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Special Focus on 2010 Narrative Travel Writing Contest Winners

2010 Theme: The theme for this year's contest related to the core mission of Transitions Abroad, which has always been centered on educational, responsible, and cultural immersion travel. We were looking for pieces which reflected a respect for what you have learned from native peoples, their cultures, and/or their unique relationship to the land—and how you put your new awareness and empathy into action.

The focus of the travel narrative was to remain squarely on the people and land which had in some ways transformed your vision of the world and had led you to new realizations or epiphanies which may have inspired you to become a volunteer, a teacher, a writer, an aid worker, a foreign service officer, an international nomad, or any other activity influenced by your experiences abroad.

Editor's Note: We were very pleased to receive well over 150 submissions during the past year, many of which were of an unusually high quality. We decided that it would only make sense to publish as many worthy winners as we could (in alphabetical order by title.) The travel writing articles were truly a very diverse and eclectic embarrassment of riches covering various aspects and interpretations of the theme described above and were sent to us from all corners of the globe. The travel writing contest pieces covered off-the-beaten-path regions within Bolivia, Cuba, India, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Laos, Mexico, The Czech Republic, The Gambia, Tunisia, and the U.S. Thank you to all who sent in contest submissions which will all be included in the coming webzine.

Accident on the Buffalo Trail by Michael Benanav
2010 Narrative Writing Contest Winner
Photo by Michael Benanav.
...Van Gujjars spend the fall and winter months roaming the lowland jungles of the Shivalik Hills, not far from Dehradun, grazing their herds on the foliage that grows there. But as March turns to April, the Shivaliks get pummeled by heat. Creeks run dry. Parched trees shed their leaves. Once-lush forests wither into wastelands. With nothing left for their buffaloes to eat or drink, Van Gujjar families must leave. They load their belongings onto a few pack animals and hike to the highlands with their herds. There, melting snows reveal grassy fields-called bugyals—laced with streams, plenty to sustain the buffaloes until autumn, when the families descend again to the lowland jungles rejuvenated by summer rains. It's a nomadic cycle that's existed in this part of India for over a thousand years, but may not last for many more, as their ancient lifestyle confronts an array of modern dilemmas. Inspired to experience and document the migration, I traveled the entire route into the Himalayas with one family, hoping to glean an understanding of their way of life and the challenges their culture faces.... Read more,,,
Monks, Rice, War by Jann Huizenga
(2nd Place Winner)
Laos - Monks receiving rice alms
..."I am sisteen," "I am sewenteen," "I am eighteen." Some are in their twenties. They all have sweet, eager faces. Most come from north Laos. "My village have no road. We have no electricity." The lay students work in factories and shops. Learning English will allow them to move up to better jobs in the budding tourist industry. In the classroom next door, I hear French being taught by a Canadian tourist. From what I can gather, these are the Lao equivalent of adult ed classes... Read more
The Collision by Tim Leffel
(2nd Place Winner)
Out of the corner of my right eye I saw movement, something rushing toward me. A few milliseconds later there was a brutal thud as something ran headfirst into my car.

Instinctively I hit the brakes and turned my head toward the point of impact. There was a smear on the window, but nothing else.

In that slow motion that accident victims always describe, I noticed heads turning toward my car, people pointing their fingers toward me from a distance, others cupping their hands on the sides of their mouth to shout... Read more

A Land About Stories by Elizabet Wendt
(2nd Place Winner)
South, within sight of the closed boarder to Egypt, I join in with a small family to farm the desert. My idea is not original and was overdone years ago by the socialist, Jewish halutzim, or "pioneers," who arrived in waves on the beaches of Palestine and then Israel throughout the early twentieth century. I am reenacting a slogan from history, now terribly cliche and outdated, not out of Zionist commitment but because this family wants to grow an orchard and I am very interested in learning how to prune trees. They describe themselves as a family of six committed to living off the land they love in a small peaceful community called Azuz... Read more

¡Oye Niña! by Seble Gameda
(3rd Place Winner)
Cuba
When I arrived with a group of Canadian and Cuban youth our first step was to get temporary citizenship cards. Yes, for three months I would be a Cuban citizen and nothing else. I would live in a bright blue house on Independencia Boulevard with Edy, Marcos, Ismaray, Adrielis, and our German shepherd Jony... Read more

Strangers in Czech Lands by Pearl Harris
(3rd Place Winner)
Czech Republic
...An eagerness and willingness to adopt western culture in all its aspects has in turn inspired me to assist the Czech people in their thirst for acquiring and perfecting the English language. In this way, I feel like a small but vital link in the chain of a people whose lives were sorely interrupted and stunted by communism, but who now have the guts and determination to get up and go, shake off the legacy of the past and catch up with—and even to excel over—the rest of the world... Read more

Finding Joy in Sucre by Mark Kennedy
(3rd Place Winner)
Czech Republic
...husband and wife Lorenzo and Tina Rauco took over Joy Ride, a pub on the southeast end of the city's central square. In a few short months they transformed it from a hangout for the previous owner's friends to a full-fledged bar, restaurant and dance club-and more recently, a tour business. Today, it boasts the distinction of being the city's "it" place for locals and gringos alike... Read more

Finding Refuge in Giving by Alyssa Martino
(3rd Place Winner)
Tunisia
...The journey that led me to The Mohawk Valley Refugee Center is one that began long before, in one of Tunisia’s many medinas—infectious outdoor markets where vendors sell saffron, silk scarves and poorly-welded jewelry that will later infect one’s ears.

“10 dinar, but for you, only five,” a Tunisian man tells me as I stroll by him on the streets of Hammamet. He is standing behind a table overflowing with spices and ceramic plates. The intricate designs seem to dance their way off the surface like steam from an explosive teakettle. I am hesitant, but I look around, utilizing the little Italian I know to converse with him.

In the medina, I am reminded of my current hometown, Rome... Read more

A Return to the Smallest Country in Africa by Miranda Paul
(3rd Place Winner)
The Gambia
...My experiences in The Gambia ranged from sharing a cab with a 6-year old delirious with malaria, to teaching in a public high school, and dinner at the President's house. For more than four years, the hospitable Fula, Mandinka, Jola and Wolof people of Gambia had been welcoming me into their homes. My neighbors still called me on my birthdays and I had a young Mandinka girl baby named after me. This trip was going to be my gift back to the Gambian people whom I loved. I was going to act as an American spokesperson and outlet for, as best I could, simple development projects that were run by Gambians, and had a working model of self-sufficiency. ... Read more

My Heart's Home by Sarah Seaton
(3rd Place Winner)
Kenya
...I live trapped between two worlds. One is in my head and guides me through each day through reason. It is where I spend most of my time. This world reminds me of the car payments and student loans, the budding career track and successful future. This world keeps me from making quick, rash decisions by planting my feeble feet on solid surfaces. This world urges me toward the familiar, the things I know to be true, to be safe. Its perimeter is small, confined by my own limitations, and, if I do not gaze too far ahead, I do not have to acknowledge that, instead of grounding me, it has trapped me.

The other world is buried deeper. In my heart, I live in Africa-a mysterious jungle that beats to its own rhythm. The sun shines bright here, and the air feels full of purpose. In this world, I close my eyes and can hear the laughter of children and the songs of the hopeful carried in the wind. This world is where I feel most alive, but it is also where I feel most afraid. To get here, the journey is long, the road is treacherous, and the cost is great... Read more