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Winners of the Women Inspire Women 2008 Travel Writing Contest

 

FABULOUS RUNNER-UP -- $25.00 prize

Written by: Marie Cartier
City: Long Beach, California

An American Feminist in Venice

I was traveling alone in Venice, Italy and utterly romanced by the beauty of the city - its art, palaces, people, food and waterways. The one thing I really wanted to do that I had not done before I left was ride the gondola. The best time to ride was at sunset and immediately thereafter when the city lit up with the warm light of an old masterpiece in ancient oil.

I had seen couples in the gondolas at night, and families during the day. I had seen men traveling the water alone guiding the boats as gondoliers. I had not seen a woman riding alone – either as master of the boat or as passenger.

I approached a gondolier, negotiated a price and both somewhat surprised, we pushed off into the golden light. It sank into the palaces around the town square. The houses kissed the edges of the canals and the light reflected back against their warm red hues like courtship. Yes, it was worth it to have overcome my fear of being “the only woman” to have asked the gondolier to take me on the ride.

I was high on the adventure, when I suddenly realized we were not in well-lit canals anymore. The gondolier had steered us to a side canal.

He asked, “You are American, no?” I said “Yes.” All romance in the night vanished.

He said, “You like Italian men?” I said, “No reason not to – not yet anyway.”

Silence. He stopped the boat. Suddenly I stood up and asked if he could teach me how to steer the boat. He was surprised, but yes, he would teach me. I stumbled next to him at the prow. He reached around me and showed me how to steer. I grasped the long oar. It was hard to push, and I didn't know where I was, or how to get back to the main canal.

He said low under his breath, “Do you like me?”

I said, without turning around, “Well...I am an American feminist.”

He said, “Feminista?”

I was shaking but speak even if your voice shakes, Gloria Steinem says, and so I did, “Yes, and I know karate. I am almost a black belt.” I handed back the oar, and stumbled back to sit, saying over my shoulder, “If you don't steer this back to the main canal, I will tip it over, swim to shore, call the police and have you arrested. That's what American feminists do."

He said, “Are you sure? I am a very nice man.”

I said, “Of course, I'm sure. I'm an American feminist. That's what we do.”

Slowly he turned the boat from the noorish dark canal lit by the crescent moon, back to the golden light of the busy thoroughfare.

Before I left, he asked, “Are all American feminists like you?”

I said, “Oh yes, definitely.”

 

FABULOUS RUNNER-UP -- $25.00 prize

Written by: Danielle Altman
City: Suzuka, Japan

She Polishes up Her Zulu

I spent a week doing a homestay in a South African village as part of a Zulu language program. One morning, my host sister Dolly informed me it was time to clean and polish the floors. "Great!" I said. One of the most rewarding aspects of the homestay was that it provided a glimpse into the daily lives of Zulu women. Within my first few days, I had helped slaughter a cow and attended a charismatic Christian church. I began to learn the art of preparing traditional Zulu food. I fell asleep at night listening to wind hiss through a tin roof.

After Dolly and I swept the floors, she handed me a bucket filled with a bit of soapy water. I thought we were going to splash it on the hard, brown clay floors, but instead, I was beckoned into the yard. It was a bright and chilly day. Roosters walked in lazy circles around a dozen cows that were chomping grass in the kraal. Dolly led me to a pile of fresh manure. Confused as to how the manure related to floor cleaning, Dolly demonstrated the point for me. She grabbed some dung with her hand, dropped it in the bucket, and swirled it. She repeated the process until a thick, smooth paste was formed. Then, she took me back inside the house, scooped the mixture onto the floor, and rubbed it in using a circular motion. It dried quickly, and now I understood why the floors looked so beautiful. We went back outside. "Your turn!" she said.

Yet, something happened as I contemplated a fresh pile of droppings. Every time I tried to stick my hand into the shimmering dung, I just froze. Dolly began to giggle. She knew I was a city girl. One of the cows mooed, and cocked a disapproving eye at me. Most disconcertingly, a small crowd of neighborhood women had formed, affectionately calling out my Zulu nickname and urging me on. "Come on Dudu, you can do it!" (Dudu means auntie in Zulu, though alternate connotations were becoming apparent to me!). "Oh Dudu, its okay," Dolly said, laughing, indicting that I did not have to continue. I did not want to give in so easily though. Luckily, inspiration struck. I ran into the house, suddenly grateful I had packed a particular product that I have found to be endlessly useful while traveling. I prepared myself, and then worked my way slowly back to the main entrance of the house. Hidden in the shadows of the doorway, I could see the entire village clustered in front of the kraal, but they could not see me. I took a deep breath and stepped over the threshold. I thrust up my hands, now encased in Ziplock bags. There was a hush, and then a roar of laughter. I waved my plastic paws proudly, sunlight glinting off of them, and walked across the yard. Dolly nodded approvingly, and we went back to work.

 

Women's words on courage...

'A woman is like a tea bag. You can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water'.
(Nancy Reagan, Washington, USA)

'Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's own courage'.
(Anais Nin, The Diary of Anais Nin, 1969)

'The only courage that matters is the courage that gets you from one moment to the next.'
(Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966)

'With courage a human being is safe enough. And without it - she is never safe.'
(Phyllis Bottome, The Mortal Storm, 1939)

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