Angkor Wat

The temples at Angkor Wat are almost beyond description…so ancient it beckons of a time I can’t fully comprehend. We spent one full day in the hot sun visiting three main temples (Angkor Thom, Angkor Wat and Buyon), awoke the next morning to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat and watched the sunset from the top of  a monastery. The temples are a mix between Hinduism and Buddhism, there are intricate carvings in the sandstone that can still be seen (even the ones that haven’t been restored), and there are huge trees (commonly referred to here as strangler figs) that virtually look to be either strangling the stone temples or embracing them.

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It’s hard to believe that my time abroad is quickly coming to an end and that I’ll be arriving stateside this Friday!  Hopefully my phone will be turned back on so from this Friday evening on you can actually reach me via my cell phone!  I’ll continue to update the blog as we travel to NYC, DC and Virginia. I hope everyone is doing well. Congrats to my cousin David on the birth of his first daughter! I can’t wait to meet her.

Love, a. xoxo

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News of China…from Cambodia

Hello Friends and Family!

I’m back online!  My absence was due to the great Chinese firewall – censorship of many sites including Facebook and wordpress (the site I use to blog). I started this note on a balcony in Caicun, China – a small town sandwiched between Erhai Lake to the east and a jagged snow capped mountain range to the west, with long expanses of fields joining the two – beans and scallions, canola and corn. Each day bodies work tirelessly with straw pointed hats in the sun and the wind. This particular valley is host to extremely strong gusts of wind after 3pm.

China was a most pleasant surprise. Upon arrival we stayed a week in Kunming, the capital of Yunan province (southwest). It was quite lovely while we were there, especially since it was springtime with a most delightful temperature coupled with tree-lined streets exploding with pink and white blossoms. Everywhere I have been within Yunan province – 7,000 feet above the Yangtze River hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge, ordering noodles and dumplings from a vendor on a side street in Kunming, a small village nestled quietly among fields of grapes or a Buddhist monastery high up on a mountainside listening to monks chant before the sunrises under a rather full moon – I am enchanted with springtime. It constantly delights. I think of those courageous snowdrops, the first flowers to break through the thawing earth early in March in Vermont every year.

We just finished our unit on sustainable agriculture, students worked in the fields with their host families, mostly weeding, but also harvesting garlic scapes, and I think the biggest take-away for the students was just how difficult it is to grow food – at the very least they will think of farmers and rural communities now and not take these things for granted.  Many struggled with their food choices, knowing that constantly eating mangos in the northeast in winter is not particularly sustainable and yet not wanting to necessarily change their eating habits. At the very least, they can articulate and understand that while organic may be more expensive at the check-out counter, that conventional foods are not as cheap as they first appear, harboring a boatload of hidden costs, ranging from tax dollars subsidizing industrial corn and soy to the environmental costs such as soil degradation and water pollution. We have all agreed that the question we need to be asking and addressing is no longer “Can sustainable agriculture feed the world?” but “How will it?” as we understand there really is no alternative.

Photos of my time in China.

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We explored the temples at Angkor Wat the past couple of days (Barb, you have been with me in spirit knowing how much you’ve been wanting to be here. In fact, I’ve been having conversations with you in my head when I see interesting things!) and today Katie, Hope and I are biking to a silk farm to check out how that works. I’ll post photos in the upcoming days.

more to come…missing you all tremendously…

BIG HUGS – a.

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Camel Trek

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My time in India is quickly coming to an end. In less than two weeks we’ll be packing our bags and leaving Jaipur. I’ll be joining the group to visit the Taj Mahal, but while they go on to Delhi I’ll instead head up to the yoga/spiritual center known as Rishikesh and spend some time contemplating life in a quiet spot along the Ganges River. I’ll be rejoining them to head on to China.

Last weekend the group went to the holy city of Pushkar where we went on a camel trek through small villages and spent the night sleeping in tents in the desert at the base of some small mountains. I most enjoyed sharing stories around the fire with warm cups of chai, clean air and a sky full of stars. Camels are pretty disgusting animals (they snarl and spit foam out of their mouths)  and they’re not so friendly, but it was a fun experience.

The students continue to grapple with the purpose of education and are exploring (in their media projects) issues such as the students/teacher relationship, pedagogy that requires little critical thinking vs empowering, what exactly empowerment means, especially in light of women’s empowerment, class and race and how that relates to education, etc. I do have much to say on this and by the end of India I’ll post my thoughts. But for now I’m recovering from a rather bad bout with my stomach and I’m a bit tired.

Missing you all tremendously. Like the desert misses the rain? Like french fries would miss ketchup? Like Vermont misses a good snowstorm in winter (from what I hear)…xoxoxoxoxoxo

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Namaste

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It’s a rather warm sunny Tuesday morning and I find myself drifting in and out of thoughts as I take my morning off to simply laze around, do yoga, read, check email, and listen to This American Life (Yes, I sort of have a crush on Ira Glass)

I’ve been in Jaipur for almost three weeks and am only now coming up for air, feeling my feet comfortably place themselves on this foreign soil one foot in front of the other and with care so as to see the details that surround me. Until now, things have been sort of a blur, I’ve been taking in so many new sights, sounds, and smells I don’t think I’ve truly been able to see clearly. For instance, the traffic. There are no lines to keep the varied modes of transport (tuk-tuks, bicycles carrying heavy loads such as bundles of rebar, motorcycles, cars, buses, camels and even an occasional elephant) in order but rather they move among one another in a kind of dance, a chaotic rhythm moving to the sound of consistent car honking. It’s jarring. And then one morning last week this chaotic gigantic go-cart race didn’t shake me. I sat in the tuk-tuk thinking about the seminar I would be facilitating later that day, looking at the extraordinary that had so quickly become the norm. The honking cars didn’t cause me to shudder and cover my ears, the smell of garbage and urine didn’t cause me to crinkle my nose. But every day here is different. One day I want to hide and the next I’m eager to see what is outside my door…which for now is a handful of stray puppies I want to adopt.

Jaipur is crazy. It’s chaotic and intense, dusty, dirty and crowded.  Men constantly spit everywhere and relieve their bladders casually anywhere there is a wall. The busy roads are lined with both small and large brightly colored Hindu temples with statues of Ganesha, with men sitting cross legged stringing garlands of orange and yellow marigolds, cows roaming freely. The roads are also lined with vendors. Men squatting on wood carts roasting peanuts over open flames, yogurt lassis sold in ceramic mugs sprinkled with almonds, metal pots heating chai for the many men who squat talking with warm cups in hand, and carts piled high with beautiful fruits and vegetables. The favorite fruit here seems to be the papaya, which is so unfortunate because to my senses it smells like vomit. I can’t begin to stomach this fruit. Thankfully there is no shortage of pineapple, oranges and bananas.  The few women I see on the streets are draped in brightly colorful fabrics (pink, turquoise, yellow, orange) from head to toe adding so much color and a bit of fresh air into this dusty city landscape. While the sky here is generally blue, it usually seems like I’m looking through a hazy screen, especially along the periphery. It’s rarely clear.

The most common past time I’ve observed is flying kites from rooftops. This past weekend was a kite festival and all through the skies these small square paper kites flittered, swirled, shimmied and swam in an attempt to cut the lines of other kites.

I’ve found myself ok with not knowing exactly where I am and giving over trust to tuk-tuk drivers to get me where I want to go. This is a first. I generally have a city well mapped out in my mind and know where I am, but here, I’ve let myself get swept up in the chaos of it and with the help of meditation, try to be a calm island.  Sometimes this works.  Just as this post seems to jump all over the place in my attempt to describe India, this is sometimes how it feels to me.

I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t drink coffee here, but for now that is just fine. We drink warm cups of chai at least three times a day and this is quite comforting. Tom mentioned in his blog that he thinks our group might like chai almost as much as ice cream.  I’m not sure there is anything our group will ever like more than ice cream though. This past weekend I took a cooking class with some interested students and learned how to make food with such delicious colors and spices that set your mouth dancing with joy… cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, bay leaves, turmeric, ginger, garlic, coriander…

I’ve done some sightseeing around the city with my mento group, enjoyed a cooking class, got my arm decorated with henna and continue to work with the students as they grapple with ideas around the purpose of education (more on that soon).  This weekend students will explore various parts of Rajasthan on their independent travel but I will stay in Jaipur for the literature festival where some rather interesting authors from around the world will be giving talks. I’m rather looking forward to it.

I came on this trip, decided to leave the comforts of my life, because I felt my experience in Vermont was too small and constricting. I have come to realize it is not our location that makes our experiences small, it is our attitude and perspectives. Our experiences are only as small or as big as we let them be.  Traveling can be quite romantic at times, but so can being home and being settled.  Ah the Gemini in me…always wanting everything…the city and the farm, world travel and a home.

Hope the snow is falling in New England. Happy birthday to Jodi…I’m there skiing and falling with you in spirit.

xoxo

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Pics from Safari

Happy New Year Friends and Family… During Christmas vacation, we went on safari to Addo National Park in Addo, South Africa. It’s a national park that only keeps animals that are native to that part of South Africa, so unfortunately I did not get to see any giraffes, but I did see some other amazing animals…Plus, we got to see an ostriches courting and mating! They have this beautiful dance and way of moving their feathers when trying to attract a mate.

Rhino, Addo National Park, South Africa

Currently in India and am not quite ready to put into words what I’m experiencing here, but stay tuned because I will have a lot to say. For now, I’ll just say that after a week I finally don’t feel like I want to run into a quiet room and hide from all the people and sounds

warthog

outside and am settling in to a routine. The students have started their work project, teaching in a variety of settings in two slums here in Jaipur and it is sure to be an eye opening experience for all. This is the first country on our trip where i have felt a degree of culture shock. And the food…well, it’s amazing. More to come…

Ostrich, Addo National Park, South Africa

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As I leave South Africa, some thoughts about learning…

The past 6 weeks of South Africa have not necessarily been what I was hoping for from my “African” experience and I struggled a bit with feeling disconnected from a community. I had glimpses of township life through the couple of days I walked around Witidrift with a caregiver but mostly through the stories of my students.

Over the course of our time in South Africa, we held group processing sessions to give students an opportunity to speak about what they were experiencing with their work project as seeing such sick people every day can be extremely difficult for some. It became evident just how moved students were by their time working in townships and a reminder to me that some of the most meaningful and impactful learning comes from the relationships we create.

During one such session, Tom recounted to the group how the 60lb woman with AIDS he had helped carry onto a bus just two weeks earlier, had just passed away. Was he supposed to feel sad, because he didn’t, he said to the group. He struggled  with this lack of feeling and he wanted to know if this was good or bad. We judge others and ourselves for so much of our lives, we so easily fail to see such moments for what they are, with no judgment placed on it. It is far easier to put things into neatly contained boxes of “yes” and “no” or “right” and “wrong”, seal the lid and walk away – but that devalues our experiences, and that of others, failing to address the complexities surrounding it, failing to just be here in the moment with whatever it is we are feeling or not feeling, observing and sensing.

On the other hand, Claire shared how uncomfortable she felt observing patients, some living with so little and in such destitution (ex. small 8 by 8 structures with cardboard walls) as if they are specimens for her to use. She was feeling overwhelmed with guilt of her privilege and all that she has in her life compared with so little people seemingly have here.  I’m reminded of my experience in the Peace Corps and the guilt that clung to me for my entire stay there. I think how fortunate she is to be having this experience now. How this will fundamentally change her, possibly the course of her life, what she wants to do, how she wants to live, if her eyes are open for that matter. And for now, they seem to be, wide open and full of tears.

Mijal, after passing the first time around, bursts into uncontrollable tears.  I see myself in Mijal sometimes, in the way she responds to things with feeling and emotions and clings to those so passionately as being truth. It really wasn’t up until a couple of years ago that I truly started to understand that just because I felt something to be true, didn’t quite actually make it so. I think of these things as she begins to speak in between tears.  She admitted to the group that walking through the townships made her think the people here are lazy and not trying to better themselves or their situations. She felt guilty for having such thoughts and asked questions such as why do some people just have all this luck being born in some place while others are born into unjust, unfair situations that make their lives infinitely harder? And my question is, why do we distance ourselves from those who have harder lives? Where is the disconnect?

I’m glad my students are struggling with these questions. That tells me they are learning, they are just where they need to be. They could be at college partying, spending countless hours on the internet and in front of the TV, eating frozen yogurt twice a day (yes I have a student who is infatuated with “fro yo” as she likes to call it). Instead, they had to confront their privilege every day when they stepped into a house in a township and look a patient in the eyes. They had to try to understand how that patient had come to where they were with poor health and in need of a caregiver or how they had taken steps to recover. It takes courage to start to peel away the layers of privilege we have hidden behind, because we are comfortable with our own lives, because we don’t even know we are masked and adorned with accessories we don’t really need.

There are so many ways to live and be in this world.

On the days when I am homesick the most and tired of wearing the same clothes over and over again and having no social life, I try to remind myself of these moments. I feel honored to bear witness to these revealing, when students open up in such vulnerable ways about such difficult topics, and for many, this is the first time they have ever spoken openly about their emotions. I am for the most part left speechless. There is not much I can say to aid in someone’s growth here.  Part of the journey are these painful feelings.  So all I’m left to give is space to listen and simples statements such as, “I know. Keep feeling. Keep looking.  Keep listening. Keep talking. Keep asking.”

Today students presented their media projects to the community. I’ll try to post some of them on this blog so you can see what the students are learning first hand. I’m off to Addo tomorrow which is a game reserve about 3 hours from here. We’ll be there for about a week going on various safaris and relaxing. I’ll try posting pictures of some animals before leaving for India next Thursday.

Thanks to everyone who sent packages and letters…it’s the next best thing to an actual hug or skype call! It’s as if I am sitting with you for a few minutes every time I read a letter and that is such a gift. Wishing you all a great holiday season! And mom, congrats on your retirement!

peace and love…xoxo

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Images from Cape Town

Table Mountain with Cape Town below. View from Robben Island.

View from top of Table Mountain after 1.5 hour hike. Yes, I'm taking a picture of myself.

Stopped to view the penguins on our way to Cape Point. Beautiful summer day.

Cape of Good Hope

View from Cape Point looking out over the Indian Ocean

 

stone sculpture in the botanical gardens

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