Archive for ◊ June, 2009 ◊

27 Jun 2009 Nairobi, Kenya
 |  Category: Kenya, Our Trip, Volunteer  | 3 Comments

We were so excited to arrive in Kenya and meet the children at the Galilee Primary School and Lorna Waddington High School, who had received the first distribution of mosquito nets. The schools are located in the Kayole-Soweto slum area of Nairobi, Kenya. Over 1700 students attend school on the campus. Many of these children are orphans, all live in poverty.

Upon arriving we were greeted by the school’s director, Fanuel Okwaro. He took us around to every classroom where we were introduced to the teachers and welcomed by the students (classes start at “Baby Class” level pre-K3, moving into Nursery School, then Pre-Unit, like our kindergarten in the US, and then grades one, two, and so forth through 8th grade. Students then take the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exam to determine if they are eligible to attend high school, which goes from Form 1 through Form 4) . Each class had a poem or song that they performed, it was awesome! While touring the school we also got to see the kitchen which is located where the Galilee Primary school started in 1997, in a simple building with two small rooms and dirt floors. At lunchtime we went to the library, which also doubles as the teachers lounge, where we met the principal & several more teachers. Thanks to the organization Feed The Children, a hot lunch is provided to students every day school is in session (Monday thru Saturday). Lunch consists of beans & rice or beans & maize…for many children this may be the only meal they get that day.

We spent the afternoon typing exams on 2 of the schools 3 computers. They only had hard copies of most of the exams which makes it very difficult to update and/or make changes…with the exams saved into the computers teachers can modify the tests as they see fit. At the end of the day we got to play with the children and then Fanuel gave us a ride back to the Rusam Guesthouse, where we had dinner & passed out early.

On our 2nd day we headed to downtown Nairobi with Duncan (Fanuel’s assistant) to do some shopping for the school. In addition to the mosquito nets we purchased (thanks to the donations from our friends and families) we also bought school supplies. Notebooks, pencils, pens, paper, crayons for the little ones and many other necessary supplies…we even got a few fun items! Two new soccer balls and a table tennis set. Back at the school we spent the rest of the day inputing more exam data into the computers. In the late afternoon when the children were out of class we went out into the dirt courtyard in the center of the school to teach the kids how to play ping pong. We borrowed 2 square tables from the classrooms and as we were setting up the net, a crowd of children quickly gathered around. Sherri & I demonstrated (as best we could) how to rally the ball back and forth. The kids were gathered so tightly around us that someone always caught the ball if we happened to miss it. We took turns rallying with the children trying to give each of them a turn. Once they had the basic concept down we stepped aside…even some of the teachers got involved and the older kids tried to explain the rules to the younger ones, who were much more interested in just hitting the ball back and forth.  It was so much fun…by the end of the day our cheeks hurt from smiling!

That evening we were invited to one of the classrooms to watch the choir practice. They put on a full performance including song, poetry and dance. They really have some talented students and they will be competing against other schools later this year.

We really enjoyed our time at the school! We especially loved the time we got to spend with the children playing games and taking pictures! The kids loved seeing themselves on our digital cameras…we’d snap a couple pictures and then show it to them and they would just laugh and laugh!

We also taught some of the children to play Bocce Ball thanks to Jeff Kelley and our friends at Sanuk who gave us a soft bocce ball set to take with us on our trip…we left it at the school for the kids!

The children in the orphanage had already received nets from a shipment sent earlier in the year. From wear and tear, some of the nets had small holes in them which could allow the mosquitos to get in, so we spent one afternoon sewing these holes so that the children would still be protected.

Thanks to our friends, family and Netting Nations that helped make this part of our world trip one of the most amazing experiences!!!

26 Jun 2009 Watoto Centre School – Nairobi, Kenya
 |  Category: Kenya, Our Trip, Volunteer  | One Comment

Watoto Centre School was the 5th school we went to and was located next door to the Galilee school.  This was the largest school we visited, with over 1,200 students and 120 orphans at their 3 orphanages.  The orphanages were actually quite nice with cheerful drawings painted on the walls.  The last one we went to even had a garden and a cute kitchen.  We helped the children put the nets on their beds, which was a lot of fun and kind of reminded me of how we used to build forts with sheets and blankets when we were little.

It was such an awesome day!  We felt like we had seen thousands of children (which we had).  We are so thankful that we were able to have this wonderful experience and help all of these children.  We’ll definitely never forget it!  Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to everyone who helped make this possible.  For anyone who is looking to help, there are still many children who need nets! Visit the Netting Nations website to find out what you can do to help!

26 Jun 2009 Candle Light School – Nairobi, Kenya
 |  Category: Kenya, Our Trip, Volunteer  | 2 Comments

The 4th school we went to was the Candle Light school, which was run by Pastor Afwai and had about 300 students and 42 orphans.  When we arrived at the school we met Afwai in his office, which is also the sewing room.  A little boy was working diligently on a sewing machine making a beautiful hand bag.  The school teaches the children how to sew, so that they acquire a useful skill and then they also sell the items the children make to raise funds for the school.  Rana bought an apron and I bought the hand bag that the little boy had just finished making.  This school was the smallest one we went to and was located in the heart of the slums.  Since we still had to make it to the 5th school, we took a quick tour of the campus, met some of the students and then gave Pastor Afwai 42 nets for all of the orphans.

26 Jun 2009 Boston School – Nairobi, Kenya
 |  Category: Kenya, Our Trip, Volunteer  | One Comment

The 3rd school we went to was the Boston School, where Fanuel’s brother was the director.  There are 323 students from preschool to eighth grade.  Those who finished the eighth grade then moved on to Fanuel’s school.  After visiting the classrooms, we handed out nets to some of the students and then got together for a big group photo.

26 Jun 2009 Humble Hearts School – Nairobi, Kenya
 |  Category: Kenya, Our Trip, Volunteer  | One Comment

The second school we went to was the Humble Hearts school.  The school was started in 2004 and there are 350 students total, of which 40 are deaf.  This is one of the only schools in Nairobi that teach the deaf and they teach all their students sign language.  They also teach the parents sign language once a month and on Thursdays the entire school uses sign language to communicate.  This was one of our favorite schools as the children gave us a very warm welcome.  As our car pulled up to the school, we were rushed by a sea of adorable children wearing purple uniforms.  When we got out of the car they swarmed around us laughing and smiling and reaching out to hold our hand and give us high fives.  The were so cute and happy, we loved it!

After touring the school, Beatrice, the Director of the school, took us to her parents house where there was temporary housing behind their house, where 35 deaf students who were orphans lived.  We gave her nets for the 20 beds, as most of the children had to share a bed.

26 Jun 2009 Brightstar School – Nairobi, Africa
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The first school we went to and distributed the mosquito nets was the Brightstar school.  We were so excited to meet the children. The Director of the school, Andrah, and his wife, Jacqueline, were very welcoming and appreciative that we were bringing them nets. They explained to us that having malaria nets was a luxury that they could not afford but really needed.

At the school there was approximately 500 students with about 90 orphans living on campus.  Andrah and Jacqueline showed us around the school and introduced us to each classroom. When we entered each classroom the students would stand up and greet us and recite a poem or song for us. They were all so adorable and incredibly sweet that it made me wish we could do more for them.

After the tour of the school we went to both the boys and the girls dorm rooms and handed out the malaria nets.  The children were so excited and immediately tore open the bags and began to put the nets over their beds.  The boys even made up a song on the spot, which went something like this “we are so happy, we are so happy, we are so happy today.  No more mosquito bites, no more mosquito bites, no more mosquito bites today”.  It was so cute and we were very touched!  Unfortunately, we were only able to give out nets to all of the orphans who lived at the school, but the other 400 students still need nets. It was hard to realize that we were only making a small dent in the problem, but every bit does help! If you would like to purchase malaria nets for these adorable children, please go to Netting Nations

20 Jun 2009 Kolkata, India
 |  Category: India, Our Trip  | 2 Comments

Talk about culture shock…India is like another world!  You would never believe how different it is until you actually experience it yourself!  We arrived late at night and luckily had arranged for our hotel to pick us up.  On the drive there it was astonishing to see how many people were sleeping in the trash covered streets.  We were eager to arrive to the safety of our hotel.  The last Lonely Planet writer to visit the hotel had described it as “sparkling clean”, however, they must have a different idea of what is sparkling clean or they never went past the lobby.  The walls of our room were covered with dirty foot and hand prints, the curtains had a thick layer of dust, the sheets were definitely dirty (we slept in our sleep sacks) and the water barely trickled out of the shower head.  When we asked the guy at the front desk for two bottled waters, he gave us bottles with caps that had been opened.  When I told him that we could not drink the water if they had already been opened, he said that they were filled with filtered water.  We decided to not take any chances and finally used the water filter my Dad had given me.  Welcome to India!

India during the day was even more overwhelming than at night.  We had heard that the men in India will stare at you, but we weren’t prepared for the full on staring contest with every man we passed. We were on the defensive because we had also heard that Indian men were known for groping women in public, which made me want to shoot every guy a “don’t even think about it” look, but apparently women in India don’t look men in the eye unless they’re prostitutes. So I was a little torn between looking them in the eye and not looking them in the eye, because I didn’t want them to think I wasn’t paying attention in case they wanted to try something, but I also didn’t want them thinking that I was a prostitute. I usually went for the “looking them in the eye” tactic…it made me feel safer and most easterners have a view of western women being “easy” anyways. You would not believe how many men asked us if we were married…we heard it almost as often as “hello” because in their culture it is rare for a woman to be seen without a man. We didn’t talk to many women because there were never any around. Almost every job was performed by a man and walking down the street you saw about 95% men. It was so weird, almost like they were all in hiding.

We stayed in Kolkata 3 different times while in India. The first time we only stayed on day and then made a quick trip to Varanasi and back before my brother, David, arrived. The next day after he arrived we took the night train north to Darjeeling. Then after traveling around for about 2 weeks, we came back to Kolkata to fly to our next destination, Kenya. This time we stayed in a nice luxury hotel, thanks to our friend who works for a hotel chain and was able to get us a great discount. It was a wonderful way to end our stay in smelly, loud, dirty, scamming, intense India!

17 Jun 2009 Delhi, India
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While in the prepaid taxi line at the Delhi airport, a girl behind me asked which hotel we were going to. Since she was going to the same area of town we invited her to join us in our taxi. Her name is Helen and she turned out to be a very cool girl. She’s from England and had been traveling all over India for 5 months and had gotten her yoga certificate during that time. We spent the entire hour long taxi ride chatting about our travels. When we got to the Hotel Grand Godwin it was beautiful, but twice as expensive as it was listed in Lonely Planet. I asked if we could get a discount and he agreed to 15% off and suggested that we could save money if all three of us shared a room. It sounded like a good idea to us so we checked out the room and loved it. It was seriously the nicest hotel room we’d stayed in on this trip. We went back down stairs to check into the room and Helen discovered that when she had exchanged money at the airport they had forgotten to give her passport back. Luckily the hotel called the money exchange counter and they confirmed that they still had her passport. While she went back to the airport, David and I headed out for dinner. We went to a rooftop restaurant on Main Bazaar St., which is one of the big shopping market areas in Delhi. We met three girls from Europe at the table next to us, who had been living in Delhi for a few months doing volunteer work with underprivileged children. They were a lot of fun and great story tellers.

The next day we took the train down to Agra for the day to check out the Taj Mahal (see Taj Mahal blog). On our last day we went to see the Red Fort and the stunning Jama Masjid, which is the largest mosque in India and can hold a staggering 25,000 worshippers. There are set hours for when non-Muslims are allowed to enter. Admission is free, but they charge $200 rupees (about $4 USD) to let you bring in your camera. They made David put on a Longhi (like a sarong) and made me wear a frumpy long sleeve gown that covered me from head to toe (even though I was already wearing pants and a long sleeve shirt). The worst part was that they made us take off our shoes and the ground was burning hot. There was a path made of white rugs layed out over the hot stone, but it was still incredibly hot. In the middle of the huge courtyard there was a reflecting pool with stone seats lining all sides where people were sitting and splashing on themselves. I was happy to join in and splash water on my burning feet. I saw one guy brushing his teeth with the water on his finger, which I though was pretty gross considering the water was murky green with algae floating in it. A few kids came over and wanted us to take their picture. Soon we had a crowd of children around us. They loved it when we showed them the picture on the camera screen afterwards.

We had read that there was a tall tower that you could climb that had a great view of the city. We asked our driver, who was with us, where we had to go to climb the tower and he said it was closed, but when I looked up I saw people at the top of the tower. For some reason he wanted to hurry us along. We found the ticket counter and paid $100 rupees (about $2 USD) to go in. We climbed to the top up a stone spiral staircase that reminded me of the one at the Duomo in Florance, Italy. The view at the top was spectacular…you could see all of Delhi. Before we left we tried to get a good picture of us with the mosque behind us, but every Indian we asked could not take a decent shot…it was either crooked or they would cut off the building. When we were about to give up, a nice girl from Canada came up to us and asked us if we would like her to take another picture for us. We laughed and said yes and took a few pictures for her as well.

Next we headed to the Tibetan markets to do a little shopping before heading back to the airport. On the way back to the hotel to pick up our bags our taxi driver hit another taxi. We weren’t going fast because we were stuck in traffic, but the other driver got out and walked back to our taxi and knocked on the window. I became worried that we might miss our flight, but after exchanging a few words, the other driver went back to his taxi and drove away…that’s India!

16 Jun 2009 The Maldives
 |  Category: Maldives, Our Trip  | Leave a Comment

While Sherri and her brother went to Nepal, the timing worked out for me to fly down to the Maldives for a week.

The Maldives are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!! Gorgeous turquoise waters surround a group of atolls located south-west of India. The Maldives have over 1,192 islands, of which only about two hundred are inhabited.

We took a small float plane from Male to the W’s private island. It was so beautiful flying over all the little islands and resorts along the way!
We snorkeled almost everyday and we even went diving! We saw sooooo many fish…huge Batfish followed us and would sneak up right behind you.
We also went deep sea fishing and caught 2 tuna (small ones), 2 Wahoo, 1 Dorado and 3 Barracuda! It was great! We ate the Wahoo for lunch…the kitchen made us fish quesadillas! And for dinner we had fresh tuna sashimi, barrcuda stir fry and grilled Dorado (mahe-mahe).
There is also an amazing spa on the property!
The Maldives are definitely one of the most beautiful places in the world!
The service and staff at the W’s resort and spa is unbelievable, making it a vacation you’ll always remember!
15 Jun 2009 Yoga Retreat – Pokhara, Nepal
 |  Category: Nepal, Our Trip  | Comments off

High atop a hill overlooking Lake Pokhara, exists a magical place…the Sadhana Yoga Retreat. My brother David had found it online a few months ago. While in Kathmandu, Nepal, we met a lovely lady, Linda, who had just come from Sadhana and she raved about it, so we were super excited to get there. We took a 20 minute flight on a small 30 passenger plane from Kathmandu to Pokhara. The views of the mountains from the plane were amazing. Before the plane took off a flight attendant handed out candy and cotton (to put in your ears since the plane was so loud). As the taxi drove us through the quaint little lakeside town of Pokhara, we instantly fell in love with it. The lake and mountain views reminded us of Switzerland.

Linda had warned us that we would have to walk up a long steep hill with all of our luggage to get to the retreat. The hike took us over an hour since we took the long way because we missed a sign. Luckily, towards the end, a nice neighbor offered to have his children guide us the rest of the way and help us with our bags. Since they were quite small we gave each of them our smaller backpacks, which was about twice the size of the little boy, but he said he was fine and happily lead the way. We were so exhausted, sweaty and unsure which way to go, that we were thrilled to have their help and gave them each some rupees at the end. When we arrived at the guest house we were blown away by the the amazing view of the lake and surrounding mountains. The grounds of the retreat were lush with lots of vibrant plants and flowers. We were greeted by Durga, who runs the retreat with her husband Asanga. Asanga leads the yoga and meditation while Durga leads the chanting (she’s also going to beauty school and gave me a free haircut). There’s also a younger guy who took us on the morning walks, lead us in the nose cleaning, prepared our mud or steam bath and lead us through afternoon meditation. Our daily schedule went as follows:

06:00 Pre-Meditation practice
06:15 Meditation
07:00 Morning Walk
07:45 Tea Break
08:00 Yogic Cleansing
08:30 Morning Yoga
09:45 Breakfast
10:30 Mud or Steam bath

12:00 Pre-Meditation practice
12:15 Meditation
1:00 Lunch
3:00 Talk
3:30 Karma Yoga
4:00 Tea Break
4:30 Chanting
5:30 Evening Yoga
7:00 Dinner
8:00 Retiring

I’ve done lots of yoga before, but I’ve never done any meditation, but I loved it! Since I’m not a morning person it was definitely a nice gentle way to wake up. The yoga meditation room was very peaceful with windows on all of the walls that look over the lake or out into the trees. The morning walk was also a nice way to wake up. We’d go down the hill on one side, walk along the lake, and then back up the hill on the other side. The scenery was beautiful and it was interesting to see the villagers fishing, gardening and doing their other morning activities. As we passed by many of them they would yell out “Namaste” to us.  After the walk we had some lemon grass tea, then it was time for nose cleaning, which is pouring warm salty water in one side of your nose while letting it pour out of the other.  I was a little apprehensive about it, but it actually wasn’t to bad once I got the hang of it.  And after all of the dusty roads I’d been on my nose needed to be cleaned out.  Next we got to choose between a steam bath or a mud bath.  We chose the mud bath the first day and it was so much fun!  It was like being a kid again.  They gave us a bucket full of orange mud which we rubbed all over our bodies and then laid in the sun.  Once the mud was dry we rubbed it off and then showered in the outdoor shower.  My skin was so soft after wards!  Next we had some free time, then afternoon meditation followed by lunch.  After lunch we did Karma Yoga, which was doing yard work or helping out with something around the retreat. Then we would have afternoon tea and popcorn followed by talk time with Asanga, where we could ask him any questions we had.  Then we had chanting with Durga, who has a beautiful voice.  I liked the chanting way more than I thought.  It was very relaxing.  Next we had our last and most strenuous yoga class of the day, which lasted for an hour and a half.  Shavanasa was my favorite part…the ten minutes at the end where you lye still on your back and relax after you have stretched and worked all of your muscles.  I loved the song he played during Shavanasa and the guitar fusion music that he played earlier in the day, so we had Asanga write the names down of the two CD’s and then we went into town on our last night and bought them along with a few other Nepalise CD’s.

While at the retreat we met some nice people from England and the States.  The first day there were only 7 people at the retreat and on the second day there was just David and I and a very cool couple from New Orleans.  Asanga said it was the most Americans he has had in his class in 10 years and the first time he’s had a class of only Americans.  We really enjoyed talking to the other students and hearing about their travel adventures. The couple from England showed us some amazing pictures of their travels and told us how they had traveled in Thailand for two months on one motorbike with two cats (who had been given to them as a gift).  I’ve seen a family of 5 on a motorbike, but two westerners with two cats on a motorbike was quite the visual.  The couple from the states also had some great stories to tell.  They told us about their home stay experience with a Buddhist family who had a bee hive inside their house and a ton of pigeons on their tin roof that the father would feed very early every morning, making a huge racket on the roof. (Buddhist’s don’t believe in killing anything).  I thought I was adventurous, but not after hearing some of their wild stories.

The weather was perfect and every afternoon during tea time we would get a huge thunderstorm, which just added to the magical atmosphere.  The first day we even got one inch hail.  Russel ran out on the lawn and struck a few yoga poses while the hail beat down on him, which looked kind of painful to me.

One night we decided to go down to the lakeside to check out the town and get our feet wet in the lake.  We ended up finding a great restaurant (Elegant View Restaurant) on the lake where we had a few cold beers and a yummy tandori chicken pizza while we watched the sunset over the lake.  It was a stunning sight as the sun was shining down through the clouds making perfect rays of light with the magnificent mountains behind them.  I couldn’t stop snapping pictures.  It was pitch black by the time we got back and had to make the steep hike up to the retreat.  Luckily we had brought our head lamps and there were luminous fire flies dancing around us through the trees.  Unfortunately, about half way up one of my flip flops snapped, so David gave me a piggy back ride until I remembered that I had a safety pin on my bag because it was falling apart.  I was able to fix my flip flop and walked about 20 steps until my other flip flop broke…then I was back on David’s back again…it’s a good thing he’s so strong because it was the steepest part of the hike.  When we finally made it to the top of the hill I went next door to the Hidden Paradise Guesthouse and got a one hour massage, which I definitely needed at that point.

The yoga retreat was an awesome experience and we would highly recommend it!  We even plan on coming back again someday.  Durga said that they are planning on having spa treatments, massages, a cooking school and a swimming pool in the future…so it’s just going to get even better!