BELGRADE, SERBIA–We first met Sayid* under the blazing hot sun in the park near Belgrade’s main railway station last Thursday. My friend Maja and I had decided to go down to the park to hand out milk, fruit, crackers and juice to refugee mothers, children and families who were in transit from southern Serbia to the Hungarian/Serbian border in the north. While talking with a fleeing family from Damascus—who had been on the road for the last month hoping to get to Germany— Sayid sauntered up and began helping translate. His English was pretty close to perfect, with a light accent, and so I asked him if he and I could speak when I finished the interview. He agreed. Read more

LONDON–I am going to bust open a London urban legend: Americans don’t automatically fail their driving exam the first time they take it.

I will admit this was a scaremongering myth even I perpetuated before I took my exam, as I had heard from American friends and colleagues countless horror stories of examiners failing people because they hesitated when backing around a corner (which feels so illegal for American drivers who had it beaten into us during driver’s ed courses to never ever do that), or because they hadn’t checked their mirrors every 45 seconds in a counterclockwise manner. Read more

sleep-tite

FRANKFORT, MICHIGAN—I have been reviewing and writing about the arts for a good part of my journalistic career; everything from profiles of artists like Indonesia’s Heri Dono to theatre reviews like the strange site-specific production I saw in Lithuania in 2009. But I have never had to review anything I have done—because I haven’t been involved in the arts since I did some theatre back in college 20 (gulp!) years ago. Reviewing something you are in is akin to when a teacher allows the class to grade themselves; you either give yourself an A (healthy ego) or an F, if you have low self-esteem. Interestingly, no one ever gives himself or herself a C. Read more

la-becasse-restaurant6

LONDON—It’s the time of year that I love most, when spring has graciously stepped aside for summer. It probably dates back to my childhood; when school was out, not only did it mean no more teachers and no more books, but also a long period of time away from the perceived drudgery of daily life and a respite on the waters of Crystal Lake, near Frankfort. Michigan. My family has had a home there for four generations—now five, with my young nephew  experiencing the joys of chasing chipmunks, being awed by sunsets over Lake Michigan and licking Superman ice cream, a tasteless swirl of blue, yellow and pink. Read more

tibet-lady

London, UK–I was never big on protesting; even in college when we had a sit-down over some issue that I don’t recall any longer, I was hesitant to join in. My feeling was, the pen was mightier than the sword–or at least the placard. But on Sunday, I decided to join the Tibet rally in central London, organized by several groups including Free Tibet and the Tibet Society. The reason they were holding the protest walk –from Downing Street up to the Chinese Embassy near Regent’s Park–was because this week marks the 54th year of the failed uprising by Tibetans against Chinese rule. Being the lazy protestor (and because it was seriously cold), I decided I would meet the protestors in front of the Chinese Embassy. Read more