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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."