Monday, 31 December 2012

Thanks for No Apocalypse

It only seems fitting to end the year with a note of some kind. I thought about saying goodnight to a tired year, but somehow I feel as though this year is wide awake and ready for a dance party with the new year. So why say goodnight to it? Why even really say goodbye? I want to say

2012, you have been a year of surprise. I knew how old I would turn this year if I didn't die beforehand, but I'm not sure I saw anything else coming along towards me.

I'm pretty sure 2011 was a tame travel year, but 2012--we saw the world together. Another continent, and the chance to go home again. Could I ask more? But there was. The West Coast again, and then the northeast coast with Maine. And then dropping down to Florida.

I went by last minute whim in the spring wondering what I was doing to a writing conference because I happened to do and enjoy an improv poetry reading night with a couple friends and a number of strangers in DC in summer 2011 and chanced on a lecture on essays and talked to one of the lecturers after and then on another whim in August applied to grad school. At the professor's school. Which is where I now sit writing this. Wow.

Somehow I happened into my first year in which not a single holiday was spent with my family, not a one. And yet I think this year has filled fuller with family and positive, bond strengthening family moments than any other in a long time past.

So many other things. Many of which are already chronicled here and will not be repeated in this post. But really, what an insane year. I don't know how 2012 isn't a tired year, after all it's done on my part alone. I mean, I'm tired just thinking about all this, and I cram a lot in, I think.

I have no idea what to expect of this next year. I know I should graduate from my county leadership program. I know I will be writing, a lot. A lot. I will be a full time professional and a full time student. Maybe I will learn to ski. I will watch my brother graduate and I will desperately miss the last couple years of having the very unexpected privilege of living nearby him and watching him grow up and become a bigger being and stealing a hug or a lunch with him. (or coffee and cookies)

I will also be loving the usage of student discounts again. I can't even say that enough.

But when I think about this year now closing, I have to say that really, I don't know what this next one will be. I hope it will be a little less sad, with a lot less loss (somehow!). But I also hope it will be also (still? anyways?) dynamic and surprising. Because 2012, it's been something else. Thanks for not going out in apocalypse.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Sun Coast Sun Kissed Some Kind of Happiness

It's Friday where I am, sitting at a high table in a cafe at an airport right now, in transit somewhere in the great wide small large world. I've spent this whole last week in transit, this whole last month, several months--year, really. What a year! But this is not a new years reflection.

This past week I have enjoyed the warm and sunny weather of Florida--a nice change from the snow I left behind, and no doubt a cruel change to the snow falling steadily and piling up on my car for my return home. A welcome nonetheless, though. 

I love airports; I realise I have made this statement before, and it surely will not be the last time. But really I do just love them. And I love the people I got to see on this Florida trip; friends I unexpectedly found out were in the area, childhood friends who live here, school fellows through a soccer match,  new acquaintances through business meetings, and completely delightful strangers.  

I spent hours in a cute little car my favourite shade of bright blue driving around the state, over huge bridges with towers like the sails of a ship, across marshlands, past Disney, by grove after organge grove, around fields and fields of cows--more cows here than in NY!--where old large trees stretched out their limbs languidly in the heat and covered themsevlves in drapes of grey moss falling down to meet the drying grass. So many different sights of beautiful. And even when I found myself despising the endless stretches of flat I rolled into wavy planes and found small small hills to smile in again. 

Sea sponge, fisherman's warves, eating Greek food. Blue water sparkling everywhere. 

I didnt go to Disney when I was near, didn't go because I hadn't the time to spare. Because I can't imagine doing Disney on one's own--you need a group to laugh with for an experience like that. I didn't do Disney because they advertised "come enjoy the most spectacular experience in the world," and maybe I'm a snob or maybe I'm just incredibly ignorant, but I can't imagine that the most spectacular experiences in the world will be found in an amusment park or in simulated adventures. I like to think that my own completely ordinary day to day moment to moment experiences are spectacular, and that I have done and seen and touched and tasted and shared in some of the most wonderful and inimitable experienes in the world and they were part of real life, not a place of pretend that is outside of reality. (And don't get me wrong. I LOVE movies and films and Harry Potter world and I would love to go fly a broom and drink pumpkin juice and have a try at Hogwarts--in UK--and all of that. I just don't think that it should be chalked up as the single most spectacular and life changing dream come true kind of thing... Though maybe it is. I don't know.)

But all that being said, I think I had a pretty fantastic experience even with some deeply frustrating moments strewn in. This morning before heading to the airport, I ran to the beach. (Shock, I know) And it was so beautiful to walk on the fragile broken rainbow of shells in the soft white powder sand along the gulf and look out and think how perfect. How perfect. And how happy I am to have seen the ocean this year from shore to shore to shore to shore to shore. So much. So happy.

Now comes it that November ends and tomorrow begins December, a month where seeing magic is so easy. A month where I'm going to be just as busy!! And I'm terribly excited to see how it goes. 

Monday, 19 November 2012

In Abstract

Sometimes as I sit at home, curled up on the floor toes tucked in and fingers curled around a warm mug, I catch myself wondering what in the world I'm doing. I'm the kind of person who lives a very very busy life--and not just busy, but deliberately full. That differentiation is crucial. Busy is mainly concerned with doing and quantity; full is rather more about being and quality.

This year has had an awful lot of busy, so that at times like this when I'm curled up at home, I wonder, what am I doing? What is my life about? Is it ok that I am taking a few moments of pure silence--not speaking to anyone for a few minutes or occasionally, whole days? How do I keep the balance for myself between just being "busy" and having a "full" life as I explore what life has just sitting around waiting for me to pick up and try out? I don't want to invalidate my existence.

I think that what I love most about my life is the people I get to meet going through it. People are also the hardest part for me because they are the most unpredictable. They come in, they go out. They live, they love, they leave. (And they will all leave, you know, even if it is just through death.) I love that my life is such that it allows for so very many people, and such different people at that.

And I think what I love even more about life is the beauty that can be found in it. The beauty of people, of their beings and how they choose to live their lives. Or the beauty of wonder. So much wonder! And the time to sit quietly like now and mull over the wonder of it all, this is good and still full. I think, I am so fortunate to be a witness to so much beauty, even the most painful piercing kinds of beauty that we find in the depths of life.

Just a thought.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Experiencing the Governance of Government

It is election night in These United States, and for the first time in my life, I am a part of this process. I have been old enough to be legally permitted to cast my ballot for some years now (no, I will not specify how many), but was not ready until today to do so. Not that I actually was ready to do so today, either. But I would never be more ready than today, and so it is done. I voted.

As someone who has grown up ever on the outside of government, though always fiercly affected by them, this is a momentous occasion. To me it is not simply the act of voting, which is, honestly, pretty exciting in its own right. It is in the choosing to claim a privilege offered to me in a country which happens to have also offered me citizenship. It is the accepting of that privilege, and the desire to do right by it.

I love that in this election, I can actually know some of those whom I had the choice of voting for, too. It is one thing to be able to claim, I greeted the Queen of the Netherlands at the airport once, or to say, I shook hands with the President of Slovakia (back when he was president). But to say, I have looked at what such and such person did, and dialogued about it in the community, and met that person different times and heard in person for myself what they have to say, how they feel and think on issues of importance and relevance to my local community, to my extended community, even to my international home community--that is something different. And then to voice my opinion; do I want them to continue their mission? To continue working in my service, in the service of the people and localities around me? Who do I choose to shape my world, and who do I set in place to do that shaping?

These are new experiences.

I like the idea that this does not have to be a choice of life or death. I like that I can vote in peace. I like not having to wonder if after tonight there will still be a government or the same country at all. I like that there are so many reasons I can determine who I wish to vote for--did they do that thing i wanted them to? do they believe in my preferred form of government? (which if i may say--it is interesting that perhaps it is not always best to choose your preferred form of government. not all government is good for all places. Hmmm. easy to say when you look somewhere else and think--they shouldn't do that kind of government there! but when you have to look at your own world and say they shouldn't do my kind of government here.... that's funny.)

I like that I am sitting outside a cafe right now, my booted feet propped up on a fire pit, gloved hands typing this and spiced hot chocolate next to me, and i can watch the results come in on my free wifi to this device i'm using. I like that it is peaceful and quiet on such a big night here.

I have no idea what to expect or even what really to want, because who can ever possibly predict what the passing of the moon and the sun will bring. But I am proud of myself tonight for finally taking part in government; for accepting a privilege and for taking ownership over something. And I will sleep well for that reason alone.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

A Brief Grief Journal

October has been such an exquisitely difficult month. I have felt the pain of loss keenly, reaching me from many different areas of my life. It has taken great effort to put energy into anything other than simply sitting and allowing myself to feel my way through sadness and pain to the other side of grief. Certainly I am not there yet, but I know I'm closer and that is good enough for now.

In the midst of hurt, though, I find myself thinking how fortunate I am to have things in my life that can hurt me. To have people you love so much that the loss of them is unspeakable agony--the kind that cramps your whole body up, the kind that makes you bend down over and curl up fetally, the kind that just turns you into a leaky sieve so that you start crying even in a happy moment. Funny how closely tied pain and hurt are to happiness and joy.

I think that while allowing oneself to experience grief is both good and necessary, giving yourself up to drown in it is not good. Wallowing is easy. Stasis is easy. After all, as I mentioned earlier, so much energy is spent just experiencing so much feeling at all, how do you have energy to do anything else? To move forward? And if there is one thing that I would look back at my life and say, it is that you cannot expect anyone else to pick you up when you are down. You have to choose to get up. For me, that means doing things even when I don't feel like doing them--especially things that give energy.

I derive energy from creativity, so I have taken on the project (BIG project) of painting one of the rooms in my house. Colours, primer, moving pianos and stacks of books and clothes and pictures and stuff stuff stuff. Painting. Creating. Repetitive motion.

I do derive energy from people. So don't cancel your parties, don't isolate yourself from others even when you don't feel like seeing anyone. Keep living and being and watching those around you live and be and remember how beautiful it is to love people, to love at all. If you are lonely, invite someone else who is alone. If you are hungry, make something and share it with someone, even if you don't see them, even if you are simply sending it to them.

Take conscious note of all the things you find beautiful. I was in Buffalo visiting one of my dear friends. I didn't feel social--I just felt sad. But I let myself let go and move outside of the sadness and enjoy something happy (and tasty!! mmm, Thai food.) And then, I went with her to visit an Nepali family she has gotten to know. It was so incredibly perfect, sitting on a couch somewhere in Buffalo talking about loss and exile and experiencing someone else's pain that you understand and drinking chai and knowing that life is beautiful anyway.

I've eaten sushi, picked pumpkins, receivedhugs, scheduled out things to keep doing til i'm finally starting to think a bit more spontaneously again.

Nearly a week ago now, I went to a fundraiser up there. What fun! Going on stage at Shea's--one of the biggest stages in the whole of the States! And going backstage and in the stars' dressing rooms, and underneath the stage where the trap doors are. I still have yet to shake my desire to go straight back into serious theatre. It's come in handy, though, with lots of costume parties the rest of this week. Snow White and Marilyn Monroe!

During the big "Frankenstorm" that just came around, I had a sleepover and pumpkin-carving and movie-night with another friend. Storms are one experience I hate to have alone, and it was so much fun to have a sleepover in response to my facebook post "now accepting applications for storm-sleepover-buddies" (or something like that) and to revel in good company.

What I know is that I hope November is a better month. No new losses to stagger under. No horrid storms, no deaths nor dying. To come out of this sleepwalking and back into smiles and quick laughter that just bubbles out again. To not have to work so hard at living and remembering the beautiful. Please, November--be restorative.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Thoughts from a Sunday Drive

Yesterday afternoon, I drove back to NY from South Jersey--about a 6.5 hour drive, really. Beautiful drive. Music playing; my brother buried in his book and I in my thoughts. Sometimes it frightens me--for the last few months the hills of NY have risen up to welcome me back. They roll in waves of home at me and swallow me up. I'm still not fond of their particular shade of green (except when the shadows hit them just right and they turn a beautiful blue-green and purple instead), but on this drive even that did not matter. Those hills were lit up in tongues of flame: it was like driving through fire, all burning glory and golden auburn bronzed beauty.

I am proud that I can feel at home in this place now; proud of the hard work I put into making a strange and foreign land become a home and a haven. Proud that I made a place to come back to--that I find myself thinking in my head one day I will return to. Where the whales go to die.

But who knows--I could say that of many places already, so I suppose there are many other places I may yet come to say that of.

I think of the way I have home in the people I love, so that I can go to a strange place and find it feels like home to me. Over a year ago, I spent 6 days traversing the West Coast--California, Oregon, and Washington all. (Yes, it was a whirlwind!!) And I had hardly a single set plan going there except the times of my flights and the airports themselves. But it was fabulous. It was home every single breath because of the people, because of the wonder, because of the space to be whole self.

This month has been a month of grieving and of loss, and I know that the experience of both for myself will continue on for some time more. But still I love the choice to smile anyways. The choice to live largely, to be bigger than oneself and to exist outside of the limits of immediate feeling. Time travel is unfortunately not an option (to me, anyways...), but what we do with the time we have? How much we can fill it with. Minutes are confined, but moments--aren't those forever? They stretch on and on in their own expanse somehow.

Nearly a month ago (how has time gone by so?!), I traveled out to Indiana to visit some dear friends. And it was wonderful. I jumped the midnight train, arrived around 8:30 a.m., changed at their flat and then went and volunteer worked all day alongside my friend in a kindergarten classroom (where she works). Never done that before... Then I saw my first highschool football game. Which also happened to be a homecoming game and the homecoming court was crowned. Then that weekend I also saw my first band competition, which was really fun! And of course, hours walking and talking and full of tasty foods and drinks and new people and dear dear people I already know. I think I like to have at least one new experience every day, though I do prefer them more happy than grievous.

Live as big as you can just for the breath-taking beauty of life which is bigger than you, and then live a little bit bigger than that.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

An Inadequate Post.

I have coming up a trip I never wished to take; on Thursday I will travel to my grandmother's funeral. I cannot believe she is really gone, cannot believe that I speak of her in the past tense now. I loved my grandmother. Loved. Loved her so much.

I've never grown up around my extended family. Where my grandmother was concerned, however, this fact never mattered. She called every year on my birthday. She visited "all the time" when I lived as a child on the island. Who knows how often that really was? What mattered is that it felt like always. Since before I could even spell, we wrote letters back and forth, long missives in which I narrated all the exciting adventures of my life and she responded in kind. Thoughts, wisdom, and lots of love. When she visited, she picked me up at school, took us kids to the beach, went out for ice-cream, and played with us. She knew every boy I ever loved growing up, even when I wished she didn't!

My grandmother taught me things. She taught me to ride a bike, to learn my times-table in mathematics, to make beds beautifully (which mattered a lot in a family where hospitality happened all the time and it was fun to pretend you were a maid at a hotel!).

She taught me to love fiercely, even as she loved fiercely. I don't know anyone who loved more fiercely than she. In the last decade, I've done a lot she couldn't understand. Why would I ever want to go to some of the places I have visited or studied or worked in? Why would I sleep there or eat that or try this? How could I love it? But no matter how much my lifestyle and passions confused her, she always loved me firmly and supported me. She wanted to hear about everything. She kept a notebook with every single one of my blog-posts printed off, and maps tracking where I was or had been. She loved me no matter what.

And she invested so much! Hours over breakfasts when I was in the area--breakfasts at my favourite restaurants or else a special breakfast favourite she made for me at her house. We would talk long into the night and she would fall asleep in the big double bed in the special blue room with me, holding my hand. I think sometimes I fell asleep in the middle of a prayer. She even put up with my kicking in the bed!

She nurtured my creative spirit. Every piece of I-don't-even-know-what that I made from trash, she kept, and told me she kept. Beautiful. So interesting. Do you have more? What have you made lately?
All my drawings and paintings on her fridge, and she would write me--"so-and-so from church commented on your beautiful picture today."

She told me long stories about family history and connected me to a world of people which space and time kept me from. I learnt about genealogy and family loyalty and the price of loyalty from her. I learnt about hard work and sacrifice and so many other things from talking with her in a pick-up truck at farmers markets or in her beautiful garden or biking on back roads. So much, I cannot possibly write it out here in brief tonight.

She was strong, and I hope she passed along her strength to me.

I loved my grandmother, and I hope that I can carry not only the memory of her into the future, but that I can grow the beautiful pieces of her that live on in me long after today and yesterday and this coming Thursday.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Woman Wanders Again

(from Thurs night)

This night stretches long as I sit in the train station with my trusty bags and listen to the hum of those around me (are you sure you have our tickets, the Canadian woman asks her man) and music over the radio I'd prefer off. Waiting for the midnight train--my first train again since taking the night train to Bangkok in July.

What a day this has been, though! After weeks of too much work, I am taking a respite. This morning I enjoyed the great pleasure of sleeping in til mid-morning and then drove about 45 minutes through crisp air and rolling hills speckled with turning leaves to a farm where one of my friends has been working the last several months.

Seeing her was lovely in itself; working alongside her the whole day long was wonderful. What is richer than the immediate satisfaction of manual labour and the joy of deep conversation with a good friend?

We picked corn, then moved on to watermelons and from there to yellow squash, zucchini  and eternal rows of more kinds of peppers than I knew existed. Then eggplant and lettuce, stepping through weeds and overgrowth; over the rotting remains of produce that will be reborn next year. The farm is organic (not yet certified in ints general operations, and set in a beautiful landscape. Gorgeous old but renovated farmhouse overlooking so much land; fields of vegetables growing their last days, hours. Barns with calves, horses, goats, chickens and lots of cats. A huge blue pond. Dogs in a pen begging you to play, showing off their antics. Wild kittens growing tame, cows grazing in the distance.

We transplanted in the greenhouse tender little sprouts wanting more space, basketted cilantro and tomatos, and spent nearly the whole of a beautiful afternoon picking beans and pulling up the bean plans after: their season, too, at an end. And we lunched on sweet water, creamed coffee, dark chocolate, and toast topped with fresh eggs over easy. Delicious!

i try to think--how does one describe this sort of experience/ Could I be happier? Such a natural place for mankind, working hard with the earth, the animals, even (eventually?) with critters and creepy crawlers? I remember growing up, my favourite day Saturdays--not because of no school, but rather, that my older sister and I spent nearly those whole days outside with our father, hauling branches--working in the yard--even when merely hauling branches from his dump pile to aid our our fortress building in the briars he had yet to trim. Riding in the truck to the dump with him at day's end--unloading the (massive) haul and riding victoriously (with deep satisfaction) home again as he regaled us with either stories of his own days growing up in America and shoveling horse manure, or else talkes of Frankie the Talking Horse or The Flying Belly-Button Monster. Little was happier than those days, those moments.

So many times in my little rented flat, even with my paltry flower/herb garden attempts, I find myself missing the maintenance of upkeep--hammer, nails, paintbrush, wood varnishing--and I wish I had a yard to work on or a house to continually fix. I suppose only the idle can dream of work.

This evening in the city--a man nearby speaking Russian on the phone to what seemed a buddy of his. In the store picking up food for this trip and supper for myself--the cashier from Poland; we spoke together, in English, of our distant homes, our other foods, our lost words from school days back there. And I don't know how people content themselves never to meet new people, to capture a fragment of another's story, or to pass through another's life like ships in the night. Even our worlds--his Russian, her accented English--can move us. Give me a whisper of hope, a shadow of a smile.
We are not alone.
Adam and Eve in the garden.
The world before the brokenness of the land, the fracturing of people into echoless babel.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Checking out the Dead Sea Scrolls

I had the opportunity through work to drive down to Philadelphia over the weekend and help host an event centred around the Dead Sea Scrolls. I think most of you who might read this blog know about these scrolls--they were found in jars of clay in a cave by a shepherd in the near past, and are the earliest pieces of scripture found yet. Abrahamic faiths find them very important.

Driving the seven hours it took due to bad weather, construction, and moronic drivers (myself naturally not included in that definition) was still a lovely drive. I've driven that way so many times I think I could do it with my eyes closed--though I would like to say I have not ever done so. In fact, I've driven it so often that even with traffic, I can still predict timing to locations along the way (and the final destination) within minutes of accuracy. It is incredibly satisfying to be able to do that. I have my favourite stopping points (only 2!) and the same order. I should probably vary it up one day just to avoid too much predictability. The road gives me in itself a sense of home. Funny that should be, but so natural at the same time.

I don't know what I enjoyed most about the event we held. Last time I was in the Franklin Institute, I was 8 years old, with my parents and a sister, got sick at the I-MAX theatre, was horrified by the display of real babies, and was fascinated by walking through some kind of pumping red heart. This time, I skipped most of the institute, drove myself there (wandered around the streets in circles unable to find the right parking for a quarter of an hour!), and while I went alone, was not without good company. We had a lovely alumni event there, and it was so much fun to be in a lovely old library room with alumni from even back to the 40's--to have this kinship with people I never knew, and to wander around learning about other hearts--the hearts of all these people who attended the same uni that I did. There were members from every decade up through the 2010's! And while each decade was so very different from every other, there was still this same sort of rhythm beneath it all.

After our presentations in the library room, we made our way together to the scroll exhibit. I remember hearing about the Dead Sea Scrolls over the radio back when I used to live in the Caribbean. I don't remember what was said, just that they were talked about. Now I finally got to see them. It took me back to days in London, standing in the British Library and looking at the first press prints of the Bible, of the Magna Carta (the English always did mix Religion and Politics!), and of other absolutely beautiful pieces and many gorgeous illuminated scriptures and texts. The exhibit itself, full of pictures of countryside, of multi-screen video displays playing insinc; of endless patched-together clay jars and ceramics and bathtubs from cult places mentioned in the Bible and of earrings and old coins--all oddly enough also took me less to Ancient Israel and more to places I have been before--to the Roman ruins scattered across Austria and Slovakia, where I grew up playing or walking around and even over. To the island of Crete and the even more ancient ruins there. And to days in Kenya, my own experiences in the desert and with pastoral and nomadic tribes.

It was not wonderful, or thrilling, or exciting to see the exhibit. It could even border on the boring--how many clay jars patched back up do you care about seeing, really? How many deep and impressive voice recordings playing at you theatrically do you want to hear? And I can't really help but analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the exhibit and what I would do if I were the curator or whatever the particular term in this case would be.

But it was wondrous; it was slightly chilling--looking at these fragmented and fragile oh-so-ancient texts in a language I cannot speak, in someone's real-life long ago personal handwriting--their ink and sweat and effort. The holiness of the time they set aside to write at all these very words. These words which survive to effect so much of the world, through centuries. Words lost for so long, hidden remotely in clay jars, that when uncovered, still ring true--even to ring true to the copies of them from much later on in the years--that transcribing and copying them did not dilute their message. It was a goosebump moment to remember.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Going To Court

My very first day back in the States, I had class all morning for a leadership program in the county that I am a member of. While it was a bit rough to try and stay awake through it all after so much travelling the last few days and jetlag, I can't imagine a more interesting way to have passed that morning.

That Thursday was what we call an "Industry Day," when we do site visits and have speakers talk with us according to the theme of the day. Thursday's was the judicial system, so we spent our morning between a conference room, a courtroom, and the county jail.

Yes, I spent my first morning back in the States in court and then in jail. You can laugh. :)

But in all seriousness, it was really an interesting morning. I've never sat in on a live court session in the States before. This was a special court, in fact--something known as Drug Court. It is where people who are guilty of non-violent drug crimes (possession of, falsifying prescriptions for drug use, etc) who might otherwise get up to even 9 years in prison for their crime, can instead be sent to drug court for trial and conviction there. In this court, they go through a special programme with four phases, and if they successfully complete this program they are free to go.

The programme that they go through in the Drug Court is a restorative programme; one that helps them to work through their problem instead of merely punishing them for the results of that problem.

It was really fascinating to experience that and talk with the judge and other people part of the court process to see how and why this court is run.

In fact, the very last time I sat in court as a witness was back in Rwanda, in the days when the Gacaca (pronounced Gachacha) courts were still operating. You can, in fact, read the post I wrote on my then-blog about that experience here if you want. These were courts that opened up to try those from the genocide as the international tribunes would never get through them all. These courts also operated according to the traditional village court model. One of the really beautiful aspects of these courts was their emphasis not on justice to the full measure (because an eye for an eye is justice to the full measure, yes, when in comes to genocide crimes? Yet if you operate on an eye for an eye system, you will have no society left to restore; no hope for redemption; no promise for a brighter future.) but rather on mercy. They wanted to have a society to rebuild, not merely a punished society.

I had never seen such a beautiful blending of mercy and justice before in my life as I witnessed day after day in Rwanda; as I witnessed that one particular six hours in court in Rwanda.

I love the fact that the system in the States is realising that punitive justice is not always the best way of dealing with people. We are humans and as such we are all broken in some way. It is the human predicament. So to begin instead to help us heal ourselves; to learn how to become whole people again and know that this exercise of mercy (not simply a releasing of the wrong-doer, but an investment in their restoration) is better for our society in the end than carrying out full justice on people who have committed crimes out of their brokenness is exciting to me. To exercise mercy and grace and to repair and heal instead of punish and lock away and leave the problem to continue to grow or fester and likely repeat itself when they are released from prison. I am so happy to see that transpiring here.

First Thoughts on Being Back to This Back...

These past few days have been something of a blur as I have struggled to orient myself back into this timezone and continue to fight off not feeling well, so I'm sorry to have not posted again right away! But here now, I've just slept 10 hours straight and feel much more rested at this moment. 

Homecomings, no matter where to, are always strange but lovely things. It has been good to be back here; to fall asleep again on my porch; to walk to work; to laugh with my colleagues; to reunite with my car and the power to take myself wherever I will and whenever. Even just to have again my phone and my computer: to experience here the joy of the possessive, because this is my current home rather than a past one which I am returning to find if I am still welcome.  

Barely a week before leaving, I was asked over a lunch which I preferred--the local life here or the international world. It was hard to answer, because after all, this local life here is my continuing choice; but the international world is one which I perpetually miss. So I finally (I say "finally" as my mind raced through so many thoughts to answer, but really, it was probably the breadth of a few seconds) said I thought I still preferred the international world. It is, after all, the whole of my world until these last few years of discovering this other sphere of living, and as such, a much more comfortable place for me to exist in (comfort zone!) than this local world where the roots actually run vertically rather than horizontally. 

The interesting thing is, I don't know if I could answer that question the same now, just a month later. I wish we could repeat that lunch and I could muse my way through the differences. Perhaps if I could have said with certainty before leaving that I preferred the international world, then my choice would not have changed. I wonder if such certainty would not have spelled the failure of my experiment here in this local world, though--expressing a stubbornness to allow for something else to genuinely be experienced; to truly compete.  

I find coming back--I found whilst on my travells--that I am incredibly proud of the life I have slowly been carving out for myself here. I am very proud of the fact that I have been able to find the courage and strength to stay in a world that is so foreign to me, and am delighted on my return here how happy I am to embrace it all again. The thing is, in the whole of this world, there are two ways you can live: either as an international or as a local. Living here, I've been asked so many times why do I live here and not somewhere else, when I am indeed one who could simply live anywhere. Anywhere in the whole world! What a deliciously enormous backyard to just step out into and play in. 

Here is a response I wrote to it once-- 


They do not know when they
ask me, why on earth I live among
them. They do not know this
question is absurd. Why, of all
the earth, do I live in their tiny
slightest dot.
when I could live there. Somewhere
else. That exotic-sounding far away vision
they carry in their minds; they might
one day visit on a holiday; they would visit
if they could leave their locality; they do not
even know how to imagine.

They do not know when they
ask me, why on earth I live in this here when
I could live in that far there.

They can never understand that
wherever you live is always a here, and that
wherever I live people will always
wonder what I’m doing


with them.

Every place is, in the here-there
eventuality, simply another

--So here I am now, living currently in a place where of all the places in the world, I can find a way to slip into the locality of it instead of remaining in the international sphere alone. I find it, still, a fascinating experience. And my trip home to Europe, and then off to explore Thailand, has reassured me of the fact that no matter how locally I may come to live somewhere I will still always be myself, which is still an International. I don't have to fear losing that part of myself (which I love, this ability to dissolve into the whole of the world, to live anywhere in a satisfying way, to make meaningful connections with people no matter the who or where, and to step into so many different stories) by experiencing the depths of locality. So why not stay in a place where I can reach the deepest depth of locality for a while longer? 

And perhaps really, in the end, the question isn't fair--this which do I prefer? Perhaps it can be both. And perhaps one can choose to stay and to go all at once. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Making a Splash in the Gulf of Thailand

I hardly know where to begin; so much has happened in the (short?) time since last I wrote. My time in Hua-Hin completed quite nicely the unforgettableness that this trip has consisted of. Perhaps the best way to describe my experience there is to say it was pregnant with the unexpected and very, very full. 

We rose early on Tuesday morning after an absolutely beautiful deep sleep on my part, at last, and readied ourselves for the first portion of the morning: horseback riding on the beach at 8 a.m. In advance of that, we went to this adorable little coffee shop on the corner of our street--both of us being slightly less than awake in mornings before some strong coffee. 

One of the interesting things there is that before entering any of these buildings (our hotel included), you have to take off your shoes. You just leave them out on the sidewalk or on the terrace before entering. May I say, eating barefoot in an open-air restaurant is absolutely refreshing?

After wolfing down our breakfast (I was determined to arrive at the beach in good time for the horses), we walked to the beach and then down along the water in search of the horses. It was overcast--the sky and sea both the same shade of cloudy grey--and the horses were much farther down the beach than we had believed. They also did not com out at 8--we had received misinformation there. So, in the time we had to pass til 9, we wandered through the waking market place just off the beach, explored a bookstore, and picked up some water. (My most perpetual state these last 2.5 weeks has been of endless thirst.)

They were waiting for me with a horse when we returned to the beach, Candace having decided the previous evening to be prudent and not ride. Now, here I might note that I *thought* at the time I had not ridden since I was 12 years old--a time when the girl behind me was nearly thrown from her mount on our trail ride and then carried madly into the woods, all at the provocation of the horse behind her, who then began to annoy my mount before being controlled at last. As I recalled while riding on the beach, though; I have actually ridden a horse once since, just before my 3rd year in uni. That was in West Virginia, where I discovered riding a horse along a ravine while being unable to sit well in the saddle due to a sprained ankle is not the best life choice. So really, all that to say, I am not much of a horsewoman. 

That was fine, my lack of skill, until Candace, being a fine horsewoman, decided to ride after all. Due to her mad skills, the horse people gave us free reign of the horses and the beach--we were quite on our own. No trail ride, no guide, no thing. Just us, horses, and beach. Me alone on a horse... 

I had visions of being able to gallop along the sea--visions that, if you have ever seen the movie "Second Hand Lions," you can draw up in your own mind as well. I am not so foolish as to actually think that I, with no skills, could ride like that. The horse, however, didn't know this about me. So after a very pleasant walk down the beach, it trotted me (oh the jostling!!) and then cantered back up the beach. Exhilarating, but terrifying. But definitely exhilarating and absolutely awesome. 

After dismounting, we went back into the market to find a way back to Bangkok for me. The ladies at the hotel reception the previous evening had told us of a vanservice we could find that would take me. We must have inquired of at least 5 different people before finding it, but we did succeed in arranging for them to pick me up at our hotel at 3 PM. They would get me to some place in the city and from there I would catch a taxi to the airport--all with extra time built in for some crazy delay or breaking down.

Getting to the airport on time was the most stressful part of the entire 2.5 weeks, actually. Not having a phone, not having any sort of device that even could get online, and not speaking the language were all factors enough here... Not being particularly inspired by our train-rides to trust Thai-time as operating anywhere near according to my needs or desires was another. But in fact, it was made even more stressful by my going to the beach at all--a choice which involved missing a flight. You don't deliberately miss your flights. But we made our beach plans after I had bought a ticket, and that ticket left me in Chiang Mai until the 3rd, flying from there straight to Bangkok to London to JFK to home. If you just skip a flight, they often cancel your following flights. I had asked my travel agent beforehand if this would be alright and they wouldn't cancel on me, and he said it "should be fine." Not "will" be fine, but "should" be. So I also had that nagging question in my mind--what if it wasn't fine? Getting to the airport and checking in would be such a relief to that question which could only be answered at that last minute. 

After settling my return trip to the city, which we trusted would actually only take 3 hours instead of the 6 it took via train, we rented a scooter and rode around the city a little before returning to our hotel to change for swimming. There, I tried my first time driving a scooter--very fun! And driving British style, at that. First time legally (I may or may not have driven that way in the States when first learning to drive...Oops.) It was so natural, I later dreamt that I would crash at the airport back in the States for forgetting which side and doing it wrong.

By the time we arrived to the beach, the rain had stopped and the clouds begun to dissipate. It was beautiful. The water was not nearly so clear as the Caribbean, but it certainly was warm. I think I could have stayed in it all day. It was so calm you could float without your face getting splashed by water, too, and for the longest time we had it all to ourselves excepting the fishing boats nearby and some navy boats further out.

Of course, a walk along the beach looking for shells and interesting sea things was necessary, so we did enjoy a nice walk again, only to run back into the water shortly after. Alas... We were lounging luxuriously in the water when all of a sudden Candace yelped--she'd been stung on the arm by a jellyfish and it burned horibbly. Thus abruptly ended my sea-time. But we got her taken care of back at the hotel and then had a delicous lunch (shrimp in tamarin sauce for me, followed by crepes for dessert) and then packing me up to leave.

The 3pm arranged van never showed up, and I realised anew how much I hate trusting my future to others and not having any hand in it at all. We finally just took my things, got a tuk-tuk and took that to a station downtown that was also a van shuttle service--a much more reliable one, it seems. So I took a van an hour later, leaving at 4 instead of 3, back to Bangkok by myself. I fell in with a group of recent graduates from Hong-Kong who had come to celebrate their graduation together, and we enjoyed talking and navigating our way through the Bangkok subway system together before parting ways when I left them to take the sky train to the airport.

My 2nd impressions of Bangkok were much more favourable. This time around I actually got to see the built up, awesome, and almost ridiculously modern section of the city--skyscrapers and beautiful bridges and all! It was gorgeous. I really enjoyed the van ride through over the train ride, as well--entirely different perspective. I chose not to take a taxi because I was so completely done with feeling helpless and having to trust myself to others--taking the subway and then the sky train was tiresome with all the bags, and super crowded, but so rewarding to fight and find my own way through and arrive successfully on my own at the airport at last.

12 hour flight to London left at midnight... I stayed awake for a whole movie (most excellent: "The Exotic Marigold Hotel" or something like that) and then slept for a solid 8 hours at least. There was even an empty seat next to me, so I felt quite spoilt. We got stuck on the plane in London, however--their gang-plank to the airplane wasn't working, and it took a long time for them to relocate steps over to our plane to get us off. I had to run through the airport in order to make my next flight, even with being shortcutted by the airport staff through all the lines.

7 hour flight to JFK was still good, though perhaps a bit less. I wasn't overly fond of my seat-fellow, who felt that he had priority to the entire armrest and over onto my side, kept messing up my tv channels, and kept putting his feet on my side as well. Happily for me, his chair didn't lay back, so he ended up moving to another seat for all but the last remain 30 minutes of the flight, and I again had an empty seat next to me. I also watched another most excellent film--"Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" as well as a rom-com to keep awake.

Which I still am. Despite having to go through immigration and security in JFK, check myself in for the next flight in a different terminal, wait, fly again, and then drive the remaining 1.5 hours home. I calculated that the entire trip--from leaving at 4 pm in Thailand to arriving home, took between 36 and 40 hours. I had it worked out exactly, but I might be a bit exhausted right now. Which means it is time for me to sign out. More tomorrow!

Monday, 2 July 2012

Night Train to Bangkok

Deep darkness has fallen; I ride the night train to Bangkok. Right now we we sit at a station somewhere. Leaving Chiang Mai to head south, we had to go up into the mountains and are only just now descending from them. It is junglesque in there; the colours all bluegreen and the full palate of avocado and deep shades of lime.

The conductor just lowered some of the beds in our compartment; we are riding second class with private beds; the bottom two seats slide down to meet each other and form one bed, and from above, a storage unit unfolds itself to reveal another, rather smaller little “bedroom.” Curtains then separate you from the aisle between sides of the train, and outside your curtain is the luggage rack where you stash your belongings.

This morning I spent the day at last in the market in downtown Chiang Mai. My concious hours here have been full of longing to be out and about; I think it is a unique form of torture to be in a place you have so long waited to explore and then be so entirely incapacitated. Freedom and energy this morning were beautiful in combination. I surely could have shopped forever, wandered endlessly through the streets. It is so fascinating to me, this place. I have never travelled before in Asia, and the last thing I expected was to feel familiar here. Yet, that has exactly been the feeling I find myself coming back to; a familiarity with this place so foreign to me in actuality. Nearly all the trees and fruits I know from somewhere else, with but a few exceptions, like teak. Nearly all the building structures and particular array of colours I have seen before, with but a few very temple-like places the excpetion—and certainly the discovery and variety of these structures surprises me in itself. I am more surprised by my familiarity here, perhaps, than shocked at the differences I expected.

Even today, in the market; the items sold themselves are new, and many of the more pungeant smells were new, but the arrangement and the chaos and the specific order of how it all works were all familiar from markets in Slovakia; on Crete; in Uganda.

I go back and forth one moment to the next here thinking ah, that's Rwanda! Ah, that's Uganda! Ah, that's so British it's ridiculous! Ah, that's like Venezuela! Whoa, that's so Caribbean! And that is odly like Slovakia. How does it happen that the world so big can be so small? Even the language; so very incredibly foreign to me, yet I am already accurately picking up on the grammar and some of the particular words—it's wonderfully exciting. (Especially as this shall be the first country whose script I do not know coming in and will still not know going out. That aggravates me greatly, I confess!!) So this small ability to crack the language gives me that much more enormous a pleasure. If I ever came for longer than a week and a few days, and were not sick most of that time, I would immerse myself into this language until I could wear it like an invisibility cloak.

It is also interesting to me to begin to comprehend a little of this place at large. When we come to a new place, we do first see it through the only eyes we have, and so we cannot see it for itself as it is for different eyes. We have to learn first how to see the place at all. I have enjoyed getting tidbits of history and culture in this short time here—again wishing so badly I had more time to delve!--and a bit better a view, as I said. I don't remember what started our conversation—some question I asked—but I got to learn this morning all about how Thailand has grown as a nation. It was never colonized, which I knew beforehand, but didn't really register until that moment. I don't think I have ever been in a country outside of Europe that was not at one point colonized (or still a colony)! And now here I am. Shazaaam—another new experience I wasn't even looking for. It was also pointed out how all the surounding countries (all of which were indeed colonized by the various European entities) have collapsed completely since that time in the redoing of themselves. Thailand, on the other hand, could perhaps be equated then with the old story of the tourtise and hare-- the Thai being the tourtise slowly but surely developing themselves. They have done an impressive job, it seems, maintaining their Thai-ness whilst still incorporating Western culture—other cultures at all, really—into their mainstream at their own will. Not to say that their own will has always worked out for their own best, but no one and no country always can make the best decisions for itself. Isn't that part of the adventure of life, the twists that we didn't see but have to work out?
(Authors interrupting note: When travelling, it is always more interesting to leave the curtains on the train open and not yet go into your private sleeping compartment when there are good looking people sitting across the aisle from you. We just decided we don't really need to go to sleep or sit in private for a while still...Alas, though, it seems the french eye-candy have decided to retire... )
We dined tonight on sticky rice and pork sticks that Candace picked up nearby the train station. So tasty! I am thankful to eat and enjoy taste again. It is a beautiful thing. 

[Next day...]
So at last we are arrived at our destination at the beach. The night train to Bangkok came into the station several hours late, but it was a lovely trip nonetheless. We didn't go to sleep right away even after the conductor came by and put down all our beds. Instead, the two of us and our charming french companion across the aisle sat on Candace's bed and watched Star Wars, A New Hope. I was informed that I'm much more of a "fan" than I realised previously. Haha. Oops... When the train finally lulled me into sleeping sitting up watching that fantastic movie, I went up the luggage ladder to my bunk, curled up, and fell asleep promptly. I think it must have been hours later that I awoke at some stop, and it took a long time to fall asleep again, but when I did, it was bliss. Morning and wake-up and bunks-up came far to swiftly. 

My first impressions of Bangkok were of congestion and smell. I'd like to add more to those impressions, but I am at least glad to say that they were insignificant enough as I quickly fell asleep sitting in my chair there, and slept the extra two hours of the trip away. 

Bangkok train station was massive and awesome and air-co'd a bit, and after purchasing our train tickets to the beach, we settled down for our 2 hour wait at a lovely coffeeshop where I actually ate a whole croissant! (I am feeling MUCH better!) Then we bookshopped, looked into how to get me to the airport from the trainstation on the return journey, and finally waited and waited and waited some more for a very late train to come.

2nd class on this train was a vastly different experience than the first. In the first place, not only did C and I not get seats together, we were in entirely different train-cars! Moreover, whereas the first train we took had air-co and individual, padded seats; this one was "padded" seats on a bench, with open windows and fans blowing and lots of noise and bustle and vendors coming down the aisle hawking all sorts of delicious looking and smelling goods. At one point there was icecream being sold and run around the train-car windows on lids and it looked so very delicious and cold, but... i'm not actually a big icecream fan. 

While our beautiful (I presume) beach is only 2 hours out of Bangkok, it took the train six hours to get there. (2 hours longer, again, than the ticket said...). So we missed our first afternoon on the beach, and arrived in the dark. But we did arrive, grumpy and absolutely gross from the travel, and I wondering if spending 3 hours on the beach would really be worth it before having to turn around next day and take the train back to take a taxi to get to the airport to spend the next 29 hours from that airport in transit. Hmm.

As frustrating as it was to spend extra hours on a train alone the time we had hoped to spend together on the beach, I confess the trip was absolutely beautiful. The night train veiled much of the scenery, being night and therefore dark for most of the trip. But those 6 hours of watching a more southern Thailand unfurl outside my open window, and smelling the air (sometimes heavy scented with beautiful flowers, sometimes with delicious food and thick spice, and sometimes with the pungeant smell of the canals and slums) and just breathing was wonderful. The hot and the sticky. The breeze. The wonder of "where am I?" and not even knowing the time to count the minutes or hours by, or listening to a language I'm left out of. 

The colours changed, too--much more the colours of lemon and lime. I got to see a pink sunset over fields, and harvested rice fields set to fire in the darkening twilight. The houses on stilts. The cities we passed by--some with tall fiercely modern buildings and some with sprawling older houses of concrete, of wooden stilts, and of metal-piecework slums. 

And the mountains! Finally I have seen what I always have wanted to see; the mountains that look like clay, rolled around and pulled and squashed and slashed jaggedly to look like dragons and hollows of mystery and I am in love with them from afar. Enchanted as I have always known I should be if I saw them; bewitched to come take a ridiculously long train ride just so I could pass them and fall for them and their  raw wonder. 

I wish so much I had more than but these few hours. Hours which I won't even spend in the hills or mountains, but will stay in the sea. Hide in the sea. 

When we arrived (and we both did make it off the train despite my being in a separate car from her and she not being able to make it to collect me!), we caught a taxi to our hotel, tired and as I said, grumpy and gross. As soon as we got cleaned up, though--and more particularly, as soon as we walked out on a beach with sand that feels the same as the sand I grew up playing in and I heard the surf breaking, it was all worth it. Even for just that moment, without the 3 hours of daylight tomorrow. And then we ate delicious, heavenly food (mine being stir fried asparagus and fresh shrimp) and it was even better! And now we found a way for me to stay here for longer than 3 hours tomorrow and ideally still make my flight. We'll see! Here's hoping nothing goes wrong on the journey to the airport tomorrow afternoon or I might be doomed. 

Well, it's time to curl up and get rested and continue being happy. So very happy. 

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Overdue Post #1: London to Bangkok--Airport Musings

(written down and spit right back to you now at last, despite posts in the meanwhile. please pardon any repetition or confusion of the apparently sick writer of this near-week-old-post!)

After a very long time in motion, I have arrived in Thailand. I'm not sure I can say forward motion, since movement in a direction seems tied to time, and time is out with me right now. Currently waitng for my next flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, by the time anyone reads this I will have been travelling in airports and via planes for 24 hours.

I'm excited to be here in Thailand. It was always the most hyped-up last minute weekend away deal you would see plastered on all Bratislava's travel agent store-front windows. It looked so very inviting every time.  Of course, most of those adverts were the beach, not Northern Thailand, with its valleys and mountains and no sea at all. 

But there we come to something I've been thinking again about. I say again because this thought is neither a new thought to myself nor the first time I've shared it, though perhaps the first time in the forum of this particular blog. 

Place isn't really choosy, so to speak. It invites anyone. Some places draw more people than others, especially some unvoiced thing inside them. Other places draw only a few, but those few are come with the call of the place clamoring in the very core of their being. 

It doesn't make pretense, either; place simply is what it is, though it may perhaps not be what we had preconceived (a fault on us, not it). You can be absorbed into a place, grow green or brown or whatever shade predominates. Sometimes we say it claims its tribute of us--perhaps a climbing accident if you are of the mountains, or drowning if you are of the Sea: the completion of your absorption into place. 

When my sister and I returned to Slovakia, we sought to see the place itself. The place that called to us, pulling at our hearts from so very far away. A far away which seemed so often insurmountable. We sought to taste, touch, breathe, feel--to smell it, to assure ourselves it still was itself; to assure ourselves it still welcomed us despite the distance stretched so long between us--unwelcome shadow. You can stay in touch with friends easily now in this day and age; a goodbye to a friend no longer need be the death of that friend to yourself; but a goodbye to a country, to a place is still something like a death because you cannot facebook it, skype it, email it, or meet up randomly with it except to go home again to it. To seek it out as we did on this trip. Sometimes even without all these forms of communication which can almost suffocate us now, you still "now" and you can still "pick right back up" with some friends without the slightest ripple. 

Ripple. And there it is--the catch. Because people and place aren't isolated from each other, or from time. So while we returned to place that welcomed us home and could keep us again if we would; where we had lived before was in a particular space--an intersection of people, place, and time opening into our place of reality (which again was slightly different for us both as a result of our being individual beings already). This could not be revisited; cannot ever be revisited (unless you are dating Dr. Who...)

Returning releases us from the power of that space; we are no longer tied to it in the same way but are free now to make of that space--as well as the place and people of today, the moment we visited--whatever we would. That is the gift of closure.

The dificulty with people in a place is they haven't usually invited you... you simply showed up on their doorstep and said "surprise!" When we move to a place--any place--we should never expect its welcome to include automatic enrollment in the community, in Society. We are the newcomers, foreigners. Those who have yet to build and to establish trust. And as people ourselves, we must also learn to trust those around us. 

People are so much harder than place to establish yourself into. But when you do; people are portable. Build your world into people and people into your world, and you will find home wherever they are, too. 

Gallivanting, Weddings, and General Happiness

My dear Nuk is married now, and my heart is swollen with happiness for her happiness. It's hard to believe how long it is since she first showed up in NY my last year of college. Certainly I never would have imagined then that she would become such a sister to me that one day I would come all the way to Thailand for her wedding.

A lovely wedding. Yesterday, I slept in late so as to continue to strengthen up in preparation for the long stretches of busyness ahead, and then started my morning perfectly: with avocado on toast. If I were a cat, that food would make me purr. Then the five of us girls met up at the Pink Tea House in downtown Chiang Mai. This tea house is actually quite, quite pink--slightly less flamboyant than a well-fed flamingo--and though it looks small when standing out front, the place is quite large! You step inside and are encased in tea and tea pots and ceramics and porcelain. My child-self was quite enthralled to be in that place. Then you can go outside and sit in these lovely seats alongside the river, or you can go upstairs to an airconditioned enclosure--which we did at the bride's request. That room is green. Green not like any Eastern-side North-American Green, but green rather more like a palm tree, and exquisitely filled with low rising dark-wood tables and colourful settees and chairs. 

I had lavender lemonade and pumpkin steak, which sounded like they would suit my stomach, but the choices were difficult to make as everything looked absolutely delicious! 

We spent a great deal of time there chatting and giggling and enjoying customary before-the-wedding girl-time fun, and then piled into Candace's song-taew (song-tao: a truck with a special thing over the back that makes for semi-enclosed seats) and went to a nail salon. Manicures and pedicures, if you please! My nails missed the point that being so painted, they are supposed to speak french to me. Oh well. Wouldn't do much good here... 

After that, we rushed over to the grand hotel downtown where Candace dropped us off so we could check in to our room and then get to the rehearsal. When you are putting together a Thai-American-Chinese-Canadian wedding, this rehearsal requires something more than the usual amount of coordinating, as you are not just coordinating a wedding, but navigating and negotiating between that many different cultures and each of their unique expectations. I deeply admire their ability to do so with such grace. 

Following the rehearsal, family and bridal party and other wedding ceremony participants travelled up into the mountains for the rehearsal dinner. This was also lovely. Up in the mountains, our special dinning room (all glass!) looked out at a view of the city stretched out beyond a lake with palm trees and an absolutely gorgeous garden with every colour of the rainbow splashed through it. The food was traditional Northern Thai, and I would have it on my menu every week if I could. 

After that, we went back to the hotel, where more wedding details were seen to and afterwhich, I was sent to bed. I think I must have slept over 12 hours solid. But I needed it!
Today was the day of the wedding. We spent hours leisurely preparing in our "bridal suite," and Nuk was a beautiful bride. The photographers and videographers were lots of fun to work with, and the make-up-artist did a great job enhancing Nuk's already lovely features (though we are not otherwise impressed with him or his company, so don't use them!). There were lots of last minute details to see to and then, it was upon us; the wedding itself. Suddenly we girls were leaving the room and taking the elevator down to the ceremony hall, and filling in before the bride and there it was, the admonishments to the couple and the saying of the vows and boom! they're ceremonialy married!

I think perhaps one of my favourite moments in the whole day happened when the grooms dad stood onstage to say his thanks and appreciation in chinese, which the groom translated into english, which the bride translated into Thai. I love that this is my world, and that these people are there to enrich it like that. I love that this is THE world, not just mine. 

The reception was also delicious, lots of curries and rice and general yumminess and lots of music. The cakes were each of them cut by the happy couple--with a SWORD! And the company was charming. It was especially neat to me, to meet people who know several friends I know from my Slovak world. It was also especially neat to talk with the father of one of my friends (hey Bethany, if you're reading this again!)--another girl I met my last year of college, and directed in a play. I learnt that her whole family was astonished that I had gotten her to do something like that. Now her brother works for me, too. I love this world we live in. It's so refreshing to get glimpses of the beautiful ways things work; of the relationships between people and how they shape our lives. 

In the after-party for the "young people" at the "imperial spa" which we had exclusively reserved outside on one of the hotel's rooftops, we had even more fun, which I  was happily refreshed enough for by then. (standing so long after being sick was an effort! I had several people on guard to catch me, but happily, I survived to the end and didn't have to distract from the event!) I don't know what my favourite part of the after-party was; if it was the merrymaking in general, the pictures we took with slow-shutter-speed with sparklers on the cameras (well, that the photographers took of us--I don't have any), the pool (which I didn't swim in, but totally waded in as consolation), the snacks... But I think maybe it was when we lit up floating lanterns one by one and sent them off into the night sky; kisses and wishes to the bright moon. If you want any visual of that, the floating lanterns in the movie "Tangled" are exactly what we sent up into the dark. One of the most exquisite moments of my life, I think. One of. :) 

So there you have two days of weddingness. Now I am back home with Candace, feeling even at this later evening hour so much better than I have all week. It's so great to feel alive again--mentally and physically. I am so sad to have sleep-walked of necessity through most of this whole week. It's almost impossible for me to believe right now that a week has already passed since I again left Slovakia, and that now already when I am only feeling like I have begun to awake from this malady, my main purpose in coming here has concluded. I have said goodbye to the bride. Not goodbye, but see you later--though who but heaven knows where that later will be with us. I think that is beautiful in itself, though. Now to keep healing and manage to maximize beyond imagination my last few days in this country! 

Look out, Thailand. I'm here, and I'm feeling better, and I have a lot of making-up-time to have at!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Elephant Rides and Thai Dances

After sleeping practically all of two days and two nights and popping pills like it's my job, I am finally starting to feel better. Hopefully I didn't overdo it today, as I went up into the mountains this morning to go to an elephant camp. That was lovely, and I even managed to stay awake for the whole trip out there!

While I had intended at this point to have many experiences to write about, I am thankful that my being sick hasn't had to be too much of a nuisance to the wedding events and everyone else, and my wonderful friend Candace has taken excellent care of me here.

So, because I was feeling better today, and had to miss out on petting tigers yesterday, I determined I would join everyone else on this elephant excursion. The trip up into the hills was just beautiful. It's funny how one's mind operates. I see my mind just flipping through all of these other experiences I've had in my life and trying to match them moment for moment over here, as if every moment here is a mugshot and my mind is flipping through the database to see if I can identify, recognise, or otherwise relate personally and immediately to that moment. And it does so for every single moment!

Seeing the elephants was fun. They put on a whole show for you, demonstrating all the ways to get on and off an elephant, playing soccer with them, and painting with them. Oh, and the elephants also play harmonicas and throw darts and build walls, etc. Cool stuff.

Riding the elephants was neat. I've always wanted that experience. I am only sorry to have to ride in a chair instead of right on the elephant itself! If we had more time there, and I didn't have the danger of dizziness, I was definitely considering asking them if i couldn't please just sit on an elephant bare-back? But, not this time.

Then, after a goodly rest in the afternoon, this evening the troupe of us went to a culture house and watched these beautiful dances whilst eating exquisite food. I suppose I do feel rather cheated, being here sick and not being able to eat most foods or up to strength yet to even walk through the bazares for all the shopping I so am longing to do. But it will come! Soon, I hope. And in the meanwhile, look--your first reasonably decent post from me to say I am alive. I did get on stage and participate in one of the dances this evening, however! That was fabulously fun. :)

I am fading, though, so it's time for sleep so I can navigate tomorrow even better.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Quite sick.

Well, I am getting a very well rounded experience here! Went to the doctor's office this morning and am now on medicine to get me over bronchitis and up to strength again. It's so nice to know I really have been sick these past few days. I still don't have the energy to think or say much at all. But that is what has really been going on. It certainly explains a lot! As for the doctors office here, I would move here just for the fabulous care. When I'm able to write more (fingers shaking badly right now from meds), I will. Sadly, probably won't really make it shopping today; couch bound.

Monday, 25 June 2012

First Day in (extreme) Brief

I have a paper post written on the plane or maybe in Bangkok waiting for my flight to Chiang Mai, but I think I have to wait to type it up. Very tired right now, and can't get over this cough! However, I have had an absolutely lovely first day here in Thailand.

First breakfast of mangoes, second breakfast of street-vendor pork-sticks and sticky rice on the way to this paper umbrella making factory. That was neat. I shall have to say more of it tomorrow, after I sleep. I haven't done much of that this last week +. Then an iced mocha, and then khao soi (a 2-different kind of noodle dish of deliciousness) as well as chicken saute and peanut sauce. And then relaxing, and an hour massage at a place nearby, and then more food--chicken bbq, papaya salad, and more sticky rice. And finally, a cappuccino tonight to keep me awake through watching the late night showing of Snow White and the Huntsman at a huge mall downtown.

Now I am at my next place to stay, with my friend Candace, whom I also never thought to see here and crash in her home. And crash is exactly what I plan to do in a few minutes, with ideally, a bit of sleeping in tomorrow morning. But then, a better update than these last few have been!!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Departures and Welcomes

Greetings! I have made it safe and sound and happily to Chiang Mai, Thailand! I'm so happy. After a beautiful afternoon visiting my family (I'm not even going to put those familial terms in apostrophes because apparently it was believed for a whole year I was indeed adopted by them!) in Vienna again and a lovely homecoming to there, I had the pleasure of being driven to the airport and seen off. It was a perfect circle; welcomed home by my sister the week before; sent off with love by my brother.

I don't like goodbyes, but I love the hellos that we carry for each other in our hearts.

Now I have been greeted by such love again from dear friends at the airport in Chiang Mai. I've never been here before--never been on this continent at all before--and it still felt like a homecoming.

I love that.

It was, for the record, a good trip. Long, but good. I calculated spending 24 solid hours in the transition.  But I slept on the plane and enjoyed the people around me and the food and the airports and didn't feel too sick. I felt funny slipping my tylenol on the plane and dropping my fizzy vitamin into the water. hahaha.

Ah, and what I found hilarious on the plane--the british pilot told us all "I'm sorry to say it's horribly hot in Thailand right now, about 32 degrees or 91 if you prefer F." It has been about 36-38 degrees in Slovakia almost all week! :)

Ok. Must. Sleep!!

Friday, 22 June 2012


I'm afraid this will be a very short post! This chica is exhausted and slightly ill. Tomorrow is an early morning trekk to Vienna again, visiting with friends, and catching a flight far far away. A very long flight!! And this has been a long day of goodbyes and walking on aching, broken feet. But I would say it was a beautiful last day nonetheless.

Yesterday was a day of seemingly lost moments--nearly everything we attempted, we could not finish. We wanted to go out to our lake, a lake of crystalline waters some 7km from the house we once lived in, at the far edge of the city. But it was nearly 40 degrees C and so blistering we gave up so as to avoid heat stroke. I had so wanted to lay beside those waters again and swim from side to side. Then we were weary and exhausted by the heat, and had to travel all the way back into the centre of the city before catching a tram out to a different edge, to a lake where I went swimming on Wed before going to Vienna. Finally, that night it poured on us when we were dressed up and going out into the city, and the destination we had in mind (a beautiful portico on top of a building with a stunning view of the Old City) was closed due to the lightening and thunder.

Yet despite those disappointments, we still had a lovely time. The other lake, Zlaty Piesky, was great and not too busy. We had capovanie kofola (from the tap, which is only how it should be), and slept and swam. Though we couldn't go up on the portico, we hung out in the main floor restaurant--a beautiful jazzy lounge-like area. With a lovely piano!

And we had the funniest story when, exhausted, we chose to take a taxi downtown. (If we hadn't, we would have been drenched by the sudden downpour!) A man tried to take our taxi, and was like "please, please, you will let me go to airport? my helicopter is out of gas there!" We didn't...  And when, being dropped off by the taxi into the deluge, we ran for cover to an italian restaurant, the host greeted us "beautiful, beautiful women!" and he and a man at the restaurant offered us many cloth napkins with which to towell off. And we did have such fun!

Ironically, today we found some of those moments. Another had been the loss of my favourite cafe from one of the shopping centres. We found the cafe downtown today and I was able to have a slightly different version of my old favourite smoked salmon bagel (now on baguette!) And we went tonight to that portico again; open this time; and were able to enjoy watching the sunset from its heights.

And then we walked around our final goodbyes.

I will probably not be back online again until Sunday, as I will be in hours and hours and hours of flights and layovers. But I will have plenty more to say then!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Ostriches in Österreich

On the train again today [Wednesday, actually. This is being typed and posted a day late]! This time alone and headed out of country. Time for a visit to yet another world I love--Vienna, where I finished school.

I decided to be sentimental and take the same route I nearly always went, and it is perfect. This train is vastly different for the ones of the last few days of the Tatra trip. It is this fabulous, slick, double-decker train that runs so silently you merely feel rather than hear its gentle chug-chug. It was always great for getting a start on homework over the weekends, catching a solid 50 minutes of sleep, reading, or as now; writing.

There is still a vast difference between these neighbouring countries, neighbouring capitals despite the EU, despite the fall of the wall--differences that touch heritage, speak of East vs West and of Slav vs German, and I love them both.

I suppose now that we no longer have even to check passports when moving one to the other, one of my more vivid and painful experiences would be unnecessary.

It happened just after I had lost my residency as a dependant in Slovakia and had begun school in Vienna, living in the city (not at a boarding school) and, as per the agreement with my parents, returning (most) weekends.

One evening officers came to my house in Vienna to see me. I wasn't there at the time, and had to report to their office promptly upon return. I did so, ,wondering why, what had happened? They put me in one of those interrogating rooms you always see on TV, with the bright light and the loud burly officers. Why was I in Vienna? What was I doing? Who was I living with? What was my connection to them? Was I sure I wasn't sneaking over from Slovakia to work in Vienna (much better wages)? And on it went.

My student visa hadn't come through yet, and although the Austrian embassy in Slovakia said to start anyways, my name still got flagged. We sorted it all out at the station eventually. But I remember wondering, what would they do with me? Deport me home to a country where I had no residency, no legal connection? Deport me to my passport country where I had never lived? How that? And what of my school and life?

This train just passed an ostrich farm I have never seen on this trip before. I did see wild ostriches when I was doing photojournalism in northern Kenya. For some reason I find this both hilarious and sobering. Ostriches in Österreich (austria).  So... perfect and yet odd--oddly suiting. I think perhaps I have always been my own sort of ostrich in Österreich; only I can come and go instead of finding myself caged in. 

And I do come and go! One year I came back from visiting friends and "hanging out" and wandering through the streets and eating my favourite kabobs and pizza just in time for Christmas Eve with my family. 

There is one scene where you can spy to two important Slovak castles (the Braistlava castle and Devin, which was lain to ruin by Napoleon), the Slovak Parliament, the Danube (Dunaj in Slovak, Donau in German), and a lovely Austrian castle (where we picnicked several times) all at once. That always makes me deeply contented. 

I think of this story we have of Babel, of how people came to be separate. One tongue shattered into many pieces, garble to each other. I think if there were only one language today, I should weep. The pain of this story lies not in the differences that grew up, but in the inability--no, in the unwillingness--of our humankind to reach through them to wholeness.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Positive Dissolution

I read once, somewhere--and how I wish I could remember where and by whom!--that the "true international" can dissolve into anywhere. While on the one hand, I suppose that technically rules me out, I like to think that perhaps I am indeed just such a person.

Coming back here has been a delightful homecoming if only for the dissolution of myself back into these worlds. Could I ever express the efforts I put into acquiring the speech of where I live in NY? (And still I know once in a while it slips...) What of my fears that in slipping in, I would be stuck?

But as it is, when I entered Germany, I could speak German, and so did. To the immigration official, who was quite surprised hearing me but seeing my passport. To the flight attendants and the young family sitting across the aisle from me.

I remember the first time I ever did that, on a Czech airlines, speaking Slovak to the attendants. They never did know. When I got back from Russia and switched over Russian to Slovak again, it was merely a couple months of people thinking I was Ukrainian instead.

When I first returned to the place I was born a few years back, the very most gratifying part of that trip was being welcomed home by everyone once they realised who I was, or told "once from here, always from here."

Now in this other homecoming, I think Monday presented the greatest such gratification. I bought a painting at a kiosk in the Tatras, at the first mountain my sister and I climbed. Poor man. He is now under the firm understanding that she and I are actually Slovaks, born here but moved to the States around the time of the revolution, along with even our grandmother!! He was so delighted that our parents taught us Slovak and that we would still come back to our homeland. And we were delighted by our ability to dissolve back into this world.

I confess I am--as I was informed on Sunday by an old friend--"feistily independent," and that I am wont not to accept the kind meant advise especially from close family. But I recall--always have--my father saying when I was but a young child to make sure I really lived where I found myself and didn't wast the time I had there. I have always tried to find the best way to live that.

For the longest time I tried to find that one place to be home. We are taught that growing up, no matter what public school in what country you attend, or how many such different ones. Each teach that all you want and all you should want is to belong. But I really love now how that can be for more than the one, how we don't have to live divided or continually conflicted. It may be oddly limiting on some levels, but there is a plane of reality that allows for a broader world, a world where opposites can live side by side without war. I love that my life can encompass all of these worlds without the annihilation of any other one. (And that statement comes from one who tried to annihilate one of her worlds to fit the other, once upon a time)

I love the fact, as my sister put it, that our being American as well makes our being Slovak that much more impressive and generally awesome.

Trip to the Tatras!

Speaking as someone who is terribly afraid of heights, these last few days in the Tatra mountains have been terrifying and probably knocked a solid few years off the end of my life (which is alright--I plan to die young). But as someone who loves mountains, whose sister loves them even more, and who loves a good challenge, it was a fabulous experience.

We arrived mid morning on Monday, after catching a train from Hlavna Stanica (downtown train station) at 5:57 a.m, after catching an even earlier bus to taht station. Upon arrival, we located our hostel--a task not quite as easy as it sounds, thanks to several innaccurate and ambigous sets of directions--where they upgraded us to an een lovelier room because we checked in early and the others weren't available. You could see the mountains from our windows. It was lovely. It was lovely also to see a Slovak room again--the layout and the beds and other furniture is different, you see.

After lunching in our room on rice crackers, cream cheese, tomatoes, smoked cheese, and salami, we caught a train up to Stary Smokovec and then on to Strbska Pleso. There we wandered a while, got much needed strong coffee, then took a ski lift partway up the mountain. After that, we hiked nearly the whole rest of teh way to the peak. We stopped probably 5 minutes away from the top, neither of us, perhaps, entirely sure why? Except that sometimes you just have to finish a journey later. (I never visit all the sites in a city, for instance--it is good to leave reasons to return.)

We then hiked the entire way down the mountain, through pine and grass and nettles, over slippery rock and loose gravel and sinking dirt. It was wonderful. Racing sunset and train departure time and my vertigo. I hate that I can't get over that (the vertigo), especially because it is incredibly draining to muster the courage and concentration no matter how much you know you really love climbing mountains and getting to the top.

When we finally reached the very last step off that slope and walked on flat ground at last, we made our way to a little wayside restauarant (where earlier we had that coffee). My sister had klobasa (a yummy meat thing, not quite a sausage) and I almost did as well since it sounded so good. I had to change my mind, though, at the sight of my dearly beloved Langose on the menu.

This, friends, is an excellent, ridiculously, positivley sinful tasting fried flat dough which I always order topped with syr, smotana, and cesnak (cheese, sour cream, and garlic). It's absolutely decadent, if you missed that. I was quite pleased.

After that, we were perfectly boring--just catching our train back to Poprad, walking to our hostel, and going to be dearly. VERY early (too early!).

The next day, Tuesday, we woke early (by which in this case, I mean slept in til 7:30 am), ate breakfast (same as Monday's lunch), checked out of our hostel, got my tickets at the station, checked our food and sweaters into the station lockers, and then had some coffee at a nearby cafe. After that, we headed out and up the mountains again to the highest peaks in the range.

It was exquiste. Terrifying, but exquisite. We took the ski-cars up and then up some more, and then got on the ski-lift and went up to the second highest peak. We couldn't make it to the very top because we would have missed our afternoon train back home. Alas! But again... something to return for. We climbed all around those cliff tops, scaling the rocks. My sister is half-goat, I swear.

You can see so far from up there! It's breath-taking. And as you can see, we were quite high up... I don't think I want to know the actual height. But it was so lovely, to be up there again.

Our trip back home was bittersweet. Hard to leave the mountains, but it was good still. We sat in the dining car of the train the whole way home, just talking and writing and looking at the view. And despite hours of hiking and climbing, we walked the whole way home with our bags and weary feet from the train station. Just because by foot is the best way to see anything.