Thursday, October 15, 2015

My Cheeky Little Go Fund Me

As most of you know I have spent most of the last month and a half volunteering for an organization called L'auberge des Migrants  on the ground here in Calais at the Jungle refugee camp. I have been asked by the organization to stay on for a few more weeks to be one of the 3 coordinators running the new pilot
flat-pack housing project happening in camp, as well as to help hand off this duty to whoever comes after me.

There are 6,000 refugees in the Jungle and the winter is coming on fast. One day this week was 3 degrees C/ 37F while raining torrentially and it’s only mid-October! The majority of people are living in tents that are not water proof, set up on ground that frequently floods (often times with waters contaminated with ecoli and other diseases), and many people have told me that they don’t sleep because they are too cold. 

This new housing project aims to house 50-100 people a day with temporary shelters that are raised off the ground to protect from flooding, have insulation to keep them warm, 4 wooden walls as opposed to the blankets they are now using, a real roof instead of garbage bags, ventilation, and locks so that people feel free leaving their things and stepping out during the day, not worrying about being robbed at night, etc. It’s much more dignified, and practical than their current situations and will ultimately provide a little protection in an otherwise highly unstable environment. 

In order for me to be able to take this on I need to be able to sustain myself while here. This means I have a very ambitious goal of raising: 700 Euros (which is approx 800 USD.)

This money will be spent as following over 3 weeks: hostel accommodation, food, transportation costs both to and from camp and in and out of Calais, basic necessities like shampoo, conditioner, etc, and the occasional out of pocket things we buy for refugees when distributions aren’t reaching them. 

It’s a lot of money, but if half of my FB friends donated just 1.50 euro (or I would have more money than I need!)

If any money is made past this it will go to buying supplies for camp, to the project itself, and/or small gifts for my refugee friends I’ve made while here (things like thick gloves, which come in handy in preventing injuries while climbing over barbed wire; gas canisters for cooking the food handed out during distribution days; dictionaries for people who are seeking asylum in countries where they don’t speak the language, etc.) 

The link is here:


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Krabi Town and Ao Nang

The plan was to leave Bangkok and head to Krabi town for a couple of days. I pictured breezy beaches, palm trees, and long stretches of sand.

When I landed I was ushered by a small mob of people to a taxicab company. The women at the booth informed me that I would need to take a taxi because it was about a 20 minute ride into town. Not really feeling much like doing any of the leg work to figure out whether or not this was true, I paid the lady her money and got sent down to the exit where I was greeted by a group of drivers.

The man who was in first in line for the next fare was wearing an Old Trafford shirt. Wow, a little piece of Manchester all the way in Krabi, I thought. I decided it was a good sign. That is, until the minute I got into the cab. As we pulled out of the terminal the driver pointed at a bus, “Why didn’t you take that bus into Krabi?” he asked, sounding annoyed.
Oh, they didn’t tell me there was a bus.
You have eyes, no?” I knew this was a rhetorical question so I laughed. He continued on. “If you didn’t see the sign then you have no eyes.”
Okay. I said, trying my best to sound neither sarcastic nor confrontational. Then it was his turn to laugh as he told me that the room I’d booked was probably cheaper than the taxi ride.
Probably. I agreed through a smile. I was thinking, Look dude-face—I am not a 19 year old broke ass backpacker anymore (even if I still like to use similar vernacular). If I want to “waste” my own money on a little bit of comfort here and there then I will, thank you very much. I also shelled out a little extra for a room with air-con the other day, do you want to talk about that as well?
Mr. Old Trafford took a look at the receipt the women who’d sold me the ticket had written out. “Where is this?” he asked me, referring to the address of where I was staying.
I’m not sure. I’ve never been here before.
“Well, I don’t know where that is. I might not be able to find it.”
That will be an interesting adventure I replied.  

I got the sense that Mr. Old Trafford did not want to be there. I started thinking, well—maybe I was his last fare of the day and he’d hoped to get off easily by dropping me off 5 minutes away.
As I continued wondering what his deal was he pulled into a petrol station. Apparently he’d just really needed to pee? He ran into the toilets, came out about 20 seconds later and was a brand new person! All smiles, laughs, tour-guide style tips about the area. 

I had planned to spend 2 nights in Krabi town before moving on to the islands. However, after unloading my things at my guesthouse (which was found effortlessly) and walking around for 10 minutes I decided that the next day I’d head out to one town over called Ao Nang. The only thing that I found really worth seeing in Krabi town was the weekend night markets. They were packed with Thai and foreigners side by side—with vendors selling clothing, street food, alcohol, desserts, art, along with musicians, magicians, and dancers working hard for their tips.

The guesthouse I stayed in was nice, but very quiet and I knew it would be impossible to meet anyone there. I booked a “bus” (which was actually more like the Central American style pick up trucks that transport people around in the back) to Ao Nang, and that’s when I really felt the beach part of my holiday had started.

Ao Nang itself does not have the postcard sandy beaches people salivate over while Google image searching things to distract themselves from work, but it did have the chilled-out, laid back vibe I’d been searching for. It is also the jumping off point to get to all the aforementioned beaches.

The afternoon was full of seeing lady boys dressed as Disney princesses, chatting to people from all over the world, trying to communicate with my Malaysian roommate who I somehow became friends with despite neither of us understanding each other, and discovering a new passion: thai green curry with coconut rice. All of these things passed while I was barefoot. I don’t think I’ve work shoes in about 4 days.

The people at my hostel were really fun. On my first night in Ao Nang I did a pub crawl with them. I wont go into too much detail here, except it turns out that my flip cup skills are still solid despite being far removed from my undergrad days

I woke up around 10am, just early enough to catch the boat for my 7-islands tour and ended up having the most relaxing and fun day just snorkeling, drinking smoothies and beers, and occasionally shaking my head in disbelief that I was island hopping in 90+ degree weather when just a few days earlier I’d been wearing a fleece onesie, under the bed covers with the heat on in Manchester.

Some of the places I went:

Even though I could have easily stayed another night, being hard pressed for time, I needed to move on. My next stop was Koh Phi Phi! 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Bangkok to Krabi Town

I write this on the plane as I wait for my flight to take off from Bangkok—where I’ve spent the past two nights.

The plane is loading as people trepidatiously find their seats. Why the hesitations? As I climbed the last stair onto the plane I immediately noticed what I thought was smoke quickly filling the isle. My memory quickly conjured the recent news stories of Air Asia crashes while simultaneously constructing the future one, which would see my photo flashing on the local Seattle news, “We have just gotten confirmation that one Seattle native was aboard the plane that is believed to have exploded mid-air.”

Yes, it is true, I have an over active imagination, which coupled with anxiety and slight paranoia is maybe not the best combination.

I asked the nearest flight attendant, “What is this?” gesturing wildly with my hand trying to sign language smoke.

“It’s because it’s hot outside. It’s the difference in the air temperature.” She assured me through the type of smile that made me think she’d been asked this before. Indeed, I heard her and other members of the flight crew repeating this information to every other person coming up behind me.

The “difference in temperature,” is a welcome reprieve from the ridiculous sticky heat that has plastered my clothes to my skin the past two days. When I arrived in Bangkok I did a wardrobe change before even leaving the airport. The moment we landed an image of The Wicked Witch (Wizard of Oz) shrieking, “I’m melllllting!” played over and over in my head.

Once I had changed my clothing I plowed confidently through immigration towards the exits, found my way to the airport train, took it to the last top and hailed a cab the remainder of the way to my hostel. One thing that traveling extensively, and mostly on my own, has done is given me the confidence to know I’ll end up in the right place even if from the onset I have no idea what I’m doing—which, let’s be real—is most of the time.

When I got into my air conditioned room, using any excuse to stay in that cool air for as long as justifiable, I began my travel routine of going through my bag to determine what I’d forgotten to bring.

This time it was only one thing (breaking records here!) and it was pretty obvious. The only shoes I had were the ones I was wearing: my Nike running shoes. That was absolutely not going to fly, so I set off into the busy, polluted, motor-cycle and tuk-tuk crammed streets of Bangkok. 

Where I was staying was a 2 minute walk from Koh San Road, which is loaded with stalls selling things aimed at tourists, Thai musicians crooning “hits” from 10 years ago at you from open air bars, food carts selling everything from ice cream to fried tarantulas. It was such a unique, fun, chaotic atmosphere that only after wandering for about an hour did I remember what I had set out to do. It was some time around the point I thought, “Oh em gee. I wish I was barefoot because my feet are on fire.”

There was a Canadian couple staying in my room. When I returned to swap out my shoes for my new bedazzled flip-flops we engaged in the standard traveler chit chat. “How long are you here for? Where are you coming from? How long are you staying? Where are you from?”  When I said I was from Seattle, but living in England they both informed me I had picked up a slight English accent. Even though it did make me self-conscious of the way I spoke for the rest of the night so as to not come across as a poser, this did come in handy the next day.

As you meander through the alleyways and back-streets of Koh San the vendors will try to engage you with the opening lines, “Hi Miss…” or “Hello, friend…” ending the sentence with, “where are you from?” I noticed quickly that they all responded identically when I said I was American.
“Obama. Obama,” or—extending their arms out—“High five!” Usually the greeting was a combination of the two. It got me to wondering what they might say if I was from another country, so I began answering that question, “I’m from England.”
“Lovely jubbly” was the response every single time. Without fail.
“I’m from Australia,” was the next one I tried.
“G’day!” was the answer to this one with the exception of two times when I got the really odd, “Kangaroo, mate!”

My cynical and conspiratorial part of my brain on overdrive; it made me wonder if these stalls were maybe all owned by the same two or three Westerners who had hired the Thai to work the markets and taught them phrases from English speak countries to attract customers.

Last night I met a guy from Philly and a guy from London who were both traveling solo. I got into a really funny conversation with them about life—the kind of discussion usually reserved for friends you’ve known for years. It made me remember that this—deep human connections with people who an hour earlier were strangers—is one of the absolute most amazing things that comes from this lifestyle.

I’m excited to see what comes next…

Best things in Bangkok (in no particular order)
Grand National Palace
Reclining Buddha
Koh San Road
People watching along the canal

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Grad School, Day 2

The first week of graduate school has arrived. Last week I sat through a lot of lectures on what things were going to be like and who to contact for what. It was like the introduction paragraph at the beginning of a really long essay. The next year is going to be a busy one, I think.

I’ve registered for a full load of classes. I’ve signed up for a French course beginning two weeks from now. I joined the society of the Red Cross on campus. I joined the International society. I’m going to an Insanity workout group a couple times a week. And now I get to look for a part time job. No big deal. I got this. 

In the meantime, I have to remember to make space for things that arise that are out of my control, but that do have an impact on my life. Such as this:

Yesterday was supposedly my day one of classes.  I didn’t get the e-mail that the morning class had been postponed until the following Monday, and neither did my new Kenyan friend Sasha. She arrived, saw me sitting at a desk surrounded by 50 empty seats, and suggested that maybe we had the wrong room. So began a 30 minute, sweat inducing power-walk through what can only be described a labrynth of the south side of campus. We were told by the front office that the class we were looking for wasn’t housed in the Samuel Alexander building, but instead it was in the Ellen Wilkinson. They told us the two buildings were connected. What they didn’t say was that it would be fastest accessed by going outside.  The way we went led us up a couple of stairwells, through a wing, down some more stairs, through a long glass hallway, and up three more flights of stairs.

Two days earlier I had done my first ever Insanity workout. It left me more sore than anything has ever left me in the history of my many years on this planet. Every time I wanted to sit or stand I needed to hold onto something on either side of me to keep myself from falling. I keep imagining what observers must have seen while I was trying to make my way from the wrong classroom to the right one. I’m guessing it looked like this:

   photo tumblr_mbfaw9fs8Y1rqr36xo1_250-1_zpsb4c51b30.gif

Thing is--there was no right classroom. The teacher had decided last minute to change the date and time. This meant I had about an hour to kill before my next class. I went to the library and did some reading to get a head start. 

Interesting way to start the day :) 

This morning I got to the right place at the right time and everything worked out well. It feels validating to be so interested in the content and actually look forward to doing the assignments to learn more about something that fascinates me so much. 

More later fam! x

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Day 2 Bruges

"Are you under 26?" the man at the ticket window asked me. After fumbling with a self-automated machine at the train station for 10 minutes, deciding I needed help, and standing in line for another 20, I had finally reached the front.
Under 26? Yup I am. I affirmed. Then I started laughing. I tried biting my lower lip because I have heard that helps you control yourself. It's never actually worked the many, many times I've had inopportune laughter, but it's never stopped me from trying. Still, this time it also did not work and I kept giggling.
No. I'm not under 26. Sorry. I--I don't know why I said that.
"Ok. So you aren't under 26?" The poor guy looked half amused, half concerned (most likely for my sanity.)
I shook my head. He rang up my total.
"That's 28 Euro please."
I handed him my card. When he handed it back to me he said, "If you were under 26 that would have cost you 12 Euro. So, if you're going to travel again around here--you should probably get better at that."
Damn it. Why am I such a bad liar.

I would like to tell you that the train ride to Bruges was spectacular: full of little farming villages, quaint towns, and rolling hills. But vehicular motion has always had a way of putting me straight to sleep.

Bruges = gorgeous. It's like a storybook. Cobblestone streets. Canals with lush vegetation hanging over them. You stare at the water while seated on stone bridges, feet dangling, eating the chocolate Belgium is famous for.
If you feel like getting up and walking around you will dodge more bicycles than vehicles.

My day was very food centric. I had chocolates from a shop you where you could watch people make them. I had a fresh Belgian waffle with strawberries and homemade whipped cream while people watching at the plaza and looking up at the gothic and  neo-gothic architecture the city is known for.

Even though I don't remember the train ride home, I think I may remember the bus ride back to my hostel from the train station for a very long time. On my way home I felt a wet sensation on my leg. I had felt it a few times throughout the day and feared that my water bottle might be leaking.
Every time I went to check I found that I had been worrying about nothing. Although, in retrospect, it well may have been a premonition.

The tram made an abrupt and premature stop. Something had happened and we were all instructed this would be out last stop. I got up and immediately felt the uncomfortable sensation of wet denim stuck to my skin. Given that my bag had been on my lap, there was a perfectly (crotch) placed wet streak down my leg. It couldn't have looked more like I had peed myself than if I had, well, peed myself.

I was about half a mile from the hostel, and had to walk home trying to use my handbag to cover the spill. It was a leeeeetle bit funny. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Day 1 Brussels

The morning I started out for Belgium I was not in the most coherent of mind states. I had set the alarm for 3:45am to catch a bus that would take me to the airport.

When I got on the bus it occurred to me that I had no idea what terminal I was supposed to get off at. I didn't know if there would be signage. I did a quick scan of the bus for people my age or younger with big bulging backpacks, or at least big bulging beards. Good strategy as any to follow them, I figured. Alas, there were no other people on the bus except exhausted looking airport workers, or people who had wheeling suitcases so large they'd get laughed out of any hostel they attempted to check into. Right, I thought, no travelers.

I attempted sleep, because one thing my almost 30 years have taught me is that's as good a solution as any when presented with a problem. When I couldn't catch a moment's rest due to the incessant and high-pitched gossip being exchanged by the two women in front of me (yes, yes I was grumpy) I tapped one of them on the shoulder.
"Excuse me. Do either of you know where to get off for Ryan Air?"
"Yes. Terminal 3." One of the women said.
"Great, thank you." I said. Hoping that I sounded genuine and not sarcastic. I have a tendency to sound sarcastic when tired.

We arrived at Manchester Airport and the sleep-ruiners stood up. I at once felt grateful I'd chosen the seat I had. They were both wearing jackets that were labeled, "Ryan Air." I bet on them to know what they were doing and ended up following them all the way to the gates.

When I actually got to Brussels I, as usual, had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. Sometimes that works out really well for me. Sometimes it means that I pay as much for a round trip airport-city-airport bus ticket as I've paid for my return flight instead of the 5 euro it would have cost me had I booked it online. Whoopsies.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Friend from Heaven, Flight from Hell

I often love people after only a few seconds. From Seattle to Frankfurt I was seated next to a woman who I was convinced would be a good friend of mine if we were from the same town and spoke the same language. I spent the 10 1/2 hour flight laughing and gesturing with her, both of us equally unafraid of looking idiotic as the other. Our friendship blossomed, as many often do, over a meal. 
A couple of hours into the flight our attendant wheeled her cart by and asked if I wanted the pasta or meat dish. After handing me the pasta, she focused her gaze on my isle mate. 
"Pasta or beef?"
The woman--who I'm guessing was in her late 60s, looked at the flight attendant blankly. The flight attendant smiled and switched to speaking German, asking the same question (I'm assuming.)
The woman sitting next to me was still obviously not understanding.
"What language does she speak?"
I don't know, I admitted. I turned to her "English? Espa
ñol? Deutsch?"
"Ukraine. I'm from Ukraine." my friend-in-the-making answered in hard earned English.
I gently placed my hand on her arm, uncovered my food and pointed to it. Then I motioned to the man in the isle across from us who was busy scarfing down the beef. She chose beef. That seemed to be the only thing we disagreed on the entire flight. 
She flipped through her in-flight magazine pointing out funny pictures, and I made a little makeshift foot rest out of our bags, blankets, and pillows. When I was trying to go to sleep, she leaned over me and closed my window shade. Instant travel buddies. 

I wish I could say that my flight from Frankfurt to Manchester had endeared itself to me as much but, in fact, it was one of two or three flights in my life that I could blame reality (and not anxiety) for my racing thoughts about whether or not the plane was going to crash. About half way through the 90 minute flight, the turbulence became so persistent and intense that I am pretty sure I either personally let go of, or heard other people half yell, half cry every expletive in every language any of us knew. And, as we were on our way to Europe, there were definitely some polyglots on that flight, so it was interesting. At least it would have been if I hadn't been preoccupied thinking, I hope my parents know I love them and that when they think of me in the future they'll think how I had a full and happy life. 

When we landed there was a collective round of applause. I don't know if it really happened, or if I imagined it, but my memory recalls the captain came on and saying, "We made it!" (If he didn't, he really should have.)