Thursday, November 17, 2011

November 9, 2011

Well I’m not in Nepal anymore. But I still have so much to say about it! 

One thing that I’ve always really appreciated about reading other traveling friends’ blogs is when they describe a typical day doing whatever they’re doing. So that’s what I’m going to do! November 9th happened to be my favorite day of the entire trip (minus the trek), so that’ll be my model :). 

Days at the children’s home always started with waking up to the sounds of slamming doors and screaming kids, and this day was no exception. Breakfast was crispy rice with curry and warm milk poured over it. At first both Kirsten and I couldn’t eat more than a couple bites of this, but we eventually learned to really like it! 

That was the day that Nelson had asked me to teach a Bible study with the kids, so after breakfast we all went downstairs to the multi-gender room and had a time of worship and learning. It was SO much fun teaching the kids. I told them a story from Daniel, and how reliant Daniel was on his friends when he needed their help in prayer. Then I explained to them that since there are so many of them, they have an amazing opportunity to lean on each other and support each other in prayer. Then we played a fun demonstration game :). 

It was so rewarding to get to do that! I mentioned this earlier I think, but just being able to be in my element, teaching kids about the Bible, was just the best experience. It was really fun having Nelson translate everything too, because it gave me time to really prepare what I was going to say for every sentence! There’s a picture on one of the last posts of me teaching, so if you’re interested to see look there :). 

After the kids went to school, Kirsten and I went to get some delicious donuts and hop on the bus that would take us to our next destination. The bus system in Nepal is absolutely hilarious. Basically there are places called Bus Parks, where about 10 or so busses park, depending on the size of the place and how many people will be going back and forth. If you need to take a bus somewhere, you get on a bus with people on it and wait. Once the driver and money handler feel that the bus is full enough, it leaves! The crazy thing though is that it picks more people up on the way, so after a few stops the bus is always CRAMMED with people. 

Anyway, so that’s how Kirsten and I took the bus. That day we went to teach English with Tami Asia, a connection we had made at the international church. We had been there before, but didn’t really teach classes on our own since they had their own teachers and everything. But on that day we got there and there was a different translator, and he said that since the teacher was late all the teaching was up to us! 

So I go up to the board, and just started teaching. It was so great! There were two students, both women around 50. I taught them how to buy and sell, and we worked on emotion words as well. Eventually the teacher did show up, but he was happy with how class was going so just told me to keep doing my thing. It was so fun! I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed teaching until then. A couple days later when we went back, I had another awesome opportunity to work one-on-one with Sabita, one of the ladies from before. We had such a good time, but it was heartbreaking to make such a great friend like her and then have to leave two days later :(. 

Sabita and I
Anyway, back to the best day ever. After teaching with Tami Asia, Kirsten and I always went to a great Indian food restaurant called Universal Cafe. We discovered a lot of really great food there, I already miss it. My favorite dish was called Paneer Palak, or Alu Palak. Paneer is a type of cheese, and Alu means potato. Palak is a scrumptious curry dish with a spinach base, and its bright green. It looked so gross, but tasted so good! 

That day marked the middle of the week for Kirsten and I, so we went to the DeBortoli’s to shower. They took such good care of us! When we weren’t staying there, we still would go over for all of our hygiene and internet needs :). While we were there I got two amazing emails, one from my mom confirming that we’re going to a Mumford and Sons concert, and one from one of my best friends saying that we’re going to be able to live together next semester! Definitely a great day for emails. 

After that we caught the bus back to the children’s home and played with the kids. I got to play with two of the youngest boys, we play a game called “Down by the Banks,” but the only words they know are “Hankey Pankey” so that’s what they call it :). 

After a delicious dinner being stuffed down quickly due to a time crunch, we whisked away on the backs of Denesh’s and Nelson’s bikes to the DeBortoli’s again. We were meeting there and then heading out to Thamel on an outreach. In the day, Thamel is a very touristy place where they sell trekking gear at really low prices. But at night, all the bars open up and Thamel is where a lot of the sex trafficking in Kathmandu happens. So about 20 of us went down to walk through the streets, pray, and just see what happens. 

When we got there we split up into about four groups. Kirsten and I found ourselves with Ganga and Dinesh, and since Kirsten and I had been invited to a specific bar the first time we had been to Thamel we decided to go there first. When we got there, there was a (very small) bouncer who told us that we had to pay 200 rupees each in order to get in. But then I had Denesh tell him that we were invited personally to the bar, and we all got in for free! 

While we were there we got to talk to a girl and tell her about how Jesus loves her, and she immediately asked us to meet with her for lunch the next day. It was so great! After leaving the bar we got to talk to a couple more people, and buy food for a women who’s husband had recently died and was selling cigarettes on the street. 

To get back to the children’s home was an adventure in and of itself. First there were six of us who had to take a taxi, so Joel climbed into the front seat, then Kirsten, Katy, Nelson, Denesh and I all crammed ourselves into the back. Hilarious! Then I got to ride on the back of Nelson’s bike through the empty streets of Kathmandu from the Debortoli’s back to the children’s home, and it was my favorite bike ride ever. There was a full moon, the streets were empty, and we were flying. Apparently everyone else was freezing on the bikes, but I loved every second :). 

So that was my favorite day in Nepal. I loved being used, I love seeing God work, and I loved being surrounded by such great people.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Here is Where We Are

Well, today is the day that Kirsten and I were supposed to go to China.

By now, we should have been safe and snug in Em and Steve's apartment, enjoying the comforts of a nice bed and the promise of Seinfeld in the morning.

Instead, we're in a hotel in Kathmandu still, with the sounds of Nepali music blasting from the bar just down the street. Long story short, our flight got canceled, and we have to wait until tomorrow morning to leave Kathmandu.

But the awesome thing is that while we're technically in Kathmandu still, it's more like we're in an alternate reality. Because THIS Kathmandu is completely different from the Kathmandu we've been staying in these past four weeks! And while we may not be in China in Em and Steve's apartment, we had a HUGE Chinese feast and the room we're staying in is the same exact number as their apartment.  So our night is actually looking a lot like it would if we had made it to China, but we're just not locationally there.

At one point during dinner, Kirsten and I both realized that we had completely forgotten about the crazy day we had and how we had gotten there, to that very dinner table. And let me tell you, it was a VERY crazy day, and forgetting about it was a huge blessing. But we HAD forgotten about it, and we sat there realizing that we could honestly have been anywhere in the world at that moment. So we declared that "here is where we are!" And since the food and the company were both great, it didn't really matter what the specifics were.

But this got me thinking, what if we lived our whole lives that way? What if we could simply enjoy the exact moment for what it was worth, and not judge it based on how we had gotten there? If Kirsten and I had been sitting there, eating our dinner but dwelling on all the things that had gone wrong, we probably wouldn't have been able to enjoy it very much.

Now as I (hopefully) leave Nepal, I hope to spend a lot of time reflecting on the events that have happened here. But one thing I really hope is that I won't try to evaluate it, or compare it too much to other experiences or even the life I'll be living when I get home. Because there's no point to it, here is where I am, and although many things have brought me to that place (wherever it may be), I need to learn to appreciate it in the moment, and not put so much emphasis on a). how I got there and b). where I'm going next.

There's my two cents for the evening, hopefully the next time I blog it will be from China!

Communion

Well, it's my last week in Nepal! I'm very torn about leaving. When I think of going back to China and seeing Em and Steve I get really really excited for the week that is ahead of me. But when I think of leaving Nepal and saying goodbye to this amazing place and these amazing people, I get really sad! So, pray for me on Sunday, because I can almost guarantee I'll be an emotional wreck.

But while this is my last week in Nepal, I think it's safe to say that it has also been my very favorite week! I've been able to spend so much time with the kids at the children's home, and I was even blessed with the opportunity to teach them a Bible lesson during their morning worship! I really loved that. I finally felt like I was able to do something that was both helpful AND I was already good at.

Teaching with Nelson as Translator. Don't mind my confused-looking posture, I knew what I was talking about. 

The week started off pretty great, as we took communion at the international church that the DeBortolis go to. So on Sunday I took communion with people from England, Thailand, Korea, Africa, Brazil, France, Holland, Canada, Ireland, Australia, and I'm sure others that I don't even know about! You might have noticed, but that means that I took communion with someone from every continent except Antartica (which doesn't even count in my mind because I don't feel the need to take communion with a penguin).

How cool is that? I'll answer for you: it's VERY cool. To be able to partake in remembering the body of Christ with such a wide demonstration of how far it goes was incredible. People from so many different cultures, languages, and places in general were all claiming to be part of the same body, with the same purpose. Too cool for words.

What really brings this home for me are all the specific people that I've met on this trip from around the world. Let's start with the Nepali brothers and sisters: Ganga, Dinesh, Nelson, Sita, and and Nira. These men and women have such an incredible heart for the Lord, they work so hard day in and day out not only to make sure the kids at the children's home are doing well, but that people like Kirsten and I are safe and okay.

During times when either Kirsten and I would be sick, these men and women would be so compassionate and do everything in their power to make us feel better. The three men all spoke English, so we also go to know them pretty well too. They are so humble, so kind, and just so loving! At one point, Ganga told Kirsten and I that we could call him at any time ever and he would come rescue us. Sound like anyone you know? I'll give you a hint: his name starts with a J and he died for your sins.



Next I'll talk about Marshal and Lily. Again, these are NOT their real names, but since they are called to places who don't know how much they want Jesus yet, I have to keep them on the down-low. Anyway, Lily is from the Philippines, and I'm sure I would have never met her if she not only had married Marshal (who's American) and they had come to Nepal. But I am SO grateful for the brief time that I was able to get to know her!

Another surprise little treat at the end was meeting Katy, an English girl a couple years older than Kirsten and I who came basically with the same purpose as us: to see what's going on in Nepal and try and help in any way possible. We had a lot of really great conversations and some pretty hilarious memories with her. And again, there's probably zero chance of me ever meeting her if we had not both said "yes!" both to Jesus and to him telling us to come to Nepal.

And of course there's Kyle and Annie, a young missionary couple from Canada that we spent a lot of time with. They're so great! They've been here since April and just have such a great heart for the kids at the children's home and the ministry that Iris is doing here.

THIS is the body of Christ. All of these people that I've just described have come from so many different places, but our love of the Lord and our desire to serve him has brought us all together with one purpose. We have a lot of fun making fun of different accents and comparing cultures, but honestly how amazing is it that we can all come from such different places and have the same heart? The children at the home don't think of Kirsten and I as different from Katy or Annie or any of the other women from all over the world who come, they simply call us all "Auntie." Because we are all part of the same family. And when people in the villages remember the groups that come and tell them new and crazy things, they don't think "that group of people from all over the world," they think "those Christians."

My mind is blown by how awesome this is. I hope yours is too.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dahl Bat


Before I begin my next blog, let me just make sure that everyone who read my last one understands that I’m NOT saying that women in ministry don’t need men at all, because that is certainly not the case! Men AND women are pivotal to ministry and even though Girl Week was great, it was also really nice when all the men came back. 

So anyway, food. It’s pretty great, no? Our culture loves food. We have food at almost every social gathering, and sometimes even create social gatherings just so we can have food! Good cooks are greatly esteemed, while children of bad cooks are greatly pitied. Food is so important in our culture some identities are even formed by it. People take pride in their sense of taste; “I’m a vegetarian” or “I just LOVE spicy food!” or even “I don’t eat fast food” can be major statements of how one perceives themselves and the world around them. 

You might think I’m being a little overdramatic, but seriously. If you doubt how much food affects our culture, just take one day and count how many times food comes up in some capacity. Whether it’s about an amazing meal that they had just last week, or a great new restaurant that you should try, or even just a story about something that happened in the kitchen or at the dinner table. Food is EVERYWHERE in our culture, not just our bellies! 

And it’s not just food in general that we’re obsessed with, it’s the variety of food that really gets us. New recipes are always being made. Everyone has their own favorite genre of food. Food is always being compared to itself, like “this burger is pretty good, but honestly you should try my dad’s. HE makes the best burgers ever!” or “you call that spaghetti? Please. I’m Italian, I know what real spaghetti is, and that is NOT it” (by the way I’m not trying to generalize, I knew an Italian once who actually said that sentence).  

Anyway, the point that I’m trying to make here is that America loves food, and a whole bunch of different kinds of food at that. Food is spoken of in terms of quality and how well it was prepared, not if there’s going to be enough. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, to love food and all it’s kind of variety, all I’m trying to do here is point out how different that is from most of the world! 

Here in Nepal, there is a wonderful little dish called Dahl Bat. “Dahl” means lentils, and “bat” means rice. So, Dahl Bat is essentially lentil soup poured over rice. And this is what Nepali people eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s actually pretty delicious, especially when served with vegetable curry (as it usually is). 

But for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner? Last week, we were blessed with a variety of food because we were staying with the DeBortoli’s. But this week Dahl Bat is our reality, which honestly is not that much of a sacrifice since it’s so good and just a week. But like I said before, Americans love a little variety in their food. Well I’m American, and I’m looking forward to a couple weeks when I’ll be back in the States with all kinds of food at my finger tips (for those of you who are planning on feeding me when I get back, spaghetti is what comes to mind most often!). 

So tonight as I was eating Dahl Bat and dreaming about In-n-Out, I was prepping my mind for week ahead where I’ll only have this one option of eating. But then I looked around at all the kids who were actually shoveling the food into their mouths, and I realized that they probably don’t have any trace in their minds of wanting to eat something different. 

Because for them, they’ve never HAD anything different for lunch or dinner. Sure there have been birthday parties where they had cupcakes and such, but for a meal, I’m sure between all of them they could count on one of their tiny hands how many main courses they’ve had that were not dahl bat. 

And then I started to think about all the people we met in the villages who served us dahl bat, and it must be the same for them! Nepal obviously has food other than dahl bat, there’s certain delicacies and such, but for every day meals it’s just generally known that dahl bat is what you’ll eat. 

That’s crazy. An entire country all eating the same thing for every meal. What’s even crazier though is that they don’t mind at all, in fact I don’t think they would ever even dream of something different! 

I’m not trying to make a point with this blog at all. It just blew my mind, and I wanted to share that :).

Friday, November 4, 2011

Girl Power!

"A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved." 

Jane Austen. Pride & Prejudice (p. 21). 


This week, I read Pride and Prejudice and learned a lot of different views of what a woman should be able to do in order to be considered "accomplished." But in real life, I saw a lot of different woman at work, and I'm pretty sure I didn't see a single one of them sing, dance, draw, or speak French. Their manner of walking was quite adequate I'm sure, but I doubt that Miss Caroline Bingly was imagining the women driving like they do in Kathmandu when she imagined an accomplished woman.

My point is, there are some pretty incredible women here in Nepal, and I'm SO GLAD we don't live in a society anymore where women are expected to sit around and either look pretty or make pretty things. Some people may THINK that that's what women are for, and that they can therefore take advantage of us, but after witnessing some pretty hard core girl power this week I think it's pretty safe to say that a few notions of what a woman can and cannot do were changed.

On Monday the four DeBortoli house residents along with all the girls from the YWAM team went to a ministry called "Beauty for Ashes," which gives women who have escaped trafficking a legitimate job of making jewelry. On the way there, though, we needed to stop for gas. In this regard (and this regard ONLY), Nepal is very much like Oregon and you just drive up, tell the workers what you want, and they pump your gas.

Convenient right? You would think so. But when a Jeep roles up with nine very blonde and very American looking woman, things get a little more complicated. Instead of putting in the diesel gas like they were supposed to, the gas station workers tried to take advantage of Tammy and put in normal Petrol. Little did they know that we had a secret weapon: nine year old Joy! She knew that we needed diesel and she almost immediately picked up that they were putting in the wrong gas. So after some pretty crazy siphoning and lot of "I can't believe they would try to do that!"'s, we were finally on our way to BFA.

Women: 1, Scary outside world: 0.

At BFA, we were able to learn some of the stories of the women who were working there, and pray for them. It was such a great ministry, we literally had nothing to offer them except our prayers, and they took them so readily! There's a lot of different kinds of smiles here in the world, but I've begun to notice a  specific smile that comes when an unbeliever gets prayed for and encounters the Holy Spirit for the first time. There's sometimes a little hint of tears, often times a look of surprise, but there's ALWAYS a pure deep joy and a whole lot of teeth :).

That afternoon, us ladyfolk were once again challenged by the scary outside world as some welders who had come to fix the gate blew all of the electricity in the house. Not exactly ideal, especially when electricity is needed to cook dinner! But Tammy figured out a way to have some electricity and we were able to not only have dinner but watch Emma too :). Just because we're hard core now doesn't mean we can't get back to our roots once in a while!

Women: 2, Scary outside world: 0.

Anyway, the next day Kirsten and I indulged ourselves with some amazing Christmas shopping at this place called Thamel. Bargaining is the name of the game there, and once again us two blonde Americans were seen as easy prey to make a couple bucks off of. But we knew what we were doing, and we got some AMAZING deals on pretty cool stuff! I won't spoil what I got because like I said, I was Christmas shopping, but the lucky few of you that will receive the gifts will be very pleased I'm sure come Christmas day :).

Women: 3, Scary outside world: 0.

On Wednesday, I was really sick and took advantage of having no schedule and slept most of the day. But that night we were invited to a time of worship and praise for foreigners and women only, to encourage all the women here in Kathmandu who have give up their whole lives in order to serve full time here. It was incredible! There were four women who had come from Tennessee to encourage a specific missionary couple from their church, but they blessed about 20 other women with their worship and kind words. That was great for me, because clearly I didn't need any hard core encouraging since I'll be leaving in 9 days, but I could really pray and try to be a part of the uplifting.

The worship was awesome, it was such a blessing to be in that room with so many incredible women praising God. Also, having worship with only women was AMAZING because every single song was sung in my key (haha).

Women 4: Scary outside world: 0.

The next day, Kirsten and I got to meet some connections we made at church to help out at their ministry which educates women who are at risk for being trafficked. We specifically got to be a part of a class that teaches English to older women, and it was great to see how eager they were to learn. There were only two on that first day, so they had a 2:1 ratio of teacher to student! Pretty cool.

We went on Friday too, but that time there was only one student, making the ratio 4:1. Hilarious. She was so smart though, it was so great to learn a little more of her story and why she wanted to learn English so badly. She owns her own little tea shop, and since she's a little older she's very eager to learn English as quick as she can so she can speak it for the rest of her life.

Unfortunately I can't remember what the ministry is called at the moment, but all I can say is that it's awesome. It's incredible that they focus just on women and educating them, because they know that if women are educated, they're much less likely to fall prey to trafficking.

Women: 5, Scary outside world: 0.

Now our girl's week is over, and we'll spend our last week living at the children's home again. But the kids will be in school during the day, so Kirsten and I have decided to spend as much time as we can at the women's center, furthering the relationships we made there and just being a part of the awesome process of educating women.

Like I said before, I encountered a lot of really awesome women this week. The men may not have been present, but the ministry did not stop. And that is a beautiful thing. The world may be scary sometimes, but who cares. The same Holy Spirit lives in me that lives in men, so what do I have to be afraid of? Answer: absolutely nothing :).

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Doors

Anti! Anti! Anti! 

Anti! Anti! Anti! 
This is the name that Kirsten and I shared for the past week. In repetitions of three and all. We were staying at the children's home in Kokhana, where all week we played with, hugged, and basically just loved all of the adorable kids who live there. I have to admit though that we were quite popular there, hence the shouts of Anti! that would reverberate through the home whenever we went up on the roof to play with the kids. They all wanted us to watch them jump rope, to play 'hankey pankey,' swing them around, or just pick them up and love them :). 

At times the cries for attention would be a bit overwhelming, so we would have to make a retreat into our room. The beauty of this was that the kids would follow us, but we had an insanely hard door to open so only us and the very strongest of the kids were even able to get into the room! And thankfully the strong kids were also the older ones, and they didn't have the desire to barge into our room whenever they wanted :). 

Now prepare yourself, because believe it or not I'm not going to write the rest of this post about the amazing kids, but about the doors. If you're absolutely dying to read a post about the kids just practice patience, I promise I'll write one. If you don't have patience though, be thankful because Kirsten has already written about it from her perspective! Here's a link to her blog: http://outsidehistory.blogspot.com/2011/10/at-children-home.html 

Anyway. Back to the doors. I'm sure you're all totally stoked to hear about that. 

But like I said before, the door to our room in the children's home was really hard to open. I'm talking pull the handle, lower your shoulder, and ram your way into the room hard to open. Which is ironic, because our room at the Debortoli's doesn't even have a latch! You can pretty much breathe on the door and it will swing wide open. Now, if you've worked at Kidder Creek then I'm pretty sure you know what's coming up next, that's right, a TEACHABLE MOMENT!! 

While I've been here, something I've been struggling a lot with (and I'm going to guess some of you who read this are too) is how we can pray for healing and salvation for years and years for people who we love in the States and have nothing happen, but before I'm even in Nepal for one whole week BOOM I see more healings and salvations than I have in the entire rest of my life. Um, what? 

Late one night when I couldn't sleep from all the dogs barking in the neighborhood, my mind started to wander and fixed itself on odd things. Like, the doors. All I could think about was how how funny it was that the door to one of our rooms could be so easy to open, and the other so hard. 

And then it hit me. When christians pray for specific things and people, we are asking God to open a door. Why doesn't the same thing happen every time we pray? Because just like there can be so many different types of doors in the world, there are even more different types of people.  

Some people are like the door we have at the DeBortoli house. For one reason or another, many of the people we've been praying for here in Nepal are like these doors. We pray, the door swings WIDE open, and miracles happen right in front of our eyes. 

But some people and things are like the door we had at the children's home, and we can pray and fast and call out to God all we want, but what we're praying for still doesn't happen. Frustrating? Yeah, to say the least. 

But Miriam Webster says this about doors: that they are "a usually swinging or sliding barrier by which an entry is closed and opened." So, a door is not a door unless it can open. An unmovable door is called a wall. 

And the Bible says this about christians: "In him too you are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." Ephesians 2:22. So if you are a christian, you have the Holy Spirit in you, and he is capable of all things. 

All doors can be opened. All Christians have the power to open those doors. Miracles CAN happen in the States, just as they're happening here. People you know and love who are sick CAN be healed. They're problems are just doors, and while we may not know where the key is or how long it's going to take for us to break it down, we can still push and look as hard as we can until we don't need to anymore. And we can do this in CONFIDENCE that our prayers are being heard and that they have power behind them! Because it's not like we're sending up requests to some far off land that we can't even imagine. No, we're talking to the being who is living within us.

Unfortunately, sometimes the door is not opened and we don't know why. Maybe God hasn't revealed where the key is, or at least he hasn't yet, and we're left wondering why God hasn't helped us out with that specific door. I don't know why this happens, but I do know that it definitely doesn't mean that we should stop praying and trying to open all the different doors that we might see in our lives and the lives of others.  

Sometimes, the key is actually lying INSIDE the very room behind the locked door you're trying to open. Here's a literal example (and it just so happens to be my favorite memory of this trip so far!): Last Tuesday night, basically everyone that we've been doing ministry with here in Nepal was invited to Marshal and Lily's house for pancakes and worship (best combination ever? Um, yes). 

While at the children's home, our main form of transportation is on the backs of Nelson's and Denesh's motorcycles (so much fun!), so the plan was for me to go with Nelson and Kirsten to go with Denesh. The only problem was that Nelson's bike was at the YWAM team's house, so we had to make the ten minute walk there, pick up his bike, and then go to Marshal and Lily's. When we got there though, we realized that the YWAM team had already left, and had locked Nelson's helmet and keys inside the house! Definitely a major problem. 

But immediately I knew that there had to be a way to get in, there's robberies in Kathmandu all the time so breaking in couldn't be too hard, right? After circling the little flat a couple times and fruitlessly trying different doors and windows, we were about to give up. But then Nelson said that he was so frustrated because he could see the doors from the window, we were so close yet so far! So I asked him to show me where they were, and they were about 5 feet away from the window, on top of a dresser, and underneath his helmet. And that's when MacGyver took over my body. 

See, the window was open, but there are bars over all the windows here so we couldn't just climb in. Kind of like prison, except they're designed to keep people out, not in. Anyway, we pushed the door open as wide as we could, and then looked all around the area for a long pole or something to knock the helmet off the dresser with. Nelson came up with a long strip of rubber tubbing. Looking back I probably don't want to know what it's real purpose was, but at the time it was the exact length of what we needed! 

So with me pressed against the window trying to push the helmet off the dresser and Nelson trying to shine his cell phone on it so I could see, we began what would end up being a half hour long struggle to retrieve the keys, all so we could get to our precious pancakes and worship! 

After finally pushing the helmet off, the next step was scooping the keys off the floor and pulling them through the window. The rubber tubbing was no use in this area, so we had to discard that pretty quickly. We tried a lot of things; pipes, poles, anything that we thought would work. But we only succeeded in dragging the keys all over the floor, sometimes making horrible screeches that sent shivers up our spines. 

We were about to give up, when Nelson somehow comes up with a sickle that would be perfect for scooping, but wasn't long enough. So out comes my ponytail and out come my headphones, and with these two things we somehow tied the sickle to the end of one of the poles, scooped the keys off the floor, and then zoomed away through Kathmandu to get to our pancakes and worship :). Definitely an experience I'll never forget! 

Personally, I think that a lot of the doors in the States aren't as difficult to open as we think, we maybe just are thinking of them as walls instead of doors. I don't know why some of the doors aren't opened, I don't know why it seems like God just hands out keys at random sometimes. All I know is what the Bible tells me, and that's that the Holy Spirit lives within me. And I'm not going to let any kinds of doubts about whether my prayer will 'work' stop me from ramming myself up against every closed door I see! 

Tara Praying. Best Experience. 
One last story. Yesterday and today I've had a pretty bad cold, bad enough to tell the cutest little girl in the world that I couldn't sing her a song because my throat hurt. So what does she do? She prays. She prayed over my sinuses and my sore throat and the best part of all of this is after she prayed I felt SO MUCH BETTER! All this time I had been praying for people and being shocked when it worked, and then it actually happened to ME! So cool amazing :). 





  

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Harvest

So last week, I trekked through the Himalayas, laid my hands on people, called down the power of Jesus, and saw miracles. This week, I harvested a rice field. My life rules :).

But which was the more rewarding experience? Seeing first hand people being healed through the power of the Holy Spirit that lives in me, or having the joy of putting my sweat and hard work into a field of rice that was grown for 25 adorable little kids who have been pulled out of hopeless lives?

See, the rice harvesting wasn't just for kicks and giggles. The missionaries we're connected with here are part of an organization that runs a children's home in a village just outside of Kathmandu. They have a farm at the children's home, where they grow the rice, milk a cow, and have 7 goats (three of which were born just a few days ago! Soo cute.)

feeding a baby goat :). 
There's about 25 kids there, all of whom have incredible stories about how Jesus has saved them and brought them into this incredible home where they're loved by many. They have over 20 brothers and sisters, 11 adults who day in and day out are actively involved in their lives and loving them unconditionally, and a constant flow of people like us and the YWAM team who just want to give the kids love in any way we can. Definitely a positive alternative to the homeless, parentless lives they were living before!

When we first arrived to the home on Wednesday morning, they were right in the middle of their morning worship session. Now, as a camp counselor I've seen my share of kids get into their favorite worship song, jumping and clapping and laughing at the craziness. But these kids were worshipping their King, and I have rarely seen the kind of passion that they were singing and praising with even in the most Christ fearing adults that I know. Not to say that it's a bad thing, we all have our different ways of worshipping, but these kids GOT IT that they were talking to a real and living Being, and that he deserved all of their praise and devotion.

At this point, I completely lost it. I can't remember a time where I have seen anything as beautiful as that sight: 25 children who used to be orphans, singing praises to the Being they can't even see because he has saved them out of the cruelest types of childhood you can imagine.

And then as if that wasn't enough, I was pointed out Bhim, the little boy that my family personally sponsors, and I saw him worshipping and praising God with the biggest smile out of everyone in the room. What's a poor emotional girl like me to do? Those kids probably will always remember me as the crying lunatic, because from the first moment I met them I just couldn't keep in my emotions. I've never been so overwhelmed by any sight in my entire life! (No exaggeration).

After I got over my blubbering expression of joy I had the honor of going out and working hard to get those kids the food that they deserve. The rice field wasn't huge, but I certainly hadn't done any kind of gardening let alone farming before, so I was in over my head. Turns out though the process is relatively easy: grab a stalk, grab a sickle, and cut as low as you can. After two hours of this and with the help of about 20 people the field was done! There's nothing quite as rewarding as seeing a field full of ripe rice turn into a field full of piles of cut ripe rice, and knowing that your sweat and determination went into it.




Anyway, the longest part of the whole process turned out to be the next day, when we had to get the kernels off of the rice stalks and somehow collect all of them. Thankfully we had the machine, a wonderful man-powered device that spun really really fast, and when you put the stalk over it, the kernels would just fly off and land on the tarps we had set up to catch them.

That part was so much fun! It took a while though, because we had to take every bundle of rice we had made the day before and let the kernels fly almost individually.

Alyssa Hughes: rice harvester.


My favorite part of the day though came later, when we got to celebrate three birthdays at the children's home. Crazy that three out of 25 kids have the same birthday right? Well actually, wrong. See, the kids don't know when their birthdays are, so when they first come to the home they're told they can pick any day of the year to be their special day. I think that most of the kids probably pick the day right after they arrive (because who would choose to wait for the birthday?), and since a lot of kids arrive at the same time, they get to have a major birthday celebration :).

For one of the boy's we were celebrating, he even had the special treat of choosing how old he wanted to be! At first he was told he was turning 8. But then one of the older kids politely informed him that he was actually turning 7. I don't know about you, but I certainly wouldn't be able to handle that kind of disappointment! Especially if I were either 7 or 8! So of course he was very upset. Thankfully no one really knows how old he really is, so he was just old that he could choose how old he was turning that year. I think he landed on 10. Doesn't their life just sound great?

But while the birthday party was adorable and very educational for some (I had to show the kids around me how to eat a cupcake), I lost it again when I saw Bhim. His smile is just so huge, and even though he doesn't speak much English he knows that my family prays specifically for him and he never left my side all evening. He was holding my hand, and always just smiling up at me. Gosh he is just so great! I showed him pictures of my mom and sister and he was just so happy to see them, it was really a very special moment for me.



I also had an amazing personal moment up on the roof of the children's home during sunset. This week I've been having to process a lot, from things back home and from things going on here, and I was just so amazed that even in my own times of turmoil, I have a God that cares. I have a God that invites me up on to rooftops like that just to be with him, even though the pain in my life is nothing compared to what the children just one floor below me have had to endure.

So, which was more rewarding, the healings or the harvest? I really couldn't say, because even though they are SO different, they are still showing the love of Christ to people who need it. In the villages, we were showing the love of Christ to people by easing their physical pain. In the children's home, we're showing the love of Christ by harvesting food for kids who really need it.

But either way, we're showing the love of Christ, and that's what matters. I think that these two experiences are really highlighting for me exactly what the Body of Christ means and is capable of. Because we always hear about how some people were meant for teaching, and others for serving, and even others for praying. But to see just how much Christ can do in different expressions of himself shows me even more that you can spread Christ's name and love in so many different ways! You don't need to come to Nepal and pray for miracles to share his love. You don't even need to harvest a rice field for orphans to share his love. All you need in order to share Christ's love is a willing heart and and genuine prayer to ask God how he wants you to. There's no stopping our King!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Encountering Truth: Skeptics Beware.

Well blog world, I'm back from an incredible journey :). And I'm still in Kathmandu! That kind of blows my mind, that I just got back from an experience that will possibly shape the rest of my life, and I'm still smack dab in the middle of an adventure. Wow. 

Anyway, about the trek. This wasn't just a nice little hike through the mountains, this was  TREK through the Himalayas with the purpose of telling people about Jesus who had never even heard his name before. The Holy Spirit completely rocked my world this week, and I'm going to do my very best to describe what happened to you lovely blog reading people :). 


Cast of Characters

Joel DeBortoli: Amazing man, long term missionary in Nepal. The Debortoli family is the reason why I'm here; they go to our church from home when they're there. Joel is the base leader for Iris Nepal, who's staff we went on this trek with. Oh, and he's 6'8". So when this man speaks, people listen! 

Marshal and Lily: Missionaries who have been here for 15 years. These clearly are not their real names, but they're called to some places where missionaries are not welcome so we have to be careful :). Talking with them this week was one of the reasons I learned so much, they are SO full of wisdom and knowledge. I hope I get to know them better while I'm here!  

Ganga, Nelson, Denish, and Babu: Nepali men who work for Iris. Our trip would have been a disaster without them. Not only were they our best translators but their passion for their fellow Nepali people was inspiring. 

Ryan and Katie: a young missionary couple living in Kathmandu but primarily focused on a water project in Dadhuwa. Fun fact: Confirmation of their being called to Nepal came when they saw Monster's Inc: "WELCOME to the HIMALAYAS!!" 

Kyle and Annie: another young missionary couple working with Iris. Annie saved Kirsten and I many times after we both ran out of TP! 

YWAM Team: An awesome group of 9 people around our age who are serving here at the same time as us. We're so glad they're here!! 

Jordan DeBortoli: 14-year-old son of Joel. Cool kid. He's tall too. 

Kirsten and Lyssa: Complete newbs to the scene. Eager to learn and also shocked at what we saw, our lives were rocked. 

Setting

Northwest Nepal, in the Himalayas! We visited three towns: Puma, Dadhuwa, and Bangrebesi. All three were so unique, even though they were only a day's trek away from each other. Puma and Dadhuwa sat on the peaks of their respective mountians. We had to climb down one mountain and up another whenever we switched towns :). 

Act 1: Puma

When we first got on the bus to head out into the countryside, we had no idea what to expect. We knew the general plan: to pray for people, to show them the Jesus film, and generally just see what happened. The bus ride was beautiful, Nepal is one of the most beautiful countries I've ever seen! When the smog is light the Himalayas just loom over the country, and they are SO BIG! It's incredible. 

Our bus ride took about 7 hours, and then we had a three hour trek up the side of a mountain. Puma was at the very top, and the mountain looked like one giant cliff face. It was actually pretty scary at some points, with our heavy packs on our backs and the steep cliffs below it wouldn't take much to send us toppling over! But we all made it up alive. I won't say that we didn't loose a few drops of sweat though! 


Once we reached Puma, we were completely amazed by the beauty. We were welcomed by the community with open arms, even though they already had a tour group coming the woman who ran the guest house made us tea and dinner and even performed a traditional folk dance for us! The food was delicious: Dalbot and Veg Currey. Dalbot is rice with a kind of lentil soup poured over, it's very delicious. And the tea is black tea with a LOT of sugar in it, just the way I like it :). 

The next morning we were once again awed by the beauty of the Himalayas around us. We had breakfast, Roatee, which is fried dough. And it's, yet again, delicious. And of course we had the tea again :). After a long and wonderful time of worhip, we split up into teams to go to different parts of the village to pray for people and just serve them in any way possible. Some teams did some gardening, some prayed for peace over the village, and my team found many sick people to pray for. 

When I say pray for them, I mean we would lay our hands on them and ask the Holy Spirit to take away whatever is wrong in their body. We prayed for women with high blood pressure, back pain, body pain, teeth pain, and a deaf man. And they were all healed! The deaf man could hear, the woman could dance again, and all because Jesus decided to show his love for them by healing their bodies. 

I know that it's true too because we would ask them how they felt, and if they were still in pain they would tell us. So we would pray again, sometimes a couple times, and then they would be better! It was always so incredible and shocking, especially when we could see the differences in obvious ways like a man who had been deaf hearing what we were saying! Wow. Our God is so amazing!!! 

By the night time the village had heard of what God was doing through us, so before dinner we had a major time of praying and healing. And I don't think I saw a single person who asked for prayer not get healed during that time! Absolutely incredible. 

After another meal of Dalbot and Veg Currey we showed the Jesus film, and everyone who had been healed by Jesus was eager to learn about this amazing God. After the movie more healings happened, more lives were changed. It was SO cool. 

Act 2: Dadhuwa

Next morning we woke up before sunrise to do our major trekking day to the next village. The plan was to go across one mountain, down that, and then up another. It was supposed to only be about 6 miles, but the terrain was so steep it took us 13 hours! Kirsten and I absolutely loved it though. We both already love hiking so much, it was such an honor to be hiking in order to tell people about Jesus! The sunrise was a great start to the day as well. 


Once we finally arrived a couple hours after dark, all 22 of us collapsed outside on mats that were provided for us. The people of Dadhuwa were so amazing, they had no idea we were coming but they were so hospitable! 

The next morning Kirsten was pretty sick, so we stayed in our little English classroom where we had stayed the night before. Thankfully the bookshelf was lined with Nancy Drew mysteries, so I read "The Secret of Shadow Ranch" out loud while we waited out the sickness :). 

That afternoon we went out in groups again to pray for people again, and I saw even more miraculous healings done. I don't think I'll ever get used to seeing miracles like that! We also had a long time to pray over the area where were going to show the Jesus film, and I just had an amazing experience with that. It was by a huge tree that we could see from across the mountain when we were on our way to Dadhuwa. The sun was just about to set, a storm seemed to be rolling in, and I could just tell that God was going to do something BIG there that night. 

And boy did he :). So many people came for healing, and two men even came to Christ! Which doubled the church in Dadhuwa. What's great about this town is that Ryan and Katie are working on a water project, so there's a lot of opportunity for discipleship. 

Act 3: Bangrebesi

I really don't know if I'm spelling the name of that village right, but that's how it sounds. 

Anyway, we got to sleep in a little longer on that day because the trek wasn't going to take as long as it had two days before. It was almost all down hill (which I actually don't like, I prefer uphill) and there was a pretty big river at the bottom of the hill. Which Kirsten and I jumped in fully clothed to wash our hair and as much skin as we could have showing. 

Would I say that this was the biggest (non spiritual) highlight of the trip? Umm, yes. Definitely. Even though I was wearing all my clothes and I knew that my cleanliness was only an illusion, I have never EVER felt as refreshed as I did while in that river! The water was so warm and clear, and against the hot air outside I was just in heaven. 



Sidenote: you're probably thinking that I'm crazy for jumping in a river in the Himalayas in October. But this is actually the warm season in Nepal, and I spent most of my time this trek sweating. 

Okay anyway, when we got to Bangrebesi we found out there was a man eating tiger that roamed around in the jungle! Which I found very exciting. 

Once we got to the guest house we soon realized that we would be spending a lot of time with the biggest spiders any of us had ever seen. Was I terrified? Yes. Definitely. Especially since I was sleeping on the floor! But God was good and I actually never saw any big ones in the room I was staying, yay! 

We showed the Jesus film both nights we were here, and we ate a LOT of good food because the in-laws of one of the Nepali men lived there. We got to eat some rice pudding, a giant mountain of roatee, more dalbot and veg currey, man it was good. And some really yummy garbanzo beans and potatoes made with delicious sauces!! 

The second night of showing the Jesus film was awesome, three young people came to Christ which was AWESOME! Especially since this place was the most aggressively against Christianity out of all three that we went to. I'm worried about the young boys being persecuted, but I'll just keep praying for them to stay strong and for Christ to strengthen them. Please join me in that prayer!! 

Act 4: Returning Home

We left at sunrise again the next morning, in order to catch a bus in a city 2 hours away. When we arrived in the bus city (I don't remember what it's called) we had to wait a long time for the bus though, because it had gotten stuck in mud about 20 minutes away. I soon realized how once we were driving on that road! 

It was definitely the scariest bus ride of my life. At times I was convinced we were going to tip over the edge, at one point I even yelled "High Side!" out of instinct from my river guiding experience. Everyone laughed when I said it, but I was completely serious! I wanted everyone to go to the top of the bus so the whole thing didn't come crashing down on me! 

One fun part was literally driving down stream a river. And then of course once we were on paved road again I was able to relax and sleep. And have the most delicious bananas of my life! 

So that was my experience of trekking in Nepal. I'm so in awe of our God right now, it's just amazing to think that he heals the sick and gives people so much joy, and that's only so we'll know him better! It'll take me a while to process everything that I saw this past week, but that's okay. I have a lifetime of learning ahead of me, and I'm sure this week was just one tiny glimpse of the power of God. Hallelujah!! 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Terra-cotta Warriors

In case you haven’t been able to pick up on this yet, I’m writing this blog and the two before it all at the same time. I’ve had a huge chunk of time this evening which was been SO nice, and this is how I’ve used it :). 

Anyway, the Terra-Cotta Warriors. They were awesome. The entire experience in fact was awesome! We went on a tour that set out from our hostel, so everyone that we went with were essentially our neighbors. This made the social atmosphere a lot more active, unlike the other two tours we went on we had really great and really long conversations with a number of the other tourists. And they’re all so cool! 

One of the things I love most about traveling is meeting the other travelers. It’s so fun to be a part of this kind of community. Everyone here has such great stories, not only of other places that they’ve visited but just where they’re from in general! We’ve met people from Bangladesh, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Australia, England, India, and Canada. And while we’re all so different, we all have the fact that China is very foreign to us, and that bonds us together. What I love most about is that we would be just as lost if we were in one of their countries as we all are here! It’s just a beautiful irony. 

Back to the warriors. Our tour guide really made the whole day that much better. Her Chinese name is JaJa, but she says her English name is Lady JaJa :). And she was so cute! She had a long silly toy flower that she would hold up so we would know where to go, and was very adamant about us all be together at the same time and place. Apparently she lost somebody on her first tour and was determined to never do that again. 

There are three main pits at the Warrior site, and we started at Pit 3 and made our way to the first (and best). Pit 3 was really amazing, but not what you typically think of when you hear about the Warriors. Most of them were broken and at first it looked like a very grotesque scene, I kept having to remind myself that all the body parts I was seeing were broken clay and not actual humans. 

The second pit was also a bit disturbing as that area had not been finished due to the emperor dying, and so most of the warriors didn’t have their heads. It was still amazing though, as all the bodies were standing and stacked up in a way that looked like they were still in the process of being built. 

Pit 1 is the pit that is mostly publicized, because that’s where most of the soldiers are. There’s thousands of them, all lined up and ready for battle. There are four types of warriors: general, archers, officers, and calvary men. The horses used by the calvary men were my favorite things there. They had so much expression in their faces! They seriously looked more angry and ready for battle than the soldiers did. 

One thing that really struck me was how every single warrior had a different face. The first time I heard this I was skeptical, because I was imagining a handful of expert clay workers to have made the whole army and I just couldn’t imagine how much creativity that would take to think up thousands of different faces. 

But apparently each warrior was made by one worker, and the worker would model their  warrior’s face after their own. The tragedy was that once the worker had finished, the emperor would have them killed in order to keep this clay army secret. So since there are at least 8,000 warriors, that means that just as many real humans died in order to build an army that was intended to protect a man after he himself died. Something’s not quite right here. 

I have to admit I get really upset when I hear things like this. What kind of man would think it’s okay to kill that many people in order to protect himself after he is no longer alive? He obviously had some ego problems. 

I’m just so overjoyed to know that one day humans won’t have so much authority over other humans. If there’s one thing I’ve learned here it’s that there are a LOT of people in the world, how could just another one of those people ever have what it takes to make sure all those people are safe? Especially considering that person is sinful just like the rest of us and is bound to make mistakes. What an encouragement to know that we were not meant to be governed by each other, and that is is possible for the one who created us to know us each individually and do what’s best for everyone in the world. And he has!

Goodbye Beijing, Hello Xi’an!

So that just leaves us with the last day in Beijing, our Tianenmen Square and Forbidden City day. This was probably my least favorite day in Beijing, the smog was OUT OF CONTROL and yet there were still thousands of people surrounding me and it was quite warm. So all of these things cumulated to make me feel pretty nauseated, which is never a fun feeling. 

Despite all that though the Forbidden City was really amazing! Once again I was able to connect with the history, but only from Mulan. We were so excited to see the huge courtyard with the giant steps, I could just imagine the statues on the roofs emerging and turning into terrifying Huns who wanted to take over the city. Thankfully for us that didn’t happen, like I said before I wasn’t feeling my best that day and I just don’t know if I could have pulled off breaking into the palace and saving the emperor. 

What amazed me (which really shouldn’t have) is that the Forbidden City really was a city. There were many many buildings, not just one big palace for the royal family to live in. There were a couple different thrones as well, each one having a specific purpose, like for discussing crop matters or diplomatic issues and the like. 

After the Forbidden City we had lunch then went to relax at our hostel before we took a sleeper train to Xi’an. This China trip has been amazing, but it’s times when I’m relaxing that I realize how exhausting it also is! My appreciation for sitting and for sleep has reached new levels. 

At this point I was really ready to leave Beijing. I loved the city and I’m so glad I went, but by the end the smog was just too much and there were way too many people for a poor introvert like me. Even though I knew I was just going to a city that was also really smoggy and had millions of people, the knowledge that it was different smog and different people was somehow comforting.

The sleeper train was an absolute blast. I felt like a little kid for how excited I was to take it, and my expectations were not let down! I had never done anything like that before, but the idea of sleeping on a moving train in a tiny room with 3 of my best friends was totally exhilarating. We spent the first part learning Chinese history from Steve the social studies teacher, then read our books all snuggled up in our tiny beds. I loved it so much! Even though I know that there have been many many many people in that room and there will be in the future as well, it just felt like we had a little home in there. It was our space and no one else was allowed to come in, and after being surrounded by so many people that was exactly what I needed.  


Our hostel, the Han Tang Inn was awesome and picked us up from the train station, along with about 15 other foreign travelers. We all arrived at the hostel at the same time, so it was pretty crazy trying to get checked in and settled. Thankfully they have a great kitchen with delicious breakfast items, so while we waited for our room to be available we feasted on omelets and fried eggs and french toast. It was so good I didn’t even care that I wasn’t eating ethnic food! 

Since we arrived pretty early in the morning, our room wasn’t ready for a couple hours after we got here. So we stored our luggage and went out on the town, towards a section of Xi’an near here called the Muslim Quarter. We had had it recommended to us by other travelers we had me in Beijing, as well as from Em’s guidebook, but we didn’t really know what it was. 

Turns out it’s a huge marketplace! Kind of. I don’t know how big it is, but it’s a substantial part of the city with street vendors on both sides of the small alleyways, with tons of people buying and selling everything you could ever imagine; crickets, na’an, noodles, spices, beads, vegetables, eggs, clothes, raw meat, cooked meat, crickets (alive and in cages), chickens, and even puppies! Those of course were my favorite. 

We loved it there. It was such a sensory overload, there were tons of people and smells but they were all nice people and nice smells. I don’t think anyone took my picture there (with or without permission) and the food all smelt delicious and fully cooked. Also there didn’t seem to be any public toilets, which were a major contributor to the foul smells in Beijing. 

Did I mention how big it was? Well it was big. So big we got completely lost. We just wandered around for a really long time, taking everything in, and eventually huddled together and decided just to get out wherever we could. Not that it was stressful being in there, it was just time to leave to get into our room! 

Once we had fully settled in we set off again to go to a museum. I can’t tell you what it’s called though, because our guide book called it one thing and the name on the entrance called it another, so I was really confused about what it was really called. And when my mind is tired and confused, it doesn’t really have much chance of retaining the confusing information. 

Anyway, the museum which shall remain unnamed was also cool. It had a huge display of ancient Buddhist statues that had been recovered, as well as huge tablets that were used to record history. We even saw the first record of Christianity coming to China! That was really cool. 

I wish I could tell you more about the museum, but I was really tired at that point and it all seems like a dream. And again, since I didn’t know any of the history going into the museum it was hard to get a grasp of what I was really seeing and learning about. 

And that was our first day in Xi’an! Today we saw the Terra-cotta Warriors, but that’s a whole other blog post :).

Summer Palace and Second Great Wall Day

Ooops! It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. But you wouldn’t know that because I can’t post from China haha. 

Anyway, our last three days in Beijing were wonderful. On Sunday we went to the Summer Palace, on the North West end of Beijing where the emperors would go to escape city life back in the day. We found this very ironic, especially when we saw a sign that said there had been over 81,000 visitors to the palace that day! Definitely not a place I would go to escape the city. 

But once I was able to imagine the place without so many people, I completely fell in love. The palace overlooks a huge lake, with a man made hill boasting a huge temple and pagoda facing the South. I’m really appreciated how Fen Shua makes everything so pleasant to look at! 

The bridges over the lake are beautiful as well, I don’t know how to describe them except by saying they’re very Chinese. One thing that has struck all of us here is how China really is like we expected, with the buildings all having square and beautiful roofs and bright colors everywhere. There’s even paper lanterns that hang in most doorways and entrances! 

Anyway, all that is to say that the Summer Palace was beautiful, even with so many people there. We watched the sun set over the lake, then made our way to the Olympic Center. We took the subway there, and the line that went directly under the center was gorgeous! They really went all out here to make the city look amazing for the Olympics. 

Once we emerged from the tunnels we joined probably another 80,000 (at least) people as we saw the famous Bird’s Nest and Water Cube. It was so great being there! With so many people there was just a huge level of excitement. Everyone was taking pictures and smiling, and once again there were many people take pictures of us. I think I really enjoyed that part of the trip because not only was it beautiful and historical, but it was a history I could relate to. While I’ve absolutely loved seeing all the historical sites about China, I just don’t know as much history about this country so it hasn’t been as meaningful for me. But the Olympics I get, and the Olympics I loved :). 

The next morning we woke up really early for our second Great Wall day! And it was yet again, great. We drove to a different section this time, called Mutianyu. It’s an older and less visited part of the Wall, probably because it’s got some pretty steep parts that make it harder to just explore and enjoy. 

But for adventurous people like the four of us, it was absolutely perfect! We took a ski lift  to the lowest section of the wall we could, then hiked for two hours to the highest point we could go. And boy was it high. If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, or even if you’ve just seen it, then imagine the steps that Smiegel leads Frodo and Sam up to get into Mordor. That’s how steep the steps were for us at points! Thankfully we were climbing them out of our own free will and weren’t being forced to by a need to save the world. This time anyway….




Ok. Nerd moment over. For those of you who haven’t seen LOTR; they were really steep steps. 

We were really glad to have both Great Wall days after that trip. On the first we had beautiful blue sky (because it was National Day and all the factories weren’t running) so we could see for miles, but there were a lot of people. On the second there were less people and we got to explore so much more of the wall, but we couldn’t see far because of the smog. Both were so great! 

It’s still hard to believe that we were there. What’s crazy about this whole trip is that I never really pictured myself coming to China, so when I would see the Great Wall in movies or learn about it in history I sort of put in the same category as the moon in my mind: totally awesome but unreachable. But then I did see it! And I hiked on it, and even ran on it in some parts. 

What an awesome way to be humbled :). Watch out moon, looks like you’re next! 

Definitely the Coolest Wall I’ve Ever Seen…







I was on the Great Wall of China today. I’m tempted to end the blog right there because honestly I don’t know how any sentence could ever get cooler than that. But I guess I can elaborate for the sake of those who are living vicariously through me on this trip :). 

Let me first start by saying that foreign tourists are strongly encouraged NOT to visit China for this exact week that we’re here, because the entire country has this week off due to National Day that was celebrated yesterday (October 1). The catch is that is the exact reason we’re here on this week; we wanted to visit with Em and Steve and this was the week they had off work (they’re teaching English in Shanghai) so we came over here at this time to see the sights with them. 

Anyway, my point is that there’s a lot of people here right now. Yesterday Kirsten and I were getting on the subway on the station near Tianenmen Square, and we were the only two people going down onto the subway against thousands of people coming up! Thousands is literal, by the way, not an exaggeration. 

So not only is this week the busiest week in China for travel, but today of all days is the busiest day on the Great Wall. Under normal circumstances there’s no way we would have chosen to visit on this day, but we had four free tour tickets and figured that a free trip to the Great Wall is totally worth that feeling of being herded like cattle.  


So we were picked up by our amazing tour guide named Jackie Wan (he was very sure to clarify that he would not perform kun fu moves like Jackie Chan would) and headed off into the traffic on our way to the Great Wall. He was so knowledgable about China’s history, at first I thought he was just giving a memorized introduction to the trip but he went on for hours about different aspects of history, and why certain buildings were shaped and placed where they were, it was incredible! Also hilarious though, because although he spoke English very well his accent made him pronounce words like “visitors” as “wisitors,” which always makes things more interesting :). 

First he took us to the Ming Tombs, which was a nice little extra surprise on the trip. My favorite part here was learning about ancient ghosts, and how they couldn’t fly like our good old Western ghosts do. Instead they glide along the ground, but they don’t have knees. This being the case there’s steps in front of the doorways around the tombs so they ghosts can’t get out. My favorite visual is imagining an angry ghost ramming up against the door but not being able to get out because he doesn’t have knees :). I’m so glad we’re promised so much more than that!! 

Then we went to a jade factory, where the the factory’s tour guide rushed us through demonstrations on how jade statues were made, then made us walk around and see all the beautiful things we could buy. Of course I didn’t buy anything, I wanted this tour to be as free as it could be!! 

After the jade factory and lunch, we finally finally FINALLY headed to the Great Wall!!! We started driving towards mountains that look a lot like the mountains in Santa Barbara, and eventually it was just there on the side of the road, going up the steep slopes with a watch tower at the top. I couldn’t believe I was looking at the Great Wall with my own eyes, it was just so amazing and beautiful and actually there!!  

It was amazing too to be driving along and see just how long the Wall is. I mean we didn’t even see close to all of it, but we were driving for a while and I never saw it stop. Like I said before though, there were TONS of people going to see the Wall today. So many in fact that we had to get out of our bus on the freeway and walk to the entrance. Thankfully there were two gondolas we could take, one that would take us higher but where there were more people, and another that was less crowded. We opted for the less crowded. 

The gondola ride was incredible, the leaves are just starting to change here so it was like soaring over a Santa Barbara mountain peak, except with little patches of bright colors everywhere. I loved it! 

And then all of a sudden we were standing on the Great Wall. Thankfully the good people of China seem to be impressed by higher walls, so there really weren’t too many people on our section of the Wall. The entire experience was so surreal, even thinking back on it seems like it could be in some movie or magazine, but not real life! The mountains look so similar to the mountains in Santa Barbara we were all saying that it felt like we could be back there on a hike, yet there was the Great Wall cutting through the landscape! I could never see it stop in either direction it was so long, and the watch tours were so beautiful and strong looking I would seriously be intimidated if I ever intended on attacking China. (Which for the record I definitely do not). 

We had a lot of people ask us to take pictures. Not take their camera and take a picture of their group, but actually stand next to us, pose, and take our picture. It was hilarious! I didn’t realize how just being foreign made me something exciting. Even our buddies that were on the tour with us from Bangladesh wanted our picture, which was really cute and fun. There were only three other men on the tour, all of them here in China on business. It was great getting to meet new people like that! 

So that was my first Great Wall experience. I say first confidently because we already have plans to go back on Tuesday, to a less crowded section. It’s so easy to do since we didn’t have to pay for today! What an amazing blessing that was. I can’t believe I was on the Great Wall of China today!! 




Now we’re back in our lovely hostel, but this time with a private room. Last night we had a private room as well in a different hostel, but it was literally a closet with bunk beds built inside. Totally hilarious. It was really nice having Em and Steve there too because they had a much nicer and bigger room where we kept our stuff. But tonight we have our own room and own bathroom!! Biggest treat in the world, and it’s only a couple dollars more per night. 

Wow, I never realize just how much I’m writing on these things. If you made it this far good on ya, stay tuned for more stories from the East! :)

Day 1: Success!!

What a crazy past couple of days it has been. Yesterday, we were sitting on a plane for 12 hours, with nothing to entertain us except Sudoku and crossword puzzles. Today, we walked for 9.5 hours around a city we had never seen before, dodging cars and conquering bus systems. Talk about contrast! 

Even though it’s only been 26 hours, I’ve learned and seen so much already! 

Lesson #1: Beijing is pretty incredible. Seriously, I LOVE this city. There’s history around every conner, the people are all super friendly, and I feel really safe! Most of the signs are in Chinese and English which is really nice, especially since we’re walking to most of the places here and it would be pretty stressful to find our way around if we couldn’t read the street names. 

Lesson #2: Stop lights in Beijing are optional. Even though they have pretty cool signs telling you when to cross the street and when not to, nobody is paying attention to the traffic laws so you still have to dodge cars and pray for the best! We’ve started a new game called “Pick a Local.” It’s pretty self explanatory, but basically the goal is to find someone who looks confident in their street crossing capabilities, but not so confident that they’re jumping in front of cars no matter how fast they’re going. The best candidates are slightly older mothers with their small children. Once the local has been picked, the goal is to stay as close to them as possible and do exactly what they do, without giving off any kind of stalker vibes. 

Lesson #3: China is old. Ok I admit I already knew that, but being here realizing that I was standing in buildings that had been built 800 years ago gives the word “old” a totally different meaning. Today we toured the Drum and Bell Tours, as well as the Temple of Heaven. The Drum tower was my favorite, it and it’s buddy the Bell Tower were used back in the day to announce the time to the city. I just loved standing in this ancient tower that overlooks all the hutongs, imagining the city as it would have looked in 1240 when the tower was built. The drum demonstration they gave was pretty cool too :). 




Lesson #4: Public Transportation Rules! Today we saw a LOT of the city. The first portion of the day was spent walking for miles and miles (we calculated it was a total of 9.5 hours of walking), and we would have walked even further if the kind people of China had let us. But when our hostel and some over ambitious rickshaw drivers told us that it would take us 3 hours to walk all the way to the Temple of Heaven, we decided to get over our fear and figure out the bus and subway system. Turns out they were great! Only a matter of cents for each ride, and they were super clean and easy to figure out. I really loved it! 

Lesson #5: Possibly the most important lesson: taking breaks is okay. After we had seen the Temple of Heaven, we were really tired. Our feet were both in serious pain, and our minds weren’t capable of taking in too much more information. I was zoning out so bad I missed an entire group of soldiers pass us by! But we had seen everything we needed to for the day so we had to get back to the hostel. Our plan was to just power through the pain, but then we saw the gelato stand. And then we heard “Free sample! Free sample!” Next thing we know, we each had a cup of gelato and were sitting on a bench. Beautiful. Our feet were happy, our stomachs were happy, and it was just so nice to be sitting on a bench and watching the people. We stayed there for quite a while before we finally got the strength to go again. 


Not bad for a first day eh? Now we’re just chilling at the hostel, waiting for 10 o’clock or even 9:30 to come so we can peacefully go to bed and not worry about enforcing our jetlag even more. It’s pretty painful still being awake though, especially after such a full day!! 

Here’s hoping the excitement never stops but the foot pain does :).