-time riding, and see more. All the free events end up being at the Waterfront, which doesn’t help.

Anyways, thanks for taking the time to read this blog!
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Peace from Louisville!

Teach Me How to Pronounce Louisville?!

I have officially been living in Kentucky for about 17 days, yet I still haven’t mastered the art of saying Louisville. I am working as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at the Global Game Changers as a Graphic Designer. I work from a beautiful brand-new Mac Desktop computer, in an open office with about 10 people, next to an ice cream shop. Everyone in the office is very nice, and I think we mesh well together. I bike everyday to work around 15 minutes, and take the bus when it rains. Although it is limiting living on a VISTA budget, it does become a challenge to accommodate my responsibilities, with my small luxuries (ice cream), but still afford living. Rent in Louisville is quite cheap compared to New Jersey and New York, so even at poverty level, it is do-able. Not having a car doesn’t bother me too much, only because biking will only make my legs strong, my butt strong, and encourage me to exercise just to get to work. Yes!

A bit about where I work– Global Game Changers, they are a non-profit organization that promotes social-emotional learning in children through an innovative and fun curriculum that has been integrated in various schools and after school programs in over 5 states. What does that mean? Basically, we use kindness and compassion to get kids to care about things in society like animals, human rights, health, etc through lesson plans that we write and give to schools in 6 states in the USA and Mexico City. We also partner with places like the YMCA, Muhammed Ali Center, the public library, and others to bring social-emotional based programs to at-risk youth. Since we have been recognized for our awesome curriculum, we also have a grant from AmeriCorps VISTA members to hire staff to work at their site, like me! In addition, we are working on a kids TV show coming this fall and a documentary, so we do very cool stuff. My job is to be super creative and update their website with a new layout, cool graphics, and more information on the organization! I love it so much!

Gotta keep my legs strong and biking date with Khaled

Our dates include biking and chasing swans (or getting an evil eye from a duck/swan.)

biking & exploring

This is a public art exhibition called Flock Of Finns by an African-American urban folk artist named Marvin Finn. He’s originally from Alabama, but lived many years in Louisville, dedicating his time to making these whimsical roosters. Incase you don’t know, I have a high respect for roosters and chickens.

It was my first weekend in Louisville (pronounced -Lou-Vull-) and I really wanted to do something. Since I love parades and it was PRIDE weekend festivities, I looked up online for the parade, and took a bus to downtown. The parade was fun, lots of candy being thrown, lots of bright colors, happy people, positive energy, and rainbow necklaces. I didn’t want to enter the festival itself because it seemed more like a group thing to do and I wanted to see it for free from the bridge instead. Khaled was busy, but we ended up meeting up after and walking around after that.
That Monday, my friend from Fulbright, here in Louisville, took me to Industry Night at the Silver Dollar and I was surprised to learn they serve actual food for free! You end up buying a drink or two, but imagine like $3 for a buffet, is amazing. So I am trying to encourage my coworkers to come out,  it starts late, but if we go for an hour, it would be worth to get a bit more time outside the office. I am hoping to make this happen!

Kentuckiana Pride Parade 2018

Kentuckiana Pride parade, creeping from the pedestrian bridge

It’s a good thing I don’t mind doing things alone. Happy enjoying the parade!

Loving the colors on the Big Four Bridge!

At the Silver Dollar bar, they serve free food and cheap drinks on Industry Night, every Monday. This is what VISTA life is about, finding all the free food! **Not my image**

Goals for the next few weeks:
• Move into another apartment. This time it won’t be a house, but a place I can organize and keep clean, as I please.
• Get a second job to maybe save some money, if I keep living frugally as I am now.
• Discover more of Louisville. Maybe try some restaurants, walk around and find murals, hiking
• Keep designing personal work. It’s hard once I get into a routine with work to incorporate daily designs back into my life, so I will try my best.

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Peace from Louisville!

I moved to Kentucky!?!

I’m back! And ready to explore Louisville, Kentucky! Random? Yeah, it’s a bit random for me too, but this is where my new job has taken me and so I am really excited. As for the past few weeks, I was in New Jersey driving Uber, and saving some money for the initial costs of moving to a new state. Khaled, who I wasn’t expecting until few weeks from now, came as a surprise for my birthday, and just in time when I had to move to Louisville! Out of all places, I knew someone who lived here already, he was on Fulbright with me in Jordan, and he has been 100% tremendous help during my time here so far.

So far, the Victorian architecture I find similar to that in Richmond, VA, around the Fan District. The house I am in probably dates back to early 1900s, late 1800s, with a stained glass window, tall ceilings, and multiple fireplaces all over the house. Apart from the architecture I’ve observed, there are several local restaurants I need to check out, as well as try the famous Louisville Bourbon Whiskey!

I start work Monday and have already acquired a bike that I will be using as my main form of transportation to and from work. I can’t wait to ride a bike to work again!

Ehrler’s Ice Cream in Downtown Louisville – these were the “kiddie” cones.

BEST FRIED CHICKEN, which I probably won’t eat for another 5 months because of all the grease!

Two koalas ride a horse, and the horse sniffs my head. // These painted horses are all around the city, part of Gallopalooza – an organization aiming to build civic pride and beautifying the community. This one represented the zoo, I believe.


First Magloobeh in Louisville, courtesy of Khaled!

Pouring the last contents at the bottom of the pan (the best part!)

Kentucky Shakespeare Festival goes on for the summer, (and it’s free!)

Khaled mesmerized by seeing lightning bugs for the first time.

Trying some local Bison burgers at Burger Boy!

Those fries are as delicious as they look! YES

I am definitely excited for many things.
• First, I moved to a new state. This would be the 3rd state I have ever lived in.
• Second, Khaled and I got married! Seems a bit out of the blue, I know, but honestly, it was the next step Khaled and I had to take to continue our lives.
• Third, my new job with AmeriCorps is the perfect mix between service and design and working with children. It will also challenge me to budget and live minimally, which may be difficult in a new city.
• Fourth, since my job entails financial restrictions, I want to take advantage of hiking, biking, and overall becoming more active than I have been in the past few months. (If I wasn’t looking for a job, I was driving for Uber, which meant lots of sitting.) So, I will smother myself in sun block, and welcome all the sweating for long walks, long bike rides, and ultimate exploration of Louisville, by the time I end my service with AmeriCorps.

Summer is a great time to start getting to know a city because there are usually tons of free events, festivals, biking spots, and better opportunities to feel out the vibes of the city. ALL THE NEW THINGS!!!!

Thanks for reading and I apologize for my absence for a few months. I didn’t think I had anything worthy of posting, but nonetheless, I am starting up again and writing about my adventures here in Kentucky!

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Peace from Louisville!

Power Of Social Media and the Mysterious Visitors

A few weeks back, a friend from high school saw I was in Spain traveling and messaged me. She asked if I had plans to go to Madrid or Barcelona, so we could meet up. Seeing as I had never visited Madrid, I packed a bag, and spent 2 days in Madrid. My uncle’s wife helped me find a place to stay with a couple she knew . To get there, I used a ride-share program called Bla Bla Car  you basically pay for your seat in someone’s car, someone driving to the same place as you. (It is essentially hitchhiking but with payment, and people leave reviews and such.) Since my family had already planned a road trip, my uncle suggested to meet halfway on my way back in Burgos, and then head on our road trip.

Mysterious Appearance
The family I stayed with in Madrid was extremely hospitable– sending me with a bag full of lunch everyday, a Metro card to use, and a room to myself. They live in a cozy apartment, with 5 kids, 1 grandma and a couple. They were so nice, just one inconvenient thing that was uncomfortable. I slept in the bottom part of a bunk bed, which was the girls’ room. They sleep there every night, but it so happened that with my luck, I had nightly visitors. You know the saying, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” Well…
I had bed bug bites after the first night, that I didn’t notice until the next day. I did notice some off marks on my wrist during the day, and they were really itchy, but I didn’t think much of it. That night I changed into my pajamas, I noticed large red bites, all around one arm especially, some around my stomach, and two on my neck (about 24 I counted). They appeared out of no where, which is why I started to suspect it might bed bugs. The family didn’t think much of it the first time I mentioned it, because didn’t even know about them and their daughter’s sleep in that room every night. Where did they come from? This is a mystery. I can’t even say it was me because I didn’t have my large luggage with me, and I had already been in Spain a week when I went. Thankfully, I double checked everything to make sure I was right, and yes, I did see them. Once I spotted them, I immediately told the family and they were flexible in changing my sleeping place away from the room. The next morning, I put all my clothes in the dryer, to kill potentially any on my clothes. After that, I haven’t had any problems. BUT, THE FAMILY WAS SO NICE! I cannot express that enough! Also, my arm is back to normal now. I’m pretty sure anyone else would get a hotel immediately or never sleep over a stranger’s home again. Yay for being flexible and easygoing!

People-watching while waiting for the metro

Took a rest in a small café, that I later realized did not have wifi, but enjoyed a nice “café con leche”. I walked around with a map, and took note of where I had walked, and where I wanted to go next. I prefer this than walking around with google maps!

Plaza Mayor with a perfectly timed bird above. Thank you pigeon, thank you.

I was trying to get to Royal Palace in Madrid, but had some trouble due to this large crowd because of Holy FridayHoly Week in Spain is the annual tribute celebrated by Catholic religious brotherhoods and fraternities that perform penance processions on the streets of almost every Spanish city and town during the last week of Lent. The people in the cone-like hoods, are  the “Nazarenos“, or the religious brotherhoods walking in penance across the city. I saw at least 500 people in a 3 block span.

Made it to the Royal Palace of Madrid! I wish the person that took my photo could have asked me to move over a tiny bit….

Getting lost in Madrid is fairy-tale like.

Casual and usual occurence in the Austrias district in Madrid. This guy is not caught in motion, but perpetually in this position. I know they sit on something, but I can’t help but think it’s digging into their skin and hurting them.

Gran Via is comparable to 5th avenue in NYC, but in Madrid

Spent a beautiful day out scouting murals and street art in Lavapiés. This area is the home of many Indian restaurants, old Spanish taverns, and cultural art centers! No wonder I fell in love with walking and exploring.

“Compartir vs. Competir”– “Sharing vs Competing”

She was looking at me. 😛

Hipster theater Cine Doré in Lavapies

Loved seeing these painted doorways. Maybe I was lucky I traveled on Holy Friday and lot of things were closed, which meant lots of painted doors (that would normally be unseen)!

I visited the Reina Sofia Art Museum in Madrid and took a picture of Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” which wasn’t allowed, but oh well. The piece was a statement about the town of Gernika bombed by Nazi Germany and fascists Italian warplanes during the Spanish Civil War. This is the original painting, but there is a copy is the town of Gernika.

Peeking into Mercado de la Cebada, which was also closed, but had several peeping holes into what seems like a graffiti- parking lot.

Came across the famous Calle de Miguel Servet, home to a wall full of murals funded by the city. My uncle’s wife told me about it, but she couldn’t remember exactly the name of where she had seen it. Thankfully I have great luck when walking aimlessly in a city and finding cool things. Talk about serendipity!

I didn’t go dancing in Madrid, since I was staying with a family, and didn’t want to intrude and come home super late from salsa dancing. I was also exhausted by the end of the day – so I was okay going home to rest for the next day. Super content I was able to make the spontaneous trip, and at least say I’ve seen Madrid. Bla Bla Car is amazing and I will forever use this, and hope to use it in other countries, too. Madrid is very charming, easy to navigate, and fun to get lost in. I don’t feel magic everywhere I go, but did feel it in Madrid.

Do you see the power of social media? Literally had the pleasure of meeting an old friend I hadn’t seen in years + explored a new city. It was quite easy and planned in a matter of days. I am quite lucky to have family or friends in diverse places, where I can branch out and see cool places. Next Spanish adventure will be the Arab-influenced south, cities like Andalusia, Córdoba, Granada, etc. (That won’t be for another while.) My next travels after this will be discovering Kentucky! Let’s hope I make friends with cars.

Keep a look out for my next post: about my last days exploring the Basque Country or Pais Vasco.

Thanks for keeping updated and following my stories!

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Peace from New Jersey!

From Snowy Mountains to Mermaids on a Beach

A few weeks back, while I was still in Jordan, I called my uncle to ask if he would mind if I passed by Spain, on my way to the U.S. I was actually not planning on staying more than 5 days, but seeing as affordable tickets were only being offered in April, I decided to go for it and prolong my stay in Spain. I start in June, so I actually don’t need to be home with any sense of urgency. As I spoke with my uncle, he also told me my aunt from Colombia was coming to his house. I told him not to tell my little cousins or even my aunt, and bought my airplane ticket. (I love surprises, remember?)

Next thing you know, I leave Jordan for good and I’m here in Spain. I’m actually on my way back to the U.S, but I did quite a bit of traveling on this trip, so I wanted to share my journey with you. My family lives in the Basque Country in a tiny city called Bilbao, home of the famous-eccentric metallic building called the Guggenheim. Since I told my uncle about my travel plans, he was able to incorporate me into a family road trip to a bunch of places. In two weeks, we traveled to over 10 cities/villages/towns!

Taken from Google, so you can see the areas I traveled to.

1 Bilbao, Pais Vasco
2 Madrid, Madrid
3 Barcelona, Catalunya
4 Cambrils, Catalunya
5 Huerta de Arriba, Castilla and Leon
6 Santander, Cantabria
7 Santillana del Mar, Cantabria
8 Vitoria-Gasteiz, Pais Vasco
9 Burgos, Castilla and Leon
10 Guernika, Pais Vasco
11 Zaragoza, Aragon
12 Arantzazu, Pais Vasco

My aunt and uncle on a dragon swing in Etxebarria Park in Bilbao. Let me tell you a bit about this city. >>>>> Bilbao has changed remarkably in the last 20 years. As my uncle’s Spanish wife tells me, Bilbao used to be an industrial city. Black clouds would hover over this land, that’s now a lovely park, and the city was mainly dependent on it’s ports and factories. Now, it’s a thriving metropolitan city, filled with museums, a “Prague-like” water canal, brand name stores, bars, endearing cobble stone streets, all surrounded by mountains. With only 1 million habitants (16 sq miles) Bilbao has a small-town feel and culture to it, with locally owned bakeries, meat shops, and bars, but the movement of a city. Over the years, it has gradually settled into a new context of modernity and tourism. To further make a point, they recently announced that the 2018 Europe Music Awards are going to be held in Bilbao this year! Go Bilbao!

Delicious homemade Paella Valenciana with oysters, calamari, octopus, and shrimp.

Rainy day in Bilbao is very typical

First few days were very cold and wet

Santander, Cantabria, Spain

This is my “bad” influence on my little cousins. Since they’ve learned about my street art-stickers obsession, they have learned to collect stickers from the street. This is a moment caught on camera, of one of my little cousins attempting to peel off a sticker off this sign, to add to my collection.

Vitoria-Gastiez with some Mary Poppins spirit!

I’m a sucker for souvenir shops, especially those in the cobble stone streets of Santillana Del Mar. It doesn’t matter how much I travel, I still love to browse souvenir shops.

My mom texted my uncle, “Hey, how’s it going with Vanessa and Magnolia?” He decided to send her this picture.

My family made a pit stop in Burgos to pick me up on my way from Madrid, and then on to Huerta de Arriba

snow in the mountains!!!

Cute arched door owned by a man who lives a sustainable life; hunts his meat, grows his veggies, and up until last year, used only candles and didn’t own a cell phone.

If you’re familiar with childhood stories with trees that talk, they are based off these gigantic oak trees in this fabulous forest of Dehesa in Huerta de Arriba. This tree has been documented to be over 800 years old and it is called “Roble de la Laguna de la Cantera.”

Feeling like a mermaid on the Medditeranean Sea in Cambrils

On a boat on the Ebro Delta in Catalunya

Spotted some colorful walls in Parc Forum in Barcelona, while we took a day trip to visit family in this vibrant, touristic city

My uncle’s wife explained to me that she used to eat this ice cream as a little girl. It’s called “Frigo Pie.” I laughed when I saw it because it’s such a cute, strawberry-flavored foot.

These past few weeks have been very filled with adventures, over 1,500 photos, and eating fresh seafood. I spent great quality times with my little cousins who are 6 and 11 years old. As you see in my photos, we had the fortunate luck to visit places with snowy days, beach days, and rainy days. I am home now, and will be posting and organizing photos to expect lots of InstaGram and blog posts!

My next post will be about Madrid, because I visited this magnificent city, and I have stories to tell about my experiences.

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Peace from New Jersey!

I Turned Tires into Engagement Party Decorations

Last 2 weeks in Jordan, I focused primarily on our small engagement party for me and Khaled, and seeing my friends for the last time before I leave Jordan. The party was more to make sure that Khaled’s family and our friends could celebrate with us for the occasion. It was quite simple, we just provided some sweets and snacks, and the whole time we jumped and danced like crazy young people on my balcony. The only bad thing was it was too windy, so my hair was a bit crazy, and the temperature was colder than expected. Either way, everything was simple and just the way we wanted.

Meanwhile, in my last few days, I was able to eat Jordanian food, walk around some neighborhoods, and enjoy the first days of Spring. I even saw some students I coached  from last year,  just a few hours before my flight.

City of Tarbarbour in Amman

Khaled too hipster for his own good

Creepy kids games in front of butchery

Sports City is a sports complex that has parks, a stadium, a place for the Jordanian Olympic team to practice, and gym facilities

Handwritten lettering for our small engagement party. We had some tires lying around, and I decided to paint them and use them to decorate our balcony for the party. I actually didn’t have black paint, so I just used Sharpies…I think it came out really good!

Same photo, but at night with the lights!

all smiles

They played a song for us and we danced in the middle while everyone watched

Khaled’s family

Being silly at my engagement party with Khaled’s younger siblings

end of night selfie, with friends and Khaled’s mom in the front. We were around 15 in total

My friend and I, exploring her neighborhood, as we found a hidden beautiful road filled with pockets of green grass, flowers, and took with us a whole aloe vera plant that she wanted to plant at home.

Once last meet up with the high school students I coached last year

I found lovely street art in an area called Jabal Amman

Things I will miss from Jordan:
Food: The fresh and tasty falafel, hummus, and other small plates. Very affordable spices used for traditional plates, knafeh, and the fresh mint used to enhance your tea.
My friends: I was so lucky to have made friends who were born and raised and in Jordan. I was able to properly immerse myself in Jordanian culture by understanding and observing the male and female perspectives of daily life. They taught me many new words and contextual meanings in the Arabic Language, exposed me specific experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and welcomed me into their lives even as a foreigner.
• Buying one of something, not the whole pack: If I only need one pack of tissues, I can go to the supermarket and buy just one for 10 cents, not the whole pack necessarily. This also happens in Colombia, and it makes me sad I can’t do that in the U.S.
EcoTourism: I will miss having such beautiful and natural places near me: The Dead Sea and Petra (one of the New 7 World Wonders) just to name a few.

Now I am in Spain, enjoying my little cousins, and spending the next few days exploring. I’ve visited Bilbao, Madrid, Cambrils, and tomorrow Barcelona. I am very fortunate to have family in different places, that allows me to travel within Spain.

More pictures to come from Spain in another post next week. I’ll return to the US by the 11th of April.

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Peace from the Mediterranean!

Spring is Coming!

Jordan has decided spring came early, while people in Jersey are suffering with shoveling snow and still dealing with below freezing temperatures. These are my last weeks in Jordan, and I am trying to take advantage of the weather and friends with the little time I have. I visited my old school where I taught last year, to see some familiar faces, visit my old supervisor, and check up on the high school students I had worked with last year. Still selling things slowly, and now starting to pack so I can know what I have and what needs to be donated. It feels good to give my clothes another life in someone else’s hands, either because they’ll enjoy it or they needed it. I feel relieved getting rid of things I don’t need, and it makes my luggage lighter for traveling. I only plan to take one luggage and one carry on!

Random Cultural Facts>>>>>>>>>
Did you know? In Jordan and other countries in the Middle East, when a child loses a tooth, they wrap it in a tissue and throw it at the sun. They do this so in return, when the tooth grows back, they will have a bright smile. In Colombia, we put our teeth under our pillow and the next morning receive some money. Kids believe a small rat by the name of Perez, or sometimes Miguelito, (Ratoncito Perez) takes the tooth and leave money for the child.

The reason I thought of this fact was because I was eating with Khaled’s family and his little sister decided to randomly play Christmas music on YouTube. This made me think of Santa Clause, and I asked if in Islam or culturally, if there are any traditions involving figures like Santa Clause. His mom said no. Then I asked, “What happens when they lose their teeth?” She responded with the answer above and it was so interesting for me, since it’s quite different to what I grew up with.

Here are some photos of my recent adventures.

Found in Jabal Al Webdeh, Amman.

“حب” means “Love” in Arabic. Found this along the wall of the school I used to teach with Fulbright last year.

I think it says “home”

Wild Jordan Cafe has a great view, and even better eggs benedict with salmon!

Quite the popular tourist souvenir are these hand made sand paintings in a bottle. They are quite inexpensive and you can get your name written on them for you or your loved ones.

I painted Khaled’s sister for her birthday, and caught her twirling in happiness

Inside the Wasfi-Al Tal Museum in the city of Salt or السلط. Wasfi Al-Tal was the Prime Minister of Jordan in the early 1906’s. His house contains books in 4 languages, relics from Iran, and giant books of old newspaper headlines containing really beautiful hand written Arabic.

I love parks in Jordan because you don’t see the often. This was the entrance to the museum

At the Wasfi Al-Tal Museum in Salt. Trying to jump amongst the magnificent view. You can see the cities of Jerash, Salt, and Fuheis all in one view.

My friend, while I have only known her a few months, we always manage to have an adventure together.

class Vanessa self timer

greeeeeeens + bluuuuuuues

This is freshly baked bread with olive oil and za’taar herbs that contains thyme, basil, oregano, and savory (similar to rosemary). Very popular breakfast item, for those who just buy two large pieces from the bakery, cut them in quarters, and have it alongside some hot tea with mint. You can feed 6 people with just 2 large pieces for $1 USD.

I think the hardest thing about leaving any place is leaving the people you’ve met. Remembering all the memories you have had with people, all the delicious foods you’ve tried, the adventures you’ve had, and the immersion into Jordanian culture beyond what the media portrays. I am lucky to have many Jordanian friends, that without realizing, have taught me SOOOO much. I can now say, firmly, I know Jordan very well. I’ve eaten almost, if not all food, that is to be considered Jordanian or Palestinian, and even learned to cook some dishes myself. I feel at peace because some people only travel to a country for a few days, and don’t end up befriending locals, never have a home cooked meal, and even so never learn the language. I feel accomplished for what Jordan has given me. For now, enjoying what I have left in this lovely country, and then off to another chapter in my life. This next chapter involving visa paperwork with Khaled, AmeriCorps, and Kentucky!!!! Pretty exciting stuff. Taking it one day at a time. Now, I am hungry and shall go eat.

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Follow me on @travelobsesswithvaness

Peace from the Middle East!

Almost Eaten Alive at the Royal Stables + Big News

It feels like it’s been a long 2 weeks! Since I applied to AmeriCorps jobs, I’ve heard back from all of them and interviewed back-to-back this week.

I AM EXCITED TO ANNOUNCE that I have accepted a job in Louisville, Kentucky as a Graphic Design VISTA with AmeriCorps. This organization is a national service organization, which means you are making a social impact + working. While I won’t be making much, I will be helping my loans, and discovering Kentucky! The job includes teaching kids graphic design. I am very excited I found this job that matches my values + interests + passion + educational background! Yay!

Now, it is time to sell everything. Actually, I accidentally sold my refrigerator yesterday. I was thinking that if I put it up for sale, no one would buy it for a few days–maybe weeks. Turns out, fridges sell like hot cakes and now I have no fridge. Yeah…no milk for the next few weeks.

Maftoul – Finally tried this Palestinian dish! What you see is pan-fried chicken over Palestinian couscous, a wheat grain that look like small balls, like couscous, but it grows bigger than normal couscous. It is closer to pasta than Moroccan couscous, so it fills your belly a lot more. In addition to what you see, there was also the chicken broth, spiced with black pepper, chopped onions, and other flavors that you pour on your maftoul, as you dig into the flavors of the chicken. And of course, fried nuts on top! Definitely in my top 3 favorite Palestinian dishes.

I really do love my friend’s neighborhood, which is why I always post pictures about it. It’s a side street, so it’s not always busy and you can totally sit on the street without any worries.

Palestinian Maftoul cooking with the steam inside the pot. I thought it was very interesting how they use soggy bread and paste it on the side of the pot, so the steam doesn’t escape.

Working on some collages. I found an old and ugly notebook, so I spiced it up and made it beautiful. I am very pleased with the results!

Since I’m leaving Jordan soon, I started cleaning out my room and giving away things. I made this for my friend. I was actually super proud of it because I had so much fun making it. Collaging is something I used to do when I was young. Particularly in middle school and high school. It was the only times I found myself doing personal work as a youngster. After I entered college, I stopped collaging and put that hobby on the side. But since I adore gifts for people, I decided to decorate this notebook and customize it for my friend. It makes for a lovely gift, especially because the magazines and papers I use are either really old things I’ve kept for a long time, or papers from traveling that I pick up because I like the photos inside and never know when I will need them. I love this when I make birthday cards or collages like this for people, it’s not randomly put together, but carefully chosen by color, shape, movement, message for the person it is for. They are my inspiration board for the piece and I find that to be really amazing.

For those who do not know, I have a history with being scared of dogs. I have gotten better over the years, meaning I can survive with a dog next to me, as long as it wont jump on me or want to play with me. Normal, I think. Anyways, I was with my friend that day and she asked if I wanted to walk to the Royal Stables, where they keep beautiful horses, they host races, etc. I said, “Sure!” We started our walk, maybe 25 minutes, the day was beautiful with blue skies and clouds sprinkling the sky. We approached the sign, which meant the gate was just a few meters away. We entered the gates, and started admiring the green trees all around us. Out of no where, a terrifyingly angry, barking, and super fast dog comes out from the bottom of the hill to chase us. When we saw the dog, we IMMEDIATELY freaked out and both screamed “RUUUUN!!!” It’s unfortunate I am such a slow runner, but the dog caught up to us fairly quickly, as we exited through the entrance, and the dog just stood at the gates. He barked at us, letting us know we weren’t welcome.
Holy guacamole! We were out of air, gasping. My heart was in my hand, I was trembling, and the food I had eaten was in my stomach twirling. I’ve been chased many times in my life, but never by an angry dog. Always by a dog who wanted to play and give me love, and I did not want to reciprocate. As we walked along the highway back to her house, I was trying not to collapse on the floor because my body was like a spaghetti. That was really scary. We ended walking around the around the stables and seeing some horses, but not the really well-kept ones. My friend told me the ones they keep by the entrance are mixed between donkeys and horses. Anyways, the pictures of them are below.

By the entrance to the Royal Stables

To the right where you see this ominous wall, is land that belongs to the Jordanian King. This is seen on the highway to a city called Fuheis. You can’t really anything but a mansion that sits on the top of the hill as you walk further.

Before running for our lives

The only horses we were able to see. These aren’t as groomed and “royal” as the ones we wanted to see, but still. They need love too.

Peeking between trees

Also, pretty big deal but I am now engaged! I am not a fan of a big surprise by the guy, where he wows me with flowers and drops the question on me like he makes the decision for something so important. I could have easily done that for him, I have no problem. But, it was actually a mutual decision. We are moving to the U.S together, and if you are familiar with immigration laws, you have to marry the person once you bring them over from another country. So, I will take head start and work in Kentucky, while Khaled saves some money in Jordan. Then, I will petition for him and he will be able to fly over and start working as a resident! Exciting stuff, kinda crazy, and totally wild, because I never thought I would be doing this. But when you know, you know.

Thank you for checking my blog. I post every 2 weeks (sorry I was a few days late).
I hope you are keeping safe in the crazy storm the East coast had. Be careful driving and stay safe for the rest of the weekend.
You can find me on and follow me on instagram: @travelobsesswithvaness

Peace from the Middle East!

The Mystique of Eating on the Floor

Happy Valentine’s Day!
Not many photos to show when I’ve been looking for jobs non-stop.
Literally, it’s like a job in itself looking for jobs, not sure how people do this while working. But I’ve done a lot of thinking with what I want to do and what that looks like. Answer is, not settling for what other designers are doing. I know that my new focus involves looking for jobs within graphic design, but for an organization either involved in youth development, or equality, women’s rights, racial justice, etc. I realized, if the organization doesn’t involve me doing something just besides design, then I wouldn’t be doing what I want. It would also be a plus if I was interacting with kids somehow, or people. While I love design, sitting behind a desk isn’t as inspiring to me as interacting with the people I would be designing for. Have some decisions to make but won’t be announcing anything until I know.

So, I’ve been home a lot, however here is some proof of actually going out to a restaurant. The first two are at Yemeni restaurant. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that in 2014 I studied abroad to Qatar and that was the reason for starting the blog. ( Click here for my Qatar entries!)
Anyway, I was exposed to a lot of new food while abroad, but learned about the Khaleej culture and countries that have similar customs and food. Qatar, Saudi, Oman, Yemen, Kuwait and UAE, these countries eat very similar things, in contrast to Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. Another thing is all the food was eaten on the floor. This is so interesting to me, especially as a Colombian, because in Colombia you do not eat on the floor. Not that you always eat on the floor in the Middle East, and most certainly not if you are alone, but it’s a communal mindset. More plates are easily spread on the floor than on regular tables. However, these pictures you see were a separated part of the restaurant for those that want to eat on the floor. But, there are also people who prefer tables, which is why it is rare to see restaurants serve you in this way. This restaurant had 90% tables, and 10% section for foreigners maybe or locals that prefer the experience of eating on the floor. The carpeted floors are cleaned after every meal. You also eat on a plastic cover, which picks up most of the mess made from the food. I would think it’s safe to say, if people eat on the floor, it’s usually because there’s no table available, too many people, or it’s in the comfort of their own home. Think about it–sitting on a table is a bit more formal than relaxing with your friends, drinking tea, while sitting on pillows. It’s not for everyone, but I don’t mind.

Baab Al Yemen, one of the several Yemeni restaurants in Amman. Yemeni food may sound far from what you know, but really it is a lot of rice, meat, eggs, salad, and gigantic bread (only one piece shown). One of the main differences between Jordanian food and Yemeni, is how they spice the rice. They even spice their tea, usually with some cardamom and with milk. It’s heavenly!

Me participating in the making of Mansaf by breaking down the chalk-like Jameed, into lukewarm water. Don’t worry, I cleaned my hands!

Second time making Mansaf, but this time, with lamb and not chicken. I like the chicken better because it gets seasoned better, but some people don’t know Mansaf without lamb meat, so it’s preference really.

There should be a user manual for these buses.

Have I ever explained buses in Amman? If living in Jordan were a video game, I think taking these buses gives you some extra points for various reasons.
1. Know exactly where you are going.
Well first, the bus destinations are written on the side in Arabic. Thankfully, the guys working on each bus will shout the name of the destinations so people know where the bus is going, incase it’s different than what’s written. Second, when I say you should know exactly, is because you need to know the name of the stop, not just what it looks like. Let’s say you have an idea of where to stop, if you don’t know what the stop name is, the conductor may take a faster route, if no one speaks up that they need to stop. I used to take the buses last year, when I would visit my friends at their university, so I learned the stop names. It actually isn’t too hard to learn, since they repeat it a lot before the stop, and as they stop. Tricky thing is won’t stop if no one needs get off or get on.  
2. Have the courage to tell the conductor to stop in Arabic, if he doesn’t.
This was never fun for me because I’m shy, especially if I am the only person getting off. What I do is check with the person next to me, if they are also getting off, I ask them to let the conductor know. Or, as I give my bus fare, telling the guy where I want to get off. That way, he’ll let the conductor know and I won’t have to say anything more than a head nod of approval, when he asks me to confirm. That’s not much of a problem anymore for me, thankfully.
3. Know female-male dynamics.
So, as you know Jordan is a fairly conservative society, in many regards. On buses, the guy working on the bus,  usually is the one to asses the best situation for the people getting on. Men always in the back, unless a whole family fills up the seats. Ladies next to ladies, and if there is a guy in a two-seater, he is asked to move to another seat, allowing 2 ladies to sit there. Most guys will know what to do, and even some men will ride the bus standing up, so an older lady sits down. These are unwritten rules, and I know the drill because I ride the bus often.
4. Know Arabic numbers, when you pay the bus fare.
At first it is confusing to understand what the rates are, because they are not written or anywhere at all. I learned the numbers early on, but even then they speak so fast, I would never really understand. They expect everyone to know the prices, so they just ask for the money, not the amount. I know the fares, which is helpful, especially when knowing what to get back.

Making a face when Khaled snaps a photo through the window.

Nothing like a little fire for sweater weather. Add some hot tea, munchies, and you got yourself a nice cozy night.

Hiding behind Valentine’s Day flowers. Khaled knows I don’t like roses, so he got me a bunch of colorful ones instead.

We didn’t have any vases, but we did have old wine bottles. I think they look better this way!

Well, not much else to say, other than I am so sad the other domain I made for my blog didn’t work out. The storage was not unlimited and because I hadn’t posted on that domain yet, I didn’t want to continue knowing I had such strong limitations. Thank you for always reading my blog and keeping updated with me. I hope everyone had a lovely Valentine’s Day, either with friends, a loved one, or just a night to yourself. Either way, there’s no obligations to celebrate this holiday, it’s just a money-maker for restaurants, for the most part. See you in 2 weeks!

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Peace from the Middle East!