The Beginning of the End

I have mixed feelings about the fact that we’re out of our last homestay, but seeing as I’m getting up at 5:15 tomorrow morning to start our hike up to Machu Picchu, I’m going to save the in-depth analysis of emotional baggage for another post. But even though I’ll be glazing over most of the last two weeks in our homestay, I can’t leave out one very special day for me: February 27th, which was possibly one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had! We spent most of the day touring a special lake with cultural and historical significance for our village, hearing stories and taking plenty of beautiful pictures. That evening, Alex surprised me with the best gift ever: he arranged for me to be able to hold and play with one of the baby lambs owned by a family in our village!! To say that I was excited would be an understatement, which anyone who is aware of my obsession with sheep can understand.

And to make the day even better, my entire group threw a surprise party for me, which featured amazing music, hilarious dancing, delicious food, and a beautiful handmade cake. All in all, it was a completely unforgettable day.

I’m going to skip detailing the goodbye to my family, because it was really, really difficult, and move straight on to IST! We had a big group this time around (nine people!), and we ended up spending two nights in an eco-resort called Black Sheep Inn, and one night in a city on the Amazon rainforest called Tena. It wasn’t exactly our original plan, but I couldn’t have asked for a better IST. We spent the two days at Black Sheep doing breathtaking hikes, including a four hour hike around the rim of a collapsed volcano. I have to say, I’ve seen some pretty amazing things on this trip, but I think this was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. It was a little hard to appreciate as we were gasping and sweating up the ridiculously steep incline (we actually went the wrong way around the rim: whoopsie!), but I’ve never seen water so blue. I don’t even want to try to describe it: I definitely cannot do it justice. I promise to try and get a picture up, because it was truly amazing.

Our time at Black Sheep also consisted of a hike between canyons, a horseback ride from hell, and, of course, playing/feeding black sheep. The food was all amazing vegetarian cuisine, and featured free brownies, cookies, and banana cake around the clock (which we promptly took advantage of). We spent our nights playing Kanasta (spelling??), watching movies, and laughing. It was lovely.

We then traveled six hours to Tena, which meant we arrived at 2 am, but our driver, Ivan, was ridiculously patient with us. The next day we dragged ourselves out of bed and into the pouring rain to paddle board down a river through the rainforest. It. Was. AWESOME. And a lot harder than it looks! And even though we didn’t see any pink dolphins, it was still unbelievably beautiful. Granted, it did get pretty scary when we went over some of the rapids: the storm turned some of the Level Two rapids into much more difficult Level Four rapids, but we all made it through in one piece.

After IST, we spent a few days in Quito, finishing up our final media projects. By the time presentations rolled around on Wednesday, mine still wasn’t quite done, but since I’ve put so much time and effort into it already (and since I actually really like it), I decided to wait and present it a little later in the trip so as not to rush the final product. I promise to compile all my media projects into one post before the trip is over! Just need to actually get my shit together first. While in Quito, we also paid a visit to the Ecuador museum, which is hilarious in its efforts to prove that everything works better on the Ecuador. Did you know that an egg balances better on the Ecuador?!? You do now!!

Anyway, we’ve reached our final country, Peru, and tomorrow we set off for a four day hike on the Inca Trail to Machu. I am TERRIFIED, but I know it will be awesome (if I don’t die mid-hike)! Please send any good thoughts and spare energy my way, because I will definitely need it!!

Okay, not a very long post, but I wanted one last check in before the trail. Hope everything is good back home, and can’t wait to see you all very, very soon.

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

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BACK FROM THE DEAD

As some of you may know, I spent the last week and half being pretty sick, bur FEAR NOT!!! Two clinic visits, two antibiotic series, and one IV later, I’m back to being the picture of health! And I can’t say enough how happy I am to be healthy again, because nothing makes you more homesick than literal sickness. Not that I need to be homesick, seeing as I’ll be home in a number of weeks…BUT NOT THINKING ABOUT THAT LA LA LA.

Instead, a word about our work project. Here’s the thing; I really like it. I do. But I’m wondering how much positive impact we’re really having on the environment versus merely defining the border of our village’s land? We’ve switched activities, so that now we’re trimming the bottoms of pine trees to help them grow taller, and next week we’re supposed to be cleaning up the waterways. So that’s exciting. But I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the environment, and our role it in, and I can’t help but wonder if maybe the most realistic way for us to do good is to not actively do harm? The thing is, amazing technological innovations like solar panels and electric cars don’t actually help the environment, they’re just not as bad as traditional products. And so few things actually help rather than minimize the hurt. So what does that say about us? Does that mean that the best we can hope for is for things to stay exactly the same? How can I ask someone to give up a part of their life if I’m hesitant to do the same? Does that make me a selfish person? Can we ever, realistically, enact change on a large scale? WHY ISN’T OUR INEVITABLE PATH TO ENVIRONMENTAL DESTRUCTION A BIGGER PROBLEM FOR PEOPLE???

Ahem. Sorry about that. But obviously, I’m still struggling with these things, and it makes me wonder why everyone isn’t aware of what we’re doing to our world. Or if they are aware, why they don’t care.

The homestay is also going well, as we’ve been spending more time with our family and they’ve definitely opened up to us. They are incredibly sweet, and I’m finally improving my Spanish enough to understand most of the conversations with my host parents. My host mom is extremely happy that I’m finally healthy again; she’s been beside herself with concern that I was literally dying, despite my protests. My only complaint would have to be the fact that we literally eat rice and potatoes three times a day, every day. I wasn’t a huge fan of potatoes to begin with, and I think this experience has definitely turned me off them for a while.

But, even with everything that’s happened, I’m still in love with Ecuador, and our beautiful village. Our host dad mentioned that the thing visitors always comment on is the clouds, and I don’t blame them. They sit in the valley below our village, or color the sky as the sun sinks, or sometimes even stroll through the village itself, muting and softening all the edges in town. And our dogs!! Our family has three grown dogs, Chadow, Loba, and Toby (such a cultural name). And the other day, our dad carried home the newest addition in a tiny basket; a teensy puppy named Bobby, who looks like a literal stuffed animal. He’s pretty scared of Julia and I, but we’re working on it.

So that’s pretty much it for me! Oh, yeah, my birthday is this Saturday, and we’re planning on visiting a nearby lake for fishing and horseback riding, so that should be fun. Our group is falling apart a little bit, as Sarah got attacked by a dog, Patty is away getting physical therapy for her knee, and Noah chopped his toe in half with a machete, but we’re holding it together for these last few weeks. I know this post is a little shorter than normal, but that’s probably a good thing?!? I love you all a lot, and shoutout to Godden, Rachel Gold, and Joseph Antony for also being readers of the blog, AS WELL AS anyone else out there reading this!! I’ll see you all very soon. Stay healthy!

 

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

One More New Home

It’s weird to think that this is the last time I’ll post an introductory blog about a new country, but I keep telling myself that we have plenty of time left. If we’re being honest, I’m not really sure how I’ll be able to go back to real life, but that’s an existential crisis for another blog. For now, allow me to introduce you to a new friend of mine: ECUADOR!!!

As much as I loved (and I truly did love all of our past countries, even India) the countries we’ve visited thus far, I fell even harder and faster for Ecuador. I arrived at 3 am, tired, hungry, and slightly delusional from the medications I was taking since my body decided to rebel against almost 48 straight hours of travel, but my only semi-conscious brain was still able to register the vast sprawl of lights that were visible from the roof of our hostel. To borrow an old phrase from my group mate Lily, it looked, for all the world, like the stars had fallen from the sky and settled themselves on the ground of Quito, Ecuador. We spent the next two days exploring the city, adjusting to the 12 hour time shift, brushing up on Spanish skills, and stuffing ourselves with food that wasn’t, for the first time in months, from Eastern Asia. It was, in a word, bliss. 

Of course, even in Ecuador the sun doesn’t always shine, and we spent an unfortunate nine hours on a public bus to get to the sight of our work project and homestays, a small indigenous village called Caguanapamba. The indigenous language here is called Kichwa (although most people also speak Spanish), and the traditional style of dress includes little white bowler hats. Our first lesson in the culture came immediately after arriving, as our first full day here was spent celebrating Carnival, a holiday that welcomes the arrival of spring. Our host families dressed us in traditional skirts, blouses, hats and pullovers, then sent us out to join the hundreds of individuals from different villages who were gathering for an annual four hour walk through the countryside. The walk not only featured gorgeous landscapes and breathtaking views, but constant attack vis a vi foam sprayers and buckets of water. We finally bought some sprayers for ourselves and were able to retaliate, not only on the attackers but amongst ourselves. We were also offered a lot of potatoes and chicha, a traditional drink that is made by fermenting maize. The walk ended at a stage, where several hours were spent dancing, eating, and celebrating. At the end of the day, we were all very dirty, very full, very tired, and (for some of us) very sunburned. 

Even though we’ve only been here a few days, Julia (also known as J. Mom, aka my work partner for India) and I have been welcomed warmly into our homestay. Our parents both speak Spanish, and since Julia spent her high school years learning Chinese (SO COOL), I have the role of playing translator and doing most of the communicating with our family. It’s kind of weird being able to speak the same language as our family for the first time since South Africa, and although I definitely wish my Spanish skills were a little better, I think it’s made it easier to feel at home here. Another big factor in that is our two little sisters, who are the only girls in a family of six children. Lordes (9) and Sonya (12) have been a sort of gateway into the family for Julia and I, and we spend most of our nights watching videos, playing card games, or simply just talking with them. They are, as all little girls are required to be, absolutely adorable, and make coming home more of a joy than a chore. 

Finally, our work project. It’s been decided that we will only go to our work project on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and spend Fridays working with our families. Which is good, because the work is definitely physically demanding, but it’s surprisingly a lot of fun. We have to cram into the back of a work truck for a bumpy, shaky, half hour drive up the mountain, where the temperature drops a noticeable amount and it seems to be constantly overcast or drizzling. Even so, I would argue that it’s worth it to see the beautiful landscape at the top of the mountains, which is so unlike anything I’ve seen before. I can only describe it as being a grassland, with hills of green as far as the eye can see, occasionally dotted by cows or trees. The soil is so rich that it’s black, and retains so much moisture that it literally seeps out of the ground when we dig holes to plant trees. Which is what our job is in this otherworldly place; to plant lines of trees. The trees are not only nitrogen fixing, but help to hold water in the soil and mark the boundary between the land of different villages. It’s hard work, but unexpectedly gratifying, as we continually try to beat our record for trees planted in a day (our current best is 203). 

So that’s Ecuador! Oh, one more thing. There’s no Internet in the village, so all of my posts are dependent upon when we can get into town. Our core focus for this country is environment, so I’ll probably touch on that sometime in the coming posts. I love you all a lot, and will try to post again soon. 

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

Pad Thai, Movies and Spider Wine

Hello world!! I apologize again for the great expanse of time that has passed between my last blog post and now, but better late than never? I’m writing this while sitting aboard a plane flying from Cambodia to China. But wait, you say, what were you doing in Cambodia instead of Thailand?? Why aren’t you flying to Ecuador?? And for God’s sakes, HOW MANY PAIRS OF THAI PANTS DID YOU BUY??? To which I respond, patience is a virtue. All will be explained. And eleven.

First, let me take you back to the final four days we spent in our village in Thailand. They were, expectedly, bittersweet, lit with moments of laughter and clouded by those of sorrow. Even though my host family speaks no English, I feel extremely comfortable here, and the day we left felt remarkably similar to the day I set off almost five months ago. Like I was leaving behind a family, a community. A home. Sam and I spent the last day learning how to cook sticky rice in bamboo with our mae for the feast that evening, of course sampling a bit along the way. The best part was probably watching our pa carve the delicate edges of the bamboo away with an enormous machete, seeming surprisingly at ease. That evening, all of the elders in the village each tied a cotton string around our wrists, reciting a blessing to carry with us in our journey. The blessings were whatever came to the mind of that person at that time, so they varied from good health to good wealth to a beautiful spouse. In the end, each of us had 16 strings fastened around our wrists, a simultaneously beautiful and sentimental display. We then proceeded to stuff ourselves silly, watch a ridiculous slideshow of our time in Thailand, and sing/dance terribly to karaoke (the evening concluded with an unbelievably loud rendition of “Sweet Caroline,” much to the amusement of our families). It was, indubitably, one of my favorite nights of the trip thus far.

After concluding our time in the village, we all headed back to Chiang Mai for our IST weekend, which I spent at the Eco Resort doing exactly NOTHING. I slept until at least 11 every day, watched at least 6 movies, and lounged by the pool more than I’d care to admit. I also accompanied two of my favorite people, Bex and Jules, to get TATTOOS (those crazy bitches), and while I wasn’t feeling gutsy enough to get anything permanently inked onto my body, I did pay a man a lot of money to put two new holes in my ears, so that was fun. I have to say, one of my favorite things about staying at Eco wasn’t the resort itself, but a small restaurant about a three minute walk down the street. It wasn’t even a true restaurant, but a stove and a collection of tables, with only one real item on the menu: pad thai. The woman who ran the stand made the pad thai right in front of you in a huge pan, tossing in noodles and peanuts and spices and eggs and chicken and general deliciousness. She and her daughters spoke no English, but would happily comply when I held up my finger for one order and stood watching her cook, handing over the required 35 baht in exchange for a bag of pad thai wrapped in banana leaves. It was cheap, easy, and absolutely the most delicious pad thai I have ever eaten. I had pad thai for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a midnight snack. I visited her stand at least once every day for all six days that we stayed in Chiang Mai, and even now my stomach is rumbling as I think about it.

But Chiang Mai wasn’t all movies and sleeping and pad thai. I did end up spending a lot of time working on my media project, which, for the first time, I was tackling alone. To say that I was nervous would be a gross understatement. I was terrified. It was a subject that I had been struggling with for a long time, something that was extremely personal and required me to be exceptionally vulnerable. But in the end, I was happy with my work. I was proud of the project that I put out: I think it may be my favorite personal project yet. I delivered it in speech form, like a TED talk, which is why I’m hesitant to put the script up here, but if I can’t find a video to put up with my next post, I promise I will actually put that up instead (I mean it this time!!).

So anyway, after settling all our affairs in Thailand (including an epic adventure to send a box home: it’s shocking how little red truck drivers seem to know about the city they are paid to drive around), we packed our bags and headed off to Cambodia for our enrichment week. We first spent a few days in Phnom Penh, where we toured the Killing Fields and Building 21. This topic was especially important to me, because of an independent research paper I wrote not even a year ago on the subject of the Cambodian Genocide. For anyone who knows little to nothing about the Cambodian Genocide, I can first tell you that this is probably because the United States generally glosses over this damning piece of its history. Not only did the US drop thousands of bombs on Cambodian civilians as an accidental spillover from the war in Vietnam, but the United States (along with a large part of the rest of the world) turned a blind eye to the horrific acts recalled by refugees streaming out of the country, instead choosing to believe the brainwashed reports of Western journalists were only shown what the government wanted them to see. Some almost half of the country’s population was massacred in the genocide conducted by the Khmer Rouge, resulting in massive “Killing Fields” where thousands of individuals were taken every day to be murdered and dumped into mass graves. The means of torture and execution are horrific beyond comprehension. Building 21 details these abuses, and displays the beds to which prisoners were kept, only barely alive as they were slowly tortured. And those were the lucky ones, as the rest were kept in cages too small to even stretch your arms. In walking through the field and torture center, listening to my audio tour, I was struck by a sense of disconnected wonder. How? How could such cruelties occur, amongst any group of human beings? How could the world turn away? How could we ever be so callous, so heartless, so inhumane? I don’t know. I still don’t know. But as hard as it was to see the graves, to count the cells, to hear the stories, it is far worse to pretend as if they do not exist. In doing so, we commit the greatest crime of all. We claim innocence by ignorance, and forget that the only way to avoid repeating history is to remember it.

Around several of the mass grave sites in the field we visited, the posts were decorated with hundreds of bracelets, of every size and color, remembering those who were taken by the genocide. I pulled several of my blessing bracelets off my wrists and tied them to the posts, because I know that they need the love and protection more than I do.

I could go on for hours about the beauty of Angkor Wat and the Jungle Temple and the Cambodian circus in Siem Reap, but for the sake of time I’ll just say that they were works of art. One of my favorite memories was watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat, reveling in the silence and stillness of the moments just before the sun appears. It is my favorite time of day, when the darkness is just beginning to lift and the earth is holding its breath and you have the entire world to yourself. I think, to me, that’s what happiness is.

The last thing I’ll talk about in this ridiculously long post is our guide for Cambodia, a man named Bun (pronounced Boon). He introduced himself as Agent 007, James Bun, and spent our first bus ride from the airport to the hotel somehow wandering from telling us about the history of Cambodia to instructing us about the virtues of loving and living simply. That night, he took us to the temple where he had trained as a monk for two years and told us his life story. At eighteen years old, he had run away from the army to beg a monastery to take him in and train him as a monk. They finally accepted, and Bun stayed there for two years learning the Buddhist ways of life. However, he realized after two years that he needed to give back to the people of the world, and that he could best do that by leaving the monastery and working to serve others in different ways. He went home and opened a hostel, and started using the money he got as a tour guide to provide for his parents, his four siblings, and their children. As he took us around Cambodia, he never missed an opportunity to launch into his Buddhist teachings and impart some of his wisdom on us. He was not only hilarious but insightful, generous, and kind. On our last night in Cambodia, he invited us to dinner at his home, where played volleyball, cuddled puppies, and painted the TBBeast insignia onto his wall of travelers. The home was overflowing with laughter and love, and the food was beyond compare. The only thing I wasn’t a fan of? The spider wine he gave us to drink after dinner, which was in fact brewed by drowning tarantulas in the liquid. It was about as good as it sounds.

And now, finally, why am I flying to China instead of Quito, Ecuador? Well, this is actually only the first leg on what will be approximately two and a half days of travel. This is only our warm up flight; after this, we fly to New York, then Georgia, and then finally to Quito. Will provide updates on how that goes in my next post.

Wow, ok that was a long post…lots I wanted to share with you guys!! Even if you guys is no one but Beth and Bill Sherman (shoutout to the parentals, love and miss you guys!). Miss you lots, excited/nervous for Ecuador and wondering what the hell I’m going to do when this trip is over. Love you all!!!

 

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

Eey Eye Eey Eye Oh

I would like to start this post by asserting two things: one, I am a certifiable farmer now, and two, I can never eat again.

In reference to my first point, I spent the last week at a sort of farmer training site, a place called UHDP (which stands for “Upland Holistic Development Project”). UHDP is an organic farming site that works with local farmers to store seeds, educate about sustainable farming practices, and promote a healthier way of living and producing food in Thailand and across the world. It is originally based in Florida, but has locations around the world, and is really cool!!! We spent our first day here exploring the agro-forest, which is a manmade forest that is intended to replicate a natural forest as closely as possible, and learning about the ways in which various plants are used (hint: almost everything has at least one edible part). We also got to chop up banana trees to make pig feed, and pack sticky rice with coconut shavings, molasses and vinegar to make feed for the catfish (because even the fish eat rice in Thailand). We spent a few days learning/doing typical farm work, including weeding, hoeing, harvesting and cleaning and labeling seeds, making and spraying organic pesticides, and creating compost piles using hay, water, and lots of manure (more fun than it sounds).

On our last full day here, we split up into groups and spent the morning gathering materials to make lunch from different parts of the farm. Patty, Jenni, Alex and I were all given the best job: catching catfish! We drained most of the water from the catfish pond, then jumped in with nets to scoop up the bigger catfish. We thought we were done, but little did we know that our job was just getting started. After we carried the bucket containing four kilos of catfish back to the prep area, we had to dump a bunch of salt into the bucket to kill the fish. We covered the top with a lid so we couldn’t actually see it happening, but the loud banging noises coming from inside the bucket were enough to create a fairly strong mental image. Patty and I were then given the task of cutting the heads off the somewhat dead catfish. I say somewhat dead because many a times, we would grab a fish and start cutting only to have it start twitching and thrashing around on the cutting boards. We discovered the best way to get through the experience was to make unfortunate jokes and cut as quickly as possible, encouraging the fish to “swim towards the light” and “the big catfish pond in the sky.” After, we helped Jenni and Alex pull out the fish guts and chop the fish into smaller pieces, then mix them with chopped vegetables and stuff them into bamboo sticks to be cooked over the fire. It was only a somewhat scarring experience, and to be honest, I’m pretty proud of us; we became true women, and even earned Emily’s stamp of approval on our badass cards. And you know what? They actually tasted pretty good.

And now, onto the second point. Our unit for this country is agriculture, which, if I’m being honest, isn’t something that I thought I would be terribly interested in. But the more we talk about these issues, the more I’m leaning, the more I find myself questioning the eating habits I’ve carried my entire life. Organic farming is not something that is merely ideal, it is necessary. If we want to be able to sustain a level of food production that is capable of feeding the world, we must find a way to farm organically. Growing and buying locally is something that needs to become the norm. But as long as we live in a world where a single company holds a monopoly on seed production, in a society where monoculture is the norm and a single agro disaster can wipe out an entire nation’s worth of food, where a cheeseburger at McDonalds costs less than a locally grown head of broccoli, these problems will go unsolved. Monsanto, a company that has a copyright over genetically modified seeds that are immune to a special herbicide that kills virtually all living things it is applied to, is able to control the entire agriculture community because of harsh patent laws. Big companies have a huge hand in the cookie jar, with many of their higher ups actually holding positions of power in governmental organizations that are supposed to be regulating the very companies they are running. Farmers are subsidized and left with enormous debt in order to keep them as essential slaves to the modern agricultural system, even if such practices are strongly against their moral standings. The way that food is being produced in the United States right now isn’t just bad for the environment and the economy, but bad for us as human beings. We are unhealthier than ever, due largely to the lack of natural variety in our diets and huge amounts of chemicals poisoning our food. The current agricultural system in America is a problem, not just for the farmers and the lawmakers, but for all of us, and it’s not a minor problem, it’s huge. It’s enormous, it’s incomprehensibly big but we don’t think about it because the big companies don’t want us to think about it. But we have to. And believe me, it’s not going to be easy, because no one wants to be told that the way they’ve been living, the way they’ve been raised, is so terribly wrong. But we need to stop and talk about these things, because we can’t keep fumbling around in the dark without doing permanent and irreversible damage to ourselves and the world we live in. I, personally, am going to make a much more concerted effort to buy from farmers markets, eat food that I know is grown locally and organically, and cut down on my consumption of red meat and cow-based products.

I know that rambling wasn’t really sensical, but it’s a huge issue, and covers a lot more than I cam summarize in a single paragraph. I strongly recommend watching “Food Inc.” or reading part of Omnivore’s Dilemma, both of which do a fantastic job addressing these issues in an interesting and easy to understand way. “Cowspiracy” is another really interesting movie on the subject, but it’s pretty strongly one-sided and I haven’t completely decided how I feel about it yet. One more thing on this issue: it’s ridiculously complicated, and there’s no easy, catch-all solution that lawmakers can put into place. Every solution, no matter how well-intended, can have severe, long-term consequences, which is why creating policy on these matters is so difficult. I don’t have a solution to all of the problems; I don’t think anyone does. But that doesn’t mean we can simply ignore them. If anything, I believe it means we must discuss them more than ever.

In other news, we attempted to take a trip to Myanmar the other day to have lunch and renew our tourist visas in Thailand, only to discover that we wouldn’t be allowed back into the country if we left. Instead, we woke up at 5:30 the other morning to visit the immigration office and apply for extensions on our visas, being sure to practice our lines in case we were questioned (“I am a tourist!!”). We weren’t, and we all got our extensions without problem, so we won’t be getting kicked out of the country!! Happy day for us all. In other other news, we’ve all learned the clapping parts to Pentatonix’s “White Winter Hymnal,” (which you should definitely watch on YouTube if you haven’t seen), because we’re obviously the coolest kids on the block. Thailand is still wonderful, the food is still amazing, the bugs are still swarming, I’m still incredibly happy, and these blog posts are still ridiculously long. I love you all so much, and can’t wait to see you all again soon!!!

 

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

 

 

HELLOOOOOOO FROM THAILAND!

Hi all!!! Posting this a few days late since I finally got internet!

HELLOOOOOO FROM THAILAND!!!!! To say that I love it here would be the UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR, which I guess isn’t really saying much since the year is only two days old at this point!! As you may have surmised from my reckless usage of caps lock and exclamation points, I’m doing really, really well, and I have to say that Thailand is my favorite country so far, even though the village we’re staying in is about a million degrees and lacks AC and internet. As I mentioned in my last post, the culture here is so wildly different from India, but I find myself easily settling into the calm, slow-moving way of life here. The sense of community is amazingly strong, and we stop to wai and smile at everyone we see (to “wai” is the traditional way of showing respect to elders here, which involves bowing and reciting the traditional Thai greeting).
Every morning, Sam and I wake up anywhere between 7:30 and 8:15 for breakfast (another thing I’ve fallen in love with: not using an alarm clock, but waking up with the sunlight), cooked by our host mom. She’s adorable, around four feet tall, and speaks exactly zero English, but she’s patient with our non-existent Thai speaking skills and attempts to teach us words by pointing and repeating. At around 9:30, we usually deck out in farming gear and head off to the fields with our mom for work, following behind her like ducklings as we make our way to our family farm. Since we can’t communicate verbally, she usually points and demonstrates to show us what to do. So far we’ve done a lot of weeding, watering, and planting, which can get sweaty and dirty out in the sun, but consistent with Thai culture, we don’t work too hard; we get a snack break in the shade around 10:30 and head home around 11:15, so our work day isn’t ever too long. Mom then makes us lunch, and afterwards we usually have a few hours to nap or read before seminar or Thai class at 2. Afterwards, since we all live so close together, we have lots of time to hang out in the seminar space, go for a walk (or a run, which makes me miserable but happy afterwards), or visit each other’s houses. Our house has become fairly popular due entirely to our one of our two dogs, a little puppy named Me (meaning “bear” in Thai) who happens to be ridiculously adorable and loves to play. Which is another thing I love about Thailand: pets are a thing here! Sam and I sneak a ridiculous amount of food to our two cats, and our mom spends at least an hour every day cleaning and playing with our dogs, Me and Ma (“Ma” meaning dog in Thai; original, I know). Anyway, we’re always sure to be back home for dinner, and we usually spend the remainder of the evening reading, watching a movie, listening to music or just chatting before we head to sleep!
In terms of food, everything we get here is freshly grown right in the village. As a result, everything is AMAZING (the fact that our mom is a great cook doesn’t hurt either). We always have rice, a vegetable dish, some sort of meat, and a plate of fruit, and usually we also get a sticky rice dish (my personal favorite is sticky rice cooked in coconut water with custard on top, wrapped in a banana leaf). I never really realized how much I love fruit and fresh veggies until we didn’t have them in India, and I’m so, so grateful to have them here. As our mom put it, I’m definitely getting fatter, but I’ve never been happier to get fat in my whole life!
Finally, I’ll give a brief summary of how we celebrated the New Year. Instead of going to the fields on the 31st, we met up with all the other students in the town center as everyone in the town gathered together to prepare for the night’s celebrations. We stuffed tea leaves, rolled tobacco pipes, and helped tie a checkerboard of string above the square in front of the temple. We attached colorful, reflective banners stuffed with money to the string, and it was then connected to all the houses in the village, so that when the monks blessed the string, the blessing went out to all the houses and families in the town. That evening, we all ate together in a huge, delicious potluck feast, filled with all varieties of traditional Thai dishes. Afterwards, we made our way to the village center and sat beneath the web of string as a monk lead the town in prayer. I didn’t understand the words he was saying, but as we sat under the dark sky, watching the banners spin gently in the breeze, occasionally catching the light and flashing a burst of color, I felt at peace. Our group went back to the seminar space after a bit to watch a movie, but instead spent the time playing games when the projector broke, a serendipitous bit of luck that made the evening all the more unforgettable. Just before midnight, we headed outside to roast marshmallows and make s’mores using Ritz crackers in lieu of graham crackers. We counted down the New Year using the program leaders’ iPhone and watched the fireworks set off at an alarmingly close range, while small pinpricks of glowing orange lanterns floated away in the background. All in all, it was a New Year’s Eve that was a little strange, but one that I will definitely never forget.
My only complaint about Thailand would have to be the bug bites (this morning I counted 32 on my legs alone!), but since my resolution was to be more grateful for the amazing things in my life, I’m trying not to focus on those. Grateful for the anti-itch cream I brought with me! And grateful for all of you, anyone out there who is taking the time to read the somewhat nonsensical ramblings of this blog. I love you all so much, and wish you could all be here with me!! Lots of hugs and kisses xoxoxo

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

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.

 

Question EVERYTHING

Before I start this post, we just got news of the goings-on in Paris and the rest of the world, and I wanted to send my love and support to everyone back home, and my prayers to the victims and families being affected right now. I love you all so, so, so, so much, and my thoughts are with you guys right now.

This is a blog post that I’ve been avoiding for a while, but considering how things have been going here, I don’t think I can put it off any longer. I’m going to be spending a majority of this post talking about some of the bigger issues and ideas that I’ve been struggling through, so if you’d rather spend your time hearing about all the cool things I’ve been doing in India, this isn’t the post to read. If you do continue, no promises on clarity of ideas, and please know that I’m definitely not trying to offend anyone in any way. Also, if you have any free time and want to get some sense of where I’m coming from on some of these points, I definitely recommend reading “To Hell With Good Intentions” (an address by Ivan Illich), Pedagogy of the Oppressed (a pretty dense book by Paolo Freire, most of the ideas we’ve looked at thus far come from pages 43-69), and Whatever it Takes (another novel, it’s pretty interesting and a lot easier to read than Pedagogy).

So. As you may have noticed, I neglected to talk about how work is going in my last post, and that was because I was super overwhelmed with the entire situation. The topic for India is education, and going into our work projects, we were told that we would be placed in a classroom at a local school to shadow/help a teacher. My work partner (J. Mom) and I were assigned to Gayan Deep, a privately owned school of about 200 students, and we went in with high hopes and bright expectations of what was to come.

To say that it hasn’t been what we were anticipating would be a severe understatement. That first day, we were given a schedule of six different classes and thrown into a classroom without a teacher. We didn’t know what to teach, where to teach, who to teach, or how to teach. The bell would ring between every 30 and 40 minutes, and we would search for the next classroom and group of students. We filled the time as best we could, asking basic “Get to Know You” questions, with varying levels of success. It was stressful, confusing, and extremely frustrating, especially since no one seemed able to communicate with us about what the hell we were supposed to be doing. The next two days were a lot better, as we were able to prepare lesson plans for the classes we knew we were going to be teaching, but yesterday we were given an entirely new schedule with brand new classes.

As far as we can tell, the teachers use us as a kind of filler time, shoving us into a classroom to babysit the kids while they take a break. While I understand why they wouldn’t take us seriously as educators (considering the fact that neither of us have any training, I don’t blame them), I can’t help but feel somewhat disrespected and question whether we are actually helping in any way. Going along with that sentiment, after reading “To Hell With Good Intentions,” I’ve been struggling a lot with the entire concept of this unit. How dare we, American students with no background in education or even basic understanding of life and culture here, assume that we can be anything but detrimental to the students here? Of course we can never really understand them, or come even close to relating to their lives. We are a spectacle here, and the students clearly see us as such, as they go out of their way to shake our hands and stare us down. It’s been so, so incredibly difficult to go into a classroom and try to teach when I’m starting to feel like the entire concept is a bad idea. J. Mom and I try to use the methods we believe to be most effective, but they vary so widely from the methods used here that we are met with little success. Our reality, and the educational experience that we have been blessed with, can never match with those of these students. So how much good can we really do?

Additionally, yesterday we were able to observe an actual teacher in the classroom for the first time, and the experience nearly brought me to tears. The children are forced to memorize the answers to specific questions relating to an English text, seeing as these are the questions that will appear on their exams. During class, the teacher went around the room and had each student stand up and recite the answer one at a time, scolding them when they made a mistake. Their comprehension of the words is negligible, as long as they are able to regurgitate it on a test. The worst is that the teacher was obviously well-intentioned, and truly believed that this was the best way to help the students succeed. And why shouldn’t she? It is effective, if not disheartening to those who have been taught to think, not recite. These are children, individuals, who have thoughts, and ideas, and so much potential to shape the world around them if they are able to communicate, but the influence of the Western world has convinced them that this is the only way forward. They must learn English, pass their exams, and chase the ideal set forth by the more “developed” countries. And to what end? Why should the Western standard of success be the only one with which to measure their lives?

Development is a tricky subject. By what standard do we measure it? What I’m learning is that sometimes, a “Western” education is not the one that will be most beneficial, both to the community and the individual. What good does an English education do for a child whose only career path is to work his parent’s farm? It sounds harsh, and I don’t mean it to, but sometimes, more education is not a necessity. Yes, it can be an empowering source, but it can also be detrimental. In so many ways, we are a product of our education, both inside and outside the classroom, and in that way, education can almost be a source of oppression. In refusing to teach the local language, in insisting on an education based on Western ideas, can we ever truly claim to be liberating these children? Or are we simply perpetuating a system of oppression that we are so numb to that we have accepted it without thought? I can’t help but feel like it is my fault that these children are subject to such tireless repetition and mind-numbing teaching styles. Indirectly, they are being oppressed, not just by their teachers but by an entire system built on this skewed idea that “West is best.”

For my entire life, I have seen books as an escape rope, and words as wings. But here, now, they become the bars of the cages these children are trapped behind, and the books they carry weigh heavier on them than bricks. I want to scream, cry, lash out against the fact that everything I have always accepted to be true is not. Education may not always be the solution. Development is not always the ideal. Am I here truly here because I want to help, or because of some horrible need to validate my own existence and believe I can make a difference?

To summarize how things are going, I couldn’t help but scrawl these words across my arm during class yesterday: I am both the oppressor and the oppressed, and both have cost me my humanity.

To any of you reading this and seriously questioning my mental health, don’t worry, I’m actually doing fine. We have plenty of discussions and time to debrief, but it is extremely difficult. That’s actually why I’m posting today: Julia and I decided we needed to take a day off work to debrief. I’m finally understanding why people told me that this would be one of the hardest things I would ever do, because it is. I’ve never questioned so many parts of myself and the world around me, and while I know it is making me a stronger, more aware person, it’s also challenging me in ways I never expected. And I’m grateful for that, and the opportunity to think in so many new ways.

So if anyone wants to take on the task of discussing some of these things with me, I have so much more to say, and would be happy to engage in a spirited and probably offensive discussion with you. If you never want to talk about any of this again and pretend like this post never happened, I’m also totally ok with that as well J

Thanks for reading this hot mess of a post, and potentially entertaining some of my existential crisis. I love you all to the moon and back, and that is something that I am totally sure about (probably?!?…jk).

 

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

Sorry in Advance for this Ridiculous Post…

So since my last post, a few exciting things have happened, the most important being NELSEN DAY, but we’ll get to that later. First, I won second place for my superior card making abilities in an IDEX-organized “Fun Fair” on Friday! Essentially, we drove to a nearby school and spent the day playing with little kids, so no complaints there.

Then, on Saturday, a group of us decided to take what we thought would be a short, casual hike to a nearby temple to see a baba. What we didn’t realize was that it would actually be a six and a half hour trip up a literal mountain to an amazing little temple in the Himalayas. It wasn’t exactly an easy trek, especially considering the fact that we had to be fairly covered up, but it was a fun one. Personal favorite moment was when Vinod convinced Sarah, Mom, Lily and I to take a “shortcut” by literally climbing up the side of a cliff. We almost died, but hey, what’s a fun day without an adrenalin rush or two? Saturday night, Lily and I drove an hour and a half with our family to our uncle’s birthday party, where we were taken to a separate room and given chips to eat while the whole family crowded in and stared at us. The experience was bizarre and more than a little awkward, but it made me more grateful than ever for Lily. Somehow, even though we were confused and exhausted, we were able to joke and laugh throughout the night. I think one of the reasons I like her so much is that we can go from giggling about stupid stuff to having a super intense conversation without it feeling weird. She’s crazy smart, strong, responsible, independent, considerate of others, and interesting to talk to. And even though she hates physical touch, she lets me steal food off her plate, so I love her.

Anyway, Sunday was one of my personal favorite days of the year: NELSEN DAYYYYYY!!!! Aka Nelsen’s birthday, because Nelsen is the literal love of my life (sorry Anne Kim…). To celebrate Nelsen Day, Lily and I made a huge card with our host siblings for everyone to sign. All of us found ways to get in to IDEX so that we could celebrate as a family, at which point I enacted Operation Baked Goods. Since I am of the personal opinion that everyone deserves something baked for them on their birthday, I decided that we absolutely needed to bake something for Nelsen. There was, of course, the minor issue that Nelsen is allergic to gluten, and also lactose-intolerant. Also, the kitchen at IDEX has neither baking soda nor an oven. But did that stop us??? NAY. OPERATION BAKED GOODS WAS A GO.

The original plan was to make peanut butter cookies using the chapatti stove, since the only ingredients were peanut butter, sugar, an egg, and baking soda (BTW, peanut butter is the new crack for all of us). Just replace baking soda with baking powder, and good to go, right?!?

As anyone who knows anything about baking can guess, it didn’t go as planned. After several failed attempts, and almost setting the kitchen on fire, we turned the cookies into a crumble, then mixed the crumbs with crushed bananas and laid apples and cinnamon on top. We stuck some candles in the whole thing and called it a birthday cake, and even though it looked disgusting and had to be eaten with spoons, it actually tasted pretty darn good. After, we spent three hours getting lunch at a fancy restaurant called Pizzian Hut (what it lacks in originality it makes up in deliciousness), and then Patrick led us all in some acro-yoga exercises. All in all, Nelsen Day was a raging success, and actually one of my favorite memories of the trip thus far. Can’t wait til next year!!

Finally, I’ve compiled a list of a few things that I’ve learned from my time in India thus far, and I figure now is as good a time to share as any. Without further ado, here is

AN IDIOT’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING PALAMPUR, INDIA

  • Don’t look at the monkeys. Eye contact = aggression.
  • There will be a lot of random fires on the side of the road. It’s casual. Try not to freak out.
  • Make sure your cracker is facing away from the house before you light it.
  • Close your mouth while showering.
  • Be ready for squatty-potties.
  • Learn the language of honks, if you’re ever crazy enough to try driving. Also, remain unrealistically optimistic about the spaces in which your car can fit.
  • Chai and chapatti are your life now. Deal with it.
  • Sitting sideways in the back of a car is the best seat, unless you get carsick.
  • Everyone else has gotten used to the mountains in their backyard, so don’t stare too long unless you want to look like a FOB.
  • Watch out for motorcycles!
  • Every bathroom is now BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper).
  • Share the road with the cows.
  • 3 o’clock is always chai time.
  • Don’t use your left hand to eat, since it’s technically your “wiping hand” (hence the lack of toilet paper).
  • Yes, the puppies on the side of the road are adorable. No, you can’t touch them.
  • Practice smuggling things into your pockets so that you don’t have to eat all of the food you feel obliged to accept.
  • Find a way to convince yourself that leggings under shorts is indeed “hip”.
  • Anticipate selfies in any house you enter.
  • Embrace the curry stains!

So yeah. India.

Lots of love to everyone back home, especially as we start entering the time in the trip where homesickness sets in. Thank you all for always providing such an amazing support system: I would be lost without it! Always nice to hear from you guys!!!

 

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