Everyone dies. Not everyone truly lives. -William Wallace "Braveheart"

Monday, August 25, 2014

Movin' On Up...to the Volunteer House

On Monday I was able to move into the volunteer house and learn more about what I would be doing for the next month. I met my roommates: Lena from Sweden, Maria from Sweden, and Florence from Belgium. There were volunteers from all over the world, Australia, the UK, the States, Mexico, Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada, Netherlands, Norway...everywhere! It was like getting to travel all over the world at one time. We would sit and talk about the differences in cultures, by the way, apparently PBJ's seem weird to everyone but us and people in Europe eat baked beans on toast for breakfast.

The first two days were orientation. We were given information on local safety, traditions, and etiquette as well as instructions for the schedule and getting everything assembled each day for our respective projects. The third day, myself and the other medical volunteers set off for morning projects. Some were taken to various clinics and some were whisked off to different villages for home-based care. I was sent to Libuyu Clinic. At the clinic, we took vitals, weighed babies, filled prescriptions, and kept the books.

At 11:00 the bus came to pick us up and take us back to the house for lunch. After lunch, we got the supplies together that we wanted to use for our afternoon projects. Paints and brushes for Art Club, jump ropes and balls for After school, books and letter flashcards for reading club...I LOVED afternoon projects! The consisted mainly of after-school clubs for the kids. Math Club with the 7th grade boys was my favorite. It is so rewarding to teach a concept that no one seems to be grasping, and then all of a sudden you explain it a certain way and it clicks. The kids there are so eager to learn. They are so happy, despite having nothing. It changes you. Things that you would normally complain and fuss about at home, don't seem like such a big deal after being in Zambia.

I haven't told anyone about this because it makes me too emotional, but one day, while I was volunteering at one of the clinics, I was playing with a precious little 4 year old boy. His father walked up to me and asked where I was from. When I told him I was from the U.S. he said "Please take my son back with you so he can have a good life...Please" I went back to volunteer house that afternoon and cried. It was the hardest thing I experienced while I was there.

The children in Zambia are so sweet and friendly. They call us Muzungus (white people). When we would arrive at the school they would run up shouting "Muzungu! Muzungu! How are you?" and hug you, and hold your hands. When the volunteer bus would drive down the road the children would skip behind it and sing the "Muzungu Bus song."


ZAMBIA

I FINALLY made it! It took 40 hours to get here, but I made it!
On my way to retrieve my luggage from baggage claim I broke my main pair of shoes. I had pretty much planned on wearing them with everything, so I'm pretty bummed. I was met by the driver who informed me that we were waiting for one more person. We waited for over an hour, but she never showed up.

At Livingstone Backpackers I am informed that I won't be able to stay at the volunteer house until I "officially" start volunteering on Monday. They place me in a 4 person bunk by myself and I get settled in.

The first thing I want to do when I arrive is hop in the shower. It's a strange setup with an open air unisex bathroom and nowhere dry to get dressed after showering. The shower is FREEZING! Painfully cold! I think about complaining, but then I feel a sudden wave of guilt. I should be happy that I have the resources to get a shower. Most people in Zambia don't have the luxury of a formal shower.  So, I grit my teeth and bare it...literally.

After thawing out from the shower, I decided to walk around and explore Livingstone. I needed to change money and grab a few things from the store. Livingstone is pretty small. Everything is in walking distance to the backpackers, which is nice. I immediately felt safe and comfortable in Zambia. The people are so warm and friendly. Some people just want to sell you things and can be a little relentless, but it is next to impossible to pick them out of the crowd because everyone treats you as if you are their new best friend. I may have felt a little too comfortable.

One night at about 10:00pm I decided to go meet up with some friends at a bar about a mile away from the backpackers. On my way out one of the guards (a local) at the gate questioned me "Amanda? (looks down at his watch with a concerned look on his face) Where do you think you are going so late? No...not a good idea." "I'll be fine," I assured him tucking my small purse into my jacket and zipping it out of sight. "See." "I don't like this," he said as he opened the gate. I still wasn't worried. It wasn't until I got to the end of the dirt road where a couple guys were sitting hanging out that I got worried...not scared of them, but because of the question they asked me. They looked at me as if I was an alien and asked "Are you okay?" "Yes?" I said unsure. I picked up the pace after that. Apparently walking around after dark isn't such a good idea haha. I made it fine though, in case you were wondering.

It was lonely the first 2 days in the room by myself. I wished that they would stick a couple of people in the room with me, but no such luck. On the third day, I met a group of five traveling from Australia. We clicked immediately. I only got to spend five days with them, but I actually got a little emotional when they left.




Sunday, June 29, 2014

Frankfurt

I landed in Frankfurt with the intention of catching a train into town, but it was proving to be complicated. I needed to put my carry-on bags in storage, but couldn't get clear directions on how to get to storage, I would stand in one line, get to the front and explain what I wanted to do, be told I was in the wrong place (even though I wasn't). I finally decided to kill time in the airport. I went for a walk for, what seemed like, 2 hours. I looked at my phone....it had only been 15 min. I realized then that there was no way I was going to make it 13 hours. I pulled up my big girls pants and finally found customs, the baggage storage, and the train. After I payed to store my bags the attendant informs me that it is a national holiday in Germany and that everything is closed. At least I can stretch my legs and get some fresh air in my lungs before my next 10 hour leg. 
I get on the train, not sure where I'm wanting to go when I see a large blended family staring at the train map. "Hmm," I thought to myself,"they look just as lost as me." I inched closer...they were speaking English. It was my lucky day. I struck up a conversation with them. They were from Washington state and had 2 sons of their own and 3 adopted Asian girls. The trains were confusing, and it didn't help that each town sounded remarkably similar to the one before it. At one point we realized that we had reached the end of the track and had to hop off that train, figure out where we were, and catch another, but we eventually made it. They told me I was welcome to join them and I didn't hesitate to accept the offer. We walked around town and took some pictures, then grabbed a bite to eat. I had some sort of a schnitzel. Their flight left much earlier than mine, so we parted ways after lunch. 
I thought I would continue to explore Frankfurt on my own, but once I was left alone with my thoughts the lack of sleep caught up with me. I sat down to try to find a wifi connection to call home, but no such luck. I woke up on the stairs to some museum and came to the conclusion that I should probably go back to the airport and find some vacant chairs to crash on, so I didn't look like a vagrant. 
I had even more trouble getting back to the airport, but eventually made it with 5 hours to spare. 
As I boarded the plane, I was informed that they were changing my seat so that I would have 4 in a row to myself...SWEET! I slept much better on that flight.

And the Jouney Begins!

After much difficulty checking my bags (called Lufthansa and was told I only got one bag, stayed up until 2:30 am repacking, went to check my bags at the airport and was told it was too heavy, but that I could've checked 2 bags....) I made my way into the airport in search of a little something to take the edge off. I sat down at the bar and spent about 10 minutes looking at the drink menu just to be told that the drinks started at $13!!! Not willing to spend that much on one drink I plotted my escape with the intent of sneaking off quickly to avoid embarrassment. I succeeded and found another bar where the drinks were a little cheaper. When I reached for my phone to check the time I realized that it wasn't there. If you are thinking it was back at the other bar...you are right. So, instead of avoiding embarrassment, I doubled it. I had to sheepishly approach the woman I had run from and ask if she had my phone. Thankfully she did and I boarded my flight to Germany. The flight was packed, but I sat next to a really friendly woman named Sue who was on her way to Paris with her yoga group. She had the ingenious idea to pre-buy mini bottles of alcohol at the duty free shop to add to the airplane soda. It turns out, however, that on Lufthansa EVERYONE gets free drinks....even us measly coach flyers :-) Great Success!!!
I couldn't sleep at all on the plane, so I watched Mitty and American Hustle instead.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Peachtree Road Race 2011


Today was my first time doing the Peachtree Road Race! We decided to drive 2 cars to atlanta to pick up our race numbers and leave one at the finish line and then go really really early, before they blocked off the streets for the race, and find a parking spot at the start line.  We didn't go to bed until 12:30 and we had to get up at 3:30, so at that point I figured "why even go to sleep" and just stayed up all night.  I payed for that decision the next day though ESPECIALLY with having a 4th of July party with Mom at 3:00 the same day...that was crazy :-) The race was fun though.  I will definately be doing it again next year!  

Thursday, June 2, 2011

I'm Engaged!



Part I: The Plot to Surprise Mom is Born
Mom and Al both wanted to go see Machu Picchu while we were in Peru, but it would be a 24 hour bus trip to Cuzco and then a 4 hour train ride to Aguas Caliente and then another 30 min bus ride up to the ruins and that's just ONE WAY! Alejandro and I had already done a 4 day Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu a year and a half prior, so we had decided that on this trip we would go to South Peru to the desert and make our way back up to Lima, then hop on a plane and go to the Amazon, then go to the Andes.  We just weren't going to have time for Cuzco with Al only being able to get 2 weeks off work.  Well, the day before our flight to Lima left, Alejandro pulls me aside and says "What would you think about surprising your mother with a trip to Cuzco so she can see Machu Picchu?" Of course I was game...I love surprising people and I had never pulled one over on Mom.  I called Al and he "called" his boss and Operation Surprise Mom was underway.

Part II: A Surprise for Everyone
Once we were in Lima, Al, Alejandro, and I had to find a way to preoccupy Mom so that they could go to the bus station and get the tickets.  So I took Mom for a day at the spa and they went to Miraflores to the station.  Well it turns out that they decided to shell out the extra money and get us 4 plane tickets so it would only take an hour and a half instead of 24 hrs!

Part III: Surprise Mom!
Al and Alejandro kept asking me how we should surprise her with the tickets and it finally hit me.  Before we left for the Amazon we told her she needed to pack for the Andes because we were going to be leaving there the day after we got back from the Amazon (understand that we were leaving the Amazon and getting back to Lima around 7:00pm had to eat dinner and finish packing and then get up at 3 am the next morning to catch our flight to Cuzco).  Once we were in the Amazon we decided to surprise her at dinner the night before we left.  While at dinner I drug Mom to the bathroom at the restaurant and Alejandro slipped the tickets in her menu.  When we came out she wouldn't pick her menu back up so finally I picked mine up and exclaimed "Oh my gosh Mom! You have got to see these desserts!" To which she picked up her menu and proceeded to act surprised and even get a little teary eyed.  I was so proud of myself as I proceeded to tell the owner of the restaurant how we had pulled one over on her.

Part IV: Getting There
  After spending a day exploring Cuzco we caught a 4 hr train to Aguas Calientes and spent a day there.  The next morning we woke up at 3 am to grab a bite to eat before catching the earliest bus up to the ruins at 5am, but on our way to the restaurant we saw that the line to catch the first bus had already started to form so we decided to forgo breakfast and wait in line.  A woman was selling delicious coffee and cake to everyone in line so we made a meal off that.  It was beyond freezing! The kind of freezing that makes your bones hurt and all you can do is just shut your eyes, bury your head, and let your mind go numb.  It seemed like an eternity, but FINALLY the buses pulled up and we climbed on.  30 minutes later we were at the base of Machu Picchu.  We walked up to the very beautiful picturesque spot on the ruins where all the postcard pictures are taken, but Alejandro was insistent that we press on an hour and a half up the stone steps to the sun temple.

Part V: A Surprise Visit from an Old Friend
Finally we reached the top! As I rounded the corner of the Sun Temple I was shocked to see Jose, our guide who took us on the Inca trail a year and a half ago! Alejandro said he hired him to give Mom and Al a tour of the ruins.  I thought that is why Alejandro drug us all the way to the Sun Temple at sunrise, but it wasn't.

Part VI: The Twist
Jose suggested we get a couple pictures overlooking the ruins below before we headed back down, so I gave Mom the camera and we stood on the ledge.  After the first shot Alejandro suggested we "switch" he told me later that he was wanting me to walk to the other side of the cliff to give him enough time to get on one knee, but as you can see in the video...that didn't happen.  What you can't see in the video is what was going through my mind when I turned around and saw him on one knee.  I thought well that is an awkward pose for a picture, Does he want me to sit on his knee or kneel beside him?....OHHH!!! You can even see the Ah Ha moment on my face lol.  Even after he proposed I still didn't realize that I NEVER surprised Mom.  She and Al had known the whole time and they had been planning this for months and months.  It was the most grand, romantic gesture I could have ever imagined, and I still watch this video nearly every day, and I STILL get teary-eyed.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Adventure in the Rainforest

We thought we had given ourselves plenty of time to get ready to head out into the rainforest by 9:00 am, but at 9:05 we were just starting to eat breakfast and Alejandro and Al still needed to go to Western Union to make arrangements for our secret trip.  At 10:00 am (an hour late) we finally headed out.  We went back to the boat and travelled back up the Amazon 1 hr and stopped at a little village where we walked to a farm where we saw caiman, paiche, and a couple wild parrots.  It started raining on our way back to the boat.









We had another hour and a half to go up river before we docked again, but our driver got a little lost and fortunately ran into another boat who let us follow him to the clearing where we were supposed to dock.  We pulled up, hopped out, and trudged into the rainforest, through the mud to our huts.  I was glad I decided to wear pants and my combat boots despite the heat.  We settled into our huts which we just oohed and ahhed over how cute and tropical they were.  After getting settled in we met in the main hut and had lunch which consisted of the best catfish I had ever had, rice, heart of palm salad, and yucca. 





At 2:30 pm already hot and sweaty, we proceeded to make our way deep into the rainforest with our guide Goblin (aka Alian) with nothing but a machete.  We saw a rubber tree, a laxative tree, a hanging vine you could cut and drink from (una de gato), and an iodine tree.  Our guide dug up a tarantula and I put it on my face (fyi I am TERRIFIED of spiders!).  I also got to put my hand in a termite nest and let them crawl all over me.  It turns out termites are natural insect repellent if you smear them over your body and yes, I realize the irony of that.  We also learned a lot: Don’t eat fruit that grows on a vine because it is poisonous, how to spot and dig up a tarantula out of its hole, and not to go with a tour group that doesn’t have any online reviews…… Our guide started saying that he was lost, but he was kind of smiling so I thought nothing of it.  I thought maybe he was trying to instill a little adventure into our trip.  So I’m still lollygagging and taking pictures when Alejandro runs up and says WE ARE LOST.  STOP TAKING PICTURES.  Now we start to get a little worried and we quickly dropped everything and followed Alejandro toward where our guide disappeared, but he was nowhere to be found…we were screaming for a good 20 min before we heard an answer in the distance.  The whole time I was thinking “OMG! This is why there are no reviews.  No one makes it out alive to leave a review!” Mom’s feet started hurting really bad, and we were still very much lost, and to top it all off our guide kept saying we only have 10 minutes til it’s pitch black out here.  After being lost 4.5 hours we finally found our way back to the huts.  The brush was so thick we didn’t even see the huts until we broke through 10 feet from them.




Drinking from an una de gato vine








Termites


 They had informed us earlier in the day that cold beers would be available for us to purchase that night, but after this ordeal I though “I will die if they make us pay for the only cold beverage here after getting us lost for nearly 5 hrs.” but sure enough, they did.  They informed us that they would turn on the generator for an hour so we could have light to get a quick shower and eat dinner, but the generator was broke.  After watching them struggle for a few minutes my man stepped in and showed them how to fix it J

We ate dinner and then took a FREEZING cold shower (the water was so cold it felt like needles!), then went to bed.  I tried to write in my journal, but the generator switched off before I could finish so I put my headlamp on to get a few more minutes of writing in….BAD IDEA! Bugs started swarming around my head and in my mouth so I gave up and flipped it off.  At night it sounded like one of those sounds of the rainforest soundtracks only it wasn’t relaxing because all you could do is sit there and wonder when one of those jumanji man-eating bugs or jaguars is going to tear through the netting, or crawl through the giant hole in the ceiling.  It started pouring and didn’t let up all night and all I could think is thank gosh we made it back and didn’t have to spend the night braving the elements.