Melissa Stevens


Melissa Stevens

I am a graduate student of anthropology in my early 30's focusing on community-based cultural tourism. I am from Philadelphia (U.S.A.) and I am married to Woods, who writes funny, scary, and affecting stories and sets them to punk/western/surf/folk music. I usually do not travel in comfort but I do travel well.

Update: I am in Tanzania for 10 months conducting research for my PhD in Cultural Anthropology. I'm the resident Mzungu in the mostly Maasai village of Longido, which is about 1.5 hrs north of Arusha. I'm writing about my experiences as a traveler in Tanzania and as a researcher trying to understand how the Maasai feel about cultural tourism in their village. Read on if you're interested in Tanzania, the Maasai, cultural tourism, ethnographic research, or me.

Africa » Tanzania » Centre » Iringa November 23rd 2012

I didn’t plan it this way, but spending three weeks learning Swahili outside of Iringa was the perfect introduction to Tanzania. Even though I’ve been to Tanzania before, and I’ve done a lot of traveling, culture shock is always a nasty reminder that I am in fact human and I cannot always predict and control my responses to travel experiences. Since I’m writing this entry several weeks after the fact, I can reflect on how my gentle introduction to Tanzania was a blessing. The Iringa Swahili School ( holds its lessons at River Valley Camp, which is nestled up along the Little Ruaha River and a half hour drive to Iringa town. I spent three weeks there, October 8-28. The Camp consists of stone and tented bandas, little wooden cabins, a dining room, a TV room, ... read more
Woman in the River

Africa » Tanzania » East » Dar es Salaam November 15th 2012

As soon as I stepped out onto the tarmac at Dar es Salaam airport, I was assaulted by an olfactory stew of vegetation, sweat, dust, and burnt charcoal. I felt blanketed by nostalgia. I don’t have full sense of smell (Woods calls it “smell blindness”), and most of the time I don’t smell anything at all, but those specific smells have a strong association with the Tanzania of my memory. And there was certainly no mistaking where I was once I entered the airport and dealt with customs. There was a disorganized crowd standing in a cluster by a row of windows and armed security milling about looking bored. Customs agents called out names, and one at a time people shuffled forward, then shuffled back to the crowd, and then shuffled forward again, etc. There were ... read more
My Cabana
A View of the Lodge from the Ocean
The Vagabundo

Africa » Tanzania November 14th 2012

I’ve been on the bus for four hours. My whole body aches from being wedged into an obsenely tiny seat, and the slight breeze from the opened window does little but add to the layer of dust collecting on my face. I already miss the beach, and my little wooden cabana, and most of all, the breeze from the ocean. I have at least four more hours to go before arriving in Iringa when the song “Time to Pretend” by MGMT comes on my iPod. Immediately, as if summoned into existence by the song, zebra appear by the side of the road. Then there are impala, then giraffe, then kudu. Finally, a troop of baboon comes into view and then disappears with the last bars of the song as the bus continues hurtling down the road. ... read more

These additional photos are courtesy of Mr. Vinh.... read more
Me and Victor Kayaking Phong Nha Ke Bang
Me and Victor Kayaking Phong Nha Ke Bang
Me and Victor Kayaking Phong Nha Ke Bang

Asia » Vietnam » North Central Coast » Quang Binh » Dong Hoi July 22nd 2008

I have been working myself ragged which is maybe how I got sick. I went to the pharmacist and mocked some coughing and nose blowing and then rubbed my throat (glad I didn't have any diarrhea to act out). So she gave me cold/flu medicine that contained stuff I recognized and then four different meds that she indicated were for my throat. I didn't want to buy them all so I grabbed one and went home to look up the active ingredients. Evidently, it's a drug only found in Vietnam. It's still sitting unopened in my drawer... Mom will be glad to know that besides the random cough I'm better. I worked a bit on Saturday, but devoted Sunday to the Sun Spa Resort. It's about $5 USD a day to swim in the pool or ... read more
The Lawn With Palms
Sebastian, Jouchen, Victor
Sun Spa Resort, Dong Hoi

I am now sick with a bad cold or the flu or some such nonsense. But earlier this week I was having a much much better time. Monday, Mr. Vinh and I took the car on the road around the park to take promotional photos and to check distance and difficulty for each section of the proposed biking route. We also re-visited the Tam Co or "8 Volunteer" or "8 Girl" cave where 8 youth volunteers were killed during the war when the cave where they were taking shelter in collapsed during an American bombing raid. There is a temple built to all youth volunteers killed in the war and the cave entrance contains a shrine. We also visited a Botanical Garden and hiked the trail that winds through the forest. I stayed overnight in Phong ... read more
Tam Co Cave Temple
Tam Co Cave Shrine
Mr. Vinh Taking Picture on Roof of Car

Asia » Vietnam » North Central Coast » Quang Binh » Dong Hoi July 13th 2008

I had plans to work through the weekend in order to save up free days for a trip to Hoi An later, but Greg and Evi invited me to Phong Nha to check out the Eco-Trail and I couldn't resist. I can actually count a few hours of this as work since the Eco-Trail will be part of the tour options we are developing. Before leaving I had coffee Saturday morning in Dong Hoi with my Counterpart colleague Mr. Quy and some others. We had made plans for 8am coffee and I woke up kicking myself for agreeing to voluntarily wake up that early on a weekend. 3am is often bedtime for me in the U.S., but in Vietnam, many people actually wake at 3am to begin their day. Insanity. I got to the cafe and ... read more
Trekking the Eco-Trail
Eco-Trail Builder's Camp
Trekking the Eco-Trail

Asia » Vietnam » North Central Coast » Quang Binh » Dong Hoi July 11th 2008

On Wednesday I visited Chay Lap Village, the location of our pilot community-based tourism project. A lot of progress has been made since I was last involved last summer. A CBT Village Management Board has been set up and they have been busy. As with everything in Vietnam, there have been many bureaucratic hurdles to get past, but now the focus is on constructing the homestay buildings and training the local people. One household was chosen for the pilot. We'll start small and develop more as everyone learns. Two traditionally styled wooden houses are being built on the family's property. They chose an excellent location, pretty far off the road (nobody gunning their motorbike engines at 5am), in the shadow of beautiful green mountains and surrounded by the family's gardens and fruit tree groves. The houses ... read more
Constructing House #1
"5 Dragon" Roof Beam
Constructing House #1

Asia » Vietnam » North Central Coast » Quang Binh » Dong Hoi July 8th 2008

I have returned to Vietnam this July to work on the same community-based tourism project as last summer. The project is located in Quang Binh province in the buffer zone of the UNESCO World Heritage site Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. I am now working primarily on marketing and promotional material for the project. Last summer I was an intern, but this summer I am all grown up with a Masters degree in Anthropology, so I have been commissioned as a professional consultant. I guess this is the start of my real career. (Good-bye waiting tables! I hope.) I arrived in the early hours of July 5th after a hellish flight involving screaming babies, bad movies that I couldn't even see from my seat, restless kids kicking my back, and 4 1/2 hours stranded in my ... read more

North America » United States » Maryland » Baltimore September 30th 2007

So, I've been home over a month and I have about two entries I wrote in Vietnam that I never posted and one more I should write to conclude the trip. This is just an entry promising that I will post these entries in the next day or two. And a little update: I just started taking martial arts classes with a crazy Vietnamese grandmaster who was the Southeast Asian champ. He swears he will teach me Vietnamese if it kills me. That would be helpful (learning more Vietnamese, not getting killed) in case I am able to return to Vietnam next summer. Victor already said that he'd love me to come back. But of course, I can't afford it if I'm not getting paid as a consultant, so it depends if they need me to ... read more

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