Monthly Archives: March 2016

Side Trip to Saly, Senegal #sol16 21 of 31


My trip to Senegal has been good, but I’ve been under the weather since Saturday. I have developed a pretty bad cough for some reason. I went to the pharmacy today and got some medicine, so hopefully I’ll start feeling better soon. There’s nothing worse than being sick on holiday!  

Anyhow, I am no longer in Dakar. My friend Sally, who works with me in Albania, happens to be in Senegal, too, so we took a side trip to a nice beach area about 80km away from Dakar. Upon arrival, I was so excited. This place is gorgeous and so laid back. The resort we are staying at is a short walk to the beach, has a lovely pool area, and a spa for massages and pedicures. One downside is very spotty Internet. I’m sitting in the bar area at the moment trying to blog, as this is the only place to get any wifi. I’m thinking my blogging will be short this week as a result of this situation.  

We took a walk down to the beach today, where I was able to dip my toes into the Atlantic for the first time. It was freezing!  As we meandered along, we saw loads of men in speedos and topless women. Not at all what I expected! I do not get the appeal of walking around topless on the beach. That doesn’t seem remotely fun to me. After laying by the pool to read, I got a pedicure and we went to dinner. It was really nice. They even had a live band playing while we ate.

Looking forward to what tomorrow has in store. Hoping that my cough goes away for sure!!

A Year in Photos- 2015 #sol16 20 of 31

Last year, I wrote a post sharing my favorite photos from 2014. This was a really great way to reflect on my year, and to relive some of my favorite moments. So here goes 2015’s year in photos (in chronological order). I hope you enjoy! 🙂

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All photos copyright of Jennifer Kesler. Please do not use without permission.

Dakar, Day One #sol16 19 of 31

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Highlights of today: Meeting Reina. Spending time with Melissa. Sunshine. Seeing a bit of Dakar. Shopping at the American Store. Hanging out with Sally, Bruce, and T. Watching the sunset on the beach.


After some much needed sleep, I eased into the day by hanging around the house with Mel and Reina. Reina was so funny! When she first saw me, she was so uncertain about this strange girl in her house. I kept getting the stare down, which just made Mel and I crack up. After a little while, she warmed up to me and even let me hold her. We became fast friends. She is such a happy baby- always smiling and laughing. She likes being held, which I love!

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We got a late start to the day, but the sun was out and the weather was amazing! It was warm, but not hot, and there was a steady breeze all day. I got to see a bit of the town from Mel’s driving me around- we pulled over to snap a few pics of the mosque and the ocean. We then stopped by the American Store, where I was able to stock up on things I can’t get back in Albania (hello Cheerios, Oreos, and Mac n Cheese!). From there, we ran a few errands, and came back to play with Reina before dinner.

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The place we went for dinner, Le Ngor, overlooked the beach, and watching the sunset while listening to the waves was so relaxing. I had a very tasty coconut shrimp curry with rice and a few bites of Sally’s honey sesame shrimp. Sally, my friend and colleague in Albania, and her boyfriend joined us for dinner. Despite being eaten up by mosquitos, I really enjoyed it. We rounded out the night with drinks at the Radisson Blu hotel, overlooking the ocean. All in all, day one was a success. Day two begins with brunch on the beach. I think I’m gonna like this place!

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What’s in My Carry-On #sol16 18 of 31

Since I’m traveling today to Dakar, Senegal (my 30th country!), I figured I’d share what I pack in my carry-on. I’m always curious about what other people pack in their carry-ons, too, as it gives me insight into who they are as a traveler and I sometimes get new ideas.

As a frequent traveler, I have, through trial and error, perfected my carry-on packing. Here’s what I take with me for most trips, however, a few things change depending on where I’m going, the length of my flight/trip, and the weather.

My Carry-On Bags

I brought both of my carry-on bags for this trip, but sometimes I only take one or the other. I have a Samsonite Mightlight Spinner 30 rolling bag. What I love about it is that it is super lightweight (less than 6 lbs.), can expand to fit more stuff (for when I shop too much!), fits in the overhead bins (even on smaller planes), and has a front pocket for my laptop, which makes it so easy to go through security. I also have a Samsonite Mightlight Boarding Bag, which has a loop on the back so it fits on the handle of my rolling bag. I like the front pockets because they provide organizational pockets for things I need to find quickly and a small zipped pocket with easy access to my passport and phone. There’s a side pocket that’s open for a water bottle, which is very convenient. The back of the bag unzips on three sides, revealing a packing area that can hold a surprisingly large amount of stuff! It has straps inside, too, that can be used to pack clothes. The back flap also has a zippered pocket that is great for holding my iPad. Within these bags, I always have a smaller zipped bag to hold toiletries and other odds and ends.

Now onto the contents of my carry-on(s).

Essentials

  • Wallet: Duh! I take out all non-travel essentials before I go so that it’s less bulky.
  • Passport: I keep mine in a cute holder so it’s easy to find and is protected.
  • Pens: It’s always good to have a pen for filling out departure and arrival cards in many countries. Bring more than one and you can loan one to that seatmate who doesn’t have one. They’ll thank you for it.

Comfort

  • Tempurpedic neck pillow: Seriously the best thing ever! My friends generally make fun of me for bringing this, but it is essential for helping me sleep on planes, which is very important to me. Plus, I use it as my pillow in hotel rooms when the hotel looks a bit sketch. *I’ve tried many neck pillows (inflatable, the one with the pills in it, etc.) over the years, and this is by far the best.
  • Large scarf: This can obviously be used as a scarf in cold weather, but I always travel with one and use it as a blanket. Planes are usually very cold! Mine is from American Eagle (2015). It is soooo soft and warm, and it is long enough to reach my feet and still go up to my neck.
  • Eye mask: I cannot sleep when it’s light out, so I put on my eye mask to tune everything out and catch some zzz’s!
  • Sleepphones: Have you ever tried to fall asleep on a plane when there’s a crying baby or people around you who won’t stop talking? OMG! So annoying! I have to block out the noise somehow. I used to just wear ear buds, but even the most comfortable ear buds begin to hurt when you’re on a 12-hour flight. Sleepphones are headphones that don’t hurt your ears. Basically you wear a headband around your head, positioning the speakers over your ears, and voila! you can tune everything out while saving your ears!
  • Comfy socks: I love taking warm, fuzzy comfy socks to change into when you are on the plane. I hate wearing shoes when I’m seated, and my feet get cold. Plus, bare feet on an airplane is just gross!

Hydrate

  • Refillable water bottle: It’s so important to drink tons of water when you fly! The flight attendants will fill it up for you if you ask. It’s much easier to keep at your seat than the little water cups they give you. My favorites are Camelbak and S’well.
  • Face lotion: I apply anytime my face feels dry/tight. I keep mine in a contact lens case, as it provides just the right amount for airplane rides.
  • Lip balm/Chapstick: My favorite is Lucas’ Papaw ointment from Australia. I am in love with this stuff, and apply several times during the flight!
  • Eye drops: Airplanes seriously dry you out, but having eye drops really helps keep your eyes hydrated.
  • Hand cream: My hands are always dry, but an airplane brings a whole other level of dryness! I have to apply hand cream a few times during each flight. My favorite is Body Shop hand cream in Wild Argon Oil scent.

Technology/Entertainment

  • iPhone
  • Laptop and charger
  • iPad and charger
  • Ear buds
  • Camera and lenses, accessories, charger, etc.: I have a Canon Rebel XS and a Go Pro. Sometimes I take both; sometimes I take one or the other. It really just depends on where I’m going and what I’m doing.
  • Book: I don’t always take an actual book, although it is nice to have. Sometimes I just read on my iPad to save room and weight in my luggage.
  • Writer’s notebook: I sometimes take my writer’s notebook to jot down my observations or thoughts while traveling. Other times I use my laptop or other device to record my thoughts.

Toiletries

  • Colgate Wisps (disposable toothbrushes): These are great for when you want to freshen up while at your seat. Did you just eat something garlicky? How about drinking a Coke or juice? Before taking a snooze, freshen your teeth and breath!
  • Travel toothbrush and toothpaste: I collect those free ones that many airlines give out, since they are small and compact. This is great for those long-haul flights (8+ hours) when you need to fully brush your teeth or for when you land at your destination (or layover) and want to freshen up.
  • It’s Potent Eye Cream by Benefit: This is a great product to dab under your eyes after a long flight. It helps brighten you up and makes you look more awake than you really are. I store this in the other half of the contact lens case.
  • Assorted medicine: You never know if you will get sick when you are traveling or on a plane, and finding meds in a new country can prove to be difficult, so I always take a few pills that I might need. If I end up getting really sick, these few pills will tide me over until I can find a pharmacy. You’ll always find Tylenol, allergy pills, Pepto Bismol pills, Oscillococcinum, and Melatonin in my bag.
  • Basic make-up: I usually have mascara, tinted moisturizer, blush, and lip gloss with me so I can freshen up when I arrive at my destination.
  • Face wipes: It’s always great to have a couple face wipes on hand to clean up the gunk around your eyes after your nap. I don’t usually travel with make-up on, but if you do, these are great for removing make-up, too.
  • Roll-on perfume: These things are great! Not only can you travel with your favorite scent(s) and save on luggage weight, you can use it to freshen up or sniff when someone/something around you is stinky.
  • Hand sanitizer: Airplanes breed germs! Sanitizer helps. That is all.
  • Sanitizing wipes: Again, germs! These are great for wiping down your tray or washing your hands after eating.
  • A few tampons: Because you never know when you (or a friend) might need them.

Snacks

I don’t really like airplane food, and I’m a vegetarian, so I choose to bring my own food to snack on during the flight(s). Here’s what I brought today:

  • strawberries
  • apples and peanut butter
  • almonds
  • dried apple rings
  • chocolate-covered rice cakes
  • tea bags
  • gum
  • mints
  • I also bought a pasta salad in Paris for the long flight to Dakar.

Random Things

  • Hair ties: I keep these in several locations just in case.
  • Foldable travel brush: Helps tame my wild hair, especially after I’ve napped.
  • Travel-sized Kleenex: There’s nothing worse than needing to blow your nose and not having a tissue or napkin. They are also great if you need toilet paper and they don’t have any (a must in Asia).
  • Sunglasses: Getting off a plane and stepping into the sun when you’ve just been cooped up in the dark for hours can seriously hurt my eyes, so I always pack my sunnies just in case.
  • An empty quart-sized plastic baggie: Because you never know when you might need it.
  • Facemask: As a past resident of China, where the air was polluted and you occasionally needed to wear a mask, I got used to taking one with me when I traveled to and from China. I find that they are really useful when you are sitting near a smelly person or something suddenly doesn’t smell right (you get the idea). I know I might look weird with it on, but I don’t care! What’s really funny is when I’m wearing my facemask, eye mask, and sleep phones at once. You pretty much can’t see my face…haha!

What must-have item do you have in your carry-on?

**Because I wrote this on the plane, and just arrived in Senegal, I’ll have to post pictures of my carry-on items tomorrow.**

Beyond Exhausted #sol16 17 of 31

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Beyond Exhausted

too tired to see straight
beyond exhausted
my whole body hurts
beyond exhausted
worked for over 12 hours today
beyond exhausted
and I’m still not done
beyond exhausted
leaving for the airport in 7 hours
beyond exhausted
haven’t started packing yet
beyond exhausted
forgot to eat all day
beyond exhausted
have a headache now
beyond exhausted
so much to do
not enough time
but I have to keep going
even though I’m
beyond exhausted

Heavy Heart #sol16 16 of 31

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Tonight, my heart is heavy. I’ve been under a lot of stress at work, and I worry that I won’t get it all done. I usually function well under pressure, needing that deadline and end-date to push me to get it done, but I’m genuinely worried that it won’t get done. I only have tomorrow left to finish, and then I have to come home and pack for my trip, as I leave at 4:00am on Friday for Senegal. There’s not enough time to get it all done. I feel like the hourglass is draining too quickly, and try as I might to hold the sand back, it keeps rushing out of that too-big hole, taunting me with it’s speed. I hope I can pull out a miracle tomorrow, but it’s not looking good.

And then there’s the whole campaign thing going on in the states that’s got me down. Living abroad, I don’t see a lot of the news and miss the everyday things that happen, which I can honestly say I appreciate, but this week my newsfeed has been inundated with articles and videos about Trump. I’ve seen the one with all of the hateful things he’s said about women, and the post about the children who are being ostracized by their peers based on their skin color, saying that when Trump is president, they’ll all be sent back home. And then there’s the one about how he’s inciting hate and violence by his words at his rallies, and the increase of violence among people who are attending these rallies. The whole thing makes me sickened and saddened. I am proud to be an American, and I gladly share where I come from, but to think that someone like this, who has so much hatred toward others, could become our president is frightening. I am not one to post anything political, pretty much ever, but today my heart is heavy, and I didn’t know what to do except write about it.

Overwhelmed #sol16 15 of 31

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So, I was bound and determined not to let it happen. Not to let the never-ending to-do list get me down. Not to get behind. Not to feel overwhelmed. But, it happened. It’s pretty bad when you wish that you had not taken a trip to another country or wish you had not three, but five more days until your next trip, all so you could have more time to work! For a traveler like me, that’s unheard of!

Last weekend’s getaway was supposed to energize me, give me that last little push to get everything done in this 3-day week leading up to Spring Break. But rather than feeling well-rested and ready to tackle the week’s tasks (which are doozies!), I felt even more behind today. I know it was the back-to-back meetings and other commitments all day that did it. There was no time to breathe, let alone dig into what needs to be done. The good thing is that tomorrow is a much lighter day, which will allow me to get down to business. Fingers crossed it all comes together and I make my 4:00 pm deadline on Thursday. Then I can focus on packing for Senegal and my long-awaited trip to spend some time with my favorites- Mel, T, and Reina. I can do it! (Right?!?)

Weekend in Thessaloniki #sol16 14 of 31

 I’m writing this slice from the passenger seat of our tiny, stuffed-to-the-gills rental car, as we make our way back to Tirana. We are still on the Greek side, which means smooth, mostly straight roads. Once we pass the border, it’ll be impossible to type, as we avoid potholes and drive through the twisty-turns of the mountainous roads on the way home. It’s raining, as it has most of our time in Thessaloniki. I think I’d really like Thessaloniki, but the weather definitely put a damper on the sightseeing portion of the trip for me. I opted to stay in more than Celeste. She is braver than me when it comes to venturing out in the rain! We’re jamming out to our favorite songs, belting them out, Celeste with perfect pitch, and me, well, not so much. Regardless, we are having a good time. And the trip is much better now that we are driving in daylight. We are able to see the mountains, gorgeous pink flowers adorning the side of the road, and neat little houses with the terra cotta colored roofs.

 We had a lie in on Saturday, easing into the day after getting to bed at 2:00am the night before. I sliced, drank my tea, and shared some of my slices with Celeste. We wandered down toward the sea, in search of a place to eat. Celeste spotted this cute, little spot full of people. It had to be good if it was so popular! We were instantly happy when we walked in and noticed the colorful light fixtures, balloons, and streamers. People were bustling around, bringing plates full of Greek delicacies to other patrons. The menu was full of so many choices, that we opted to order several dishes to share. We had two different salads, tzatziki, pita bread, and breaded, fried feta coated in sesame seeds, covered in honey. Our food arrived in what seemed like minutes, and it was delish! Of course, we couldn’t finish it, but we loved taking a bite of this and a bite of that, mixing the flavors.

We debated whether we should go to IKEA Saturday or wait until Sunday, but since it was pouring, we decided it would be better to go then, in hopes that Sunday would bring a bit of sunshine to explore. It’s a good thing we went on Saturday, because, as we found out later that night, it was a holiday weekend in Greece, and all stores were closed on Sunday and Monday. This news proved to be very disappointing, as we had plans to hit up the grocery store, too, and had been planning on doing this on Sunday. Unfortunately we completely missed out on the grocery store, because in addition to being closed the next two days, the grocery stores closed before 8:00pm on Saturday, so they were closed by the time we finished at IKEA. We had a field day in IKEA, and were like kids in a candy store, ooo-ing and ahhh-ing over the colorful décor, smell-good candles, and vibrant plants and pots. I’m so excited over my goodies, and can’t wait to unpack, organize, and make my apartment more home-y!

Sunday was another rainy day, and while we ventured out a bit, making a necessary stop at Starbucks for a Chai Tea Latte, I opted to spend the afternoon cuddled up at the apartment, slicing, commenting, drinking hot tea, and catching up on Grey’s Anatomy. I felt guilty, for a bit, about spending my time in a new city indoors, but I quickly got over it! We met up with a few friends for dinner, who also happened to be in Thessaloniki. Dinner was divine! Again, Celeste and I shared, which means I get to try more yummy things. We had a lovely salad of rocket, toasted almonds, grapes, tomatoes, and sesame-crusted cream cheese, honeyed orzo pasta with shrimp and a light tomato sauce, and the richest, dark chocolate torte ever. It was the fanciest dinner of the weekend by far, but all the food we had was tasty!

 This brings me back to today, and our road trip back home. After stopping for a last visit at Starbucks (sniff, sniff), filling up the tank, and rearranging our car, Tetris-style, we’re on the road. Next stop, Tirana!

A Slice of Life Baby Announcement! #sol16 13 of 31

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I’m a fan of firsts. I just love the excitement they bring! Your first sleepover away from your parents, first kiss, first time in a new place, first bite…all of these things stir up anticipation and exhilaration. I am excited to announce that we have a first on the Slice of Life Story Challenge! My best friend and fellow slicer, Shaggers, who’s been a part of the SOLSC since 2012, has had her baby girl!!! You may have noticed Shaggers’ posts drop off on March 9th, and this is why. Her adorable baby decided to make her debut a month early and surprise her mommy and daddy!


Shaggers had a false alarm on March 9th, when she thought her water was leaking. She was told to stay on bed rest to confirm that it was, but the next day, baby girl was ready to come out. Then, 30+ hours of labor and a c-section later, baby girl entered this big wonderful world, on March 11, 2016!


Look how happy daddy is to be holding his sweet daughter right after she was born! Melts my heart!! Daddy, AKA Jeezy, was a part of last year’s SOL Challenge, too! 🙂


Marlowe Ponderosa is absolutely PERFECT! She weighed in at 5.8 pounds- not too shabby for a month early! She has her momma’s nose and a full head of fuzzy blonde hair. Mommy and baby are both happy and healthy. Marlowe’s favorite things include snuggling up with mommy, getting smoochies from daddy, eating (a lot!), pooping, and sleeping all day. She likes to party at night and keep her mommy up!

 Shaggers is healing quickly, but is understandably sore. I’ve shared all the comments I’ve received from fellow slicers, and she’s very touched by your care and concern. I’m sure in the future, we will get to read more about Shagger’s adventures into mommyhood, and learn more about this precious little girl, Marlowe.

 I’m not set to visit them until July, but I’m dying to hold her! I’m looking forward to my first baby Facetime when they get out of the hospital on Monday, but I’m surviving now on What’s App messages and pictures. Auntie Ennif loves you already Marlowe! 🙂

Trouble at the Border #sol16 12 of 31

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Travel can be glamorous, whimsical, magical, eye-opening, fun, adventurous, exciting, and life-changing. These are the parts of travel most people see. We lust after our friend’s Instagram posts of selfies they take in front of the Eiffel Tower, Facebook posts about the adventures they had while zip-lining through the rainforests of Thailand, and blog posts of meeting sweet, Italian men who take them on a private tour of Rome. And while travel is all of these things (and more!), travel can be frustrating, scary, overwhelming, uncomfortable, and awkward. These are the parts of travel most people don’t see. Your friends don’t want to hear about how you walked two hours in the freezing cold, your feet in extreme pain, just to take that selfie at the Eiffel Tower, that you got sick to your stomach while in Thailand and spent part of your holiday cooped up in your hotel, or that prior to meeting the man in Rome, you were ripped off by a taxi driver and had to pay three times the price you should have.

Yesterday, Celeste and I took off after work in our little rental car bound for Thessaloniki, Greece, anticipating our 3-day weekend of shopping, eating, and sight-seeing. Tired and stressed after driving through Albania at night, on two-lane roads, through mountains, dodging the potholes in the roads, hair-pin turn after hair-pin turn, and nearly getting in a head-on collision because of a maniac who passed a vehicle on a curve, we arrived at the Greek border. Passing through the Albanian border patrol with ease, we get to the Greek border patrol booth. Readying the car documents, and our passports, I went up to to the agent. Handing over our passports, she asks for the car documents. I pass over the envelope the rental car company told me I would need to show at the border.

“I asked for the documents. You gave me an envelope,” she says, her tone bordering on rude.

“I don’t read Albanian, so I’m not–” I begin.

“I don’t read Albanian either. I’m Greek,” she spouts.

“No, no, what I’m trying to say is that since I don’t read Albanian, I don’t know what the documents are. I was just told to give this to the border patrol,” I explain, trying to remain calm.

“I don’t care. As the driver of the car, you should be responsible and know which documents I need,” she says, while snatching the envelope out of my hand. She begins rifling through it and pulls out two documents, questioning why the names on the documents don’t match up.

“Ma’am, I’m not sure, as I don’t own the car. I’m happy to call the rental company, and I’m sure they can explain.”

“How do I know who you are calling? You could be calling anyone. I’m not talking to anyone on the phone. And where’s your green card insurance?”

“OK, so what should I do? This is what I was told to do by the rental car company. I was told in Albania that I can buy it at the border for 40 Euros,” I reply.

“Albanians don’t know what they are talking about. They are stupid! You have to have the green card, or I can’t let you pass into Greece. You should have it already. If we are willing to sell you one, which I can’t guarantee, it would be 180 Euros. Are you willing to pay 180 Euros?” she rudely shouts at me.

“Well, if I don’t, what’s the alternative?”

“Go back to Tirana.”

Frustrated beyond belief, I call the rental car company. The woman on the phone is helpful and willing to speak to the agent on my behalf. The Greek woman refuses, saying, “I’m dealing with you, not whoever’s on the phone.” Celeste decides to walk to the Albanian office to see if she can buy a green card there. I continue to be yelled at by this Greek woman, who is so obviously prejudiced against Albania (as many are unfortunately). I try to remain calm, worried that if I put her in her place, as I so desperately want to do, she’ll deny our entry completely. Deciding to go find Celeste, I ask for my documents back, and she doesn’t seem interested in giving them to me. After some cajoling, I get my passport and car documents back.

Documents, phone, keys, and wallet in hand, I begin trying to find out how Celeste is doing. Thinking she’s at the office 100 meters away, I am worried when I can’t find her there. Walking into the dark, silhouettes of men in the distance, smoking and standing in a huddle, I am worried. I call out “CELESTE!!!” My voice is swallowed up by the darkness and the music blaring from the open cabs of 18-wheelers. “CELESTE!!!” Nothing. Phoning her, I get some message in Albanian, meaning that her phone is either off or out of service. “CELESTE!!!” By now, as I continue to walk in the darkness, freezing cold from wearing too few layers, worry begins to really set in. I get to the Albanian side and the man doesn’t let me cross. “CELESTE!!!” I call again. At this point, a huge, aggressive guard dog, who is likely startled by my yelling, begins barking loudly, his leash taut as he lunges toward me.

That was it. The last straw. I crumble. Ugly-crying sets in. Between my tears and sobs, I tell the man who can’t understand me, “I can’t find my friend. I’m worried. The Greek lady is so mean. She’s not going to let us into Greece. I need to find Celeste.” Seeing this outburst of emotions, the kind Albanian border patrol agent, who speaks a bit of English, comes to my rescue. She pulls me into her booth, which is warm and toasty, and assures me it will be OK. She knows where my friend is, and she will take me to her.

Reunited with Celeste, we figure out how to buy a green card for 40 Euros. With the documents in hand, shivering, Celeste and I make our way back to the Greek border. I fill her in on what she missed, and we are both stressed about whether we will be let in. We make a plan. Celeste will do all the talking, since the woman and I are not on good terms. We arrive back to our car and the woman is not there. After much searching, another agent comes to help us. Whew! He lets us in. Beginning the two and a half hour drive to Thessaloniki, Celeste and I try to make sense of what just happened. The only thing we can figure is that the apparent tension between Greece and Albania, and the subsequent prejudice, is what drove her to behave this way. We felt caught in the middle, as Americans who work in Albania. After talking it out, we went back to listening to music and telling each other stories. We are determined not to let this taint our trip to Greece. Today is a new day.

Travel isn’t always easy. It’s messy sometimes, but the challenges you encounter when traveling, especially abroad, are worth it. They stretch you, and make you a better person in the end. Even though I was frustrated, it’s all of my travel experiences that make me love traveling across this big, vast world we all share.