Bittersweet Goodbye

So I know it’s been a while since I last blogged, but in my defense the last few weeks have been CRAZY hectic. In an attempt to be somewhat organized, this post will be separated into five subsections: IST, Media Project, Enrichment Week, INDIA POR LO GENERAL, and Thailand. First up: IST!
As I briefly mentioned in my last post, a whole bunch of us were thinking about hiking one of the amazing mountains we’re surrounded by for our IST, and that was exactly what we ended up doing. 14 of the 15 of us did indeed hike a mountain, but we subdivided into two groups: those who would camp for two nights on the mountain, and those who would only camp for one. Despite warnings about the bitter cold and rock hard ground under the sleeping bags provided at the top, I elected to join the two night camping group. We left immediately after lunch on Thursday afternoon for Dharmashala, a nearby city that’s located at the direct base of the aforementioned climbing mountain. We spent the night in the city and left at around 9:30 the next morning for the hike, which ended up taking around 4-5 hours and covered 9 kilometers and 3,000 feet. As someone who’s never gone hiking before, I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but I was definitely surprised by the sheer amount of sweat my body was able to produce over this period of time. On a more pleasant note, I was also taken away by the overwhelming sense of wonder I got upon reaching the top. I wish there were enough words in the English language to paint an accurate picture of the view; the snow covering the mountains that scraped against the skyline behind us, the clouds that seemed close enough to pluck out of the endless blue sky, the way the lights of the city below lit up the world, mirroring the countless stars the shone above our heads as the sun set. It was, in a word, amazing. We spent the days climbing rocks and playing capture the flag, and the nights sitting around the bonfire and laughing in our stuffy red tents. It was more than happiness; it was pure, unrestrained, unfiltered joy.
And now, on to part two: MEDIA PROJECTS!!!
As was to be expected, media projects were a source of extreme stress and frustration for most of us, but I think we were all (to some degree) satisfied with the end results. There were seven different groups this time around, and a much wider range of mediums used. Sophie, Noah and I elected to still base most of our project on interviews, but we chose to use only the audio while using Quicktime’s screen capture tool to chronicle the research process that had gone into our creation of the project. Our general topic was marriage, more specifically the traditional practice of arranged marriage. We were able to talk to a wide variety of people about this subject, and focused on having a more open-ended discussion rather than a straight-laced interview in order to more effectively gather information and opinions on a somewhat touchy subject. In the end, it wasn’t the best video ever created, but I’m pretty happy with it, especially considering our limited timeline. I’m not sure how to get the video online, but hopefully I’ll be able to put it on Facebook or something in the coming weeks. If I’m ever able to figure it out, I would love thoughts, comments and concerns!! I do think it is an extremely interesting topic, and I definitely feel like I learned a lot through this exploration.
Third: ENRICHMENT WEEK!
The first three days of our enrichment week were spent in Agra, which we reached by yet another thirteen hour train ride. The highlights of our time there include midnight runs to McDonalds for McFlurries, a tour of a beautiful Agra fort, and, of course, the TAJ MAHAL!!! It really was amazing, even if we did ruin it by comparing the shape to that of a finely formed breast (TBB: Ruining Monuments Across the Globe). After that, we headed off to New Delhi, where we spent the next few days relaxing (at least as much as we could in a place like India). Some days we spent the entire day relaxing in the hotel, and others were spent out exploring the city. One anecdote from those few days is when a group of us headed out to see the Ghandi museum, which we had researched and heard to be super interesting. After about 45 minutes walking around a somewhat confusing house-turned-museum, we realized we were at the Indira Ghandi museum by mistake, which was a completely different museum! She really was an interesting woman, the daughter of the Prime Minister during Mahatma Ghandi’s time, and ended up being the first female Prime Minister of India. Dehli also had some comforting flashes of home, including a Starbucks and a Nandos restaurant, so those were fun surprises. All in all, a very different enrichment week than the one in Addo, but still a fun one, mostly because of all the time we got to spend together as a TBB family!
Next up: India, overall.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved going to India. I really did. The food was unspeakably amazing, the clothes were blindingly colorful, and there was never a dull moment. But I think that was part of what made India so hard. There was never a dull moment. We went to work in the mornings and struggled with our roles there, went to seminar and tackled global and local issues surrounding education and development, and then went home and had to constantly be on with our host families. It was, in a word, exhausting. And I constantly felt challenged, both by the work we were doing and with living in a country who’s cultural values went against so many of my own, such as a strong stance against needlessly polluting and littering. Add that to the fact that a majority of the girls in the group were groped at least once while we were in a crowd in one of the cities, and I had more than a few issues with India. Am I happy I went? Definitely. South Africa was fun, but it was so similar to home in so many ways that it was easy to forget where I was. But India was so impossibly, undeniably, Indian. From the music blaring at 6 in the morning, to the chai we drank four times a day, to the stares we got literally everywhere we went, it was a definite culture shock. And I feel like I learned so, so much from having that experience. But am I dying to go back? Not in particular, at least not for a while. I think I’ve eaten enough Indian food to last at least the next few years.
And finally: Thailand!!!
Wow, where to even start on this one? The culture is so, so different from India. Silence here is golden, and everything is superrrrrr chill. India was all about go go go, whereas here you commonly hear the phrase “calm/slow down” in Thai. We all were in awe during the first car ride home from the airport, where no cars were honking, and people actually drove inside the lanes on the street. While India was starting to get freezing cold at night, we’re all constantly dripping with sweat here (making for an odd Christmas feeling). The host organization we’re working with here is called ISDSI, and the people share a lot of the same beliefs/values as TBB, so that’s pretty cool. For the past five days we’ve been staying at an eco-resort in Chiang Mai, but tomorrow we head off for the village where we’ll be staying for the next three weeks!!! There’s no Internet out there, so I’ll be off the grid for three weeks at least, but I’ll try to keep a consistent journal so I can write a decent post when I get back. Our topic for this country is agriculture, so we’ll be working on our host families farm for the next few weeks. My host sister for Thailand is going to be Sam, who actually shares my last name (and love for food), and I’m excited to get to know and spend time with her!!!
So that’s it for me!! We had a great time celebrating Christmas here today, even though it was pretty warm. We did our secret snowflake and white elephant gift exchanges before heading off to a local mall for the new Star Wars movie, and then went to an American style restaurant for Christmas dinner. All in all, a truly amazing day with a truly amazing group of people, and definitely a Christmas I’m not going to forget anytime soon! Hope everyone had a GREAT Christmas (or Hanukkah, which we also celebrated in earnest!), eat lots of cookies for me!!! Love you all a lot, will hopefully be able to talk again soon ❤

In order to save the world, we must first discover it.

Thanksgiving, INDIA STYLE

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’ve decided this is something I need to put up here.

THINGS I’M GRATEFUL FOR:

  • Michael Buble. Besides the fact that his voice is literally a heavenly mix of chocolate and velvet, he reminds me of being a little kid listening to my dad singing while I fell asleep on Sunday nights. Also music here = escape.
  • All the teachers who have taken the time and energy to actually TEACH me something, or to make me excited about a subject, or just to listen to my thoughts and make me think about things in a new light. I’m realizing exactly how difficult teaching can be, and I’ve never had more respect for those people in my life who have genuinely shaped me as a person. Shoutouts to Mrs. Selletti, Ms. Finn, and Mr. Stillman: I really can’t thank you enough.
  • Peanut butter. It’s happiness in a jar. Enough said.
  • Lily Patten MacLeod. Saying that India is a tough country would be the understatement of the year, but somehow she is helping me maintain my feeble grip on sanity. Also, she lets me sleep in, reminds me to take my medications, puts Neosporin on my grossly infected ear, and shares her hot chocolate mix with me ❤
  • Bananagrams!!!! So many good times. So much entertainment in such a small (and adorable) container.
  • As fleeting as it is, I’ve never appreciated not being ill more.
  • The letters written to me by so many friends and family members, collected by one Beth Sherman prior to my departure. Many a days have been turned from awful to amazing just by reading one of those letters. It really does make it easier knowing the amazing support system I have back home.
  • The hot shower we have in our house: the first hot shower I’ve had access to since September, and nothing is better on a cold night after a long day.
  • The Himalayan Mountains in our LITERAL BACKYARD!
  • My mentor, Emily. I’ve never had a mentor before, but I definitely love having her to talk to about my problems, or just to joke around with. She’s an awesome listener, a super chill person, and just a general badass!
  • The Dominoes pizza we were able to order for lunch on Thanksgiving, because despite the fact that the food here is ridiculously delicious, I’ve missed pizza more than I can put into words. Along those lines, the chocolate molten lava cake that Nelsen accompanied me on a mission to find: I almost cried.
  • Kwano Krew! Even though we’ve long left South Africa, I know I can always count on those girls to brighten my day.
  • Our guide, Vinod. He’s always there to answer our questions, play badminton, lead us on a hike, and just accompany us for our general shenanigans in India.
  • Nail polish. It’s the little things.
  • Being able to visit the Golden Temple the night before Thanksgiving. Seeing it illuminated above the water, shining like some other-worldly beacon through our sleep-deprived haze, was an experience unlike any other, and one that filled me with awe at the sheer capability of human kind to create beauty.
  • As much as it is the literal bane of my existence, working out actually does make me feel a lot better, and I definitely wouldn’t be motivated to do it without the crazy crew sweating it out with me everyday.
  • Beth and Bill Sherman. I love you guys, a lot. Thank you, thank you, thank you for supporting me on taking this trip: I honestly think it’s one of the best choices I’ve ever made. Thank you for always loving me and supporting me and just being awesome parents por lo general.
  • Everyone who has woken up early or stayed up late to Skype/Facetime with me!! Obviously the Internet isn’t exactly prime, and the times aren’t ideal, but it really does make my week to be able to talk with you all!!
  • My host family back in South Africa, and my new host family here. The fact of the matter is that I no longer have one family, I have four. Which brings me to my next point:
  • TBBeast!!! Aka my fourth family. Throughout this trip, I have laughed, cried, screamed, dreamed, and schemed more than ever before. I have shared things that I’ve never told a soul, and changed my personal outlook on the world. I’ve been challenged in more ways than I can count, and I’m coming to the definite realization that it’s not only these experiences that are going to change me, but the people I’m experiencing them with. And I’m so, so happy about that.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!!! Ours consisted of Dominoes pizza, watching the new James Bond movie, took-took tag through the streets of Amritsar, and dinner at a fancy micro-brewery that held a certain night club-esque vibe (I decided to keep it classy and ordered some mac n cheese for my personal Thanksgiving dinner). It really was an amazing day, and I’m so happy we were all able to take a mini-vacation from work to spend it together in Amritsar.

We’re back to the grind now, except Gayan Deep is just starting exam season for their students, so Julia and I have been accompanying Lily and Alea to their school, which is a lot smaller and less stressful.

In other news, IST is this weekend, a most of us are planning to hike up one of the nearby mountains, so that’s exciting!! Will hopefully be able to talk more about how that went next week, if I’m not too stressed about media projects, which are also a hot-button topic right now. Noah, Sophie and I are doing a project on love, specifically on marriage, including the whole topic of arranged marriages. It’s a work in progress, and hopefully one that will get done before we leave India!

I am so, so thankful for each and everyone one of my family members and friends back home. Your love and support is making this process possible for me, and I miss you all a lot!! Please don’t ever hesitate to send an email, Facebook message, or even just a comment, because I love hearing from you guys 🙂

HAPPY TURKEY DAY!!!!!

 

In order to save the world, we must first discover it.