Balls and Balloons and Much, Much More

There are so many unsung heros delivering earthquake aid in Nepal. I am talking about the Nepalese people, ordinary citizens, who are dealing with their own fears and life situation, with less money than NGO’s with big names and logos. What is astounding to me is how many young people in their 20’s organize funds, food and supplies, mobilize their friends, gather relief materials, package bags and then deliver them under the toughest of conditions. I have had the pleasure to meet and work with some of these young heroes. I accompanied a relief effort yesterday that involved sitting on a motorcycle for 16 hours, much of it traversing mountainous single lane primate roads.
On the journey out of Katmandu, traffic was heavy, the air was thick with black smoke as our motorcycle edged between buses and trucks, when larger vehicles were stuck in a long line of halted traffic.
People affected by the earthquake now live in a fish bowl. There is little privacy. People bathe partially clothed in rivers, under communual water taps, sleep in night gowns under tarps, gather leaves and plants along the side of the road, comb each other’s hair, wash clothes with a stone, haul buckets of water to their tent, and use public toilets.
Devastation worsened with every mile. Deep inside Nuwarok district, our road was reduced to a rubble strewn path, a war zone, with homes obliterated on each side of the road… people sat on top of their homes a dirt pile, with no where to go. Tents set up outside where people prefer to sleep at night. We waited as traffic had stopped as a home, partially destroyed, was demolished by a claw tractor. A crowd gathered and children cheered as a the house was razed. The house had become a public hazard leaning into the “road.” An elder man, broken with emotion, told me it was his house. He gestured to indicate he and his wife had lived there for many many years. I held his hands and hugged him and told him I was sorry. A friend later responded about it by stating, everyone has troubles. Rightly or wrongly, I could not help but feel how lucky the old man was, to have a wife and be in his elder years; to be alive. But then again, I am not sleeping  outside in a tent, with uncertainty of where my next meal will come from. Who will help him rebuild a house?
As we passed a graveyard of houses, there would be one or two standing in a freakish contrast, ashamed to be whole, but vacant of all life. The landscape uninhabitable. People were sitting about here and there, gathered. Silent. Engaged in some ordinary exchange of life. They looked to us, seemingly hopeful, but we would not be stopping here. My first thought was I should not smile and say “hello” or “namaste,” there is nothing to smile about. But when my eyes reached theirs, I could not help myself. I said “hello” and “namaste” and they easily and often loudly, responded with “hello” and “namaste,” back. Maybe they felt affirmed in that moment or felt glad to be seen, recognized.
Around one bend in the road I would smell jasmine in the air. Then the stench of a dead animal would interrupt the otherwise pleasant smell of the idyllic countryside we traveled through.
We had a relief truck and a caravan of seven motorcycles and 14 people. We set out Friday morning, May 15, to the high mountains of Nuwakot. The village we were headed to, Parmachet Samari, was an eight hour trip each way, home to about 800 families. It was not a town. Small settlements of homes were concentrated in scattered areas in the mountains.
The donation effort was led by Himal Roka, who donated all the supplies on behalf of a Nepali association, Baglung Sewa Samaj, in NYC. His friend Ram Tamang was the leader, as it was his village we were to aid. Volunteers included staff from ADRF and their friends.
In addition to earthquake damage to homes, the village’s dream school, built a year ago by its villago hero, Ram Tamang, was completed destroyed. Up to 100 children studied there. It will have to be totally rebuilt.
Provisions were packed for about 111 families including: tarp, soap, rice, dal, garbanzo beans, beaten rice, salt, oil, and texturized protein.  in addition, a cloth bag was given to each family that contained a frisbee, ball, balloons and a bag of candy. Without a doubt, this was the best surprise for them. After a short frisbee lesson, they played together or alone totally absorbed, smiling and laughing.  Their smiles and laughter gave me hope that their lives could be rebuilt and they could be stronger and more resilient.
Then it was time to leave. Everyone had to walk back to their settlements in the woods before dark. Most were barefoot. I had made friends with many children, and gave them my Facebook name. The mommas and myself took pictures, and I shared a pipe with one of the women, much to their delight.
On the return, three of our team fell off their bikes navigating the wet slippery rocky road. Luckily no one was hurt. Around 11pm, we hit flat land it was a thrill to ride under starlight into the empty pre-dawn streets of Katmandu. Only us and the street dogs. We were all happy to arrive home at one in the morning.
Here is a link to all the photos!
I found a sweet Tamang music video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cmN2Rm9nD0

12 Days in Nepal

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Music is playing in the house/office I am staying at. A man is outside weeding the a large space next to the house that will be a new garden.

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apartments next door

 

Building next door

I arrived in Katmandu, Nepal, 11 days ago to support a South Korean NGO called Asia, Africa, Destitute Relief Foundation (ADRF). ADRF has been offering informal education to children in Nepal who are underprivileged, since 2011. I met a man who works there while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand. We both attended the UN Summit on Global Youth Development. I was headed to Nepal April 30 as a tourist anyway, after my Peace Corp service ended April 21. I asked if could support what they are doing post quake and here I am.

ADRF offices/ house

ADRF offices/ house

I am living communally here with three other people.  Arati is 25, Indira Lama is 28, and Ram Pukar, is 25. I share a room with the two women.  It has been great because they have been cooking me delicious Nepalese food usually rice, dal, a some kind of spicy vegetable curry. I am in love with a popular condiment called picked garlic.  It is a little sour and spicy. I love it mixed with rice.

Pukar and Arati

Pukar and Arati

Indira Lama cooks awesome curry

Indira Lama cooks awesome curry

Meals are made and shared together.  I told them I could stay at a guest house but they insisted I stay with them as they had prepared a room with a bed for me. Initially, were not discussing my role a lot as I was just taking it all in and trying to learn of their efforts. The first few days I went to planning meetings where another youth group called Rise Nepal (under Global Peace Foundation) has been responding to the disaster with food and tents high to high mountain villages.

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ADRF is filled with bags of rice and dried food goods lined up against the walls.

When I arrived, we were eating two meals a day, mostly rice, with dal and vegetables.  They told me they do not eat breakfast. I think it is because they are trying to save money. We drink bottled water from large jugs.

sidewalk near house

sidewalk near house

We often sit at night with the lights off. The lights go out at night often. Happily, like in Thailand, you don’t flush tissue in the toilet, there is a butt spray near the toilet.

shop down the street from the house

shop down the street from the house

We wear dust masks when we leave the office because the streets are dirty and there is a fear of disease.  There are no stop lights so intersections can be a little mad. People honk to express their location not because they are upset, but to say, “I’m here, I’m coming through.” I have seen traffic cops in the middle of some intersections to guide, somewhat.

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I like the weather here. It can get hot during the day but is is like Seattle hot. Thank goodness it is not that sticky humidity like you feel in Thailand.

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The government gave everyone a month off from work to recover from the earthquake.  But has extended the time off from school an additional week, until May 29.  Most children in affected areas have no schools to go to, the buildings are in rubble. NGOs and others are trying to find safe temporary learning spaces for thousands of children.  It is a huge task. Many businesses are still closed, while others: markets, street shops, street vendors, are open.

side street near house

side street near house

One day ADRF staff member Arati, took me to see the World Heritage site at Durbar square and other honored cultural monuments that saw massive destruction with thousand of lives lost. It was heartbreaking.  Old buildings tumbled to the ground taking life all around them.

Dharahara Tower

Dharahara Tower

Across the street, newer builds still stand untouched. The hand strewn bricks used to make these monuments and temples are massive. But they fell of top of people’s heads and bodies. The miracles of life, such as the baby girl pulled from this rubble and the teenage boy who survived being crushed because a motorcycle formed a wedge between the bricks and his body, are truly miracles.

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The baby is staying at a cultural building (newer brick building, below) inside the World Heritage site across from the destruction.

DSCN8159The boy’s motorcycle lies on the ground serving as a living museum.

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We couldn’t walk much further.  Police turned us away. There are precious cultural relics still inside the palace museum and when many people arrive in the morning to observe, pay respects and take pictures, police get cannot control their access, and they close the site.

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There were once dozens of beautiful temples within these grounds, now a living museum of horror, death and destruction. What still stands is striking beauty in the midst of destruction.

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Afterwards, we went to an open market. I bought vegetables, apples, bananas, bread, rolls, cheese and yogurt which we ate for about week.  For now, they do all the cooking, I wash dishes and buy food. I notice more laughing and smiles. Normal routines are starting again… cleaning, shopping. Listening to music and watching videos.

Helping grandmother feed her cow

Helping grandmother feed her cow

For the first four days, I supported them best I could, telling them that they need to take care of themselves too… eat food and try to sleep, rest.  People I know here have been sacrificing themselves to get aid out and to deal with the crisis in their own way. This often leads to deprivation of all kinds. As a result, my friend was sick for a day but is better now. He needs a week off to do nothing.

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Happy gets attention from Arati.

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His favorite color is red. His Auntie is university professor of art and Nepal cultural history.

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I play with the neighborhood kids some late afternoons when I hear them laugh and scream in the dirt side street outside the ADRF office.

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Lotshme

 

DSCN8185They seem happy and surprised I join them. We place bricks in different spots in the road and use a ball made from wadded up newspaper and tape. One at a time, starting from position brick one, each person tosses the ball aiming to hit each of the four bricks in order.  A miss means you place your token “rock” at the place your balls lands and try for the target next round. Object is to complete an entire round without missing the brick.  When a motorcycle comes down the road we say sorry. When a car comes down the road we move the bricks out of he road quickly, then replace them.

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Bemal and Rosen

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Resman

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The ball goes over the wall and they climb to retrieve it.

Then we play badminton with a line draw in the dirt road unless dusk arrives.

May 12

Psychologist's meeting

Psychologist’s meeting

I was not especially interested in working on the Art With Heart Nepal work plan today.  There are so many questions I need answered from the group so I didn’t feel an urgency to complete anything.

Art with Nepal group

Two of my housemates were gone, one to attend her grandfather’s funeral and the other, assessing the organization’s partner schools. The other housemate’s sister was here with her family (a son, little 4-year old Sameet and her husband). Sameet was happily watching a children’s English channel of videos, and I would erupt in song upon hearing some, three blind mice, three blind mice…  I decided to tackle the bathrooms and kitchen and set out to clean them. I finished the kitchen and first bathroom. I decided to take on the “boy” bathroom too. I was in the middle of filling a tall bucket with water when I got a dizzy feeling.  It was warning enough and I left quickly running head down, making my way through the bedroom, corridor, and office that led to outside. As I wobbled my way out, I had to make my way through a gauntlet of dozen 30-kilo bags of rice and dal piled up against the walls.

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Our two meal a day routines is over. I am getting fat. I bought over a hundred dollars worth of food the other day at a store that was a kind of international oasis.  I couldn’t control my self. I wanted to give back. I bought a lot of food, drink and necessities that we share. I love to eat Nepalese street food but they want to cook most of the time. The NRP is 100 to 1 USD, so I don’t mind buying everything they need.

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chicken momos…

 

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nuts and candy

 

Katmandu is such a contrast of ancient, old, 70’s style, new, and modern. A mall stands tall across from a row of small brick buildings that line the street. Newer building stand side by side to others made from brick and mud.

 

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chewing tobacco

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Small markets selling dried goods and soda, fruits and vegetables are here, bakeries, restaurants, eye glasses stores, pharmacies, furniture stores, cigarette and liquor stores, everything you need is here.

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exotic flavors wrapped beautifully in a leaf

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Guru with white mask

There are several large signs of gurus advertising their brand of hindu spirituality.  People practice hinduism here and there is an active caste system. People know from your last name, what caste you are in. It keeps people separate but the quake has also brought people together.  It seems there is a high literacy rate of Nepali language, because there are lots of books stores. I walked down a nearby street and passed three.

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I am struck by seeing everything one could need and being in one of poorest countries in the world.

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The traffic is something else.  It was scary at first.  No. It is still scary.  I was on a motorcycle and we were part of this ocean of motorcycles, cars and taxis, (mini size), trucks and buses (large size), and cars (average size) flowing down the street, meeting at intersections, sometimes coming to a stop head to head.. weaving in and weaving out.

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taxi

 

I don’t think there are stop lights.  There traffic circles where traffic cop stand and direct at intersections. There is one place where there is an eight lane intersection.  Pedestrians are on their own.

small bus

small bus

 

People have to simply navigate the traffic calming by walking to the center and then across.  There is no pedestrian crossing.  Honking only to say I am here, or I am coming, not to say “FU.”

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The day before I was walking the side streets with door size store fronts, colorfully painted, when I passed coffee shops and restaurants that seemed rather hip.  I noticed a lot of young men in particular, good looking guys, walking. Then I saw it. The Cineplex. QFX.

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The latest Avengers was playing and I was overjoyed to see so many people. Gabbar, an Indian action hero movie is a hugely popular in Nepal. A vigilante of sorts, goes after corrupt bad guys.  I thought it would be great to take everyone out tonight to see The Avengers.  Then the earthquake happened and it does not feel like such a good idea.

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I ran out of the house and felt wobbly. I sat on the ground, looking high above me for buildings. The earth was still moving. I was standing with two other people. My heart was still pounding, “I left the water running in the bathroom,” I  said. We wondered that if it was this bad here, what was it like in the epicenter.  “People are dying, one of the young men said.” Earlier that morning he donated over 70 30-kilos of rice and dal and other dried goods.

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People started to arrive and congregate in the big yard at ADRF after the second big quake.

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There were nearly 30 people in the yard after the quake. Several families with children (who I had played with days before), elderly couples and young people. A white couple was given chairs, glasses of water and a foot rest, by, who I can only believe was their “nanny or caretaker.”

I would have like to meet them all. I said namaste when I could. It was not a social time. People sat relaying information,listening to radios.  It was a 7.2 quake and the epicenter was near the last. The only reassurance was that many of the buildings had already collapsed.

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We watched the pipes on the adjacent house shake as the warning that the next tremor was coming. Many still died in the mountains in landslides and in the city due to the collapse of already compromised buildings. It is a horrible feeling, being off balance, making you feel sick to your stomach and dizzy. Two days after I still feel little movement. Later there was laughter.  Arati and Rammy came home safe. So you felt a Nepal earthquake? Yes, I said. I joined the club. You ran away? Yes, I ran away.

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Happy and her new friend who has a bandaged leg

 

 

We all sleep next to a door now.  Three women in one room and Pukar in the other (with friends or neighbors who are scared to back to their homes). We got up at 2am and went outside in a daze after feeling an aftershock.

May 14

Today people are still feeling set back. Our creative arts program for children is on hold until training materials arrive, they are in Hong kong now. Maybe here in a day or two. Staff here have been taking it easy.  They need a rest.  It takes a toll after weeks without a huge shake and then to get one again.  It sets people back into fear. The first day after, I had a feeling of not wanting to linger in a back room too long, and have a close exit.

We watch videos of the earthquake the day before and laugh. They show people leaving buildings with just a sheet wrapped around them because they are naked. Others are on the ground, or standing under a ledge (clearly unsafe), then there is motorcycle that just drives by not even concerned.

Riding in Katmandu traffic scares me more than earthquakes.  It is crazy.  Everyone going in all directions around roundabouts and streets, leg to leg with buses, cars bicycles and other motorcycles.

Today, as the work I am facilitating does not seem relevant, I had a brainstorm. Why not bring joy to kids in their villages with the aid bags.

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Himal Roka donated the relief items

Tomorrow, Friday, we will go on a aid relief mission with ADRF staff, volunteers, and a man who has donated donated rice, dal, salt, texturized protein, pounded rice, spice, tents and tarps.  We have supplies for over 100 families.  We will go in a large truck and on motorcycles.

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I contributed a family bag: frisbee, ball, bag of candy and balloons. Kids are without school for another week and I was reading an article today, and at the end, the man said, can we please have some balls?

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DSCN8287So, I thought, of course. Balls.  Balls, balloons, frisbees and candy. That is why I have come. To help replace fear with joy.

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Grandma

Grandma picking grass for her cow

 

Around Katmandu

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home and office

 

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shop down the street from the house

shop down the street from the house

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Thai Herbal Medicine and Other Good Stuff

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wasp’s nest is good luck charm

 

I have turned to Thai herbal remedies more than once in these past few years, for ailments ranging from cold and cough, constipation, and a worsening skin allergy.

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Being with kids takes my focus away from discomfort.

For cold and cough my friends gave me leaves to make a tea from fah tha lai jone (heaven that beats thieves), a bitter drink that I took daily for a few days and I got well.

Fah tah lai joan

Fah tah lai joan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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samun phrai

There is also a dried herbal concoction the yais (elder women) make called samun phrai (Thai herbal mixture). You soak it in a bunch of water to make tea and it has a slightly sweet woody taste, pleasant smell and turns the water orange.

A concoction of leaves and herbs including a long leafy grass called baiteuy  or panadus, is used in Thai herbal saunas.  It takes a few hours to prepare with a wood stoked fire from which the steam is directed through a pipe you stand over filling the room with herbal goodness that soaks in the skin and lungs.

The leaf to induce diarrhea grows in my back yard and is potent as I discovered. A veritable colon cleanser. My 20-minute bike ride away acupuncturist, gave me leaves and branches from tung pan chang (1000 gold elephants) for my excema. I soaked my hands and feet in it and it left them soft and smooth.

One day my co-worker stopped along the side of the road and identified the leaves from bai yao (long leaf).  Breaking apart the leaf at the stem reveals a clear liquid which can be applied to cuts acting like a liquid bandaid. Then, my neighbor showed me where it was growing in a corner of my backyard.  For a time, my refrigerator was filled with branches and leaves; storing food for cud chewing animals.

cow

At the local walking street I happened upon wan yao, sweet grass, or as it is known in America “Stevia.”  This wonderful little plant with its leaves so sweet kept filling my teapot with its wild grassy nectar, cup after cup.  Afterwards, I ate the leaves. The Stevia we know has no such flavor.  So much we are missing!  In Thailand, the sugar industry has prevented wan yao from being farmed and commercialized. I am sad to report that my wan yao has died.

stevia

Sweet Grass; Stevia

I happened upon another Thai herbal remedy when my excema was so painful with fissures, dryness and stiffness, I could not open my hands. I was sitting in a van returning from a wedding in a mountain village in Chiang Mai, that grows almonds, strawberries and grapes, when my partner teacher from the monastery school handed me a bit of a lip balm she said had beeswax in it. It took the pain away within seconds. I was thrilled. She said she bought it on-line but knew where to buy it in Chiang Mai. We stopped at a large department store where a small cosmetic counter sold it under the name Siphun Mae Liab 2480. It cost about a dollar for a three-gram container.  I promptly used up my precious resource that night as I spread the aromatic sticky substance on my hands and feet.

Siphun Mae Liab 2480

Siphun Mae Liab 2480

I have since ordered it on-line, twice, buying it in bulk. 50 three-gram containers in a box. My latest order has three blobs of the viscous charm, individually zip locked in tiny bags. The ingredients intrigued me: bees wax, coconut oil, and Boswellia Serrata.  Boswellia Serrata?  I had to know more.

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Frankincense tree

In short, it’s Frankincense Oil. Boswellia Serrata is one of the Boswellic acids in Frankincense Oil. I know way to much about it now. I had an idea to add the oil to my creams, so I bought some in Bangkok. This was after hours of research and investigation and a search for sources on alibaba.com, Asia’s answer to amazon. Boswellia Serrata has been used for thousands of years and has proven to be effective in reducing inflammation and pain from osteo-arthritis and many other afflictions (the list is long). You can buy it powdered in the U.S.

A local product called kee pueng (bee shit), not to be confused with nam pueng, (bee water) or honey, is available at my local market. So, I ask for bee shit, no bull shit, and the locals happily sell it to me and query about what I am going to do with it.  “Chan tam Samunphrai dua eng”.  I am going to make Thai herbs myself. Then I show them my hands.  They look at me knowingly wanting a closer look, “agaat peh” (weather allergy), I say. “Mee taao duai” (on my feet too). They stick a pair of rubber gloves in my bag.

North Thai beeswax

North Thai beeswax

My first Thai herbal balm was fantastic. I melted the orange kee pueng, then added equal parts olive oil, coconut oil and jojoba oil.

the oils

Then the delicious Frankincense oil.  It was great, but it’s gone. For my second batch, I wanted to use real beeswax. Luckily, down the street live a group of people who collect honey and wax from wild bees and sell in Chiang Mai.  I was riding by bike past their house one day and over the fence offered, “Mee kee pueng mai ka?”  Do you have any beeswax?  They said, yes. I rode home with a huge wad of honey comb, for free. I was so excited. Little did I know about the work that lay ahead.

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Brood honey comb

 

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Okay. I got this.

My first attempt was actually five attempts because that is how many times I had to render the beeswax. This is the result of the first rendering.

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the slurry

sludge

filtered out scum

To render beeswax, meaning melt down, filter and cool, takes time. It is hot season now, and laboring over a hot stove making beeswax is interesting, but hot.

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top

bottom

bottom shows imperfections

2nd rendering

2nd rendering

cooling

cooling

cool 2

cooled

 

final rendering

final rendering

5th rendering

beeswax base ready to melt with oils

poured in vessels

poured in vessels ready to use

In between the renderings, is the time consuming and messy task of cleaning beeswax from pots and buckets.  I still have two dirty buckets sitting in my back yard, having lost interest in pouring hot water inside to melt the wax and clean, knowing it will take three pots of hot water.  The process involves wearing three pairs of gloves: a cotton liner, followed by two plastic gloves, but the heat still penetrates.  I ouch, ouch, ouch my way through, then run cold water over the gloves before wiping the wax off. In the future, I wish to buy my beeswax already rendered. Or, become a bee keeper and sell beeswax and my homemade Thai herbal remedy.  LOL!

Am I getting better?  Yes.  My skin is more elastic. I can straighten my fingers. It takes the pain away. No medicine has been able to do that. I accept that this is part of my self-care.  Slathering my skin with beeswax at night and morning. Wearing socks and gloves. I eventually throw them out due to the amount of beeswax on them.  Downside is I have to apply the cream often.

As a long term cortisone cream user, I can’t use topical medicine anymore. It is not effective or good for long term use. Beeswax has a bunch of healthy properties. It lets your skin breathe, and has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.  My dermatologist, at the internationally acclaimed Bumrungrad hospital in Bangkok, also echoed this by telling me that in ancient times, monks actually used beeswax like skin cream. He encouraged me to use it.

Yesterday, was the first day in over a year, I have been able to leave the house without socks!

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before beeswax

 

hands March 14

with beeswax

Here is to discovering what heals you!  Chocolate chip cookies wouldn’t do any harm, but for today, I think I will have coconut ice cream!

A Day for Children

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Hi everyone. I don’t know what to say… I’ve neglected you.  My service is ending April 20. WHAT?!?!?!. And I cannot possibly catch up on the past five months.  So, I will do weekly updates.  Here’s the first.

I wanted to share one special day with you, Children’s Day January 10, 2015. Fellow PCV, Yee Lor and I were invited to go to a remote school in my district, to offer fun activities for the students. It is only 10 kilometers away but takes over an hour to get there, on a good day.

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We were invited by Kuhn Oa (Thamonpat Cooperider), Bangkok’s Books4Thailand, General Manager, Phayao University Library staff, offering their annual community service day to the school, and local government officials.

In Pua, it had been raining a lot, the roads were wet and muddy.  The home stay roof we stayed at leaked throughout the night into a makeshift container we set up to catch the drops. We were worried whether the event would happen or not. The road to the school had been hit hard making it dangerous to travel. No one was about to give up. Kuhn Oa had traveled from Bangkok and the others from Phayao for this annual event. Think of the children, was what we all said. They are waiting for us. We were told other promised visitors had been no shows to the disappointment of the children. We were not going to be no shows. I had visions of us walking up the slippery road, arriving drenched in mud but to the laughter of happy children.

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Non-stop rain for two days was not going to stop the show for the intrepid cast of two Peace Corps Volunteers, and staff from Books for Thailand and Phayao University Library, who were determined to offer their gifts to the school children.

The next day we woke it was Children’s Day. The rain had stopped. It took two four-wheel drive vehicles more than an hour to travel 10 kilometers up the mostly rutted-out, wet, steep dirt road to Baan Pha Vieng School. The saw naw from Nan PESAO 2 (my office) has not visited the school for two years. On a normal sunny day you cannot drive your average vehicle up this road and motorbikes are questionable too. But on this day, our two vehicles carried precious cargo: shoes, towels, socks, blankets, school supplies, books, food, ice cream and snacks. Rounding each corner, the mist and fog was so thick that the rolling mountains in the distance surrounding this village, went sight unseen. Lucky perhaps, not to see the drop off on one side of the road.

Hello my name is Susan

Once we arrived and started to unpack the vehicles, students and their families started to trickle in. The school has 70 students, from kindergarten to 6th grade, all from the Luwa hill tribe. On this day, about 50 students and their families braved the elements to take part in the festivities. The school has no English teacher. The location is isolated. The school science teacher doubles as the principal. There is one village of several hundred people. Everyday, students walk to school from their mountain villages. For some it is a daily, three-kilometer walk.

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Sing a song

The students enjoyed singing songs and playing games. For kids who don’t have an English teacher to teach them English, they sure learned their body parts  and numbers in English quickly. After singing, we played a few games. Mostly, they enjoyed making their “superhero” head bands and chanting, “We are superheroes!’

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Showing how to make Spiderman ‘web” fingers

Next, children ate ice cream cones until they were so full they could not come up for more. Then, each was given a soft fluffy towel.  The rest of the gifts would be distributed by the teachers a later date.

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Serving coconut ice cream.

Students got very creative with their headbands and not one was the same. Parents made them too. It was Children’s Day and we reinforced to them that they were all superheroes. That they do have power, magical power, and that they are important.

We are super heroes!

Later we were told that the school had not had foreign visitors for over 10 years.  On Saturday, January 10, 2015, the spell was broken.

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View from classroom.

 

Mom’s making headbands for little ones, too.

Munchkins one and two.

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Button nose.

He wouldn’t leave me alone, luckily.

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Looking at teacher housing.

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Water tanks and play ground.

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Well done little one!

little bit

Little bit with one shoe off and one shoe on.

famnily

Morning Mist

There is a heavy damp mist in the air over the rice fields this morning which I have not seen in a while.  But it’s not raining. The sky is waking up with streaks of pewter braids and peachy puffs.  We have been having torrential rains here from a storm over Vietnam. It has been here for weeks bringing rain off and on every few hours. It means a longer dry time for clothes, no aerobics in the park, and a wet ride to work, if no one picks me up.

The morning is alive with the strangest of sounds layered one upon the other so it’s fun to try to find out how deep it goes.  Geckos make these trilling clicking rhythms.  The cicadas whirl. Birds are calling to one another.  I keep sneezing though I not not sure what from.  Geckos are five inches of fierce instinct.  They will go after an winged insect much too big for their little bodies, but they will hold on and gulp it down section by section.  And, of course the chickens.

I now believe chickens talk. They have this fierce determination to protect their brood and they talk all the time while out foraging.  I respect that. The neighbor’s chickens come around to my house daily.  I dump big piles of vege and fruit waste in my back yard and they have come to enjoy it very much. They almost seem like they would be friendly. Then I get the “eye.”  The prehistoric eye which has imprinted a genetic code of wariness and fear. Sometimes I hear voices outside my house. I think there are people walking around my house.  But, I’m pretty sure it’s the chickens’ mumbles and murmurs.

Thank god geckos and chickens are not ten times bigger than they are. However, small things can be irritating.  Ants for instance are a big reason you can’t just lay out in the backyard.  You can’t rest for long outside because if you do you will be have ants crawling on you. When I gather fruit, pull weeds, or linger in any spot too long I will have company. Sometimes an hour later I will be doing something and there is an ant on my neck.  How long did it take it to travel from toe to neck?

Today, I go to a house warming party for a family I know because I ride my bicycle by their food stall, which sells grilled pork, grilled pork intestines, grilled pork fat and other popular dishes. I ride by to and from work and then to and from aerobics. The mom remains single after her husband died several years ago. Her three children, 20 and 30 somethings, include Pammie, a transgender woman, as are many of her friends. In Thailand, a house warming must include: a Buddhist blessing by an entourage of monks, an ornate Buddhist decorative structure, offerings of flowers made from flowers and banana leaves, offerings to the monks of money or things they use in daily life.  In addition, there is a five, six, or seven course meal for attendees. Karaoke begins in the morning and lasts all night. Cases upon cases of Hong Thong whiskey and Leo beer are consumed, which the Thais drink diluted with lots of ice. Hours will be passed sitting, (maybe dancing) talking (or not) refilling glasses and singing karaoke, played at deafly loud decibels.  I can’t wait!

The Office

Peace Corps 2014-2015 Mission: Develop teacher trainings to give teachers new techniques to teach English. To accomplish this mission, I have moved from the classroom environment to an office space at the local Education District Office.

Would you like some lychee?

Would you like some lychee?

Instead of a fan-cooled classroom, I have an A/C-cooled office space.  I have a large desk (actually two!) and sit with six other people who work in my room.  There are three rooms adjacent to each other with the other staff.  They are all supervisors or Sor Nors, of school districts of primary schools through Matayom 1-3, (grades 7-9) in Nan province.

Sor Nors Kookie and Kitty

Sor Nors Kookie and Kitty

I work here Monday – Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday, I work at the temple school.  The office perks are I usually go out to eat with Khae the administrative assistant, and one or two of the Sor Nors each day I work there. They pay for my lunch no matter how quick I am with the money.

Khun Khae

Khun Khae

I am starting a 10-week Speak English Everyday program on Mondays.   I will teach two different groups, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. I insisted on having no more than 24 supervisors in each group, to keep it small. But I will not take it too seriously. Thais often gage success based on whether an activity was fun or not.

Sor Nors Kookie and Yoyo

Sor Nors Kookie and Yoyo

As far as work goes, I have led sessions on communicative language techniques at a formal District-wide teacher trainings and have taught basic strategies for teaching English at a district in the mountains. In both situations, the planning was already in place and my sessions were added in.  I did the best I could to impart knowledge and skills in an interactive manner in situations that I did not fully understand, and where I had little influence in planning.  In one situation, the Sor Nor said she only had two days notice too.

Creating a relaxing environment

Creating a relaxing environment

I think it is a good use of my time to assist these smaller gatherings of teachers in a district. But I fail to see the follow up and the clear goals and objectives. Yet, I do not want to reinvent the wheel if these mechanisms are already in place.

A wish for success for students and teachers

A wish for success for students and teachers

The people I work closest with, three women, are smart, strategic-thinking, and kind. They also speak English very well.  The 4th, is an accomplished Sor Nor who will be retiring in four months.

Sor Nor Fah

Sor Nor Fah having fun on the road

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me too

The office is scarcely populated on many days because the district supervisors are out at trainings or observing their primary schools.  There are a lot of meetings. I started an informal English conversation lesson because the six people in my office started asking me questions in English.  There is a white board near my desk so it was easy to start a lesson. Our first lesson, was initiated by their question asking me if I would like some lychee. It remains informal and my plans to change the questions every week, have fallen through the cracks as I wait for the main class to start.

Sor Nors Pi Tony and Yoyo practice

Sor Nors Pi Tony and Yoyo practice

The 22 people I get to work with also have great nic names. There is Kitty, Fang, Dang, Picky, Suck, Yoyo, Kook, Fah, Nop, Su, and Chong Rak (which means you must love me). There is Lung Ung which means big frog, Mr. Ung sat for about an hour with me and played all these songs he downloaded from Youtube, which I was obliged to sing with him. It was fun and I am glad I was not busy. He liked CCR and Rod Stewart but songs he said were theirs were not really sung by them. There were also songs by Glen Campbell and John Denver. The Thai people in general, like American songs from the 60’s.

In the evenings, when I have a free half-hour, I have been enjoying watching,“The Office.”  I miss those weird characters, their emotional outbursts, and their absurd office situations. I wonder what “The Office” in Thailand would conjur through the passive, code-enabled culture of manner, do’s and don’ts. I will keep watching and let you know. I did observe that when Big Frog heard me call Somkit,”Kitty,” he burst out laughing.  Hummm, I thought, cat’s out of the bag. Kitty does have very effeminate qualities and can produce a very high laugh, which we both laugh at. He is married. The plot thickens.

Mr. Ung

Mr. Ung

Speaking of English lessons, yesterday, kids from Silalang School came over to my house as they saw me in my back yard, writing on my computer, so they walked to my window and asked what I was doing. We ended up doing an impromptu English lesson.

Aah Aah Buh Buh

Aah Aah Buh Buh

This morning, around 10am, I hadn’t eaten breakfast and just finished doing the wash, they were back again. However, I told them I hadn’t eaten and that today, I was busy with home work. This is one thing I have to set boundaries around. If I have the time, I am happy to spend an hour with them.  It is good for me to plan for it to happen and have a little English kit of sorts ready to teach them. But I also like my relaxing time.

Hmong kids from hill tribe school

Hmong kids from hill tribe school

My neighbor had a problem today as two bulls managed to get loose from where they were grazing and came to his garden. He was mad but in the Thai way that is not very direct. Weird, now I have no water.

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A sad development. Last week I wrote about the kitten, who I imagine has now since died. But a few days later, two puppies who had been well taken care of by their owners, my neighbors, have died.  We believe they have been poisoned. Unfortunately, they often chased and killed an adjacent neighbor’s chicks that got loose. But, instead of talking about the problem, neighbor to neighbor, they took measures into their own hands. Now Cookie and Candy (who had even been taken to the vet and were neutered, which is virtually unheard of in Thailand) are gone. The “neighbors” situation could be an indication of a larger problem between the parties, I will never know. What’s strange though, is the dog’s belonged to the new District political leader. No one has confessed to poisoning the dogs, we can only surmise.  I miss the sound of their yappy growls, and playing every morning as they ran up and down the grassy lane beside my house.

Cookie and Candy

Cookie and Candy

 

Tribute to Cookie and Candy and other doggie friends who have died under suspicious circumstances

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Shinto

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Shinto and Ocean

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Ocean

HALF

I am more aware today, in this moment than last week. I continue to open my heart.              I guess it never ends? I feel embarrassed because my feelings show through in a tear.

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with Sor Nor Fah at girls dorm Bokluea H.S.

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view from school

I met a principal of a mountain high school where over 500 students, mostly Lahu, study and live. The house of the principal surprised me. It was no more than a one room building. The teacher housing looked more inviting. It had a balcony into the treetops. But when you live in the mountains, they surround you. He said he didn’t need anything more.  I could so relate to that statement.  It resonated with how I feel about my life. But a tear still formed in each eye, giving away some unintentional emotional response. His wife lives mountaintops away in another town. This is common of Thai professionals. Spouses live separately for work.  That leaves weekend trips or meetings to bring them briefly together.

student cooperative projects

student cooperative projects

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little mouse

student cooperative competition

folded paper picture story

The first time I saw the little kitten, he was so hungry he climbed the garbage bag only to tumble over.  He mews so loud and desperate they shook me. The mother in me responded instantly. I gave him a piece of pork, which he gratefully took then contentedly licked his tiny paws. I was eating lunch in the kitchen with the others teachers at my temple school.  The black kitten stood tall on his pencil thin legs, so fierce and insistent. He had such a strong will.  Not an easy life for kitten though, to be living on his own so early. Abandoned by its mother, living at the temple school lunch room. A safe place for now. Outside, lurking around the corner. Dogs.  Hungry dogs.

The second time I saw the little sprite he was half the size as he was the week before.  I was heartbroken. He lie listlessly on a piece of blanket the cooks had laid out for him. He was dying before my eyes and I was about to eat lunch. I could not eat but a few bites. How could I? No one noticed but me. A tear formed, then another, and another.  I wiped them way saying my cream was running into my eyes, burning my eyes and making them tear. I sat there embodied with sadness.  I could no longer hide.  Kru Khae asked what was wrong.  I said I was sad and turned away. Emotions like these are not commonly shown in Thailand. I told her that the kitten is dying before my eyes, our eyes. My teacher thought I had gotten a call that someone had died in my family. No, it is just the kitten. Only a kitten and a waterfall.

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They countered, not wanting to hear sad, bad news, or make me feel worse, that he was hot, spread out to cool himself, content. Plausible.  The sadness dissipated until the staff said that a dog had attacked him. No, it was three dogs. A kitten no bigger than the palm of my hand.

The next day, I saw his raw reality.  His life is so profoundly changed. My feelings, neutral. I had no emotion. The black kitten could no longer stand tall on his pencil thin legs, for they dangled lifeless behind him. He still had a fierce determination to live. He crawled between my legs to rub his head on my ankles. His two back legs, now two braids, hanging, paws turned up. His emotions also neutral.  He just had an instinct to keep going.  So he dragged his back half with his front half with his two, not quite strong enough, front legs. The half kitten. He paused at the large step into the kitchen.  His two front legs not quite strong enough to lift his back half. I lifted him onto the tile floor. Luckily for him, it is smooth and he can move fast. His front legs trotting quickly, unaware of the fishtail behind him. His legs, like an unwanted child, are just extra body weight serving no purpose. I don’t know if he will be there next week. If he is not, I know his spirit will be with me.

half

half

I have no control over so many things in my life.  No thing does. I thought the third year would be easier.  Am I making it harder than it should be?  Yes.  I was busy the first month I returned because there was a teacher training I was working on. Then, it was over and my “work” seemed to be in a void.  What am I doing here? I say this in Thai to my Thai friends with exaggerated emotion and they laugh. It is my 3rd year and I am here because I want to be not because I have to. I want more control.  I want to direct. I feel more assertive about what I am willing to do or not do. I like the people I work with.  They are kind, smart,  like to have fun, and are interested in me and like to speak English.

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Sor Nor Kook and Yoyo bring me coffee and roasted banana in sticky rice! and lychee, corn and peanuts!

my two little house friends

my two little house friends candy and cookie

cooking room at ancient salt wells of Bokluea

cooking room at ancient salt wells of Bokluea

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it's hot in here

I have lost sight of how difficult it is in fact, to live here and be a Peace Corps volunteer. My mind, is a times, a displaced organism. I can be so far away from my truth, my body, my self. My emotions are at the tip of my eye lashes and I seem easily touched. I called another PCV and she reiterated some difficulties in her new work too. I expressed the sense of being at a cross roads, to fight for direction or go with the flow. Is it really hurting me to do what “they” want me to do, vs, my agenda? I take each day at a time.

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I am seeing where I can enjoy myself more. I am at another level of self understanding and acceptance.

visiting mountain school library Doi Dui

visiting mountain school library Doi Dui

hello how are you!

hello how are you!

I went through about a week of anxiety that felt permanent. I felt persecuted and had exaggerated thoughts of what was going on around me.  Everything seemed blown up. It didn’t help that I was reading, “The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst” about a man who faked a circumnavigation around the world in his sailboat, then went insane and jumped into the atlantic ocean, never to be heard from again. I could relate to some of his ‘meditations” he wrote over 200 days alone on a small boat in the middle of the ocean.

A couple of weeks ago, I had this idea my room was bugged, with a mini camera.  All because I heard a beeping sound at night. I heard it last year too. So I spent an hour on google reading about how to detect them. Then one night, I methodically checked for one.  I also called the safety and security administrator at PC.  He sanely surmised it was probably a fire alarm or something (which I don’t have). Today, I am not worried. It has passed.  What made me so insistent?  Lack of control over my life. Anxiety.  I could not stop my mind.

Relief.  I did yoga with a video the other day and felt such exaltation that I almost melted. To have felt so much release proves my stress level was high.

I enjoy listening to Deva Premal often.  She has long one-hour albums on youtube. Her voice is so sweet and her chanting relaxing and heart opening.  Thank you mom for introducing me to her!

I have access to internet at home now.  I can stream yoga, music, movies. I did not have internet for the first two years. Now that I found Yoga to be so good, I want to do it daily.  I cannot. My presence at aerobics is noticed and it is a good thing to save face, I have to go… most of the time.  Aerobics is fun and connects me to my Thai friends.  Running is also sometimes fun. Do it if I can enjoy it.  I am being driven by a need to improve myself.  I do not enjoy that.  Right now I am fatter than I was before.  I want to do things that remind me how strong and healthy I am and makes me feel good on the inside. Yoga does that. Thankfully, it is rainy season and I will be able to do more yoga indoors because aerobics will be cancelled due to rain.

shy but interested

shy but interested

I cannot forget that I am being taken care. I have everything I need. Letting go is always better.  I don’t want to forget me.  To enjoy me. Sometimes I forget me.  To reflect, be grateful for and to enjoy what I have brought to my life.  And to reflect and be grateful for those who have played a role in bringing me here. And that is all of you!  Thank you.

I love you!

I love you!

truffles

truffles

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many old ones- good ones are white!

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my nens

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Kru Khae and nens at cooperative competition