An Evening with Karin Muller

Karin Muller, a travel journalist for National Geographic with documentaries spanning the globe, hosted a pre-screening of her latest documentary, Egypt’s Secret Side at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Union South. 

Muller presented a lecture, Artistic Inspiration From Animal Sex Lives followed by two nights of Egypt’s Secret Side pre-screenings and buffets of authentic Egyptian dishes.  Though it sounded like a wine and paint event, the lecture happened to be quite humorous and educational.  She lectured on how animals have evolved and their continued success of their species.  Informational yet shocking at times, Muller uses her wit and often takes examples from her own dating experiences to compare the mating behaviors of animals.

Topics included; promiscuity versus monogamy, what attracts mates, why fathers matter and why size matters, i.e. length of insect eye shafts.  She mostly discussed insects, non-human primates, small mammals and birds.  Though strength and virility are important, female birds often choose mates based on flamboyance or gifts provided as an indication of the type of father they will be.  She compared and contrasted testicle to body size ratios of gorillas, chimps and bonobos and how these physical attributes play a role in their social behaviors.  The night concluded with a bonus video featuring the celestial mating ritual of Leopard slugs.

The following evenings offered an optional pre-screening buffet, which is part of a travel film series hosted by the UW.  Seasoned chefs at the Union South provided a family style dinner that included an all-you-can-eat buffet featuring dishes unique to the region of the featured film; baba ghanoush, hummus, falafel, tagine, and lamb moussaka.  The other dinner guests were very informative and excited to talk about past events and looking forward to future events.

Although Muller has pre-screened other documentaries, Cuba, Japan, Sudan, this was the first I attended.  If you are familiar with any of Muller’s documentaries, you know she fully immerses herself in the culture and spends three months at a time getting the finest details of often misunderstood aspects of a country.  In Egpyt’s Secret Side, Muller settles in with a host family and wears a hijab during the film. It opens with traditional family life in Cairo by introducing the Zabbaleen, also known as trash collectors, a minority population in Egypt consisting of Coptic Christians.  She later focuses on Cairo’s upward growth of dwellings and daily vehicle compaction in and around the city.  Cairo is at the center of political and economic activity in which Muller provides a window into the issues surrounding the city’s municipal waste system and leads into bigger issues with Egypt’s civil unrest.

The second part of the film reveals upheaval and citizens protesting in the streets that goes on for days and eventually leads to angry mobs and rioting, where mostly women are the targets for attack.  She hones in on the division in political and religious beliefs.  Egyptians long for stability and are fighting to rid the country of corruption.  She flees to the countryside for relief from the protesting but only to find herself under dire situations due to the political strife.

Muller eventually makes it out of Egypt and eager to share her compelling story.  She interacts before, after and during the viewing and gave an intimate narrative of the film as well as answered questions.  Her message is this; Egypt is still a developing country and remains in conflict.  Their view of Americans is just as misguided as our view of them.  The only way to break the futile cycle is to educate one another and open ourselves to new perspectives.

I look forward to her next visit to Madison!

University of Wisconsin-Madison Union Theater Travel Adventure Series

Karin Muller is the author and filmmaker of Hitchhiking Vietnam, Cuba’s Secret Side, Sudan’s Secret Side, and Along/The Royal Inca Road.  I started following Ms. Muller in 2013 when I traveled to Vietnam with my mom.  Although Hitchhiking Vietnam was published nearly two decades ago, the spiritual journey it provided was just as relevant as learning about my mom’s life in Vietnam over 50 years ago.  It became my travel guide and inspired me to be as adventurous as Muller, at least as much as I could with my mom.



Half Marathon Jitters

I finally pulled the trigger and registered for my first half marathon, Her Madison Half.  I really don’t know why I waited so long.  Friends and family members have been urging me to run one for years, yet it was a simple Facebook post that finally encouraged me to sign up.

I haven’t slacked, as I have been preparing for the last 10 weeks or so and nearly had a panic attack anticipating it.  At less than two weeks to go, I began paying more attention to my body.  For example, that annoying little side stitch/cramp got a little louder so I decided to research it on the internet.

In my stubbornness, I refused to read Runner’s World or other serious running blogs in the past, with the misconception that it catered to elite athletes.  But really, they’re quite informative for beginners, intermediate, and advanced runners alike.

I knew side cramps were common, but had no idea it had to do with the expansion of the abdominal diaphragm muscle while breathing during long runs and as a result, I was suffering referred pain in my shoulder.  It’s no wonder why breathing techniques in yoga are helpful with this problem.  Breathing exercises help to stretch the diaphragm for efficient oxygen intake.

I have been attending yoga at least once a week but to counter my problem, I think two to three times a week would have been more beneficial as I increased my weekly mileage.

Another issue was that of my feet, specifically my right foot.  Thinking I made a real steal with an online purchase of last season’s Saucony Guide 7, I sacrificed a proper fit.  However, the Saucony Grid Cohesions have always been a reliable shoe for me, because I actually went to the store and tried them on, but I failed to do so with my awesome internet purchase. Consequently, my right toes became cramped, tingly and later numb shortly after I began my half training.  With the race nearing, purchasing a new pair is out of the question, therefore, I am relying on my old shoes to get me through the race.

I stepped out with the oldies for my last long run before the race and felt a world of a difference!  There was some slight discomfort, most likely to the shape of my foot and fall of my stride, but at least there was no tingling sensation or numbness.


With the race just around the corner, I will be light on the feet and focusing more on breathing techniques and downward facing dog.

Shaking Off the Cold

A few months too late, but a transient heat wave awakened this dormant bug from a wicked winter.  However, I wasn’t totally dormant.  It can be extremely difficult turning over a new leaf when your under 6 feet of snow.  Shortly after the New Year, I signed up for a Thinner Winner Contest through the Fall River Recreation Department, with bootcamp classes twice a week and all-inclusive access to the pool and weight room for eight weeks. 

I have to admit, it kick started my butt into high gear by motivating me to go on a 3 day juice cleanse/detox and I lost 4 pounds within the first week.  Unfortunately, I trailed off but stuck through the exercise classes.  Not only did I participate in the contest, I ran the treadmill, did yoga and pilates and went for an occasional swim. 

In the end, I didn’t lose a shocking amount of weight … 7 pounds to be exact, but it was better than nothing.  I’m happy for those that lost more, they worked hard for it. 

Thanks Kaleb and Brad at the Fall River Rec for pushing me through this harsh winter!

Goals for this spring and summer, train for a sprint triathlon and maybe lose another 7 pounds by the start of summer.