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Middle East Jasmine Dispatch

Odyssey Behind The Scenes: Secrets Revealed!
February 5, 2000

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We are the best of friends!

You've been with us through story after story, to new places, meeting all kinds of fascinating people. Hopefully you feel like you're virtually by our sides, as if you were here yourselves, traveling throughout Latin America and Africa, now into Turkey and the Middle East. From the emails we get I know you feel like you know each of us personally. We feel like we have special friendships with you too! Still, there are times when our stories require us to put the real-life happenings on the back-burner to focus more on the topics. So, I decided to lift the veil by taking you on a trip behind the scenes in Odysseyland; to a place where trekkers are clumsy, funny, sleepy, giggly, sick, goofy, sad, angry, hurt, growing, learning, bored and sometimes even deeply moved. We go through it all and the more I travel the more I find that its often these real-life happenings that make learning about a new place, a new culture, or learning about yourself, that much more memorable and authentic...that much more real. kavihair.jpg A "behind the scenes" look at Kavi's hair styling techniques.

We often tease that we're one collective organism. Meaning, if Kavitha saw something we've all seen it. If I ate something we've all eaten it. Though that's an exaggerated description, it's a good way to describe our bond, which is a close one. We are each other's family out here. We have fun, but we also go through the fire sometimes, which only brings us closer together in the end. It also brings us to Odyssey Behind the Scenes: Secrets Revealed #1 - Traveling this way may seem like an around the clock party but the reality is that while we have lots of fun, and we even learn a lot, it's often very difficult. Sometimes it's downright hard.

inquisition - an investigation conducted with little regard for individual rights
masseuse - a person who gives massages, usually for pay
pillage - the act of looting or plundering especially in war
savvy - practical know-how

For example, take our fiasco with Ben Gurion Airport security in Tel Aviv. We'd just hugged Kevin good-bye and were watching as he and Tamar walked arm-in-arm back to their apartment. It was like a scene from a movie as we stared through the rear window of the taxi watching them fade away in the distance. It seemed like only yesterday that a dirt tired Kavitha and I had arrived in Tel Aviv at 5a.m. on a bus ride from the border of Egypt and Israel. We had stayed up the last two days, wrapping things up with the Egypt stage and were darting across the border to make it to Israel in time for a live webchat. Now, suddenly, Israel was finished and we were leaving, walking down the very street that brought us here; the circle of life was complete. On to new chapters and new challenges - on to Turkey! But not so if everything else we'd all been through wasn't enough, there was Ben Gurion International Airport Security to deal with.

May I start by saying I tried, I tried very hard to be cooperative, to answer all of their questions (yes, even the ones when they try to trick you by asking the same question over and over different ways.) I understood that national security issues are a high risk priority in Israel. The last two times I came through an Israeli security check I just went with the flow, which included a two-hour long interrogation and pillage-my-luggage session. But this time I was sick. I had the flu, fever, sore throat and all, and my patience was running thin. By the end of the first hour I had had just about enough and I think Kavi, who was also being "routinely" grilled, could tell. She flashed me one of those comforting looks: a smile in her eyes, head slightly tilted to the side, and her precious babyish grin. You know, that reassuring, "It will all be over soon and then I'll give you a big hug," kind of look; unfortunately security was just getting started. After we cleared the verbal inquisition we were escorted to a back room where we were frisked and sent through metal detectors while all four of our backpacks were completely emptied and searched.

Just imagine the mess! They left no stone unturned. Every bag of cords, plugs, and technical equipment was opened and emptied into miscellaneous bins that would then disappear into a back room for bomb searches. To say it was returned to us all mixed up would be a complete understatement. But that was the least of our worries. There were some things, they said, we'd have to sue them for because "security purposes" prevented them from being returned at all. At the peak of it all, security became so alarmed and overwhelmed by all of the tech gear that they evacuated the entire terminal because they thought that one of Kavitha's plugs was a bomb. The plug had been cut open and welded back together when we had it repaired in Mali (thanks to Abeja who blew out the plug by plugging it in without checking for voltage conversions.) I'm sure this may come as a shock, since we make it look so easy, but we aren't always as savvy and smooth as it may seem (tee hee hee). By the way, I might add that "tee hee hee" is the official Odyssey Internet giggle. If I keep this up you'll be able to take my place on the team in no time!

Three hours, a million questions, and a few worn out trekkers later it was time to catch our flight to Turkey. There was only one problem: the plane was ready for take off and none of us had finished re-packing our gear. Suddenly, security from everywhere began "helping" us by shoving everything left on the tables into our packs and yelling things like, "Hurry, hurry," "No time left," and "Plane is leaving!" As you might have guessed, we missed our flight. Or should I say, Kavitha, Abeja, and I missed the flight. We were separated from Monica who was whisked out of the room and onto the plane. "Come with us, your friends are right behind you!" they shouted. Needless to say, we were not right behind her and ended up having to catch a plane that wasn't scheduled to leave until the next morning.

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Abeja's magic fingers make the aches disappear
These are the times when even the best of friends can begin to get a little testy with each other. It reminded me of a popular question I get when I start to email and chat with students who write me for the first time. It's always something like, "How do you like the other people on the team? Do you guys fight or argue a lot?" Odyssey Behind the Scenes: Secrets Revealed #2 - Oddly enough we all get along REALLY well! In the midst of this particular storm, for example, Kavitha handled security and made sure we all had a place to rest for the night (which turned out to be a five-star hotel courtesy of the airline, despite their initial plan for us to "rest in the cafeteria for a few hours.") I phoned Turkey in search of Monica and gave Andrew (the new teammate we would be meeting soon) a heads up that she'd be arriving alone, probably upset, and maybe in need of money. As for Abeja, she did her usual thing and just rubbed us back into sanity. Odyssey Behind the Scenes: Secrets Revealed #3 - Did you know that Abeja's an awesome masseuse? She is! It's like magic and, boy, does that come in handy.

Since I'm on the topic of individual assets I'll throw a few more secrets in for free. Odyssey Behind the Scenes: Secrets Revealed #4 - Kavitha is an awesome cook. After the Odyssey I plan on moving to wherever Kavitha lives and helping her plant a garden if she promises to cook delicious vegetarian cuisine for my family and I. So far I think we have a deal and with you as my witness - I'm holding her to it. Odyssey Behind the Scenes: Secrets Revealed #5 - Monica is super smart. Her mind moves like a machine and she processes information at the speed of light. Books that would usually take us two weeks to finish are read in a day when given to Monica. In a pinch she does emergency html coding and she types over 100 words per minute, easy. The girl is good. As for me, my lips are sealed! You'll have to get one of the others to reveal my secrets (which they'll eagerly do after reading this dispatch.) Just trust me when I say we really make a good team.

While that makes things relatively easier for us, it may be hard for new team members joining in and trying to forge a place for themselves in Odysseyland. You know how things can get between friends: certain groups form cliques. Just imagine your friends, your crew, or the circle of people you hang out with. Would it be easy to come to your school and just start hanging with you guys?. Odyssey Behind the Scenes: Secrets Revealed #6 (because I can't get away without telling a secret about myself) - I am closely affiliated with a group of friends back home who are widely known as the Cheese Mob. Each member has a cheese name and while I am not at liberty to reveal this top secret information over the internet I can freely list a few of the alleged Cheese Mob aliases: Nacho "The Virge" Cheese, Cheddah "Nobody Does It Bettah" Cheese, Swiss "She'll Never Miss" Cheese, Monterey Jazz, and Cheez Wiz.

OK, I've confessed, but that's all you'll get. Back to our newest trekkers, Brian and Andrew. How do you think they fared meeting their war-torn, tough-skinned teammates for the first time? Odyssey Behind the Scenes: Secrets Revealed #7 - They did wonderfully, of course! Like the Cheese Mob, The Odyssey World Trekkers are a cool bunch with a bum rap. Underneath all the heavy backpacks, laptop computers, and piles of snow here in Turkey, we're all sweethearts; as I'm sure they'll attest to in their upcoming dispatches - "Right Brian, Right Andrew." Yes, Monica gets a little cranky when she hasn't had her sleep and always keep an Abeja snack (it's not pretty when she's hungry.)

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Look-we are one big happy family already
No shoes on the bed with Kavitha and I have to be in touch with the family come rain or shine. But everybody comes with "handling instructions," right? OK, this is the absolute last of my secret telling days. No more after this but- Odyssey Behind the Scenes: Secrets Revealed #8 - From what I hear Brian has been known to sit up and blurt out random facts while he sleeps. I won't be sharing too many secrets with him. And Odyssey Behind the Scenes: Secrets Revealed #9 - Andrew was in from the start because he came fully prepared with the one thing that will cause any Odyssey Worldtrekker to fall to her knees. It's like kryptonite leaving us helpless. He brought us a great big...suspenseful drum roll...

You didn't expect me to go there and tell you the secret behind it all, did you? I mean really, I want to continue on as an Odyssey Worldtrekker. And like all great educational super heroes, we've gotta keep some mystery to us, right? OK, I'll make you a deal (I'm such a softy.) If you promise never to tell and keep it just between us, I've talked to the team and we promise to let you in on our little secret if you can guess the answer. Only one guess per person and you can send it by clicking below to email me. You know I always love to hear from you all...that's no secret!

...That's All for this episode of Odyssey Behind the Scenes: Secrets Revealed folks, but tune in next update, same Odyssey Worldtrek web-address, same Odyssey Worldtrekkers (if we haven't chased Brian and Andrew away) for more frolicking and fun with the team in Turkey!


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Abeja - Istanbul (Not Constantinople): They Might Be in Turkey!
Andrew - Strange Encounters in Turkey
Brian - Oh the places we'll go!
Kavitha - Interview With Courage
Kavitha - Kavi Gets MAD With Art
Kevin - Life, The Greatest Trek of All!

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