These aren’t mountains?

“Wait. These aren’t mountains?” I asked our guide Babu as we were trekking up over 2000 steps on our second day hiking in the Annapurna Range.

“No, these are hills,” Babu repeated. My trekking buddy Amie and I looked at each other incredulously. As two girls who grew up in the Midwest (Amie in Chicago and myself in Indianapolis), these “hills” were larger than most “mountains” we had seen in the Heartlands.

Sensing our dismay and windedness, Babu suggested a stop to explain the difference between hills, mountains, and the infamous Himalaya. He explained that we were on our way to Ghorepani, which is about 2800 meters high. The altitude must be above 3000 meters to be considered a mountain. For a peak to land itself among the almighty Himalaya, the altitude must be above 8000 meters. He assured us on our third day, we would go over 3000 meters at Poon Hill.

Amie and I trekked on, taking in the ever changing landscape. One minute, we were along a crystal clear stream.

Icy water flowed down from the mountains. The smallest details in the rocks and pebbles on the riverbed could be seen from above.

Icy water flowed down from the mountains. The smallest details in the rocks and pebbles on the riverbed could be seen from above.

The next I was transported to a scene in Lord of the Rings, complete with twisting roots and thick moss.

The lush moss and greenery surrounding this small waterfall reminded me of the Frodo of the Shire!

The lush moss and greenery surrounding this small waterfall reminded me of the Frodo of the Shire!

The next I was in a forest of pink rhododendron flowers which petaled the path and filled the the trees above us.

We walked through a pink rhododendron forest for hours.

We walked through a pink rhododendron forest for hours.

With these beautiful views to keep our mind off the ups and downs of the trek, we soon forgot about the altitude. For the first two days, fog and clouds prohibited us from seeing the mountains and Himalaya that towered above us. On our second night, we planned for our very early morning trek to Poon Hill (3210 meters!). Babu was worried that the clouds and fog would not clear. Thus we would never get a chance to see the Big Guys – Annapurna South, Fishtail and their friends – that we so dearly hoped to see.

On the morning of our third day, Babu rapped at the door to our room in the tea house.”Let’s go!” He said. Amie and I quickly dressed and peeked out the window, seeing nothing in the pitch black. We trekked as quickly as possible to Poon Hill along with many other hopeful hikers.

Using my headlamp to forge ahead (okay, not really. I was just excited to use it even though it was light enough to see the path), Amie and I reached the top. We were speechless as we saw the Himalaya for the first time.

View from the top: Standing on Poon Hill and overlooking Annapurna South, Fishtail and others. Speechless moment, for sure.

View from the top: Standing on Poon Hill and overlooking Annapurna South, Fishtail and others.

We stood at the highest point of our trek that day on Poon Hill at 3210 meters. Babu explained the details of the Annapurna Range to us, naming each peak and sharing with us its altitude. I took a video of his explanation.

Babu’s welcome to Poon Hill in the Annapurna Range! from Kathara Green on Vimeo.

Although Babu said we weren’t technically on a mountain (hence the name Poon Hill), Amie and I viewed it as an accomplishment.

3210 meters at Poon Hill! Babu, Amie and I take in the view from the top.

3210 meters at Poon Hill!
Babu, Amie and I take in the view from the top.

Overlooking the Himalayan giants in the Annapurna Range, I was humbled. And quite relieved that I wasn’t climbing one.

Bangkok to Siem Reap in Seven Modes of Transportation

Scanning the signs in Thai and English, my eyes finally landed on Aranyaprathet, the Thai border town next to Cambodia. Lexi, my travel partner in crime, and I walked up to the counter and asked to buy two bus tickets. Happily, the middle-aged Thai woman behind the counter pointed to a bus schedule to our right.

“2:00pm,” she told us.

I looked down at my watch. It was 12:30 pm. We had been promised by online travel forums, our hotel’s concierge and our own wishful thinking that the buses from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet departed every 30 minutes. Carefully reading the schedule, I saw that yes, the buses do leave every 30 minutes – except for the two hour window from 12:00 – 2:00pm. Perfect.

“How long will the bus take?” I asked slowly, feeling my heart beat a little faster.

“5 hours.”

Recognizing we had no other options at this point, Lexi and I handed over 500 baht for our two, first-class bus tickets to Aranyaprathet.

“The Thai-Cambodian border closes at 8:00 pm. Will we have enough time to get across the border?” I asked, hoping for a positive, concrete response.

She shrugged. Instead, she handed over our tickets and goodies, replying with a brimming Thai smile, “Here, water and snack.”

•   •   •

11:45 am: Sky Train

Backpacks stuffed with recent Bangkok purchases and snacks for the journey to Siem Reap, Cambodia, Lexi and I wiggled our way onto the Sky Train near our hotel in the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok. Attempting to avoid bowling over any other train passengers with my bright green backpack, I shuffled to one of the open seats on the train. I reviewed the instructions I had printed on how to get from Bangkok to Siem Reap overland. We reached our stop: Mo Chit station.

12:15 pm: Taxi #1

Realizing that the Mo Chit bus station is actually no where near the Mo Chit Sky Train station, Lexi and I haggled for a taxi to take us to the bus station. All I can think is, “Thank God we didn’t attempt to walk.”

12:30 pm: Hurry up and wait

After learning that we could not actually leave Bangkok until 2:00 pm, Lexi and I made ourselves comfortable in the Mo Chit bus station. Finding two metal seats in which to camp out, I took in the scene. There were some other backpackers and adventurous travelers, but the population was overwhelmingly Thai. There was an old couple sitting in front of us who proceeded to stare at us for the following hour and a half. There were at least four monks, draped in orange robes, traveling to different parts of Thailand. There were little kids running up and down the aisles between the chairs. The wait passed quickly.

Monk in Mo Chit: This is the scene from our wait at the Mo Chit bus station. Monks sit amongst other travelers, patiently awaiting their bus.

Monk in Mo Chit: This is the scene from our wait at the Mo Chit bus station. Monks sit amongst other travelers, patiently awaiting their buses.

2:00 pm: Bus

After throwing our backpacks with the other luggage, Lexi and I jumped on the bus to border town Aranyaprathet. As we made the journey towards the border, I couldn’t help but feel like I was home in Florida as I looked out the window. The highway was nicer than some I have been on in the United States. Palm trees jutted out here and there, and the landscape was green and flat. Pick up trucks dominated the roads. I was only reminded that I was in Thailand when I heard the other passengers speaking Thai around me or when I attempted to read signs, only to be met with a confusing jumble of symbols. It offered a weird sense of nostalgia and homesickness, to feel so close to home yet so far away at the same time.

During the 5 hour journey, we made a number of stops. Once we stopped for snacks and a bathroom break. Another time we stopped for gas. Then we stopped to pick up a group of students traveling home after school. Then we picked up a family of about eight. They sat on their boxes and bags at the back of the bus. As we made each stop, I incessantly checked my watch, seeing the minutes tick by. After my watch hit, 7:00 pm, I had mentally let go of our plan to make it to Cambodia that night. We would stay in a hotel in Thailand and make the crossing the next morning.

7:15 pm: Tuk tuk #1

Unexpectedly, the bus turned into an undercover bus stop, and passengers started to unload. Lexi and I rushed off the bus, grabbed our backpacks and jumped in one of the many tuk tuks (an open air, three wheeled baby taxi) lined up to take passengers to the border crossing. Two other pairs of backpackers jumped in tuk tuks, and we thundered towards the border.

Wind blowing through our hair. We can make it, I thought!

7:30 pm: Walk the line

Breezing past the touts attempting to sell the visa rip-offs we had been warned about, Lexi and I marched to the Thai border officials with our passports, departure card, and Cambodian e-visa in hand. After smoothly clearing Thai immigration, we found our selves in the 100 yard Land of Oz between Thailand and Cambodia. There were stringed lights, casinos, hotels, and restaurants. It looked like a classier version of Atlantic City. We searched for signs of where to enter Cambodia with our e-visa.

This Land of Oz, I believe, is meant to be confusing. Hoping to lure you away from your next destination and into the casinos and restaurants, there were practically no signs of actually how to get out of this no-man’s-land. Looking at my watch and starting to get frantic that we have lost sight of our own Yellow Brick Road, I asked border guards sitting in plastic chairs where to go if we had an e-visa.

“Keep going!” one man answered, pointing to his right. “Hurry, the border is going to close!”

At this point, Lexi and I started running (which is quite challenging with a 15 kg backpack). Finally, we found the nondescript office where we clear Cambodian immigration. Immigration officials stood around chatting and relaxed as the two of us, disheveled and panting, bust into the room. We hand one official our e-visas and passports. Smiling, he makes small talk as we attempt to catch our breath. He stamps our passports. Clicking the heels of our ruby red slippers three times, we are in Cambodia!

8:00 pm: Taxi #2

After befriending two German/Sri Lankan backpackers, the four of us jumped in a taxi from the Cambodian border town of Poipet to Siem Reap, our final destination. We make small talk, learning one traveler is a medical student and the other wants to be a special education teacher. I look out the window, squinting to see the countryside through the darkness. We pass through farmland and small towns. In small homes and shops, families huddle around lamps, eating dinner and chatting on the floor of their homes. The minutes slip by, and we come to a stop in the outskirts of Siem Reap.

10:15 pm: Tuk tuk #2

Bidding farewell to our new friends, Lexi and I take the final seats of our journey in a tuk tuk and hand the driver directions to our accommodation. With our backpacks in the seats next to us, we whip through the lively town of Siem Reap. We pass night markets illuminated by hanging lightbulbs and the famous Pub Street teeming with guests from all over the world.

Overwhelmingly, the patrons were all wearing green. Of course, I was reminded, it was Saint Patrick’s Day, a holiday celebrated around the world. Even here in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

10:30 pm: Made it

Our tuk tuk pulled to a stop at our hostel, Siem Reap Hostel, in the Wat Bo area of Siem Reap. We stepped out of the tuk tuk with wobbly travel legs, donned our backpacks for the final time that day, and walked inside.

Traveling in Asia, I have learned to let go of control. Thankful for the many people (and vehicles) along the way that guided us from Bangkok to Siem Reap, I laid down in my hostel bed and reviewed the complexity of our travel day. Thinking back, the many steps of the journey may seem a bit crazy. But, to be honest, I felt safe and calm most of the journey, and I was able to see a authentic side of Thailand and Cambodia that I would not have been privy to if I had taken a flight along with other, more impatient tourists.

We were lucky on our journey that day. From Sky Train, to taxi, to bus, to tuk tuk, to taxi (again), to tuk tuk (again), we were delivered to our destination without a scratch. Remembering the date, perhaps it was just the luck of the Irish.

Crazy for kicks!

As many of you already know, one of the highlights of my job this year in Bangladesh has been coaching the Varsity and Junior Varsity Basketball program with my two roommates, Amie and Lexi. Although there are a ton of clubs and extracurricular activities for the women on our campus, this is the only competitive structured sports program outside of gym class! We have had an incredible time coaching and getting to know the players on both teams and have had a great season so far, devoid of any huge blunders or major injuries. We have been lucky in this area, however, as the surface we play on is pretty uneven and many of the girls unfortunately did not come to AUW with the kind of footwear they need to run, jump, squat, and shuffle around the court. We got a great deal on some awesome shoes produced in Bangladesh that we are looking to purchase for the team and are asking for support from our friends and family back home.

With $45, you can buy an AUW basketball all-star all the way in Bangladesh the kind of shoes she needs to be a competitive athlete (we currently have players wearing Crocs to practice!). The 23 girls involved with the program are from a whole host of different countries; they have taught us some valuable lessons, so we would love to give the people we care about a chance to be involved as well! Donations that do not go towards purchasing shoes will then go towards other start up costs (eg. new uniforms, netting for our baskets, and possibly travel/registration fees for a tournament in Dhaka) so any level of support would be greatly appreciated. If you would like more information or have any questions, leave me a comment or send me an email!

Thank you all for you love and support!

Here is how to donate:

By Credit Card
1. Click Here!
2. Fill out your contact information and hit “Continue”
3. On the second page there will be a box labeled “Comments.” Please be sure to enter “These funds are for basketball shoes” (without this indication, the team will not have access to the funds).

By Check
1. Make check out to: Asian University for Women Support Foundation
2. Write somewhere on the check “Basketball Shoes” (without this indication, the team will not have access to the funds)

Mail to the following address:
Asian University for Women Support Foundation
1100 Massachusetts Avenue, Suite 300
Cambridge, MA 02138, USA

 

Ballin’ in Bangladesh

About three minutes into the third quarter, the Azlan call bellowed out of the speakers of the mosque next to the cracked concrete basketball court. The AUW Varsity team, dressed in red, continued to push the ball up the court; the William Carey School team sprinted to catch up. For a few seconds, the cheering of AUW fans standing along the sidelines, the beautiful melody of the mosque’s call to prayer and the sound of dribbling danced together in the Saturday night air.

AUW pushes the basketball up the court as William Carey sprints to catch up. The neighborhood mosque can be seen in the background.

AUW pushes the basketball up the court as William Carey sprints to catch up. The neighborhood mosque can be seen in the background.

Before the point guard could make her first pass, the trill of the referee’s whistle sounded, signaling that play should stop in respect of the call. Dutifully fulfilling my responsibility as the assistant coach on the AUW Varsity basketball team, I paused the clock. The two teams jogged off the court to get some water. Coach Amie, the head coach and my roommate, called the AUW team into a huddle. She reminded the players of many of the things we had worked on in practice over the past few months (boxing out! slowing down the pace of the game! watching out for 3 seconds in the lane!) and encouraged them to utilize those skills on the court.

Coach Amie gives the team a pep talk during the Azlan-call-time-out.

Coach Amie gives the team a pep talk during the Azlan-call-time-out.

During the huddle, a handful of AUW student fans snuck over to our bench (which was really just a patch of rocky grass under some palm trees) to ask the score. Munna, our team manager from Nepal, relayed the points from the scorebook (since we don’t have a scoreboard). She blurted, “18-16! William Carey is leading!” The AUW students ran back to the cheering crowd to relay the information.

The Azlan call echoed its final notes and was silent. The ref blew his whistle, and the game was back on.

AUW students cheered the AUW Varsity team on from the sidelines!

AUW students cheered the AUW Varsity team on from the sidelines!

•••

Early in the semester, Coach Amie began talking to students about starting a varsity basketball program at AUW. Aside from gym class and a space for working out, the students at AUW do not have an opportunity to play on any organized sports teams. Amie, a Chicagoan who idolizes Diana Taurasi and the Bulls (which, as a Pacers fan, I still struggle to forgive her for), has played basketball her whole life, and she wanted to share that love of basketball with the students here at AUW. After a few rounds of tryouts, Varsity and JV teams were selected. Now there are 24 AUW students playing basketball, 10 on Varsity and 14 on JV.
In support of Coach Amie, another WorldTeach volunteer, Lexi, and I have taken on the roles of assistant coaches. Between the three of us, we are trying to offer the students a comprehensive basketball program that includes basketball skills and other aspects of health and fitness, like strength and nutrition. Once a week, I lead an hour long conditioning session to work on strength, agility, flexibility and stamina. Lexi, a future med student, has shared information with the players about nutrition and health. Including conditioning, the players practice three times a week. Since practices started in September, the AUW students have become more than just basketball enthusiasts. They have become players. And healthier, stronger ones at that!

•••

The night crept up quickly and forced the referee to call the game after three, hard-fought quarters. William Carey snuck away with a lead of four points, ending the game 26-22. After the final whistle, the two teams lined up and high-fived each other, and the fans cheered on from the sidelines. The AUW players were disappointed in the loss, but they were elated by the chance to play a game they have come to love.

I am convinced, based on the AUW players’ endurance from conditioning (of course), they would have pulled out a win in the 4th quarter. See you on the court next time, William Carey.

Donnobad-giving from Chittagong!

Picking out an outfit for Thanksgiving in the United States usually involves a lot of strategy. A loose dress or something with elastic allows for ample expansion as plates of turkey, sweet potatoes, corn and stuffing are steadily devoured. However this year, because nothing about my Thanksgiving was going to be “usual”, I decided to don my very first sari for the annual Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the Asian University for Women for its faculty and staff.

I quickly discovered that wearing a sari, as it turns out, is not a simple process.

First, I had to gather my materials. A sari is a seven yard long piece of fabric. Thanks to my students, I now know that saris are worn all over South Asia, including Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. I found a beautiful black, red and light blue sari at a local store near the university. Once I purchased the actual sari, the store keeper explained (aka mimed) that I needed a blouse to wear under the sari. Next, I bought a few yards of black silk and delivered it to a tailor. He sized me up, made a sketch and told me to come back in a week to pick up my blouse. After acquiring my sari and blouse, I purchased a petticoat (which is a cotton slip-like-skirt) to wear under the sari as well. Sari – check! Blouse – check! Petticoat – check!

Second, I realized that if I draped the sari myself, I would end up looking like a sack of potatoes (well, a black/red/light blue sack of potatoes). When the day of the Thanksgiving dinner arrived, the other WorldTeach volunteers and I went to a local beauty parlor. At the beauty parlor, it was absolute chaos. Blow dryers hummed, hair spray filled the air and make up was generously applied as a sea of Bangladeshi women prepared for weddings. I was whisked out of the waiting room and taken back to a room lined with mirrors. Around me, Bangladeshi women were tilted backwards in salon chairs. There we were, twelve American women, in the midst of it all.

I am in the beginning stages of my sari makeover. I’m trying to stand still and follow directions! Here, you can see how long the sari fabric is.

There was fabric everywhere and safety pins (12 in total!) were being stabbed in all different directions. I was twisted as the fabric was folded, and slowly the sari began to take shape!

Almost finished! I am thinking, “Thank God I didn’t try to do this myself!”

Once all of us were dressed in traditional Bangladeshi saris, we posed for a group picture. Compared to our typical work outfits, I think we cleaned up pretty nicely, and, of course, the staff at the beauty parlor did excellent work!

Prom picture with some of the WorldTeach volunteers!

My roommates, Lexi and Amie, and I in our new saris.

In our freshly draped saris, we were ready to celebrate Thanksgiving in true Bangladeshi fashion. At one of the university owned buildings, a rooftop dinner was served under the stars. The buffet included mashed potatoes, vegetables, turkey, stuffing and apple pie. I can’t say that the food was quite as good as what I would have had in the United States, but it certainly tasted like home.

Wearing my new sari and taking in the scene, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much I have to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. I am grateful for this incredible experience in Bangladesh, which continually challenges the way I view the world and my place in it. I am grateful for the amazing students at AUW, who are more committed to learning than I ever was and inspire me daily to look at issues from a different perspective. I am grateful for my friends back home who I dearly miss, and I am grateful for the amazing friends I have made in Chittagong. And last but certainly not least, I am grateful for the amazing family I have in the United States and Australia, without whose support I would not be here.

So to all of you, a great big DONNOBAD (“thank you” in Bangla) from your sari-wearing friend.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Day for Drawing

I remember the moments before my first high school drawing class at Brebeuf Jesuit like it was yesterday. Sitting with sweaty palms among other nervous students, secretly wondering, “Will I be good enough? Will the other students laugh at me? What if I forget how to draw?” Well, almost eight years later (sidenote: I am getting old!), I experienced the same feelings (and sweaty palms) here in Bangladesh during Art Club’s first Saturday Workshop. But instead of playing the role of art student, here I am playing the role of art teacher.

I stood in front of a classroom of almost 20 young women, all of whom attended this Saturday Workshop to hone their drawing skills. Somehow, these students felt that I would be qualified to lead this workshop, which, in fact, was something I thought was a good idea too until I was stood facing 20 eager faces.

Just like in high school, I took a deep breath and fell back on my love of art; the nerves and doubts began to fall away. The rest of the session flowed. First, I shared a few slides of Edgar Degas, one of my favorite Impressionist painters, and his famous sketches. Next, we discussed the importance of line, and the students experimented with elements of line like tone and weight. Then we practiced seeing basic shapes in ordinary objects. And at last, we reached the day’s activity: drawing our hands. Mr. Cancilla, my high school drawing teacher, tasked us with the same assignment on our first day of class, thus I felt it was only appropriate for me to do the same.

Pencil to paper, we started drawing, and the students were incredible. Some members of Art Club have been practicing drawing and sketching for years, while some others are completely new to drawing. Each of them tackled the assignment with curiosity and a commitment to learning.

Kanchana, the Art Club President, studying her hand

At the end of the two-hour session, the students stood up and shared the work they completed during the worksop. They were absolutely beaming.

Yes, we all come from different countries. We all speak different languages. Many of us have different religions and beliefs. But, for us, none of that mattered. That Saturday, we were just artists.

The Art Club proudly showing their sketches. See if you can find me in the middle!

Notebooks, Hats and My First Week of School

At the start of a new school year, there is something magical about the first page of a blank notebook. Like a crystal ball, the words written on it predict and foreshadow what will the fill the following pages – ideas, class lessons, doodles, reading notes, stories, epiphanies. Last week, I sat in my first class of the semester with my new spiral notebook purchased from a shop near AUW (which, I can assure you, is nothing like Staples). I etched “G-l-o-b-a-l  G-o-v-e-r-n-a-n-c-e” letter by letter onto the crisp, empty page; beneath the course title, I wrote “Teaching Assistant”. Yes, that certainly will set the tone for the following pages.

The 2012-2013 school year is officially under way at AUW. The hallways and library are packed and so is my schedule! This semester I will wear four different hats at AUW.

Ready for the first day of school with my backpack and new outfit!

I will don my first hat every Monday and Wednesday as a teaching assistant in Global Governance. (Actually, I envision this hat as a baby blue UN Peacekeepers helmet. I digress.) In this course, we will examine the multitude of actors tasked with managing worldwide issues, exploring the history of global governance and how the international community has responded to globalization, the end of the Cold War, and a growing transnational community. At the end of the semester, students will conduct debates on global governance topics like bringing war criminals to trial or limiting the trade of blood diamonds. (Shout out to my fellow international relations nerds: Please send me any suggestions for debate topics!)

Every Sunday and Tuesday, I will put on my second hat as a Writing Fellow for a course titled Migration. In this class, we will discuss migration in Asia, touching on topics like trafficking and diaspora. As a Writing Fellow, I will work with students on their written assignments in the class. Of almost equal importance to the class themes and my role, the professor I am working with is a fellow Aussie!

My third hat is worn throughout the week in the Writing Center as a tutor. In the Center, I will meet with students at any and every point in their writing process. During appointments, we will work on brainstorming, organization, thesis generation, grammar, etc.

Once a week, I wear my fourth and final hat during my role as a Tutorial Leader. I am planning my own tutorial on the great debate surrounding international development and international aid; there will be posts to come on this issue, I assure you! Pairs of students will meet with me once a week to discuss the many complexities of this debate. I eagerly await hearing the opinions of the students.

My cousin Catherine warned me that the reality of life after graduation would not set in until the emptiness of the next school-less fall sets in. Well, Cousin, you were right as usual. After almost 20 years with annual First-Day-of-School‘s as a Student (capital “S”), I am, admittedly, mourning the end of that chapter in my life. Though I still get to sit in a classroom, my role is inherently different. The pressure of being a Student is replaced by the pressure to be a good TA, Writing Fellow, Tutor and Tutorial Leader. Aside from the nerves, I am extremely excited to work with and learn from the students this semester. I also have the great opportunity to be student (lower case “s”) in these topics, which luckily means no midterms, finals or grades!

After a week of school completed, the first few pages of my new notebooks are full. There is no way to really predict what will fill the following pages, but I have a good feeling about it.