Category Archives: Travel

I’m still here!

I know I haven’t been posting in awhile, but I think I’ll try to come back.  If I want to be a good writer, I guess I should at least practice here!  I talk to a lot of fellow bloggers on Facebook (which is mostly why I haven’t been blogging – that and good old-fashioned laziness!), so that’s good for keeping in touch with friends, but not so great for when you have something to say that requires more space.  I see all these other people here on the blogs with lots of things to say (I’m too late for the Convert Truths blog carnival, but I’ve enjoyed reading the posts), and I think maybe I should start speaking (and writing!) again too.

So what is happening in my life?  I have been living in Prague, Czech Republic since July 2009, with Mr. Musicalchef (since November 2009), whom I met when I was living in Bosnia.  I’ll probably write more later about life in Prague, but you can visit my page on resources for Muslims in Prague if you’re curious about the community here.  I have been teaching English, which I enjoy, but don’t want to do all my life.  But it’s a good job and I’m glad to have it.

I’m still doing research when I have time, although it’s from the armchair (computer chair?) right now, until I get a chance to visit Bosnia again or go back to the US.  I did have the opportunity of participating in a conference here a month ago and giving a presentation on modern Muslim music in Indonesia.  And I’m reading a lot.  Since I spend so much time on the bus, metro, and tram going between classes, the public library is a real friend!

As for cooking, I haven’t been experimenting as much as I used to.  I don’t want to accumulate a bunch of spices and cooking tools when I don’t really know how long I will be here in Prague.  So the “chef” is on hold for now.  We have no oven, so desserts come from Marks & Spencer (thank God for that store!).

I’m toying with the idea of making the blog more “professional,” but if I do that I’ll probably have to lose the name “musicalchef” and stop posting lolcats.  I plan to keep expanding the existing music pages (basically databases) and adding more.  Anyways, I’ll try to update more often!


A few photos

Here are a few photos of Bosnia.  Enjoy!


On the train from Zagreb, somewhere between the border and Sarajevo.


Dome inside Gazi Husref-Beg’s mosque


Another dome


Inside the mosque


Latin bridge.   This is where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot by a Bosnian Serb, beginning World War One.


Sebijl, Baščaršija (“Pigeon Square”)


View of the hills from my balcony, a couple weeks ago.  The snow is all gone now!


Miljacka River, from Grbavica


Kazandžiluk street in Baščaršija, where all the copper and silver tea sets are sold.

So Why is Chef too busy to write an abstract?

I’m leaving for Bosnia in less than three weeks!  I will be there for four months, mostly in Sarajevo, conducting research on ilahije.

So I’m very busy studying Bosnian and preparing for the trip right now.  Any advice would be welcome!  For the next two weeks, I’ll probably be asking a lot of questions on here, picking the collective minds of whoever happens to stop by.

The question for today involves laptops and the internet.  I just bought a new laptop, masha’Allah, and I need to know what to do to make sure it will be internet-ready over there.  Keep in mind I am technologically inept, so this might be a stupid question.  It does receive wi-fi, meaning I can connect to networks (for example, I know how to connect to the wifi at Panera and the public library).  I will need to use it when I get an apartment in Sarajevo.  How will I do that?  For example, if they say the apartment has internet, how do I connect to it?  And if the apartment doesn’t have it, what do I do (probably a region-specific question but like I said, I’m inept) to get it?  I guess the main question is:  do I need to buy anything here for it before I leave, that will ensure my ability to use the laptop there?  And should I buy a transformer or converter for the charger, or just an adapter?  It does have that little “box” in the middle of the cord; is that its own transformer/converter, and would it be good enough?


About the Zikr

Right.  I said in the Spain post that I’d write about my first zikr session, which was in Valencia.  I didn’t forget, I just realized I didn’t want to write it.  While I enjoy going to spiritual gatherings, I hate talking about them.  I don’t like talking about personal religious matters, and although I comply with a grudging smile when asked about my conversion story, inwardly I’m thinking “not again!”  Even with people I know, so of course also with most of you that I do not know.  Maybe it’s my training in research and ethnography or maybe it’s just me, but it’s just so much easier to talk about other peoples’ works and accomplishments than it is to talk about my own feelings!  Anyways, here goes.

It was a Thursday night, and I was headed to Xativa (lovely little town in Valencia province) in my friend’s big, green monster van.  The session was to be held at the man’s house who would be leading it.  I wish I could have seen Xativa in the daytime as well!  I don’t remember what time we arrived, but it was late.  With all due respect to the cool people there, I thought I had arrived at hippie central when we got to the house!  There was this enormous guy (not fat, just big) with a huge dark brown beard and ponytail, with a lot of medallions, at least six little kids running around, and incense burning.  Then, after being fed gazpacho, we were led upstairs to a room with a bunch of cushions, rugs, more incense, and candles.  Nothing strange to me now, but since I was new, it kind of added to the “hippie” feel at that time.  It was very relaxing, though!

We prayed isha and started the zikr session.  It was about 30-45 minutes long (regular Naqshbandi zikr), and very soothing.  We sat and talked for awhile afterwards.  The drive home was about an hour, and I didn’t get to bed until about 4:00am (I had to get up at 6:00am).  Surprisingly (or not), I was fully rested for work the next day and felt great!  That same day (Friday), I left for Sevilla.

Travel Journals, Part 2: Spain

I worked in Valencia, Spain, for three months. Until I visited Istanbul, I had thought that Valencia was the most beautiful city on Earth. Now I think it’s a tie 🙂 But then, Istanbul is huge and I didn’t really see too much of it. 

I arrived during soccer (fútbol) season. When is it not fútbol season? I wanted to go to a game, but only saw them on TV. It was still pretty cool. And loud! I was told that, among Spaniards, Valencianos are known to be party animals, so whenever a goal was scored, you’d hear about it all up and down the street. 

My Spanish was pretty good, so I was pretty comfortable getting around and making my own friends, unlike in Ukraine. I found Valencia’s lovely mosque on my first weekend there. Conveniently, the community was going on a huge outing the next day to the historic town on Albarracín, and they invited me along. After touring the town, we went to a very nice park, and the ladies relaxed while the men cooked paella over a fire 😀 It was some pretty darn good paella too! 

I was to have a lot of paella in Spain, along with a typical Valencian dish called fideuà, noodles cooked in fish stock with shrimp, which I never really got a taste for. I did like the arroz negro, rice cooked in squid ink with squid pieces. I tried a bunch of new and crazy seafood there. Valencia is known for its Mercat Central (Central Market), which was walking distance from my apartment, and where you could see the fresh meat and seafood in all its stinky glory. I was surprised and a bit disappointed, however, to find that the fruit was not as tasty as what I’d had in Ukraine. 

While in Spain, I briefly visited Barcelona, Madrid, Sevilla, Cordoba, and Granada. I couldn’t spend too much time in these cities because of work, but I was glad for the opportunity to visit them. Barcelona was first. My friend, who I’d known since we were five, had been studying there and was about to leave, so I wanted to make sure to go while she was still there. I loved Barcelona. I didn’t get to spend as much time touring Gaudí‘s creations as I wanted. That’s reason enough to go back! I also spent time just hanging out at Las Ramblas and Plaça d’Espanya

Madrid? Well, not as impressive. It was nice, and there was a lot to do there, but it was not as beautiful as Valencia, Barcelona, or, later, Andalusia. I saw the three famous art museums – Prado, Thyssen, and Reina Sofia. I liked Reina Sofia the best. Prado I thought was a bit overrated; it had the kind of art that normally bores me. The best part of Madrid was La Rastra, basically an enormous outdoor bazaar. If you go to Madrid, DO YOUR SOUVENIR SHOPPING AT LA RASTRA!! The souvenirs are cheaper there, and often better quality than what you see in the souvenir shops. Maybe see the prices at El Corte Ingles first to make sure you know what’s up. 

El Retiro, a park in Madrid, was really nice. But Valencia’s parks are so beautiful! They have an old riverbed, Turia, and there are so many nice places to sit down in there. I set out to walk the length of it one day but met someone and ended up having lunch. The Palau de la Música is down there; I sat in that area to relax and draw a couple times. There is a playground that looks like an enormous fallen Gulliver!  I had thought it was supposed to be a matador, but then I didn’t read Gulliver’s Travels.

In July, there was a series of concerts in Valencia, which was awesome.  Some of them were in the big public garden.  The seating area was roped off, and you had to pay to get in, but I always sat just outside it, by the duck pond.  I couldn’t see the stage as clearly but could hear the music perfectly.  One time, there were a lot of police around, and someone told me it was because two ducks had been stolen!

Near the end of the July concert series was the Batalla de Flores.  I went with my crazy but unbelievably cool Sicilian roommates.  There was a circular parade inside this big fenced area, and the floats were made of flowers.  Some fireworks went off, and all of a sudden the people in front started throwing flowers!  They were enormous ones, chrysanthemums I think, and the people on the floats pulled out tennis rackets from I-don’t-know-where and began hitting or throwing the flowers back at the audience.  Suddenly everyone had flowers and it turned into a melee.  Near the end, my roommates jumped the fence and started yelling for me to come in.  I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to be in there or not, and didn’t want to get into trouble.  A couple people at the front, however, interpreted my hesitation as not knowing how to get over the fence, and they threw me over.  I think I may have panicked a little then and swatted at one of them; I hope I didn’t!  Anyways, more people from the audience joined us over the fence and started climbing up on the floats.  Evidently, Valencians like to throw things.  La Tomatina takes place at the end of August (I was gone by then but I’m sure my roommates went!), when people throw tomatoes at each other.

I visited Sevilla, Córdoba, and Granada near the end of my stay in Spain, and I loved all three of those cities, although I only had one day in each and was exhausted!.  Sevilla was first.  I remember really enjoying it, but don’t have a long journal entry for it.  The city is divided by the river into an old and new part; I pretty much stayed in the old part.  The Reales Alcázares (old royal palaces) were beautiful, I would highly recommend them.  Actually, I would recommend just walking around there, as I would any of these cities; it’s really one of the best parts.  I visited some nice museums there, and also some more nice parks.  Plaza de España (which I recognized in either Star Wars I or II, but with the top of the building digitally altered) was beautiful, I visited it in the morning and came back later just to hang out.  It features murals of the major cities in Spain.  I almost missed my bus to Córdoba, but thankfully didn’t.  I had been determined to visit Córdoba ever since studying about the mosque in Art History class, and it was an amazing feeling when I first saw it from the bus.  It’s beautiful from the inside, of course the pictures don’t capture how big it really is.  Outside is a courtyard with orange trees, which is a really relaxing place to sit.  I also saw the old Jewish quarter and the synagogue.  Granada was beautiful, but really tiring!  It’s so mountainous in that area, and you get really exhausted walking around.  It’s definitely worth it, though, just do your relaxing on the train home!  The scenery is amazing and there is some good souvenir shopping.  The Alhambra and the Generalife take about four hours to tour.  They are breathtaking, of course.  Another promise to myself from Art History class.  You can take a visual tour here

Of course, there is so much more to write, but the post is already too long. I do want to share about my first dhikr session, which took place in Spain, but that will have to be in an upcoming post!

Travel Journals

I used to be good about keeping travel journals, but over the last few years I’ve been lazy about it.  Bad habit, because they are really entertaining!  I dug out my comparatively extensive travel journals from Ukraine and Spain and was laughing over things I’d almost forgotten.  Here are a few highlights/things I thought were funny.


I was staying with a family in Zaporizhzhya for a couple days because I had to register myself as a visitor with the regional police station (you know me, in trouble already!), and there was a very elderly grandmother living with them.  She was quite senile, and didn’t realize the cold war was long over (now it reminds me of the “Bloodthirsty Turks” incident in Big Fat Greek Wedding), and my hosts were worried they would have to explain why there was an “Americanka” in the house!  I kept pretty quiet though, and apparently she never found out.

When I found out I was going, I gave myself a crash course in Ukrainian language.  When I got there, however, I found that everyone in the town I was going to spoke Russian, not Ukrainian!  It was in the Eastern part, very close to Russia, and although nationalistic sentiments were alive and well, old habits die hard.  I remember some of my “market” Russian and can still read cyrillic (slowly), but not when it is written in cursive. 

I arrived in Kyiv, spent two days there, and then took a twenty-hour train ride to Berdyansk.  I was really nervous about travelling there by myself on the train.  I had a cabin with three other people, and I had a top bunk.  I couldn’t figure out how to set it up and how the heck to get up there, so finally someone did it for me.  I scrambled up there and didn’t come down for the entire trip!  Naturally I didn’t perform my prayers properly up there.  I had been Muslim for less than a year and didn’t understand their importance yet.

At a student conference in Mykolayiv, another American, an Indian woman, a Dutch guy, and me had to give presentations about our countries.  Well before the presentations, the four of us had gotten pretty bored at the conference and had spent a lot of time together, so we had a lot of jokes stored up ready to put into practice.  One of them we dubbed the “camel effect,” and it had to do with our observation that Ukrainians don’t drink much water.  Because of this, we only got a little glass of water or juice at meals, so we were really thirsty all the time (it was about 100 degrees out), and ended up going into town every day and bringing back big bottles of water.  We joked that we had to be like camels and store up all the water we drank (the Dutch guy asked if that’s why Americans get so big), and according to my travel journal, we dressed up as a big camel for part of the presentation!  Now, I don’t really remember that, and maybe that’s a good thing.  What I do remember was a skit called “American couch potato aerobics” that I did with the other American, to the tune of “Up and Down” by the Vengaboys.  We sat on the couch, pretended to use a remote control, ate candy bars, and pretended to brush our teeth (because we were always teased about brushing our teeth after every meal).  I think we also explained the difference between spaghetti sauce and ketchup.

There was a show called “Gorodok” that appeared to be the Russian equivalent to Saturday Night Live.  They had a skit of Zemfira, who seemed to be the most popular singer at that time.  It made me miss SNL a bit, so I watched it when I got back to the States only to remember that I had never found SNL all that funny anyways and thought it was a bunch of junk.

I hated borscht.  Sorry!

They used to take cream-filled cookies, take them apart, and spread butter on the side that was left without cream.  They were surprised I’d never seen that before.  The apricots, cherries, and plums there were the best I’d ever tasted.

Teaching English to little kids isn’t easy.  Especially to the ones who had no experience with English.  I had to hop around the classroom to demonstrate what a frog was.  The local Peace Corps volunteer lent me some Simpsons DVD’s to show for my older students; I think it was the Stonecutters’ Club episode.  Probably not the right approach.

I was going to include Spain in the same post, but I think I’ll write it up later.

I’m Back…

In Jordan.  The trip was short and busy!  I passed my defense and exam, so that’s done!  I still have to have it bound and shipped to IU.  It was nice to see grass after so long, and all the autumn leaves.  And some birds besides sparrows and pigeons.  And my family.  And Hersheys chocolate!  I did make it to Bloomington Bagel Company for breakfast before my exam, but decided not to go to Jiffy Treet (for them, I’ll suppress my annoyance regarding intentionally misspelled words) afterward since it was cold.  Now I’m back in cold Jordan, trying to force myself to leave the study (the heater’s in here right now) and go clean the kitchen.