Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Home at last

(Yes, those are my footprints!)

All good things draw to an end eventually, and we know my travel journals are a good thing, right? Right? This was a very short trip abroad for me – just five days! – and thus a very short blog. Unlike past (and, I hope, future!) travels, this trip was fairly light on cultural and historical exploration. However, this trip did mark my first solo international experience, as well as my first time presenting at a professional academic conference, and both contributed to make this particular journey a definite learning experience. Thanks for following along! For the next installment of the ‘Kelly abroad’ adventures, check out http://kelly-in-thailand.blogspot.com, set for July-August 2008 in Bangkok.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Blogging from Boston

I’m back at Logan at last, after a longish flight on a very crowded plane. It’s good to be free, and also to be back in a familiar airport. I’ll be on another tiny plane for the journey from Boston to New York (the plane from Barbados to Puerto Rico was the smallest one I think I’ve ever been in), but somehow it all feels so familiar I don’t really mind. Right; time to enjoy the bounties of the oh-so-familiar food court here! It’s good to be back on friendly US soil.

Stranded in San Juan!

Puerto Rico,

you lovely island,
island of tropical breezes…
Always the pineapples growing,
always the coffee blossoms blowing...

I have that song (“America”) from West Side Story stuck in my head right now. The song is sung by a group of Puerto Rican immigrants living in NYC, debating the pros and cons of life in both places. In the play, the men wax nostalgic for PR while the women -- led by Anita, my favorite character -- insist on the superiority of their new home. I feel a bit like Anita right now, although it’s no fault of Puerto Rico’s that I’d rather not be here for an extra hour – nor would I particularly like to fly to (and remain in) Boston for an extra three before I can get to New York.

There’s nothing quite like landing at a strange airport, and, as you rush to make your connecting flight, being abruptly informed that that flight has been canceled. (This is almost invariably done without explanation, typically in a tone that implies that it’s partially your fault for blithely assuming the plane ticket you purchased would actually work). After standing in line for what felt like an interminably long time (and let me tell you, the people behind and in front of me were getting pretty restless), I was reassigned to a flight path that will take me to Logan Airport in Boston – my old stomping grounds.

I mentioned in a previous post how in an odd way I really enjoy airports, and this trip has reminded me how I also like watching the flight attendants do the safety demo before takeoff for each flight. (No, I really can’t explain that one.) When I was younger, my absolute favorite parts of any flight were takeoff, for the swooping sensation in your stomach as the ground tilted away, and the flight itself, the duration of which I would spend pasted to the window, my mind fashioning dragons and castles and thrones and whole cumulus kingdoms from the cloudscape outside. These days, I have to admit that the flight – both takeoff and during – are one of my least favorite parts of the whole experience. I guess some of the glamour of watching the world outside has faded, while the bodily stresses of a dry cabin, cramped quarters, and changing pressures as we ascend and descend have become more focal.

I mention this only to say that flying over the Caribbean was one of the more exciting window-watching opportunities in recent Kelly history, as we flew over several small islands ringed with turquoise, the delicate tracery of off-shore coral reefs visible via gradations in the ocean’s blue. Barbados, I was interested to learn during my stay, is rather like Long Island in that its underlying geography differs from that of its immediate neighbors. Though most of New York is characterized by granite and sandstone bedrock, Long Island is essentially a giant sandbar, dredged up from the ocean floor by one of the last receding glaciers of the Ice Age. Similarly, Barbados’s substructure is formed from coral, and the bits of rock that assert themselves from beneath the dirt and grass in the fields are pitted with the trademark striations of coral, while most of its Caribbean neighbors are volcanic islands, their bedrock formed from cooling lava. One of the islands we flew over on the way from Barbados to Puerto Rico (St. Martin?) had a huge dormant volcano on its eastern (?) shore, the tell-tale ridges of some ancient lava flow visible from the air, though now covered with a dense forest of palm trees.

At any rate, I’m still stuck here in San Juan for a while. I managed to finagle a free lunch voucher from American Airlines (never hurts to ask!) and am now whiling away the hours reading The Race Against Time, an extraordinary book about the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa that everyone should read. Click the links in this sentence to read more about the author, Stephen Lewis, and the humanitarian crisis.


Puerto Rico,

you ugly island,

island of tropic diseases...
lways the hurricanes blowing,
always the population growing,

and the money owing...
and the babies crying…
and the bullets flying...
…I like the island Manhattan!

Sunday, March 2, 2008


The Barbados flag.

After the botanical gardens, I asked Orlando to drive me down to Bridgetown, Barbados's capital city and the nearest town to UWI Cave Hill. Most of the shops were closed, because today is Sunday, and on the way we passed gaggles of people going to and from church, the old women dressed up to the nines in bright pastel dresses with matching hats, the girls with their hair neatly braided, the little boys in long pants and collared shirts. We stopped down by the main promenade in town, where a boardwalk lines the waterfront and fountains and statues grace the square in front of the Houses of Parliament.

This statue was built to commemorate the installation of piped water to Barbados's capital on March 29th, 1861. It was lovely, but -- the irony! -- it was bone dry! No water running to this fountain!

This monument, on the other hand,was created for a different reason which I've now forgotten. Pretty, though, isn't it?

These, if you can believe it, are Barbados's Houses of Parliament.

Orlando says people always think it's a church, and I certainly can't blame them for the mistake. Parliament was deserted, as it was a Sunday, but I found an open gate and couldn't resist poking around inside for a look at some more of the beautiful architecture.

The building style reminded me powerfully of Yale, but with a tropical twist.

For example, you'd never see this color on the ironwork in New Haven!

According to this placard (as with all pictures on this blog, just click to make it larger), the Houses of Parliament were built in 1860, with the west and east wings opening about a decade or so later. The building is still in immaculate condition.

The promenade by the water.

I have to admit that my favorite part of visiting Bridgetown was the Parliamentary buildings, but the boardwalk and promenade along the water were also lovely. Down by the mouth of the harbor you could see where a couple of enormous cruise ships were anchored, as apparently they always are this time of year. (The constant refrain of the weekend was, "Are you from the ship?") If I ever go back, I think I'd like to see Bridgetown in full bustle, with people everywhere and shops open onto the street. Still, I really enjoyed the feeling of a quiet Sunday in a country where that day is taken very seriously as a day of rest, and I did enjoy having the Houses of Parliament to myself.

A trip to the botanical gardens

So, guys, all the philosophers are gone now. What should we do today?

Smoochy wants to go back to the beach. But Smooch, we went there yesterday!

Ears wants to go to a fruit market. Sounds good to me,
but there are no markets nearby!

What about... a trip to the botanical gardens instead?

There they have water...

...and things for bunny rabbits to snack on!

It's the perfect compromise.

Hop in my bag, Ears -- let's go!

Today Ears and I headed to Orchid World, one of Barbados's three main botanical gardens. (The other ones are the Andromeda Botanic Gardens -- operated by UWI Cave Hill -- and the Flower Forest, which are both a bit further away).

Orlando and I drove on winding country roads into the rural parish of St. George, past gently rolling fields of sugar cane -- some up to 5 feet high -- waving in the warm breezes that were a constant feature of the weather on this trip. The wide, square fields, warm sun, and squat farm buildings reminded me of the landscape in Taichung, where rice paddies stretched from horizon to horizon on either side of narrow country roads.

Orchid World itself was lovely, a small-ish property with winding paved paths and a huge variety of different types of orchids. It was founded by the former Prime Minister of Barbados, on a parcel of land that used to be a pig farm! Because much of the extant infrastructure of water and irrigation was used, the conversion process took just one year. The orchids were simply extraordinary.

"Vanda" orchids are known for being exceptionally large and showy, with brilliant colors.

But even tiny orchids were carefully cultivated -- I loved the miniature "baby's breath" orchids pictured above..

The "Sharry Baby" scented orchid gave off a delectable mix of chocolate and jasmine aromas -- which naturally gave me an idea for a new kind of chocolate truffle to make when I am back in DC with my truffle supplies!

There were more than simply orchids at the garden -- from tall trees like the one above, to small flowers on the ground or in the shrubbery, there was an abundance of tropical flora to enjoy.

For instance, I was able to see my first wild-growing bird of paradise, stunning in person and much larger than the ones I've seen on bouquets up north.

The stones at the garden -- as elsewhere on the island -- gave a clear indication of Barbados's coral-based geological substructure.

Orchids are ornamental rather than edible, much to Ears's chagrin. Thankfully, he managed to find some clover...

... and a plant that looked a bit like mint.

Before leaving, we had also read about the ready availability of "green coconuts," which are harvested before they ripen into their traditionally hairy brown form. On previous travels, I had the opportunity to sip on a mature coconut on Wangfujin in China, as well as on a green coconut at a Malaysian restaurant in Hong Kong.

On Sundays, men harvest mounds of young coconuts and set up shop along the sides of the highways. For just $2 Barbados dollars ($1 US) the man grabs one of the large green coconuts by its stem, and deftly spins it in his hand while thwocking it with an enormous cleaver. He chops the top off, and hands you a straw to drink the sweet coconut water from inside. When you've finished, he takes the coconut back and, with some more cleaver action, chops it into thirds for you to scoop the jelly-like inner flesh of the coconut out with your teeth. (I'll admit it, I waited to eat the jelly until I got back to the guesthouse, and ate it out with a plastic spoon. Call me a foreigner... I wanted to avoid the places where the cleaver left black marks in the coconut's flesh.)

All in all... definitely a day to remember!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Finally... hitting the beach!

So, the conferencing is over -- let the relaxation begin! I made my way down to the beach bright and early this morning to meet a few of the remaining philosophers down at the shore by their hotel.

The road down to the beach

I got more and more excited as I drew nearer to the ocean. The walk down was hot and a little dusty, I was a sunscreen-slick magnet for passing particles on the wind. I couldn't wait to jump in the water.

The bearded ones

On the path down, I passed a grove of trees which I think might have been the kind for which Barbados was (arguably) named by the Portuguese sailors who "discovered" the island.

Finally... the beach!

Still, I only had so much time to spend observing the local flora -- I wanted to see the sea!!

It was gorgeous. I will let the pictures do the talking -- words cannot do the colors justice.

My best beach buddy and I sat, watched the sea, chatted with a nearby British couple on holiday, read, swam, and watched as the clouds and our fellow beach-goers rolled by.

My best beach buddy

There were a couple of people on jet skis...

... and some sailboats came by too

It was a windy day, and clouds swept in front of the sun just often enough to keep the ideal balance of sunshine to coolness. The water was just cool enough to be refreshing when you first entered, but within just a minute felt perfectly warm. I splashed around a little and then floated on my back for a bit. It felt amazing to be buoyed up by this crystal-clear turquoise water, just floating in the Atlantic, rising ever so slightly up and down as the waves rolled in... unlike anything else I'd ever experienced.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Day Two: In which I give my paper!

Yes, today was the big day -- my first paper delivered at a conference, ever. How did it go? Did I freeze up? Was I booed away from the podium? Did I trip over a power cord? Was I raked over the coals in the Q&A session afterwards?

The answer to all those questions is, thankfully, no. However, let me pose some others: did I leave the only hard copy I had of my paper and presentation notes on the plane? Did I fail to realize this until the night before I was scheduled to speak? The answer to those two is, unfortunately, yes.

Thankfully, technology was there to save the day. My pretty little apple laptop did thankfully have a copy of my paper, although it was missing all the notes I had made for myself. So: to anyone to whom I sent a brief-bordering-on-curt email instead of a loving, detail-filled one, you now know why: I was busy emptying my suitcase in a frenzy, then re-typing all my notes until late that night. I felt pretty silly, but in the end it wound up not being a huge deal at all. If anything, it was helpful, because it gave me something to do with my hands while I spoke (viz, scroll) rather than (a) rustle papers, indicating to the audience how badly my hands were shaking, or (b) gesticulate wildly, distracting everyone from the substance of my paper. It also helped me to avoid being thrown off by the "10 minutes" "5 minutes" and "wrap up" placards that the moderator helpfully flashed to keep all the participants on-schedule.

Note the rim of my little computer peeking over the edge in this shot

This is how I opened my talk:

I’d like to begin by thanking the conference organizers, and the other participants, for the wonderful and stimulating discussion we’ve had so far. I am honored to be able to present my work in front of such a diverse group of scholars from all over the academic -- and global -- map.
I also have to ask for your indulgence today. You’ll notice that I have no hard copy of my paper. I would like to say that my commitment to environmental sustainability is so strong that I couldn’t justify wasting the trees on a printed copy of my paper, but the sad fact is that I am a victim of early-onset absent-minded professor syndrome. (A teacher of mine once called this an “occupational hazard” of being a philosopher.) My lovingly annotated presentation notes, complete with marks for where to pause for breath, was left behind on the flight that took me here. I can just imagine the passenger who took my seat later that day ruffling through the in-flight magazines, looking for the crossword and instead being rewarded with a 30-page academic paper entitled “Care and the Pedagogical Relationship: A Teleological Approach.”

Thankfully, I got some laughs, and launched into my actual paper.

The session in which I spoke was called "Institutional Issues," and, if I do say so myself, it was my favorite panel. Ed (the same Ed who drove me to the conference both days), seated to my right, spoke about the limits of institutional rationality. To his right is a professor from West Chester University, who gave a really fascinating powerpoint presentation about assessment in higher education, and its relationship to the complex topic of academic freedom. His presentation was awesome -- I took notes the whole time. The professor on my left, Clevis Headley, spoke about education as the "practice of freedom," in what I thought was a particularly fantastic paper. For some reason, many of the comments in the Q&A session were addressed jointly to Clevis and me, although our papers dealt with ostensibly different topics. I didn't mind -- I loved his paper, so being lumped in with him felt a little bit like being on the same team as one of the "cool kids" in middle school.

I got some of my own questions, though, including a particularly good one from Paget Henry, the professor from Brown, and a few helpful comments afterward from various other conference participants. I felt really good about giving the paper (not too nervous) and the whole experience was a really positive one.

The afternoon session -- our last one of the conference -- featured five different presenters, all discussing some aspect of the racial and cultural politics of higher education. I really enjoyed these talks as well, especially one given by a professor (who maybe was from UWI Mona? not sure) about "textual and ritual liminality in tertiary education" that utilized a particularly evocative metaphor about Caribbean drum bands, and another given by a Brazilian professor from UWI Cave Hill about Paulo Freire, a revolutionary and educational activist who held a position at Harvard, among other places.

All too soon, things wound to a close. We had some poetry from a Cave Hill professor, closing remarks (in which the organizer, Dr. Ochieng'-Odhiambo, said that these were "the shortest two days of his life"), and one last round of tea, biscuits, and fruit salad before we all went our separate ways. It was a wonderful second day to a truly extraordinary first conference experience. I have made many new friends and connections literally all over the world, and had the first opportunity to air my own philosophical ideas in an open and friendly professional academic arena. I am so grateful to Georgetown for giving me the funding to make this trip, and to everyone at UWI Cave Hill who put together such a wonderful program. The philosophy department at Cave Hill is struggling for funding and expansion, but they did an amazing job with this conference. Kudos to them.