What it did for me I’ll never forget, but what it did to me in the moment, I’d like to try to forget. I bring you a post and general topic I’ve wanted to tackle for awhile: Leah Writes on High School

“True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”
― Kurt Vonnegut

(I’ll come back to Vonnegut, but part of me is still thinking I just let Kurt get some words in there before me since he tends to have a way with thoughts that most cannot express).

*Begin romanticized imagery and language now*

I was a proud 17-year old that fine day on June 6, 2009.  My skin was a deep shade of fake brown, my hair made as straight as I could get it, and I looked in that mirror and thought, “It’s over.” Pause.  Now, as the tears welled up I went from one version of, “It’s over” to another.  It was over.  High school was about to be finished.  I was sad.  I’d never make the morning drive again, hear the bell ring, I’d never experience any of it after that day.  But then I remember that moment when I realized, on a different level, “It’s over.”  Everything I’ve faked, felt uncomfortable with, struggled through yet triumphed through, everything I’ve hurt, everything that’s hurt me.  This is all over.  That is one of the feelings I will never forget.  Knowing that some of the hardest years were about to be put away and if I wanted to I could lock it all away and recreate it.  I could tell my kids I was the prom queen, that I dated lots of cool guys, that I made so many amazing friends.  Now I know I’ll probably just tell them that I ruined a play when I was 15, skipped gym class almost every week to go “meet with teachers,” and was most intimidated throughout my four years by my biggest bully: a 70-something year old choir directing nun.  But still, I thought that was it.  And liberation day only marked the very beginning of a long process of realization and understanding of what exactly went on from 2005-2009.

I’m going to begin at a place with which most of us are eerily familiar: the exterior.  If anything makes preteen and teenagehood easier, it’s wearing the right things and looking the right way.  Some of us don’t always do this.  Okay, some of us have never done this, even when they’ve tried.  Alright, let’s not beat around the bush, I was a disgrace.  I was just coming out of a summer spent at Shakespeare camp (I’m warning you, when it rains…….) where I experienced my first kick of being fully convinced that I was some sort of free-spirited hippie and had all the rights in the world to wear whatever I damn well pleased.  I wasn’t dressing myself in clothing I liked, I was like a statement-making bulletin board–I would continue this for years and years.  So, my favorite look included a random ass t-shirt with a belt around the thinnest part of my waist and many beaded necklaces, usually bought at a thrift shop (trend-setting-14-year-old-leah), accompanied by some like patchwork jeans or jorts.  And the best news was, I didn’t even enjoy these get-ups.  Splendid.  THEN, I did something, I did something to my beautifully-fresh, young, freckled face that would define me for the rest of high school and even the beginning of college (until I could at least escape from anyone I’d known during these dark times).  I developed the worst trademark for myself.  Alright, I’ll tell you, I essentially spackled the holy hell out of my naturally pink lips with yellow-y concealer (for men, this is women’s under-eye cover-up makeup).  No worries, though, this eventually morphed into a trend of glopped-on light colored-mood ring, opal-y toned lipgloss.  I applied it so many times a day that in retrospect I am able to say that it was absolutely obsessive-compulsive.  I carried it in my skirt pocket at all times, along with, uh, nothing else, and I sometimes went to the restroom for the sole purpose of applying my lipgloss.  Looking back, this is the defining factor for why I now know that I was not okay.  A simple overly-regimented lip treatment may not seem like that much, but when I play a matching game with vivid memories of lipgloss mania and significantly negative life events, well, it all seems to play out as one awfully harmonious transformational time in the life of leah.

Image

I remember freshman year, though, as also being one of the most beneficial years of my entire life.  Although they may not be so present in my life anymore, I established my first ever real group of friends.  This would forever change then entire course of my highschool years.  For the first time, I was going to dances and going out on the weekends with friends.  Things were looking up, even though I was looking like the makeup aisle at CVS gone wrong mixed with a bad Limited Too ad.  Then…………..my friends started dating and I started, um, going to bed at 11 instead of 10.  The relationship bug infected most if not all of my friends, but the fact that I seemed incapable of heralding attraction at this point wasn’t the biggest worry of mine.  In fact, looking back, I was much more apathetic towards guys and relationships than I gave off.  The biggest annoyance and scarlet letter-like mark of loserdom was the fact that I was one of the very last girls to have her first kiss (Ok, this is, in fact, quite the opposite of the scarlet letter, I understand that a little hormonal prude in Urban Outfitters jeans and a flannel shirt who had never dreamed of being kissed was not nearly the same as a guillotine-going adulteress).

While that did eventually happen for me at a whopping sixteen and a half, I’ll always remember the year that followed with mixed feelings.  This was the year I lost myself big time.  Sure I could say that I was both swarmed in and surrounded by non-ideal relationships, but the truth of the matter was that I was a sad teenage girl who, unlike many, did know what she wanted out of life (and on top of it, had already been through many things people twice her age would never experience) but was too afraid to push everybody out of the way and go get it.  There are times when I still wonder what would have been different if I had lived this particular year-a year where I simply went from static to downward sloping- differently.  But I lived it in such a way that I followed blindly, I conformed my beliefs and attitudes to those around me, and frankly I rarely vocalized in the way that many know me as being infamous for now.  I had also taken a year-long break off from singing, something I’ve only now become comfortable to express my love for and embrace.  After a period of time with a nun who, all jokes aside, jolted my confidence, which was already in the tank, into the damn ground.  I believed I was both incapable and unsuited and I turned away from a form of expression I loved, and like I said, have only been able to rejuvenate within the last year.  Out of that open elective spot where I’d usually be singing, though, came the opportunity to embrace another talent.  It was through my creative writing class that I’d meet one of my best and most influential teachers: a spunky young lady who taught me that the metaphysical stuff I was writing was not weird, but was in fact pretty cool.  I credit the 50% of my current college major that is writing to her, and honestly, I credit some of my sanity to her as well.  Writing was the silent weapon of my self expression, particularly as I was not expressing much of my true self in the vocal sense throughout my entire third year of high school.  I tried to write poems about love, family, stories about friends and nature. But what came out instead were some of the best things I’ve ever written and ever will write: several stories about losing loved ones, vague poetic pieces about what it was like for me growing up, poems about the “picasso pieces of my mind,” a screen play about an alternate cyber universe, almost anything escapist, and finally, a final piece that I was supposed to read at the unveiling of the 2008 creative writing class literary magazine.  This one was a stream of consciousness reflection about a car accident I had been in just 2 months prior that was still having great impact on me.  As I shall breeze by details, it wasn’t so much this reading that was my penultimate test of strength, but it was stopping some friends at the time from blackmailing me via recording my reading.  I’ll never forget putting my hand out and telling them “NO.”  I don’t care how small it was.  I had done it.  This had meant something to me.

Image

I came back senior year confused as ever.  I felt overripe and overdone, like I was long ready to leave, like nothing made sense, like I made no sense to anyone.  But, I was starting to make sense to me.  I was starting to grasp the fact that I was damn weird, ready to leave from day one of that last school year, and uncomfortable about past choices I’d made mainly because I had just spent 3 years fairly aware of myself and my desires, but never voicing any of it aloud.  And I am one vocal mother effer.  I remember focusing really hard on school that year, focusing on getting into schools.  I started dressing in ways that I genuinely loved.  I loved my style, my hair, my makeup now looked like it belonged on a human being, although there was still a lot of it.  My relationships, though, were fizzling out and I hated it.  I hated it mostly because I felt it but I tried so strongly to force everything to feel okay.  I felt like I was growing up in double time, and I felt like everyone else was not.  On the bright side, I felt an inexplicably strong pull toward a university that I visited on a whim, a place where I’d go one to meet a partner for life and 3 to 5 outstanding lifelong friends.  I had no idea what was in store for me, yet I had an idea that there was something that was next to come.  I had “This can’t be it” syndrome.  And I felt confused and angry and wished I had spent my last 4 years differently.  But I didn’t.  But you know what?  At least those 4 years of unassured angst and insecurity were over and done with by age 18.  Most don’t get that lucky.

Image

So I stood on that day of graduation and honestly, I was sad, yes.  But, most of me took a deep breath and thought, “I got through that.”  I remember being so thankful for experiences, friendships, classes, teachers, but I was happy to be finished with that old skin, a hard shell that just wouldn’t crack until I left my mom and sister crying on August 23, 2009 and stood in front of a university chapel where I’d play an ice breaker in a circle that literally beheld some of the best gifts I’d ever known and gifts I had never known: a few people who helped me be me and who loved me.  And you know what Vonnegut, I’m getting closer and closer to that day when I will wake up and realize my high school class is running the country, but let’s rest assured that the other members of the graduating class of 2009 will be waking up to know that the one running the country, as least in a not-so-executive-branch kind of way, is me.  And on June 6, 2009, I thought to myself for the first time ever, “I got through that.  I can do things.  I can do big things.”

Image

So no, I’ve chosen not to use my men in black mind erasing tool to disregard all thoughts of anything high school because 1) they don’t sell those on ebay and 2) even if I had them, I’d still keep these memories.  I’d even keep the one of me slipping on a wet floor and crashing into the wall of the cafeteria in front of the seniors freshman year, or the missed cue during opening night of the play sophomore year, or the intense embarrassment in realizing my first kiss was a well-played set up of events because some young ladies don’t realize that it is in fact not normal to make the boy wait 1 month to kiss you after you’ve initially started dating, I’d even keep the worst ones, the fights, the tears, the last time I ever talked to her and her and her.  I’m not letting these memories go away.  They are such a critical part of me and let’s face it, they’re the ones that’ll matter most to the four years I will always remember as the time wherein I developed most, during four years where it seemed like nothing took place in me at all.

Years later, that is what I am most inspired by: the silenced version of the now very audible me.

peace, love, and ongoing musings about things that are forever impactful on one’s life,

LR

Image

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.Eleanor Roosevelt


Advertisements

They Don’t Call it Reverse Culture Shock for Nothing (Goodbye, Nepal part 2)

As I began to disembark the plane, I found myself barking “MOVE” through gritted teeth at those in front of me, only to realize, I’m not in Nepal anymore and any amount of anger or impatience would not necessarily solve my issues now, in a land where people understand me and I’m not always needing to aggressively assert myself.  When I arrived home, my dog jumped and barked excitedly and I was afraid t0 touch her, or even go near her after 6 weeks of avoiding rapid dogs on the streets.  I soon drove with my mom to pick up sushi.  Throughout the drive, there were a few stop signs and one traffic light.  No one was walking around on the streets, as is typical with suburbia, but still……

Last winter, I talked non stop about my summer plans, until it looked as if it wasn’t going to happen, but even then, I was going to Nepal.  I had a feeling.  I usually know when I am right about things.  Weeks ago I said to myself, “I’m having sushi as my first meal when I get home.”  And I did.  I had my sushi and I went to Nepal.  As I stare at my bag, half full of gifts, thinking about how I got away with its heaviness without paying extra fees, thinking about what I’ll tell people as I distribute gifts, thinking about if people will care, especially care that some of my best memories weren’t all emotionally intense cultural experiences nor beatnik earth-embracing base camp treks.  I’m thinking about what they’ll say when I tell them that I am changed in the best way possible, that I’ve met individuals, Americans and Nepalis alike, who helped me to better realize what I want and don’t want out of life, that some of my best memories weren’t ones where I sat in solitude, celibate from spending money, but rather times when I took a break from whatever else seemed chaotic around me and spent a little money here and there on meals out, day trips, 4 green tea smoothies throughout an entire day spent at a cafe with a friend, mostly in silence, but still in one another’s presence.  Maybe I’ll tell people that one of the best parts of my days was coming home to blog about it, because certain days, it almost didn’t feel right just keeping it to myself.  I had to share.

Image

Nepal will most likely go down in the history of my life as the strangest place I’ve ever been.  Never will a place repulse me so much, yet give me so much to feel good about.  And I’m not talking strictly city versus country, although the country does win by quite a bit.  What I mean is the sense of empowerment I gained from learning to be fully myself in a house full of volunteers, in an office full of Nepalis, and walking around on a street full of maniac drivers and oftentimes creepy pedestrians.  Sometimes being fully myself meant yelling, “Oh, you think you can charge me this much because of my white skin!?  I want Nepali price, not white price!”  And sometimes it just meant freeing all the awkwardities that amount to myself rather than trying to put a cap on all those qualities and tendencies that make me the truest version of me.

Image

Self discovery also took place during interviews with teachers and young children.  I’ll never forget one brave teacher who told me that just because she is a counselor and teacher to child domestic workers and teaches them to voice their fears and concerns and sorrows aloud, just because she encourages openness and future-oriented minds,  because she encourages the children to have goals, because of this she fears that she will be persecuted. She is afraid to walk down the streets at times, fearing that people will see her as the revolutionary teacher who is untraditional in her methods.  As she said this, I remember thinking that every view I took would be stronger and stronger from this point on in.  Every risk I took would be more intentional.  Thank you to CWISH and my general work as an intern for allowing me the opportunity to think and feel and be inspired in these ways.

Image

Even for all the times I lied about myself, i.e.: I am 27, 25, 24, married, work for the government, study law, am married to a congressman, getting my PhD, work in human, own and operate an NGO here, am from Ireland, I still managed to feel more myself in the end.  I believe it happens most always when one gets out of where he or she is from, but there was something stronger about Nepal that pushed me to break away from feeling enclosed, quiet, nervous.  Whether I go back or not, I’d like to think that I’ll have a new adventure soon enough, and I’ll feel more confident, more excited, more ready to engage, serve, understand.

I’m not finished blogging, although some may be bored by blogs simply about life and not life in South Asia, but I have to keep going because one day, I will find the words and they will be simple.  But for now, I leave you again with these words:

“Travel is like love, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed.  That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.” -Pico Iyer

Image

Namaste, Nepal

& Dhanyabad, & also, Dhanyabad to you guys:

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Love,

LR

Goodbye to Nepal, part 1

I wanted this post to be written sweetly from my room in Kathmandu, while gazing out my window at that now highly-progressing construction project.  I’m a romantic for reasons like this.  Instead, I got my ear pierced then got a phone call from my mother the next instant warning me that I was under the impression that my flight was 2 hours later than it was.  So that was the end of my last blog in Kathmandu fantasies.  Although, here I am in Abu Dhabi where I started documenting this whole thing and I am still pleased to be logging this last installment.  30 blog posts later and here I am, simply gazing back, observing, like I’ve been doing this whole time, but from a different direction.

My final larger-scale venture took place this past weekend in a small village above lakeside Pokhara at Sadhana Yoga Center.  My friend Devyn and I spent 2 nights and 1 full day relaxing, eating phenomenal food, taking in incredible views, meditating, chanting, mud bathing, doing yoga, but most importantly focusing on ourselves, in ways that westerners are often not taught about.  Our full day of yoga may have been the most mentally peaceful day of my life.  I may have been an abomination of a meditator, as I am incapable of sitting still (probably rule 1 in meditation), but all in all, the day seemed to be not so much of a pampering sort of day, but more of a day of mindfulness, of understanding where I was and where I had been, of how many gifts I had, though sometimes it seems like I have more bad than good.  I felt reminded of what I wanted out of life, and I realized it was, in fact, much less than I sometimes thought I needed.  My trip gave me so much in terms of experience, understanding, learning, self-expression and self confidence, but it was small moments like centering in, learning about myself, listening to what I wanted, hearing myself, spending time with others that made me realize how very small, yet big in impact, that which I longed for was.  The day before I left, so yesterday, I had a late lunch/early dinner with one of my closest friends and housemates, Devyn.  This was another example, and perhaps the best ending memory to have left with.  We ate at a wonderful Israeli place where the seats were cushions and the lighting was mood-setting, and the food too was actually quite good. And for sometime between 2 and 3 hours, my favorite thing occurred.  Conversation.  I realized why I would miss spending my time in Nepal for the summer.  It was because of the people I’d met who had reaffirmed to me the meaning of time spent together, whether in silence or in conversation.  I can honestly say I was so grateful to have had my last meal out was relaxing, long, and full of love and openness.  This was something I wasn’t sure I’d be getting as often when home.  My dates may be a different story, but meals with friends are more than often quick, and you barely have time to do more than eat.  Maybe I’ll take these things back with me: meditating, quieting myself, conversation, lingering.

 

Moral of the story for now:  I’m happy I went, I’m happy I’m on my way home, but I’ll always remember that feeling of walking away from my office, driving away from the volunteer house.  For as much as I dreaded some days, the men on the streets, the smell.  I am grateful.

 

Love,

LR

Two Last Days of Work: Learning to Understand and Appreciate Childhood. For those who wish they were allowed to have one, for those I met who have to work, who fear that they’ll be yelled at, who aren’t given time to study, who aren’t given time to play, I will always remember you.

How do you ask a child: how did your mother die?

Or: did you feel scared when your father was drunk at night? did he hit you?

Do you ask them in a classroom surrounded by their friends?  Or on a rooftop, surrounded by Southasian sun and smog?  How do you smile back at them as tears well in their eyes?  How do you stop yourself from telling them, “I love you for who you are,” when you do not know who they are?  How do you let them hug you, then let them go?

The ORC center is much different from any school I have ever seen.  Technically, it is not a school, but it is far from any sort of learning institution I could have ever pictured.  We had to walk through some man’s electrical repair store front to get there, then we had to climb a good number of steep steps in the dark, until we got to a door with a sign reading, “WELCOME.”  Upon opening the door, 22 children, all stood, cramped in a mint green colored room and exclaimed excitedly, “GOOD MORNING MAAM, HOW ARE YOU?” That’s when I realized it was my duty to motion to them to sit down.  I was “ma’am.”  There was no rhyme or reason to how I began the interviews.  I simply remember looking down at the 33-point questionnaire I’d been writing and editing and writing and editing for weeks and turned to the Nepali-born Californian who was helping me with translations and saying, “Would you mind just starting, and don’t be afraid of the more personal questions.  I’ll tell you if I think we should stop.”  And she began.

There were many moments, especially toward the beginning of the interviews, where I felt myself cringing.  Should I really be asking them these questions?  They’re only children.  But they were so incredibly brave and open about sorts of things I don’t think many middle aged people I know can speak about.  The first girl to speak began to answer questions and although I could not understand I saw her casually display a light hitting motion on her arm.  And just as I began to write the word “abused,” the translator turned to em and said “her father hit her sometimes,” and I softly said back, “I know.”  It became harder to understand how she was so happy and beautiful as she continued to speak about the emotional abuse she received from her employer and how she was constantly scared of his yelling.  No matter their conditions in the city, under the roof of their employers, many children preferred the city life to the village life.  Though they may miss the opportunity to play with friends and spend time with family, they enjoy knowing that they are working to support their families back home, but more importantly they were incredibly grateful to be receiving an education.  So grateful that the next three girls answered, “TEACHER!” in response to my asking what they wanted to be when they grew up.  Some of my other favorites were, “Doctor.”  And the reasoning was because they wanted to cure diseases and make people healthy.  Others said business man, police officer, or security guard.

Basic questions about personal care, daily routine, and overall happiness all elicited the same sorts of answers, but this was what made them so hard to bear.  Every child ate twice a day, each time it was the same meal, traditional Nepali dal bhat (lentils and rice).  Many children admitted to wishing they could eat different food, like dumplings, chow mein, candy, and one boy who looked very thin even said meat.  Every child told that they loved getting new clothing, but each expressed disappointment that they only received new clothes once a year during the festival time.  Children bathed anywhere from once to 4 times a week.  Some hygienic needs were met, others were not.  One boy even said that he cannot brush his teeth because he does not have the money for the toothbrush.  All but one child said they had a toilet in their home in the village.  The one boy who had to use the public toilet faced much embarrassment and extreme shame and he had to use the toilet outdoors in a public, crowded place.

Image

Three of the children had deceased parents.  One two occasions, the parents had heart conditions and the family could not financially support the cost of the operations.  On another occasion, the child was too young to know how his mother had died.  The children, even those who were still not happy in the home of their employer, expressed immense amounts of joy as being able to spend time with friends for once.  One girl even said that she is so happy at the ORC because she had never been able to enjoy laughter that much in her life.  Every child said that he or she desired to continue onto higher education, some explicitly stating their desire to one day attend college.

i felt a connection to these children and to their dreams.  I remember the last boy I interviewed staring at the ground as he answered “Pilot!” when I asked what he wanted to be when he grew up.  Just then a plane flew right overhead.  Although he could not understand my English before, I pointed up and yelled “A plane!”  He looked up and smiled, his face became decorated by a wide grin.  He was satisfied.  He would have a future.  As you may have guessed, I believe in signs of all sorts, but this one, this was an undeniable sign.

I was excited for him to become a pilot.  I was excited for him to fly.Image

“All kinds of marvelous things go on. I don’t see how anyone who has looked, and seen, can do ought but say, ‘where I stand, wherever I stand, I am on holy ground.” ― John Wood

Two days ago this was my Facebook status: Today while interviewing a counselor and teacher for child domestic workers for my research publication, the counselor told me that the non-profit organization Room to Read is helping to fund new resources and books for the school. Three years ago I read a book by the founder of that same organization, and that was when I knew I wanted to go to Nepal. Life works in really strange ways, but seems to still come through with letting me know that I am in the right place.

I knew I was in the right place when I walked in to find the woman I was to interview reclining back and having her eyebrows threaded amidst young school girls getting hair cuts.  I later learned that it was a special day at the school.  The girls were receiving basic hygienic facilities, like haircuts, that the superior person of the home for which they worked usually did not allow for them to receive.  Of the four teachers I was assigned to interview about their experiences as teachers and counselors for child domestic workers, she made the most impact on me, so I shall speak mostly about her.

First of all, any women to rock a bob hair style in a traditional society of women who all seem to sport that same long hair is my hero.  And at least for the day, she was my hero.  It’s interesting, interviewing someone who does not speak your language, and although there is a translator, you know you’re not getting nearly half of what she said in her native language.  The teacher would speak for maybe five minutes ebfore I got my four second response from the Nepali volunteer who translated for me.  This time, though, things were different.  For some reason, when the translations came, I felt I had already known what she was saying.  She spoke Nepali clearly, slowly, and passionately, right to me, looking into my eyes.  I knew how she felt.  I knew that in her 10 years as a teacher for children who had to choose between the bad and the worse, girls who hid their scars and emotional baggage from years of sexual assault by their domestic employer just so they would not have to face attention of pity, because they knew that life in the city with an education was better than being back in their rural home, with a step mother who abused them verbally and physically and a father who couldn’t care less about her well-being.  I knew how much she cared and what’s more: I knew how happy she was to see me.  My final question at Shree Rudramati Lower Secondary school was  an open ended question asking the teacher what she thought was a very important point that I should be sure to stress in my report.  She said, “More than we need education, we need counseling.  Counseling plays a vital role; it is more than work.  Every human needs it, in every culture, in every value system, and every society.”  She also said that counseling always has a reciprocal effect on her.  I then asked her if I could see a classroom and perhaps take pictures of the children.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the class being taught by an energetic blind Nepali woman who was dancing and shouting excitedly in the middle of the room while the children sat repeating after her.  I was introduced and the kids all stood and, in one accord, greeted me in English.

It was only right that while I was still on a high from the last group of children, I get caught in a swarm of excited Nepali kids testing on their English and admiring my whiteness at the next school.  One of my favorite moments of the day was when a little girl, about 8 years old I’d guess, pinched me cheek and said, “You are so cute, miss.”  Hey, I’ll take it.  I love getting called cute, and if it’s coming from a young child, so be it.

All in all, I felt so much love in my two days of four interviews and school visitations.  If I walk away with one single memory as I embark on the difficult task of interviewing the children, themselves, it will be a quote from my final interviewee, a 29-year veteran teacher.  Her strength and motivation amazed me.  Even after she told stories of cases where she did not have sufficient funds to help children in abusive situations and thus had to watch them drop out of school, even after she described to me that the only scholarship for girls of the Dalit caste (the lowest caste) is a 400 rupee (approximately 4 USD)/year scholarship, after she told of the abuse she’s seen and the stories she’s heard, she stated “I am proud because most of all, I have made them conscious of their rights as human beings.”

I came full circle in these two days.  I sat in 2 school libraries funded by an organization that prompted me to come to this country.  I sat there thinking:  here I am, all kinds of marvelous things are going on, they’re cutting hair, they’re counseling, learning, speaking, loving.  I must be on holy ground.Image

Conversations over tea, Riding on backs of motorbikes, Trip to Patan with Nepalese coworkers, And the purchasing of my Traditional Nepali Kurta

Tea and conversation usually go hand-in-hand, but in Nepal, they really go hand-in-hand.  I had a meeting with my boss concerning my want to participate more in the field in addition to the office.  Prior to our conversation, she had thought I was unhappy with the work, which I had to explain was not true and that I simply wanted something more.  She seemed shocked at first as she told met that usually with volunteers, she is told that she has given too much work and was surprised to know that I wanted to do more.  Perhaps it was the American way kicking in, but I’d like to think it was just me, trying to fill my plate, maybe a little too much…but still, that’s the way I like to be.  I felt the happiest I’ve felt at work when talking to my boss after this.  We talked quite a bit about life, particularly discussing the fact that, for the most part, Americans move out of the house when we are 18.  Although she has heard this before, it really seemed to blow her mind.  I was glad to have communicated with her.  And for my last two weeks I now know that I will be working on two environmental issue proposals, finishing my victim profile, and working in the field, at the side of teachers of child domestic labor victims.

At the end of my work day, I left with my 3 Nepali friends from work to go to Patan.  My friends are of the Newari caste, so what’s interesting about this is that Patan is filled with traditional Newari architecture, culture, and food.  Nothing, though, beats my journey there.  I had anticipated that Id be riding on back of a motorbike but it didn’t quite click.  I turned to my one friend and said, “Am I getting on this?”  She, of course, looked at me as if I was an idiot, so I knew to just get on.  I desperately asked, “where do I put my feet?” before we started to move, the response was, “the foot petals in front of you.”  Of course, the foot petals, who wouldn’t have known that.  Anyways, with giant poncho on, covering me and my heavy backpack, I felt us take off, and simultaneously, I felt the monsoon begin.  I mentioned this in a carefully-crafter Facebook status, but I really do remember thinking to myself how much greater my chances of death were than when i bungee jumped.  In was fun, but still, pretty horrifying.  Additionally, Nepali roads are of a difference nature than those of Abington, Pennsylvania.  So as I braced myself in the final minutes, we began to turn into a beautiful, traditionally crafter square that I knew immediately was Patan.  Like I said, it was monsooning, so we walking, as much as we could, under rooftops and overhangs, until we arrived at a little tea house I wouldn’t have know existed had it not been for my Nepali friends.  We sat outside on little stools in a square where I believe was a mini temple.  It was quiet there and the rains were blocked a big by the rooftops.  We sat happily drinking our tea on little stools under an overhang, while wringing out our clothing an hair.

The mission, then, was to get me some kurtas, while are traditional Nepali-style tunic-like tops that are worn with leggings and a scarf to match.  I was skeptical as we entered into an incredibly narrow alcove and walked up a few sets of stairs into a little loft fabric shop, where there were piles of beautifully colored, soft as can be, cotton tops.  I sorted through with the shop owner and my friends, who were attempting to get me to wear things of magenta and white colors.  For those who know me, i prevented this from happening, although I did humor them by trying some on.  I remember thinking what a great experience this was and how much my friends must have loved that I was participating in their culture by wearing the traditional dress.  I hope to go back to buy one for my mother, as they were so beautiful.  To me, the two that I bought will be two of my most treasured souvenirs because of the circumstances of my purchasing.  Also, because my friends were there, I receive the best price possible, the “Nepali price.”  I’m sure I could have paid 500-700 rupees more had I been alone.  After that, we wondered a bit more through the now settling rain to grab a quick bit to eat.  We went to this tiny shack-like place for some traditional Newari food.  I honestly couldn’t tell you what on earth i ate, only that when I asked my friends what it was made of after I was happy to hear the little fluffy round cake was made of grains, but tried to ignore the next ingredient that they had uttered: lard.  Anyways, we talked about cooking and making pizza and I told them my pizza recipe, but I just nodded agreeable when they said they put egg in their pizza dough.  Just let it be, Leah, Nepalis love egg in everything.

The day trip closed with a nice, safe motorcycle ride back to my neighborhood.  I hopped off the bike, wiped the massive amounts of rain water off of my face, and walked home, gracious and absolutely blissful that I was experiencing Nepal in this way, with Nepalis, learning, understanding, and even eating their culturally significant lard and grain snacks.

“Go out on a limb, that’s where the fruit is”-Jimmy Carter

On Saturday, June 30th, I found my fruit while dangling over flowing rapids, bookended by two large cliff-sides.  I found my fruit in denial, confidence, in a simple jump.  It sounds silly, but extreme-sporting it for the weekend was one of the most  self-gratifying yet mindful and cleansing things I have ever done.  The drive up to The Last Resort, the location of my jumps, was not as antagonizing as I had presumed it to be.  Anticipation occurs far less intensely for me nowadays, but I was sure that I’d be a jittery wreck the whole way up the mountains.  I do remember arriving and thinking, “Leah, what is your problem?  Why are you doing this?  Are you ok?  You should just buy a box of Godiva for yourself when you get home.  Don’t do this.”  Well, clearly, something kicked in.

There was something about being here.  I know I’ve said it before, but truly, I remember looking out while on the bridge getting ready to do my first jump, the canyon swing, and thinking “For as terrifying as this looks, it is gorgeous.”  I had to remind myself that I was on the border of Nepal and Tibet and right below me was water and to my sides was the most beautiful scenery I had ever wwitnessed.  I went canyon jumping first.  It is the second largest canyon swing in the world at 160 meters.  The way it works is you essentially are harnessed in the lower body area and hold onto a rope as you just feet first for a 7 second long free-fall.  For those who think this is a short amount of time, it’s really not.  I remember being fairly frightened for this one, thinking to myself, “Dear God, I’m throwing my life away.”  But at the moment of jumping, I immediately knew it was quite the opposite feeling.  The drop really did feel long.  The beginning brought on more of an excited feeling but there was a second wave where I thought to myself, “Great Scott, I’m still falling!”  Then I felt my body twist and I began to swing with great distance back and forth in a canyon, hovered about rushing waters.  And the rest is history.

The canyon swing was done out of desire, but also out of fear of the bungee jump.  Well, after the swing all I could think about was going again.  This time, the bungee.  The price was right, I was still on a self-gratifying high, and there were some pretty cool Nepalis going in my group, I contemplated, and seriously in a blink of an eye, as they say, I found myself in the office, paying and thereafter, found myself back on the bridge, feeling much more at ease.

Although a bungee jump happens in an instant, it is an invincible instant.  I remember watching a guy jump before me and fumble a bit, jumping feet first rather than head first.  This doesn’t cause issues its just not the right way, and frankly, doesn’t look as cool on video.  My motivation may have come in the form of wanting to look cool on video, but I was okay with that.  I had my friends voice in my head, saying “Be like Pocahontas,” over and over.  At least girls out there, you know what scene I mean, she was one fierce nature lover.  So, I spread my arms and tried to be at peace.  I got situated, waved to the camera, yelled, “I’m gonna jump,” and took off.

I believe that taking risk is relative.  My risk may be very different than someone else’s.  Perhaps more extreme, or more mild.  Telling people deep, personal things about myself sometimes seems more extreme to me than my bungee jump in a lot of ways.  Relative to myself, though, this trip takes the risk cake.  I think jumping off a bridge, though frightening,  was a sort of physical representation of an entire journey, of a metaphorical leap of faith which I feel I had already taken.  There is much to learn in traveling.  Travel is like some sort of holy mystery-you know there is something working within you, but you cannot yet envision the day when the culmination of all your experience, excitements, joys, and fears hits you flat in the face and makes you realize that travel is the holy limb you once climbed out on, bungee jumping is that holy limb, and only one day will you be graced with a fruit.  You will taste it and be glad that you did not simply stay inching slowly up the tree’s trunk.

Please Read: This is where I ask my readers and followers to get involved!

Namaste friends and family!

I have been living in Kathmandu for a little over 2 weeks now, and I have been enjoying every moment of my stay.  In is, indeed, a different world here.  Everything from formalities in speaking and body language to the streets, the towns, and the architecture are all so different from everything to which I am accustomed.  I have been assigned a new project through the Nepali organization through which I am volunteering at a non-profit to help with some promotion work for an outstanding, innovation, and socially responsible non-profit that operates in my very own home here in Nepal.  Didi’s Foundation addresses the issue of women’s empowerment while also including skill training and embodying the essence of a community of women.  Many of the women who now work, sewing and knitting sellable goods with Didi’s Foundation, originate from rural Nepal, which tends to be much poorer than the city sector.  Some women are widowed, some have husbands who work internationally or live apart from home working as trekking or hiking guides, and many are mothers.  All of the women, even those who are married and whose husbands are financially stable, are at Didi’s so that they may learn to be self-sustaining individuals with minds for business and craftsmanship.  The women desire to learn a skill while also learning the value of not having to rely on a spouse or other family member.  In case you haven’t met me, I am an empowered woman and women’s empowerment is an initiative that I hold dear to me heart.    Too often are women told that they must be reliant instead of reliable, weak instead of strong, less educated instead of more educated.  This happens in our own American society as well.  It’s just here you can really feel it more.

I have not exchanged much more than smiles with the women who work in the Didi’s studio on the bottom floor of my home here, but I have been touched by what little I do know.  So, here’s the important part.  Help keep this organization going and help keep it going in such a way that the women feel great pride in all they do.  Didi’s website accepts donations to the organization; it also lists photographs of many of the designs and products that the women of Didi’s Foundation make.  I ask you to please consider either donating to or purchasing from Didi’s.  Although the prices are not listed on the website, I will be able to price out any requests you may have through the organization.  Individuals may e-mail me at lmrosenzweig@loyola.edu to inquire about a specific item(s) that they may want to purchase.  Please include your name, which items you would like, and color choices.  I will be sure to e-mail back with a price quote concerning the purchase.  Additionally, I will have a link on my fundraising site, and from there individuals may hit that donate button and transfer money for whichever products he or she wishes to purchase, after I have cleared the amounts via e-mail.  For any questions please contact me and I will work as a link between Didi’s Foundation and you, the customer and supporter.  These women are proud of what they produce, but more importantly they are proud of what their material production represents—sustainability, independence, empowerment.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: http://www.didis.org/