2012 in Review: Challenge and Growth

2012 has been a phenomenal year! This year saw me traveling through Ghana and South Africa, not to mention my quick jaunts around the US, completing the Teacher’s for Global Classrooms (TGC-IREX) fellowship supported by the US State Department, participating in a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, and seeing my personal aspirations align with my professional goals.

Instead of counting down top moments of the year, I decided to reflect by writing my “Travel ABCs” (mostly from 2012). So here we go…

A: Age you went on your first international trip:
I think I was 11 when I first touched international soil. On a trip to Southern California, my family and I took an excursion to Tijuana, Mexico. I was really excited to put my limited middle school foreign language education to work! I scored a traditional puppet and sombrero that I still have today.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where:
I really enjoyed the beers in Ghana that I tasted this year. The crisp Clubs, Stars, and Guinness helped to cool me down at night. Additionally, the standard jumbo sizes did not hurt either!

C: Cuisine (favorite):
This is a tough one! I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner at Buttons in Dallas, TX, but that might be more because of the company I was with and the live entertainment. I also had an excellent dinner at STK in Miami with my ace Tiffany! I love steak and chimichurri (and the South Beach setting certainly did not hurt either). However, I think my adventures in Ghana and South Africa provided my favorite foods of this year. The grilled tilapia, spicy groundnut soup, kelewele, and fufu and stew sure made me happy while in Ghana!

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Grilled tilapia at Buka Restaurant in Accra, Ghana

The grilled meats and fish were delicious as I spent six weeks traveling through South Africa. Sadly, the sheep’s head and worms did not make my list.

D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why:
I thoroughly enjoyed everywhere I traveled this past year. Ghana and South Africa found themselves engrained in my heart for a variety of reasons, but mainly the strength shown from both countries populations in response to their respective histories.

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”:
To build from the previous response, this has to be my time spent at the Cape Coast Castle in Cape Coast, Ghana and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa. To speak with residents about the lasting effects of slavery and apartheid really gave me pause and made me really appreciate the ability for people to be able to speak their stories so that the world can learn.

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“The Door of No Return” at the Cape Coast Castle in Cape Coast, Ghana

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The entrance to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa

F: Favorite mode of transportation:
The Holy Spirit! Our van transportation in Ghana never failed! It never failed to get us from point a to point b. It never failed to provide the group with interesting, and somewhat lethal smells. It hasn’t failed to provide us with great memories!

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The Holy Spirit – Ghana

Honorable mentions go to the coach in South Africa that carried 25 teachers safely for six weeks throughout the country. Also to Turkish and Delta Airlines for getting me to where I need to be!

G: Greatest feeling while traveling:
Equal parts freedom, growth, and learning.

H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to:
Hands down, Ghana in March! The humidity and temperatures were at their peak!

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where:
I was pleasantly surprised at the service Delta Airlines provided in the wake of a canceled holiday flight. After a rocky start, a representative helped me to get back to the Midwest in time for the Christmas holiday seated in First Class with a monetary voucher to use in the future to purchase a flight. Everything was totally unexpected, but turned out the best possible way.

J: Journey that took the longest:
The 40 hour flight between Cape Town, South Africa and NYC, including a mandatory stop in Johannesburg and 10 hour layovers in Istanbul, wore me out. Going there, I was full of adrenaline. On the flight back, I was beyond tired. Beyond. I’m surprised I made my flight back to the states.

K: Keepsake from your travels:
My photographs. I am in the process of creating a coffee table book of my travels that I look forward to sharing with my family and friends.

L: Let-down sight, why and where:
Dare I say my current home NYC? I might have to change that in the near future…

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel:
I think I first fell in love with travel while taking day trips and vacations my family and I took during my childhood and adolescent years. I think my parents allowed me to discover my natural curiosity with places and people with these experiences.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in:
The nicest place I stayed this year had to have been the “lodge” my friend Dave and I shared at the Mantenga Cultural Village in Swaziland. Leather chairs and couches, private patio, jacuzzi soaking tub, secret water closet, and most importantly, protection from the monkeys – what more luxury could I ask for?

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The accommodations at the Mantenga Cultural Village, Swaziland

However, I’m not sure that the rest of the crew was as lucky as us here and I believe it was the tipping point of the trip for some people.

O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?
I enjoy taking photographs of cityscapes and skylines, in addition to nature. I’m not big on taking pictures of random people.

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where?
I currently have ten stamps and am looking to get a few more in 2013.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where:
This would have to be the Hans Cottage Botel (It’s advertised as a “boat hotel” because of the lakes surrounding the property) right outside of Cape Coast, Ghana. I had the pleasure of staying there for around a week and had visits from lizards, crocodiles, and school groups. This is a one stop shop of entertainment, lodging, and food. I have never been anywhere like it.

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Greeting one of the residents at the Hans Cottage Botel, Ghana

R: Recommended sight, event or experience:
Everyone should go on safari once in his lifetime. While in South Africa this past summer, I stayed at Addo Elephant Park for a few days. One of my favorite experiences there was going for a morning horseback ride through the reserve. While we were not able to go in the actual park because of a lion alert, the scenery was still outstanding. Seeing and hearing the animals in the distance to know they are in their natural habitat going about their daily business is phenomenal.

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A morning horseback ride in Addo Elephant Park, South Africa

S: Splurge
Artwork or local crafts to furnish my home. I went a little overboard while in South Africa having to check two bags and carry on board two bags back to the states.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done:
I am guilty of hitting up South Beach…and loving it!

U: Unforgettable travel memory:
I think this video says it all

V: Visas, how many and for where?
I only have tourist visas for Turkey, Ghana, and South Africa for 2012. Work visas maybe in my near future…

W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where?
I couldn’t help but sample wines across South Africa this summer. I’m in love with Pinotage. She is my new best friend alongside groundnut soup.

X: eXcellent view and from where?
The view of Table Mountain from Robben Island in Cape Town, South Africa.

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Table Mountain – Cape Town, South Africa

Y: Years spent traveling?
The longest I have spent abroad is six weeks this past summer traveling across South Africa.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?
Ghanaian soccer fans and the riot that ensued. Check out this previous entry for details!

I loved living 2012 and cannot wait to see what 2013 has in store!

Happy New Year!

~Aaron

This blog is not an official U.S. Department of State website. The views and information presented are the grantee’s own and do not represent the Teachers for Global Classrooms Program, IREX, or the U.S. Department of State.

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