Sri Lanka - exotic beauty
We finished up with the Mlabri tribe in Thailand, with a surplus of around $500 raised for them. We set aside the extra funds as a trust for future projects for them. Thank you all who contributed!
Our last few days were spent in Bangkok, where we went out dancing for my birthday! My buddy from college Ryan and our new friend from the UK Victoria took us out and we danced the night away! It was quite fun. The next day Ryan and I went for Thai message, with a game if badminton after! Fun fun!
Two days later Aria and I were on a plane to Sri Lanka!
We arrived in Colombo, the capital city excited to be out of Thailand. Two months was enough. Though it was quite a nice experience, the last month in Nan wore thin. Working with the Mlabri tribe was some work, and the town became quite boring after a while.
With a wave of heat we were met off the plane. The strike difference in culture was truly inspiring. Right out of the terminal a middle man got us a cab, ripping is off 500 Sri Lankan rupees (only $3.45. We didn't need a middle man to get us a cab). The driver was very friendly, and was kind enough to take us around to look for the cheapest and best place to stay. After a painstaking hour of searching, we decided to go with the hostel that was online, a "backpackers" hostel. For sure this would be cheap. We were disturbed to find out that the room was $20 a night! Double what we where paying in Nan Thailand, and it was not close to being as nice. A quick walk to the ocean we found a turtle conservation project. They had a safe area where the turtles could lay eggs. Inside a little lean two structure were a few tanks where injured and breeding turtles lived. There were about 4 types of turtles there. It was quite a treat to see these beautiful creatures up close!
We quickly planed our trip the next day to the Visa office for India in Sri Lanka, and then off to the mountain town of Kandy.
The visa office was quite smooth, but we had to return after processing in a week. So off we went to go explore Sri Lanka! The train to Kandy couldn't of fit another human on it. It was completely packed! I strategically waited to the very last moment to board the train, so I could hang out the door with a local fellow who was just as smart. The two of us hung out the door the whole 3 hour train ride through the mountains. It was such a beautiful ride. Small villages with local people tending their daily needs, with beautiful views of the mountains.
When we arrived in Kandy, a local Tuk Tuk driver (three wheeled taxi) offer us a ride to a cheap guest house for about 69 cents. We accepted, not knowing the town or where to stay. He took us to a place that was near the lake. The room was simple and about $10 a night. Much more our speed for the long haul of traveling. He offered to take us on a tour of the town for $4. We accepted. He took us to an amazing vegetarian Sri Lankan food restaurant! We were so happy after eating Thai food for two months! The food was amazing an about $1.50 for both of us! He then took us up to a giant 80 foot Buddha statue that stood ontop of a near by peak. It was amazing. Though it was almost night, we enjoyed a quick tour of the monument. Thailand also had many giant Buddha statues, but this was the first one that we got to see up close.
After a nice sleep we wandered around the town of Kandy. We walked through the local market and admired the spices and exotic fruits. The locals were all very interested in us, just as much, if not more so, than us in them! They continuously asked us to browse their stall, and quickly asked where we were from... "America!!!" They would shout, as if they just won some prize in a difficult contest. Followed by "Obama!!!" It was quite a show. One man greeted us with ginger tea as the locals gathered around and asked questions.
At the bus station in Kandy, we decided to purchase a SIM card with 6 gigs of data for around $4. While I was charging my phone, a gentleman began to tell us about the town of Dambulla. We were going to take the bus to Habarana in hopes to have a visit with the wild elephants that reside there. The man spoke of his brothers guest house. So we took his phone number and gave it a try.
After a few phone calls, we were greeted at the bus stop in Dambulla by Dinesh, the owner of Nature Park guest house. He led us to his place on his moped as we trekked behind. His house was quite nice, set aside from the bustling town. We enjoyed the decent wifi, cheap accommodations ($8.30 a night) and very friendly and informative host. We decided the next day to take Dinesh up on his offer; $25 each to take his brothers jeep and see the elephants. All park fees included. A bit out of our daily budget, we thought "what the hell... Elephants!" And oh where we impressed. We started out in the park with many other jeeps carrying enthused westerners. After seeing a peacock we discovered a group of around 15 jeeps all nestled in with a small herd of around 20 elephants! This was quite a treat! After a few more stops and visits with elephants, we made it back to the major highway road back to town. During the gloaming, we witnessed a small pack of elephants crossing the road. This time we could see all the details of the magnificent creatures. Before, in the wild, they were trampling through extremely tall grass. Grass that was over 5 feet tall! But here, on the side of one of Sri Lanka's major highways (2 lane only), we enjoyed watching the elephants take their time as they crossed the road. A baby kept close to it's mother, occasionally taking a wrap with it's trunk around the mothers tail. Just incredible.
Sri Lanka probably has the most successful elephant rehab program. The little island is full of elephants. The park we visited had over 400. With at least 3 other parks in Sri Lanka having elephants as well. They are increasing, and actually to the point of becoming a nuisance to local farmers. The Sri Lankans are determined to save the elephants, creating innovative ways to keep them from the farms and train tracks. One of these methods is planting palmetto trees; a type of spiky palm tree that the elephants naturally avoid. The only problem with this is that the palmetto trees take so long to mature to an effective size. Having too many elephants is a better problem to have than to have an almost extinct population!
After spending two months in Thailand, and the previous 5 month stint in Kenya three years ago, we never saw elephants in the wild. Almost all architecture in Thailand has elephants, but the only ones they have are for giving tourists rides, or some that are in an orphanage. We only saw elephants in Kenya. Once. The first day we were there we went to an elephant orphanage. That's it. We saw a working elephant in Cambodia, which was amazing! But this was a first, elephants in the wild. They are such gentle, magical creatures. Their trunk is a skilled tool, able of the most intricate movements. Their ears act as fans, almost constantly on. Flapping gently at their large, strange shaped skulls. I'm just in total awe that such an amazing creature exists. Just go be in the presents of one. You'll see.
The next day was the local market right next to Dinesh's guest house. Aria was amazed at all the types of new vegetables and spices! So many colors and fragrances! I naturally made friends with the local tobacco dealer. Though he could not speak a word of English, he insisted I sit next to him, as he fed me food, tea, and ripped hunks of giant tobacco leaves and fed them to me. As you could guess, a crowd of locals circled, with maybe one or two able to speak a few words in English.
I asked Dinesh if he knew of a nice place to go snorkeling and see coral. He first recommended the south of Sri Lanka, but we were interested in a more remote location. Something a bit less touristy (the southern coast is known to be full of tourists).
Our host spoke of a remote town on the coast. He said that we could access pigeon island from the town of Niloveli, just north of Trincomalle. I looked up pigeon island on google earth and it sure looked perfect for some sea creature viewing!
We said good bye and thanked him for an amazing time. On our way to the bus stop to catch the local bus to Trincomalle, we saw a giant lizard! It was the size of a Jack Russell and almost as thick! A monitor lizard!
The bus ride was the typical Sri Lankan bus. Your lucky to get a seat. If you do, hope that you're by a window cause it can get pretty hot. The speakers blast local Hindi like music as the bus driver tries for the fastest time to the finish. Busses have the right of way. The driver is constantly pushing the bus to go as fast as it can and passing as many vehicles as possible. The passengers are silent as the music pumps and the transport cart that we are all stuffed in weaves. Occasionally there will be an abrupt slamming of the breaks and all the quiet people will lunge forward... To the sounds of the sacred music. Where the driver sits are the local deities. A mix of Hindu and Buddhism along with flashing lights and tassels. It's quite an experience. The bus drivers are incredibly skilled. And it's safe to say that they are definitely Sri Lankan Hero's.
Arriving in Trincomalle (safe and sound) we denied a local Tuk Tuk driver trying to make some western cash ($4.84) and instead took the local bus ($0.80) to the town of Niloveli. The bus conductor notified us that this was our stop, kinda in the middle of no where. Three Tuk Tuks awaited at the bus stop. We hired one for $0.69 to show us around and look at different accommodation options (quite common practice). I jokingly said "let me drive" and he quickly crossed the sleepy road and pulled over. "Ok" he said, and with a quick tutorial I was off, zipping down the dirt road to Nilaveli. He instructed me to pull over at a guest house. I checked it out and Aria went to the one right next door. She was quite excited by the one next door, so we chose it for $10.37 a night. The guest house was called Shadow guest house, cause it was in the shade of the hot sun. The Tamil family lost their home in the Tsunami of 2004. The man was a humble mason, and with the help of Habitat for Humanity, built his house and a second guest house. H for H provided the material and he the labor. He showed me the foundation of where the previous house lay. He then told me the story of the tsunami, and how the water came without warning. He and his neighbors ran almost a mile to the nearest hill. A very small mound. He said there was hardly any room for another body. His child was in his arms and only 6 months old. The disabled an elderly mostly drowned. There was about 5-6 feet of rushing water. Later I met a boatsman who was out to sea when the tsunami hit. He said the wave was over 50 feet high! After he crested the wave. He was pulled mikes out to sea by the back current. So far he couldn't see land!
The next day we walked to the sea. We met a British diver looking to share a boat to pigeon island. His name was Orrin. In a shorter time than it takes to get from Harwich to Monomoy we where at our destination. We dropped our snacks and water in a shaded area and put on our snorkeling gear. Right as we walked up to the sea out first amazing sighting occurred. "An octopus" Orrin shouted with enthusiasm. We watched as the sand colored octopus gracefully swam by. We swam out as a team and some other snorkelers not far off signaled to us. "Turtle!" They shouted. We rushed over and swam with this full sized sea turtle! After spending a moment with this majestic creature we took off, Inspecting coral and other beautifully colored fish. Such a tropical variety swam around us. Aria noticed a small shark swam near. Just then, they appeared. 5-10 sleepy black tipped reef sharks dreamily swam around us. They kept a distance to us, which we appreciated. The largest around five feet long, and all sizes in between. I was amazed to watch these creatures swim. They moved through the water with such ease. One of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. Many tourist snorkel here with the sharks, and they are not aggressive.
I took off with Orrin as Aria rested to the opposite side of the small island. Orrin went off to the right and I to the left. I noticed a yellowish tint to a boulder and swam over to inspect it. Just as I approached the small yellow lump became a deep dark red, and a bit larger as well! And another smaller bump became red! I noticed the pronounced nose and it's tentacles began to move! Octopus!! One larger and what seems to be a baby! What an amazing sight to see this animal change color! Fantastic!
We enjoyed our day snorkeling and returned very tired to our sleepy town of Nilaveli. Our hosts' wife cooked us an amazing dinner, and then we slept. The next day I asked (again jokingly) if I could borrow the husbands motor cycle. "Of course" was the reply, without additional charges! Aria and I took it to the local aruvadic message place. They covered us in fragrant oil an lathered it on our sore and tired bodies. It was amazing. They started by covering our heads thick with oil. Now I knew why the our hostess put newspaper in our helmets!!
The next day I took the bike alone and drove all around the country area. It was nice to be by the sea, and observe the local fisherman and their humble lives. I replaced the broken mirror on the motorcycle for our host, and we shared photos of ours home, life and work. I ended up showing our host some knots that are useful. He was very excited to learn the bowline. He said he saw it before and couldn't remember it. The next day he told me he used it at work, and taught all his friends.
Niloveli was amazing.
Back to the capital city of Columbo to pick up our passports and India visas. We found a decent place on air B and B for cheaper than the hostel that we first stayed in. The father was a retired UN humanitarian worker. He had some of the most amazing stories I've ever heard. His son went to America for high school, and his daughter was still there. They told us about Sri Lanka's biggest festival in Colombo in a few days, so we decided to travel Sri Lanka again for a few days before returning for the giant festival, and then catch a plane to India!
When we were in Dambulla visiting the elephants with Dinesh, we skipped one of the countries finest attractions, so we decided to go back! Dinesh was thrilled that we were returning, and gave us a discount on his already cheap room. The next day we went to Sigyria.
Sigirya is amazing. Registered as a world heritage site, it was first occupied by some Buddhist monks over 2,000 years ago. The giant rectangle shaped boulder lies on it's side, and is around 100 feet tall by 200 feet wide and around 400 feet long (estimates). Sometime around 1,700 years ago, a king with a vision created his palace on the stone. At the foot of the boulder he constructed vast rock and water gardens similar to the ones we saw in Cambodia. Intricate canal systems, carvings, and ancient painting occupied space, as well as rooms and a theater carved out of other large boulders. Where the edge was steep, they carved level holes in the side in a stair case pattern so that one could walk up the slope. Pretty screechy steps!
As we waited in a long line of mostly local tourists, we watched monkeys dance around us. Slowly waking our way up a stone staircase closed tight by walls on the side, a Sri Lankan woman screamed from the crowd above. We slowly made out way to the sight of the scream and discovered the largest monitor lizard I've ever seen. The wall was just below shoulder height so that we were face to face with this amazing creature. It moved around as if not to be lazy, and it's tongue acted snake like, constantly checking the scents in the air. It's dark monotone scales had the smallest pinpoint decoration of bright green dots, only noticeable from such close proximity.
Slowly we worked our way up the side of the boulder with the crowd. A spiral staircase took us straight up the side of the massive boulder to a collection of 2,000 year old paintings. No photos allowed. These were some of the mist beautiful ancient paintings we've seen on our trip. Extremely well preserved, they depicted sacred beautiful women well decorated with pointy hats and detailed dresses. Bare chested, this area of the woman was clearly appreciated as their size and perkiness showed.
We passed the "mirror wall" some 1,500 years old, that was called such due to the fine finish if the mortar. It was so smooth that it shined, like a mirror. Here poems and praises for the place were written by visitors in the Tamil languages (one of the worlds oldest written languages). Later in the museum we had a chance to read translations of these poems, most if which were about the beautiful paintings of the women, with some admiring the sheer beauty and craftsmanship of the place.
Around the corner and up some steps we made it to the lions paw gate. The claws of the paws were almost the size of a human. Just the feet up to the ankle were carved, but the massive size caved out of pure rock was quite incredible, along with the shapes being to scale and very smooth!
Up through the paws we climbed some modern metal steps steep with railings. As in Cambodia at the Angkor temples, these steps were so steep that looking down gave one the sense of vertigo. As we climbed we could see the ancient steps, small carved footholds in the steep face. One slip and it surly meant death. Grateful for the modern yet sketchy steps, we reached the top.
Not much left at the top but the foundations of all the buildings. Millions of bricks stacked in pyramid fashion out lined the walls and foundations. There was a large pool/bath area, and some other smaller baths carve into the boulder. The view from the top showed the amazing networks of water and rock gardens below. Flat agricultural land lay before us, leading a path to the monolithic mountains in the distance. Awe was truly inspired.
We had a few days left before the largest festival in Sri Lanka commenced, so we took the train to Nuwara Elia, the mountain region of the country. We already had taken the train from Colombo to Kandy, and now we would continue our train voyage through amazing scenery and tea plantations.
The train was as packed as you could squeeze bodies into. We experienced this type of body packing in Bangkok at rush hour. Laterally, body packing! Everyone was on top of each other. I again strategized for a door position, but even that was somewhat rude battle that I had to fight with the guys armpit I would be nestled in for the next few hours.
The train ride was magnificent. Very beautiful without any luxury, save fresh mountain air and nice views. Arriving in Nuwara Elia we were met with the usual Tuk Tuk hustle, which we smoothly navigated and got the bus to town for 400% cheaper.
The town was just what we needed. Sleepy atmosphere (for Sri Lanka) and a beautiful guest house overlooking the small town and mountains. Leaving the next day, we were grateful for our quick stop in the mountains, relieved by the cool mountain air, and returned to the never ending heat of Colombo.
The day after arriving in Colombo was Nawam Perahera, the largest parade festival in the country. It was totally amazing, and a clear view into the exotic culture if Sri Lanka. Everyone on the sides of the road was sitting, and quiet. The city built little stands for everyone to sit on. No one cheered for the amazing performances and costumes. Quietly, people watched in awe.
The main elements of the festival were music, costumes, dancing, fire, and elephants!! They music was almost always the same tune; with small pipes that had a sound similar to the pipes we would associate with snake charming a cobra. The drums were two sided, with one hand playing with a hooked tip stick, and the other with just the hand. Endless troops of men. Must of been thousands. Hardly any women!?!
The dancers where mostly younger men, with amazingly decorated head pieces and cloths tied around their bodies, usually with anklets. One troop of dancers held these long bendable sticks. One or two of the men would crouch in the center, while upwards of 15 to 20 men would hold the other ends, running as fast as they could in a circle! Hard to explain but the presentation was amazing!
Towards the end were the fire people. These guys would have these large metal circles with torches on them. Spinning and throwing in the air, it was a sight! They would pile on top of each others like cheer leaders. Totally nuts!
And of course, there where elephants! Draped in fine, sequins and some with lights, they where truly the stars. Most had their tusks removed to protect them from poachers, but some, maybe two, had their full tusks. These were shrouded in gold. Elephants of all sizes. Around 60-80 in total!
The day after the parade, we flew to Kochi India!
One of my favorite parts of the trip was talking to the local boats men in Nilaveli about the Tamil Tigers. It was fascinating to her their stories. 30 years of a civil war with the Sri Lanka government, and they are still victims of oppression. Some of their friends and families where killed in armed conflicts. Very sad.
The bus rides were also quite amazing! And the people so kind! Elephants, peacocks, giant lizards! Sri Lanka is a very amazing place!!
We've been in India for almost three weeks and I have so much to say! I can't imagine I'll ever have time to write it all.
We are currently in Varanasi. One of the most amazing places I've ever been. Surly I will write about this!
Mlabri village: Visit 3
In the morning, I walked out side of the guest house that we are staying at. The little, concrete alley way, referred to as a "soi" was quiet, calm. I knew that this was the quiet before the storm. A good storm, of busy activity for the day.
We had a meeting scheduled for 9 am with a guy named Man who I met the day before and his friend. I met him the day before. My back pack ripped and I was in need for a mend, so I went looking all over town. With attempts at Thai I was denied repairs and sent on a goose chase. Finally I walked by a store with a bunch of people stirring around, looking like they had some free time. The store looked like it specialized in many things, with Buddha figures, fabric, and other local necessities. I walked by the store and had a feeling to go inside. I don't see any sewing machines, but something inside me said "try". Enter I did, and was warmly welcomed. After struggling to communicate with some ladies, a Thai man said in perfect English (which is rare!) "can I help you"? I explained my need, which he communicated with his mother who was sitting at a desk. After a few words were exchanged, I was instructed to have a seat and relax, and my backpack was taken away. This is the case most times, never really sure what's going on due to the lack if communication, so we just have to flow.
The fellow who spoke clear English has been living in Seattle for 16 years; his name is Man. We had a chat about what we are doing here with the Mlabri hill tribe. He expressed concern as most Thai locals do when we talk about the marginalized hill tribe, with an air of hopelessness, also common.
Man became excited with the thought of his friend, a mans name that I cannot recall. He told me that his friend had been working with the hill tribes of the Nan province area, the state of Thailand that we are currently in. He told me that this man was self propelled, teaching and working with these people in need, completely out of his passion and love. He told me that he is the local expert on the hill tribe people, and that we should meet! I met his excitement with enthusiasm and asked if his friend would like to come along with us the next day to deliver a bunch of food the next day. He said he could not make it but would set up a meeting with his friend.
Enter the Jeddi: Later that day, Man called me and told me that his friend was able to meet at 9 am for coffee, but would not be able to come with us for the food drop. "Perfect! We leave at 10am to go to the tribe" I replied.
It all happened at once, as it does with situations charged with energy, love, and Jeddi's. Man and his friend were an hour late, a prime example of "Thai time". At the moment of his arrival, I looked down the soi and saw Jia, the government employee of the Provincial Office of Tribal Affairs that we've been working with, waiting for us. "Of course" I thought. "All at once". I instructed Jia to come meet with us. She had the driver park the truck and came to the table were we sat. Yut, another English speaker who works at a tourism office at the end of the soi, joined us as well. Yut has been really helpful with translation. Jia also speaks English, the best at her office. Her English is not complete, but she's able to hold conversations.
At the table we had an amazing meeting of the minds.
Aria and I
Jia, with Tribal Affairs
Her coworker, another Tribal Affairs employee
Yut, local guide and general awesome person of compassion
Man, who brought some cloths to date
Mans friend, the local Jeddi who's been working and living with the hill tribe people for years.
Everyone began to chat in Thai. There was a lot of acquainting to be done. I looked over at Aria, took a breath and relaxed. There was no understanding what was going on. Little bits were translated to keep us in the loop, but generally it was an exciting frenzy of people all interested in the same thing getting to know each other. I just basked in the energy of the moment and let it all flow.
After a cappuccino we loaded up into our trucks and headed off to make the days purchases. First stop was the ATM, where we withdrew the 500$ that converted to around 17,000 Thai Baht (34 baht per dollar, not the best conversion rate, seeing that the market is at 36. We lost around $30 with the lower conversion). Next stop was to purchase the large pan that the women of the tribe told Aria that they wanted to cook community meals. They had to go to the neighboring Hmong village to borrow a pot for large events. Now they have one of their own. The cost was 2,000 baht, or $55.
We then traveled to the rice dealer. We purchased 2 bags of conventional rice and 2 bags of sticky rice, the local favorite. Each bag weighed 50 kilograms, or 110 lbs each. That's 440 lbs of rice! Next we made various stops at fruit stands and purchased large amounts of oranges, rose apples, potatoes, and 20 kg (44 lbs) of pig meat, favorite of the Mlabri. We tried to find a live pig for them. Though we do not agree with meat eating, it's part of the Mlabri cultural identity to hunt and slaughter a pig. Hunting a pig is not possible for them right now, but the act of slaughtering a pig for them gives them a sense of identity. We still have some funds and are trying to locate a pig.
The total funds raised so far is $530 (17,952 Thai baht) and we have spent $288 (9820 Thai baht) so far leaving us with $242 (8228 Thai baht) left. We reopened donations till this Friday, due to the demand of people wanting to donate still! We hope to maybe use the money to set up a pig farm for them. We are not sure yet but are working with the Mlabri and tribal office to fun solutions!
We traveled through the deforested hills, passed through the local Hmong village, and came to the little Mlabri village named Huay Wyak, population 162 with 36 families. There are 5 Mlabri villages totaling only 362 people left in Thailand. The Hmong Is also a "hill tribe", but is very established in Thailand. They have cultivated the area into farm land. When this land was forest, it was the forest of the Mlabri. This is where they hunted, gathered, and lived with a freedom that they have no more.
Arrival to the village was similar to the past two visits. Quiet, with a few people around, slowly trickling in to see what the foreigners and local Thai tourist bring. We found one of the elders named Bla and his wife in their little hut. We had some converse through our translators about how they were living and their leaky roof. Aria went off with some women to talk with them, and I talked with Bla and some other men. The men explained to me that they missed the forest and the freedom they felt 10 plus years ago when they were hunter gatherer nomads. I asked him why he still wore a loin cloth under his shirt that draped over his thighs. He explained to me that is was comfortable and he could access his thighs to brush insects away. He like it. He was comfortable in it. He also told me about growing up in the forest, and how the area was full of plenty of wildlife and food. He spoke of elephants, monkeys, pigs, and tigers. I asked him if he ever saw a tiger. He replied "yes", and told me how he read the forest to see if tigers were present. He spoke of how he reached others about this and how it was important. Tigers would eat them. To think of the local bald hills thriving with this diversity was mind blowing.
Someone was sent to get the "chief" so that we could talk with the people and distribute the goods. The Mlabri are not a hierarchal tribe, and the "chief was appointed by the government because he learned the Thai language. The tribe functions as a community. If someone returns from hunting, then they share it with everyone. They all help each other. A concept we see deteriorating in our modern culture.
Gift giving is a common dynamic for this village. Often people do not work and rely on tourists to bring the something. A model not of empowerment but of poverty. Many local Thai people will visit the Mlabri and give them things, sometimes useless. Sometimes alcohol. As Native Americans were not used to alcohol, neither are the Mlabri.
The "chief" showed up. He had a hidden smile on his face. One of embarrassment with a touch of amusement. He is a very handsome man, and looks like his brother, who is the "Chief" of the other village we went to a week prior, the village called Huay Luu. Slowly the people gathered to the main hall that the government built. We all got together for a photo. The Thai woman named "When" who lives and works with the Mlabri people and is also the teacher at the school took the reigns. She had a list of the 36 families who live at the village, and some of the young mothers began to help her. We purchased plastic bags for distribution. We wanted to help with portioning but couldn't speak Thai. They just took control and divvied all the food up into 36 little piles. The two elder men sat and watched as the children and you women helped about.
We had just a moment where I spoke to the chief through a Thai translator and the chief spoke to the people in Mlabri. We told them that our friends and family in America wanted to help, and that we knew that this was a short term solution. We told them that we hope to find a long term solution to help them, one of empowerment. He spoke softly, shuffling his feet back as if to want to run away. I could feel that he rather be in the field working in the hot sun rather than talking to the people. He isn't a man who wants authority. He is a gentle man who's face shows love and hope. The Mlabri have had many people wanting to help, but they are wiry and don't trust anyone right off the start. They have to get to know someone first before they will trust and listen to them.
This all happened so fast and it was over. We were all observing each other; them us and us, them. Looking at each other as if we were from another planet. The Thai people are quite shy but nothing compared to the Mlabri. They are of a small statue, and crouch as they walk in front of you, as if your eyes had lasers and could penetrate them. Their bodies are different too. Not used to the bare earth and hot sun, but to the cool shade of the forest. They are small and have a little hunch, as if the design was made for them to navigate the twisted jungle with ease.
All said and done it was a fine day. A quiet day of giving and receiving. They received 1-2 weeks worth of rice and some other nutritious food, and we received the gift of experience. The experience of a beautiful culture that is on the brink of extinction. The experience of a tribe, that just 10 years ago was giving birth to babies in the forest with no medical attention what so ever. A tribe were people didn't know their age due to lack of calendars. A tribe that had no written language, for there was no use to write. Everything was passed down through the oral tradition. A tribe that wouldn't return to areas where past tribal members were buried for the belief of spirits haunting the area. A tribe that used to build lean twos out of banana leaves, and when they turned yellow, would move on. A tribe that watched as the wild animals faded, and the forest was stripped away for farming. This experience has no value. It is the experience most true, of life.
Such an interesting sequence of events. Last night, or rather, early this morning, I had a dream that I was visiting my late grand mother, Meme. The venue was her old house, the place of my first memories of her. I think my mother was there as well. We were in the kitchen. I remember awkwardly asking my grandmother, with all do respect, "but aren't you diseased"? She calmly replied to me, "that doesn't matter, we are here now".
My buddy Brad had a similar dream this miring as well. He was hanging out with Ted Kennedy.
Just now I finished watching the movie Solaris. In the sci-fi movie, the most prominent person in your dreams comes to waking life, created out if your mind. This is all very close in time with related subjects. It is interesting to me that the sub conscious can be conscience, as well as evolving with our awake life. It really makes sense to me. If our waking life is evolving, logic would support that our sleeping mind would evolve with it. The interesting marriage here is the sequence of events in both waking and sleeping life. Three instances all within 24 hours, or a full day, have come together in relation to each other.
I believe that our human experience is limited to our current perspective, limiting our ability to understand all the things that are going on. The good news is that we are expanding. This negates our limitations of our current perspective, and allows us to discover new things all around and within our selves.
The dreams suggest (to me) that time/space is just a perspective of our human limitations,and that anything can exist in dreams as well as in our waking state. This is also a reflection of something that I all ready believe, so it comes as no surprise. Maybe that's all that is happening; I'm just reflecting on my own beliefs, created by my own creation of reality. But what if it is a discovery of some kind. A new perspective, an idea. Or perhaps a part of the evolution of our (my) human experience.
This morning, I awoke to the soft sound of misty rain. The sound created rhythms that were the only sound to be heard at 3 am. From the window of the hostel room I looked directly at a 12 foot stone wall, with another 12 feet of chain linked fence on top, with razor wire between the two. This was the wall of the local police station. The town, Derry, north Ireland.
Two days before, Aria and I were viewing one of the most amazing ancient ruins in the world. New Grange. An ancient tomb over 4000 years old. We met a New Yorker who was taking a pilgrimage to his ancestral home, much like me. He told us stories of how amazing Northern Ireland is, and supported by many other claims of travelers we met, we decided to take a quick two night trip up to see Derry, and take a direct bus to the Dublin airport from there.
We arrived in Derry at 9:30 pm two nights ago. The town was rather quite, but the public art, stencils, and posters created a feeling of energy. The town felt full of life, and very interesting. The quite streets hummed a tone that was felt, rather then heard.
As an Irish American, Northern Ireland has always been known to us (especially from Boston) as a place of conflict and oppression. It was quite common growing up to hear about the conflicts there. We would side with the Irish, knowing full well of the history of oppression England had there. This was another strong reason to go there; to learn about the place and the situation.
Our full day there was touring the city. A gummy bear dislodged a cap on a back molar tooth on the bus rife there, so a 1 hour dentist visit was needed to repair it. Before and after that, we toured the town.
We started with the plantation house free museum tour. This was of a very beautiful plantation house that looked like a well decorated Brick church. The exhibit inside was very well done, with a comprehensive history of English occupation of Northern Ireland. The building was renovated after it was burned to the ground by the local Irish people, the year I am uncertain of.
Towards the end of the exhibit an overwhelming feeling of discomfort came over me. Suddenly, I felt that I had to get out of the place. I notified Aria of this feeling, which cooled me down a bit. I can only credit the feeling with the enormous amount of disgust that I have for the history of oppression of my ancestors. I couldn't take any more facts of how the English came to Ireland and used Northern Ireland as a command post to try to rule the whole country, as well as use Scottish people as pawn soldiers (I have Scottish blood as well, who are also Celtic blood line, and were also oppressed by the English). I had to leave the museum.
Right out side the museum was a huge wall about 20 feet high and 20 feet thick that surrounded the old city. This was used to protect the central English town from the local Irish people. The wall gives a feeling of power, makes one feel small and powerless, dwarfed by the uncountable amount of rocks.
After my appointment we went to the free Derry museum, which is dedicated to the preservation and education of Bloody Sunday. In 1972, around 15 peaceful protesters where killed. The IRA was not present, for this was to be a peaceful demonstration for civil rights. The right to vote, the right to work, and other common rights were the issues the local Irish were demanding in their own native land. A group of paratroopers from England had an agenda, and they followed it. The brother of the man working the front desk of the museum was killed at this event, as well as the father of our walking tour guide (that we took after the museum). Sounds that were recorded of the days events echoed through the museum, adding to the grim feeling. On display at were numerous facts about the massacre along with blood stained cloths of victims, and banners that were used.
Aria and I hardly spoke after the museum. We were speechless. I didn't know what to feel. I didn't know what to say.
The tour guide was an honest Irish man. As real as they come. Aria and I were the only people on the tour. He spoke with a hard Irish accent. Much of what he spoke we heard in the museum; 1,100 canisters of tear gas were used on the crowd, peaceful protest for workers rights, in solidarity with MLK's " I have a dream" speech, the African American woman who wouldn't sit at the back of the bus in the USA. Solidarity. He explained the meaning that the murals were portraying. These murals covered the sides if many of the row houses. We later walked the intimidating wall that I spoke if earlier and could clearly see these murals from above. The images in the murals were of protesters, civil rights activist from around the world, and of the victims of the massacre.
We ended the tour at the Bloody Sunday memorial. The first name on the memorial was his father. He died at the age of 31, a year younger than I am now.
After the extremely clarifying tour, aria and I again were silent. Our guide was aware of how we were affected by this tour, and beeped from his taxi (his other job) as he drove by. We sat quite looking at the memorial, in respect for those who stood for what we stand for. Basic human rights.
Waking up this morning was very ironic. On the morning of celebrating the great independence of the USA from England, I awoke in Derry. The early morning light made the Great Wall outside the window glow with gloom. The gentle tapping of the rain added ambiance. I felt. I felt things that i never have felt before. I felt the history of oppression of my people. Right in my face. Museum and information one after another all crammed into one full day. I went to sleep around 8:30 pm the night before, and woke up around 3 am. I was exhausted, but could hardly sleep. I awoke on a day celebrating independence for my home country, in a place where my people came from, and do not have the privilege to do the same.
With love and solidarity, let us remember those who are oppressed when we celebrate independence.
Notice the blood stains on the plaid shirt in the lower left hand corner.
The memorial of those killed on Bloody Sunday
View from the wall of oppression
Pro British writing and colors
The Great Wall of oppression
A vet cool plaque under a plaque.
A point in time. A picture of space.
Captured with a device, to remind us.
Nostalgia. A feeling of love for the past. Reflecting on the feelings of a certain time. The feeling of a warm summers rain, how the large catalpa leaves stick to a bare foot. Making apple pies with Meme, her sacred recipe. The hot sun of a clear cape cod day, and how the salt flakes off your skin after a day on the ocean. The stillness of New England winter, the deep freeze, a windless night, snow blanketing everything, and the moonlight, reflecting so bright one could read a book. The sound of the ice growing on the pond at night, the frozen ground, hard. Walking on clear ,black ice, walking on water.
Even more specific, when the point in time is remembered with a feeling. Reflection on the past somehow emphasizes the feeling with the moment of the past. A feeling that us experienced now will feel different when we reflect on the present moment from the future. There seems to be some distortion of reality here, with reflecting in the past. Some glorification. It's obvious how "the good ol' days" became so popular, in our hearts. But how dies this occur? What is it about the past that we crave for? Is it familiarity? Do we have a sense of security knowing how the past affected our present, and when we are in the present, we are unaware of how that will affect the future?
I strive to experience nostalgia in the current moment, having full awareness that the present moment is always changing, and that the future is a constant, unknown. And how the past is continuously bring created. I only believe in this linear time as we experience it now, with our current limitations of the mind. But I am fully aware that time is a concept, created by us to help us understand our lives, and to organize.
I just stepped outside. I heard what I thought to be a neighbors car having issue starting. So I peered from the balcony to see what I could see. As I gazed into the night sky, I saw something very unusual. I slow moving, bright green ball fell at a wide angle towards the surface. It had a tail, only about double it's size. What could this be? It resembled a firework, but had a comet like shape. With the meteor hitting Russia last week, I can only wonder if it's a piece of space stone burning up into our atmosphere, as shooting stars are. If this is so, it is quite a wonder to catch tho rare sight!!
Here we are, over a month from our arrival here in Kenya.
I hope that everyone enjoyed celebrating love yesterday! Aria and I
went to see the new Die Hard movie last night. It was quite
My birthday last week on the 5th was just right. We had a meeting with
the Kenyan KFC restaurant about their waste vegetable oil for our
biodiesel project. I wasn't happy to have such a disappointing meeting
on my b day... they will be of no help to us. After that Aria and I
went to the Nairobi Arboretum! That was nice! We saw trees that I
could have never imagined! I really enjoyed a calm day amongst the
trees... the warmest I have ever been on my celebration of life!
Last weekend Aria and I went to the Indian ocean coast! It was
paradise! Our Italian friend Lorenzo was just about to go back to
Italy, and some of our friends that came down from Denmark to do
circus work with children were about to head home, so we all met up in
Diani Beach. Just south of Mombasa, this little jewel opened up a
whole new love and perspective in my life!
We stayed at the Nairobi University Hostel that was super cheap, about
5 bucks a night. Just a stones throw down to the beach from our
housing, we would be eyed by monkeys that danced around us like
children. Very aware, they are snatchers of fruit and shinny objects.
The three of us where taking naps in a bunk room. We left the door
open and sure enough, a monkey came in and got away with 2 of our
three mango's! Our last day one of the guards found us some coconuts
that were ripe. We smashed them open and hand fed the little friends
as a final offering. It was quite amusing. Even then one ran up and
snatched a piece from behind our friend!
The beach had a very fine, white sand. One that I have never seen in
all my travels. It seemed to be silt based as opposed to quartz, as in
our lovely golden Cape Cod sand! Once wet this sand made a hard pack
turf, very firm. The tide was quite dramatic. The difference between
high and low covered about 500 feet of distance. At low tide, exposed
to view, came the true beauty of this place....
The Coral! Some of the closer (and seemed older) coral was exposed at
low tide. Our first day we took a walk out on it to explore! We had to
navigate the clear water for dark spots, which indicated sea urchins!
A step one does not want to take! Once on the exposed coral we began
to search the pools. We found star fish that looked like fake toys,
tiny little neon colored fish, sea urchins, and other amazement's! The
sun was quite brutal (being at the equator) and Aria and I began to
burn. We were saved by some Americans that gave us sun block. We
shared an incredible and much needed conversation!
I rented two pairs of mask-and-snorkel to explore the under. To my
surprise there was not much exciting stuff going on around our local
coral. We enjoyed some cheap meals (about 1.50 $ each) as the 4th
presidential debate played over a near by television. I met a Masai
man who I began to like. He shared time with us as he also tried to
set up a sale, as most of the locals do to "Muzungu's" aka white
The next day our Danish friends insisted on a glass boat tour.
unfamiliar to me, a glass boat is a flat boat with a roof, and two
large sheets of glass in the cabin for people to view . This was
offered to us from one of the beach boys ( a local who walks up and
down the beach trying to hustle Muzungu's). Original offer was for
2,000 Kenyan Shillings per person, about 23 $$. We got the price down
to about $8 per person for the 6 of us, which was worth it!!!! The
boat took us out to a coral a bit farther from shore. Here we met up
with another 4 glass boats full of tourists. We were all issued masks,
snorkels and fins and tossed to explore! I hopped in with excitement
and immediately met one of the local guides. He cracked open a sea
urchin and a swarm of fish began to feed all around me! Incredible!!
Aria and I began to navigate the Alien World!! It was like being in a
totally different world! The coral was all different textures, colors,
and shapes. The water was incredibly salty making it effortless to
float! I can't even begin to explain the beauty we saw; giant clam
like shell animals with 4 different colors, fish of all shape, colors
and sizes, so much neon!! Some of the highlights were a tiny cray
fish with yellow and black stripes guarded by a larger fish, a Lion
Fish!!!, clown fish, many sea snakes (yellow with black stripes), a
school of minnows that surrounded Aria and I, and much more!!
I had "The Life Aquatic" sound track running through my head the whole
time! I totally love exploring the sea! I found a new love! I can't
wait to do it again! Oh and we found a dead sea turtle that washed up
Our final day I helped about 15-20 beach boys push a glass boat about
200 feet up the sloped beach. Incredibly hard work, this took about
1.5 hours. Inch by inch, we pushed with all our might. It was amazing
to listen to the men talk in their local tongue, with the "one two
three push" in what I believe was Swahili. We were all payed 100
Kenyan Shillings, about a buck and a half!
Sorry for the length! There was so much more in those three days.Some
pics to follow once I upload!!
in other news, we began construction of our biodiesel processor today!
The project is moving along. We still only have three places we are
collecting from, despite our 1 month of outreach. This is difficult.
We must find more oil.
Send along news from back home! How was the snow storm! Sorry I missed that!
Much love to all!!
Chris-topher and Aria
Me and the Rwandan and Kenyan guys with our first test batch of biodiesel!
Some news from here. Aria and I have been not 100% healthy since we got here. Mostly minor things; Aria had a rash, I had diarrhea.
Our project is moving slowly, at the pace of things in Kenya. We are stressed about the personal investment that we are putting into the project, without looking for any return (being a volunteer, community project). We came here blind and ambitious. Next time proper fund raising and such will be in order before coming. But we had no idea what it would be like I've here, so we had to try.
I think the project is feasible, but will take more time than I think we may have to give it. My friend Charles Reith (former professor at Tulane) is now the head of AUN sustainability department (American university of Nigeria).
In mid march we hope to fly there to do a similar project for AUN and a part of one of Charles' classes. This will be a payed gig (but for sure not a huge money maker).
I don't see us getting this project off the ground that fast. Things move very slowly here, so we are faced with some hard decisions. The best scenario would be for the AUN project to be delayed, so we could give the Kenya project complete and patient attention.
This has added stress to stress that we already have, including the brand new laptop that we were borrowing from the community was stolen out of our office. We had it 5 days, Aria working on it consistently, and we left the window open out to the roof. A child most definitely was used to squeeze through the small opening between the security bars. We have reason to believe that it was one of the orphan boys in the community in which we have been staying.
Loosing all the work she had done, including her jump drive with all her personal info, Aria (and I) were very put off.
In short, we've had difficulties. But good times as well! At least two of the major 5 star hotels of Nairobi have committed their oil to our project, and we have our own transportation, a small 175cc Chinese made motorcycle. A crew of Danish actors and circus performers were just here. They did a community performance in Kibera slum (one of the biggest in the world) that was amazing! See my blog for pics!
We are resuming our efforts and going to keep trying. Logistics are a nightmare. We will be giving this our best shot and the success will rely on the team, not the individual.
More reports soon. We are still looking for donations! Please if anyone can donate or knows anyone who would like to donate send them our way! One can obtain a tax credit if a donation is $250 or higher by our fiscal spinster the Alliance for Affordable Energy in New Orleans!
Please write and let us know what is happening back home. It's a comfort to hear news from back home, in a place of hard comfort!
Much love to all
Our Danish and Kenyan friends performed in this peace rally yesterday. Free and open to the public, the event was held in one of the worlds biggest slums. Kibera slum. Quite awesome stunts, music and dancing!!
Something happened to me that day. Up in new hamster, as the still of winter calmed the forest, the cold of night pronounced the stars.
I stood there, alone, just about to turn 19. I knew, since my awakening of the mind (around 13-14 of age) that this turning of age was something special. The tranquility of the forest was familiar to me by now. I was completely comfortable. I felt the universal unity ,clear, all present. My eyes looked completely at the frozen, still trees, the back drop of the deep night sky; stars' bright pure white radiance of light, and the snow; purity, insulation, comfort. I was in my temple. My favorite place, with my favorite things. I could have teared at that moment, overwhelmed by the love I felt in this place, in this time space.
A change. A shift. Something expected. An awakening if my awakening.
What I learned in that moment was that that feeling was ever present. always in the moment. Right there, as I choose to acknowledge.