Kenya/Uganda in brief

There was a gap. The gap was filled by early morning, busy days, cultural exchanges, work, children, amazing programs, absorbing commonalities and differences of two new countries, digesting being in the heat after many days of cold, smiles and laughter, traffic, exhaustion, stuffed bellies and hungry bellies, very long car rides, water consumption, reading, and late nights. It feels so great to hear from folks who ask where the blog is. It’s hard to write post a long trip, but I’ll do my best. Like my last post, I’ll have to omit some things because I would like to keep this about my experience outside of work.

The trip was the longest we’ve ever taken as an organization, 16 days including travel. We stayed in a total of 5 cities and visited countless programs. Every time I travel for work I reaffirm that it’s so important to see programs in person, if not just to hug the people leading them, and meet the kids whose lives we change. It is so powerful to be a part of such positive transformation. There’s more to say on that, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

In Nairobi we went to an elephant orphanage. The elephants there are orphans due to elephant poaching and parents who have died natural deaths. I learned that elephants grow 6 sets of teeth, which last approximately 10 years each. After the 6th set falls out they slowly die of starvation. Some of the elephants were no taller than my waist. Because elephants are so familial it can take up to 10 years to reintegrate the orphans into a herd. The elephants came out in groups (by age), tempted by huge bottles of milk that they took from the workers, wrapped their trunks around the bottles, and chugged. After, they dipped their trunks in the water troth, sprayed mud and dirt on their backs, rolled in dirt and mud, or took a dip in a huge puddle provided for them. Some people even got sprayed, walking out with a splatter of mud all over them.

A funny story. I posted some pictures of the Elephants on Facebook and mentioned where I was. In a few minutes I got a message from a friend of a friend of mine asking when I was in the sanctuary because she was there that morning. I’m surprised we didn’t see each other there because there were no more than 100 people there that morning. Small world.

After we went to an giraffe sanctuary. You can kiss them! Some people put pellets in their mouth and the giraffe will lick your face to get it off. Ew! I saw it and was quite grossed out. The giraffes were friendly if you had food, otherwise they would move on. We sipped chai with our friend and driver, and bought some souvenirs from a few places, and stopping at many shops where we didn’t buy anything. One such shop was quite interesting. Two women found that there was a problem with discarded flip flops appearing in the ocean. They decided to do something with these colorful pieces of trash and made a business out of it. After a long cleaning and categorization process, the flip flops get turned into sculptures, jewelry, art, and household items such as pencil organizers. It was quite impressive. After making a huge purchase at a local shop we decided that it was probably time to head home.

Besides getting to spend time with the kids and women in our programs we get to spend time with the people who implement the program, the folks that and my coworker Skype with on a regular basis. Being person, seeing someone in the flesh, getting an uninterrupted conversation with them, seeing them without a screen that delays words and sounds, makes so much of a difference. I wish I could meet everyone who runs our programs. It’s amazing.

Nairobi has a dry heat, even when it rains, it doesn’t feel humid. We went to a few smaller villages, one was on an island, exploring the countryside in the process. Many days were spent in a car, getting to one remote location after another. The traditional huts are made out of dung, but many buildings are made out of brick. It’s obvious if a man has more than one wife because there are different houses on the property to indicate. The first wife will have the house in the middle, the entrance faces outwards. The following wives have houses to the right then left, their entrances also facing outwards. The sons houses face each other, and are closer to the main road. They come before the main house, and the wives houses because they are there to protect their families.

To get to one location we ended up driving after dark. It was pitch black out, the road was a dirt road with rocks. Kenyans do not drive slow. I can imagine driving on such a road in the US with an American driver and we would probably do 15mph. We were doing between 60-80kph. It’s just the way driving is done. The other car, with some of our partners in it, got a flat tire and we had to stop and change it.

The incident that it the main culprit for the lack of blogging happened because of a boat ride. For one program we went to an island on a small passenger boat. We were in the middle of Lake Victoria (which seems far from a lake because it is so huge) for a few hours in total. We took the passenger boat to one part of the island, and transferred boats to a smaller fishing boat (still not too small) to take us to the other side of the island where we would visit a school. It took a little longer than intended to get there so we had to rush through our program at the school so that we could make it in time to catch the ferry back. Our partner was in contact with the ferry and about 10 minutes before we reached the boarding point, we saw the ferry slightly in the distance, leaving us on our fishing boat. Without batting an eyelid, our driver said it was fine and he would refuel and take us the whole way. Besides wanting to be on the ferry, it was important that we get back early because later in the afternoon the water gets choppier and the ride back could be less than pleasant.

The ride was lovely. It was nice to be in a smaller boat that contained just our team. The landscape was beautiful. And who doesn’t like to be in the boat in the middle of a beautiful lake? So we traveled in our smaller boat and rode out the waves with the skill of our driver, slowing down and speeding up to bend with the wind. We all marveled at his skill, noting that this was skill built over time, growing up with the lake as your friend and companion. The hiccup came while attempting to dock, we only attempted because we never really made it to docking. The water was quite rough at this point in the inlet and as the waves pushed us in, the boat got a little shaky and as we approached the sand, I jumped out as the boat rocked away from the shore. Some escaped with a splash, and some got soaked, and some of our computers also got wet. Our driver also lost his rudder, which he ended up finding after doing some diving.

The next day we drove to our next location which was also a smaller village. The hotel consisted of small cottages for one or two people. It was rustic. You could hear crickets and see the stars. It was lovely. The next day we drove across the border, which makes me feel a little badass. The process was pretty seamless; our passports got stamped, the car paperwork got process, we exchanged money and were on our way. The Ugandan landscape wasn’t much different at first; both countries have landscape that changes quickly, from red mud, brown mud, and luscious green grass and fields. At some point in Uganda there was a forrest where baboons lined the road throughout.

One of our partners speaks 8 local languages. These aren’t dialects, but rather, languages. I can’t remember how many languages they said there are in Uganda, but there are definitely over 20. Like everywhere, I loved seeing the kids, seeing our partners in action, and getting to be there in person. We had one day where we were able to see some touristy things so we went to the Gaddafi Mosque and the Lubiri Palace. The Gaddafi Mosque is name that because Gaddafi donated a lot of money to build it. Usually women aren’t allowed into the main part of the mosque where men pray, but here we were, but not before a transformation where we put on a skirt and hijab. The woman who dressed us, Amina, was super friendly, as was Mohammad, our tour guide. We not only got a great tour of the mosque, which has stained glass from Italy, metal from Germany, wood from Uganda, and Arabic art, but also a short history of Kampala.

That afternoon we went to the Lubriri palace that is no longer lived in by the King of the Buganda Kingdom because there was so much bloodshed there. We learned of the various kings and how they each exiled each other and the one king who tortured his opponents. You cannot enter the palace, but the tour takes you around the grounds. There were some dark clouds in the distance as we walked through the living quarters of the king’s servants and guards down to the old dungeon and torture chamber. The closer we got, the closer the clouds got. We walked down to the dungeon and learned how there was a gate that contained electrocuted water and each cell would have over 100 prisoners who died together due to starvation (more or less). The last cell had markings of hands and feet scrapings along the wall. I tried to think of how awful that was and how could humans do this each other so recently, but then i thought that we still do this to each other, all over the world, we’re all guilty.

I know this is a less than complete picture of the trip. There are fun things, things that I felt comforting like driving on the left side of the road, the food was amazing too. We had fish several times, fresh water tilapia, cooked in different styles, each time amazing. They have chapati that are more like West Indian Roti. You can see the influence of India all over. In the 70s the Indians were kicked out of Uganda by one of the kings, but their influence stayed through food. Some words like duniya and kitab are similar in Hindi and Swahili so I felt like I got some things, sometimes.

There’s more, but that’s all I have for now. I hope you enjoyed! 

Nairobi – Kenya part 1

Nairobi is a vibrant city. It’s been a crazy two days since arriving. Yesterday we were caught up with everything work, today with everything play. There is something very special about the work we do here. I’m very happy to be a part of it.
There are certain parts that remind me of Brazil, certain parts of India. They have chapati here but it’s not used in the way we use them in India, It’s more of a bread. They also cut it up into four pieces and leave it on a plate. Last night we had some amazing tilapia at dinner with work. Tonight we were invited to our friend’s house and ate with him and his wife. It was so lovely. There is something very special about going to someone’s home and sharing a home cooked meal with them. It brings people together, it fortifies friendships and ties. We even played some rummy with his new deck of cards.
Today we went to the elephant and giraffe sanctuary. I have issues with zoos but this is much different. They rescue baby elephants, nurse them, and then slowly reintegrate them back into a herd as they get older. It can take up to 10 years to integrate them back into the wild.

I’m trying to pick up some Swahili but it’s slow to come. Hakara hakara haina baraka, pole pole ndio mwendo. Speed, speed no blossom, slow slow is the way to go.

There’s not much to write, but I’m sure within the next week and a half that I’m here, there will be plenty to say.

Mostly about the kids

What to when you have such a whirlwind trip, but to start at the end, and then jump around from event to event until you cover everything, or at least, almost everything.

We left this afternoon in a van. I’m never allowed to just go to the airport on my own. Everyone comes to drop me. The group of us: Manoj, Arjun, Ratan, Sagar, Ritesh and I hopped into a Taravan from Ritesh and Sagar’s house. It’s what we do. The trip couldn’t start without visiting my misil pav guy to pick up ladoos for home. His ladoos are so yummy. We also stopped for some chas. When I went there last time I took a bunch of pictures. He knows that I love the food. I was treated like another regular. We drank our chas and I packed up some ladoos and got his card. I would love to send him the picture of us when I get back home. He charged me market price. He didn’t have to. If you’re lucky (and live in New York) I might even share one with you.

We were off and barely hit any traffic until we got to Mumbai. We stopped to get a snack on the road. I got bhel of course and some sabudana kitedi. Oh food how I will miss you. We were about 10 minutes away from the airport when the police pulled over our van. My flight had been delayed but I wasn’t ready to risk the traffic and tempt fate by passing away time getting stopped by a police officer. Boy, was I wrong! The driver was told to get out. It must have been a funny site for the officers to see a foreign girl with 5 Indian guys in a van. We got out one by one but the officers seemed calm and said just one minute when we told them about my flight. Apparently, our calm and collected driver was drunk. Ratan and Manoj both confirmed his breath wreaked of alcohol. We had no idea. He drove really well and all we can think of is how lucky we were that nothing happened. What did the police do? They got into the drivers seat, and drove us himself to the airport. It was nuts. Thank you Mr. John Sakde of the Mumbai police!

On the way to the airport, Indro called Ratan and I got to see him as I waited until the last moments to check in. We sat in the canteen area eating the last of my skittles and talking about how crazy and lovely the trip was.

I think I want to break this up into sections for the rest of the writing. If you’ve read this before, you’ll probably know that I would like to start with the kids. My friends, I’ve sung their praises so many times. They know, or maybe they don’t, how much they mean to me on so many levels. Don’t blush guys!

A week before coming, I sent a video message on whatsap to the kids. Ritesh delivered and they sent a message back. They’re huge, they’ve grown so much, but I didn’t realize how shocking it would be until I met them in person. The day I reached Pune I met them. I love them so much. They’re the same. Ishwar is much more of a leader. He’s quiet, pensive, and smiles as much as he used to. Ganesh is still crazy, a comedian, but much more toned down. He’s grown up. He’s polite with sorrys and thank yous and has also become more of a leader. Prakash is the one who I would say changed the most. He has a small mustache and seems much more grown up then the others. Chapel is a young man! He doesn’t wear his hat anymore, but rather has a nice clean cut. He has acne (which one of the other boys asked me why he had), and is a little more outgoing (just a little). The other little ones who were always around but not one of the four are also more grown up. All except Ajay and Aftab who look almost exactly the same, and behave the same too. They’re younger. Anyway, on the first day Ishwar wanted to know when we would be coming back. I said I don’t know and that we would come on Sunday and figure it out from there. He suggested that we should come every day. We did. It was great. I was speaking with Manoj and we were discussing how this time we felt much more a part of the community. The moms and older sisters were always friendly, but the ones who we know were much more inviting. We faced some obstacles from one of the drunk guys in the community who tried to intervene when I was passing out some postcards. He wanted one, I had a limited amount for just the kids. He spoke very good English. He wanted to know what we were doing and saying that he would take one. I explained that it was for the kids and not for him. After he yelled a little, Ishwar was ready to hand over his, but I didn’t let him. They shouldn’t submit to bullying. Eventually he was ushered away by some of the young men who we’ve made friends with, but not without a dirty look. That was the only trouble though. Ishwar and Ganesh’s mom were the same as were Ganesh’s sisters. A girl joined us on the last day. Yelama has always been around, she comes out every time we’re around, but has never come to the garden where we play; no girl has. The last day she did. She’s a gem.

We either just hung out by their houses or went to the park each day. It didn’t matter, we would shift from conversations within and between age levels. They’re a great group of friends; they take care of each other. One day we just sat in the park and talked, did some capoeira (they still remember), and played around. The next day we came earlier in the day and sat in the sand pit. Some boys had outlined a wrestling circle and were wrestling. Our kids sat down and started drawing in the sand. Soon, all the kids were drawing in the sand. It was so great to watch such a transformation.

It was Ganesh’s birthday and we sat in Ishwar’s house and clicked pictures, sat with all the kids, and talked. Ishwar and Ganesh wanted to make us chai. We didn’t allow them. We brought Ganesh a cake and cut it with him. It’s the tradition to feed a piece to the birthday person and wipe some icing on their face. By the end, we all had a little icing on our faces. Everyone got some cake.

Today I had to say goodbye again. It’s never easy and now even thinking of it there are tears welting in my eyes. We went to the park to draw. A friend of a friend of mine gave me some really good designs as a part of a project. People around the world color them in. A group of us sat in the park, way past its closing time (it closes as 10:00am till 4:00pm). The watchwomen let us stay. We walked back, Yelama on one side, Ishwar on my other. We hung out in the community a bit longer, taking out the sketch pens and papers, a lot of them were distributed to the extended family of kids. It was time to go and Ishwar also had to go to school. He has a cycle now. We said our goodbyes to the families and the smaller kids and walked with the main ones up to the road. Ishwar had tears in his eyes, which brought tears to my eyes. They are really special, near and dear to me. There aren’t words for it. Ishwar is in 10th standard now. Next year, college! Ganesh and Prakash will graduate in the next two years. I hope to see them before that.

If you made it to here I have an update:

I was under strict instructions to call Ishwar today at 9:30pm his time. I called early just in case and someone else picked up. When I asked for Ishwar the man said it was too early and I would have to call back at 9:30. He uses other people’s phones in his community. I called back and he picked up right away. We talked for almost 10 minutes giving each other updates on what has happened in the past couple of days.

More to come about the rest of the trip soon!

Back in Pune with Love

If there was ever a warm welcome, I think this might top the best. Each and every person who I’ve met since being back in this city, for less than 24 hours, has made me feel like the most amazing person who ever lived. It started with a pick up by Sachin, Sagar, and Ritesh from the train station. Our first stop of the day was the South Indian restaurant we always went to. I was expecting some smart remark from the owner. He pulled up right behind Sagar and I as we got off the bike to park. He didn’t seem to recognize me as he pulled up. He got off his bike and said, “you didn’t have anything better to do than come back here” in his sarcastic way. It was perfect. He’s quite a character. The waitress knew exactly what I would order and even gave me extra gun-powder chutney. Manoj was wondering why he didn’t get any. She just knew that’s what I order.

We’re about a quarter way into our order when Dakshayani walks in with Mandar. They eat there almost every morning. It was such a lovely breakfast. Manoj and I went back to his parents’ house, hung out, and I went off to my old office to meet old coworkers for lunch. Each made a special something. Yogita even made sabudana khichdi, which she remembered I loved. Bhakti and I went for a lovely walk afterwards and caught up. I had promised to visit the old school where I set up the after school arts program.

Besides meeting Shalini and the other folks who work at the school, I was really looking forward to meeting some of the kids who were in the program; in particular Harsh and Rutuja, a brother and sister who I connected with on a deeper level, through literature and philosophy talk. We used to talk about differences in culture and what books we’re reading. They’ve both read The Giver, 7 Splendid Suns, the Golden Compass and more. We talked about differences in the US. Harsh is super interested in American music. He asked if Black people are discriminated against in the US, if there is bad treatment of women; he would be a great human rights advocate I think. His dream is to live in the US. Rutuja spoke with me about book after book. It was so lovely. They both greeted me with a full hug and said how they missed me. Rutuja said “ohhhh Oriana didi!” We sat for a long time. It was my plan to leave to go visit the other kids earlier, but I had to stay and chat with them. I’ll go back again on Saturday.

Ishwar! How amazing it was to see him and the kids. Manoj, Sagar, Sachin and I walked across the bridge, and we saw them from underneath. The little ones, who are now not so little came running. Ishwar walked at his own pace. We greeted with handshakes. We walked into their community, met their moms, some of the older sisters and brothers. We got such huge smiles. It took a few minutes, but then Ishwar was all open to talking. He looks at our pictures all the time, I told him how I miss them all so much. I brought them some postcards of New York and some sour candies. Everyone had some. There was a drunk guy who spoke English, who was determined to spoil a bit of the fun. He asked what we were giving out, referring to the post cards and said that he would take one. There was only one left and we were saving it for Chapel. He kept leaning over and saying that he wanted one. One of the much older boys took him away, but not before Ishwar offered his postcard as a peace offering. I didn’t let him give it, and am very happy that the older boy stepped in. I apologized and Ishwar said that he’s always like that, he always gives bad words to kids. They’re lucky to have each other.

Ganesh’s mom and Ishwar’s mom were all smiles. I love those kids so much. We talked about all the different places in the post cards, talked about how it’s been such a long time since we’ve seen each other. We’ll meet again on Sunday and walk. When we asked where to meet Ishwar said we meet at his house so that we walk and talk as we go to the park. Sometimes you meet some special people in your life and it hurts to think how amazing a bond can be between a group of people, and I’ve been surrounded by so many of those bonds all day.

Next was capoeira, where I got to meet all the people who appear on the whatsap group I’m a part of. I put faces to names, taught a class, hopefully got some other people even more psyched about capoeira. We went out for food after too, to our old juice spot, which isn’t as good anymore because of water cuts from the city, so they use plastic everything because they don’t have enough water to wash all of their dishes. It was so great to meet everyone, spend a little more time with them, and start to see where things are with the group. There are more now then there was when I left. The place where class is is an artsy studio with several rooms, and a very supportive management.

It’s late; I need to sleep. Tomorrow is a long day again. All days here are going to be long. It’s so worth it though!


I’m back, yes, again. Although I’m in Ahmedabad and I’m working, it’s like I never left. Getting into the car I didn’t blink twice when we were driving on the left side of the road, at the horns, at the crazy driving, the smells, the sounds, or the language. It was really as if I was here just the other day. I was shocked.

I’m here for work to look at our partner organization, do some trainings. I’ll take a few days afterwards to go to Pune and visit my friends, play capoeira, and relish in a life I used to live here. I love it.
I’m fortunate to have friends who miss me enough, and who have a flexible schedule, to visit me while I’m here in Ahmedabad. Manoj and Arjun have been with me during my off time. I’m sitting in my hotel room, typing this while Arjun plays old Hindi songs and Manoj reads his book.
The benefits of my job are beyond the day to day work I get to do. Visiting the programs today was like a dream. The children have embodied the work we try to do, the partner organization is so amazing in all of the work they do. They focus on peace and reconciliation between the Muslim and Hindu communities in Gujarat. The two leaders are some of the most amazing people I’ve met.
This year I’ve decided to do a 6 word poem every day. When I asked them what their 6 word poem would be for their lives, they said. “Lovable fool who didn’t make it,” (meaning not the way other people wanted him to “make it”) and ” I am thinking about the children.” What amazing, strong, and beautiful people I have in my life.
My blog posts are not really for work purposes so I’d love to focus on India again. Last night for dinner I jumped right into the heart of chaat and ate pani puri. Gujarat is known for dhokla and I had some of that too. Tonight, more pani puri. We went to a stall with 6 different “flavors” including jeera, mint, tomato, garlic, plain, and lemon. It was amazing! I’ve never had anything like it.
Gujarat does make me sad. There are still riots that echo the 2002 riots. Gujarat is supposed to be the model state. It’s the Prime Minister’s idea for a model state for India. Based on some of the communities which I walked through today, I’d say that this is a low standard for model. One of the communities gets all of the runoff from the garbage dump (which is as big as a small mountain…yes, literally). This invades their streets and pools in the roads during the rainy season. Communities have had to protect themselves against strong construction corporations so that they don’t get run out of their homes. The government also set up a community next to a power grid station, underneath high voltage power lines.
There is great work going on. I met one of the community leaders and although he’s a chaiwala by day, he’s also one of the men who lead the community and represents them. The more I learn about what’s going on here, the more I feel that the injustices in the world are the things that bind us. We’re busy protecting ourselves in the US from some of the same issues: housing, job security, education, free speech, and making a better life for yourself and your community.

New York International

I had such an interesting day that I can’t help but share it. I’m also inspired because many of my friends, in India mostly, said that I haven’t posted in forever. So here’s a post. I had quite an international day. My friend, an old summer roommate who is Taiwanese via Canada, and I went to get Trinidadian food in my neighborhood. I love this place and will take most people there. I sat and worked on my book (yes, slowly but surely it will happen) and then on my way home, got stuck in my lobby. My downstairs neighbor was having a food sale in the lobby. There was music, the neighbors, and food. I couldn’t not get a plate.I’m not sure where in the West Indies she’s from. The food smelled so good. I had been smelling it all morning as I was going in and out of the building. We got to talking, because I’ll use anything as an excuse to meet new people. I met a few of the people from the building, got my food, and went upstairs and got ready for an event I had to go to. On my way down, the same women noticed that I looked all dressed up, we spoke for a minute and I told them it was dangerous that I knew she lived there and could make that food. We joked around a bit, and I felt so good. I love the feeling of being a part of a community. Although I know one man who lives downstairs, who I run into often as he walks his dog, I don’t know too many other people. This made me so happy.

On my way home, on the train (which took about 20 minutes to arrive) I heard a man speaking to his two daughters in Hindi. I was eaves dropping, because I love listening and seeing which parts of a conversation I can understand, and then had to say something. I spoke with the father for a bit and then his daughters, looking a little skeptical, started talking to him again. He told them I could speak to them too and then a whole new world opened for them. They kept saying they were going to come to my house. They babbled on about little things. His family is split between Delhi and Lahore. I thought it was an interesting combination. He said he was speaking to them in Urdu, which confused me because I didn’t realize how similar it was, nor that I would understand so much. It was a lovely train ride. The girls were so sweet.

The party was still going on when I got home. Jennifer, so I learned her name is, brought me in to meet her family in her apartment. Her son I had met at the mural party earlier in the evening. There is a beautiful mural outside of the Prospect Park stop of the train. I had the pleasure of meeting the artist, Kwami, at a cafe that I like to go to in the neighborhood, over the summer. I spoke about the the food party in my lobby, and Jennifer’s son was there. Small world. Kwami made him get him some food. It was lovely. As Jennifer was introducing me to her family, her son waved at me like an old friend. I can’t say enough how I love this sense of community. Jennifer and I are going to exchange recipes. I’m going to make her some dal palak. Her sister and daughter and I spoke briefly about eating with your hands. I told them how I’m used to it. That made them happy. It made me happy too.

Jordan (written last week but posted now)

I was privileged enough to meet some amazing individuals in Jordan. Without going into too much detail, I have met some amazing people who are dedicated to young people, to reading, to seeing them grow, and build a better future than they were afforded. It’s funny that despite language, culture, religion, age, color, or any other factor that can be used to divide a people, has been completely surpassed, and, embraced by us in order to ensure that young people can learn.
Two days ago we went to the Za’atari Refugee Camp for Syrian refugees. Most of the time I think that I’m not penetrable. I’ve been many places, seen a lot of extreme things (obviously not anything too extreme) but I feel like I’ve been exposed to a lot. The camp was different, completely different. We met with some folks who have been trained in a program and now are leaders in their society. We met people who were professionals, students, folks who had comprehensive lives before they were in the camp. Now they dedicate their time to young people. They are the ones who will lead Syria in the future, so they must be educated. They told us their stories, what their hopes are for themselves and their children, what they would like to return to when they can. The camp has expanded to almost 300,000 when it was made for 20,000 (the figures are approximate) and there are more people coming in every day. There are a lot of organizations, IRC, UNICEF, IRD, and Save the Children, to name a few, that are providing services inside the camp. People are there to support them.
Sometimes, even as someone who likes to write to express their feelings or emotions, I don’t have words. We met a man who was a radiologist who started his own NGO within the camp to support the Syrian youth. We met a woman who didn’t believe you needed school to be educated and who does fascinating work with the children in her community. We met a group of children who were silent as a storyteller read them a book. These individuals have given themselves and their youth purpose and tools to help them build their future, even in a place where either of those things are not so apparent on a day to day basis. I don’t think I can do it justice in my description. On the way back from the camp I cried in the van. I was overwhelmed with emotions and the only way it came out was with tears and I’m still not sure why. I haven’t been shocked, or overwhelmed like that in a very long time.
To decompress I usually have capoeira, and luckily there is a capoeira group in Jordan. It’s a young group, but they are all passionate about capoeira. It was a new experience again, the style of game is slightly different, and the style of teaching was much different than I’m used to. It was truly a day of new experiences. There was one guy in the group who was American and had come to Jordan for rock climbing. He intended to stay for 2 months, and 7 months and a job with the WHO he’s thinking about leaving. The rest of the guys in the group are young Jordanians. They were lovely.
After the class, when one of them asked me how I liked Jordan, I said that I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did, that I had been to Israel before and… but he interrupted me very abruptly to say, “Palestine.” I responded that I didn’t make it to that side of the border, and he said Palestine again, saying that it is all their land and was stolen from them. Not wanting to get into a political debate with a new friend, who obviously had very strong opinions, I said yes and said that the British gave it to them and that there was much to discuss about that but for another time and place. He let it go, thankfully. I wonder what would have happened had we continued the conversation. I’m sure we would agree on many issues, but just by that glimpse of a reaction, I’m sure it would be very emotionally driven and we would come with two very different and at some points similar perspectives. I’m not willing to go into it most of the times because I feel like those conversations fragment more than build understanding. I wish that wasn’t the case. The rest of dinner was lovely. We discussed capoeira, watched videos, and talked about the next time we would meet, inshallah.
Yesterday consisted of an all day training with some amazing women. Sometimes things just click; sometimes you just meet the right people. We all said that this trip is the beginning of a new and beautiful relationship that will result in some great work in the future, inshallah. We forged such a strong bond with our new friends that when we went out to dinner we spoke about the next time we meet and the things that we hope to accomplish by then, and the wonderful journeys we will take together. There are many plans in the works. I love it when this happens! We could have sat and talked for hours on end. We are now friends.
There were other work commitments but we also get to enjoy a bit of Jordan and are on our way to Petra. It’s great that we are able to experience not only the culture and people on a professional and personal level but we also get to see one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. A wonder it will be! Pictures will come later.

Jordan Day 1

I must say that I didn’t know what to expect. I looked for some pictures, I did a little reading about the city and Petra, but I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. The city is beautiful, the people are extremely nice, and the food is kick ass. With jet lag kicking in fast, we were definitely not fast to wake up in the morning. We were meeting with the folks in our partner organization in the afternoon, which gave us an opportunity to sleep in (even if we didn’t intend to), have a lovely breakfast at the hotel, and then meet up with Brandon for a coffee.
We walked around Rainbow Street, which has a nice night seen, but also a few good coffee shops. It’s on of the nicer streets in the area, and many of the coffee shops are quite posh. We sat in a lovely one and discussed the state of the world, and each of our works. We met another friend of his who has been living here for several months who is learning Arabic and teaching musicians how to make a little bit of a career out of their music here. We had the most amazing mint lemonade and then departed to meet the folks at the partner organization.
They are very well situated in society. It was very nice to get the inside scoop on being in Jordan and Jordanian culture, from very open minded Americans who have been living (and loving it) in Jordan for quite some time.
Here are some fun facts I learned today. The king is loved. He actually put a mosque and a church next to each other. The government seems to think that everyone should get along. There’s one mosque, which is a sarcazian mosque. Even though the sarcazians have been living here for many generations, they’re not Jordanian. You can’t be Jordanian unless your father is. Your family can have lived here for 7 generations but not be Jordanian. Each neighborhood has a distinct community, they function as separate units. The head of each community basically dictates how things will work. If he says no to something, then it definitely won’t happen. There are 7 originals jabil (hills) of Amman, but it has grown. Jordan is the 4th driest country in the world. The conflict makes their water supply even less. The country as a whole actually has no natural access to water. Rumor has it that they’re pumping water from underneath Wadi Ram.
Arabic here is beautiful. I love the meanings. There are responses to everything. When you say good morning, a person responds with, a morning of light. When you say cheers, the answer is on your heart or two healths. We keep eating amazing food, hummus, falafel, taziki, Turkish coffee, and tried kunafe, a typical Jordanian sweet that has cheese with a soft crust on top sprinkled with pistachios. It was amazing!
That was a mini regurgitation of the many things I learned 3 (2)

photo 4

photo 2 (2)

photo 1 (2)

First Impressions of Jordan

First impressions of Jordan…
On the flight we ended up next to Lucas who works with Musicians Without Borders. He was an awesome travel companion and we managed to talk about a lot for about half the flight. The second half we all passed out. Jen had a rougher transfer directly from New York to Paris to Jordan. We woke up for the landing, which might be one of the most interesting landings. There were patches of darkness. We think that part of it was part desert, part Palestine with no power. We’re not sure, but it was definitely interesting to see lines of lights (border or highway) and then nothing on one side with lights of a city on the other.
When we got off the plane we met Lucas’ coworker Brendan. Lucas plays the double bass, Brendan the cello. It was nice to have some travel companions for a while, also to meet people who work in a similar field. They’re working with refugees and people in conflict.
At the customs desk they scan your eyes! After they put a pretty visa and stamp in my passport they sent me to another desk to scan my eyes! It was crazy. The man was nice but asked Jen a few more questions and then asked our new friends even more questions. I think we got away more easily because we’re women. We got our bags and were met by Mousa, our driver. We could tell right away that he was going to be quite a character. He spoke in a mix of Arabic and English with us. We decided he would be our moalim, teacher, as well as our driver. He made jokes throughout the ride while helping us work out our schedule.
Jordan was interesting. Like in Paris, there’s an IKEA a few miles right outside the airport. There strips of darkness and then trees. It reminded me of India for a brief moment. We passed by on a strip of highway where there were people who had camped along the side of the road with hookahs and / or food. There were a few tents that you could see had electricity and stuff going on inside, but we drove fast enough that I couldn’t see much.
When we got to Amman West area, Mousa pointed out that it was the very rich area. The houses were huge! There were also a bunch of embassies. The Syrian embassy looked poor and had a barbed wire on the top of the exterior walls. The Saudi Arabian embassy was on the other side of the street. It looked like a palace. Mousa pointed out a Starbucks and both Jen and I couldn’t believe that Starbucks was everywhere. It made me think of Turkish coffee, and after mentioning that to Mousa he stopped on the side of the road at a small shop and got us both some coffee. It was very, very strong, but very tasty.
In the area of the hotel, Mousa pointed out where we could eat and get some juice and then dropped us off. After getting settled, we went out to eat some amazing falafel. Jen, rightly so, didn’t let me take any pictures, but I really want to. The location was outside. We didn’t get any funny looks; Mousa let us know the neighborhood is very, very safe and we could walk out at midnight alone and nothing would happen. We’re not planning on doing that, but it’s nice to know that it’s safe enough that we could. We ate, while scoping out how other people were going about without any utensils. It was really the best falafel I’ve ever had. On our way back we got some tamarind juice but we’re having a hard time drinking it because it’s so sweet. The tea at dinner was also extremely sweet.
Now, we’re back at the hotel and getting ready for our first day and meeting some amazing women from our partner organization.

A stop in Paris…

I’m up and at it again, back for two in a row! In contrast to my last trip to Haiti, now I’m headed to Jordan with a brief stop over in Paris. Enough time to grab breakfast with an old friend (a croissant perhaps) and then back to the airport to continue my journey. To start off the trip, I hopped on the A train to get to JFK. Conveniently the train did not indicate if it was headed to Lefferts or Far Rockaway (at some point the line splits into two). I hopped on anyway and at some point noticed that there were others who needed to go to the airport as well. Sometimes you can just tell if someone is from the area or not. These folks were definitely not. When I realized that the train wasn’t going to the airport, I walked over to a man sitting alone, who was also sitting across from two older folks (all looking like foreigners) and told him that the train wasn’t going to the airport. After he opened his mouth to clarify what I had said, I immediately recognized that he was Italian and then proceeded to speak with him. He was not with the two older individuals so I tried to tell them as well. Nino is from Torino and was visiting New York to study dance. He’s a hip-hop dancer. We spoke for the rest of the way to the airport, got on the air tram together and parted ways when I had to get off to get to my terminal. It was a lovely encounter.
I worked and spoke with my mom for the time I had at the terminal and boarded last. I never understood the rush to get on the plane. You have to stay there for such a long time, why not enjoy being out and about while you can? There’s something beautiful about traveling that brings out friendliness and kindness between individuals. The moment I sat down, the couple next to me began chatting with me. They were from Alabama and heading towards Florence to stay for a few weeks. Watching them interact made me smile. The man spoke about how he was stationed in the Navy in Sicily for a while. He didn’t like the food; he got tired of seafood and said the steak wasn’t really a steak (in Greece they do a nice steak according to him). They were so lovely. They began chatting, I read, and as soon as we finished our takeoff they took out some trail mix, cashews, and dark chocolate. With each new snack, they made sure to offer me, twice. They promised that I wouldn’t go hungry.
Planes are great for watching movies as well. I had always wanted to see Nebraska and I did, after which I napped and woke up in time for breakfast and landing. The cool thing about this trip is that I get to spend 6 hours (more or less) in Paris each way. My friend Kader, who I know from capoeira, who also visited me while I was living in India, happens to have days off on Fridays. He picked me up with a smile and we went to his favorite areas of the outskirts of Paris. We first started at a mall for some croissants and coffee. Then we went to a huge park and wandered around in the wilderness. It was so beautiful and amazing and relaxing. It’s funny how without even knowing people can choose the best activities. The park has 10 lakes, paths to walk through the different islands, different activities including your own weight lifting machines and areas to do cookouts, water activities, fishing, and places to sit and ponder life. No cars are allowed except the ones that transport food or whatnot to the different parts around. We spent almost 2 hours wandering around, catching up about our mutual friends in Pune, talking about capoeira of course, and just about life. I love that I can do this in all parts of the world and know how lucky I am to have this kind of a network.
Now, I’m back at the airport. I met my coworker and Mousef, who gave a smile as I sat trying to charge my dead phone. He sat down near me and asked if I knew how to use his converter. It was for a US plug so it doesn’t work here. Another woman approached me asking if she could use my charger, I feel bad but my phone needed a good charge. Mousef also taught me some words in Arabic so that I’m not completely lost when I get there. This might be the most unprepared, linguistically, that I’ve ever been for a new adventure in a new country. But I’m very excited.