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Where NOT to wear white.

In my pre-baby days, I traveled the world as a journalist producing country branding reports. These are some of my adventures…

Wearing white shoes after Labor Day, wearing a white dress to a wedding, wearing anything light colored at a kid’s spaghetti party—there are a few places where wearing white just doesn’t fly.  I have another one….but we’ll eventually get to that.

One of the scariest parts about living in a developing country is driving in said developing country.  Nine times out of ten, traffic regulations are viewed as simply suggestions, and annoying ones at that…

When it comes to transportation, there are a few fundamental rules I’ve learned:

1. Always hire a driver with his OWN car (he will care more if he totals it)

2. Make sure the seat belts work.

3. Develop a thick skin or the number of white-knuckle moments you will experience will probably kill you before a car accident will.

I’ve been in a number of near fatal moments (sorry mom, shocker I didn’t tell you about these before now).

But there was one that really stands out.

We were doing a project in Morocco.  We started out in the sleepy capital of Rabat and then moved to Casablanca to research the private sector.

Casablanca is similar to any big, commercial city.  Forget your romantic fantasy with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman; this city rivals any European metropolitan.

It has great restaurants, fantastic shops, and fabulous tourist sites. It’s the commercial and economic hub of the country, full of busy people who want to get to their destinations….fast.

Our driver, God bless him, was very young and eager.  I hated to be late and he always tried to make sure I wasn’t.  I adored him because I never had to call him to find out where he was. He was always waiting.  He took pride in being early “just in case”.

It was a day like any other day, but something was off.  Our printer didn’t work, my trainee and translator wasn’t feeling great and barely willed herself to get dressed for our meeting, and our driver was late.

“Where are you?” I asked him over the phone.

“Sorry, the traffic is terrible.  There was an accident,” he explained.

“Okay, please, get here as soon as you can,” I begged.

He skidded to a stop 10 minutes later, we jumped in, and I gave him the address.

Unfortunately the location we needed was on the other side of the accident zone, which had made our driver late in the first place.

“I know a short cut,” he told us. “If we take the tunnel, we’ll just be 5 minutes out of our way.

“Okay,” I said.  And off we went.

The tunnel was a long passageway cutting underground through a busy intersection above.  It was four lanes, dark and long.  There was a sharp curve in the middle of it which would normally dictate traffic to slow down….normally.

As we made the curve, skidding on practically two tires (like everyone else), we felt the engine puttering.  The motor puffed and all of a sudden we stopped.

In his rush to reach us, my driver had forgotten to stop at the gas station.  We weren’t going anywhere.

Before I could open my mouth, my driver said, “wait here, I’ll get more.”

A second later, he jumped from the car, flagged the first truck and hitched a ride.

Was this really happening? 

My journalist (Jerome) turned around from the front passenger seat and asked, “What are we going to do?”

It took me two seconds of listening to the traffic wiz by us barely skidding to the next lane to avoid a crash to say, “Everyone out of the car.”

There was a little walkway on each side of the tunnel.  If we pressed ourselves against the wall, we could barely get ourselves off the road….kind of.

“We need to get out of here,” I announced.

There were little arguments.  Honks from the other cars told us that sooner or later someone was going to hit us if nothing more then to teach us that this tunnel wasn’t a parking lot.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever been in a more dingy soot covered environment.  There was little ventilation and a ton of fumes, which had us coughing all the way to the exit. For the sake of my poor moms heart, I will just say we had a couple of close calls but obviously we made it.

Once we reached the top, I surveyed myself and my team.  Yep, everyone alive and in one piece, a bit dirty but nothing a short bathroom stop wouldn’t fix.

“Call the Minister’s office and see if they’ll wait 15 more minutes,” I instructed Jerome.  “Well catch a cab. We look presentable enough, I think we can still do the meeting.”

“Can we?” Jerome asked and spun Leticia around.  She was wearing an all white suit.  Well it was an all white. Now it was half white and half black.  Oil stains; soot, and general grime now stained her entire backside. She looked like some took a black magic marker and started to fill her in.

Needless to say, we rescheduled our meetings, waited for our driver and then went to have a drink. Sometimes you just need to toast to a “we’re still alive” day.

So I think we can all add to our LIST of unacceptable places to wear white: dingy tunnels in Morocco.  Glad I could help.

Any crazy traffic stories which could rival that one?  Next I will tell you about when my mom and I hit a cow in the highway.

How to say Goodnight in Armenian

In my pre-baby days, I traveled the world as a journalist producing country branding reports.  These are some of my adventures…

When the Minister of Agriculture invites you to dinner to “try the very best of his country” you go.

My teammates and myself were on assignment in Yerevan, Armenia and we had just finished our fifth interview within the government.

The dinner invitation was translated to us by interpreter as the 80-year-old Minister didn’t speak a word of English.

Free food and wine?? I didn’t really care if he spoke at all.  I was in!

We were picked up that evening in a private car, whisked away to a place outside the city and shuffled into a beautiful venue with outside seating surrounding a center stage.

We were a party of twelve: my team of three, the Minister, his entourage, and two bodyguards.  I guess the wheat and peach business can get pretty violent and you can’t be too careful around fig picking season.   Already I saw food placed on the table.

The Minister sat beside me and began to communicate by shoveling food onto my plate.  I had purposely staved myself that day so I accepted everything the Minister offered.  This also included every type of wine that the country produced.

I’m not sure when the entertainment started but suddenly a sequined clad couple began belting out 80’s hits, karaoke style.  Classics such as  “Cumin I lean” and “Girlz Just Wanna Huffin” were sung through thick accents and shameful creative liberty.

Plate after plate came and by the sixth course, I began to slur my request that we stop soon.

“What? This was just the appetizer,” said the Minister’s Chief of Staff.

It was a blur from there.  Seriously I couldn’t see very well.

I know there was meat and something green but can’t tell you much more. The only thing I can remember was that suddenly the singers had back up dancers.  Four life sized Teletubbies started dancing and singing in the background. I could only stare.

When we were finally allowed to leave, I could barely put one foot in front of the other so I didn’t notice that we had played musical cars.

I was now in the back seat of the Minister’s car with one of my colleagues.  For all I knew our other friend was left for dead back at the restaurant.   The Chief of Staff was doubling as the driver so that he could translate and the Minister rode up front.

The Minister played with the radio and found a salsa station.  Sure, that made sense. “Turn up the music!” I screamed.

Roberto was Brazilian and due to the fact that liquor had now replaced water as the greatest substance in my body, we were soon doing the shoulder samba in the back seat.

I guess the Minister felt a little left out because when I made the dumbass comment that it was too bad he wasn’t back here with us, the car screeched to a stop in the middle of the highway.

A door slam later and I was soon making room for grandpa in the back.

Now crammed in the middle, I had no choice but to continue our little fiesta.

For a man in his twilight years, he was surprisingly handsy.  My lap soon became a pair of make-shift bongos and the Minister tapped away contently to the beat.

“We go to club,” announced the Chief of Staff still driving.

“No, we need to go back to the hotel,” I told him. “We have a bunch of meetings. Very early. We need to sleep.”

“Cancel meetings. We go to club. Minister say so,” argued the Chief of Staff.

Crap.  What do I say now?

Nothing. I threw up and won the argument.  Twenty minutes later, we pulled into the hotel.

That’s right ladies, looking for a way to bow out (I never said gracefully) at the end of the night??  A little vomit does the trick every time.

Anyway good ways you got out of continuting the party?  It doesnt have to involve throwing up or Armenia?