Friday, October 25, 2013

A Birthday Greeting from the Himalayas!

Today is my mom's birthday. And so, as my birthday gift to her, I'm going to tell everyone who reads this blog how blessed I am to call this lady, my mom. 

I know everyone thinks that their mom is the greatest... But my mom really is. 

Here are a few of the things I love about her...

She is patient.  Many members of her immediate family have quite strong personalities.  And yet she puts up with us. She endures a bit of "razzing" from her kids... Or maybe a lot.  And she loves us anyway.  

She is kind. I'm amazed at the thoughtfulness of my mom. Here is one tiny example out of many that I could list. Being away for 9 months, and knowing we would not keep in contact like we normally do (ie: near daily phone calls and our Saturday morning long talks) she wanted to give me a little something of a reminder of home as well as a prayer of sorts that I could take with me. This is what she stitched together...

So far, this reminder has been with me from the Atlantic Ocean to the Base of Everest... and everywhere in between.  And it will continue to be with me on the journey ahead.  My mom's kindness reaches beyond gift giving (which she is extremely thoughtful with) and impacts others in the form of listening phone calls, hours in preparation for Bible Study and other talks, mentoring, pie baking and thoughtful notes.  

She does not envy.  I really don't think I've heard an envious word come out of her mouth, ever. I'm sitting here with a puzzled look on my face trying to think of a time. I got nothing. She is content with who she is and what she has. 

She does not boast. Except for about her grandson, Hudson. But aren't grandmothers supposed to be that way??

She is not arrogant.  She could be about her beauty, but she is not. Anytime someone sees a picture of my mom, without fail, they remark on how beautiful she is. This comment is usually followed up with "She looks like your sister."  What is even better is that she is more beautiful inside than she is out.  And despite these facts, she is humble. 

She is not rude. Except for when sitting on the back patio while golfers are teeing off from the 8th tee box and they cuss at the bad drive they had.  My mom will appear from her previously disguised location and will make her presence known with a shout of "Excuse me! Excuse me, please!"  I've tried suggesting she say "Jesus loves you!" instead. 

She is not self-seeking. Instead, she is very much about others and supporting them. Her kids are a great example. She has encouraged us to go and be who God has made us to be. I know she would be much happier if I lived 1,050 miles closer and yet she supports the life that I live in the mountains and am content in. Although, she maybe mentioned within one hour of arriving home this past summer that all of her grandkids, present and future, MUST live within 5 miles. She told me she would just tell me this once. I suggested that she and dad look at real estate in Edwards, Colorado. 

She is not irritable.  I don't know of much that "gets her goat."  And if she does get irritated, it's usually for a good reason.  The only argument we had all summer was over doing the dishes after having company for dinner. We talked through this point of contention between us months before my arrival as well as upon my arrival. We settled on leaving the dishes until morning in an effort to fully enjoy the presence of our company (my request) twice. I don't think that fully happened once. I guess if I didn't force the issue, she would not be irritable. I'll take the blame on this one. 

She is not resentful.  Instead, she is a very accepting person. She loves others for who they are...something I could learn to do better at. 

She does not rejoice at other's mistakes.  Instead, she has sympathy and compassion for others whatever the situation might be. 

She rejoices in the Truth.  My mom is an incredible woman of God. I have learned from her to use the phrase "blessed" instead of "lucky", because that is Truth. She is an incredible woman of prayer (as many readers can attest to).  I have often said that if my mom wasn't such a prayer  "warrior", that I would have a better prayer life. (This is not a good thing on my part but a huge complement to my mom.)  She strives daily to seek The Lord in all she does and her life is a testament to her faithfulness to The Lord and his faithfulness in fulfilling the promises he has given us. 

In the end, it's quite simple to describe my mom. My mom is Love. 

In other news... I have spent the last 12 days hiking through the Himalayas with Annette, an incredible guide named Indra and an awesome porter named Bilka.  These two earn Good Sammys without hesitation.  Our destination was Everest Base Camp and Kala Patar, which provides an amazing view of Everest at 18,192 feet. We made it ahead of schedule and have been amazed at God's creation around us and the great people we have met along the way.  So blessed to have had this experience.  Pretty much, can't believe it!

And so... Happy Birthday Moms!  From Everest, with love.  Presh. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Waiting for Lukla

Tuesday, October 17
5:45 - We say goodbye to Nobel Peace. Kamal, our driver, was "busy" so he sent a friend to pick us up. James met us to pick up our extra bag for safe keeping during the next few weeks. 

6:05 - Arrive at Kathmandu airport. It's raining. We stand under a tin shed waiting to get inside to go through "security". Success. 

6:30 - Make our way to the Makalu Air counter. It's in a corner and it is not clear if they are any lines. We begin to look for our guide, Indra. Phone calls end with a busy tone. Other groups happily meet their guides. I'm beginning to be concerned. 

7:00 - Our new friends from Austrailia check their bags for the 6:30 flight. If their flight makes it out, that's a good sign for us. 

7:10 - I make it to the counter. Man looks at my ticket (see below) and explains I'm on the 7:30 flight and that I should wait. They are only checking in the 6:30 flight. 

7:30 - Desk agent at Tara air flips over the laminated "Lukla" sign to read...
P.S. I trust the pilots' (whom I've never met) judgment as Lukla is the most dangerous airport to land in in the world. I have no problem waiting. 

7:45 - Purchase my first cup of coffee with milk. 

8:00 - We meet Indra!  Sigh of relief. I had seen a few guides milling around and had struck up conversations with a few, hoping they would be looking for us. Indra had been one I had seen, but had not talked to. Initial greetings seem somewhat tense. I think he had been stressed looking for us. Apparently he was not told that we were a female duo as we are the only female duo I have seen in the Kathmandu Airport. I was assuming we would be easy to spot. I was wrong. But that is in the past and we are now together at last.  Conversation quickly jumps to what services we have paid for. One would think that this would have been arranged with our guide through the tour company we have consulted with. We inform him that we have paid for a guide, porter, lodging and three meals a day. Basically, this is an all-inclusive trip. Immediately after this exchange, Indra wants the number of our Nepali contact who has put us in touch with this tour group and thus, Indra. I turn to Annette and share with her my feeling that we might be in the market for a new guide. Her suggestion is that we meet up with the Australians (who are probably sitting on the runway as we speak) and join in with their group.  Once Indra hangs up the phone, he cracks his first smile. Ah... Another sigh of relief. Indra will be our guide, and possibly our friend, by the end on the next 2 weeks. All is well. 

9:00 - I debate between reading on my phone (and needing to save batteries as apparently you have to pay to charge anything at the lodges along the way) or starting my new book I purchased in Thamel the other day. "The Good Earth" is cracked open. I'm captivated after reading one paragraph of Pearl Buck's brief bio. 

9:20 - I purchase my second coffee with milk. 

9:30 - Annette and I begin to discuss the conditions of the Kathmandu airport. Walls are pink and blue. 

People seem to ignore signs such as these. 

I've concluded this airport reminds me of the gymnasium of a Catholic School that was built in 1910 and has never been remodeled. Annette suggests a 1950's carnival. I begin to envision an off-track betting parlor like the one's from the movie "The Sting."  We also conclude the male to femael ratio stands at somewhere around 4:1 to 9:1.  This seems to be a trend. You would think at least one of us might have a chance...

9:40 - We discuss possible airport games. I want to play 2 degrees of separation... trying to find someone who knows someone we know. I suggest a game of bowling our bodies into the giant mounds of trekking bags. 

10:00 - I realize that this experience is great blog material. Blogging commences. 

10:30 - My attention turns back to making more observations. Indra tells us we will wait until about 2 before we determine that waiting for a flight today is futile and we will try again tomorrow. 

10:50 - Indra tells us the flight is cancelled. We will try again tomorrow. And the day after that if we need to. 

11:30 - We end up back at the Nobel Peace Prize. We get our old room back... just as we left it 6 hours ago. 

11:40 - We head back to the Way Cafe and spend the rest of the day there... Checking email, waiting for friends and family to wake up back home to connect with, attempting to download TED talks, blogging and chatting with fellow cafe patrons. 

One of them was a man from the States who has spent half of his last 40 years in Nepal. When Bobby walked in, he seemed like he would be someone we would like to chat with. After he met with a few friends and was leaving, he stopped at our table to note we had been sitting there awhile. We struck up a great conversation as we asked him his perspective on various observations and things we had learned in our first two weeks in Nepal. He has a great love for the Tibetan people and even though he doesn't know the language, he has been able to share the love of Christ with many. I think we could have talked much longer. 

Later in the afternoon I had an opportunity to chat with Landuk, part owner of The Way and lifelong friend of James. He shares his testimony with me, which although quite miraculous, does not seem to be that uncommon here. The Lord has been doing some amazing works in the villages and among various people groups in Nepal and many are believing as a result. Landuk explained that at age 12 he had a serious illness that lasted over a year. His brother and father were both lamas.  He and his family practiced all of the Buddhist healing rituals but nothing seemed to work. Many believed that Landuk did not have long to live in this world. In the Buddhist faith, when people die, others come to speak words to the dead as they pass into the next life. Before Landuk was even dead, people began to speak these words to him, including his brother and dad. And then a friend from the village who had moved to Kathmandu, and become a Christian, came to visit Landuk. In Landuk's words he explains that this man, Simon, "spoke words of life to me."  This was a new thing to Landuk and he prayed to this new God he was hearing about that if he would be healed, he would believe. Almost immediately he was able to stand and walk for the first time in a long time. He went on to explain that both he and James became believers on the same day.  They began to meet with Simon and learn more about the Christian faith. Today all three of them fellowship at the same church here in Boudha, that is a vibrant church filled with joyful Tibetan believers. Landuk has a beautiful wife, Keshang, and two lively boys named Zoell and Kyle. Zoell's English is remarkable for a 4 year old, and this is the 4th language that he knows in addition to the native village language, Nepali and the Hindi cartoons he watches. They live behind the children's home. I was thankful for this time to be encouraged by Landuk and his story. 

I ate buff momo's one more time and we headed back to sleep. 

Wednesday, October 18
5:45: We leave again. Same taxi driver. No rain. 

6:15: We arrive back at the airport. Everything is strangely calmer. Annette jokes that maybe everyone else got the text message that all flights were cancelled. But things seem hopeful. 

7:15: I'm sitting here blogging, still not checked in for the flight that supposedly leaves at 7:30.  

10:00: We have boarding passes. We get through security. I sweet talk them to let me keep my tiny scissors. The first pair got taken in Istanbul. We sit. We wait. People leave. People come back, not able to land in Lukla. I get the password for wifi from a different airline. The gate agent, my new friend, asks me for it. I say I'll tell him if he gets me on a flight to Lukla. He said "deal"!  So far he has not held up on his end of the bargain. 

11:30: I take a lap around the terminal and spot this book at the store...

That's "Touch the Top of the World" by Erik Weihenmeyer... the first blind man to summit Everest. My friend Eric Alexander, helped to get him there. Eric ... I've been thinking of you and your experience here. Thanks for encouraging me to go for it!  Give my love to Amy and the girls!!

12:30: My new friend delivered. Or so it seems. My view has changed from the terminal to this...

Pilot has told us we will wait 15 minutes as the international flights take precedence in using the runway. 

1:00: On the runway. 

1:10: Take off

1:40: We land!  We are waiting for Lukla no more!

Thanks for waiting with me!  The journey to Everest Base Camp begins. Keep the prayers coming!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Simple Life

I've always had a desire to live life as simply as possible. I recall first yearning for the "simple" life when I was in high school although the seed may have been planted in third grade by reading "Little House in the Big Woods" and "The Boxcar Children".  I was amazed at what people could do with so little. I think I romanticized the idea of the simple life while living a life where my every need and most of my wants were provided for. When it comes to reality, I'm not sure I would think the simple life were all that great.

These past two weeks, I've lived life with people who have mastered the simple life. And their joy is contagious. And it makes me realize the simple life really is that great. So how do I bring that home? I wish I had the answer.  

My life in the Vail Valley is blessed and full.  I don't like to use the word busy so I've learned to use the word "full" instead.  I really do enjoy most of the "busyness" in my life so if I say I'm busy, it's like I resent the things that make me busy.  And that is not the case. 

So I had to come to Nepal to rest. This is Goal #4.  Rest. Since my sabbatical officially began in June, I don't feel like I have really had an opportunity to rest until last week.  I knew I would have to wait until my time here to achieve Goal #4.  And it has been glorious. 

Annette and I settled into a routine of a leisurely breakfast / wifi time in the morning. We've sought some sort of outing during the midday such as hikes to the nearby monasteries...

or sights such as Swayambu (aka The Monkey Temple)...

and Bhaktapur (my fave)...

We come back to the Nobel Peace Prize Hotel to rest (yay 20 minute power naps) and read (We both read an AWESOME book called "Little Princes" which I highly recommend although it might hit closer to home for us because it explains the child trafficking that happened during the war in Nepal, written by a guy who came to volunteer at an orphanage for three months at the beginning of his year long round the world trip. I'm not making this up. You can see why we were hooked.).  Then we venture up to the First Love Children's Home to hang with the kids. We play around the house, then go down to the "playground" (which is a long strip of pavement and a few unplanted plots of land) and play (get a glimpse here: then back to the house for "fellowship" for a time of worship, prayer and the Word. To see kids worship and pray is a beautiful thing. All of them pray at the same time, ages 4 to 12 and it makes me smile. I sneak a peek at them every once in awhile even though they never do. Phonus walks us home and we grab dinner and check email at The Way Cafe before they close at 8. And then lights out sometime between 9 and 10. 

I have come to love this routine.  When I committed to volunteering during this year (while in Nepal and again in Peru next spring), I have been very clear in explaining that I wanted to spend about 20 hours a week volunteering. I hoped this would allow me to achieve rest-time. (Just to put it in perspective of how much I long for this time, I sit on my couch at home for MAYBE 2 hours each week. Some weeks it doesn't happen at all.  This is how I came to realize that a Sabbatical year might be a good idea.) And it has happened. 

But I have also had some action-packed time with 16 amazing kids. 

This is what happens when they see me pull out my phone for a picture. Time lapse photos of about 5 seconds...

We have gathered bits and pieces of most of their stories and each one is remarkable.  Ruth was born in a forest. Sangay's mom died giving birth to her. Peter's father's death is related to alcohol. And Thoduk's father was a Maoist rebel and persecuted the very people who are now raising his son. He was killed in the war.  In Nepal, you are considered an orphan if you have lost one of your parents. Many of the kids here have lost one parent but a few still have both. We have learned that it is very common for families living in the villages to try to provide their children with opportunity by sending them to Kathmandu to get an education as education and opportunities in general are lacking in the villages.  There are many "hostels" for these kids who live here and get an education here as well. The home we have been spending time at is providing this type of opportunity to these 16 kids as well as providing a Christian upbringing. All the kids here have ties with the Tibetan community, where Buddhism is the traditional religion. I only wish I could ask each if them their stories.  But regardless of where they have been, today they are truly joy-filled kids. They love and care for one another. And I have been blessed to spend the last two weeks with them. 

So, while I've had a glimpse of the joy found in simplicity and rest, I will be taking a 2 week break from this lifestyle by making a trek to Everest Base Camp ("Lord and weather willing") but then will resume the "simple" life in a Nepal location to be determined...  Still living out Goal #3: Flexibility. 

Until next time, prayers for safety and health are appreciated!  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Good Sammy Award

About a week ago, Annette and I decided to venture into Kathmandu to visit the Thamel district. Our guidebook indicated that this was the place where tourists hangout. We are tourists so we figured we better see whatever there was to see around Thamel. 

That morning, our friend James (who is our Nepali contact with First Love Ministries, the organization that we connected with through a friend of a friend) called a taxi for us. It was a friend of his so he promised us a good price. The drive to Thamel takes about 30 to 45 minutes. Our fare was 300 rupees or $3.  When our driver dropped us off, we attempted to communicate with him that we would like to be picked up at 3 o'clock if possible. We thought we had done a sufficient job in doing this so we took off through the streets of Thamel. 

Thamel is a haven for trekkers as it is the hub for purchasing any gear left at home and booking last minute trips through the seemingly hundreds of travel agencies...the legitimacy of both the "North Face" gear and "agencies" are questionable.  But we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. I bought a travel towel and some socks as two weeks on the Camino did a number on the two pairs I had packed. We found a rooftop restaurant...approximately seven flights of stairs up...and treated ourselves to some milk tea and pizza (when in a tourist area do as the tourists do??).  The air was fresher up top and it was good to get some views of the city.  We stopped in a few travel agencies to get quotes for a trek to Everest Base Camp. Then decided we had seen all that Thamel had to offer.

We returned to the corner we were supposed to meet our driver on. We were 10 minutes early so when he wasn't there, we weren't too concerned. Then 3:15 rolled around, and there was still no sign of which tiny white taxi we thought might be ours. I was beginning to regret not studying our driver's features more closely than the scenery we had passed by that morning. But... we were smart enough to get his phone number before we left him that morning. No problem, we would just call him.

Oh wait. Our $13 phone had died.  My first thought was to find wi-fi somewhere and try to contact James. Then we had the idea of asking if someone could plug in our phone to charge it. Annette took the initiative on this one and asked the shopkeeper of the jewelry shop we were standing in front of if he could charge it. He was not able to charge our phone but he was happy to let us use his phone. The only problem was that all of the phone numbers we had were on the dead phone... except for one I had written down.  This number was for Muktuk, James' brother, and man in charge at the children's home. So Annette's new best friend calls Muktuk, who gives him James' number, who calls our driver who is on another trip. So in the end we find out we need to find our own cab home. But in the process, Annette met a exuberant shop keeper who was more than willing to help two stranded Americans.  In between her time waiting for phone calls, she learned the following bits and pieces of his story.  He was a Gypsy from India who's "hobby" was making money. He also had a Canadian girlfriend at one point but she was going to be gone for 10 months. He told her he could wait a few months, but 10 months was not possible. He also enjoyed drinking beer.  While Annette was being entertained by this story, I was on the street carefully inspecting each taxi that drove by... hopeful to see someone who recognized me as all Nepali taxi drivers were beginning to look alike. And then I learned we were on our own for a taxi... which we found and only had to pay fifty cents more for (after some pretty firm haggling on both or parts). Our new taxi driver called James, because we now had his number written down, and successfully got us home. We now know how to describe to taxi drivers where to take us. Lesson learned. 

As we were leaving Thamel, after recounting her exchange with her new best friend, Annette declared him the first recipient of the Good Samaritan Award. We decided to call it the Good Sammy for short. 

Many times when Jesus spoke, he spoke in parables, stories that the local people would understand. At one point he was asked to clarify who one's neighbor is after he instructed a group that in order to inherit eternal life you were to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27 ESV)  Jesus went on to explain what a neighbor was by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. My paraphrase is something like this...

A Hebrew man is mugged as he is leaving Jerusalem. He is near death lying on the side of the road. Two of his own kind pass by and do not help. And then a Samaritan (who would not have normally interacted with a Hebrew) stopped by and not only provided "first aid" but took him in and paid for the rest of his care. Jesus asked who proved to be a neighbor?  The answer was obvious. And Jesus ends the story with "Go and do likewise."  

We have come here to any way we can. But being the foreigners, not knowing the culture or the language, we find ourselves needing lots of help.  And so far, we have not been in need of help for long. 

We've talked about many who have earned the Good Sammy this past week. 

Our second Good Sammy goes to another taxi driver, Kamal, who took us on the 45 minute drive to Bhaktapur, waited for us for 4 hours, and brought us back. (Just so you have a sense of the economy here... The grand total for these services was $18.  Any High Mountain Taxi drivers willing to relocate?) When he dropped us off, he asked us where we wanted to go tomorrow. Gem!

Friday evening, we attended the youth group at the local church. It was all in Nepali, of course. But the Good Sammy goes to Pima who translated much of the service for us. 

We eat two meals a day and have wifi access at The Way Cafe. Samden and Wanduk have been very welcoming and kind to us, even as we forgot to pay for our meal on the second day. They may be nominated for multiple Good Sammy's.   

My best buddy at the children's home has become Phurbur (or Peter is his English name). His English is pretty good and he is often by my side. He sees my look of confusion when 4-year-old Daisy is in the midst of a very animated monologue on the way to school, and easily translates for me. He is also patient in teaching me Nepali and says I'm very good at practicing Nepali. My Nepali vocabulary has now expanded to include: How did you sleep? I slept fast. How are you? I am fine. Do you want to play? and Today is a beautiful day. Good Sammy to Phurbu, my Nepali teacher. 

Yesterday, we took a hike up to the Kopan Monastary and a few other nearby monasteries. As we were about to pass by the stairs to take us to the monastary, an old man clucked at us from the stoop outside his home and pointed to the stairs. Good Sammy goes to wise old man who knows that all Westerners who pass his way are going to the Monastary. 

Phonus, Muktuk's sixteen-year-old son, has begun to walk us home from the children's home if we leave past dark. We did not want to trouble home with the inconvenience but he assured us last night that it was good for all of us. We are safer, and he gets some time away from the always buzzing house. And, we get an opportunity to ask Phonus to clarify any cultural misunderstandings or other questions we may have come up with during the day. And he gets to practice his English. Good Sammy for Phonus!

And the same goes for his older sister Kyipa.  In between studying for her week of exams, her mom, Lakba, has summoned her several times to serve as a translator between Lakba, Pasang the cook, and ourselves.  I feel like Kyipa is the closest thing we have to a friend here. And she is also a good sport. Kyipa is definitely worthy of the Good Sammy.  

Today, Sonam, our front-desk girl/"concierge" asked us to accompany her to Boudha as she had a shirt that she wanted to buy.  Last night when we firmed up plans for this morning, she asked us how old we were. When we told her we were 30 and 32 she had a look of shock. Not sure if it was disappointment that we were nearly twice her age or surprised that we were older than she thought. Regardless, Sonam found her shirt, we shared tea on a rooftop overlooking the Boudha Stupa, which she had never done, and then she took us to her college down the street where she is training to be a medical assistant. Sonam had a sweet heart and was grateful to us for being able to practice her English. We were grateful to have an insider's look at our surroundings. Good Sammy to Sonam!

(And we got our first glimpse of the Himalayas since we've been here! Exciting!)

And, it goes without saying that James earns a Good Sammy everyday. Not sure where we would be without him. He checks in with us everyday ... He knows to find us at The Way. He updates us on how things are progressing with plans for our next children's home. And he is a good guy to know, as he seems to have connections with everyone else in this community. Good Sammy to James, a thousand times over. 

Basically... I think by the end of our three months in this country, every Nepali we come in contact with could get a Good Sammy. The people are that great.

May I be reminded to "Go and do likewise"

Friday, October 4, 2013

30 nights, 24 beds

Last night I set a record. 3 nights in the same bed... the most since we left Paris. It might be the least desirable place I've laid my head. But I'm happy to not be packing up my stuff everyday.  

AND... The Nobel Peace Hotel in Boudha has hot water. There are two things that have kept me from being a missionary: my own bed and hot showers. It seems I've given one up for a year. And thankfully, in all my travels, The Lord has provided hot showers. (Except for Isla Chira, Costa Rica. But I'm pretty sure that place was the hottest place on Earth and I was thankful for cold showers.)  So Tuesday night I was bracing myself for a cold shower, and just as I was about to use shampoo, hot water came out of the faucet. I immediately began singing "Our God, is an awesome God. He reigns from heaven above with wisdom, power and love. Our God is an Awesome God..."  The Nobel Peace Prize Hotel (that's what we call it) just earned an extra Trip Advisor star.  Maybe 2. I hadn't had a hot shower in 6 days. I was counting. 

But in this nomadic life, I've had lots of practice to help achieve Goal #3 for this sabbatical year: Flexibility. 

Each day, since Paris, I literally have not known where I was going to be sleeping that night... except for on our overnight flights... of which there have been three. And I keep preparing myself for the fact that each night at Alfred Nobel's hotel could be my last... but Annette and I just had a conversation that barring any significant disturbances (mostly involving what Annette affectionately refers to as "creepy-crawlies") we will be staying here till our time ends in Boudha next week. I'll think about unpacking my bag in its entirety for the first time, ever, tomorrow. 

Upon arrival in Nepal, we planned to spend two days in Kathmandu, head to a children's home in the Chitwan area (near the border with India) for a month, head out on a trek to Everest Base Camp, then return to Chitwan, or another location if the opportunity presented itself.  We wanted to leave our options open. It hasn't actually played out that way. 

Enter opportunity to practice Flexibility! 

We spent 2 nights in Lalitpur (which is basically Kathmandu), and then met with James, our Nepali contact with First Love Ministries who have 3 or 4 children's homes in the country. For reasons that are not clear to me, it seemed that it wasn't the best time to head to Chitwan so James worked some magic and brought us to Boudha, basically Kathmandu as well. The home in Boudha is run James' brother, Muktuk and his wife, Lakba. They have 4 children of their own, 3 of which live there as well. There are 16 kids at the home: 8 boys and 8 girls... and either Annette or I would take home any of the 16, if Nepal were not a closed country for adoptions. (With the exception of Russia, countries seem to close as a result of child trafficking problems... as was the case in Guatemala...) I'm looking forward to telling you more about each of these beautiful faces in a future post.  We love how their personalities are so unique and we are learning each of them!

So our daily schedule has become something like this...
Meet the kids on the road on the way to school in the morning and walk with them the rest of the way. Grab breakfast at The Way Cafe (an Internet Cafe started as an outreach ministry, possibly with a YWAM connection) and check email. Spend the day on a day trip, reading or "office hours", meet the kids at 4 at school.  Walk them home. Wait for them to change out of school uniforms. Help with homework (in between handclap games sung in some Nepali interpretation of the English words.  My best interpretation of what they are singing is: "Tom and Jerry. Tom and Jerry. With Mary. With Mary. I-O-O-O. I-C-C-C. I-O. I-C. Coca-Cola. Pepsi!"  If anyone grew up playing a game like this and has a better interpretation, I'd love to know.). They have snack time (water or hot tea and crackers). Play time consists of marbles, a Nepali hop-scotch game, or a game like jacks but using small stones they have broken into dice size pieces.  They have tried to teach me all these games.  Their patience with me is short and they eventually keep playing with each other, leaving me on the sidelines to observe, happily. I've found I can be a good lap while they wait their turn or to console them if something goes wrong in the game. Playtime leads to fellowship time (singing, prayer time and a Bible story). We leave just after this so we can make it to The Way Cafe in time to eat our daily helping of buff momo before they close.  (I just discovered yesterday that buff is actually buffalo...what we would call water buffalo. Who knew?!?  I've been eating it for 4 days.)  Cafe closes at 8 which turns out to be 7:45, so we head back to the World Peace Hotel for an evening of reading, blogging and talking through the day. 

It seems that we will be here for another week, maybe 10 days, before we head out for Base Camp. But, if plans change, no problem. I'm learning to roll with it!  Yay! Flexibility!  

Another example of flexibility... Wednesday we headed to Thamel Square, where all the Trekkers stock up on knock-off versions of any left behind gear and book last minute treks as well. James was kind enough to get a taxi for us from a friend he assured us wouldn't rip us off. Journey into town was good, but our driver indicated he would meet us at 3 at the corner he dropped us off at. By 3:15, he was not to be seen, and our $13 Nepali phone ran out of batteries after 5 hours. Being, flexible... or creative... or basically desperate, Annette made friends with the "jeweler" who's shop we were standing in front of and he let us use his phone to call James who called the driver who said he had another trip and that we should find another cab.  Only problem is we have no idea how to tell the driver to get where we live because we don't know where we live. No problem... Driver can call James and get directions. Bottom line, thank you, Jesus, for James!  Out of this story, the Good Sammy award was born.  That'll be my next blog post...

Lessons in flexibility continue in learning the culture and things that seem to be lost in translation. I love sharing this experience with Annette because I have someone to debrief the day with. It's funny how we will both be participants in an experience or conversation and we each interpret it in different ways. We are both right, about half the time.  This whole trip would be half as fun without her!  

P.S. If you ever want the Cliffs Notes version of our experiences or a different perspective, check out Annette's blog at


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Crossing Cultures - Madrid to Istanbul to Kathmandu

Just as I was getting used to the Spanish timetable, I leave. I was getting more comfortable with my Spanish... even to the point that I was thinking in Spanish. I was starting to develop favorite foods. Well...every morning started with cafe con leche and a chocolate croissant. If I could have eaten those all day, everyday, Spanish cuisine would have become my favorite.  All good things must come to an end. But not before purchasing one last stash of the best candy in the world. 

This is the last piece. I promised I would share it with Annette tomorrow. We've been rationing. 

Then again, good things don't have to end.  The fun just keeps coming. Our next stop was Istanbul. 

I will not pretend to be an expert on this city that is a feast for the senses. We only had 14 hours there. But here are some of my observations:

Istanbul is an Middle Eastern city with many western influences. In some ways, it felt easier to navigate than many parts of Spain. This came as a great surprise to me. 

The male to female ratio was incredible. Annette and I walked through the Grand Bazaar at about 9am... Just when shops are beginning to open. I'm quite confident in saying that in the hundreds of shops we passed, every single shop keeper was a man. I really can't recall seeing a single woman except for maybe a few female tourists, when we were leaving. We thought maybe it was just the Grand Bazaar. But the trend continued. The same was the case on the metro, in the restaurants, on the ferry, in the Spice Market and in general on the streets. It wasn't until our walk back to our metro stop on the way to the airport that a few local women seemed to appear. Where are they?  I'm assuming the obvious answer is at home.  Crazy to consider an America like that. 

To say that Istanbul stimulates the senses would be an understatement. Food has amazing flavor (which maybe was heightened since I was coming from considerably bland Spanish food). We started the morning with Turkish coffee and a complimentary Turkish Delight (which might be complimentary everywhere...upon boarding Turkish Airways and in the duty free shop in Istanbul) . We had a fantastic lunch of eggplant something and some chicken dish during lunch at the Blue Hotel, overlooking the Bosphorus and the Blue Mosque. 

During lunch we also heard the noon call to prayer. That might be the first time I've experienced that. We kept commenting: imagine if praise and worship music were blared over PA systems in the United States five times a day. And then Pastor Tommy got to bring the Word to the entire city everyday. Whoa!  The smell of spices in the Spice Market was fascinating as was the sight of their bold colors neatly organized in rows.  And the smell of the street food requires no further marketing campaign.  I confess I did walk back a block, after contemplating the tantalizing smell coming from a restaurant window, to buy some amazing meat wrapped in pastry, only after convincing the shop keeper to sell it to me for a Euro. I ran out if Liras. And then there is incense burning all over in random places. The sight of the ancient Hagia Sophia and my first time in a mosque were astounding as well.  And the streets and subways were packed with people in the afternoon, so personal space did not exist.  

It was also fascinating to observe how The East meets The West here and has for centuries. The Hagia Sophia was a perfect example of that... a cathedral turned mosque. Mosaics of Christ and giant discs with the names of Mohammed and other prominent Islamic patriarchs were captured under one dome. Does that exist in any other place on Earth?  Maybe. I don't know. 

So it may sound like I was a rockstar running through the streets of Istanbul after a 4 hour red-eye from Madrid. But that would be misleading. Annette let me take a nap... Or maybe two.  Ok.  It was 3. The first was outside baggage claim of the Istanbul airport at 6:30 am. My thought... What could we possibly be missing in Istanbul at 7am?  Nothing, I'm sure. And then, after the Hagia Sophia, the Turkish coffee wore off. Nap time on the park bench outside the Blue Mosque.  Hoping I didn't violate any major cultural norms there. A few hours later we missed the entrance to the mosque by literally 2 minutes as the mosque closes to visitors during prayer time. We wanted to keep our place in line. It turns out that purses on our laps made very nice pillows. I don't think we offended anyone too severely as the mosque information guy told us we looked tired, very least twice. He seemed very sympathetic.    Turns out the naps did just the trick. When we were getting off the plane that morning, I wasn't sure I'd make it back to the airport for our 10pm departure to Kathmandu. But I did. 

If I felt like I was transported to another world by walking the Camino, I'm pretty sure I've been vaulted to another universe upon my arrival in Kathmandu.

I'm not sure what I expected.  But here is what I did not expect: 

I did not expect cars to drive on the left side of the road.  

I did not expect to see mostly dirt roads, with a sometimes single lane of pavement, throughout a capital city. 

I did not expect to have such gracious hosts as Shanti and her Uncle Ram who waited for us for 2 hours to clear passport control. 

I did not expect to be going to church one hour after leaving the airport. It was Saturday after all. Turns out Nepal only has one day on the weekend and it is Saturday. 

I did not expect to sit in the front row at church. I don't even do that at home. 

I did not expect to be expected to introduce myself at church. The whole service was in Nepali. I had a crash course in introducing myself 30 minutes earlier. "Miro nam Ashley ho". But those words were escaping me as Shanti told me now was the time for Annette and I to stand up. She denied my request to join us... so there was a long awkward silence as everyone waited for the obvious visitors to stand. The silence was broken by applause.  The Nepali people are VERY kind!

I did my expect to meet such a kind soul as 10-year-old Unkit who so obviously wanted to be noticed and practice his English. His big brown eyes melted my heart. How long had I been in this country?  I think we were at 4 hours. 

I did not expect to take such a long nap upon our return to our home for the next 2 nights.  But I'm not surprised. Sleep deprivation for the last 3 weeks would have been an understatement. The 3 hour nap was glorious. 

I did not expect to like Nepali food as much as I did (Thank you, Jesus!). And so far, the digestive system seems to be working quite well. I'm sure you wanted to know.  

I did not expect to discover that Shanti (whom we were connected with from literally a friend of a friend of a friend) turned out to be connected with an orphanage we had originally pursued in Kenya which brought us to Nepal. We ended up pursing a different contact but we were happy to make this connection as well. 

I did not expect to see such beautiful countryside after the city we had driven through on the walk that Shanti took us on that evening. 

I did not expect to see such beautiful faces as the 8 precious kids who live with Shanti. They also had beautiful voices as they sang during family devotions that evening. And they were eager to share their Bible and hymnal with me... And point out where we were reading from. It was all written in Nepali. Bless their hearts. 

I did not expect to meet such an incredible woman as Shanti. She is 32 and has been raising a house full of 8 to 10 kids for the last 10 years. She has help from her mom and a cook, but her heart for these kids is truly phenomenal and inspiring.  

I know what my mom is thinking: 
Ash... What kind of ideas are thinking?
My response... Crazy ideas, Mom.  As I was sitting in church that morning my thought was, why not?  Why not take orphans into my home?  There are kids out there who need loved and I have love to give. Would it complicate my relatively simple life? Yes. Would my life be full because of it?  Absolutely. As Christians, are we called to look after orphans and widows?  That's what James 1:27 says... pretty clearly. Time will tell. A lot can happen over the next 8 months.  Reminder: Goal Number #2: An Open Heart and Teachable Spirit. 

And so...In 3 days, I've crossed cultures from Camino living, to a taste of the Middle East, and now I'm at the crossroads between Hinduism and Buddhism living amongst a serious minority and often persecuted Christians in Nepal. I'm having another one of those "I know where I am but how did I get here" moments. It might be another universe, but it's still planet Earth.  The people here still eat 3 meals a day and sleep and dream like the rest of the world.  I'm excited to learn about this foreign land.  And I'm excited to share it with you.  Thanks for joining me in the adventures that lies ahead!