More Work at the School

On Friday we worked at the school from nine to three and for the majority of the day we acted as mentors to the children. The principal of the school would take three kids out of class at a time throughout the day to come and talk to us. Since there are three of us working there, we each would have some one on one time with the kids. The children that she would take out of class to talk to us are the ones who were missing a father figure or they were children who do not have much of a family at home. This was a hard exercise for me because it is difficult to have a serious conversation with a 7 year old. I was unsure of how to start the conversation, but once we got talking it went very well. I would ask the children what they want to be when they are older, and almost every single one said they wanted to be professional basketball player. When they said that I asked them about what they need to do to get there and they did not really know. I told them the most important thing to do is get good grade grades and work really hard. I also told them that they can’t fight with their friends all of the time and that they have to respect everyone. Most of the children really listened to what I had to say and they took the conversation to heart. Almost all of them would hug for me a while after the talk and that felt really good to know that what I said may have actually effected them. Since prior to this talk, I noticed that the some of the kids we talked to would get in a lot of fights at recess. Some of them did not really pay attention in class and would just talk all class to their friends. But as I was talking to them the biggest problem I noticed with the children was that they had no confidence or self-esteem. Which was really sad to hear them talk about, and the only thing I could do about that is talk them up for a while. It worked at the time, but once I leave I feel like things will go back to the way they were and it is sad because all of the kids are so exuberant and bright. This was a real growing experience for me and it made me stretch out of my comfort zone.

Yesterday we had the day off and we went to play basketball with the locals on the island. At the beginning they did not really like us being there, but by the end of the game we were joking with them and having a great time. I think they were hesitant towards us in the beginning because we are completely different from them in so many ways on the surface. But once we started talking to them and playing, it was like those differences just disappeared and it was as if we had known them for years. They invited us to come back to play on monday, which we will definitely do. Today we woke up and spackled the addition filling in all of the holes in the wood. That was difficult, but with three of us it went pretty fast. Once we finished that we had a lot to paint over and we had to put a third coat of paint in some place which was hard because a lot of those places were on the ceiling. But we have made great progress and only have to paint the floor yet. So far I am having a great time with all of these activities and I look forward to the week ahead. I’ll talk to all of you soon.

Thailand Love

I can’t even begin to explain my love for this country.  So far we have been in Thailand for four days and it already feels like a month (in a good way!).  After traveling in planes, waiting in airports, and riding in buses for about 30ish hours, we arrived at our hostel around one in the morningIt is a charming place with a guitar in the lobby and handpainted maps of Bangkok the walls.  

On the first day, we walked to Chinatown, Thailand’s oldest shopping districtOn the way there we passed through a neighborhood filled with carparts storesNow, this may sound boring, but it is my favorite part of Thailand so far.  It is filled with windy alleys filled with little shops with greasy dirty car parts literally overflowing into the streetsThe photographer in me instantly fell in love. 

Next, we went on a longboat tour of the canals around BangkokWe passed lines of houses on stilts with porches filled with bright clothes hung out to dryWe all agreed to buy houses on the canals when we retire and live togetherThere was a very romantic feeling to the simplicity of the housesNext, we walked to the Grand PalaceIt was very impressive, but a tad too sparkly for meThe buildings were completely covered in mirrors and lightsMy favorite part of it was the Temple of the Emerald BuddhaAfter walking around in the blinding light, it was very nice to step into the quiet shade of the templeThere was a very captivating calm that filled the templeThe Buddhas in the temple held their right hand up, as if telling those looking to pause and take a breath. 

Today, we took a longboat down the riverWe ate lunch at Pizza Hut!!  It was much fancier than any Pizza Hut I had ever seen in the statesAfter that, we walked around and soaked up the sights and smells of the streetWe relaxed at the hotel for the rest of the dayI am hoping to upload my pictures as soon as I finish organizing them.  

Stay posted! 


Connection at a Checkpoint

I must confess that I am finding it increasingly difficult to write about my experiences in this place. What I have seen, heard, and felt here is too much–at least at this point–for me to even sum up in my head, much less in writing. There is so much going on here. So many layers of this conflict, of this land, of these people. Seems like the more I learn about it, the more confusing it gets, and the less of it I understand overall. It’s not an uncommon feeling. From what I have heard, plenty of folks around here are confused, especially those who’ve spent their whole lives here. It’s a perplexing place to live in.

With that said, I think I am going to change the format of this blog a bit. Instead of posting a dry account of what exactly we have been doing–who we have been talking to, where we’ve been going–I think it would be more interesting, for you and for me, if I were to post a series of reflections on what I’ve been experiencing. Less emphasis on the who, what, when, and where, and more emphasis on what I’ve been feeling and thinking about all of this. I mean, we’ve been doing a lot every day, and packing a lot into our schedule, so to describe all of it would take up the whole entry. And since I don’t have a lot of time in which to write these things, we’ll really be getting the most bang for our buck if we do things this way. Sound good? Good.

So let’s just go from there.

Yesterday, we visited a checkpoint outside Barta’a, a Palestinian village that has been literally divided by the conflict: the Separation Fence (so called because in this area of Israel, it really is more of a fence than a wall) runs right through the town, thus splitting it into East Barta’a and West Barta’a. To add to the turmoil, a Jewish settlement has been constructed near West Barta’a.

We reach the fairly deserted checkpoint, get out of our tour bus, and, following the lead of our intrepid tour guide, British-born journalist Lydia Aisenberg (look her up!), approach a couple of Palestinian men hanging around outside. Turns out they’re taxi drivers–well, unregistered taxi drivers, who charge 5 shekel a head to drive people from the checkpoint to West Barta’a. Most Palestinians must go through checkpoints on foot, which means walking several miles if they just want to go from East to West Barta’a, and there are many locals who work in one village and live in the other. Add the fact that merely passing through a checkpoint at peak times can take hours, and you’ll see how a taxi service going between the checkpoint and the town is a necessity.

Lydia continues her conversation with the taxi drivers–they speak to her in Hebrew, and she translates to us in English. Despite the fact that they’ve never met any of us before, they’re easygoing and quite willing to share their experiences with us.

I notice that while this exchange is occurring, the white metal gate leading into the checkpoint’s security office opens, and a man appears. He is dressed completely in black, his right hand casually indexing the submachine gun that hangs at his side. He stares at us for a while; then the gate closes again, and he’s gone.

After speaking to the taxi drivers, another Palestinian man is introduced to us. He is more smartly dressed than the others, and can speak English. He tells us that he is an English teacher. In the ensuing conversation, we learn that although he earns a rather pitiful salary working in Barta’a and could easily earn twice as much were he to emigrate to Europe or North America, he never wishes to leave his native Palestine. Why? we ask. It’s simple, he replies: This is his home.

It’s time to go, and we thank the Palestinian men. Just as we’re muttering shukran and turning to go back to our bus, we hear the English teacher speak  up. “I would like to shake hands with all of you,” he says. One by one, we oblige. And as I extend my arm towards this man and grasp his hand, I feel something within me shift. With the simple act of touching his hand, of looking into his eyes, I am suddenly connected to this place.

That connection has been growing stronger and stronger since I first set foot on Israeli soil. Already, after only four days here, it has burrowed its way deep into my soul. In all honesty, I can’t see it leaving anytime soon.

It’s thundering mightily here in northern Israel. Maybe it’s the voice of God. Or maybe just weather systems; who can really tell? Anyway, that’s about all I have time for tonight. I hope you enjoyed this little snapshot. With any luck, I’ll be able to provide you with many more in the days to come.

(By the way, please do not think that we are experiencing a one-sided view of things in any way, shape, or form here. Quite to the contrary–it seems like every new person we meet has a different point of view on this whole issue, at times completely contradictory to someone we spoke to elsewhere. Hence all the confusion I have been experiencing.)



More Snow!

Today (Thursday) marks my fourth day working on my project. On Monday, I met with T. Nathan from Admissions to discuss the logistics of the poster as well as schedule another meeting with the Admissions team for next Monday for us to go over the first draft of the poster. I am so excited to work with such a great group of people in Admissions; as I walked in for my meeting I was greeted by lots of friendly faces who are as enthusiastic as I am about this project.

As some of you may know, we are getting even MORE snow here in Pennsylvania right now as I type this entry. I am lucky enough to have taken some photos earlier in the year in preparation for this project, so I will have photos from the fall to work with as well as the ones that I will take during these two weeks. After Monday’s meeting, I spent the next two days taking more photos of our campus; I specifically focused on the Arts Center and windows on the girls’ end of Main Hall. I spent today editing the photos I have as well as starting the layout for the poster.

My schedule for the rest of the project includes taking more photos over the weekend; hopefully I’ll be able to take advantage of our most recent winter storm and capture some snowy windows. It also includes Monday’s meeting in which I will meet with Admissions to share with them the first draft of the poster. They, as my “clients,” will be able to then make any adjustments they like to the poster so that it meets their needs for advertising the school to prospective students and their families. We will also discuss details about printing the poster. For the rest of the second week, I will be making final adjustments to the poster and then we will send it to the printers!

I’ll update you all soon, probably after Monday’s meeting with Admissions.


Starting Work at the School!

We have worked about three days at the school in town, and it has been a blast. The school goes form pre-k to 6th grade, and there are anywhere from 5 to 15 kids in each class. We have been working with each class and just helping out the teacher with whatever they need. We also run their Physical education classes, and we did that all of yesterday. I was exhausted at the end of the day, running around with little kids for 6 hours is harder than I thought. All of the kids love hearing about us and what our lives are like, it is so much fun to talk to them. When we show up in the morning they all start yelling our names and jumping around. All of the kids are so exuberant and playful, I forgot how much fun little kids are.

The most popular sport amongst the children is basketball, but a few of them really enjoy soccer. I have been playing soccer with a lot of kids and they love playing. The kids get really attached to us, there is one girl who will not leave my side. She is so cute and loves to just play any kind of game with me. Everyday when I walk into the school, smiles at me and starts waving her hands in the air. The kindergarten kids are a handful to say the least, they just love to yell and scream. About half of the class calls me the baby because I had paint on my shorts on the second day. It is really funny to hear them calling me that all of the time, it is really fun. Well so far I have had a great time down here and I look forward to the rest of the trip!

Talk to you guys soon!

Only 2 days, and it feels like 2 weeks…

Note: This entry was finished about twelve hours ago; a lot has happened today, and I don’t have time to write about it. Also, I’m not sure when I will have time to write another entry. It might be a few days. You’ll just have to make do with this until then. 🙂

Whew!! It has been an action-packed day and a half since we landed in Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. There’s so much to discuss, I don’t really know where to start. I guess starting off with a quick overview would be best:
After an uneventful 12-hour flight (I slept for a few hours, but mostly entertained myself by watching “The Informant!” and “Flight of the Conchords”), we landed in Tel Aviv. We’d been warned about possibly being greeted with suspicion by the Israeli security guards, but we got though the passport checks smoothly. We all rode in a chartered bus into Jerusalem, whereupon we checked in at the Holy Land Hotel, located just outside the Old City. Before eating dinner, the whole group took a stroll through the Old City’s Moslem quarter, stopping at notable sites such as the Damascus Gate. We returned to the hotel, wolfed down a fabulous dinner (aahhh, hummus and lamb…), and went to bed quite worn out by the day’s events.
My roommates and I got up yesterday morning at 6:30 am. Jerusalem is a beautiful city, and quite a sight to wake up to; everything glows with a soft beige light in the morning sun, the color of old worn granite. It’s gorgeous enough to make you forget, just for a few minutes, about the turmoil and political tension that pervades the area.
After breakfast, we met our tour guide, Dawoud, an Arab Christian man who resides in the Old City. We began a lengthy walking tour of the Old City, stopping at the “big three” holy sites along the way: the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Dawoud, a short, somewhat portly man with a thick accent, was a fascinating tour guide, and quite well-versed in historical knowledge about Jerusalem. I can only remember about 5% of what he said to us the whole time, but whatever it was, it was definitely interesting! He remarked at one point that Christians living in the Old City are like “meat between two pieces of bread,” with regards to their social status; apparently they are looked down upon by the Muslims and the Jews, for reasons that I don’t quite understand. With more and more of them fleeing to countries such as Canada and America, Christians now make up only .5% of Israel’s population, according to Dawoud.
After touring the Moslem quarter, we made our way to the Western Wall, or the Wailing Wall–the last remaining piece of the Second Temple and Judaism’s holiest site. (You have to go through metal detectors to get there.) I can’t really explain the effect that this particular place had on me. I wasn’t quite expecting it, and then suddenly we walked into almost blinding sunlight and there it was, filling up half the sky. Our group split up by gender and the rest of the girls and I made our way into the women’s section of the Wall (which, might I add, is considerably smaller than the men’s section). I think there was a bar mitzvah or something happening in the men’s section; anyway, I wrote a prayer on a piece of paper, waited for a spot to open up, and approached the stone wall.
I won’t go into too much detail about what I felt when I put my hands and forehead on the cool rock of the Western Wall. It’s just a bit too personal. Suffice to say that I believe what they say about the presence of the Divine being inside that wall–and when I finally opened my eyes and walked away, I felt like I’d left a tiny piece of myself there.
We continued on, past the Western Wall and to the end of a very long line that led up to the entrance of the Temple Mount. The line went all the way down to the “Dung Gate,” which Dawoud informed us was so named because it was the gate through which the sewage exited in ancient Jerusalem. (I guess it can’t all be holy.) While waiting in line for an hour, we had a good view of the Mount of Olives, which has a number of different significances: 1. it is a place where Jesus preached, because it was a heavily trafficked caravan area; 2. it is where, according to Judaism, the Messiah is supposed to descend and begin the End Times; 3. it is where a very large number of Orthodox Jews are buried, because they want to be close to the Messiah when the End Times finally arrive. Apparently Orthodox Jews living in New York City have their bodies shipped to Jerusalem to be buried on the Mount of Olives.
After an hour-long wait, yet another metal detector led us to the Temple Mount, where we saw the al-Aqsa Mosque (!) and the Dome of the Rock (!!!). I’m not the first person to say this, but the Dome of the Rock is gorgeous. I guess we all got pretty excited about it, because we slowed down a lot, and then Dawoud scolded us: “You are wasting your time for nothing. I live here. I can go to these places every moment. We do not have time for you to be chatting. You can chat back at the hotel.” That shut us up.
We hurried on through a market and to the Christian Quarter and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the holiest site in Christianity, especially for Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians. It’s filled to bursting with holy relics, religious symbols, paintings, gold statues, mosaics, frescoes, tombs, and general shiny baubles and priceless artifacts. To name a few: it contains the Golgatha, which is the mount on which Jesus was crucified; the stone on which Jesus was supposedly prepared for burial; several rocks that Jesus sat on at one point or another; and (according to some interpretations) Jesus’ tomb. There were a lot of people there. All in all, I found it overwhelming. The Western Wall, though just as holy, had a much different effect on me. Maybe it’s because I feel closer to Judaism as a religion. Or perhaps it’s because the Western Wall seems so simple, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre so ornate.
After a brief lunch at a café, Dawoud led us on to the Jewish Quarter and the Armenian Quarter of the Old City, finally ending up at the Jaffa Gate. We said goodbye to Dawoud (sad!) and boarded the bus to our next destination: the offices of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), which was located in a more affluent part of Jerusalem. There we met a young woman named Sarah, who would be our next tour guide. Sarah, an Israeli and United States citizen whose grandmother was a Palestinian Jew, led us on a bus tour of a few notable places in Jerusalem: the Green Line border, an Israeli settlement in occupied East Jerusalem (which the Israeli government currently considers to be part of Israel, even though international law states otherwise), and the Separation Wall (aka Security Fence, Apartheid Wall, Segregation Wall, or just “The Wall”). This tour was particularly fascinating, albeit sobering, and eye-opening in a number of ways. Seeing, and touching, the Separation Wall really brought things home for me. The particular section we stopped at is a place where the wall actually divides a whole town in half. This is not an uncommon occurrence; the wall frequently divides Palestinian towns, or cuts off villages from their fields so they have no access to their crops.
After saying goodbye to Sarah, we spent a brief amount of time at the Sabeel Center for Palestinian Liberation Theology, which is a Christian volunteer organization sympathetic to the Palestinian side of things. They had a lot of interesting things to say, but we were all quite jetlagged at the time, so half of us were nodding off by the end of it–not out of disrespect, just sheer fatigue (and it wasn’t just the students–I think I saw Teacher Kevin shut his eyes at one point…). Finally, around 6:00, it was time to head off to the hotel to eat dinner.
Just a quick anecdote before I wrap things up: After dinner, a group of us elected to take a nightly stroll through the Old City, just to see what we could see. With Teacher Eric and Teacher Jay trailing behind us, we wandered around, perusing the few shops that happened to be open, looking at all the trinkets and souvenirs and delicious pastries. At one point we ran into some small Arab boys playing soccer. They began to follow us. “Where do you want to go?” they asked. “Shops,” I replied. “Shops?” one boy repeated. “This way, all closed, he said, motioning up one winding street.. “This way, open.” In the spirit of adventure, we followed the boys for about ten minutes, up through a fairly deserted residential area, finally ending up in the Christian Quarter where–lo and behold–a single shop was open. Upon reaching our destination, the boy held out his hand. “Money,” he said. I can’t say I was terribly surprised at this. Why else would they help a bunch of dumb-looking American tourists? We tried to fend them off, but they trailed us for a few more blocks until someone in our group finally handed them 10 shekel.
Anyway, I think we all slept like rocks last night. We are now on the bus to Givat Haviva, an Israeli community and learning center northwest of Jerusalem, where we will spend the next two nights.
It’s been quite the adventure up until now. Inshallah you are well, wherever you all are–I, for one, am in great spirits.
Talk to you soon…

Exciting Firsts with the Dolphins, Sea Lions and Birds

I’ve got some stories to share from my first three days at DRC! I’ll go by animal:

Dolphins:    “Our middle name is research,” literally, says DRC’s public speaker Julie, and yesterday I got to see my first dolphin research session. DRC is the only facility that allows the public to view their research sessions, so this was quite a treat. Talon, a 19-year-old male, can recognize sequences of numbers from 1 to 5. He ranks in the 90th percentile and has a very high success rate — when I watched him he only made 2 mistakes! The trainers position Talon in front of a blue board, onto which they lower the numbers 1 thru 5 in a random order. Once he is given the signal, he touches his rostrum (nose/snout) to the numbers in their correct order. Pretty amazing stuff!

Sea Lions:    DRC has 3 California Sea Lions: an 8-year-old male named Kilo, and two “elderly” females, Karen and Renee. The girls haven’t even been at DRC for a full year, and have only recently gotten accustomed to actual bay water (as opposed to the freshwater tanks they were kept in for most of their lives). Today, for the first time, the ladies actually waddled down the stairs into the lagoon and swam around! Karen is older than Renee and has gone completely blind, so she was only in for a little bit before she swam back to her trainer for some fishy treats. Renee, however, who still has some of her eyesight, kept on exploring the lagoon for more than fifteen minutes! The best part was when Renee swam beside one of the fences that separate the lagoons and realized that there were dolphins on the other side. She started barking joyfully, and the five dolphins in that lagoon, Jax and Gypsi in particular, started whistling and cheering her on. It was such a cute exchange!

Birds:    Last but not least I had some fun encounters with our tropical birds. DRC has wild peacocks that roam the grounds, and I was treated to a full peacock feather display yesterday! I never knew that in addition to spreading out their feathers in a brilliant display of color, they shake their hard back feathers to make a rustling noise and make the “eyes” of the long feathers vibrate. Also, the fanning out of the top feathers leaves the lower down feathers exposed, so when they turn around, you can see a big fluff ball of soft down feathers — cute and unexpected! Another bird first was my first conversation with Buck, DRC’s sulfur-crested cockatoo. He’s quite the character, and once he realizes you’re the one giving him treats, he speaks to you! His phrases include “pretty bird!” and “bye-bye,” as well as whistles and other incoherent mumbles. I thought I’d never get him to speak but now every time I walk into the avian hut he’s got a lot to say! =]

Just a few anecdotes from my first couple of days at DRC — I can already tell I’m going to miss this place!

Happy Birthday!

As you can probably tell from the title of this blog, today is someone’s birthday, new someone, who was born at approximately 10:20 this morning.

After arriving in this warm, beautiful island at noon on Sunday, I was eager to start my work with the doctor the next day. Unfortunately, the Trinidadian system of bureaucracy, I did not get to actually get any work done until today. The country had just finished celebrating a huge holiday and nothing was opened on Monday. Then, first thing Tuesday morning, I had to go and register my name at the Trinidad and Tobago Nurse’s Council and fill out tons of paper work. All of this was to basically give me permission to enter the hospital and to be able to get all of my information without any hassle from hospital security.

Today was my first day with the midwife, Marcia Rollock, and we spent most of it conducting our first interview. I learned that Marcia is a midwife and a nurse and has been working helping women deliver their babies for 33 years, that’s a long time! She is now the president of the Trinidad and Tobago Midwives Association and also the principal of the Trinidad School of Midwifery. We spoke for about an hour, during which time I was able to see one of the school’s campuses and also speak with a few students.

After the interview was through, I asked about being able to see a delivery and I nearly cried when I heard that the patient whose delivery I was to see had given birth during the interview. I was quite a bit upset, but when I looked through the windows of that neonatal center and saw little Amelia with her mother, all feelings of anger seeped out of my body. She was the most precious baby I had ever seen, only about two hours old, and already fighting to look out of her blanket and smile at the world. I walked over and talked to the attending nurse, and she told me there was nothing more beautiful and fulfilling than helping to bring smiles like the one Amelia was giving her mother into this world.

I did have to wait quite a while before getting anything done, but I must say it was totally worth it. I wanted to take tons of pictures of Amelia, but I was not allowed to since she was in the neonatal unit. I will be allowed to take as many pictures as I want tomorrow, however, when she is moved next to her mother in the maternity ward. So be on the lookout for this little beauty!!

=) Jhewel

Bienvenido a Chile!

Hola from Chile!

From the moment we crawled off of the plane into the 88 degree, brilliantly sunny, crisp Chilean air, our trip has been absolutely fabulous. Liz´s aunts greeted us at the airport and immediately rushed us to their goreous farm, although gorgeous now seems an understatement. The farm resembled, for lack of a better name, Eden. The green grass and beautiful house surrounded by acres of peach, grape, plum, and almond trees created a completely surreal environment for the five of us, who, despite our sleep deprived state, could still appreciate the astounding landscape. We ate… and ate… and ate all day, in between napping by the pool in the sunshine. The farm even had german shepard puppies!

Liz´s family treated us with a genuine hospitality that could be unparrelled by any stranger I have ever encountered. They served us left and right, refused to let us help in any way, and offered us anything we could ever need. My first impression of Chilean culture, therefore, was one of complete respect for others, as well as a familial bond that revolved around cuisine. Chileans eat… SO much and SO often.

Over the past few days we have been attending classes at a Spanish language school in Santiago. The staff is all very friendly, as are our classmates. Most of them are adults from Brazil, exposing us to another cultural and linguistical barrier. I have learned so much about both Brazilian customs and cultural as well as Chilean cultural, allowing me to compare and contrast the two with the American point of view. While my class is quite difficult, I enjoy the challenge. I find myself sitting back, enthralled with the conversations taking place around me. Yesterday, for example, my class discussed and debated myraid complicated issues, including homosexuality in society, marrital customs and relationships, and the displacement of people from their land. After every discussion, even the most heated, someone will always say something clever and the tone returns to friendly agreeing to disagreeing. My Spanish is already improving.Even right now I find myself accidentally translating words and phrases into Spanish subconsciously.

After classes each day, we use the metro to explore the city. We have gone shopping at a market called Los Dominicos. Located on a beautiful hill with an expansive park and tremendous view of the looming Andes in the distance, Los Dominicos consists of myraid artisan shops selling everything from jewlery to ducks to wool.Everything was relatively inexpensive, but very fun to get.

We have been having the best time simply walking around and seeing if we end up where we intended to go. While at first we were all very timid about our lack of Spanish, we have all become more confident. I had been very intimidated by feeling so isolated and different in Chilean society, but all of my confrontations with Chileans have been nothing short of genuine. Everyone is very patient and understanding, which is quite a relief.

More adventures to come,