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

Sunday, November 28

Serenity, Balance, and life in between

I'd like to note that I'm currently writing to the sweet sounds of Clory Martin (a Rice teammates' voice)...and you should check her out. :)

The words and thoughts have been swimming wildly through my mind and show no sign of stopping. I usually wait until things come to some sort of order in my head before I put it to paper. But I'm beginning to give up hope that any sort of order will arise this time. So, here goes.

My last blog had a lot to do with life outside the box, pushing boundaries and limits and seeing things in this world that you can't learn in text books. About challenging ignorance and slipping outside of the mold of society. I am so thankful that the last few years have really given me the opportunity to do that but, for the first time ever, and with the aid of being "home" for the first time in a long time, I was exposed to the painful side of living this way. Until I made sense of what I was feeling, me and 'home' seemed to collide head on. The excess, the greed, the blindness was all around me---it was in the huge houses, the million dollar yachts, the wastefulness, the seemingly care-less (if not completely ignorant) conversations and mutterings all around me. I felt a cloud shadowing over me...frustration, anger, sadness... and it was hard to shake. My serenity seemed to be drowning in a sea of emotions that I couldn't quite make sense of. But with the help and love of my family and friends (probably little to their knowledge), I regained that serenity, re-found that place of peace, and was once again feeling balanced. I embraced the realization that, although I have opened my eyes and heart to the suffering around the world (not to mention the shocking way we treat the earth), it doesn't, in effect, mean I have to close my heart to other aspects of life. It doesn't have to overpower all else, doesn't have to deem the 'simple pleasures in life' trivial, unworthy, or unjustified. In fact, on the contrary, it's these simple pleasures that make the fight worth fighting, and, as I'm learning, losing sight of them is losing sight of everything. Being in the presence of things that are truly beautiful in their own ways---no matter how simplistic or how (seemingly) extravagant, was much needed. Being reunited with my 18 year old cat, enjoying drinks and easy laughs with friends and family, cooking (and EATING), scuba diving, witnessing an exchange of vows (http://www.ourlaboroflove.com/showit/molly_and_amber/), bike riding, enjoying the fall season, walking the Freedom Trail...
For a bit, I allowed myself to slip passed serenity--- how can I possibly enjoy "this" when "that" is happening?! How can I possibly be having "this" conversation when "that" needs discussing?! How can I possibly be eating like "this" when others are eating (or not) like "that"?! How can I possibly be doing "this" when it's contributing to "that"?! All these questions and concerns will remain within me---but, as I'm learning, they don't have to consume me. A balance can actually exist and, once I realized that, I again started seeing the beauty...the beauty without the shadow, or perhaps, despite the shadow. I will continue to strive for this balance---I will continue to push myself (and hopefully those around me) to be better---better consumers with a better awareness of ourselves and others---and I will hopefully always continue to push some kind of comfort zone, question and challenge ignorant-driven fears---but at the same time, I can't allow the resulting feelings, experiences or opinions completely overshadow all else---especially when it hinders my ability to enjoy those simple pleasures that, frankly, are worth enjoying...

I used to to believe that I was "stuck" somewhere between wanting to (settle down and) start a garden and wanting to travel the world. But, I've realize that I don't actually have to be "stuck" between---a balance can actually exist, and, as it turns out, both can happen simultaneously...

Happy holidays to everyone! I will be in Kathmandu, Nepal for Christmas and ringing in 2011 from top the Himalayas! Stand by for pics! Also, I have FINALLY got a good internet connection. I am once again connected into shutterfly (www.janellecrowley.shutterfly.com) and will once again be keeping my pics up to date there for those of you that are not a part of the facebook world (Grandma, GG!). Love to all.

Sunday, August 15

Why thank you, world, for being my oyster!

World. International. Travel. A few years ago, it was nothing more than a section of the newspaper that I would casually and carelessly toss to the side. I even remember a much younger me uttering the words “how does this even affect me??” when asked why I didn’t care to read. Now, I’m here. Set loose in the world that, at one time in my life, I barely knew existed. Names that were once nothing more than a bunch of letters haphazardly put together to form some kind of unpronounceable word now roll of my tongue with familiarity, understanding and ease. When tragedy strikes in areas that we’ve never heard of, never been to, never cared to read about in the paper, it’s easier to keep a distance. It’s easier to pay some money to the cause and continue on our daily lives. When we hear our government, friends, or neighbors utter hurtful words about another race, religion, culture, country, it’s easier to jump on board, never challenging the ignorance that is driving the bandwagon. When terror strikes, it’s easier to point fingers, devise plans, create an environment in which hatred thrives. But somewhere along the line, someone else's word just wasn’t good enough anymore. I wanted to experience, breath, look, live, be-- outside of my own box---and see things through a heart wide open. Two years, 3 months, and 8 days ago, I set out on a journey that I hoped would help do just that, and the resulting experiences have been nothing short of amazing. And, although my journey is far from over, an increasingly consistent pull to again plant my feet in familiar soil beckons me to reflect, write, reminisce.
These chapters of my life have taken me through 7 countries, 7 (fascinating) cultures---they have opened up endless opportunities, challenged me to embrace the world and all the people in it, including myself. They have taken me through love—and heartache and every other emotion on the scale of emotions. I have been repelled by home and have longed for home. I have seen the things they omit from textbooks and have been repeatedly shocked by the capability of the human race---both positively, and negatively. I have met amazing people along the way who will forever be imprinted upon my heart. I have learned to work a little less hard (for those that really know me, you know this, actually, is a very good thing!). I have learned to trust my gut, and trust---people. I have learned the true power behind a smile and have learned the depth of peacefulness lurking in a simple meditation. I have, to sum it up, been on one hell of a ride.

A few powerful tidbits that really affected me:

UXO. An acronym that I never knew existed prior to setting foot in the country and one in which would have been impossible to ignore once there. UXO stands for unexploded ordinances---bombs that were dropped and failed to explode on impact during the Vietnam war remain highly active throughout the country. Straying from the path anywhere in Laos is tempting fate, and, as a foreigner, is unthinkable without a highly knowledgeable guide. However, everyday people have no choice---it’s their land, their farms, their roads, their schools and even today, people are dying every single day when this UXO awakens from its 35 year slumber.

The killing fields and S-21 school-turned-torture prison which showed the horrors of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Learning of such a horrific past while simultaneously being exposed to an amazingly uplifting, hopeful, and strong population/culture has created a humbleness that has seeped deep into my pores.

South Africa:
Life in the townships is shocking and inhumane---especially since much of it is the results of District 6 being declared a “white’s only” area. Touring this amazing country gave me the opportunity to gain a better understanding and appreciation for what Nelson Mandela (and SO many others) were fighting for, and against.

Indonesia: In 18 short days, my preconceived notions and fears were effectively shattered by a very open and friendly culture. I received a bracelet from a random stranger that, at first I was scared to wear (why did he just give it to me then disappear?!), and now don’t want to take off. I hope it continues to serve as a reminder not to give in to ignorant driven fears about a country, culture, race, religion.

Whale Sharks. They are, I’m quite certain, 1 of the most beautiful, amazing, breath-taking animals I have ever seen. When Ange and I spent 3 days in the water with them, I felt as though I was flying. It was unexplainable. Except for the times when we looked at other boats---at 1 time, there were nearly 10 boats around a single shark. The government has set specific rules for “engagement” --1 boat per shark, 3 divers per side, no touching, no blocking—however, these are only loosely followed. I want future generations to have the opportunity to experience these amazing creatures—so I hope the importance of these rules is discovered---and soon, before it’s too late (and no, this is not a dramatic exaggeration).

The simplicity of life in a village is something we can all learn a little something from. I got a tiny glimpse into the importance of greeting, being, singing, dancing, and loving. Ironically (or not…), some of the most materialistically poor people in the world taught me a little something about living a rich and meaningful life…and furthered my belief that cultivating a simple lifestyle can be a very powerful thing.

(Thailand will have to be its own blog/book one day!)

Most importantly, I’ve learned—and have completely embraced the fact that there is always more to see, learn, experience, share and, no matter where my journey takes me next, I hope I never forget….

Saturday, June 12

Such is Life...

The last few months have been a bit of a roller coaster and selfishly, I had to get some of it out---so here I am using, if not abusing, my blog spot! This is aimed at close friends and family---if you don’t fit into that category, it might be in your best interest to take a rain check until next blog!

The smoke has cleared and a bit of normalcy has started to return to the place I call home. I’m once again beginning to feel as though I’m in the ‘land of smiles’, and, although I’m not na├»ve enough to believe this is the end, it’s nice to see that the small things I love about this place are again taking form. The protests in Bangkok turned a bit heartbreaking in April, casting a bit of a shadow on an otherwise AMAZING vacation to the Philippines. It was a contrast that left both Ange and I a bit heavy hearted----coming out of the water (for example) from a swim with whale sharks to a text update from our friends in Bangkok. Things seemed to get progressively worse, but didn’t really start to peak until May 14th---we got sent home early from work, and collectively prepared to ‘bunk down’ for the weekend, allowing space for the chaos that would most likely follow a militant step-up. Luckily, my apartment is far away enough from the main area that I felt safe at home. For too many others this wasn’t the case, and my heart continues to go out to those more directly affected---those that undoubtedly can’t afford their losses. 2 friends, both who lived in a designated “live fire zone” relocated to my place---and I’m so thankful they did. Not only for their own safety, but for my own sanity. The weekend soon gave way to the week---which was declared a public holiday---with a strictly enforced curfew. The aura around everything and everyone changed drastically. Chaos. Pain. Fear. Hate. Things that I would never previously use to describe Thailand or the people here. I spent too much time sitting in the windowsill of my apartment watching the smoke take over the Bangkok skyline. Too much time watching the news or just listening to the sounds outside. It brought things way too close to home and my heart was breaking for the country, for my friends and their families, for my students. Thailand vowed to step up—starting with a “together we can” campaign which brought thousands of people to the streets to help clean up the aftermath. Although it was a hopeful sign and a moving outcome, the aftermath can’t as easily be wiped from memories, hearts, or…the economy. The country continues to struggle---and I continue to feel a bit helpless---but I will continue to hope….and ask that you do too.

I also wanted to remind everyone at home how much I’ve been there in spirit over the last few months. It’s never easy being so far from loved ones, but the last few months have proved to be especially challenging.

Christel’s father passed away on May 28th, and although I only briefly met him, I know that Christel gets her “french kiss life” attitude from somewhere. One of the many times recently I’ve wanted to ‘beam’ myself home. Love you honey.

Jo’s father lost his battle with cancer on June 8th and it has been incredibly difficult for me to be “absent” during this time. Her father was an amazing man, who I feel privileged to have known, and whose spirit, charm, wit, humour (and so much more) will live on in his daughters and grandchildren. Joseph, I hope you continue to feel my love and support from oceans away.

Also, this has been a very difficult time for my family, as my grandfather (lovingly known to his grandchildren as “pop-pop”) passed away on June 11. It was something we were prepared for, and he had a great life---touching all our lives in so many ways---but being unable to be there for him, for my dad, my grandmother, my family, has been incredibly painful. I love you all and hope you know that you continue to be in my everyday.

And, on the flip side of emotions, MB (one of my Aussie 5) is now wed, and Ry has completed ---no, no…kicked the ass of---his first ever marathon. 2 events that I was there for in spirit. Miss you guys.

My visit home in October will be much needed (to say the least) and I’m really looking forward to seeing and hugging everyone. It has been far too long! And, am super excited for Beans (uh, sorry…that would be ‘Molly’ to everyone but me and NZ peeps!)…WEDDING!! Her and Amber will be tying the knot Oct. 30th and they may possible make the most beautiful pair of lobsters ever. I hope my date (cough, cough…you better not sell me out!) brings me a lot of Kleenex…not sure who was lucky enough to sit next to me at Kev and James wedding, but, they’ll tell you that I’m ridiculous when it comes to this stuff! ! I’m ready to share some long overdue love, hugs, laughs, and cries….But, perhaps I should mention, in order to end (parental) speculation, as of now, my visit home in October is just that…a visit!

Any support you can give to my friend Jo would be amazing---she is doing an amazing thing for an amazing cause.

Sunday, January 3

That's how we roll...

fish pedicure!

Dad and Kim arrived on the 26th (of December---a little slow on the delivery---sorry!) and it was so great seeing them in the airport! They bunked up for the week in the apartment that is across the hall from mine and it was a blast! Almost like being back in college. Wondering between the 2 rooms---often settling in the one that had the aircon (AC) set to high. Whether I've gotten used to the heat or whether I'm still just my typical frugal self is up for debate---but I'll give you one guess who's apartment had the aircon on full blast! If there was a theme for the visit, it would most definitely be "THAT'S HOW WE ROLL". I wanted to really give them a taste for how I live---how I travel---how I "roll" if you will ;)!) The next morning, I threw them right into the rush, heat and craziness of it all with a visit to Chatachuk market and watched as they processed everything. And, much to their credit, they didn't miss a beat! From stall fruit to meals from the vendors, they jumped in without looking back! They started immediately with the language and, while pops may argue that he is already sounding like a local, some locals may disagree---much to the comic relief of everyone involved! After the market, I ran off for my 2nd airport visit in as many days (for those of you who dread airport visits, try living in a foreign country and waiting almost 2 years before you have guests---then tell me how much you're dreading it! It rocked my world!). I thought I'd have to carry Sarah to the taxi b/c, after living in a Namibian village (see previous blog!) for nearly 2 years, her reaction to this craziness left her with a look that may have mirrored the look I gave her 2 months prior while watching a goat-named-Simon being killed! Spent a little bit of time "in the neighborhood" showing them my day to day before heading off to Ayuttuya where we rode bikes and boats to explore the ruins of the old capital city. Khanchanburi was the next stop and it was great to get away from the city life for a bit. Our guesthouse was right on the River Kwai with a view of the 'Bridge over the River Kwai'. And when I say "on", I really mean ON. The room was on a raft in the water....meaning that every time a boat went past, the room rocked! I had told Dad and Kim about such rooms before we arrived but didn't realize they would get to experience it first hand! Troopers! We explored Erawan Naional Park---and got to enjoy the chill from the waterfall pools. Ahhh! The pools, much to our surprise, also doubled as a "fish pedicure"---which is actually something you can pay for in Thailand. You pay to stick your feet in a pool of little fish that nibble all the dead skin off. Well, why pay when they do it for free here?! That's how we roll :)! Pops and I had trouble sitting still---but Kim was all over it! She didn't even flinch! Back in Bangkok, we met up with Jacyln and did a night rivercruise down the Chao Phraya river while, of course, enjoying MORE food! I headed back to work while they headed south to the beaches to get a bit of luxury....which, I think they got plenty of. (Though, they got so used to "that's how we roll" that I think they missed the neighborhood---and were well aware when they were being over charged for something! Local knowledge is a beautiful thing!). They got to join me for one of my classes on their last day here and it was great! Of course my kids were loving having them around--. I even threw them into the mix for our "who stole the cookie" song! All smiles! A great visit! I loved sharing my life here and love knowing that whenever I talk about something they can picture it! But the room across the hall has felt a bit empty every since!

The other half of the parentals is scheduled to arrive in 4 days!! Wahoo! The plan, at this point, is dependent on what happens with the red shirt rallies. And, while I don't feel threatened, they can make travel/transportation a nightmare---. So, still playing things by ear---but crossing fingers things will be settled in a few days!

Saturday, January 2

Life in a Namibian village

"The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less."

I step off of the plane and practically land in Sarah's arms, immediately laughing at my growing anticipation of not being able to find her in this airport, which, turns out, is about the size of my palm. Our journey begins immediately as we hop into a stranger's car (I can hear the "oh God's"....just remember, I lived to blog about it!) bound for Windhoek, Namibia. Our final destination is Nkurenkuru, a tiny village in the North of Namibia where Sarah has been living, working, and 'greeting' for nearly 2 years (though Peace Corps). It takes us about 4 "legs" (aka, different rides) and 8 hours to get there. Everyone in this country hitchhikes and I'm in awe of the secret language (there is a whole series of hand signals), the generosity, and the effectiveness (ok, so maybe we just had some great luck!) of it all. When we arrive in Nkurenkuru, I am immediately taken for, and welcomed as, Sarah's sister. I'm thrown into the village pace of life---meaning that I sit. And greet. And sit some more. It's amazing. Everything out here seems raw, real....and I'm taking it all in. I'm invited to attend a celebration to honour the naming of (little) Sarah---a baby that is a few months old and has been named after (big) Sarah.
I sit, not only accepting, but loving, the fact that often, the only thing we have to exchange is smiles, body language and food. A friend of (big) Sarah's acts as a translator, but there are times when translation is unnecessary and, just being is...just fine. A goat is killed for the celebration and, although I struggle a bit with this fact, I embrace the circle of life and wish all goats the life that this one had. (I will dispense details about the naming of said goat and my near-death experience while "watching" the slaughter on a first come first serve basis :) Though, the stories are best told with my sidekick!). I look around and feel as though I have stepped onto the pages of a National Geographic. Beyond this small enclave of mud huts where dinner is currently being prepared, there is nothing but open land, free roaming goats and chickens, a magical sunset, and the sound of nature. We eat, we laugh, we sing, we dance. It's simple. It's beautiful. It's heartwarming. If this is poverty, we could all use a bit more of it in our lives.

The next day we sit with our feet in the dirt and a grass roof over our heads as 100+ church gatherers sing their thanks to God. Although some of the events of the day are, well, hilarious (think skirts and on-the-spot-singing--), overall it was an incredibly moving experience. We are sitting in this moment, with some of the most materialistically poor people in the world, learning how to be grateful. And let me tell you, we have a lot to learn. The sound of their unified voices is nothing short of amazing and the energy they disperse is contagious (a fact that made standing in front of them to sing that much more mortifying---love ya Sarah!). The service goes on for over 4 hours. There is singing, dancing, praying, laughing, loving, offering, and through it all, an overwhelming feeling of welcomeness. They even go so far as to translate everything into English for us.

Over the next few days, I'm greeted endlessly with smiles and handshakes. The neighborhood kids constantly come by to play, talk, laugh, ride bikes (The bikes in the pictures and in this village are the outcome of one of Sarah's projects which has supplied transportation to the village along with a job/income/sense of independence to those that currently run the place). Their laughter and dancing is impossibly forgettable and, after only 1.5 weeks in their company, I find myself longing to be amongst their glowing spirits once again.
One of my last experiences in Nkurenjuru, one in which I will never forget, came when Sarah took me to greet/meet another family. As we were sitting in their company, the boys, without explanation, began chasing a chicken wildly around the home-stay. A good 10 minutes later, the chicken was finally caught, bound, and placed at my feet. I didn't know how to react, and am unsure of what facial expressions came out in that moment, but the gesture gives me goosebumps. This family, in a village in Namibia, whom I just met and whom I may never see again, who owns little more then the clothes on their back and the food in their stomach's, is giving me a live chicken as a gift. This is their culture, this is their welcome, this is their appreciation, and they give the fact that they probably need this chicken much more then me no thought. The selflessness of this warms my heart---and, the moments that follow provide hours of entertainment and laughter (first naming, then walking around for over an hour with a live chicken, holding it by it's feet and neck, then in a plastic bag, having a friend kill it, plucking, cooking, and eating it). It will definitely make me think twice when I'm in a situation where I feel like I have nothing to give. My time here has proven that there is always something to give---be it a smile, a laugh, a goat, a chicken or simply shared moments of silence in which human connection needs no words...never underestimate the power of exchange, no matter how small or insignificant that exchange may seem.