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Sunday, April 29, 2012

6 days left... :-O


My plans to volunteer in the small city of Bhaktapur fell through, so my last 10 days left after the meditation retreat have been/ will be spent in Kathmandu. Which is probably good, because (though I have previously prided myself in managing not to get ill) I am ill. Nepali food has stuck back. So it is best to have the ability to be glued to my guesthouse room all day. And though my body is not functioning properly, I am still over flowingly happy and making the absolute best of the time I have left on this awesome adventure.


10 days of silence and 100 hours of meditation was.... crazy difficult, bizarre, horrible, boring, frustrating, healing, insightful, amazing, wonderful, hilarious, and overall totally shattered my previous perspective and changed my life. I don't even know where to begin. 


Vipassana meditation is one of the oldest techniques of meditation and was rediscovered and taught by Gautama Buddha. It means ""to see things as they really are." It is a nonsectarian, science based technique that uses self observation to free one from all suffering. It allows the realization of impermanence, that everything is ever changing, arising and passing away, so that one stops all feeling of craving or aversion and experiences each moment as it actually is, not as it is wanted or do not wanted it to be.


The 10 day retreat was created to give a serious trial to this technique. About 120 people, half men, half women are piled in to vans and taken out of Kathmandu to Budhanilkatha, where the Vipassana center is. The men and women are separated and a few hours of talking as allowed, then the noble silence begins. Not only are you forbidden to speak to all other participants, but eye contact and any form of communication are also not allowed for the next 10. You are supposed to feel like you are working in isolation.This was actually the easiest part about the retreat, but definitely the most bizarre. Most of us knew no one going into it, so it sort of feels like you are walking around, meditating, sleeping, and eating with 60 vegetarian zombies. Almost everyone observed the noble silence strictly, and I was glad for the silence because it made meditation a lot easier and allowed for an incredible amount of personal exploration and growth, but man it was weird. The only times I spoke in 10 days were to ask for more watermelon at tea time (there are no words to describe the bliss contained in a bite of juicy watermelon after 10 hours of meditation), and to yell at a monkey a little bit when it threatened me. Yeah, there were monkeys... and we we'rent allowed to talk about it.  


The first 3 days are spent observing your breath, which is called anapana meditation.  The goal is to ignore the thoughts that flow in and out of your mind, and sharpen your awareness by only giving importance to respiration. If you do find your mind wandering, you simply accept calmly that it has wondered without getting frustrated or feeling negativity, and bring it back to your breath. This was difficult for me for many reasons (besides simply getting used to waking up at 4am and sitting for 10 hours a day) One was that the first time I sat down and made a serious effort at meditating was day 1 of the retreat. Another is that I have let my mind run wild (good and bad) for my whole life, so reining it in was proving exhausting. And the other main reason was that when I couldn't sleep at night when I was a kid, my mom always told be to focus on my breath to fall asleep... so you can imagine what kept happening those first few days. After 3 days and 30 hours of meditation, it does get a little bit easier. In those 30 hours, the longest I kept my mind on my breath without it running in some far off direction was maybe 10 seconds, and that felt like quite an accomplishment. 
"Okay focus on the breath." (2-5 breaths).... "Is that a goat or a small child crying?! I really can't tell. Sometimes it sounds like a goat, sometimes it sounds like a baby ((never figured out that mystery))... OH right...breath...okay..." (2-5 breaths) "Why do Disney Princesses all have such nice hair? No wonder girls are always changing hairstyles. Everyone is always talking about the destructive messages Disney movies portray, but no one ever talks about the unrealistic hairstyles!...Oh man...that was bad...okay breath breath breath." (2-5 breaths) "III JJJUUUSSSSTTTT WWWAAANNNTTTT SSSOOMMMEEE PPIIIZZZZZAAAAAA."
That's a good glimpse into what the first days were like.
Focusing on patterns of respiration leads to focusing on the sensation of the flow of the breath, then the area which you observe those sensations is narrowed down and the attention on the breath is removed. Then you are spending hours focusing on the sensations occurring on the  middle of the area under your nostrils and above your upper lip that is about the size of the tip of your pinky. 


These days of Anapana are meant to sharpen your mind so that on the fourth day, when you are taught Vipassana, you are able to do it properly. The technique of Vipassana requires you to scan your focus along your entire body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes and then back to the top of your head, repeatedly. You are searching for sensations, subtle and intense, and when you find, you simply observe them and move onto the next area. When this is introduced, a new rule is also added to 3 of the 10 hours of each day's Vipassana meditation. From 8am-9am, 2:30pm-3:30pm, and 6pm-7pm you practice Addithana, which means strong determination. The name itself made me want to cry a little bit. I'm thinking, if what we have been required to do so far isn't considered STRONG determination, what could these hours possibly entail. Before, you were able  to move and change position as frequently as you feel the need to. For these three hours of the day, you are a statue. You are to try as hard as possible to keep 100% still, not changing to position, open your eyes, or lick your lips. Nothing. This way you are forced to truly observe all sensations, good and bad. Inevitably, your knee caps feel like they are being ripped off, your feet are totally asleep, and it feels like someone is stabbing you with multiple knives along your back and neck. But you try your best to simply observe the horrible sensations with reacting or attaching any negativity, search for the subtle ones among the pain, and remain calm and equanimous. Strong determination is an understatement. 
The next 6 days were a roller coaster of ups and downs, moments of pure joy, painful boredom, doubts about the technique, sadness, silliness, and many long peptalks to myself in my head thinking "this is what it must be like to be an only child." Oh, and the hours when I would sing entire albums in my head from front to back, or see how many different flavors of ice cream I could name before the bell rang. but shhhhhh. 


If someone had told me a year and a half ago that I would sit with myself (in NEPAL) for 10 days without interacting with anyone else and dive into the deepest parts of my mind, I would have not believed that I could do that. I wouldn't say that this was a spiritual experience for me because I am still figuring out what that means. But it was definitely moving. I used to be an angry person and pretty hateful to myself. During these 10 days, I finally said goodbye to that person and fully embraced the new, explosively happy person that I have developed into in the last year. I have climbed out from years of sadness and found a way to forgive myself and everyone who I have ever been angry at and just live my life with a smile one my face, even when bad things happen. Vipassana didn't do this for me, it's been a process through this year that I have done on my own. Vipassana just allowed me to fully embrace it and truly let go of the past and be excited for my future and proud of the person I have become.    


 On the last day, after 100 hours of meditation, the silence is lifted and the pure joy that is felt after having  accomplished something so difficult and all that comes along with it is tangible in the air from all participants (some people were just so overwhelmingly glad it was over, but that totally counts). You all compare experiences and realize that everyone was, at moments (some more, some less), as frustrated, bored and sad as you were. And the same with positive moments, but you never felt bad during those moments :P During the 10 days you think you're the only one struggling, the only one doubting, the only one who thinks its all absurd, the only one who is so bad at this. Then on the last day, you realize how much time you wasted thinking those things. Every time I opened my eyes and looked at the girl next to me, she looked like she was made out of stone, and it always made me feel like I was terrible at this....and that I shouldn't have opened my eyes... On the last day when the silence was lifted, she came up to me (with an awesome Irish accent!) and told me that every time she opened her eyes and looked at me, I was so still and graceful with my straight back looking like a dancer. I exploded laughing and told her I was doing the same and we shared an epic hug just to reinforce the fact that we shouldn't compare ourselves and feel badly. It was such a good day. 


One of the things that kept a lot of people going was the video discourse given by the current main teacher of Vipassana. He's like the Daili Lama of Vipassana. Anything you struggled with during the day, he inevitably brought up in the night's video which made you feel a little better about it. And he was always funny and happy and smiling and looked like a cartoon character, so that helped too. As well as just doing something other than meditating, eating and sleeping. His discourses were all about the technique and philosophy. Though I always enjoyed listening, this was the root of the doubts that frustrated me (on about the 7th and 8th days). The final goal of this technique is enlightenment, so obviously it is talked about. My personal doubts don't really matter because it is different for everyone, but they were tainting my hours of meditation. Then, of course, on one of the last days the teacher said that if there are things about the practice that you don't like, take them out and practice what you will, but you may not reach enlightenment. In reality, I know full well that I wont ever be an enlightened person, but I am okay with that. That doesn't mean that this retreat didn't make me a stronger, more peacefully minded person and that I wont continue to practice daily meditation. It did, and I will. And I will continue to cultivate this outlook on life. 


There is so much to say about this retreat, but I'll leave some for personal conversations :) The bottom line is that it was one of the best and worst things I've ever done, but I think all the good things in life are.


These days after the retreat have been spent in bed, meeting more great people, hanging out with old friends (old being 3 months old), exploring kathamndu, seeing terrible movies and enjoying them beyond their quality (Battleship and John Carter. GREAT terrible movies), and preparing myself to return.


In 6 days this chapter comes to an end. Then what... I have no idea. But that's okay, that's good. I have been day dreaming about the smiling faces and open arms of my friends and family. That part about coming home fills my heart and spreads a smile across my own face. The part that is going to be hard is settling. For the past eight months home has not been a place or even the people who live there, it has been a feeling that I carry around with me. My family and friends have cultivated that feeling to make sure it's with me everywhere I go, so that when I am gone, the love and safety they have given me lets me be at home in myself, on the soles of my own feet. I'm not sure what this means for my future, but I have time to figure it out. Endless love and thank yous to the people who helped make this year possible for me. and endless love to the amazing people I met along the journey. It has changed my life in ways I never imagined. The happiness and love for myself and others that I have cultivated is everlasting. I know life has its ups and downs, but I feel prepared for anything. And I cannot wait to share the happiness with everyone. Life is good. May all beings be happy <3


SEE YOU SOON, KILLADELPHIA! 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Another long, full update.

In 4 days, I will be leaving Pokhara and Himalayan Children's Care Home. The 2 months I have spent volunteering and adventuring in Pokhara have been incredibly fun, silly, educational, and also difficult. But I'll start with the fun and silly. 

My 21st birthday was a few weeks ago, and though I am far from all of my friends and family, the people I have met here made it a great day from start to finish. The daytime, after taking the kids to school, was spent sipping beers on a large paddle boat (big enough to fit 6 of us with room to spare!) and eating various birthday meals at our favorite restaurants. The afternoon was as usual, picking the kids up from school, tea time, homework time, dinner time, and bedtime but with many more hugs, candy, and even 51 voices singing me happy birthday in unison. After the kids were in bed, the volunteers met up at our favorite bar (bullet basecamp) and had a silly night of drinks and good food. We've become good friends with the bartenders and owners, and they made sure we had a good night. Especially because it was one of their birthdays as well! Celebrating my birthday without Miles for the first time was strange, especially because all of the attention was on me! But it was a very good day regardless. 

A week after my birthday I set off on a Trekking adventure with 6 other volunteers, guided by Chhewang who works at the orphanage where I am volunteering. We decided on the Poon Hill trek which is on the Gandruk circuit and offers beautiful trails and views of the Himalayas. Similar to rafting, this adventure proved to be as difficult as it was fun. Maybe even more difficult than fun, but incredibly rewarding. It is 5 days of going up and down the mountains climbing and descending over 3,000 stairs. 5 of the 7 of us got sick ( I managed not to) which slowed us down, but everyone kept trucking and was feeling good by the time we reached the hot springs on the last night. The hour soaking in the hot springs along with the comfortable beds in the guest houses and the surprisingly hot showers (the best and hottest I've had in Nepal!) were definitely highlights of the trek, though I enjoyed myself even through the straining stretches of climbing. It feels good to know that I'm capable of completing a difficult trek! And I daydream of coming back to Nepal someday to tackle some of the more challenging ones! 

Since I returned from my trek I have been relaxing, hanging out with the kids who are on holiday, and enjoying quiet time to myself. About a week ago, the volunteers were asked to teach English classes while the kids are off from school. They all already have a solid base of the language, so we mostly  teach simple conversation and improve pronunciation, but it is more difficult than I thought it would be! 

It's going to be strange to leave Pokhara and HCCH. Not difficult, just strange. So many volunteers come and go that I know me leaving is not a big deal to the kids and staff. But even if I am just another volunteer who came through, I know that a part of them will always be with me, and a part of me with them, whether or not they are aware of it. My time here has been good and I have learned so much, but it has been very difficult at times. A few weeks ago, the baby son of the founder and his wife passed away. They live at the orphanage and are very much part of everyday life here, so it has been unimaginably sad and difficult for everyone. Though life has carried on, especially with 51 other children to take care of, it has been an intense thing to experience. Writing about it in detail on a blog doesn't feel right to me, but it is part of my experience here, so I also feel strange not mentioning it at all. Tenzin's adorable smiling face was infectious and though he is no longer here, I will always remember that smile as one of the happy, wonderful parts of my time in Nepal. And my thoughts and comfort are with the people who feel the heaviness of their loss. Especially because, through the good and bad of these last 2 months, they have made HCCH a home for me. I am forever grateful for that.

On the 9th of April, I will leave Pokhara and take a bumpy bus ride back to Kathmandu where I'm meeting up with a Volunteer and relaxing for a few days. From the 14th-25th I will be on a Vipassana meditation retreat. 10 days of silence during which I will either lose my mind, or find it! I really don't know what to expect, but ill definitely write about it afterwards! After that, I will volunteer in a small village outside of Kathmandu called Bhaktapur for one week, then I fly back to the states on the 4th of May! This is earlier than I originally planned on leaving, but certain circumstances at home have made 4 months feel like too long to be away. I am soaking up every day of my last month here, and while I will be sad to leave this beautiful place, I will be very excited to come home! 
Love and light to all <3 


Saturday, March 10, 2012

A long update is in order. The last 10 days have been fantastically busy, full of silliness, magical moments, some chaos, and a few goodbyes. On the 6th a few volunteers and I took the bumpy 7 hour bud ride to celebrate Holi on the 7th in Kathmandu. Holi is a Hindu festival celebrating of the end of winter and the coming of spring and the monsoons. It also commemorates many events in Hindu mythology, but is the least religious Hindu festival yet the most enthusiastically celebrated. The day began with our own water and colored powder fight which some local and tourist kids joined in on. By the time we made it from the back alley of our guesthouse to the main street we were already caked in layers of power and drenched through our clothes. And we were the only ones. The locals were still clean, dry, and color free and staring at us. But not for long. We brought the Holi warfare with us wherever we went as well all singing, dancing, music, smiles, and whiskey. As we walked through Kathmandu we saw more and more people celebrating as excitedly as we were and joyously contributed to each others Holi outfits. By the end of the day we were all soaked, covered from head to toe in a rainbow of colored powder, and drunk off the happy excitement of the day, as well as the seemingly never ending flow of whiskey and beer. Though the late afternoon shower was far below room temperature, it was one of the most satisfying, though maybe not so effective considering my scalp is still stained days later. It was definitely a day to remember. 

I was back in Pokhara by the 8th to be present for ceremonies at the Monastery that the kids school is associated with. His holiness the 41st Sakya Trinzin Rinpoche, a Lama equal to the Dalai Lama but for a separate sect of Buddhism, was visiting Pokhara for opening ceremonies at this Monastery as well as a few schools in surrounding villages. It was very special to be in the presence of this man.  On the 9th, the staff, volunteers, and kids all went to listen to him speak and to be blessed by him. When we were there again on the following day to watch ritual dances, I asked someone how many people had been there the day before. He said about 40,000. The crowd was calm and respectful while Sakya was speaking, but turned to a mass of pushing and yelling once it came time to line up for being blessed. I became a human barrier protecting the kids from the crowd and helping make sure all 51 of them were safe and together. The monks were using huge bamboo rods and spraying water on the crowd to keep them under control. But we all got through safe, had a scarf placed around our necks by a monk then walked single file in front of the Lama where he tapped us each on the top of the head with what looked like a wooden rod as he said a prayer. Then were filed inside where we laid the scarf in front of and bowed to statues. Outside we were led down a row of tables where we were given special food and red strings to wear around our necks for the 3 days following the blessing. I am still asking questions about what all of these things meant, but even for someone unsure about what was going on, it was a very special moment and again something that I will always remember. But I definitely had a lot of questions afterwards. It was very interesting to see the monks holding clearly very expensive cameras taping the ceremony, then using water and bamboo rods as crowd control. And I couldn't help but wonder what the Lama thought of the pushing and shoving happening to be blessed by him when his duty is to spread love, compassion, and peace. I'm sure he is used to witnessing it, and maybe it doesn't phase him, and I also know that it is a question I will have to accept that I may not ever have an answer to. 

Going from the chaos of Holi in Kathmandu to the chaos of a blessing ceremony in Pokhara reminded me that there is truly craziness everywhere. Though much less in Nepal than back home. Time flows here and people rarely seem to be in a rush, yet the streets and crazy and very loud. It is a good lesson to learn for me, because I am able to relax through the craziness and quietly read my book. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Rafting was equal parts fun and fear. The moments of silliness with the trip leaders and fellow volunteers made it worth while, but it's going to take a few years for me to forget the moments of terror and convince myself to go again.
We launched Thursday afternoon. It was very warm and the 8 of us were suited up and excited. The first legitimate rapid we approached was called Little Brother and looked easy enough. The guides got out of the boat and surveyed the scene to see the best route through the rocks, climbed back in, and we started paddling again. We started down the rapid and the next thing we knew the raft was sideways, we all had (hilarious) looks of terror on our faces, and realized that we were going to flip over. I was on the side that went under first and got stuck under water under the raft for a few horrifying seconds, but easily surfaced, and calmed down quickly once I heard everyone nervously laughing. That was the equal parts of fun and fear. Flipping over on our first rapid made every rapid for the 3 days following terrifying, which wasn't so bad because no one actually got hurt, and we have the memories of the hilarious looks of sheer terror on each others faces, which makes it all worth it. Our guides cooked us delicious meals and pitched tarps for us to sleep under. I froze at night, but the stars were beautiful, and the food really was awesome. Some of the best I've had here. The scenery also made the trip worth it. Rafting down the Kali Gandaki with large hills all around. It was gorgeous and so quiet, at least when we weren't screaming or giggling. For now.. I am happy to be back in Pokhara, and definitely excited for a warm shower. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The kids have gone back to school which means 3 hours of walking a day and help with homework. Both of which I am really enjoying. The walks to and from school are the perfect time to get to know the kids individually. Yesterday, one of the boys asked me to tell him something about American history. After telling him some facts about Philadelphia and the history of the city, I asked him to explain to me who the kids pray to before their meals. The sound of the kids chanting Buddhist prayers is the cue for meal time at the orphanage. Before dinner, it is 20 minutes long. This is the prayer I was asking about. He told me that they are praying to the goddess Green Tara, whose picture is hanging on the wall in the dining room. This is the Goddess that created the universe and everything in it, I was told. The kids pray to her thanking her for what they have, and asking her to protect all living things. The boy who was explaining this to me told me that Green Tara does not discriminate, she protects all living things, no matter what religion or beliefs. So they don't discriminate either. They pray for the protection of everyone and everything.
Last night, the dinner gong was struck and the kids all sat in the main room like they always do, packed into the floor space, closed their eyes, put their hands together in prater position, and started chanting. The power was out, so there were no lights, and they all looked so peaceful as they do every night, but knowing what they were saying made this moment very special. The kids are so lovely and smart and curious. I love teaching them things about my life back home and learning more each day about their lives here.
the power is going out now, and the letters on this key board are all worn off, so I will write more in a few days. I am going on my first adventure tomorrow- 3 days of rafting with a few of the other volunteers. I'll takelots of pictures! Love and light to all! <3


Friday, February 24, 2012

A happy Losar

The last few days have been spent celebrating Losar, the Tibetan Buddhist new year. The kids were overflowing with contagious excitement as they decorated their rooms and wore their traditional Nepali outfits. The morning of the first day was greeted by hugs and smiles and a special breakfast. Usually the volunteers eat breakfast after the kids are finished and everything is cleaned up, but that morning the kids waited for us to come down from our rooms to start eating so that we could join them. The day was spent playing outside, blasting and old Beyonce CD and showing the girls how we dance and being taught how they dance.Then dinner. Meals are a big part of holidays everywhere. The 4 days were mostly spent eating and playing with some alone time reading and drinking milkshakes by the lake side.Last night, for the final Losar hoorah the kids, the volunteers, the staff, and some visitors gathered together to watch the kids perform traditional songs and dances and eat the 800 some buffalo momos (nepali dumplings) that the staff spent the day cooking. It was impossible not to smile through the whole night with the amount of joy and laughter. It was a happy happy Losar.

Two nights ago me and 11 other volunteers spent the night at Sarangkot high up on a mountain over looking all of Pokhara. We woke up at 5:30 the next morning and watched the sun spill over the horizon, and made it back down to the city for breakfast time. I have met some fantastic, wonderful people here. Many of them are leaving tomorrow, which is sad, but really just means I now have a very good reason to visit Canada and Australia.

There are so many moments of pure joy that I have experienced here, it is hard to remember to write about them all. But I'll list a few briefly for a glimpse into the happiness I am feeling:

There are scheduled blackouts everyday, so there extended periods of time when the city has very little electricity. Many places have generators, but even still when it happens at night, it is incredibly dark. When the power is out at night, I like to go to the rooftop of the orphanage and look at the sky. The city is usually still awake and loud, but I still find such peace in that moment.

The kids are split into "houses" which are the rooms they stay in, and each staff member has a group of kids they are responsible for. Chewaang is the caretaker of the pink house, and on the first day of Losar, the girls gave him something wrapped in paper. I watch him open it after breakfast, and he peeked inside and saw that it was a single rose. He exploded in the most joyful laughter and just laughed and laughed and smiled as he showed us what was inside the paper.

One of my volunteer friends, Dave, playing the drums while the kids sing and dance to traditional songs. All outside in the courtyard in the gorgeous afternoon sun.

Those are only a few, but again, every moment of every day here has been perfect. The time spent with the kids as well as the time spent with my new friends. My heart is full and I am learning so much about myself and all the people and things around me. Love and light.<3

Monday, February 20, 2012

Day to day

As of today I have been in Nepal for a week, and I realized yesterday that I had not thought about days of the week since I arrived. That is the best example of what time is like here. It comes and goes without me noticing. It feels like I've been here forever, and it feels like I haven't been here for long at all. Maybe eventually it will all start to feel more solid, but so far, I am just floating along, waking up when the sun rises around 6:30am and going to sleep a few hours after it sets around 10.

I wake up with the light of the sun beaming through my window and the sounds of the city starting its day. Roosters crowing, cows mooing, car horns beeping, motors revving, and people yelling. It's almost impossible to sleep in. Around 6:45, a gong is rung in the orphanage to wake the kids. They get up and do morning exercises then the gong is hit again around 7:30 to tell them that breakfast is ready. After they are done breakfast me and 3 other volunteers wash all 51 bowls and spoons (actually 52- the guy owner/manager and his wife have a 16 month old marshmellow of a little boy names Tensen who is the CUTEST) and wipe down the tables and sweep the floors. Then we have the rest of the morning to play with the kids or for free time until lunch at 11:30. Then the same routine as breakfast, and the same until dinner. The kids shovel dinner into their mouths, brush their teeth, and head straight to sleep. All with a hug goodnight and a "goodnight miss." They are so sweet. After that, the volunteers from all the orphanages hang out until around 10 so we get back before the gate is locked.
I enjoy my days here a lot. They will chance some after the Buddhist new year tomorrow when the kids go back to school, but it will just include walking them to and picking them up from school, doing homework, and exclude lunch. There are about 15 other volunteers in Pokhara that  I have met and whom I spend my downtime with, which is really fun. But it is also great to grab my book and relax by the lakeside. 
That had been my day to day. There are a ton of festivals happening in the next week weeks because of the Buddhist new year. We are closer to Tibet here than Kathmandu, so it is more Buddhist than Hindu it seems. Last night's festivities involved huge bonfires, heating up sugar cane, and smashing them on the ground as hard as possible so they pop and make a sound like a gunshot, then you peel away the outside layer and eat the sugar can on the inside. It is quite delicious. 
Another part of my daily routine is the food. The cook makes huge vats of Daalbat, which is beans, lentils, rice, and sometime veggies, and they eat that for breakfast lunch and dinner for a few days. Sometimes it is noodle soup instead, and on special occasions, like the new year, they have special meals with pork and barley. I have been trying everything and it is all good, though I may get sick of it. Luckily there are a TON of restaurants a 10 minute walk away on the lakeside, so if I want to eat something else for lunch, I can. I have been feeling more adventurous about what food i am eating and decided to accept the consequences, but luckily there have been none so far. Which is good, because the chocolate covered dried strawberries from the organic produce store are KILLLER. 

So yes, I am still having the time of my life. Learning the kids names and remembering to put sunscreen on have been a challenge the last few days, but otherwise, everything has been easy and wonderful.I love it here, and am excited for the groups of volunteers who will be flowing in an out during my months in Pohkara. Again, I am well and happy and grateful and in amazing company.  I will post again after the new year with descriptions and pictures of the kids! Feel free to ask any questions that I haven't covered. Lovelovelove <3

Saturday, February 18, 2012

I can feel myself beginning to settle now I that I have made it to Pokhara. Orientation in Kathmandu was so much fun, seeing the city, eating traditional Nepali food, and making new friends. But it is wonderful to have made it to Pokhara. The bus ride was not as bad as I anticipated from what I had read about it. It is only about 100 miles away from Kathmandu, but was about a 7 hour bus ride winding along the sides of the mountains. There were definitely moments that required incredible self control not to throw up from motion sickness, and moments that the bus felt uncomfortably close to rolling of the edge of the road, but overall I felt very safe. and the landscape was beautiful. Probably the only bus ride in my life that I didn't nap for the majority of. And Pohkara takes my breath away. It is comparatively clean to Kathmandu, but is still dry dirty and poor. But the view of the lake and the Himalayas are incomparable to anything I've seen. Like standing on the rim of the grandcanyon, but even more unbelievable. And it is sunny and about 70 degrees during the day. Or at least I think sO, everything is in metric. But the weather is beautiful.

I staying in a Buddhist children's home where they speak English and Tibetan, so everything I learned during orientation about Hinduism and Nepali language is not useful there, but that is not disappointing to me. There are 50 kids, all of whom speak English. They are so beautiful and so lovely and warm even though we just met because they are very used to volunteers coming in and out. Many of them do have parents but are very poor or divorced. In Nepal, divorce is very uncommon and makes remarrying very hard for the woman, and getting a job is already very difficult for women here mos do not work. so many of the children lived with their mothers who were unable to remarry or get a job, sothey send them to this home so they can have a happy childhood and a good education. Kids in the situation get to. Isit with their parents on weekends, which makes them very happy. The atmosphere is lovely. It is very structured and the kids are well behaved, smart, and loving, as well as the coordinators and people who work there. There is "Auntie" who is the cook and "uncle" who takes care of the kids. Then there are a few other workers and 4 volunteers who are already there. They will be leaving soon, but it's nice to talk to people who have been here for awhile.
The kids are on holiday, so the schedule is different than i expected in that we get to do activities with the kids every day. I am excited about that. Once school starts the schedule will be more consistent. Every morning I will walk the kids 30 minutes to school then walk back, and walk there and back in the after noon to pick them up. Then I help them with their homework, do activities with them, help make and clean up dinner, and say goodnight. The routine will be easy to get used to, and I will post more about it when I'm in the swing of it.

It's still hard to keep my thoughts organized so I feel like my blog posts have just been me rambling, but once I feel settled, I'll write more in detail about what it's like to be here. It has been overwhelming. The person who took us sight seeing in Kathmandu through the program was 20 years old and in university as well and his job with hope and home. He was so lovely and we had a great time together, but he said to me at some point that I am very lucky that I was born in America, and it made my head spin. Not with sadness for him, but with an overwhelming sense of gratititude for what is given to me without any price. Some time ago, he started riding his bike to work instead of waking, and as a result of breathing in pollution while exercising, he developed a liver sickness. I never thought that the ability to ride my bike to work or school would feel like a luxury that I take advantage of. It's amazing the priviledges that I am realizing I have as an American. That is the most overwhelming part about being here. Adjusting to the loud city noise and lowering my standards of personal hygiene have been the easy part. It's the interactions with the people that are changing the way I feel about my own life. They are grateful for what they have and they do not complain. It had been a priviledge to be here. Again, I am grateful. More to come later. Love and light to all, make sure you look at my pictures on Facebook or instagram. Lovelovelove

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A quick update with a moment from yesterday that I forgot to mention:

There are 365 steps leading from the street to the top of the Buddhist stupa at the monkey temple. One for each day of the year. On our walk back down to street level, the man who has been showing us around stopped me and pointed out a tree a ways off the path. Perched on its branches we're over 20 golden eagles with the Himalayas in the background through a layer of smog. Such big beautiful birds. The contrast between the dirty streets/air and the mountains and animals is the hardest thing to fathom here. The poverty of the city contrasts with the rich views and landscapes. The thought that it is taken for granted definitely crosses my mind, but so many of the people here never leave, so maybe they don't know that the rest of the world doesn't look like this and therefore have no qualms about blocking the surrounding mountains with a cloud of pollution. Regardless of the pollution and poverty, Nepal is a magical place full of wonderful people and I feel very fortunate to be experiencing all it has to offer.

Learning the Kathman-dos and don'ts

My goodness. It's the morning of my 2nd full day in Kathmandu and there's already so much to tell! To start, I am having the time of my life. 
I arrived at noon on the 14th and got off the plane with a nervousness created by what I had heard about the Kathmandu airport. Seas of people grabbing at you asking if you need help, and make sure you get your bags quickly because someone might take them first! But after standing in line and easily acquiring a visa I went down the escalator expecting to descend into chaos, and it was actually quite calm. And the feeling of relief and amazement when I saw my bag come around, after it had been 31 hours since I parted ways with it in Philly, is beyond words. I left the airport and saw a man holding a sign with my name on it immediately and climbed into a little bus sort of thing with 2 bench seats in the back facing each other. I was joined by an 18 year old male volunteer from China who saw the look on my face when I tried to pronounce his name, and he said to call him by the English translation, "bridge." We quickly became friends. He is hilarious AND will be starting at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore next fall! It's a small world. Since that ride I have met about 10 other volunteers. Mostly girls my age from Australia (we are having a ridiculous time) and a family of two older parents and their daughter who is in her 30s. Everyone is wonderful. I am in very good company. and it has. Een so fun to not only learn about the culture here. But in China and Australia as well. And the guest house we are staying at is very nice. There is no heat here so the nights are very cold, even with a really good sleeping bag, but it's not unbearable. There are also mass blackouts everyday for about 10 hours. I am grateful for my headlamp! I don't think it is so much to conserve energy as it is not having enough energy to power the whole city all day every day.
My first impressions of Kathmandu have not changed much since that bumpy bus ride to the guest house. It is incredibly dirty and incredibly noisy. There aren't so much sides of the road as there are convenient spaces to weave between cars, buses, and people. Driving is always sheer insanity. And the honking goes long into the night and starts back up early in the morning, as do the roosters. There is trash everywhere. And stray dogs and chickens with the occasional pig and cow roaming around the rubbish. there are beggars as well, some small children holding infants. That is hard to walk past, but once you give them something, many of them will follow you asking for more. We've been told to ignore it, but it is hard. The amount of pollution is also shocking and overwhelming. It looks like a beautiful fog is constantly making the Himalayas look spooky and sort of magical, but then you realize that it is actually a smog cloud, and the magic fades. It's strange how back home we are taught to be ashamed of how much damage we are doing to our planet, when here, the rivers are filled with trash and the air is thick with pollution and it is not even on their radar to do something to change it. It doesn't make me angry as much as it makes me sad. And cough.
My schedule has been busy, but with roaming around this crazy city and hanging out with new friends, learning Nepali and Nepali culture, eating, and sleeping. At the guest house they have been serving us American-esque food. But last night was our welcome dinner. Our program directors took us to a traditional Nepali restaurant with traditional dancing where we took our shoes off and sat on the floor and had the Nepali equivalent of a bindi placed on our forehead, and drank traditional rice wine, which tasted like rubbing alcohol. Things got pretty silly pretty quickly. And the food was amazing. Alot like Indian food with saag and dumplings, called momos sooo yummy , and fried fish and cooked mushrooms. It's all kind of spicy and very good. And the dancing was very cool. Though we didn't get to join them and dance ourselves which I wanted to. And I have managed to not get sick yet, which is wonderful. Knock on wood.
Yesterday we also ventured to the Monkey Temple which had amazing views of the Kathmandu valley, chanting Buddhist monks, and Monkeys! They are such silly tricksters. So much fun to watch and take picture of. I got some great ones on my camera. There is so much to tell and show everyone back home and, I feel, too few words to describe what it's like here. The culture shock is there, but not intense, just different. It helps to have been dropped into it with a group of girls my age to experience it all with. I'm sure anyone reading this has questions for me, and feel free to ask! I got my placement yesterday and will be in an orphanage in the city center of Pokhara (with 1 of my new Aussie friends and 3 others down the road) so I will be able to update my blog often. I'll be living on site which I was a little but bummed about first, but was reminded by an awesome friend back home that it means I will be living where the children are and able to spend more time with them.
Thanks everyone again for all your support. I am truly having the most amazing time. The real work begins on the 18th when I venture to Pokhara, but it's been good to have a few days of fun and food and sight seeing before that begins. Love you all so much. And check out my Facebook or instagram for picture updates- I can't get pictures on here from my iPhone. Love and light <3 Namaste

Monday, February 13, 2012

A comfortable nap in Qatar. Kathmandu in a few hours!

Qatar airlines has made these 30 hours of travel time as comfortable as they could be. Upon arrival in Qatar I was told that because my layover was so long (10hours) there was a complimentary hotel room waiting for me at Al Liwan Suites! I had a 2 room suite with a little kitchen and a bathroom and a big bedroom. All I did was nap there before heading back to the airport in the middle of the night, but I did feel a little bit like a princess. Which probably had more to do with the all you can eat hummus at dinner. Being by myself is definitely interesting, but not scary. Everyone is very kind and helpful, but I think a little confused to see a woman traveling alone. The culture around women is definitely different here. I was asked to wait inside for the bus to the hotel, and realized that everyone else who was waiting outside were men. Oops. I also wonder what the woman in burkas think when they see me. I would never assume how they feel about what they wear or what I wear. And they look so beautiful to me.
I didn't see much of Qatar because I landed after and am taking off before dark, but what I did see was a mixture of generic city buildings and beautiful Arab architecture with arches and sand colored buildings. Cities really are sort of the same everywhere if you only see them from a superficial perspective. I wish I had some time to explore and some people to explore with. But that will be saved for future adventures. For now I'm off to Kathmandu! Hopefully I'll have wifi some point soon after I land so I can post. Love and light!

P.S. For the people who wrote me notes or hid them in my journal, thank you. For making me weep. <3

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Little expectations and lots of baby wipes

2 Hours to DC, 12.5 hours to Qatar, 10 hour layover, 4 hours to Kathmandu. In my mind, this is going to be the most stressful part about the trip. Flying in limbo between the relaxation of home and the chaos of Kathmandu with nothing but anticipation and a stranger holding a piece of paper with my name on it to greet me when I finally arrive. None of this feels real yet, but I don't expect it will for a few weeks. I image a moment when I stop holding my breath and finally relax into a daily routine and start to let this new place feel familiar. I have little expectations and a LOT of baby wipes, so I think I'm ready for the worst. Endless love to everyone who has been so supportive, which is everyone. It quieted the voice in my head yelling, "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!" And ignoring that voice is part of the fun of crazy adventures. I'm packed and ready so HERE WE GO!

"Life is short. Smile while you still have teeth."