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Some exciting news, friends – I was published on the Huffington Post! In an effort to inspire readers to invest in women, I wrote this as part of Half the Sky‘s campaign called Raise for Women. It’s sort of a collection of many stories you’ve heard right here, many times before, but written for an audience who hasn’t necessarily been exposed to the state of women in the developing world, and those personal stories that inspire us to get involved.

My favorite thing about this was the email the Half the Sky team forwarded me the next day – it was from someone who had submitted an application to be a community ambassador after reading my story. Nothing feels better than this right here:

” I recently read Amy Schoenberger’s article on the Huffington Post and was inspired.  I’ve been searching for an organization that helps women on a grand scale empower themselves for quite awhile.  Hearing Amy’s story and reading through the website, I instantly knew that Half the Sky was what I had long been searching for.  I would love to create awareness here in the Los Angeles area as I know many women who would be honored to participate in this sort of global activism for women.  With the surge of female awareness through Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, and women’s issues on both a political and social level, I believe Half the Sky could really help lead the new feminist movement.  It would be a privilege to be an ambassador but more so, I want to help women of all social classes both inside and outside the US learn to use their voice.”
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A New Orleans Love Affair: The Food

I’ve written extensively about my love for New Orleans (stemming from my original hatred of it), and last week Randi and I headed down with our significant others for an actual vacation (my first non-work trip to the big easy!). There’s lots to tell, but let’s start with the main focus of the trip: the food.

We arrived on Thursday, and the first thing we did was walk over to Cochon, conveniently a few blocks from The Westin. If you like pork, bacon, and/or flavorful, delicious food, this place is for you. If you’re a vegetarian, maybe not so much. But this may have been the best meal we had during the four-day trip. We had to resist the temptation to come back over the next few days. Matt went crazy over the Louisiana Cochon, which they describe as a pork hockey puck. I had the oyster and bacon sandwich and almost died of happiness. Also, we sat directly next to Gina Gershon, and she looked gorgeous. We may have eavesdropped on her conversation. Note: this was not the most exciting celebrity we encountered in New Orleans. On Saturday, Matt SPOKE to Sylvester Stallone. And by spoke, I mean Stallone told him to move and Matt laughed in his face. But a story for another time. Here’s my inconspicuous, paparazzi shot of Gershon:

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The next day, after a breakfast of coffee and beignets at Cafe Du Monde, we had lunch at Johnny’s Po’ Boys. I loved it here because it’s just a no frills, original Po’ Boy shop that’s been around for 60 years. Plus I did a campaign with them for work about a million years ago so I feel a connection to this sweet little hidden shop in the French Quarter.

Dinner Friday night was at August, John Besh’s upscale restaurant. John Besh is a famous New Orleans chef, so I felt like I should experience one of his meals. The food was good, but the atmosphere was way too stuffy for this fun loving, anything-goes kind of city. We all agreed that we preferred the down and dirty, good food without the song and dance restaurants New Orleans is so famous for. Also, they lost our reservation and weren’t very kind about it, so that was annoying. This would be our only slightly disappointing food experience of the entire trip.

Saturday – obviously back to Cafe Du Monde for coffee and beignets. They are SO incredibly delicious every single time.The line is always going to be crazy, but I can’t stress enough how worth it the wait is. Just trust me. Or look:

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We also had a lovely walk from our hotel along the Mississippi River to the cafe each morning. A snapshot from our room with a view:

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Lunch that day was at Willie Mae’s Scotch House, a cab ride away or a long walk from the French Quarter, but again well worth it. You wait outside to go into this plain looking dining room with it’s own historical memorabilia on the walls, and proceed to eat the best fried chicken you’ve ever had in your entire life, no matter where you’re from.

Saturday night was the Krewe du Vieux parade, the official start to Mardi Gras (that story in an upcoming post), but after the parade died down and we’d had enough of the French Quarter we took a cab to the Bywater to check out Matt’s friend’s restaurant, Pizza Delicious. And people, it lives up to it’s name. What started as a telephone-order-only restaurant that had just a takeout window and ran out of pizza every night has expanded to a modern full service pizzeria where you can watch everything that happens in the kitchen as you order your food. The pizzas are amazing, as are the salads, garlic knots and likely everything else on the menu. Locals will tell you it’s the only NY style pizza in Louisiana. If you find yourself at Pizza Delicious, say hi to one of the owners, Greg, and tell him Amy and Matt sent you.

Sunday, our last full day in New Orleans and our last breakfast at Cafe Du Monde, we ate lunch at Parkway because everyone told us they had the best Po’ Boys in New Orleans. When you go, eat the roast beef and/or the shrimp. Randi and I split both, and even though we both liked the shrimp better, it’s worth it to try the roast beef po’ boy that made them famous.

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Our last meal in New Orleans was at Sylvain. It’s hard to eat in this city on a Sunday because so many restaurants are closed, but luckily we were able to get a table at Sylvain around 9:30. It was lovely eating in their beautiful outdoor area (especially since it was January,) but we were so full from that afternoon’s po’ boy excursion that Randi and I couldn’t even eat our entrees – the slow cooked pork sandwiches that looked oh so delicious. We did eat plenty of appetizers that we loved, mostly the beef belly and the brussels sprouts. The service here was excellent and we drank some fantastic wine. I’d like to go back here when I have more of an appetite.

There were so many other restaurants we wanted to try, but four days in New Orleans just isn’t enough. And even more days if you include my previous trips to the city. Guess we’ll just have to go back!

Who Run the World?

It’s a really good time to be a girl. Last week, global leaders gathered at Mashable’s Social Good Summit and while I only attended the last day of the summit, one major takeaway was clear = we can end poverty if we just invest in girls. Last night, Part One of the Half the Sky documentary premiered on CBS, and Sheryl WuDunn so articulately stated, “Educate a girl and she will change the world around her.” Next week, millions of events, fundraisers, talks and celebrations will take place to commemorate The UN’s Day of The Girl. 

Why so much double X love lately? Because of journalists like Nick Kristof, and because of the instantaneous global access social media provides, people are starting to have a much richer understanding of how bad things really are for girls growing up in the developing world. The horrors are unimaginable, how poor village girls are sold to brothels at the age of 8, raped as toddlers, burned with acid, or forced to give birth before their bodies are developed enough to bear that burden. Go look up what a fistula is and where in the world it happens and tell me you’re not compelled to do something to help these poor girls. The issue has always been that these girls are so undervalued so nobody has paid much attention to them. So as a result they have no means or knowledge about how to get out of their situation, with no access to education or no knowledge of anything but their one remote village, it has been almost impossible for them to make a different life for themselves and their future generations.

Two years ago when the Girl Effect video came out, I wrote about how lucky I felt to have been born in America. The amazing thing that’s happened in bringing all these horrible issues to light, is that people are paying attention. People have started to do something about this problem, and change is happening. Organizations are popping up everywhere, from fistula hospitals in Ethiopia to foundations that invest in female business owners in the developing world, to organizations that invest solely in girls’ education so they can try to prevent the problem before it starts. Girls who are educated are more likely to marry later, have fewer children, and to provide for their families, lifting them (and their communities) out of the cycle of poverty.  

I hope you’ll watch the second part of Half the Sky tonight, participate in The Day of the Girl, start a fundraiser of your own or donate to one of the organizations below, which I personally love so much. If one little girl can trek two hours in a riverboat every day just to be the only one in her small Cambodian village to graduate from high school, we can easily click a button to help inspire more girls to follow that path, right?

Here are some things you can click:

http://halfthesky.org/en/take-action

http://www.shesthefirst.org/donate/

http://www.buildanest.org/

And just so we’re ending on a lighter note, a reminder text from Hillary.

Barns and Castles in Connecticut

In the years I’ve known Rebecca, she’s never really done anything traditional. Starting her own nonprofit after grad school, moving around the country multiple times a year, dropping everything for a last minute trip to Kenya, the list goes on. That’s why it came as no surprise when we attended her very unique wedding in a beautiful barn one August evening up in Litchfield, Connecticut. Aside from the picturesque setting, she had small touches throughout the ceremony and reception that incorporated Nest – a green belt across her white dress, hand-painted napkins and handmade stationary as favors, all designed by Nest artisans in India.

After the ceremony, we spent the evening eating freshly made pizza (the brick oven was driven in on a truck!) with ingredients from local farms, catching up with old friends and dancing barefoot on the grass to a bluegrass trio.

The next day we went to a breakfast at the home where Rebecca and her family were staying – and we were absolutely blown away by this place. Called the “Litchfield Castle,” upon entering the grounds you’re transported to a different country and a different time period. It was hard to believe we were in America, in 2012, only two hours away from NYC. Just take a look at the photos.

 

See what I mean? To top it all off, Rebecca and her new husband took a vacation in one of my favorite places – Portugal! Now the happily married couple is back home and back in action as they try to make the world a better place. Congratulations to them both!

Travel Blogger Relay: Top Three Travel Moments

It seems silly to write this post only a few weeks after writing about my favorite places in the world, but I felt compelled to take the challenge Low Cost Holidays proposed in choosing your three top travel moments in their travel blogger relay (because only three? Impossible!) So when Lauren of Lateral Movements passed me the baton on the Green team, I joined team captains Erica and Shaun from Over Yonderlust, and picked out three travel moments that stand out pretty vividly.

1. Dancing with artisan rug weavers in the mountains of Midelt, Morocco

About ten American women and I came to Morocco with Nest, a non-profit organization that helps women artists in developing countries. After a six hour bus ride through the mountains of Fez, we are greeted at someone’s home by a group of Muslim women with head coverings, long skirts and some with long grey tattoos down the middle of their faces. I’m told this tattoo is an ancient Berber symbol for marriage. They kiss us twice on each cheek and seat us around three large tables where we are served chicken, bread, cous cous, carrots, and fruit. After dinner, we see the women bring out a few brightly colored handheld drums. The music, dancing and singing begins, and this Jewish white girl finds herself in the home of traditional Muslim women, dancing with her friends and family the way she does with her roommates back in New York. At some point in between a woman teaching me how to do their shrieking technique and playing with another’s little girl, I remembered why I came here, and why I need to continue taking trips like this.

2. Listening to Fado music with locals in Portugal

The concierge at our hotel who we had befriended over our week long stay invited us on our last night in Portugal to see him play guitar with his traditional Fado group. We met Ricardo and his wife Elena at the restaurant where this took place, and Elena sat with us as Ricardo went to set up his guitar with the other musicians. It was a small restaurant, with only about 10 tables inside. Everyone in this restaurant clearly knew each other very well and looked at us quizzically, wondering why these foreign strangers had come to join in their weekly Fado tradition. Elena introduced us to our waitress, Matilda, and then suggested we order the cod. I was so sick of cod by this point in the trip, but it seemed rude to decline her suggestion. Before the music started, Elena prepared us for exactly what was about to happen, which we were so grateful for. The tradition of playing Fado music is very different than anything I’ve seen in America. The closest form of music I can compare it to is opera. After our meal was served, the lights in the restaurant were dimmed, everyone went completely quiet and the four men softly began playing their Fado guitars – these beautiful, round bodied string instruments. A man from the audience stood up and began singing a slow, emotional tune, which I was fascinated by, but Elena whispered to us that he was one of the worst Fado singers in their group. Other singers from the audience took their turns, performing about three songs each. Then, to our surprise, our waitress, Matilda, took her turn. Once this petite woman began singing such an emotional, moving piece, I finally understood why Fado was such an incredible art form. She put her entire soul into this performance, conducting the entire thing with her eyes closed, and bringing the entire restaurant to tears. Elena told me that earlier this year, Matilda had lost her husband to cancer, and this was her way of expressing her grief. I couldn’t understand the words, but I could feel how much Matilda ached by listening to her song. We eventually finished our meal and said goodbye to the group, and Ricardo and Elena drove us back to the hotel. We hugged them and thanked them profusely for giving us this amazing, truly unique and authentic Portugese experience on our last night in Lisbon.

3. Enjoying steak, wine, olive oil bread and spectacular scenery at O’Fournier Winery in Argentina’s Uco Valley

I never wanted to leave here. As soon as we arrived at this massive Argentinian winery and sat down to our meal and wine tasting, we looked out at the lake, which reflected the vineyards that had turned a gorgeous vibrant red in the fall just below the monumental Andes mountains. The evening before, I had developed an obsession with the olive oil bread that we were served at what was named the best restaurant in Argentina, Nadia O.F. And Nadia’s husband was the owner of the winery we were currently touring. To my extreme delight, we were once again served the delicious olive oil bread, along with a flight of rich, full bodied wines. To top it off, I was then served what I truly believe was the best steak of my life. I don’t know why two of my top three travel moments took place on the last day of my trip – maybe it’s the necessity to cling to those last remaining moments of vacation before departing for home, or maybe I was just really lucky to have these grand finales at the end of each journey. I do know that thinking back to that last day in Argentina, to be sitting in that experience, eating delicious food and drinking amazing wine, staring out at surreal scenery (oh did I mention the clouds were irradescent?) is a memory I will always cherish.

And now for the last step in the relay, I pass the baton to the one and only Condor Kristen! Go girl go! Make us proud!

Does Traveling as a Couple Make or Break Your Relationship?

When I was 21, someone who I really looked up to told me that traveling with someone is the best way to test a relationship and see if it works.  Steph at Twenty-Something Travel wrote about this recently, right before I left for Argentina, so obviously it got me thinking, and maybe even had me a bit worried that the trip would be a make or break for my relationship.

As we began our trip, I realized it was all just silly buildup and unnecessary worry. I was traveling with someone I knew extremely well, and there weren’t any surprises for either of us in terms of how we reacted to certain situations. Plus I think we passed a few tests that made me realize that there’s a good chance I may have found myself a permanent travel buddy:

Test #1: Determine what you want out of your travels:

Matt and I love the beach, but neither of us want our main vacation for the year to be a relaxing trip to the Caribbean. We both want to see as much culture as possible, spend our time meeting people and exploring interesting places. We want to eat delicious food. We want to experience the entire world and do everything there is to do.  The night we went to Bomba de Tiempo, my back was killing me, we were tired from being up early to go to Uruguay that morning, and we had reached the point of exhaustion. I kept propping my back up against a concrete column to give it support as I listened to the music and watched the show. Matt asked if we needed to go back to the hotel, but despite my backache, I REALLY didn’t want to leave and I could tell he didn’t either. We both wanted to wait it out despite our physical exhaustion, and we’re so glad we did because that was one of the most fun experiences we had on the entire trip.

Test #2: Know and accept your partner’s limits:

The one thing we didn’t see eye to eye on was determining what was “safe.”  I am used to traveling with other girls, and when girls walk down a foreign city street that’s abandoned, we are automatically on super alert because we were raised to watch out for our safety – maybe even a bit too much. Not that boys aren’t raised to be safe, but it’s on a completely different level. Matt is used to traveling with boys, who just want to wander around, explore and purposely get lost.  The two times I felt a bit unsafe, he did a good job of easing my nerves – when we got lost in Mendoza’s San Martin park after being warned not to stray too far from the lake, he pointed out that there were other people around – and as he did so, a group of young schoolchildren walked by, and we both laughed.  Another time, late at night on a street in Buenos Aires with no other people aside from the two of us, I thought back to an email I had received from a friend who said that many travelers are susceptible to pickpocketing and mugging. Naturally, my nerves kicked in as we walked down this abandoned street. Again, Matt offered to go back to the hotel, but I didn’t want to, I just wanted to find other signs of normal people in the vicinity. As if on cue, an elderly man walking a tiny white poodle came strolling around the corner. Again, laughter ensued and nerves were calmed.

Matt also knows I’m not super outdoorsy, and though he might want to do a fun hike up the mountains or an outdoor rafting adventure trip, he knew I’d be miserable and didn’t push me to go with him. I scheduled some time in the hotel spa, which had no interest to Matt at all. (Although after a few glasses of wine that afternoon I was able to convince him to go into the outdoor pool with me.)

Test #3: Compromise.

I’m so Type A it’s ridiculous. I could plan out every minute of every trip and be thrilled to do it because it means we’ll be able to see everything that was recommended and everything we “need” to see.  (Ask any of my friends about our trip to Italy in 2009. I had things down to the minute, including bathroom breaks – no exaggeration) Matt just wants to go and explore and decide on the fly where to go and what we should do. And I’ve learned to appreciate that, as I think he’s learned that it isn’t always a bad idea to plan a few things in advance. We knew about Casa Mun, Bomba de Tiempo, and the day trip to Uruguay because of pre-vacation research and making reservations well in advance (I actually received several emails from these places telling me I was trying to make reservations way too early and to check back when our trip was less than a month away. Yes I realize how completely insane I am.) But I also left a few days open, and we were able to walk around and explore neighborhoods in Buenos Aires that I’m sure many tourists overlook. To be honest, I’m not even sure of the names of half these neighborhoods or what streets we walked around, but it was nice to have this free time to wander, to be flexible, and to stop into random restaurants we saw along the way that certainly aren’t in the Lonely Planet books.

I think the biggest test of all though, was how we felt after the trip. And we both came back with a big appreciation for each other, we weren’t annoyed and we weren’t sick of each other. In fact, over a few glasses of red wine and a huge Argentinian steak, we decided to move in together.

Did the trip define us as a couple and make me see anything differently? Not at all. Maybe it made us a bit closer because we have this new shared experience, but in terms of “testing the relationship,” I’m going to say no. I have a few people I know I can travel with – Randi, Joya, and now I can very happily add Matt to the list.

Do you think traveling as a couple will make or break you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Buenos Aires Beats: La Bomba De Tiempo

We were exhausted after our day in Uruguay. All we wanted to do was go back to our hotel and throw ourselves into bed. But we had heard of this supposedly cool drum show that only happens on Monday nights in Buenos Aires, and this was our last night there. So we carried our tired bodies off the Buquebus and over to the Konex Cultural Center where we entered what looked like a parking lot.

The show didn’t even take place there. We were led behind the parking lot to what almost resembled a dreary looking alley with concrete pillars. In the alley, a handful of girls dressed in ordinary cotton t-shirts, tank tops and cargo pants, one wearing a jean skirt with leggings, walked out to the center of the crowd. There was no way to know until they took their places behind the various percussion instruments that these were the evening’s performers. Leggings girl gave a little howl and they were off. Once they started playing, beating the crap out of these instruments to make the most awesome rhythmic experience for everyone around them, we understood the big deal about this show. I also loved that it was all chicks – one girl playing drums is somewhat of a rare thing to see but a dozen amazingly skilled ladies conducting and playing synchronized percussion? One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Check them out – the ladies of Bomba de Tiempo

Watching the leaders as they took position in front of the group was another thing that captivated us, we couldn’t stop watching as they used the most simple hand motions to direct the whole thing, speaking their own language to each other and allowing us the audience to witness the beautiful music that came from it.

After about an hour the ladies were done and another group took the stage – all men, dressed in professional, matching uniforms, doing the same thing but on a much larger scale. By then the crowd had nearly doubled (I guess locals don’t come for the opening act) and the vibe of happiness and excitement in the space was palpable. Our exhaustion hadn’t completely gone away, but we just kept dancing, too busy getting caught up in the whole experience to care about how tired we were. The men put on an amazing show but the ladies who kicked it off deserve a ton of credit. I walked away thinking I should do everything in my power to bring this show to the states. But maybe it belongs here, in this alley in the back of a parking lot in Buenos Aires, where every Monday night, locals and tourists get to experience what is likely the best drum show in the world.