Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘reflections’ Category

Nearly a week has passed since I was actually in the Punjab region of India. I miss it dearly. So I’m going to reminisce… and please don’t be offended if you’re from Surrey when you read this (hey, my mama’s originally from Surrey)!

Darryn and I parted ways in Delhi, after an exhausting evening filled with disorder. Our train was late coming in from Jaipur, it was nearly 1 am, and our hotel room had been given away. No matter, we thought. We were in a strip FILLED with hotels – we searched around for quite sometime discovering nearly all of them were full. Crap. We finally found an over-priced shit hole (I’m not being dramatic here) and bunkered down.

We were travelling with Cassie, an American clarinet teacher now living in Bangkok. She went to hop in the shower and we started to settle. Then the hotel porter waltzes into our hotel room demanding our passports (the usual for India – the passport request, not the waltzing into hotel rooms). No knock. Then he proceeds to laugh as I tell him in a ‘stern’ voice that it is not acceptable to walk into a hotel room unannounced.

Anger ensued. We left. So, we were found in the same position – wandering the streets of Delhi in search of a place to lay our heads (which we eventually found, after our standards simply dropped to ‘no bed bugs please’).

And that my friends, is how I ended up with Darryn’s passport in hand as I attempted to check into my hotel in Amritsar with Cassie. And I will freely admit that I held my shit together until I received confirmation that Darryn had in fact gotten onto her Dharamsala (northern India) plane.

After that news, I panicked. I cried silently in the internet cafe, imagining my plans to head back to Nepal and complete a trek drift out the window. I tallied up the dollars I had already spent on plane tickets and my trek deposit and envisioned my broke ass stuck on a bus for over 10 hours simply to swap documents.

Okay, now I was being dramatic. Really it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if I was forced to abandon plan A and explore/trek in the Himalayan range in Northern India rather than Nepal. But looking back, I think I was secretly really missing Nepal and its people/culture and truly was eager to return.

Anyways, it all worked out – Darryn’s yogi (I still giggle every time I hear that title) coordinated an excellent plan; one of his employees would ride the bus down to Amristar and back and we would swap the goods. It all worked perfectly. My heart goes out to that kind boy who spent most of his day on the bus for us.

After the fiscal was all settled, Cassie and I got to enjoy Amristar fully. We wandered through an intricate Hindu temple full of low ceilings and cave-like rooms.

Cassie crawling through one of the cave rooms - we skipped the one with water, since it looked pretty dirty!

We got our palms read (good news, I should live well past 90!) And,we spent hours encircling the gorgeous and jaw-dropping Golden Temple (basically Mecca for Sikhs).

The stark white marble walkways surrounding the holy pond (that the temple is perched on), are perfect for casual strolls, bare feet and all. Once in a while our head scarves would slip and a guard would gently remind us to cover our hair again. We didn’t mind, we were entranced with the soft chanting that carries on 24/7. This is the ultimate place to zen out and contemplate life, spirituality..the list could go on forever.  Cassie and I both agreed that we loved the temple even more than the infamous Taj. It’s just more of an overall e x p e r i e n c e. I’m still little sad that we missed eating a free meal with 60,00-80,000 pilgrams (volunteers serve meals daily to all that visit, if one desires). Ah well, next time.  

Beautiful people to match the beautiful surroundings.

We visited the place several times to see the breathtaking structure in different light.

At night, hordes of young boys would gather around us if we stopped for a moment. Questions would fire at us from all angles and they would giggle endlessly as they took turns posing with us for pictures. It was adorable and loads of fun!

Cassie and crew.

We ended our time in the Punjab region with a visit to the Pakistan/India border to watch the border closing ceremony – which was a celebration of monumental size!

Punjabi music blasts over the speakers, Indians take turns running down the short walkway with a massive Indian flag in tow, women and children dance festively. It’s a site to see! I couldn’t believe how many people come to take part in the spectacle. And then there are the actual guards – they high kick and fast walk like no other!

Needless to say my stomach hurt from laughing so hard by the end of the show.

Now, the ceremony is all fun and games, and it ends with the border gate opening, the guards from both the Pakistan and Indian sides shaking hands and flailing about and the gate slamming shut for the evening.

What I couldn’t figure out was how two countries that despise each other so much have such a fantastic event to share their border. It’s bizarre!

It was also quite surreal to stare across the gate and see the Pakistani people on the other side. They were cheering and chanting ‘Pakistan Forever’ (as were the Indians with ‘India Forever’).

I kept staring up at the Pakistan flag flapping in the hot breeze,  a reminder of how many times I’d seen that flag, but attached to horrific news stories of terrorist attacks and state chaos. I didn’t feel much inclined to venture past the gate (even if I did, it would supposedly take up to 3 months to get a visa).

After the ceremony we made our way back to the truck, joking about how we couldn’t find our driver and wouldn’t that be a great call to make to someone back home. “Hi dear, I’m stuck at the Pakistan border.” Eep.

The following morning I headed back to Delhi, sharing my berth with a unbelievably kind family from southern Punjab. We immediately made a connection since the mother’s brother lived in Surrey. This was SUCH a common conversation I can’t even begin to describe how many times I met someone who had a brother, sister, daughter, uncle, son etc. living in Surrey. Everyone wanted to visit there!

Back to the family though. They told me complicated stories of the Sikh history for several hours. Informing me why they always carry mini daggers (usually plastic, often tucked into their turbans or attached at their hip). “It’s simply for protection and not attack”, the father explained to me. The Sikh’s have a rough past – most of it involving being attacked by Muslims and Hindu’s and mostly because of the location of the majority community. Google it, it’s interesting stuff. 

They shared their lunch with me and insisted I spend the night with them in their quaint village. I had to sadly decline since I had an early flight the following morning. But they bring a smile to my face every time I think back to that particular train ride. And you know what? I think I have a new-found respect for – get ready for it – Surrey.

Read Full Post »

What a day! I woke up this morning ridiculously early, hoping to finish up my fundraising manual before I actually got to work. Oh the irony huh? It’s just that I was worried I’d need to look something up on the net and be hooped (no internet there) or somehow my battery on my laptop would die and I’d be left scrambling on my last day.

I was dead tired too – went to bed late last night and woke up three or four times to the most ANNOYING sound in the world. No, not the one from Dumb and Dumber…more annoying! Not dogs barking or horns honking…

S q u e e t e r s – buzzing by my ear like the little obnoxious shits they are. Argh. My bites are bright red welts and they are beyond itchy. 

And I don’t understand why they go for your ears in the first place. And it only takes just one to wake you up in a rage!

Anyways, sleep-crisis was diverted. I threw in ear plugs and literally doused my bed and self in deet. Ignore the third arm I may have growing upon my return home…

Back to the morning. After my standard breakfast – boiled egg, fresh cheese croissant, and a piping-hot coffee, I met my usual taxi driver down at the Cholwk (basically an intersection). This guy has been really kind and has offered me great rates quite a few times. I feel terrible that a CECI driver actually came and picked me up from the office (I didn’t know he was coming!) and I suspect the poor man drove all the way out to my work and waited for me…I’m an asshole. I’m sorry nice taxi-man, I had no way of avoiding it. Karma will get me, don’t you worry.

An hour later, I arrived at work. Finishing touches were put on my pieces, documents were explained in detail and handed over to Prerana staff.  I had a final debriefing session with my CECI coordinator and.. my work and self were a hit!

Finito!

Can’t believe I’m already done my Leave for Change portion of this trip. I’m quite sad about it but at least it ended in a celebration!

The staff pitched in together and bought me a beautiful traditional sari – every single element, down to the earrings, bracelets, and braided-hair thing (um, I lost the Nepali word..again, asshole)! The girls stripped me down and dolled me up.

We were all giggling away as one woman worked on my hair/makeup, another wrapping the dress (which I really tried to memorize, but she’s young and doesn’t wear one daily yet since she isn’t married and kept forgetting how to do it – all the redo’s made it hard to keep track), another finding me bangles down the street.

Oh, the bangles – did you know Nepali women have very flexible knuckle-parts (I have no idea how to explain that part of your hard)? They can twist and turn their already small knuckles to put their teeny-tiny bangles on. I broke three glass bangles before we resorted to soap to get them on. And I’ve always thought I had somewhat small hands!

After 15 minutes behind closed doors, I was ready for my grand entrance.

I really did feel quite beautiful in all that gorgeous fabric. And it was soft and airy to the touch. After everyone clapped and admired, we sat down to tea, cookies, and juice. It was a great way to say goodbye to everyone and now I have my very own sari! I’ll miss them all – just a wonderful group of kind, passionate, and dedicated people.

Lots of pieces to the sari puzzle.

Tomorrow I’m off to Delhi and 40 C heat. Feel free to check my Twitter widget for updates – I’ve heard internet is painfully slow and posting might be a challenge, so I’ve brought my Twitter account back from the dead to keep in touch.

For those of you that don’t know what a widget is, updated tweets (gawd, I still hate that word) will be posted in the right-hand side bar of this blog. 😉

Namaste.

Read Full Post »

Time for Chitwan stories! In the spirit of real blogging (aka not novels but somewhat shortish excerpts), I’m going to break this into two posts. Sorry that this is nearly a week after I returned home. It’s my last week of work with Prerana and I’ve been busy with the creation of a fundraising guidelines manual. That and I’ve been having delicious, late dinners with co-workers, travellers etc. which leaves me too exhausted to blog in the evening!

dinner with Matt and Shusa

You all know what sort of state I was in when I arrived, so we won’t relive those painful moments.

After getting some rest I ventured out for a ‘cultural’ walk with my guide for the weekend, Raja. The Terai district of Nepal is unbelievably different from the Kathmandu valley – it’s dry, rural, and hot hot hot! Not that Kath isn’t hot, but this heat was dry and much more intense (37-43 C in the afternoon). So even at 4:00 pm I got my sweat on just from walking out the front door of my hotel room.

out of my hotel room and into fresh, beautiful gardens!

We wandered around a traditional Tharu village  for over an hour.

Fact: Tharu’s are the only people who have survived in the Terai district for millennia. Since the region they inhabit was malaria-infested (until the WHO came in with DDT and solved that problem), no other ethnic groups survived the terrain. They’ve built up a genetic resistance to malaria and have had minimal problems with the disease that would ruthlessly wipe out thousands of other groups.

This was a quaint photo-op I stumbled upon… 

The village was interesting but also disheartening. These people continue to live so primitively, while we westerners seem to have access to everything at our fingertips. I admire the simplicity of their lives and the emphasis on family, but life seemed just all-around hard for everyone. They live in humble thatched huts made from mud and lattice – with limited access to running water and electricity.

And women were working so hard, cutting jungle grass, sifting flour, weaving sun hats, herding water buffalo, collecting wheat. You name it, they were constantly busy doing it.

Men appeared to be sitting around quite a bit…honestly! Either that or they were digging trenches to keep the rhino’s away from the village and crops. There were cows, buffalo, chickens, dogs, and goats running around everywhere. And loads of children were sleeping outside of the huts, on only thin-weaved mats.

I’ll tell you one thing, Nepali kids are freakin’ adorable. They just have that ‘something’ in the soul of their eyes. It’s vulnerable and soo honest.  

I discovered this little babe, relaxing in his crib…

During the hot walk, I was still struggling with my stomach, but didn’t really want to admit it. It reared its ugly head anyways when I had to pull over into some bushes. Sigh.

Raja immediately asked me, “poops?” I laughed and said, “no, pukes.”  He could see the pain on my face and promptly wandered into the forest for a few minutes.

I waited, since he didn’t tell me to follow.

He came back with an odd-looking leafy plant and shoved it in my face. “Eat it, Jamie. I swear you’ll feel not only better, but good in less than 20 minutes.”

I weighed my options – nothing could really make me sicker at this point and he didn’t seem interested in kidnapping me into the jungle…I ate the plant. It really didn’t have any flavour and the texture was similar to spinach.

Away we went. And away my stomach problems went too. He’s a smart man, that Raja.

I told Raja to take a picture, since this was the first time I was able to walk fully upright in a loong time. People who have seen me hung over know exactly what I'm talking about!

After the village wander, we plunked down beside the Rapti river and watched the sunset over the jungle – just the two of us and a couple of water buffalos grazing. Raja told me stories of Bengal Tiger and One-Horned Rhino encounters, while he pointed out the different species of birds flying around. It was spectacular.

I got a little nervous when the buffalo came too close.

Raja: “Forget them. They don’t care about us. They are hungry for grass.”

Me: “I think that one is giving me the evil eyes. Are they supposed to stamp their foot like that?”

Raja casually turns around, clearly only to humour my fears.

Raja:” Yes. Yes you are right. That one doesn’t like you. Get up. NOW.”

Me: “Expletives” and a serious mad dash to get over the nearby fence.

Throughout the entire weekend this same situation happened another three times! Raja suspected it might be my blue eyes that pissed em off. We’ll never know for sure, but I do know how to spot the ‘evil-eyed buffalo’ out of the crowd!

He's tied to a fence. I'm safe.

Read Full Post »

Cheers to listening to oldies, but goodies! Love back in the day Bob Dylan.

Welcome to the new face of tea times. Hey, I’m a girl! I change my mind every couple weeks (riight, we all know it’s daily) about these sorts of things. Plus, I’m loving writing on here so much I’m hoping I can keep this up when I’m home. I’m sure it won’t be as interesting (if you even find it interesting now) but no matter – I’ll keep trucking along.

The need for change was also influenced by my professional communications voice, pestering me in the background with, “grr- why did I opt for a one-column approach. My widgets are waaay down at the bottom”.

And now I have this pretty lil blog all set up and it really didn’t take long at all. I also tinkered around on wordpress and cleaned up my act. I’ve learned how to adjust pictures properly (sort of) – woohoo! Thanks goes out to WordPress themes and to the blind corner that my room is perched over. Those warning honks are awesome at 3 am.  

Ooh, another Chitwan teaser. Since it’s dusty season, it was usually hazy. And there were fires in the jungle so it was smokey around sunrise and set everyday. Sounds like it only gets worse till the monsoon here and I likely won’t be able to see much of the actual Himalayan mountains while trekking in the Annapurna region. Boo. I’m sure I’ll see them from the plane at the very least! I already requested my seat to be on the left hand side when flying Kath to Pokhara. Apparently this offers some of the best views around.

Read Full Post »

I’m having trouble concentrating right this moment. I’m supposed to be writing a section on how Prerana’s supporting women with disabilities. They run an amazing rehabilitation centre in a rural district, so it’s pretty straight forward and they do outstanding work. BUT, I can’t get the damn thing outta my head and onto the page. Instead I’m writing here.

It might have something to do with the fact that I’m wrapped up all comfy in a new purple n gold pashmina – soo pretty and cozy. And I’m staring out at sun-lit rooftop gardens, adorned with prayer flags, resident birds, and new poinsettias and orchids.

Rooftop life.

AND, I’m listening to the Thicker than water soundtrack for the umpteenth time in my life…equation for daydreamin’ right there.   

Yes – umpteenth is a word. Google even told me how to spell it properly. So there!

I’m also pretty stoked for my upcoming weekend – a solo adventure to Chitwan Jungle. I’m doing a tour-package with a hotel, so I’m sure I’ll meet fellow travellers along the way and during our elephant safari, ‘nature’ walk, and canoe ride.

Yep, it’s going to be a good Easter weekend for moi.

Speaking of elephants, I bought Peyton (my niece) the cutest handmade elephant from my all-time favorite Kathmandu store – Mahaguthi.

So cute huh? And it's a fair trade product.

I’m hoping it becomes her new top toy, since my fav snuggly was also an elephant, aptly named Squishy (he was well, squishy! I wasn’t the most creative three-year old). I still have him tucked away, ready to see the light again when I have a lil one of my own.

Since I’m clearly not being productive, I think I’ll head for lunch. Oh! Speaking of food, I haven’t really written too much about the cuisine here.

So this peanut butter really is tasty, all natural, and made through a great program in Nepal. But wow! the wording on the side wouldn't fly in Canada. Chalk it up to 'cultural differences', I suppose...

So this peanut butter is super tasty, all-natural, and made through a cool program in Nepal. But wow! the wording on the side wouldn't fly back home. Chalk it up to 'cultural difference' I suppose...

I will say that I’m loving these little treats called Momo’s. Mmmm, Momo’s. They are a Nepali take on gyzo’s and you can have veg, chicken, or well, I’m not sure what it is – goat maybe? I clearly stick to the veg or chicken. The spicy tomato-curry sauce they come with is to die for – they make the perfect 2 pm snack, since Nepali’s don’t generally have a big lunch. Actually, my co-workers giggle away when they can hear my stomach rumbling around noon!

But other than Momo’s, I’ve been having a lot of fresh curries, chow-mein, steamed veggies/rice and westernish food (pastas, wraps, pizzas, etc.). Last night I was craving junk so I ordered ‘Kathmandu fries’. It was my worst meal nightmare come true. K, not as bad as the ‘chicken soup’ in Nicaragua that actually came out as a massive fish (head n all) in a bowl of salty water, but it wasn’t good. These fries had been doused in cilantro. I’m talkin, I pretty much ordered a side of fries with heaps of the green junk. GROSS! Needless to say I didn’t eat dinner last night.

Anyways, food is cheap here. Like, real cheap. An average meal costs me a whopping $2-3 CAD dollars. That’s including a drink! I think it’s a little more pricy in Thamel – where I’m heading tonight for an Israeli-style meal, but restaurant bills hardly ever top five bucks.  

I’m missing fresh veg though. I’ve only braved one encounter with raw vegetables in the form of a fresh salad. And I’m proud to say I made it through the next day without visiting the toilet a million times.

Actually, I know you’re all wondering – I haven’t had any stomach issues since I got here! Apparently I’m the first Nepal volunteer in a looong time to say that. Knock on wood that Delhi Belly doesn’t get me!

Happy Easter all!

fyi – contrary to what my header text said, I’m in South Asia, not Central. I knew this, but I clearly wrote my profile text in a  pre-trip excitement daze and didn’t catch my mistake till now. Oops.

Read Full Post »