Peace Corps · Training · Travel · Uncategorized

Criss-Crossing the Country

Since my last blog entry, I’ve seen so much more of Ecuador: Puembo, Santo Domingo, Santa Elena, Guayaquil and better explored the capital I have been living in for the past two months, Quito. For a visual representations of my experiences, check out my most recent video from our Peace Corps Volunteer visit to the small coastal fishing village of Anconcito. From experimental learning at the Ministerio de Salud Publica’s sala de esperar to the furthest Western point in South America, I’ll share a brief anecdote from each of my major destinations.

Monteserrin, Ecuador

A fully-stocked private park – soccer fields, tennis courts, pull up bars and playground – has been a recent fixture in my after-training adventures. Living on the Ecuador, the sun rises and sets at a reliable 6:30PM. But couple that with an hour commute on either side at a 8-5 work schedule, I rarely see the light of day at home. This park has allowed me to keep up a regular workout schedule – have you ever tried to run laps at an altitude 10,000 feet? Let me tell you, my lungs are stronger than they’ve ever been. For my final day of lower intermediate Spanish class, our teacher, Pauly, took us girls to the park for a potluck picnic. It was so rewarding to see how much our Spanish had improved since our first day of class: we had initially struggled to give a thirty second elevator pitch about ourselves in Spanish, and now we could comfortably chit-chat and giggle over teaching our 40-year-old Spanish teacher how to use Tinder to get back into the dating scene.

Our Spanish class potluck picnic in the park 

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Puembo, Ecuador

I head to Puembo twice a week to practice teaching charlas in their Ministerio de Salud Publica sala de esperar for whoever is there to listen. Our days range from heading up an stretching class and nutrition lesson for 60 elderly Ecuadorians, teaching 20 pregnant teens and young women about HIV/AIDS before joining in to practice their birthing exercises, leading 140 high schoolers in an impromptu lesson by the soccer field, giving a lesson for 25 middle school teachers on the importance self-esteem. Although we prepare our topics in advance, we never know our audience or setting until we walk into the clinic and chat with our partner doctor. For this day, we walked into a public childcare center to teach 60 1-4 year-old children how to wash their hands. It seemed easy enough: we introduced a song they could sing as they washed their hands so they did it for long enough, and reminded them to always wash their hands. But things erupted in disaster when we led them out in groups of 5-6 to wash their hands: “AY CHI CHI”‘s rang through the air, as the faucet water was frigid (most Ecuadorians, like my host family, do not have hot water), some children attempted to wash their hair in the water, and others cupped their hands to drink (the water throughout Ecuador contains high levels of dangerous microbes, and shouldn’t be consumed without treatment). It was definitely a learning experience, but the kids seemed satisfied and entertained by the time they were all led back to their seats.

With some of the children after my hand-washing charla in the daycare

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Santo Domingo, Ecuador

That weekend, our host family headed three hours east to Santo Domingo, where the in-laws extended family lives. Our host family has 18 people living in the house (spread across 4 generations), and not everyone came with us, but we still had to pile into a school bus (One of my host family members is employed as a school bus driver, and appears to have free range to drive it wherever she likes outside of school hours) to get to Santo Domingo together. It was my little sister Sarahi’s fourth birthday, and in Ecuador that is a big deal. A girl’s fourth birthday is considered the Presentacion de la Hija, which is celebrated at Quinceanera -level heights. My modest Ecuadorian family took around 40 people to a Chuckee Cheese-style play place for the entire afternoon. Sarahi herself was dressed like a princess, and her parents and brother had matching outfits emblazoned with her favorite television characters. For our meals that weekend, we enjoyed feasts of fresh crab, shrimp and cuy (roasted guinea pig). After the “children’s” portion of the birthday party, the young adults – parents and grandparents, with the great-grandparents taking care of the children at home – closed down the local bar with the local favorite cerveza, Pilsner, and mojitos. I made it back to Quito just in time to hop in a taxi to Plaza Foch to meet up with one of my closest friends from college, Aubin, for the only 4 hour period her 4 day long trip to Quito would overlap with me being in town. After spending the past two months only talking to my friends and family over the internet, it was so refreshing to see her in person. The trip was far too short, but I loved hearing about the past five months she’d spent living in Santiago, Chile.

The birthday girl, Sarahi, at the children’s portion of her party

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Laughing with Aubin in her downtown Quito hostel

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Anconcito, Ecuador

The following week was the much-anticipated Peace Corps trainee visit to the coast. Over half of PCV in Ecuador are placed in the coastal region of Ecuador for their service, but nearly the entirety of our training takes place 10,000 feet above sea level, in Quito. Our excitement about the coast; however, was diminished when we discovered that only 2-3 of those sites were actually along the beach itself. Nonetheless, I was thrilled to discover that I had been randomly placed in the group of trainees that would be visiting a sleepy fisherman’s village of Anconcito along the ocean for our week-long visit. Check out the video above for more details from the trip. One anecdote I didn’t include in the video; however, is how up close and personal I have experienced the circle of life during my time in Ecuador. On Monday, when we arrived in Anconcito, our host family explained that they had two cats, one of whom was pregnant. They had a different relationship with their pet cats than I did with Georgie, my kittie back home, as they were more around for de-mousing and eating bugs. Other cats who wandered into their open front and back doors would be shooed away, but these two would be fed, although not pet. On the second evening, we came home to discover that the cat had given birth to four little kittens in the front yard. The mother wouldn’t let us go near her, and the little family was left outside overnight. My roommate, Hannah, and I heard a dog fight in the night, but didn’t think much of it. The incessant barking is normal in our host family’s neighborhood in Quito, as well. But in the morning, there were no kittens to be found, just a moping mother hanging around the house. My experience with my host family’s puppies has been similar: she gave birth to eight wiggling little things four weeks ago, but when I come home from my favorite coffee shop (Cafe Arte, where I’m currently writing this blog post) this evening, I will only have five great me from their doghouse. It’s heartbreaking to see, but a natural part of the world.

Fishermen returning from sea in Anconcito

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Playing with four of our puppies in the front “yard”

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Salinas, Ecuador

In Salinas, Hannah and I had the chance to shadow Charles, a TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language – volunteer, for two days. Unfortunately, I spent most of those days glued to my bed with food poisoning. However, I was able to make it out for an afternoon on Friday, where Charles took us on a walk behind the high school he was placed at. It was a former military school, and the base it resided on was also home to La Chocolatera, the furthest Western point of Ecuador. It’s known for it’s geographic location, ferocious waves and whale-spotting potential. We didn’t see any whales this time around, but we did enjoy staring out into the sea. It reminded me of my time driving along the Great Ocean Road with a kind Rotary member and his family in Australia.

Views from La Chocolatera

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Centro Historico & Downtown Quito, Ecuador

Finally, I had the opportunity this week to better explore the tourist attractions in my own backyard. I toured La Asamblea Nacional, Ecuador’s equivalent of Congress. In their main meeting room they have beautiful yet haunting murals done by Oswaldo Guayasamin, depicting great suffering and hope for a better future, underscoring the importance of the work these assemblymen do. On Sunday, I headed into Centro Historico with two friends and had my first real security scare. A block or two after we headed out of the Mercado Central, a man and his young son suddenly appeared from around the corner, yanking on my shoulder and attempting to snap the straps of my purse. My friends screamed, and I held tightly onto the purse straps I could reach. Spooked, the man ran away empty handed. He wouldn’t have gotten much – my purse only contained my headphones, keys, and a few replaceable cards, as I follow my host mom’s instructions to scatter my valuables in different pockets of my body – but the experience was still jarring. Despite the scare, we focused on enjoying the beautiful sights of impeccably-maintained colonial Quito. We enjoyed ice cream from a heladeria that’s specialized in it since 1858, looped the hiked all the narrow stairs to the top of Basílica del Voto Nacional’s belltower and spires for an incredible view of the city and wandered Plaza de la Independencia o Plaza Grande, where the President’s palace is situated.

View from the top of the spire, with a centered view of the El Panecillo y La Virgen de Quito

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Lounging in the belltower and looking to befriend Quasimoto 

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Peace Corps · Travel · Uncategorized

Experimental Learning and Escaping to Banos, Ecuador

I created a video of my experiences (featuring Despacito, a song you can’t go an hour without hearing in Ecuador) thus far! Check it out here.

This week, everyone in my Omnibus (cohort of incoming Ecuadorian Peace Corps trainees) began our experimental learning, a hands-on aspect of training that brings us into local health clinics to give thirty minute charlas, or presentations, in Spanish. Picture this: 10-15 people sitting on plastic patio chairs – they’re ubiquitous in Ecuador, used everywhere and available for purchase at a tienda for $1.99 – in a central waiting room at the Ministerio de Salud Publica (MSP). They’re primarily mothers with children, breastfeeding their babies or with hands nervously holding onto their bump. People are constantly streaming in and out of the three doctor’s offices, as well as the dentist’s, and the occasional stray dog wanders in as well. The only five Americans in el campo stream into the room, and share lessons on water sanitation, tooth brushing and hand washing for whoever is willing to listen. I was skeptical at first, but again impressed with Ecuadorian’s continuous kindness and generosity of spirit: they rose their hands to answer our questions and sang along to our silly songs – “Aserrin, aserran, mid manitos a lavar, con aguita y con jabon, muy bonitas quedaran”. In addition, the MSP in our host community, Puembo, offered to let us give presentations to their biweekly exercise club for local elderly individuals. About 40 members of the community, mostly women, gathered in a gymnasium for light exercise, stretching, and now our health promotion presentations, each week. The MSP had requested a Peace Corps volunteer of their own for the upcoming four years, so we’ll see if one of us is assigned to live here!

Thursday was my first charla. I nervously prepared my thirty minute presentation – I don’t think I’ve ever spoken in Spanish straight for such a long time before! I would start the session with some stretching to wake up the audience (and myself!), a “true or false” warm-up activity about the benefits of drinking water, a presentation on three easy ways to treat your water before consumption: boiling, chlorination and filtration, and a closing activity to assess what they’d learned. As I headed to Puembo to give my charla; however, the now-familiar rumblings of food poisoning began to rumble in my stomach. Most likely, someone else had prepared my food without following the water sanitation and hand-washing lessons we were about to present, because I was clearly coming down with – another! – viral gastrointestinal infection. About two-thirds of the way through my presentation, the symptoms began to escalate. I rushed through the charla, cutting out examples on the benefits and drawbacks of each water treatment strategy, and clamped my mouth shut tight when I finished the presentation. I answered their questions as quickly as I could, kissed a few goodbye, and rushed out of the gymnasium. Spotting a patch of grass outside the door, I vomited and tried to avoid eye contact with cars passing by. To the woman sitting next to me on the bus home: I’m so sorry you had to watch/listen to my retching for the entire forty-five minute ride home.

One thing is for sure: my presentations can only get better from here.

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My fellow volunteers and I visiting the Ministerio of Salud Publica at our host site

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The audience for my first charla

To celebrate finishing our first charla for experimental learning, one of my fellow Peace Corps Trainees, Amy, and I went with her host brother and his girlfriend to Baños, Ecuador – a city in the Sierra and on the edge of the Amazon, known for its hot springs, waterfalls and mountains – for a day over the weekend. I’m only allowed one night away from my host family during training, so I used it on Friday. We headed out of Quito right after training, and took the easy three hour direct bus to Banos from Quitumbe, Quito’s southern terminal. We’ll be right back there in a week, when we head south for our visit to the coast. I’ll be hosted by a Peace Corps volunteer in Santa Elena-Salinas, a beautiful beach town where one lucky Community Health volunteer gets to live for two years!

In Banos, Amy and I woke up early at our hostel to explore a bit of “downtown” – it’s a pretty small town – Banos while her host brother and his girlfriend slept in to enjoy their vacation. We found a market that hosted restaurant-style food stands, fruit, bread, and other snacks. We put together a breakfast of coffee, bananas, granadillas and a roll of bread for under $1.50! Ecuador uses the US dollar just like back home, which makes it easy to understand relative prices here. Produce and other locally grown goods, like rice, are cheap and widely available at fruterias or mercados, but imported goods can be wildly expensive. For example, I just visited the toy store to buy a deck of Uno cards for my little sister’s birthday present (she’s obsessed with the game, and we play with my cards all the time, so I want her to have it when I leave), and they were selling a Pictionary game for $80 USD!

Afterwards, we headed to Casa de Arbol for the famous “Swing at the End of the World”. Due to the drizzly weather, it felt like we were at the end of the world for a different reason: it dropped off into white nothingness. I hope to come back and visit on a clear day to see the stunning mountain vistas I know are on the other side of the fog! Next, we caught a ride back into town and headed back to the mercado for a traditional Ecuadorian lunch: chicken soup, rice, plantains, fried egg, ham, potatoes and a pinch-sized salad. We found a bus tour that would take us to Pailón del Diablo to walk across the canyon on a rickety bridge and stop at various other sites along the way. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let my photos do the rest of the talking…

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Rio Verde in Banos, Ecuador

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Swing at the End of the World at la Casa de Arbol

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Pailon de Diablo and the Steps Amy’s Host Family was Afraid to Visit

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This Bridge was Almost as Scary, Though

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Me, Walter, Kathy and my Fellow Peace Corps Trainee, Amy

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Rio Verde, Banos, Ecuador

Peace Corps · Training · Travel · Uncategorized

Recharged

I opened up my laptop to write this blog post this evening, and was startled to look at the battery indicator. 34%. With how busy the Peace Corps training schedule keeps me, I rarely use my laptop – I realized I haven’t charged it once since I left Seattle, a month ago. For contrast, I charged it twice a day when I was a student at UC Berkeley. So what’s been filling my time?

I haven’t written a blog post in about two weeks. During the beginning of that time, I developed my first bout of foreign illness. My fever crested at about 102.5F, and I was throwing up off and on throughout the week. My host mom and I suspect it was the ceviche I tried from an unknown restaurant the previous weekend in downtown Quito, near Casa de la Cultura, an Ecuadorian cultural museum with an extensive art market on Sundays. The art was stunning – a mix of traditional styles, local panoramic views and eccentric perspectives. It’s too early in my service to purchase anything now (I still don’t even know where my host community will be) but it definitely inspired me to create some art of my own. I brought a small “adult” coloring book of floral patterns, and my eight-year-old host brother adores it; we’ve been doing a lot of coloring lately. I also brought a set of watercolor papers designed to be used as postcards, so close family and friends, look for those in your mailboxes after a 6-8 week waiting period with the unreliable Ecuadorian post.

After wandering through the market, I headed to El TelefériQo with a friend. Despite commuting an hour into Quito every weekday to visit the training center, I hadn’t had much opportunity to see the city. The gondola ride starts at the edge of Quito’s city center and runs all the way up the east side of Pichincha Volcano – one of two major volcanos accessible from Quito, the other being Cotopaxi – to a lookout named Cruz Loma. With proof of my Ecuadorian work visa, I was able to snag the local’s price. But even with the discount, entry alone was about half my daily Peace Corps wage. Clearly, the place was a tourist trap – but it was exciting to hear English spoken around me by someone other than a Peace Corps volunteer for the first time in Ecuador. For fifty cents, one man had two alpacas tied to a post, and you could dress up as an “authentic” Ecuadorian with ponchos and cowboy hats alongside them. In typical Quito fashion, we were completely surrounded by clouds once we got to the top, and couldn’t see the view in any direction. It was a chilly “thinking of you” from San Francisco’s Karl the Fog. Still, I had an excellent time traipsing through a few of the trails near the top. According to my iPhone data, I walked around six miles that day throughout the city. A few days later, when I was at the peak of my fever, my phone recorded 18 steps total for the day.


View of Quito from the Gondola


Hiking at the Top 

The following weekend, I was feeling significantly better. That Sunday, my family took me to their farm. I live in a subdivided house, fairly typical of the tight-knit extended Ecuadorian families. In my apartment is the great-grandmother and her husband. She has two daughters, both of whom live in different apartments within the house with their husbands and a few of their children. One of their children lives in yet another apartment in the house, with her husband and her two children, an eight-year-old and a three-year-old who’ve become my closest Ecuadorian friends. Another branch of the family lives on this farm, where they have chickens, rabbits, a cow, 4 dogs, a cat (and three of her adorable kittens! I carried one around for the entirety of my visit), lemons, yuca, sugarcane, alfalfa, walnuts, avocados, and, the reason for our Dia de Los Padres visit, guinea pigs. We picked out a few of them for our Dia de Los Padres dinner feast.

The ambassador from the Untied States to Ecuador came to visit us at training that week. Ambassador Chapman is a lifetime diplomat – besides a seven year stint in commercial banking – and the embodies the epitome of Southern hospital. He eagerly invited us all to his weekend early Fourth of July celebration for fellow American ambassadors from nearby countries, embassy employees, dispatched military personnel and expats. I attended yesterday along with a dozen or so other Peace Corps trainees and volunteers, and wolfed down the American burgers they served.


Maddy and I at the Ambassador’s Official Residence for the Fourth of July Picnic


Meeting the US Ambassador to Ecuador

Week three of pre-service training also marked our first field trip as a cohort! We visited Otovalo, a predominantly indigenous community, and El Chota, a predominantly Afroecuadorian region of Ecuador. In Otovalo, we visited a local school, where we spoke with members of the indigenous community about their culture and history, learned a few words in Kichwa, and danced with them in honor of the summer solstice, or Initi Raymi. The Inti Raymi – translated to sun festival – is a religious ceremony traced back to the Inca Empire in honor of the sun god Inti. Following the school presentation, we traveled to los Cascadas de Peguche, a beautiful waterfall site near Otovalo. The sacred waterfall is part of Bosque Protector Cascada de Peguche, and is an indigenous cermonial site prominently utilized for purification ceremonies during Inti Raymi. Although we visited the day after the sun festival ended, a local spiritual leader recreated the purification baths and ritual for us, allowing anyone who was interested to participate, and explaining the meaning in Spanish as we went along. Afterwards, we visited the Otovalo market, one of the most significant markets in South America. We practiced our Spanish through haggling with the market vendors, and I was satisfied walking away with a new necklace and alpaca-wool scarf.

Participating in the Purification Bath


Offerings of Earth, Wind, Fire and Water for the Inti Raymi

We spent the evening with different host families in El Chota. That night, the women of El Chota invited us over to a rambunctious baile, where we listened and danced along to the disticnt Chota Valley bomba music, as well as obiquitous songs like Despacito (without Justin Bieber, of course). The women of El Chota have mastered an awe-inspiring form of dance, where they move more gracefully than I ever have, all the while with intricately decorated, full winebottles nestled atop their head. One woman, who looked to be in her early sixties, walked effortlessly through the fiesta with a full fruit basket balanced atop her head. At the end of the performance, she presented it as a gift to our boss. I came home from the trip with my ankles dotted with sandfly bites, another nasty bout of traveler’s sickness, a full-body coat of sweat from the Oriente-adjacent weather patterns, and more thoroughly in love with all of Ecuador than I was prior. With each new aspect or city I learn about, the more I admire Ecuador’s biodiversity and breadth of culture. I am eagerly looking forward to immersing myself in the sub-culture of my host community over the next two years, but I’ll need to visit my different omnibus friends from training over the weekends to have a chance to explore all the corners of this beautiful country.


My best friend Charli and I at her host family’s home


A mural reminiscent of the Let Girls Learn initiative started by Michelle Obama


Views from our Walking Tour of El Chota

Peace Corps · Training · Travel · Uncategorized

Peace Corps Staging: Miami

For the second night this week, I’m running on three hours of sleep. Despite my bleary eyes, I am so excited to have reached my first Peace Crops milestone: completing the three days of Staging. Staging is the quick-and-dirty rundown of what it means to be a Peace Corps volunteer: trying to learn the names of your 47 diverse colleagues and fellow volunteers, testing your fear thresholds in the safety and security modules and repacking your bag to narrowly meet the 50 lb weight limit.  In Miami, 60% of the population speaks Spanish. This has made Miami the perfect transitional city – beginning to be exposed to Spanish by ordering meals or coordinating with Uber drivers in the language provides a glimpse into the full immersion I’ll experience in Quito. I took four years of Spanish in high school, but I’m confident that I’ve forgotten it all. Regardless, I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my last days in the United States than with watching the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean for the first time and alongside the talented, kind people who will become some of my closest friends over the upcoming months.


The Peace Corps Ecuador Omnibus 118 Trainees

I’ve just boarded our flight bound for Quito, lucky enough to have found my five foot ten inch frame in an extra legroom window seat. The flight was delayed about two hours – an inconceivable wait after the eight months it’s been since we first committed to the Peace Corps application – but we’ve been cleared for departure. When we arrive in Quito, the entire Peace Corps Ecuador staff will be awaiting our arrival on the other side of customs (Hi Mr. Donald! Long time no see!). We’re anxious and excited to meet our host families in a few days, two words that describe much of our feelings towards our impending arrival in Ecuador.


Sunrise on South Beach in Miami

With my stomach full of the best Cuban food I’ve ever tasted – thanks for the recommendation of Versailles, Matt! Since I just visited Paris, the French decor made me want to slip into my very limited French instead of my relatively limited Spanish, but in any language the food was delicious – and my heart full with words of encouragement from friends and family back home, as well as my new Peace Corps family surrounding me, I’ll turn my phone into airplane mode. Adiós!

Travel · Uncategorized

Spring Break: France

For the second half of our spring break adventure, my mother and I boarded a rocky Ryan Air flight from Stansted to Carcassonne after navigating a glitzy duty free shopping minefield. The remaining five days of our trip would be split between a day and a half in a small town in the south of France, Carcassonne, and the capital of the country – Paris. When we landed in France we walked right out on the tarmac – putting on our sunglasses and stripping our layers to enjoy the sunny weather. After the gloomy England clouds, it finally felt like a spring break. Carcassonne turned out to be my favorite stop of the trip.

La Cite de Carcassonne is an ancient walled city, first conquered and built by the Romans in the fourth century. Over time, various regimes had conquered it and restyled it according to their fashion. Now, it feels like entering the portal to another world, where there could be a princess or a knight just around the corner. It’s filled with little boutiques and cafes ready to sell you a cute trinket, a glass of local, impeccable red wine or a freshly baked crepe. I lost count of the number of streetside Nutella banana crepes I purchased over the course of the long weekend. On my first morning in Carcassonne, I ran through the winding, ancient city streets – with everything in French, a language I don’t speak, they were reminiscent of how nonsensical I found the streets of New Orleans while tipsy at Mardi Gras – I found a worn footpath. I followed it up the hill and somehow found myself surrounded by towering ancient stone walls on either side. They were crumbling around me, and yet the discarded beer cans let me know that they were at least safe enough the local teenagers were willing to scale them. Following suit, I found a centuries-old staircase, and began my ascent. I burrowed into a little divot, like the ones you see on the castle chess piece. The rising sun reflected over the Aude River just ahead of me, and I enjoyed the fresh morning air, feeling free and alive in a spot where I knew countless must have come before me. Only on my reluctant climb down did I notice the “Danger: Do not climb” warnings that marked the footpath I had taken.

 

We took a train to Paris via Narbonne on Friday. Heading back north, we reentered the gloom and scattered rain, so it felt like we had arrived in Seattle, only older and even more beautiful. We spent our time in Paris picnicking in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, hiking the steps of Montmartre, sipping wine along the Siene River, attending the ballet at the Paris Opera House, enjoying dinner at a Michelin-star restaurant, entering a speakeasy through the washing machine in a laundromat, attending a service at Notre Dame, visiting the Musee Lourve, D’Orsay, L’Orangerie and Gustave Moreau, eating macarons in the park, and losing ourselves in the romance of the city.

In short. Paris in the spring was everything they said it would be and more.

 

Travel · Uncategorized

Spring Break: England

For Spring Break this year, my mother and I chose an unconventional destination: Europe. With the perfect combination of a favorable Euro to Dollar exchange rate, and a round trip flight of just $400 if I could agree to the stipulations of a four hour layover in Reykjavik, Iceland – just long enough to get bored, but not quite long enough to leave the airport and packing requirements that limited me to just a small Jansport backpack, I could make my dream of visiting Europe for the first time a financial reality. Our first destination was England: four days in London, with a day trip to Bath, a former home of my namesake and my mother’s literary idol, Jane Austen.

My mother and I stayed at a little studio Airbnb just blocks from Victoria Station and Buckingham Palace. Because my mom went to bed early, and I was too nervous to go out at night on my own in a strange country, I took advantage of the extra time and set myself daily 6:30AM alarms to go on little 3-4 mile runs throughout my local neighborhood. I would never normally have the discipline to get up so early to exercise, but those runs turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the trip. On my runs, I had the opportunity to see the visiting cities tinged by the rainbow colors of dawn and feel alone at normally-packed tourist destinations. When there was no one else around as I circled Buckingham Palace on my run and headed into Hyde Park, I could imagine seeing the Queen just on the other side of the walls, slowly sipping her morning tea.

On a whim, for our last night we managed to snag tickets to Kinky Boots in the East End theatre district just moments before the curtain opened. It felt a little silly to see a show that had just recently left San Francisco – and had also been playing at our local Issaquah Village Theatre – but laughing alongside my mom about subjects we almost never discuss together made the trip feel intimate in the way it hadn’t yet. Afterwards, we debated various points of the storyline over red wine and pasta at a little Italian restaurant (later in the week, in France, the waitress would be extremely confused to hear us Americans refer to pasta as an “Italian” dish) and laughter.

 

Travel · Uncategorized

BLMS Presents Shrek, Jr.

Just the weekend after our trip to Southern California, I found myself back at the airport. This time, I was heading in the other direction. My littlest brother, Noah, was starring in an off-off Broadway production of Shrek, Jr for his middle school. Even if it meant the missed study sessions in the library due to back-to-back weekend getaways and a strained wallet, I wanted to be sure I was in the front row for his debut performance. It was exciting, too, for my mother and I to be able to plan for our upcoming whirlwind Europe trip together in person, for me to turn off my phone and sit down to just play with my cat, and to enjoy some home-cooked meals after getting dinner in the dining halls one too many times.

Before the show, our extended family gathered around some squished-together tables at our local Chinese restaurant for a rare evening out.  We argued over which dishes to order and who would drive in which car, just as we always do, but it was nice to look around the table and see my family surrounding me. Not everyone is so lucky to have their family so close to home, so full of love and support for one another. My cousins, grandparents, and parent’s siblings are all just a short drive away, and I am fortune enough to see each of them on my brief trips home.

Many of my family members had seen the opening show the night before, but they refused to answer my most burning question about Noah’s performance – did he kiss Fiona? Noah was only thirteen years old, and the female lead was a full grade above him, an 8th grader, so I could only imagine the youthful drama that had gone on at rehearsal. Of course, he didn’t. But he did give an excellent, stirring portrayal of a surly teenage ogre displaced from his swamp. It was possibly because he simply embodied the same attitude he gave my parents and I when we evicted him from the computer room after a long day of video games.

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The day following the show, Noah and I celebrated by going out to the mountain biking trails just down the road from our house. We attempted an intermediate blue square trail for the first time. It was narrow and bumpy and thrilling and steep. We survived, but I wouldn’t say we thrived. Likely, we’ll be spending the next few trips going through Bootcamp, the introductory course, before we attempt it again. But completing the trail helped me share the sense of accomplishment Noah must have gained from his hard work in the school play that weekend. It’ll be a while before I have the opportunity to go home again, but I’m glad I was able to make those memories while I can, particularly in light of my impending long-term separation. Just three months left before I leave.

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