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October 20, 2002 - Bali.
I can hardly think of anything else. How sad, how tragic, how senseless. I am not there, but at the end of this entry I am reprinting the letter I received from Laurie Billington. Laurie, who is an American married to a Balinese man, also includes some suggestions for contributions if anyone wants to help.

Over the last year, I’ve been told by many that after reading my book, they planned Bali vacations. Others wrote (before the bombs) to ask if I thought it was safe to go to Bali. I told everyone that Bali is an oasis in a country that is rumbling, and I encouraged people to visit my favorite place in the world, people from all over the world, including many Australians. I pray that no one was hurt or killed because of me. My heart, my soul, my tears go out to all those who were touched by this tragedy………the many Balinese victims as well as the foreign vacationers.

After nearly three months in Seattle (and three years of writing and promoting), I’m finally headed back into a nomadic life. Since my last talk in Columbus, Ohio, on June 22nd, I’ve been saying no to all invitations to talk in bookstores, libraries, and universities……..although I did get over my funk by meeting Seattle e-mailers for coffee or dinner and joining a few bookclubs in the area when they were discussing NOMAD.

During those months I renewed old friendships and made new ones…….and I especially enjoyed being close to Jan. On October tenth I flew to Atlanta to visit Mitch and Melissa, which was fun.

I’m writing this at Bob and Elaine’s house in Fairfield (That’s “Uncle” Bob who visited me in New Zealand and went out on the mussel barge that I wrote about.). Last night a group of cousins went out to dinner, and I’ll be seeing Amparo and Gera on the weekend. I have a wedding on Sunday in New Jersey. I’ll be staying with Laura Schenone in Montclaire, NJ, on Sunday night. Laura was one of the writers I met in the Allen Room in the NYC library where I wrote my book. Watch for her book, which is coming out in Fall, 2003 from Norton --- A THOUSAND YEARS OVER A HOT STOVE: A History of American Women Told Through Food, Recipes, and Rememberances. I haven’t read it, but I know it’s good. It should get some prominent --- and excellent --- reviews.

And then……..finally……..on Monday morning I’m headed out from Newark airport. My first destination is St. Croix in the American Virgin Islands to visit cousins Amanda and Jonathan. Amanda is Bob and Elaine’s daughter, my first cousin. Jonathan owns radio stations in the Caribbean…….I’ve never been down there.

I have no dates from then on. I’ll just play it as it comes. I would love to find a private sailboat that is making its way through the islands towards the South American coast. I’d volunteer to earn my keep by cooking. I have no idea how to make that happen, but I’m sure Amanda will point me in the right direction (ie: the places where itinerant sailboats moor when they’re in St. Croix). I’d like to pop in and out of some of the islands down there and meet some of the natives. And I like the idea of hanging out for a while with sailors who are living their dreams. I do have a couple of contacts on the islands. I met a woman named Janine when I was in Seattle who is now working as a mid-wife in St. Lucia……..and my old friend Don from Vancouver is in Trinidad running a program for Simon Fraser University. I’m hoping to visit him. But my ultimate destination is Surinam.

It’s on the northeast coast of South America. It used to be Dutch Guyana until independence in 1975. I didn’t even know it existed until a man came up to me afer a talk in New York. “I’m a travel writer and I’ve been all over the world,” he said. “If I tell you my favorite place in the world, will you promise not to write about it?” Of course. “Surinam,” he said, offering no commentary.

Surinam is south of Venezuela (after Guyana, which used to be British Guyana); first language is Dutch. All I know at this point is that there are multiple cultures down there…..Dutch, lots of descendants of the African slaves that the Dutch imported, many Indonesians from Java and Indians from India who worked as indentured servants after the slaves were freed. And there are native Indians too……and all sorts of mixes. It sounds intriguing.

I had parked the name in the back of my head for more than a year, waiting for some sign. I mentioned it in my e-mails as a possibility. Then Kim wrote from Manhattan that she knew someone who had recently been assigned to the American Embassy in Surinam. And I got another letter from someone who was in the Peace Corp down there. And then I discovered that there are 19 Servas members in Paramaribo, the capital city. There are rivers, ocean, and jungle. So………I’m going to see what it’s all about.

I hope this doesn’t count as “writing about it.”

I am having a hard time keeping up with my e-mails. I’m now about 200 behind. I have no idea if I’ll be able to continue answering them. And I don’t have the software to send one of those out-of-office messages to everyone. My friend, Jaime Restrepo (Amparo’s son) is going to help me tomorrow. He’s written three basic books about computers for Random House in Spanish. I’m hoping I can set up some system that will not disappoint everyone who is hoping for an answer. And I am hoping to add to this journal more often.

I do want to say that I am not opening any e-mails that come with attachments. They are almost always worm viruses. Sorry.

I should add that I have some thoughts and plans beyond Surinam. I have an invitation to visit the American Embassy School in New Delhi from March 3rd to March 7th…as their guest. That would be in the role of children’s book writer………and I will also talk about my travels. I’ve never been to India, so I’d probably stay for a couple of months (I have to be in the US for a wedding that they think is going to be in May.)

And then, I’m hoping to go to Alaska. Ideally, I’d like to be sponsored as a Writer-in-Residence and flown around to schools all over the state. Any information on whom I should write to would be most appreciated. I also have the names of people in several of the Native Alaskan Indian communities……….I’d like to volunteer to visit schools and work with people who want to write about their heritage.

I’m hoping to arrive in Alaska in the late spring and stay through the winter. I want to be there for the Iditerod (the dog sled race) which I think is in March. Any help on how I can make all this happen would be very welcome.

A playful idea: check out

And now, here is that letter from Laurie in Bali. Thanks for sticking around.



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