Funny Women Have More Fun…
Travel isn’t always what we dream it will be, but oh…the stories we can tell later! For the 29 women in this book, packing a sense of humor was essential to the success of their trips. From Australia to Zambia, Thailand to Kuwait, the true stories in Sand in My Bra will not only have you shaking your head in disbelief, they’ll induce smiles, groans, cackles, and guffaws.
by Jessica Maxwell
We were sitting under a beat-up blue gazebo waiting for a panga boat to take us into the heart of Trinidad’s Caroni Swamp. Tony, our driver, suddenly scowled at the hip young man smooching with his girlfriend on the bench across from ours.
“I can’t stand to see a man wearing a earring!” he muttered.
Chris, our photographer, was busy eyeing the Caribbean wasps swarming around a nest above our heads. He thought Tony had said he couldn’t stand seeing a man eating a herring.
“Yeah,” Chris replied. “They make me sick, too.”
“Dey look so feminine!” Tony spat.
Chris glanced at him sideways.
“I never thought they looked feminine,” he answered. “I just think they smell funny.”
Tony’s head snapped in Chris’s direction.
“You theenk dey smell funny?”
“Yeah, especially if you eat them.”
“You EAT dem?”
“No! I told you, they make me sick!”
Fortunately, the panga arrived in time to avoid an international incident, but I have long considered this conversation to be the perfect example of travel hilarity. It has it all: an exotic setting, great characters, communication snafus, and a who-the-heck-knows-what-will-happen-next spirit of cultural collision. If you think about it, how could travel be anything but funny? Especially for women.
Only while traveling could a woman find herself being followed around by a Frenchman asking her if she “would like a snake,” when he only wants to buy her a sandwich. Where else could she consult a dictionary for the Lebanese words for “pop” and “corn,” then try asking for some popcorn at a local supermarket only to learn from the kindly Englishman standing behind her that she has just requested a package of elephant farts? Only in Mexico could she look at a flower seller’s pretty little daughter and announce to the child that her mother has a lovely garlic. And only in Spain could she order a tortilla and end up with an omelet as if she learned nothing on her trip to Mexico at all.
As a life-long travel writer, I’ve learned to expect this sort of thing.
I once took a girlfriend with me on a nature assignment in Provence. I thought it would cheer her up after a bad break-up with her boyfriend. We were supposed to report back on the tens of thousands of waterfowl that stop in the Camargue wetlands each November during their winter migration south, and we arrived in Paris as chirpy as a couple of baby chicks ourselves. But we couldn’t find our hotel—the instructions had failed to mention that one—and only one—little tiny two-foot invisible street led to the hotel’s front door, so we circled the place like vultures for three full hours before we figured it out.
The next morning, happy again, we began our drive to Provence, only to come to a dead stop half an hour later. The French truck drivers were on strike and a fleet of them had parked in the middle of the autoroute. It took another hour to maneuver off the freeway, then another day and a half on traffic-jammed back roads to reach Arles. We arrived at midnight two days late, and when with great emotion in not-so-bad French I tried to explain things to the hotel manager, she looked at us with ice pick eyes and said:
“Eef you panic, I ham going straight to bed!”
After she brutally berated my friend for bring bakery croissants to our room the next morning we fled to the Camargue, only to find that it was flooded and the birds were all dispersee. We counted exactly two ducks, and that included the dead one a chef insisted on cooking for lunch for us when he heard of our plight.
Back in Paris the night before our departure I tried to save the day by taking my friend to a fancy restaurant…so fancy even I, who have lived in France, couldn’t understand anything on the menu. At that point my poor friend burst into tears.
“I hate this country!” she wailed. “They take all your money, they treat you like dirt and you can’t even read the f——ing menu!”
And that’s when Mario showed up. A pony-tailed Italian designer in lemon-yellow pants and a lime-green blazer with a rainbow-colored parrot pin on one lapel, he was in Paris to teach at the Sorbonne for the winter. Without asking, he took a seat at our table and began patting my friend’s arm.
“You are-a rright-a!” he said. “Thee French, they are-a crazy. They-a always got-a problem. Always something-a wrong-a. They don’t-a know-a how to-a live-a. You come to-a Italy! We take-a better care of-a you!”
My friend started laughing. Then she got hysterical. Which made all of us get hysterical with her. Pretty soon everyone in the restaurant was sharing in this marvelous emotional catharsis, including the restaurant owner who insisted on ordering for us then refused to let us pay him a franc for what was the singularly best meal either of us had ever had. And my friend flew home healed.
This simply couldn’t have happened in Chicago. Or Seattle. Or Atlanta. Or New York. Well, maybe in New York, but it wouldn’t have been half as funny. To this day, that’s how we remember that trip: hilarious! Banished from memory are the anguish, frustration, tears, fear and loathing, even that horror story of a hotel manager. All we remember is the ridiculousness of it all, and it’s an experience that bonds us to this day.
What does this teach those of us who love to travel the globe? Let your smile be your umbrella!…and trash can and shield. Foreign travel simply does not always go smoothly. It can’t. There are too many moving parts. So rather than think of it as a booby-trap, think of it as your big chance to play Lucille-Ball-Goes-on-Vacation. If you can make peace with the concept of travel as a comedy-waiting-to-happen, then almost nothing can rob you of the deeper thrill of it. The delight of eating your first Provençal truffle, the joy of setting foot finally on your Irish grandmother’s homeland, the rush of breathing in the cold wind of the Himalayas, the delirium of making love to your good familiar husband while the sweet smoke of temple incense twists into your window from the Kyoto monastery across the street.
This is the heart of travel. This is why we do it. This is why we are so willing to strap our fragile bodies into metal capsules and fly thousands of miles with hundreds of strangers endlessly exhaling new viruses into our airspace, drink water from dubious sources, eat food virulent with unknown flora and fauna, put up with impossible travel companions, lost luggage, and the legions of mule-like bureaucrats who manage to win positions of petty power in every city and village on earth. We do it because we love this beautiful dangerous planet and we want to know it personally and, on balance, the pluses far outweigh the minuses, right?
That’s what the women in Sand in My Bra know, too. When Joann Hornak saves herself from a herd of wild elephants in “Fifteen Minutes Can Last Forever,” she sees the folly in taking the advice of a would-be Tarzan. When Christine Michaud in “Chador Etiquette” tries to dress like the locals in Kuwait in a chador many sizes too small, she realizes that “going unnoticed” is sometimes impossible. When Michelle Peterson in “Hat Head” has a bad hair day in Hong Kong, she discovers salvation, and a nice human connection, via a sampan pilot’s hat. And when Christine Nielsen gets sand in her bra (and everywhere else) at the wacky Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, she knows it’s just all part of the fun.
So, think of travel as a sort of fast-forward Zen meditation, an act of supreme balance while off-balance, a living devotion to the notion of Love Thy Neighbor even if he happens to be a very drunk German singing Oktoberfest songs under your window at three a.m. And if you can manage to see the humor in that, then the cosmic joke is forever on this goofy world of ours, not you.
Originally, Jessica Maxwell wanted to be a serious environmental reporter—until her first assignment, on the Los Angeles sewer system, went south when she learned that the treatment plant’s supervisor was named Arthur F. Suher. She turned to serious travel writing. “That was like trying to organize raw egg whites,” she says. “Everything gets scrambled and pretty soon all you want is breakfast.” This made her turn to serious food writing, which soured when a customs officer refused to let her take Oregon truffles into France, despite—or perhaps because of—her claims that truffles are “scientifically neither animal nor plant and are, in fact, closer to humans, DNA-wise.” Next she took up serious golf writing, only to learn that golf is “just too weird,” but mean editors made her write a whole book on the subject anyway. She is the author of books on golf, fly fishing, and international travel, and continues to write for magazines specializing in what she calls the “literary culinary conservation sporting travel narrative,” which is about to take another artistic turn with her fourth book, a “serious spiritual adventure about karmic love, Buddhist golf, jokester ghosts and an unexpected lunch with Deepak Chopra.” Maxwell lives with her extremely tolerant trial attorney husband and part-bobcat kitty in Eugene, Oregon.
Introduction by Jessica Maxwell
Mom’s Travel Advisories — Karla Zimmerman
Mexican Mating Calls — Germaine W. Shames
Internal Affairs — Colette O’Connor
The Aunties — Anne Lamott
All-Natural Herbal Girl — Deborah Chaney
The Plane Truth — Ellen Degeneres
In the Air
Sand in My Bra — Christine Nielsen
Sometimes a Great Myth — Kathleen Meyer
Great in the Sack — Suzanne Schlosberg
The Perils of Leisure — Sandra Tsing Loh
Panic, In Any Other Language — Nancy Bartlett
A Prude in Patpong — Jennifer L. Leo
Panties or Prison — Christie Eckardt
Take the Cannoli — Sarah Vowell
Fifteen Minutes Can Last Forever — Joann Hornak
Love and War at the Pier Hotel — Alison Wright
Cultural Exposure — Jennifer Colvin
Pissed Off in Nepal — Annalisa Valentine
At a Loss for Words — Lesley Quinn
A Family Connection — Kelly Simon
Learning to Think Outside a Parisian Box — Kate Crawford
Chador Etiquette — Christine Michaud
What to Wear — Adair Lara
The Summer of the Lost Ham — Laurie Gough
Scared Shitless on Safari — Lori Mayfield
No Crater Love — Margo Kaufman
Hat Head — Michele Peterson
Women Who Run with No Clothes On — E. Jean Carroll
Index of Contributors
Panties or Prison
by Christie Eckardt
Dryden in Lawrence of Arabia described the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula as “a burning, fiery furnace,” and for good reason. Summer temperatures can reach up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. You go through several sets of clothes on any given day and today is no exception.
Since I haven’t had a chance to do laundry in a few days, I am stuck with a baggy but well-ventilated pair of underwear. Wearing a long skirt I set out for the local grocery store on the other side of a six-lane street. I reach the intersection and notice that my underwear is not feeling exactly the way it should. Standing next to all these stopped cars, I can’t exactly hike it up. I’m in a Muslim country. Muslims prefer not to see a woman’s calf or forearm, much less watch her adjusting her skivvies. I need to find a private spot.
The parking lot is buzzing and someone is sitting inside every parked car to keep the air conditioning running. Inside the store, I am starting to get nervous so I look for an empty aisle where I can make my vertical adjustment. My underwear is now flying at half-mast. I am convinced that the cold air in the freezer aisle has shrunken my gluteus maximus as the “traitor” makes its way toward the floor posthaste. Where did all these people come from? Don’t you have homes to go to? Preferably now?
I decide it’s best to go home. I quickly buy a bag of groceries but by the time I get to the door the “sail” is way below half-mast, maintaining position due to an interesting walking style allowing my upper legs to hold them in place. This is funny in a desperate kind of way. Two minutes later when I arrive at the intersection I find my panties wedged between my knees. The pedestrian light is turning green. I have to walk across three lanes of stopped traffic with the real chance that my underwear may fall onto the street. This isn’t so funny after all. I start to panic.
What will I do if they fall? Stop and pick them up? Just step out of them and walk on as if they aren’t mine? When was the last time you saw underwear fall from the heavens? I can just hear some guy say, “Hey you’re the girl whose underwear fell off on 11th Street, aren’t you!” That is if I don’t get thrown into prison for indecency. If I do go to prison, maybe I can shave my head and pose as a man until I can book a flight to Siberia. My head is spinning.
I decide I will just walk out of them and not go home until the traffic is long gone so no one knows where I live. But I don’t. People are staring at me for the way I am hobbling across the street. They are feeling sorry for me for whatever walking disability I have. I start to laugh, imagining what I must look like to them and I have to stop in the middle of the street as my gravity-loving underwear now travel to my calves. I am imagining my inevitable cellmate. Oh, why didn’t I wear pants? Who invented underwear anyway? Can you declare a jihad on the elastic industry? I manage to make it across the street after the light turns green. Nobody even honks at me to get out of the way, probably feeling sorry for me, being maimed and all. My legs are cramping from clenching to hold the underwear up.
But it doesn’t end there. A group of Pakistani men are sitting on the grassy area between the corner and my door, so I have to make it past them. Walking the length of a single house takes me eight minutes. Finally, as I approach my door, my bag of groceries slips out of my grasp and spills its contents onto the sidewalk. Without thinking, I crouch down to get them. BOOM! My skivvies hit the pavement. I can’t get up without them showing around my ankles. Of course at that moment a man on a bicycle comes up behind me kindly waiting for me to move aside so he can pass. Catch-22.
After giggling, half-crying, and mumbling something like “Please just go around,” I manage to half-hop and drag myself out of the way as if my knees are surgically attached to my breastbone and my ankles fused to my posterior. I fall into the terrace safe from the public eye. Tears of relief and amusement spill through uncontrollable laughter. Inside, I throw away all similarly stretched underwear lurking in the back of my drawer. I make a mental note to rewrite guidebooks to this region. Tight undies are a must!
Christie Eckardt is a web site designer and children’s muralist with an affection for the unknown. The portability of her “career” has allowed her to raft Nepal’s coldest rivers, nearly be trampled in a raid in Bangkok’s red-light district, and bring in Y2K on the shores of Vietnam. She currently divides her time between Germany and the United Arab Emirates.
Jennifer L. Leo
is a Chinese-American born with a gift for gab and a hunger for an everlasting craps game. She is co-editor of A Woman’s Path,
and her writing has also appeared in Wild Writing Women: Stories of World Travel, A Woman’s Passion for Travel, The Adventure of Food, Lonely Planet World Food Guides Hong Kong
, and other books in the Travelers’ Tales series. When not working on a career in print and online travel publishing, Jen fantasizes about her dream job of being a jewelry thief and stay-at-home mom. For practice she lifts brown mustard from burger joints and borrows children from her friends. Her nomadic bloodline can be traced back five generations to Canton, China. Between wanderings, Jen encourages others to follow their travel writing passions on her web site, WrittenRoad.com.
Keep up with her adventures onwww.JenLeo.com.