Sunday, July 22, 2012

2 Weeks Feel Like 2 Months

It's been two weeks but it feels like two times anyway....and we all feel like it.

I have started my Fellowship with Not For Sale and, as you can tell from the title and opening sentence, I am two weeks in. It has been an interesting, fun, and tiring two weeks. And it leaves me excited for the next however many weeks we have left.

Let's just say, finally arriving in El Granada was  a relief. Saying goodbye to JP at the airport was hard (I obviously cried like a baby...a really unhappy baby) but once I was on the plane to Vancouver I was good to go. I sat next to this wonderful lady and we chatted about our lives. It was a treat to speak with someone who was actually genuinely interested on the journey I was about to embark on. We swapped book recommendations and she told me about her family and growing up in San Francisco. She recommended a few places to visit and we parted ways at the airport wishing each other the best life has to offer.

I thought all would be well going through immigration to the US (which you do in Vancouver) but it wasn't. They wanted to ask me a few more questions about what I was doing in the US, which was fine and dandy, until that caused me to miss my flight. I was crying...again....sad I was leaving JP, frustrated that at first they told me I wouldn't miss my flight and then I did, and feeling bad that they wouldn't let me use my cell phone at that moment to text my ride saying NOT to show up at the airport yet. Knowing that someone you've never met before is going out of their way to pick you up at the airport, and not being able to let them know you won't be arriving on time, is just plain ridiculous to me. However, once the gentleman asked me the two questions he needed to, I was on my way. That, of course, came after he mentioned to me "You are  leaving your husband for 6 months AND you missed your flight... There's no need to cry"....for real?

The airport adventure continued from there....all the flights to San Francisco were oversold and everyone was showing up for their flights. Since It was "my fault" I missed my flight, I was the last in line on stand-by. Although waiting wasn't fun, I did meet a handful of wonderful people also flying on stand-by that were so encouraging and sympathetic. I was so blessed to finally get on a flight 6.5 hours after my original flight was supposed to be leave. As I got on the plane and saw the others I had made friends with who were already on, we all smiled and felt excited that I was finally able to get where I needed to be. I arrived in San Francisco but my checked bag did not.

At times like these, the realization of how blessed I am to have a husband who is incredible is, well, incredible. He took time to call Air Canada and figure out all the shenanigans with my baggage. It arrived the next day in the afternoon and I could finally be warm with slippers and a blanket....In El Granada at this time of year it's cloudy, windy and cold, averaging around 14-15 degrees a day.

The two Fellows at the house when I arrived were Jackson (who picked me up from the airport) and Alicia. Both of them are rad Christian folks who I get along well with.  Alicia and I get along very well as we are both super chill tea drinkers who like to chat about God and watch cute movies. Jackson is upbeat, full of energy and spunk, and is Manly (Inside Joke)!

The first day of the Fellowship was spent learning about our tasks, meeting the staff, having meetings, and doing some intense Boot Camp with Jill, our Fellowship Director. Jill is super intense, full of life, and 110% passionate about what she does. She has quite the resume and so much knowledge that she could talk for hours. She often starts explaining something, then gets REALLY into it and starts drawing graphs and charts, and us fellows frantically try to write it down or take pictures of it all because it's so informative and we want to make sure we catch everything before she erases it. Let's just say, within the past 2 weeks, the knowledge we have gained from Jill alone is absolutely incredible!

Over the past 2 weeks we have had time to "settle" into our roles here. By "settle" I really mean start to figure out what we are here for. Each fellow has been assigned to a different area. Each of those areas are specific to what we can "bring to the table" and is what we  are best suited to. Within that, with Jill as our overseer, we also have supervisors who are our main "go-to" staff member. They are the ones teaching us our day-to-day and we are  going to be helping them out with their work. I am helping out Ethan with the tour. Ethan had been away until today which made my first 2 weeks kind of "up in the air". I spent time doing random odd jobs and checking and responding to general emails that hadn't really been checked since the last fellowship left.

I had a chance to go for coffee with Ethan today and it got me really pumped for the time I will be spending on the fellowship. We chatted about the upcoming fall tour, the upcoming 2013 tour and about other general  exciting future endeavours involving tour and Not For Sale. It was so exciting to see his energy. We also reminisced about Warped Tour and old school bands that we used to love. What I originally thought was going to be a half hour chat easily turned into 2 hours. I got back to the house and was SO PUMPED about all the fun shenanigans that is going to transpire this fall. It was encouraging and energizing... exactly what I needed.

A few random notes about where I am and how I am doing:
-It's cloudy, cold, foggy and windy most of the time. However, the past few days have been gorgeous out...gorgeous meaning the sun has been shining, which makes a world of a difference.
-There is nothing really going on during the week but the weekend here is pretty lively with free live music (Just got back from listening to a blues band!) and farmers markets. This is nice because during the week when you work you don't feel  like  you are missing out on anything.
-I have started to run (well, more like jog). I went 4 times this past week and have really enjoyed it. I like to go in the mornings and run by the ocean. Listening to the ocean in the morning is one of my favourite things.
-Everyone in the house gets along really well. Everyone has completely different  personalities but it works well together. It's nice. I look forward to bonding more and more as time goes on.
-I have named myself the "grandma" of the house.  I go to bed earlier then everyone else, get up earlier than everyone else, and even have my own room and bathroom. I'm the cheap one who doesn't go out and is content to sit at home. Basically, I'm an old person.
-I love cats. This I knew already but when boredom strikes in the evenings I can frequently be caught browsing cats_of_instagram on instagram. Awesome.
-I like making floral arrangements. There are fun and different flowers here and I am the person of the house who goes out to the yard and picks flowers to have on the table. It's fun.
-Birthday Oreos. Enough said.

-Skype is the best invention ever. To be able to talk with JP AND see him while we chat is the biggest blessing I can think of. I miss him more than anything and am so pumped that he is proud  of me for doing this. It is encouraging and encouragement from him means more than from anyone else. I like him and love him. He's the best.
-PC FOR THE WIN!! My Dell, while old and rather "moody", has been beating the MACs of the fellows. It is working better than ever and I couldn't be more ecstatic about it. Minus the duck tape I needed to use on it today...but we won't talk about that.

I know people have been wanting to read about my time here. I've been very busy and appologize for a fairly lengthy yet still vague blog post. As I start to post more consistently, I can go more in depth yet keep the overall length shorter.

As the Fellowship continues I know that, although these two weeks have felt like two months with all the work we have been doing, it will soon enough fly by and I'll be on to the next adventure. I am pumped that my next adventure will involve JP by my side and am excited about all the wonderful plans God has for us. Until that next adventure, I will enjoy all that this one has to offer.

Until next time!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Thailand 2012 - Post 7 (The Final Blog)

Our last night in Chaing Mai we went to a restaurant on a boat!
Oh did I love it. It was a perfect time to relax on the water, enjoy the fantastic food, and pick each others brains about how the experience has been so far, and what our plans will be upon our return. We swapped book titles, documentary recommendations, shared many laughs and reminisced about the time we spent together. 
It was our last night with JK and we said goodbye to our translator that had served us very well during the trip. We all gave him hugs which we know made him feel awkward, but we didn't care. We went to another night market (not a touristy one - one the residents go to) and then headed back to the hotel and packed up. Heading from the restaurant to the market and then back to the hotel I rode with JP on a motorbike which was a super fun time!The next day we flew back to Bangkok, hit up a market (where I got a wonderful dress!!), went to restaurant, then it was time for some of our team to head back to Canada.
I'm not really good with good byes....but I guess that depends what you classify as "good". For example, I'm not really emotional so I don't get all "Oh, I'm so sad, I'm going to miss you!" In fact, when people cry at goodbyes, it makes me feel really awkward... what am I supposed to do? On the other hand, I act pretty calm and collected about the whole thing. We had fun, we made memories, It would be nice to continue on in this country together, however it is time to go home. Let's just keep in touch and be pumped about the next time we see each other.
As people were leaving and saying their good byes, it was hard to acknowledge this journey coming to an end. I love Thailand. I want to stay.

We had an extra day so we took advantage of being somewhere we never thought we would be and adventured about Bangkok! We went to the Grand Palace and visited all the temples, saw the giant golden Buddha, and went to a mall with over 2,000 shops. It was a great, relaxing day before we started our 24 hours of travelling home.

As we arrived at the airport and started loading one of our planes, I was sitting down and noticed the gentleman in front of me looking through his camera at pictures. You know those moments when you don't mean to be looking but you are because it's in the only direction you can look? That's what happened. On his camera he was looking at pictures of himself (this older white dude), with young Asian girls. After what we had done on our trip it was so hard to see! Pictures become an endless way to relive an experience after you come home from the adventure. We take hundreds of pictures so we can show people what we did and the places we went to. We take pictures of any memorable moment in hopes we can share the pictures with friends and family, and explain with the same excitement what the experience was like. When I look through my camera, I see the bright faces of the children we worked with, the people we call Heroes, the ones who are making a difference. I see pictures of food, the friends I made, the places we went and pictures of things I never thought I would ever see. When that guy is looking at pictures, he is reliving the experience he had....who will he show those pictures to? His buddies that think he's  "The Man"? Would he show his family if he has one? His wife? Kids? Would he share them with his co-workers? 
It is hard to swallow that people come to such a beautiful place and do the ugliest things. No pictures, no matter how beautiful of a place you were in, can turn a trip for an ugly reason into something worthy of sharing.
This has been such an amazing experience. I feel so blessed to have opportunities to become involved in things that are life changing for the people we help as well as well as us, the volunteers. I feel this is a perfect set up to the internship I will embark on with Not For Sale. Taking part in their Fellowship Program is going to be an amazing stepping stone to a life fully devoted to helping others.  Seeing how Not For Sale helps Kru Nam and to see the organization in action was inspiring and makes me so pumped!

While the trip to Thailand has come to an end, the life full of passion for those whose lives are effected by human trafficking and modern day slavery is just beginning and I am going to live it out the best I can. God is going to use me for great things and I believe this is one of those things.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Thailand 2012 - Part 6

Myanmar, Markets and Motion Sickness

It's pretty much the end of the trip and I'm only having time to write now because we've been so busy!

Let's start with Myanmar.
We went to Myanmar to see the drop in centre. However, going to Myanmar is a sketchy thing.....

Myanmar Entry Permit.
First, they take your passport away when you enter. You get a temporary card that has your picture and some information on it and that you keep with you. This document will get your passport back when you want to leave. Next, they have specific tourist zones that you are allowed to be in. Myanmar has a really sketchy past and is full of things better left unsaid. We had heard about a tourist group who had gone in to see the garbage dump and help the families that live there. One of the drivers of the tuk-tuk had been a spy from the government... Needless to say, we did a few "touristy" things before heading to our intended destination.

We drove past the garbage dump so we could at least see the conditions some of the families kids at the home came from. For me, since I had worked at the garbage dump in Dominican Republic last summer, it wasn't as hard hitting as it was for those who hadn't seen it before. Natasha, who rode in the same tuk-tuk as I, really found it hard to swallow. It's a tough thing to drive past hills of garbage, some of it even burning, and then see houses in the background with kids playing. It seems like two things that should not go together.

Outside of the Chinese Temple.
After that we visited the Chinese temple then heading off to the BIG market. This market had everything knock-off you could think of! You could see where these kids at the home were coming from and it was so sad to see. After time of shopping we had lunch and then went to the drop in centre.

Kru Nam Speaking at the Centre.
At the drop in centre we chatted with 2 employees who told us all about the programs at the centre and about how their journey's led them there. Kru Nam also came and answered any questions we had. It was so awesome to hear that the goal isn't to send kids to the children's home, the goal is to help the kids where they are, with the situations they are in, and to offer them alternatives. Other things I was pumped to hear about include hearing about the drug rehabilitation program. They help the moms get off of drugs and then teach them skills they can use to make money instead of selling drugs and other means that aren't the best.

One thing that did make me a little sad was the fact that there is no counsellor that comes in to the children's home and drop-in centre to speak with the kids about what they are going through and how they are coping. Kru Nam said that the staff do a lot of counselling with the kids but that there is no actual counsellor/psychiatrist that comes in and helps the kids mentally with things. In my opinion, I feel that is something necessary and would love to see either through donations for funding, or even someone who is skilled and would want to volunteer.

The staff at the drop in centre provided us with delicious snacks (deep fried banana, mango sticky rice, tea,etc) and allowed us to browse the centre. They also showed us the reading materials they make up for the kids. Since there are no reading materials aimed at slavery, sexual exploitation, safe sex, etc the drop in centre makes their own! It was so cool to see that they are committed to educating the kids so that they can make smart choices in life. They also let us buy some of the bracelets, change purses and other knick-knacks made by the moms and kids to raise income. I'm pretty sure we all bought something! It's way better than anything you could find at the market and the sentimental value makes it more valuable than anything else you could ever find.

That evening Kru Nam joined us for dinner. We had the chance to ask her questions and learn more about her. She mentioned quite a few things that I will always remember. One thing that really stuck out in my mind was how people like us help keep her going! Talk about something you never thought possible! She mentioned some days, it's hard to get out of bed and face the day. But that it's people like us, people that come and help and care for the kids, that get her out of bed on those days she is feeling defeated. It's truly amazing to know that, even with the small role we felt we played, we are even an inspiration to Kru Nam herself!

The next day we travelled to Chiang Mai. We travelled by van which..well...isn't always the best. Needless to say, especially from the title of the blog, you can tell this is where the motion sickness came in. It was a downer to not feel very well but we stopped a few nifty places on the way to the awesome hotel we stayed at. We stopped a butterfly and orchid place, a random hot spring and visited a temple where, after climbing to the top, it overlooks all of Chiang Mai. That's the part I skipped. I slept in the van to get over the motion sickness as the ride up was full of twists and turns. JK kept telling me about how I was missing out on something so gorgeous but that's OK. I plan on going back :)

The hotel we stayed at was awesome. We all loved it. A JK recommendation, it was called the Imm Hotel and was all white and orange. The soap also smells amazing...if you ever go, use the soap ;)

Bianca and I on the Dance Floor.
One night in Chiang Mai we went to a super touristy yet awesome restaurant and saw some authentic Thai dancing! Think Folklorama for Thailand but on a grander scale! Bianca and I even went out onto the stage in the middle of the restaurant and learnt to dance! It was such a fun experience! At the end of the food and dance, Milk had snagged some of the giant paper lanterns for us to release. Some of the group didn't want to participate, not wanting to take away from the magical time we had at the children's home releasing them. I however, got right in there and helped send them off! For me, it was all part of the cultural experience.

Upon returning back to the hotel, a group of us went to one of the big night markets. Most of us were pumped to do MORE shopping, since we are a majority girl group. On the way to the market, we walked through a red light district.

This was my first experience actually being in a red light district. I have seen these areas on movies and documentaries but actually being there and walking through it makes your heart ache. At the beginning of the night when were on the way to the market, there weren't a lot of people in the area yet. It was so sad to see the girls waiting there, sitting on stools at the very edge of the bars. Some of them would be yelling at you "Hey Sexy Ladies!" Some would just sit...not smiling...just sitting. As the night went on and we browsed the market, the bars and massage parlours down the street started to fill up. Our walk back to the hotel left most of us feeling sick. As we walked back the bars and massage parlours were pretty full. We would see white, adult men with their arms around the Asian girls laughing, chatting, flirting, and more. They were doing these things with girls who could have been the same age as their daughters. As we would walk and look inside all these places, the guys would look out at us, not even care that our faces were plastered with disgust, and go back to their treat for the night.

I had such a hard time with this. What those men are doing makes me mad, sick to my stomach, makes my heart race and makes me feel an uncomfortable anger for what is happening. To know, although we didn't know for sure how many, some of those girls are there against their own will or have been trafficked there is heart breaking in every imaginable way. I felt a fight inside of me; I want to stereotype these men. There's a part of me that wants to go right up to them and tell them what they are doing is disgusting, horrible and any other word I could think of to say that would make them feel bad because of what they are doing and take them off their high horse. But...who am I to judge? Who am I to go up to these men that wouldn't care what I had to say anyways, and tell them what I think of them? Like I said, they wouldn't care what I had to say anyways. Knowing I have no place to judge, while wrestling with it in the moment, turned out to be a comforting thought later on. To know that God is Just, to know that God will always Love, to know that God is Good means, that while I feel my heart aching in the moment I see those events in the red light district unfold, I can ensure my heart ache turns to compassion for those there against their will and God will take care of the rest. I can focus on reaching out, helping, shining and being a light.

Focusing the energy in positive ways will always be more productive than focusing on the negative.