Travel Writing

Cuba: Machismo and Feminism Together at Last?

When I walked out of the airport terminal, the sweet scent of a recent rain shower was in the air, a rainbow stretched across the sky, and I was in Cuba. On the twenty minute taxi ride into the center of Havana, American cars from the fifties chugged along the road: canary yellow Chevys, cherry red Fords, lavender Plymouths, house-painted shades General Motors never dreamed of. Dotting the highway were billboards: “Support the Revolution,” “Believe in Fidel,” “The People Will Triumph.” “Think Soberly and Deeply.”

For about twenty years, I had wanted to visit Cuba. Ever since I heard about “The Family Law,” I was curious to see first hand a society developed by a macho-looking, bearded Latino who calls himself a feminist and pushed such a law through early in the Revolution. The Family Law makes it illegal for a husband, whose wife works outside the home, not to participate in an equal share of the housework. In fact, a wife can perform a citizen’s arrest on such a loafer. “Manuel, you did not take out the garbage; you are under arrest!” I wanted to experience first hand what happens when Latino machismo and socialist feminism cohabitate.

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Dinner in Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Diane LeBow won the 2015 Solas Travelers’ Tales award for Adventure Travel (Bronze award) for this story. The story describes the amazing experience of meeting with several hundred Afghan women exiles on the border of Afghanistan/Tajikistan, in 2000, while the Taliban were still in control, thinking she may be about to be kidnapped, and instead being invited to dinner with an Afghan family with whom she’s still in contact.

“Please, speak out about these crimes. But tell not just about the suffering, but also about the successes, how we are resisting,” said Halida, a math professor from Kabul, who ran secret schools for girls inside Afghanistan all during the Taliban repression. Dressed in a gun-metal grey long dress, her resolute features contrasted with her delicately embroidered white head scarf. She was one of several hundred Afghan women with whom I spent a week in Tajikistan, not far from the Afghan border. Getting to know them and hear their stories taught me a lot about our shared humanity and the human ability, not only to survive, but to continue to savor life.

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“No Penis Gourds Here” Published in Wandering In Bali Anthology

Diane’s story “No Penis Gourds Here,” was just published in the anthology, Wandering in Bali, (Wanderland Writers). Available at Book Passages.

Excerpt:

Actually I’d come to Indonesia in search of the penis gourd people on Papua New Guinea and the matrilineal Minangkabau on Western Sumatra. But through various quirks–the Balinese would call karma— I found myself on Bali.

My own connections to Indonesia go back more than forty years when I was living in Holland, married to a Dutch medical student who had spent his early years on the then-Dutch colony of Indonesia with his parents and older brother. I heard tales of their beautiful lives there. Beautiful, that is, until WW II broke out and they were interned in Japanese concentration camps–his mother with the two boys, his father in a separate camp. His older brother died in the camp and when the war was over, they all returned to the Netherlands. During my own years living in Holland, my connections to Indonesia included friendships with some Indonesians who left Indonesia after the war, my former mother-in-law’s memories, and dinners of nasi goreng and rijsttafel at local restaurants. One day, I thought, Indonesia would be a place I wanted to explore for myself.

Today, the war is mainly a distant memory. Indonesia and its 17,000 island archipelago gained its independence from The Netherlands in 1949. Bali, although one of the smallest islands, is the best known to foreigners and hosts a booming tourist trade. The Balinese have a love-hate view of the bestselling memoir, Eat Pray Love, that has even further inflated this boom.  Australians chug-a-lugging their way through their holidays, Americans seeking bargains to rival Cost Plus and gurus to predict their futures, Bali “cowboys” serving single women on the beaches of Kuta’s resorts are stereotyped images I held of Bali. Since normally in my travels, I seek out the lesser trod paths, Bali was never high on my to-do travel list. So when I ended up here between visits to two other lesser-known islands, I approached my visit with skepticism….

Available at Book Passages.

At Home in Kabul

Winner of Travelers’ Tales Solas Gold Award for Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010

–Diane LeBow

Word count: 3844

“That’s the Hindu Kush Mountains, the killer of Hindus.” An Afghan man sitting next to me on the Ariana Afghan Airlines flight from Dubai to Kabul leaned over and explained. Outside the window, the flat desert lands of Iran and southern Afghanistan suddenly gave way to barren blue and gray ridgebacks, like waves of a stormy sea. I thought about the land I was visiting and wondered how stormy the political situation would be during my upcoming visit to this war weary land. As I was leaving for the San Francisco airport twenty-four plus hours ago, a friend called: “Have you been listening to the news? There’s just been another bombing in central Kabul, many people killed and injured, and an assassination attempt on President Karzai. Do you think you should delay your departure?”

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Festivals, Fun, Maya Culture, and Much More on the Mexican Riviera

You don’t need to go to France to enjoy the Riviera! The beauty and excitement of the Mexican Riviera, the ancient art and music of Maya culture, along with golden beaches and wide variety of hotels and resorts, fine food, and superb snorkeling and diving with whale sharks and dolphins make it understandable that this area has been named one of the Best Destinations of the Year.

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Maya Mysteries Revealed: Visiting Copan, Honduras

In the dark jungle night, the music of ancient flutes and drums swirled around me, along with pungent odors of fire mixed with forest dampness. Flaming against the black sky, burning eight pound rubber balls rolled down the sloping ball court wall. Muscular ball players wearing brilliant turquoise, green, red and blue quetzal feathered headdresses batted the burning disks with the Maya equivalent of hockey sticks, just as they had over 2000 years ago. I sat among the hundreds privileged to be experiencing a precise reenactment of important rituals of the greatest empire of the ancient Meso-American world: the Corn Dance, Pok Ta Pok Ballgame, and Fire Dance.

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Honduran Bay Islands’ Undiscovered Paradise

I was a bit apprehensive as the well-built young man lifted me up and hooked my harness to the cable. He smiled, warning me not to crash. Then he let me go and all at once I was whizzing through the jungle tree tops at Gumba Limba Park on Roatan, Honduras, alone with bird songs, and the cable’s whine. Even though, following my canopy tour, a discourteous monkey stole my water bottle out of my pack, I enjoyed this new adventure.

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Afghanistan: The Friendliest Country

The cover on an Afghan tourism brochure from the 1970’s that I found in a bookstore in Kabul states: Afghanistan, The Friendliest Country. Believe it or not, that’s what I’ve found during my visits there and with the continuing friendships I have made with Afghan people…

…Even though I travel extensively, I was never in a war zone before. There were a few things to get used to. As we left the Kabul Airport, my driver said, “Don’t worry that there is no seat belt,” as he saw me searching along the side of the seat. “I drive slowly.” With that, he floored it, and we raced up the wrong side of the divided street against the oncoming traffic. There are no traffic rules or stop lights in Afghanistan. Traffic when it moves, like spilled milk, goes anywhere there is a space. My driver Nabil’s technique suits the general sense of lawlessness in the air.

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In Colette’s Boudoir: At Home in a French Chateau

Article and images available about various Relais Chateaux luxury hotels.

“Love: the food of my life, and of my pen.” “Colette

On my way back to Paris after visiting friends in the Dordogne, someone mentioned to me that I’d be passing by Castel-Novel, the thirteenth-century castle where French writer Colette had lived with her second husband, the Baron Henri de Jouvenel des Ursins. Just east of Perigueux, near the town of Brive, I turned off the main highway, hoping to spend the night at Colette’s chateau.

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Diving Deep and Letting Go in Egypt

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed in seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,”  T.S. Eliot

It was shark breeding season. On my first dive in the Red Sea off of the Sinai Peninsula near Sharm el Sheik, we watched fifteen 10-foot black-tip male sharks circle one black-tip female. She seemed to ignore them and go about her business, which appeared to be the shark equivalent of running errands–poking in and out of crevices. Being a single female from San Francisco, I was amazed at the sight of fifteen males devoting their total attention to one female.

I was giving myself this Christmas/winter solstice gift of two weeks’ rest and diving aboard the Lady Jenny IV, an English owned and operated dive boat. It was part of a month-long trip to Egypt, a break from an unusually icy winter in Paris where I was living the ex-patriot American life and teaching.

Relaxing on the deck between dives, I was lulled by the Sinai, the islands of the Red Sea, the sea itself. Most predominant was the simplicity of the colors. In the near and far distance was the land–barren, gradations of camel tan from the palest off-white cream to a darker caramel-colored cafe-au-lait. Yet this same land seen from a distance becomes layered with grey-blue haze. All resembles the straight and curved lines of Arabic script. One saying goes that Arabic is so difficult to interpret that out of three people, one will say its meaning is one thing, another person interprets the same serpentine scrawl differently, and a third will say it is only the picture of the humps on a camel’s back. ………