Thursday, June 10, 2010

Changes and Chances

Things have been moving too fast to even explain. I feel like I’m constantly playing catch-up.

But I’ll try my hardest to remember everything as Katy Perry sings about Vegas in my ear (that’s for you Katie Acheson)

We left off in Phnom Pen. The city of…dirty streets… filthy water… the poorest people in the world… you know the quality things in life. And at first, this is all I believed Phnom Pen to be. And we were to spend 5 days there…

But after learning about the landmines that are ruining the country side for farmers, The Killing Fields that were basically the Holocaust for this country, Aziza’s Place that is using art to heal and grow (Katie, I found you a place to work when you come live here), meeting SOMALY MAM one of the most incredible women in the UNIVERSE and meeting the women who she is rescuing, understanding how HAGAR is reaching out and accepting the hardest of human conditions… I think Phnom Pen isn’t so bad.

We also got to visit the waste pickers of the dumps in Phnom Pen and went to CSARO which is providing health care and schooling for the children of these sites. And they are children. We’re talking 3 to 12 year olds who pick through trash trying to find recyclables for their families to earn about 50 cents per child. They usually don’t have that many clothes on or shoes. We saw many examples of that in the children at CSARO, kids with white scars all over their brown little frail bodies. Many of them were sleepy because they were so malnourished. Unfortunately, they are a source of income and after our time with them, they shortly returned to the dump.

By far one of the greatest people we met was Sue with HAGAR. She opened our eyes to the extremely marginalized in Cambodia including those who are mentally disabled and Vietnamese. HAGAR is also more concerned with healing a person entirely from their trauma and getting them back on their feet. But they will also take as long as possible. They are by far one of the most thorough NGO’s we’ve been to. The best part was not only the food the restaurant produces but also when Sue explained Popeye moments to us. When Popeye sees Olive Oyl facing injustice he says “That’s it. I just can’t takes it no more,” pops open a can of spinach and kicks ass. As she left she reminded us, “Keep your eye out for Popeye, you never know where he’s gonna be.”

God’s heart is in Cambodia. God is in the Buddhist Temple, He’s in the scars and wounds on children, He’s in the dirty streets filled with durian and feces, He’s in the hotel rooms where women lose a little bit of themselves every night. More than anything He’s in the smiles of the broken hearted, He’s in the homes filled with love, He’s in the children who run naked into the water, He’s in Aziza’s Place and HAGAR and CSARO and Somaly Mam’s home. And I feel Him now, as I sit here waiting for time to bring me back to comfort and my normal life. With my nose plugged and suitcase packed, He keeps breaking my heart for the people who He loves.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Now Let's Review...

Elephant in Chiang Mai

So I now realized that I jumped from Pattaya to Chiang Saen. So much happened in between then! So I'm going to give a brief update from Chiang Rai to my current location of Siem Reap.

Chiang Rai

When we first arrived in Chiang Rai, the group did what we do best and that was eat. We got to try cow soy (not how you spell it but this is the way it sounds sooooo…). It was delicious! We learned about Doi Chang coffee which is grown in the old opium fields of the Doi Chang tribe (Elephant Mountain). The next day we went out to the SOLD Project Resource Center that is now the FREEDOM Project Center. After working with this Thai village outside of Chiang Rai, they realized that the children not only needed an education but they needed an environment that would promote the education they were getting. They need 7000 more dollars to finish the center, like putting walls on the bottom floor and computers for the kids to learn on.

We then went to the village to spend the night with our homestays. Courtney and I had the pleasure of staying with Cat, the first sponsored child of the SOLD Project. She was adorable. Living with her sister, brother-in-law and nephew, Cat is extremely studious refusing to even go out and play before she finished her homework.

Probably some of the most enjoyable parts of the homestay were the hospitality. They let us eat their awesome food, with our hands mind you. Cat even made herself late to school because we slept in. It was a bit of confusion because we were told they would wake us up so we were waiting for them. But they never came. Either way we walked her to school even when she wanted to take us to the resource center.

That afternoon we laid the concrete of the resource center for the whole ground floor even though the locals thought we wouldn’t be able to finish it in one day. It was a great accomplishment.

I then spent far too much money at the night bazaar in town but it was totally worth it for the bargains and sweet gifts I got.

Bug bites I got. We're guessing it was a poisonous spider. It made my ankles into kankles :(

Chiang Saen

Much of our Chiang Saen visit was explained in my earlier posts. But it should be said that the situation at the Golden Triangle (borders of Laos, Thailand and Bhurma) is devastating and there needs to be action on governmental and human rights levels.

It’s hard to write about the full day we spent with the children of Chiang Saen. My heart breaks for those on the streets, stuck seemingly between a rock and a hard place. But I have hope for people like Kru Nam, JK and NGO’s like Volunteers for Child Development Foundation (VCDF). They bring so much light to the darkest corners of these children’s lives. They care so much. They are truly inspiring.

Children at the Bhurma Thai border
Heidi and this handsome fellow
Chiang Mai

By far the most fun filled day starting with the Sung Tao ride from hell. Our driver didn’t understand what the break was. But the ride was worth it when at the end were elephants. Literally trembling with joy I had to hold back tears. I know it sounds weird but I never imagined myself to be in Thailand riding an elephant when I was younger. I never thought I’d be traveling considering I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to leave Portland. It was an amazing place to just stop and thank God for the opportunities and gifts He’s given me, not only through this trip but in my education, friends and family. And He definitely blesses me through elephant rides, rafting and bamboo rafts. Thank you Jesus!

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Here we visited the Angkor Tom which is where all the temples in Angkor are located. Yes, I went to Angkor Wat, one of the 7 manmade world wonders. I also went to the Jungle Temples where I got to take a picture that looks just like the one on my blog!

Although we had an incredible tour guide and his knowledge of the temples was fascinating and just plain cool, it was also 115 degrees outside and we all were having a hard time focusing. It was still worthwhile and very cool.

Today we went to the Landmine Museum and learned about all the landmines not only in Cambodia but also in Thailand and Vietnam. It’s devastating how often people are not killed but just destroyed by the landmines.

Unfortunately it’s midnight and I’m having a hard time staying up! But I love everyone. Thank you for reading.

If everyone could be praying for the group when it comes to illnesses I’d be grateful. The whole group is suffering from an assortment of sickness, including my roomie Kelly. So please keep us in your prayers!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

I heart Thailand.

His hands are sticky in mine. Every once in a while he’ll squeeze it and point at something.Or just squeeze it because he can. We shift in sync of the tractor, crawling down the Thai freeway, slowly passing people on their bikes. His toothy smile is broken and stained, from what I’m not sure. Probably something to do with the fact that he’s from some Hilltribe, or maybe Bhurma, or maybe Laos. He isn’t a person to the Thai government. They don’t recognize him or his brothers as people. All of the children in VCDF’s orphanage aren’t considered people. They don’t recognize their hands as real, they don’t recognize their smiles, laughter or tiny toes as real.

One of the boys here could barely walk when he first arrived at the orphanage. Now he runs at any chance.

How they all got here varies. They may have asked to come, shown that they want to study, or worst case scenario they were taken from the streets due to abuse, whether it be sexual or physical. Many of their parents, if they are still around, are drug addicts and demand their children to beg for the money to fund their various addictions. So VCDF provides work and rehabilitation for parents that want to change and have better futures for their children.

We visited the Bhurma and Thai border. The children scream from the other side of the fence as we hand out food. They proceed to jump over and sprint at each of us. Immediately we are embraced, we are clung to. These children yearn for touch and don't hesitate to hold our hands to hold us as if we are their shelter. Hillary, Rachel, Kevin and Heidi buy all the children shoes because their feet are cut up. One girl we encounter doesn't have underwear. Her shirt is filthy. So Sarah buys her a new outfit. This girl's mother has been sexually abused and is addicted to the home made version of speed and caffeine pills. She leaves with us for the children's home.

These children amaze me. On this whole trip I've felt numb by my surroundings, unable to engage and cry and laugh like I feel I should. And this all changes with the children's home. They run to the car screaming and laughing before we even open the doors. They climb all over us. They laugh so loud and play tricks and make you feel like a freaking million bucks. There are scars all over their arms and faces. There teeth are proof of their poverty. And yet they laugh.

They've changed my life. I leave Thailand in less than an hour but this isn't the last time I'll be here. These children deserve to be acknowledged. They deserve to be protected and more than anything they deserve the love that Christ has for them. Nothing can change that in my mind.

I ride elephants. I got to pet a tiger. These are things that have brought me incredible joy. To the point that I was trembling when I saw an elephant. But I got to hold a child who needed it. I got to give them all my attention. And that's how I'll remember Thailand.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pattaya, Sweet Pattaya

Yes, I know.

Things Pattaya has taught me:
- Banana milkshakes are incredible
- Things aren't always as they seem
- Even in the darkest places there is hope
- People in Pattaya are the NICEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD, even nicer than Minnesotans (sorry Susie and Amy)
- 7-11 is by far one of the greatest ideas ever

It's this kid again
So first things first, banana milkshakes.
On the left, behold the banana milkshake. On the right, the incredible butterfly. Sarah Chhummy in the background.

They are incredible. It's my staple down here next to the Tom Kah Gai.

At Big Buddha. We bought finches that were supposed to be released for good luck, Jasmine used them to symbolize the coming freedom for all.
Things aren't always as they seem
Not all women are trafficked into prostitution. Some girls really like being prostitutes. Some people (this includes men and women) become addicted to the attention and money. The sex industry has very little to do with sex and more with an economy, power and loneliness. Just because men come here doesn't mean we should judge them, they have their own reasons for the lives they live. Also not every white man holding a Thai woman's hand bought her. A lot of the people here actually marry the women and either vacation in Pattaya or live there together. Prostitutes are some of the nicest women around.
Outside a bar on Walking Street
Even in the darkest places there is hope
Two nights ago we walked down Walking Street and it was one of the darkest times we've had as a group. Because of the curfew (oh btw, there's a national curfew in 23 provinces) bars are either completely closed for the night or pretty empty. It just seemed like the loneliness and emptiness was amplified. One of the girls was nearly violated when a man said obscenities to her and tried to grab her crotch. As we rode our sung tao her words stuck with us all, "I have the right to get mad and I'm pissed right now. But all I can think about is all the girls who have to pretend they like that." As we returned to the hotel all the girls in the group congregated in Courtney and I's room to worship and read the Bible. But for many of us the words were hard to grasp between tears. It was the first time I had really cried on the trip. The hot tears moved down my cheeks and all I could think of was "Why did this have to happen Lord? Why does my heart have to feel this way?" But Jasmine's words echoed to me from the morning in that God is already here. He already conquered this earth and he's won the battle. He's protected me so far, why can't I trust His plan now? So I have to trust Him that He's teaching me how to make a difference. Earlier that day we had lunch on the beach where many homosexual prostitutes sleep because they are homeless. That's where we met Not. He was 18, had finished school and worked in construction. But because of problems at home with his step father, he ran away to Pattaya to try to get away from it all. Here he found friends, money and men who felt the same way he did. In a conversation with a few girls and I he stated that since he was four he loved men. He pointed to us and said "I will never love you." He then pointed to a man in our group and said, "He can love me anytime." They statement broke my heart because he didn't mean actually love him, he meant have sex with him and that is far from love. Our leader Ying, who you will read about in the next part, made a point to tell all the men how much Jesus loved them. For the first time I think I truly desired with all of my heart that they would understand what it really meant to be loved.
Yes, that's a child sleeping on a moped
People in Pattaya
Ying is the prime example of this. Not only was she an incredible translator, she taught us Thai, she got us front row for dinner and a cultural dance show, she is tremendously sassy in the best way possible and above all else truly takes God's word out to the streets and loves people with all her heart. But it isn't just Ying, everyone is nice! You can strike up a conversation with anyone and they will talk to you for as long as their broken English will get them. And then they'll use sign language. The prostitutes stop the white girls (obviously not me and my bronze skin) to tell them how beautiful their skin is, ask us where we are from and engage any questions we have. They wave excitedly at us when we smile and shout "Sawadee Kaaaaa!" They yell it back as loud as possible. When a girl's bra went missing from her room, the maid who came to help look for it joked that she would never steal it because it didn't fit her as she jostled her C cup boobs in her hands. Then she let out a loud laugh (comparable to mine) and said "I kid, I'm kidding, I joke"
View from a sung tao
I've narrowed down the facts of why this may be the greatest thing to hit Pattaya sine sliced bread (which is also very good here, and it's called brown bread).1. Everything is dirt cheap. Huge bottles of water for less than 50 cents. Koala filled chocolate treats for 5 baht which is like 6 cents. It's incredible.B. The cashiers are always nice too!Tres. The ice cream is DEEELICIOUS.Lastly, the place is air conditioned and as Hillary so wisely put it "When you step in that place it's like you suddenly need to buy everything."

So we leave Pattaya in 4 hours for Bangkok and then a flight to Chiang Rai, to experience a completely different Thailand. Not only is it north, but it isn't modernized and sex isn't slapping you in the face everywhere you walk. They have night markets that are dirt cheap and Thai massages that will melt your brain. It also is where we will meet the SOLD children, saved from a lifetime of sexual slavery. It should be incredible.But I can't help but miss Pattaya already. The city groans as the tide moves the furthest I've ever seen an ocean go. It yearns for the arms of someone who understands. The place flat out knows how to make you happy and enjoy yourself. Yet how to break your heart. How can I leave this place?Shoot this is only the first week. How can I leave Thailand?
P.S. I got tiny fish to eat the dead skin off my feet today. They are called Little Dermatologists. It was awful and awesome at the same time.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pattaya Pictures

A few pictures of Pattaya, they don't even begin to give it credit :)

My new favorite mode of transportation, sung taos!!!!

Chang water, our new best friend. Chang means elephant. Chang beer, not as good as the water.

Pad thai in an egg. Thai iced tea. It's all good.
Soy 6 during the day. Police in front of the Amsterdamaged bar.

Soy 6 again.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hope found

Soy 6. Next to Walking Street, this is one of the most popular bar spots.

Recalibrating hope. That’s what has stuck with me most these past days. We have to get a new idea of what hope looks like in a city like Pattaya. Pattaya. How you break my heart. But then I meet people like Pi Lye. She worked in a bar in Pattaya willingly for a year. She hated it. Her small hands wave around as her near silent voice tells of heartbreak, debt, abandonment, poverty. Her sons, because she left without wanting to tell them where or why, have developed deep trust issues and addictions to drugs. How does she feel about that? “She trusts that God will bring them in,” says our translator and new friend Ying. Ying feels despair, she talks about her disappointment. Yet her smile is hopeful and her words are kind. She knows that God must change things in this city. How does she feel about the political situation? It’s a blessing. Because people are traveling to Thailand, 10 major bars have closed in Pattaya. Things are shifting here.

Tonight we tried to walk down Soy Six, a street where nearly 60 bars are crammed into this tiny area. Signs have flashing lights and images of women stripping their shirts off, strap by strap. Yet we peer down the alley to see flashing red lights. The police are announcing things in an incoherent language, but the street in clearing. Once they near us they repeatedly state “Curfew now, get back to hotel.” We obey and hail down a sung tao to take our group of 9 back to the hotel. I can’t help but celebrate as I see men leaving the alley… without a Thai woman in tow.

We get word that Walking Street is closed for the night as well.

Things are shifting here.

But it’s bittersweet. While the women get to rest tonight I’m sure that they will still be charged bar fees and be collecting more debt. The rest makes them antsy knowing they won’t make very much money tonight. But at least they can rest, if only for a night.

I can taste hope. Meeting Ying and staying at Tamar Center for lunch you can taste hope. It’s cooked into their food as if it were a spice. The women consistently say how they now feel joy that they don’t work in bars anymore. One of the girls brings her children down for us to meet. She’s 18. They are precious.

Recalibrating hope means being thankful for flames engulfing a mall in Bangkok. It means praising God for humidity and rides on sung tao (my new favorite mode of transportation). It means holding babies and trying to not cringe at men who hold the hands of 14 year old girls, or at least not assume the worst. It means saying “Sawadee Kaaaaa” as loudly as I can to people on mopeds, buying roses from street vendors, and laughing at ridiculous dances. It means enjoying Thailand for the ways in which God is consistently showing me His glory, even in the most painful places.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Paint chips

The paint is chipping on the ceiling. It's only in one corner. My mom would point that out as being a flawed characteristic to this hotel. It just seems to be fitting.
The air conditioner is rattling to my relief, I wouldn't have it any other way at this point. Hopefully I'll get used to this heat.
I can still see Walking Street, clear as day, women in high heels, their hands intertwined with men three, four times their age. Or the image of a young boy wrapping his arms around the waist of one of our leaders. What is it like to have a school boy offer you sex? They keep waving cards in our faces, listing off the things offered in this massage parlor or bar. Some bars have women calling us from the street "Sawadee ka!" they shout. I just learned these words a few days ago. They mean "Hello." So why do I feel so dirty?
It's only the first day in Thailand. We took a 13 hour flight to Taipei, 2.5 hour lay over, 3 hour flight to Bangkok, 1 hour of waiting, finally a 2 hour bus ride to Pattaya. Guess what this town is known for? Sex tourism.
We settle into the hotel and decide to try and find Michelle a watch. Instead we encounter bars and massage parlors. We aren't even in the red light district. I thought the hotel my be a respite until I find the pool surrounded by old men in tired speedos, joined by their "girlfriends."
The only thing that gives my eyes a break is the Tiger beer and Tom Kah Gai in front of me. I don't even have to use my eyes for this. I can close them as the coconut milk infused with Thai peppers sears my tongue. It doesn't even hurt, it soothes. It soothes my hardened heart that won't let these images in. It erases the ideas of bondage and fear. It makes me forget for two seconds that girls are locked in rooms right now with strange men. Instead it just reminds me that there is something good in this world. And it reminds me of Stella Artois, with a Tiger beer cozy wrapped around it. This may be the first beer I really actually enjoy.
Gary Haugen says that they evil in this world shouldn't surprise us, that the Bible tells us how evil our world is. I've got to agree with him. So I try to observe Walking Street, to see it for what it is. I try to see women working as hard as they can to pay their pimps. I try to see men looking for an easy quench to their lust. But all I see is pain and flashing neon lights. There is no joy on Walking Street.
But that paint chipping on the ceiling... it reminds me of hidden joy. I want to peel it away. I want to see what is underneath. It reminds me of stories uncovered. So I'll probably be returning to Walking Street, to see what joy lies beneath caked on make up and six inch heels.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bangkok and beyond

So we've had some change of plans. Because there is violence in Bangkok we're going to bypass it for now, waiting for the violence to slow down in Pattaya. But to get some perspective on the violence, here's a picture.I'm not worried but that's my mom's fault. She's made me so paranoid about life on the streets (of SW Portland), that I have this weird relationship with danger. Like I understand it's there but I just kinda ignore it. I laugh at it and then it hits me and says, "What now Veronica?!!? You have a broken finger!" And let me tell you, when that finger broke, it sucked. So I'm going to try and pay more attention to danger...
We went to a Giant's game! And I found my husband, Andres Torres. So Andres I know that you are reading this, and I just want to say I'm waiting for the proposal at 301 Lyon St. You have about 24 hours.
Tomorrow is full of errands and reading, hours in lines and then the 14 hour flight to Taiwan then Bangkok then a quick detour to the coast.
Nervous? A bit. Considering I cried the first night that I slept in Costa Rica, why? I have no idea. Why did I cry when my mom took me to dance class? I have no idea. Stop asking hard questions!
Either way, today was fantastic. I'm sad to be leaving SF and the Urban house. It's been real to say the least. I probably won't update until I get to Thailand just because we'll be in transit until then :)

Love you all!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dreaming for those who can't

I guess now is a better time than any to explain the title of my blog. During my Conflict and Reconciliation class last fall we read a book called Journey toward Reconciliation that has truly changed my way of thinking in relationships and reconciliation processes. But the concept that stuck with me most was the concept of dreaming. True dreamers are weighted to the ground by their feet and the realities of this world. Their feet are rooted in pain of the poor and the suffering of the oppressed. But their heads float in the clouds. They dream of better places, opportunities and futures. They are able to not get stuck in the clouds but never lose sight of their dreams. They are the connection between the present and the future. But we are also dreaming for those who can't dream, as Kique Bazan told us. The slaves around the world have nothing to dream for and so we must do it until they can.

That’s my hope for this trip. I don’t want to be paralyzed by the pain in this world, because it will. So easily it will still my spinal cord and numb my heart. But I don’t want to forget where my passions come from. I want to change this world for the better. Now that I know, now that I have seen I will not remain. So I keep praying that my present won’t make me forget the hope for the future I have.

And today I’ve been filled with hope. Even though we watched another pretty tough documentary (Small Voices) it still featured an organization that is tangibly giving back to the country of Cambodia driven educated children by taking them off the streets. Then we watched Call + Response and were able to speak with Justin Dillion, the director, after. It was inspiring to see his passion and drive. He said “our best commodity is our passion, not our money.” And I’ll have to agree.

Thailand weighs heavy on our minds as the leader of the red shirts was shot yesterday but we still continue our learning and laughing, with nervous text message updates looming.

all of us on the China Town Alley Tour. Photo by Courtney Owen

my roooooom. I sleep on the middle bunk under tiny little Jasmine and Courtney sleeps under the Giants blanket :) Once again, photo by Courtney Owen

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"I'm more of a midwife..." -Brad Berky

Yes, Brad actually said that.

Well the past couple of days have been an incredible roller coaster. I was talking with Shae as we walked over to Thai Place II, on Divisadero, about how the first two days have felt so heavy emotionally yet necessary. Today has by far been our lightest day on the emotions front. Yet we watched “The Killing Fields,” if that gives you any perspective on what we’re dealing with. “The Killing Fields” is about the massacres that happened in Cambodia after the Vietnam War. Interesting fact: they call it the American War, if that isn’t telling. It was so saddening to see how much the American government had let down this country. We’re fortunate enough to have Sarah Chhum on our trip, she’s Cambodian and her father and mother are both from Cambodia. Her father survived the killing fields (literally fields where Cambodian intelligancia were murdered because they were smart) so she had personal stories to tell. They made things very real for all of us.

We were blessed to have David Batstone come speak with us today as well. All of us are reading his book, Not for Sale, which began the whole Not for Sale campaign. He answered a lot of the questions we had about Thailand and Cambodia. Yesterday Kique Bazan with Not for Sale came to speak on his lengthy experience with human trafficking and the sex slave industry and to give us a little insight on boundaries and how to see hope in seemingly hopeless situations. This was a nice contrast to Dan Fibiger who was kindly nicknamed Eeyore. He had a much bleaker look on the whole situation… but was still very insightful on what we should expect in Cambodia.

One thing the whole group agrees on is that we are eating well. Yesterday we went to Zan Kaman, a Mediterranean restaurant. There we entertained questions like “When was your first kiss?” and “Would you rather be in a tub full of spiders or snakes?” Julia nearly spewed her babaganoush all over me when I asked. The night was definitely filled with laughter and I would go out on a limb to say one of the better nights we’ve had as a group. We then got sheesha that was honey flavored and smoked hookah. It was Laura and Kendra’s first time. They were quite funny to watch. Especially with Laura loudly proclaiming, “Whoa! I think I’m feeling the buzz!”

Tonight at Thai Place II we had another raucous night, going for an early dinner allowing us to take up the entire restaurant. We also coined the phrase WWBBD? [What would Brad Berky do?] He left his wallet back at the Urban house so quickly ran back to get it. We then quickly found out how helpless we are without him. Sarah Isander frequently said while he was gone, “Where’s Brad!?! What do we do?!! Can we have drinks or soup!?”

Yesterday I called my mother because I was at a cross roads; I didn’t know if I was really ready for this trip yet. She replied, “You know you can still back out if you want to.” I knew that wasn’t an option. She then replied, “Good because I have no idea why I said that, there’s no backing out now.” And she’s right. I guess you could say I now know too much. I’ve seen the faces, I’ve heard the cries, I’ve seen the burden. We watched a movie called “Bangkok Girl” yesterday where we became so attached to a working girl in Bangkok only to find out she had been murdered after the director of the documentary had left. Was this the reality I really wanted to enter into? Where men had a whole city as their playground? Where desires that make your blood curdle are everyday occurrences? Do I want to look in the eyes of suffering? How will I survive?! This is a reality for these women but it’s not for me. I don’t want to be that stranger (or as they say so frequently in Thai, falang) that enters into their life to tour their suffering only to leave. But I guess that’s why Brad keeps saying he wants this process to make us abolitionist.

Once again, I’m excited. Although these things weigh heavy on my heart I can’t help but think about the colors and the people and the food – OH THE FOOD! – that awaits me after a 14 hour flight. Each day I grow to love my companions for their quirkiness, bad habits and vulnerable natures. Although… they all need to learn to clean up after themselves.

But two and a third book awaits me before we land in Bangkok (only three days away!) and so does my journal. This blog is just sucking me dry!

All your prayers are appreciated and needed by this whole team.

Ciao all!

P.S. I’ll try and keep these shorter for future reading J

Monday, May 10, 2010

Group Blog

As a group we are daily writing a blog and I was lucky numero uno. Here's a taste of it. I'll put the link to it as soon as I get it.

The first official day of the Thailand/Cambodia 2010 Mayterm started as most do; in the kitchen. I wouldn’t really know though because I passed out at 10:30 p.m. the night before and just managed to get myself up. A feeling of exhaustion seems to be a common thread with all the housemates. Although we want to be present, alert and learning, our bodies seem more inclined to zone out, yawn and doze off.

Either way, worship filled the cozy Victorian house on Lyon & Fell at 8:30 a.m. after a hardy breakfast, all of which I heard from upstairs. It was then followed by an interesting assignment that began “[So and so] arrives at Mayterm…” This activity allowed each of us to introduce exactly where we were coming from, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Once again, the theme of exhaustion was apparent. It was really cool to have each student share, giving a quick glimpse into who they are and what they have to share in this adventure.

We then ventured to the basement to watch a movie – that hasn’t been released mind you – called “Playground” directed by Libby Spears. EVERYONE NEEDS TO SEE THIS MOVIE. It’s about human trafficking that happens within the United States. It was completely shocking to see the gross amount of sexual abuse that happens so close to home, literally. One of the main cities they focused on in the movie was Portland, Oregon, my hometown. At first I was so happy, seeing all the familiar places of home playing over and people biking in the streets. But by the end of the movie, I wanted to move out of my beloved city. It was heartbreaking to see how much pain was going on around in the neighborhoods I played in, in the schools my friends attended. “Playground” focused on the “at risk” children in the U.S. These children are those who go in and out of foster care and are subjected to drugs and sex at a young age. They are easily coerced into situations they have no knowledge of, just are all too familiar with. Even more upsetting was how the society we live in promotes the objectification and manipulation of children. With role models who find their identities solely in sexuality, many girls and boys don’t know any other way of acting. On top of that, many of these kids who are abducted are then shamed by being photographed and filmed during sexual acts. It was definitely a difficult movie to watch. But the movie also motivated me to see hope and desire to change things for my neighbors and friends.

During our break, a few girls (Kendra, Sarah, Courtney, and Jasmine) and I ventured over to Haight/ Ashbury district to look for journals. It decided to pour. That was unexpected, especially since most of us packed for the humid sticky weather of Thailand and Cambodia… not wet San Fran. Sarah nearly face planted on the sidewalk multiple times because of her flip flops.

When we returned, Rachel and Kevin Carey had a presentation on The Sold Project, allowing us to familiarize ourselves with the situation of Northern Thailand. We learned the distinction between child prostitution and trafficking, because there is a difference! Basically, if someone is under the age of 18 they are protected by human trafficking laws while those who are engaging in sexual acts willingly 18 and older are not. As well we got to see the benefits of prevention, learning the story of Cat and how a scholarship for school saved her from a potential life in the sex industry of Thailand. For more information about The SOLD Project and Rachel’s involvement go to Kevin then gave us a very brief introduction into Thai politics. There are no good or bad side’s folks! Interestingly enough, because of the nation’s history in Buddhism violence is very uncommon so the bloodshed on April 11th was shocking because it happened in general. Worried parents: this bloodshed isn’t something that happens all the time or in great amounts.

We then scurried onto the 21 bus line to head over to China Town for an alley tour done by some local teens (Anna, Wendy and Carmen). They were so dang informative! As a former Westmont Tour guide I was thoroughly impressed with their knowledge and incredible ability to remain engaging while presenting facts. But it’s kind of a gimme when they are teaching about such fascinating topics like the history of the alleys in China Town, SRO’s (single room occupancy, basically dorm rooms that actually hold 3 generation families) and racism. It’s weird how injustices seem to out do each other for placement in the history books. I could tell you a million things about the African slave trade, how Harriet Tubman is incredible and cases that were influential to the ultimate equal treatment of African Americans. But the Chinese… didn’t they get put in internment camps? Oh wait… no… that was the Japanese… whoops. So it was interesting to learn about things the Chinese community was doing to fight for equality before that Dr. King guy was even around. Yay Chinese people!

After trekking around the 24 block district, we took our new found knowledge to Hunan Homes, the best Chinese food in San Fran. Our two groups dined on meals of chicken, beef and vegetables drenched in exotic sauces. Best part of the dinner was by far when Hillary decided to try the sauces at the table. Clear = vinegar, red/orange = extremely spicy. You’ve been warned.

Now back at the house, the djembe echoes up the stairs, laughter fades in and out and footsteps can be heard everywhere. Though the exhaustion beckons our tired eyes and heads to bed, the excitement lingers in the air. We can’t wait. We can’t wait for the speakers tomorrow, we can’t wait to get to know each other better, and we can’t wait for our sovereign King to reveal to each of us our destinies, like a dangling carrot just out of reach. Scratch that, a giant carrot cake with incredible cream cheese frosting and that cute frosted carrot on top.

We are eager. We are tired. We are ready. But we’re hesitant. Will this trip be the straw that breaks the camels back? Will these people understand that I hate crying in public so that one tear I shed was a huge moment of vulnerability? I think I failed my last final. These are all thoughts that hang imminently over our heads as we anxiously await Thailand and Cambodia. But this next week is all about preparation for that next step in our journey. And I think that I speak accurately for the whole house when I say we’re freaking stoked.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Veronica arrives to Mayterm....

This was our first assignment!!! Don't you feel lucky you get to read it?

Veronica arrives at Mayterm. She brings along her sarcastic humor and a theft proof backpack. Both items are resistant to rain and bad attitudes. Although she is exhausted from her journey, Veronica has been counting down the days until she could fully engage and enjoy this Mayterm. It still hasn’t truly hit her that she’ll be leaving for a foreign country in less than a week. Either way she’s resolute to live within each moment on her Mayterm. Veronica also brings with her a suitcase. It’s filled with clothes but mostly empty space to fill with goodies from Thailand and Cambodia.

She’s left behind a comfort zone and her deep desire to get an A. Instead she’s more intent on listening, learning and engaging in activities. This doesn’t mean she won’t do her homework. She just might not try as hard. Veronica is a tiny bit afraid of what will change in this trip, who will be the ones she can share her fears and desires with, and lastly if she’ll get sick. Thankfully her mother sent her an entire hospital pharmacy so that shouldn’t be a problem.