"Not all who wander are aimless. Especially not those who seek truth beyond tradition, beyond definition, beyond the image."

Sunday, August 16

The Urubamba weekly market bustles with life in front of me. Women amble past-- holding babies wrapped in bright, colorful mantas on their backs while also toting heavy bags of corn or potatoes. Men driving mototaxies down the narrow, well-swept streets use their horns to indicate their approach and I watch as the steady stream of people calmly and casually part, allowing just enough space for the moto to pass. Children scamper past me on mud-stained bare feet, giggling and playing in their brightly colored clothing.  Their wind-and-sun-burned cheeks glow a rosy-red and their laughs fill the space between us. Piles of produce line the street and people are busy buying, selling, and exchanging goods. Some things I recognize--potatoes (but only a few of the 4,ooo varieties they grow in Peru!), corn, garlic, cabbage--but some things are foreign to my curious eyes. Most locals are unphased by my presence, others are amused or equally curious. They smile, laugh, wave me closer. With my wide-angle view, it's clear to see that I'm far from home. It's easy to spot the differences--to feel,...foreign. But, when I slow down, sit, and zoom in, I'm reminded of the humanness that connects us--the minuscule details that defy culture, language, and location. For a few moments I allow myself to get lost in these details. I stroll back through the Plaza de Armas and notice a boy kicking around the futbol. I motion for him to pass it to my feet--which he does without hesitation. We continue to play, allowing the common language to unite us. The universal language of soccer has allowed me to communicate in so many different countries and Peru proves to be no different. As I say goodbye to my new soccer friend, I notice a funeral procession moving towards the church. All attendees are dressed in black and they take turns adorning the casket with beautiful flowers. Musicians lead the way and all have an aura of utmost respect. The pain and feeling of loss is evident in those present. I take a moment of silence and am again reminded of the humanness that connects us. Back in the Plaza, a small child, uneasy on his feet, waddles back and forth in chase of a pigeon. As I watch his out-stretched arms zig-zag around the plaza in sheer determination, I feel myself giggling from the inside out. His dad and I are able to communicate through our shared amusement. Slowly, I'm forgetting where I am. Am failing to see the differences or feel the foreignness.  Language and cultural barriers are temporarily set aside because, as it turns out, I speak the language of futbol, and funerals (grieving), and children. I love these moments. Time and time again I find that when I slow down, look closely, and open my heart, I notice that the differences that make all these countries, cultures, languages, and people unique, are made even more beautiful by the small things that connect and unite us. I revel in these small things and love the however-brief feeling of interconnected-ness.

Saturday, August 15

Majestic Macaws

I got my first "official" job when I was 16. It was at this job, in a pet shop, that I first fell in love with macaws. Copa taught me to read his moods, his body language, and his sounds. I learned exactly how and when I could hold his beak and pull him in close for a kiss. I also learned when to keep my distance. I never lost sight of how powerful his beak could be. I learned to laugh at his harsh words ('shut up' was his favorite) and giggled along with him when his perfect imitation of a "meow" or "ruf-ruf" left customers baffled after their fruitless search for the dog or cat. B.G. taught me patience and trust. I spent hours with him, slowly gaining his trust and learning to trust him in return. Again, never losing sight of just how powerful that beak could be. Slowly, but surely, he began to move closer to me during each interaction. Eventually, he would bend his head down and ruffle his feathers slightly, indicating to me that it was safe to scratch the top of his head. And, finally, in one of our parting moments before I left for college, he climbed gently onto my arm and perched there comfortably. I moved him closer to me until his beak gently grasped the collar of my shirt and he tucked his head under my chin as I scratched and kissed his ruffled-feathered head. In those teenage pet shop moments, I never stopped to think about how those beautiful birds got there. Never stopped to think about where they came from. Clipped wings, filed beaks and trimmed claws just seemed necessary. Normal. It was what I knew and I was so thankful for the experience those birds, that shop, gave me. 16 years later, as I sat perched atop a canopy tower in the Peruvian Rainforest, I learned to love these majestic birds in a whole new way. I never once saw Copa or B.G. fly. Never experienced the contrast of their colorful wings against the green trees. Never witnessed the strength in a single wing flap or got a sense of just how huge they were. It was here that I learned about their monogamy and witnessed them flying or sitting in pairs. Always. It was here that I learned that, if their mate was captured or killed, they would never find another. Never reproduce. Never recover. I learned the purpose of that white, salty stone that always hung in bird cages and witnessed the magical site of dozens of parrots and macaws converging on a natural clay lick to satisfy those salty needs. My recent experience in the rainforest doesn't change my experiences in that pet shop. It doesn't make me regret the bond I formed with Copa and B.G. and it has not turned me into a pet bird-owner hater. It just opens my eyes. It reignites my love of animals and nature and allows me to appreciate just how vast and valuable and beautifully fragile it is. It gives me a whole new lens in which I can use to view a sliver of my world, our world. And for that, I am grateful.

Thursday, July 19

As a foreigner...

Things I have learned as a foreigner in my own country.
**These are strictly my personal--and yes, limited, experiences as I work to repatriate myself...

  • When asked if you can borrow their phone, 100% of strangers will say yes.
  • When you hold the door for someone, 100% of people will make eye contact and thank you. 
  • There is no substitute for family and a strong sense of community---and both of those things are everywhere if you just open your eyes. 
  • When greeted with a smile, 100% of people will return the gesture. 
  • 50% of strangers don't know where Bangkok is. 
  • The security lines at airports are ridiculously long and seemingly inefficient. 
  • There are a frightening number of obese children.
  • Despite being the fattest nation in the world, summer in the North brings out the activity in people--and it's contagious. 
  • People put more value in a dog-shit-free lawn then in a plastic-free Earth.
  • The staff at the LIRR are generally unhelpful. 
  • There is an under-usage of fans and an over-usage of air conditioning. 
  • Many people have a garden, compost, recycle, and/or use re-usable bags. 
  • There are a frightening number of parents who don't know the first thing about discipline.
  • There seem to be jobs. 
  • Water fountains are amazing. Tap water is amazing. People take both for granted regularly. 
  • 80% of strangers don't know what language is spoken in Thailand. 
  • Everything is big--people, houses, boats, cars, roads.
  • Just because you might look the same, doesn't mean you're immune to feeling like a foreigner. 
  • There are WAY too many TV channels. 

*This list is not yet exhausted as the road to adjusting back is far from over...

Monday, July 16

New Zealand, you've done it again!

Step 1: Drop a self-proclaimed "country girl" (shut up, Keri) into one of the biggest cities in the world.
Step 2: Watch as she flourishes in the newness of it all...and then, four years later, watch her squirm in the absence of nature, fresh air and space.
Step 3: Stand back as she takes a much anticipated trip to revisit New Zealand.
Step 4: Read as she dramatically squeals (and writes) in delight!

I sit with a childish grin plastered to my face. Snow-capped mountains to the right, green plains to the left--and, an overwhelming "ahhh" feeling of returning to a place I love. I haven't even stepped out of the plane and my heart is racing--almost as if it knows it has finally been reconnected with a few lost pieces that were left behind six years before.

Days later, as I drive along SH1 from Christchurch to Picton, my heart pounds with excitement. Although the pre-dawn darkness prevents me from seeing the beauty around me, something inside of me feels in. As the deep blue, morning sky slowly lightens, its as if layers of scenery are being slowly revealed as I drive--each turn seemingly more beautiful than the last. Even this must-have-music-blasting-while-driving girl reaches for the dial--this kind of nature demands silence and I have no problem obliging.

The green, sheep-covered hills suddenly roll into the rocks of the Kaikora coast. With the mountains on my left shoulder and the waves crashing on my right, I again laugh to myself. "Seriously?!?! Is this place real?!" As I drive, the rocks along the coast come to life with the movement of the seal colonies. I pull to the side just to take it all in for a while. I still haven't stopped grinning. Part of me feared returning here---afraid, perhaps, to discover that my memory had exaggerated the scenery. I didn't want the return trip to remove NZ from it's pedestal! But, there was no such exaggeration. This place really is THAT amazing! No picture or writing could do it justice. It must be seen and felt---and, it's freakin' good to be back!!!

Monday, February 6

Freedom with Height

Eyes to the sky, I sit transfixed. Up there, in the dusk-kissed sky, is a another world. A world with it's own rules, it's own freedoms, it's own Masters. Tonight, the Master of the Sky is that one. The one that is flying high above the rest, the one that has been moving, successfully in, for the kill-- all evening. The nose dips, a tiny dip, indicating to me, the virgin observer, that it's time again. The body follows suit and dives in a motion so fast and deliberate it causes my body to stiffen with anticipation, I watch, eyes adjusting against the glare of the setting sun. The world up there goes still for a moment, and I wonder how many pairs of eyes are watching in anticipation along with me. Then, the attacked goes limp, a falling leaf from meters above. The Master quickly moves away, gaining freedom with height, and somewhere in this maze of rooftops, I'm sure he smiles.

The kite fighting that ruled the skies of India never failed to captivate me. I was so fascinated by it all that Fern often had to remind me to bring my eyes back down to earth---back to the happenings on the street in front of me. Because, if I learned anything from India, it was that if you take your eyes off the road, you are bound to be run over by a car, a goat, a cow, a rickshaw, a person, a bike---and in the chance you were lucky to avoid those, surely the pile of excrement was bound to get you every time. India. Wow, India. There aren't many places that can make Bangkok seem quiet, organized, and clean--but India has done it. And India has done it well! Although our 2 week Indian adventure ultimately lacked the nature and fresh air that Fern and I were, have been, craving, it didn't stop me from falling in love with so many aspects of a country gone mad. As much as we would have liked there to be, there was, in reality, never a dull moment. My senses were in overdrive---the colors of the spices, the saris, the buildings; the delicious food smells and (of course) the less delicious smells of all those other things; the traffic sounds that never seemed to fade; the taste of some of the best food I have ever tasted (yes, of course it was street food and no, that's not an exaggeration). Many people have asked for my favourite city or favourite part of the trip--and, I hesitate every time. It's usually always a collective effort-- a build up of all the little, seemingly insignificant things that seem to latch on to my memories: the separate trains for the woman, the normalcy of declaring that "yes, we have husbands", the head wobble, the random animals on the road, the outdoor 'bathrooms', the yellow taxis that would belong on the set of a 1950's movie, the 5 cups of daily chai (served in clay pots), eating with my hands (and loving every second of it---sorry Ma), the traffic "laws", the trams, trains, and buses, the colonial buildings, the friendliness of the locals as soon as you leave the tourist trail behind, the school buses (modified rickshaws), the happenings on the street, and the markets. But, for those that insist, I'd have to say that seeing a rainbow besides the Taj Mahal on the first day of 2012 wasn't too shabby....! ;)

Fresh air will be coming in the form of a beach getaway this weekend followed by a long-awaited return trip to New Zealand this summer. (But, not before Big Bro and Cimock get a taste for this wonderful little place called Thailand. That's right folks---Big Bro has got tickets to Asia. Who would have thought?!)

Monday, October 31

Oh, Bangkok!

Six hours and a world away from the current struggles of Bangkok, I allow the beach life to consume me. Just hours before, I was amongst the water, the people, the loss—the reality that has engulfed so many Thai lives—so many Bangkokians. I felt connected in those moments—connected to the severity of the loss and destruction, and connected to the depth of the Thai spirit. That unwavering “mai pen rai” that guides them to smile, to laugh, to remain calm in the face of danger, sadness, and destruction. Just hours before, I was going to it. going to the flood, to the sandhills, to the shelters—and, as I boarded the Laem Ngop bound bus, I couldn’t fight the feeling that I was now running from it. Running from the city that I call home, running from Gat, my neighbor who, only days before, had assured me “mai dong glooa—don’t be scared, I’ll make you food and paddle it over in a boat if the floods come.” Running from the people that have become a part of my everyday life. But, as the uncertainties in Bangkok grew with each long day, I knew that, for my own sanity, I had to get away. Partly because my one week holiday had unexpectantly been extended by two weeks after a Ministry of Education emergency meeting, partly because I knew my family wouldn’t have peace of mind with me living amongst the chaos that Bangkok has, once again, become, and, partly because my own selfishness didn’t want to have another sleepless night of waiting. Waiting for whatever it was that was going to happen. Waiting to see if my small flood supply of food and water would prove me over prepared or under prepared. Waiting to see if the sandbag walls would hold. Just…Waiting.

Far from Bangkok, far from the empty grocery shelves, the lagging water supply, far from the fear of having even another drop of rain and far from the news that most people in Bangkok have allowed to run their lives, the serenity has finally started to calm my worried mind and heavy heart. I’ve allowed myself to tune out a little, knowing that there isn’t much I can do from here and knowing that a bit of serenity can go a long way. I’ve already fallen into a great beach life routine and, the (very) basic hut that I was hesitant to go into on the first night, has become a bit of a haven for me. It’s the simple life that always takes a little getting used to but, once in place, fuels something in me that I can’t quite explain. I love waking with the sun, sweeping my hut and hand washing my pillowcase (this makes the very basic hut smell a little less so when I lay my head down at night!) before taking off on an early morning swim. Like clockwork, Arisa, the little Cambodian baby that I have come to love already (shocking!), greets me right after my swim and just before her morning feeding. I get lots of smiles and cuddles while mom finishes some chores around the huts. The morning passes peacefully with lots of reading, reflecting, meditating, and writing---all with the sound of the waves in my ear. By the time midday arrives, I join my friends, who are staying less than 20 paces up the beach, and I get lost in their company for the rest of the day and night. It’s all a bit perfect, really—and offers a sharp contradiction to the way things are in Bangkok. Things are far from perfect there, and, although I have allowed myself a bit of peace and serenity here, a big part of my heart is still there. Fighting with them, hoping with them, urging them to hold on. This too shall pass and when it does, I know this country will pull together to pick up the broken pieces that remain after the waters have swept away too much.

Sunday, October 2

Bits and Bobs from 117

The latest memo in my school mailbox reminds me that 1st quarter grades are due soon. What?! Seriously?! I'm not entirely sure where those 9 weeks have gone but, roughly half must have been lost in transition and the other half must have been lost in the passion of teaching. Being lost in transition wasn't easy. Many argue that it never is, but, I wanted to think that I was becoming a seasoned professional at transitioning, changing, relocating. Man was I wrong! This change hit me harder than most. I missed a lot of things about my old job, my old kids, my old school and, after only a few days, I thought I had, once again, checked another "possible life passion" off the list. But then, without warning, things snapped back into place and I again found myself passionate about teaching, passionate about life---and, it feels great to be back!

The last few weeks in room 117 have been fantastic. We sing, we dance, we cry, we laugh, we explore, we ask, and we seek to answer....we are becoming a great little family. Having only 10 students means lots of time and space for hands on activities. But, perhaps it's best hearing it...
From the 1st graders!!

Miss J always tells us "fun but not crazy" but I think sometimes she forgets. Especially during "Monday Dance"---she let's us all go a bit crazy then. Even she does the "Monday dance" with us and she sure looks crazy! Her memory is really bad so she always asks us to remind her of things. What would she do without us? We have to remind her to change the jobs list everyday. We have to remind her how to add and subtract and sometimes she even forgets that when you write names or special nouns, you have to use a capital letter. And she's always forgetting to use punctuation when she writes sentences! Who's the teacher here anyways? Crazy Miss J.

We love looking at our tadpoles! One person gets to help Miss J feed them everyday. "LOOK AT THAT ONE! That one has front legs!! Miss J! Miss J! Look at that one! He looks like a frog already!!" We learned about the life cycle of frogs in Science class and then we learned how to take care of our tadpoles by using Google. Did you know that if we don't feed our tadpoles, they will EAT EACH OTHER?!?! We really love Science class! Oh! And, on Thursday, we're going to the Zoo!! We are going on a mammal/reptile/amphibian/insect/fish hunt!

Our Special Country for International Culture Day is New Zealand. Miss J used to live there and "I FOUND IT, IT"S HERE!!! Look...I found it on the globe!! Miss J, Looook. It's here!".
Now we have so many stickers on our world map and globe!! America, Philippines, Japan, South Korea, India, Thailand and now, NEW ZEALAND! And tomorrow we are reading a story about the Arctic and Miss J said we have to find out where the Arctic is for homework. I think the Arctic is in Miss J's home.

Did you read our story?! We wrote a story! First, we had to Brainstorm and think about what we wanted to write about. We did a vote---and decided to write about the Ballroom! We brainstormed some more and made a Sloppy Copy of it and tried to make it better and Make It Shine! Then we Fixed It by adding capital letters and punctuation. We wrote it again in good handwriting and drew pictures to go with it. Then, we signed our name and Miss J published it! We get to take turns taking it home and reading it with our parents. I think my page is the best!! You should read it because we wrote it ourselves and it's really good!!

1st grade isn't always fun though. We have to work hard and sometimes we get so tired of thinking and writing. Miss J says "do your best work", even when we are writing on the board or drawing a picture. Sometimes people do it better then us, but if it's our best, it's okay. When we don't do our best work, or when we aren't listening or doing the "right thing", it means we don't earn time to play in the ballroom. In Kindergarten, we always got to play in the ballroom but Miss J says now that we are older, we have to earn it. I think that we should go to the ballroom everyday!! We also have lots of homework to take home in our F.R.O.G.S folders everyday. Our folders help us have re (clap) spons (clap) i (clap) bil (clap) i (clap) ty (clap). We are getting better at that. We are getting better at lots of things. And Miss J says we help her get better at things too. So, maybe it's good that we are all together in first grade!

post shaving-cream-writing (thanks for all that shaving cream Jose!)

checking out the tadpoles

buddy reading

on the path to becoming great little presenters!