Life in Malta, Part 3: Networking


My my how time flies! One year ago I was writing to say I was leaving to India for a fellowship, and now here I am abroad, not sitting in a cute little café and drinking a cappuccino, but actually about to return to the states with a baby on one hip and four babies on the other hip. Or is it five? I don’t really remember, but I guess however many I get through airport security with is how many I’ll bring to the homeless shelter with me.

I just stopped over to visit a friend in Italy for a few days and will then return to the good ol’ USA. Hey, come on—I’m pretty nearby and need to pack on an extra few before I return home so everyone believes the bit about the pregnancies. Anyhow, Malta was good to me. I realized that no matter where in the world I am, friends and strangers alike offer their kindness, learning experiences, and adventures within every walk of life. And how does one meet these people, you ask? I’ve found that networking, a term which I used to hate, has come in so very handy with meeting people—even people on the small island of Malta. As you should know by now, I simply love standing around in a fancy-schmancy atmoshphere, awkwardly “connecting” and noshing on awkward things like chips and dips, fondue, and hummus in order to explain to fellow unemployed people how we can pretend to be of use to each other. My remedy? I went out into the real world for mini sessions of “Coop’s Networking Nightz on the Streetz.” Here then are bits of these conversations so that you, the viewer, can understand how to network while abroad.


Street Scene 1: The donut truck man parked on the street

Man: You want some donuts?

Me: Hmm…well they do look pretty good…but I

Man: No, you really don’t look like you need them. You really don’t.

Me: Wha–


Street Scene 2: Inside a small corner shop

Random Maltese Woman: Hello–where are you from?

Me: I’m from the USA.

RMW: Oh, America! What do you think of our country?

Me: Well it’s very beautiful and many peope are friendly.

RMW: America is a big country, yes? And you people make lots of movies and are loud I think.

Me: Well yes, Malta is very tiny compared to America, and yes, we tend to be somewhat loud p—

Interrupting American: DO YOU HAVE ANY HEINEKEN 6 PACKS?

RMW: No, but we have Cisk. You know, Maltese beer.


Me: I’m sorry.

RMW: Don’t act all innocent. I’ve heard your cackle.


Street Scene 3: Along the promenade, speaking with a first-time scuba diving customer

Me: Hi there, and what do you do?

Guy: I’m a magician.

Me: Oh, awesome! You do stage magic or i—wait, how come I’m no longer wearing any clothes?


Street Scene 4: Walking on the streets of Gozo

Voice: (From behind. Husky-ish.) Hullo Kuh-thryn.


Same creepy old 4-foot-tall man: Hey there, hey, hi, hi you. We’re going to be all right. All right. Yeah.

Me: (Audibly shudders)


Street Scene 5: Couple giving me a ride.

Couple: Are you on holiday here?

Me: No, I’m working here for a scuba diving guide on Malta & Gozo.

Couple: Very nice! We’re on vacation.

Me: (confused since they sound Maltese) From…?

Couple: From Floriana! (near the nation’s capital, approximately 30 minutes away)

Me: So you come here on vacation. Er, holiday.

Couple: Yes, when it’s the weekend or we need to relax, we come here.

Me: Ah. I see. Well that’s close by! Do you ever travel…abroad?

Couple: Sometimes we go to Gozo!

Me: Ah. Mhmm. What about…to other countries?

Couple: Our friend once took the ferry…to ITALY! Wow!

Me: And I thought Maltese peeps didn’t get out much!


Street Scene 6: On the street, innocently waiting for the bus

Random Nigerian Man: How are YOU?

Me: Uh, I’m fine, thanks.

RNM: My name is !Xobile. Are you married?

Me: Well you skipped over quite the courtship period, now didn’t you?

RNM: I would like to invite you to marry me and be my 6th wife.

Me: I’m flattered, really. Under more normal cir—

RNM: Boom! Married. 


I’ll be back in the U.S. in just a matter of days. I assume it’ll be the usual: Jet-lagged sleep; the eating of brownies, cookies, processed food, and cheap Chinese food; seeing friends; doctor’s appointment; enjoying consistent hot showers; not having folks stare; job hunting; and gchatting with my newest Nigerian prince. Until Italy and the end-of-the-year’s Best Of 2012 list, I’m out!




[Photos: Unedited goodies from the isands of Gozo and Northwestern Malta]


[click above to see multiple photos in one go]


Photography from Thailand’s Secluded Mountains (Update Part 18)



My last two weeks in Thailand were rife with incredible caves, rewarding teaching, fascinating hikes, and dreams of chewy, cheesy pizza. So much happened that it’s easier if you look at photos instead of falling asleep reading my endless rants. Just the ride down the mountain could have me blabbing for days on end, involving almost crashing, getting stuck in mud, being laughed at by locals, passing incredible waterfalls, surviving when we rode off the cliff (kidding–we only came close to doing so), marveling at the karst caves and jungle rivers, and so much more. So here, much like my Nepalese episode, are some photos from my last few days spent in the gorgeous mountains of Thailand. [click any photo to enlarge]


It’s real



Celebrating with my awesome fellow teachers. Well, the real ones who (sort of) work hard every day (of the workweek) and live in the mountains (except on weekends)



That’s my rather large posterior on the right, rice farming. Well, I’m doing the rice farming, not my buttocks.



One of my students–an old soul


The most beautiful bug I’ve ever seen. Legendary for its good luck and something else I didn’t understand. And no, no editing program ever came into contact with this photo–these are its natural neon-like colors



Another of my young students, happy as could be at 7AM



My last shot taken while standing alone on the moutain road, waiting to be picked up by my friend. Goodbye, mountains

Thailand is for Taunters (Update Part 17)


As you all know, I am quite the critical person. I am a tough judge when it comes to people, food, places—almost anything. But man, I have nothing on the people of Thailand: The Land of Smiles. During my many weeks there, especially those spent living in the secluded northern mountains with fellow teachers and Sanit’s family, was tough. Even though most knew no English, they still managed to memorize phrases or actions to notify me of my (multiple) wrongdoings. They railed on me no matter what I was doing, and the very second I did something correctly, I was ridiculed (with smiles, of course) for doing two more things wrong.

I put my spoon in my bowl wrong and offended people.

The sticky rice balls I rolled were not of the proper shape.

I wrung out my laundry wrong.

The rice I planted was not of the right depth.

I apparently offended someone because my buttocks was too high up in the air and pointed in her general direction while I was planting rice. Now I need to have policy-checking eyes on the back of my heinies, too? I can’t even farm right.

I made a mistake while hoeing the rubber saplings and left a ½”-wide, ¼”-deep cut. They somehow immediately found it and chastised me.

I ate things in the wrong order. Wait, how was I supposed to know that a bowl of a cut-up vegetable is dessert?

If I sat on the floor with my legs to the side, it was a time when I was supposed to sit cross-legged. When I sat with my legs crossed, I was scolded for not sitting with my legs to the side.

I put my boots in the wrong place and made a whole army of farmers shake their heads in disapproval.

I took the wriggling maggots out of the eggplant wrong.

I washed the edible thorn plant wrong. Though even when washed correctly, those thorns still hurt an awful lot while being swallowed.

I hit the kids wrong with my stick. No, I’m kidding on that one.

I know what you’re going to say: This is all they’ve ever done, so they’re good at it, and they’re not used to foreigners, so they’re not sure how to deal with me, and that this is my first time doing all these things, so of course I won’t be good at it. This is all true, but it sure doesn’t make me feel any better. In fact, in a really vindictive way, I almost wish some of these people could come to America just to realize how it feels to be corrected all the time. Wow, I’m a mean person. But that’s how you’d feel if you were here, too.

Then, as I’m sitting and trying not to express my true feelings, auntie comes walking in and starts pawing through my belongings. She finds everything endlessly fascinating. She unfolds almost every article of clothing to look at it, so once again I have to fold it back up and re-pack. Thanks, auntie. Oh well. I guess it uses up more time, time that would be spent with me getting criticized for washing mushrooms wrong, mopping wrong, or just, you know, living wrong.

It takes a lot to offend me and even more to make me feel dejected, but when you’re being criticized, talked about, and judged18 hours every day (even the method with which I entered and exited the mosquito net, for example, was wrong), it gets to you. They break you down. There’s no one to listen to you vent. You can’t explain the situation to anyone. Even now, you have no idea what it was like. Well, I asked for it, and they’re all good people—they’re not TRYING to break me down, after all. And really, the experience, scenery, wildlife, and everything else outweighed the fact that I cried myself to sleep every night. No, I didn’t do that.

Despite my massive sarcasm, honest feelings, and downright evil personality, I still can be counted on to write the truth. And Thailand is, honestly, still my favorite foreign country. Nepal is a close second, though. Aside from my near-vomituitous experiences with most of the food here, and the constant criticism, I really just absolutely love the countryside. I’ve been exploring backyard caves, slipping down muddy roads, hanging out in awkward situations, walking down random paths, and just loving what I get to see every day. The mountains here may be my favorite place I’ll ever go, and I’m pretty sure I’ll keep coming back for the rest of my life. With MREs, of course. 

Above: Mountain time

Below: Town time



Life in Northern Thailand: An Interview (Update Part 16)

I thought you’d be interested in seeing the official transcript of my recent interview with จริงๆคุณทำงานเพื่อแปลนี้ from Why Am I Here? Weekly, a travel media network.

Key: I = Interviewer; Me = Kathryn Cooper

Happy reading!


I: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me today.

Me: No problem. Really, what else am I doing?


I: Good point. So tell me about your experiences here in Nan Province, where I hear you’ve spent time in both the town and the moun—OW! WHAT IS BITING ME?

Me: Oh, that’s Solenopsis invicta, or the Thai red fir– 


I: I DON’T CARE WHAT THEY ARE. Just tell me how to get them off of me.

Me: Well, with all the biting ants, whether big or small, black or red, I find that you really have to wear the right clothing in the first place—thick pants, socks covering the–


I: You are not helping. This is really not a positive start.

Me: Welcome to Thailand, the land of smiles.


I: I probably shouldn’t say this, but did someone wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning or what?

Me: I wouldn’t call it a bed, and… [sighs] Sorry. It’s just that I’m so hungry all of the time. I…I knew all the rice was going to be bad, but it’s just so…bad. I can’t think about much other than the fact that I’m hungry all the time.


I: Eaten anything interesting?

Me: Well, Santol is a fruit found here that I’ve never seen or heard of. It looks like a tan mangosteen, but one only can eat the middle flesh section—not the skin or white inner pulp. It’s roughly chopped and served with fish sauce, cilantro, dried shrimp paste, and hot pepper flakes. I’ve tried it several times and each time it’s worse. Gah.  


I: I didn’t know you could speak in hyperlinks.

Me: [smug shrug]


I: So have you noticed anything weird or experience something unforgettable during your time in northern Thailand?

Me: What hasn’t been weird, really? For example, I noticed in my friend’s house that right beside the place they told me to keep my big pack (I could only fit a backpack for my trip up the mountain to the school), there was a large dish on the floor filled with long, dark brown objects, which I assumed were some sort of half-rice, half-orzo objects. It wasn’t until more than 15 days later when I noticed bits of rice on the floor and what was decidedly mouse poop. Then it dawned on me…were they actually collecting the mouse poop? That could have been part of what it was. It sounds disgusting and crazy, but considering that my friend’s mother watches tv at night and ends up with a collection of 50 or so dead mosquitoes next to her (yes, she actually puts them in a neat little pile), it’s not that crazy.


I: I think you enjoy grossing your audience out. You do realize that all 4 people seeing this have a disgusted look on their faces right now, right? Is there anything you could say right now to make them feel better?

Me: Well, I could tell you a more normal food story. I bought pineapple at the local market as a little treat. We cut it on a platter for all 6 of us—me, my friend, his parents, and his two aunts—and munched away. It was just delicious—perfectly ripe and juicy. I looked up and on both sides of the table, people were making the most grossed-out, I-just-ate-something-disgusting look. “What, what? It’s delicious! What is it?” My friend wouldn’t explain, but both aunts rushed off and came back. One aunt dumped salt on one side of the platter and the other aunt dumped raw sugar. Huh? I was the only one who ate it plain. I just don’t get it, and I never will.


I: Has anything totally crazy or dangerous happened?

Me: Well, my mom’s going to be reading this, so I don’t want to say anything that will scare her. Really, aside from the two near-accidents and the near-surgeries, plus a few gun and knife incidents, nothing really was that dangerous.


I: Uh…I mean…you do realize that what you just said will make your mother more nervous now?

Me: Oh, absolutely.


I: You’re obnoxious.

Me: You’re unprofessional.


I: [sighs] Well okay, let’s try to look on the bright side. Have you figured out anything in your life?

Me: Oh, absolutely! For 3 years I’ve been wondering why Thai orange juice is so darn delicious. I finally found the ingredients in English: 12% juice, 10% sugar, 10% fructose, and the rest is water or “natural” flavorings.


I: That’s not really what I meant, but fine. Can you tell us something truly positive?

Me: Well, yes I can. I’m having an amazing time despite the usual frustrations and terrible food. Just going for walks is memorable every time. The people are crazy, the views are fantastic, and I swear even the butterflies are happy here. My ride down from the mountain was luckly to see clear skies and no rain for most of the trip, and I was blessed I got to see mountain crops, jungles, waterfalls and brooks, craggy limestone peaks and caves…it was just beauty I have no words for. Imagine the valleys and hills of Switzerland, the landscape of tropical New Zealand, and the greenery of Iceland. Not that I’ve ever been to those places, but from the photos I see, that’s an apt way of describing this place. I feel so lucky I got to see this place and in that respect, I don’t want to leave.


I: Well thank you for your time. It’s nice to end on a positive note.

Me: [deleted]