Saturday, November 23, 2013

Lately

School is going to be the death and making of me.
It's been leaving me with an anxiety over the next time I'm asked about what I've been up to, what's new, or how I've been. Inside the response lies a cyclical life crisis in danger of emerging in the middle of a social gathering when all you wanted was to pass the time politely with me who is so out of social practice that I'm loitering at the food table.
Bless your heart. I'll be optimistic. Truly I will! Julie Andrew's kind of optimistic. 


In the back of my mind is the guilt that I don't deserve to go out and see the sunlight unless it's to and from my classroom for all the reading and studying I put off thanks to my addiction to Asian dramas and Bollywood. More like my addiction to escaping stress. Because every time I come back to the reality of careplans and diseases I end up suspicious my community college diploma will actually state AAS Degree in Human Misery (with no clue how to alleviate it).
You search for inspiration. You try to remember why you chose this in the beginning. Then you hit a surge of motivation in the morning and the remembrance of what it feels like to have a purpose in your sacrifice brings you to joyful tears of relief...
"I...I think I get it. I think I actually retained that information. The life crisis cycle is over! Aha! I DO have a purpose!" 
Until the inspiration dissipates like a fart and you realize the zeal was just motivational gas because no matter what your brilliant rationale of nursing care was that day there is always another intervention that should have been priority and now you don't even trust yourself with your own toothbrush for fear you don't know how to hold it.

This is every day.
(pardon the french)


My coping mechanism is to foster life-plan B of living as a hermit in the Grand Canyon if I can't ever succeed as a nurse (which makes me secretly hope I'll fail). But too late to quit now. Not even the imagined dark void of any and every disaster happening on the first day of being a graduate nurse can make me leave the one year I have left. Right? If not then at least it's only one year till I can adopt that hermit position. Hazzah?!
 
 
 
 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Dear Taj



Every dream has its beginning. Mine had an icon. One that kick started the timeline of nearly every major life decision. It may be the only time in my life that I can say I remember the starting point of anything. 
But there you have it. 
The Taj Mahal.

Leave it to the travel channel to showcase one of the world's seven wonders and gift the wanderlust of "impossible" to me for good.
I was 14. I was mesmerized. It was the most beautiful time machine that could ever be dreamed of. A mathematical piece of genius that just so happened to possess a tragically romantic story (the best kind) and took up its residency where its surroundings had little changed in comparison to my western world.
Oh yes. 
I could literally time travel there.
And I wanted to, badly.
And as it was the most unrealistic on my bucket list it quickly and progressively became the most dear.



Dear Taj Mahal, I've waited my whole little life for you. And I had expected to wait so much longer.



The Taj Mahal. She isn't a European fairy tale. She's a beautiful harsh reality. Tangible, aged and reflective. So unlike anything I have yet encountered. In her loud tourist midst of ignored "Be Quiet" signs she still had the ability to leave me with a hushed time still memory.
Quiet, cold, jeweled marble, traceable with the eyes of your fingertips. The tactile details of the wall flowers seemed to unlock the code to this time machine and transport you to ancient centuries where your character seemed destined. You can't tell if it is your story this mausoleum was waiting for or the Taj's story that you've been placed into like a fated ghost. Either way it's a collision of tales that mesh together so well. Either way it's a chapter I love to read over and over.



The very existence of this chapter was enough to satisfy my life. Its only sentence could have been, "In 2012 Arica finally went to India and saw the Taj Mahal," and I'd be happy. But God's authorship is quite different than mine. He doesn't just write a timeline or give an answer, He tells a story.



A week in Manipur, a week in Thailand, and then less than one day to get to the Taj Mahal before flying home out of Delhi.
Everything was booked and planned ahead of time. Everything except the Taj Mahal. It was our only wrinkled plan that we'd have to iron out on foreign soil. I had tried my very best to attempt some control of an itinerary that would ensure smooth sailing, but truth be told we just didn't know enough to even come up with one plan.
With no idea on how the two of us were going to make it in such a narrow amount of time I began to feel like I was asking for trouble. Like my being unprepared was going to invite God's judgement of a terrible experience and I'd have to be satisfied in viewing my dream icon through binoculars.
That was my authorship.


But a dear friend once told me that to recognize the voice of God you have to know that He is the Good Shepherd and not a harsh cattle driver. I had been so accustomed to the latter. But here, on rough Indian soil, I came to know and took my first steps with the gentle voice that gives peace in the midst of chaotic uncontrolled circumstances.


God not only took care of everything but He spoiled us. He introduced us to people I never would have known it possible to exist in my life. In one instant, under a dinner tent in the Manipur jungle, it was arranged that while Charlotte and I were going to be traipsing around Thailand for a week, our new friend Mary would be arranging everything, as if we were her own family, and it would all be set up by the time we would get back to Delhi.
We didn't have to plan a thing.
Transportation, lodging, food and a guide. Our luggage would be kept safe back in Delhi for the day that we would drive to Agra with her nephew who was to be our personal translator, souvenir bargainer and tour/city guide for wherever we wished to go. Agra was ours and we were in want for nothing. 



There is no formula. None whatsoever. I cannot tell you, "If you want Him to show up like this then this is what you do." If I could then my life would look very different from what it is now. It would be very frail.
What I can tell you is that when He says, "Don't be afraid, don't give up, and invest your hope in Me," it always, always means that there is good reason you should obey Him. 
It had nothing to do with the actual trip but had everything to do with my perception of Him. I believed, and still struggle with believing, that though I knew He loved me, that He provided, that He cared and that He would be faithful, that He simply didn't know me, that we were simply not on the same page, and feared we never would be. It felt as though He was working my heart's desires out of me because they were of no use to Him. What a bald faced lie.
Standing there, I wondered if I was getting a taste of what Job must have felt when God finally responded to his prayers by simply humbling him, challenging him, and reminding him of how great and good He is. More than a year later I wonder now if my handicapped plans were just proof that He didn't need me or my efforts to give me a blessing and subsequently proved that I could never know or care for my own heart as much as He does. 



He really didn't have to give it. It would have been an amazing trip even if our last day was simply spent in a hotel room in Delhi. But for some reason He did. And Mary and her family will never know how much their friendship gave my life something empowering. 
You never know how quickly your discouraging circumstances will change. You never know what beauty God can raise from your ashes. You have no idea how many hidden treasures are buried in the cave you're in because no one was brave enough to look for them in the dark. More importantly, you don't realize how little credit you give your redemption. I used to think that life's challenges were God's way of forcing me out the door to grow. But now I believe it is God opening the confining cage I put myself in, carrying me out, spreading my little wings and saying, "You can fly, you know how, I taught you. You just need to do it."

I will forever be learning how to fly, but the memory of this day and how God wrote its chapter challenges me to never go back into that cage. 



I'm tempted to say that God working in this manner is the exception to the rule of our relationship. Tempted because it's safer to expect disappointment. I know differently now. After seeing His provision, after seeing my number one on my bucket list, He didn't just give me a satisfying answer, He changed my life.
I felt like I had made a new friend. Like the Taj Mahal and I were age long pen pals that were finally able to meet in person. That seeing it in person seemed to validate all those major life decisions, all those desires, all those friends, all those seasons, all that curry.
If I could do this then I could finish nursing school. If I could do this then I could go anywhere God sent me. With our friendship sealed it wasn't a surprise that I planned to return some day. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
Because the dream still has its icon, and the desire to be there still exists. And when I think back on that experience I feel, even more potently, the wonder of a personal treasure becoming mine, with God taking my hand and practically handing me the moon.
In the end it still is just a place, just a tomb...


My own time traveling tomb. I may never wake up. And that's alright. Because it means I'll just have to keep visiting till I do and realize that I'm standing on real soil and I'm loving real people.



Monday, October 28, 2013

Thailand: Ayutthaya




Ayutthaya: the ancient capital of Thailand that did not disappoint my hopes of history, ruins and an elephant ride.

For the poor tourist: You can look forward to either practicing your bartering techniques when hiring a tuk-tuk for transport or you can walk and subsequently look forward to re-discovering the phenomenon of seriously considering the possibility that you went swimming in the past 10 minutes and didn't know it. "Why am I soaking wet? Is this my sweat or the air's sweat?"
This mystery may never be solved.
Look forward to attempted elephant bribing by offering them your everlasting friendship and copious amounts of haphazardly gathered hay in exchange for a free ride that may or may not end in an attempt at an epic escape to freedom. It worked in The Black Stallion right?
Finally,  look forward to money saving by foregoing audio tours and filling in history, free of charge, with your own imagination.
Among spiraled and crumbling ruins my imagination saw me as empress and kind ruler of this city with my three traveling companions as loyal and honored subjects. I even gave them the pick of the smaller ruins as their respectable posts.
I discovered my three companions are ingrates.

Don't let political differences keep you from uniting, however, as an efficient group of travelers for the cause of completing the tourism check list of the day.
A real picture with a real elephant.
List
Lonely Planet site seeing suggestions: Check.
Ride an elephant amongst ancient ruins: Check
Get run over by a motorcycle: ...Check?

Perhaps getting run over shouldn't be on the activity list, since getting run over usually ensues fatality, but I felt so accomplished in surviving with a comeback that I decided to add it anyways.

How did this happen? Well...
I may or may not have made a misjudgment on the "gap in traffic" that I thought was our chance to cross the road. Unfortunately, the moment I realized my error of estimation was the same moment that I realized converse shoes have no traction when one needs to skid to stop to avoid getting run over.
But there I was, marveling at the whites of this man's eyes through his tinted helmet that was coming at me in Matrix slow motion.
Before I could even think of a logical word to follow "ooohhhhssshh" I had already gone through all 5 stages of grief and settled, just in time, on accepting the inevitable as the collision knocked me off my feet and sent me pirouetting in the air like an overzealous ice dancer who has no idea what they're doing.
I was the picture of an idiot in action.
The bike wobbled, regained balance and I, who luckily recovered, was up on my feet and on the other side of the road in no time, like a stupid stunned deer who in prancing away thinks he's ingeniously evaded an automobile predator with prestigious grace and ease.
I was so embarrassed and honestly cannot tell if it was the shame or adrenaline that left me numb to any other urgency other than regaining whatever little bit of pride I had left.
 To "avoid" further embarrassment I followed through with a plan (that I concocted in mid-air) of acting like both getting run over was a regular occurrence for me and that it wasn't me who was to blame for the traffic disturbance but the motorcycle, who should have known better. Luckily I'm a tourist with a disposition of being able to remain in control and pull off such a genius plan.
I couldn't do anything about my inappropriately loud laughter, no doubt heard across town. That was uncontrollable. But I'll be darned if I let that motorcyclist ride away without my inquiring after his health first. Even if he was rapidly disappearing out of ear shot after seeing I wasn't dead.
"It's alive! Just keep driving!"
"What?! No are YOU okay! I'll take the fact that you're just driving away as a 'yes'! It's okay, I'll make sure everyone else isn't traumatized!"
But, since I am confessing, I suppose I should say the poor motorcyclist got hit by me.
 At around 40mph I guess I understand there was probably no time for him to slow down, let alone dodge, a crazy white Jack-In-The-Box surprise from behind a bus.
 The Thai locals now know what it feels like to have a surprise diabolical deer cross the road and hit your car.
And now I know what it feels like to be the deer.

But, the best part of it all was seeing the true colors of my loyal subjects.
As my backpack's belongings were scattering about me in a perfect 360 degree circumference, Andrew was somehow plucking them from mid-air before I could even hit the ground, thereby promoting himself in my imagined empire. My amazement at his quick thinking quickly turned to shame as his pale, traumatized expression made me think that my jovial laughter was severely inappropriate. So his promotion was a modest one.

Charlotte on the other hand...well her name could be changed to "Charlatan"...
Let's just say her right-hand-man position hangs in the balance since I'm conflicted over her shameless uproar of disappointment at having missed the collision with her own eyes. "What?! I MISSED it?!!"

And Jeremy? Well, Jeremy was fired as my body guard.
He was okay with that as long as my dad wouldn't immediately find out that his daughter almost died on his watch. His transparent relief of his pardon was evident after my first reactionary words of, "Nobody tells my father that just happened!! Nobody!"
We ensured no bone was broken, only my ego and Charlotte's hopes of being able to see it and I marveled at adrenaline's power because I felt absolutely nothing.

Until the next temple.
Jeremy, trying to regain favor, promised he'd help as he "luckily" was carrying some excedrin. 


I declined the offer. 


And THAT'S why you travel with a pharmacist. Even if she wants to see you get run over.


That's also why you don't tell your dad you nearly got yourself killed until you can argue your common sense is still reliable.

Left sprained ankle. Right traumatized shin. I'm an invalid!
Back home it proved difficult to explain to my coworkers at the urgent care exactly what it was that I came in for to get treated.
"What do you mean you "kind of" got run over."
"Well it wasn't ALL of me. Just my leg."
"So you sprained your ankle in Thailand."
"No, in India."
"From a motorcycle."
"No, from walking...then standing."
"But the sprain is this right leg."
"No, the sprain is the left leg, the motorcycle is the right. From Thailand."
"So it got in infected in Thailand."
"No, it got hit in Thailand and infected in India."
"...What are we treating today?"
"I don't know."




Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Thailand: Khao Sam Roi Yod National Park



If you happen to fancy national parks then I would probably recommend Thailand with great enthusiasm.


This may be because I wasn't expecting it to be so satisfying or it may be that there was just that much craved freedom available to explore exotic and adventurous terrain.


Whatever the reason, it's worth the miles traveled and the money spent.


So grab your bug repellant,
adventure pack,
clothes that will be soaked through within an hour from sweat and humidity,
water,
precious tourist camera,
park map,
friends,
hop on a scooter and get used to the left side of the open road.




 




First stop:  
Kaeo Cave

God never ceases to give fuel for the imagination in moments of wonder and yet, simultaneously, puts human attempts to shame. The architecture of fairy tale daydreams is pushed to brave heights at the act of being so humbled by the reality of His creation.
I know of only one man who's words could give description to the wonder of caves.
Took me 3 times to read Tolkien's trilogy till I finally began to see the beauty of the earth's depths from Gimli's descriptions and now come to find that his descriptions are the only ones that will suffice in conveying the other-worldly glimpse of it.


"...when the torches are kindled and men walk on the sandy floors under the echoing domes, ah! then, Legolas, gems and crystals and veins of precious ore glint in the polished walls; and the light flows through folded marbles, shell-like, translucent as the living hands of Queen Galadriel. There are columns of white and saffron and dawn-rose, Legolas, fluted and twisted into dreamlike forms; they spring up from many-coloured floors to meet the glistening pendants of the roof: wings, ropes, curtains fine as frozen clouds; spears, banners, pinnacles of suspended palaces! Still lakes mirror them: a glimmering world looks up from dark pools covered with clear glass; cities, such as the mind of Durin could scarce have imagined in his sleep, stretch on through avenues and pillared courts, on into the dark recesses where no light can come. And plink! a silver drop falls, and the round wrinkles in the glass make all the towers bend and waver like weeds and corals in the grotto of the sea. Then evening comes: they fade and twinkle out; the torches pass on into another chamber and another dream. There is chamber after chamber, Legolas; hall opening out of hall, dome after dome, stair beyond stair, and still the winding paths lead on into the mountains' heart."

The thought of going deeper is claustrophobic if you attempt to understand the weight of the mountain on top of you. But beneath the earth you feel the ceiling is immeasurably high, the columned rooms quiet, open, safe and enticing, away from the cares of the world. You FEEL out in the open. You feel like the clutter of your mind has been hushed into a calm and is able to take up new thoughts of wonder as your light reflects, like stardust, against crystalized formations. 


 The only thing I can compare it to is le Louvre. Quiet, clean marbled statues displayed in endless high ceiling rooms. Every item a masterpiece, every turn a new discovery. And no tour groups, railings or restrictions to make you feel as if someone has been there before you.



"...Caves! The Caverns of Helm's Deep! Happy was the chance that drove me there! It makes me weep to leave them."


The rest of the park is enough to lure you out of a mountain of treasure onto the next discovery.


















Second stop: Phraya Nakhon Cave

A mountain of a sink hole that makes you keenly aware of depth, perspective and how incredibly tiny you are.
















And then home by way of island weaving.

When did my backyard begin to feel so small...


Monday, June 10, 2013

Thailand Adventure: Squid Fishing

If you wonder out at night on the shores of the Phu Noi beach in November you will find a calm quiet wake made visible by the lights of fisherman boats sending up an eerie green glow on the horizon under bright familiar constellations. Were you there in November 2012 you would have found 4 travelers come to this scene with excitement for a new experience and possible bragging rights of squid fishing in Thailand. 

I, for one, am not a fan of fishing. Maybe one day I'll fall in love with it but up to this point the zeal with which I signed my name to the list of the midnight venture was not for the love of the sport, but for the naive love of anything you've never tried in a land you've never been. Here, squid fishing at midnight was new for all of us and we heartily agreed to the bargained amount to pay a willing local to take us out.

 Night fell and we excitedly drew together and followed the directions to our boat and its guide (who's description matched the appearance of an elderly uncle). "It'll be a boat on the shore with a red light. Don't be late."
If there's one thing I learned in the east it's that we do not speak the same English. I'm suspicious that western culture depends on its general public to be idiots and supplies more than enough directions followed with listed repercussions should those instructions not be followed by said idiots. On eastern shores, however, we were entrusted with supposed common sense. If you ask, they are incredibly sweet to answer, but you won't get an answer unless you ask.
Well, I guess we should have asked.
But there we found not one boat but several, all lining the shore, all with red lights, all with uncles. Making our way to one with insecure confidence a fisherman emerged to its bow with a look of expectancy. Perhaps this man, who didn't speak English and looked to be the youngest elder I had ever seen, was nice enough that if he wasn't our contact he wouldn't just take our offered money, drive us out to the ocean and drop us into its depths.   
But in the name of risk taking and in the spirit of adventure we waded out into the water (I guess jeans were a bad idea), climbed aboard, gave the man our baht and feverishly hoped with excited giggles that we weren't being boated to a watery grave as the shore grew smaller and smaller in the distance and the nearing green horizon took specified form. 


We passed the islands we had kayaked around earlier that day and came to an unidentified spot where our Thai fisherman set to work on educating us without saying a word. For each he tied a hook onto a long fishing line, anchored the line to the boat railing at four corners, sat us down at our posts and after a smiling mute demonstration of a periodic pull and jerk of the line he left us to try our hand at snagging a squid from a pod swimming past.



My first time meeting squid in person and with quite a bit of dumb luck I managed to see a happy variety of shapes, sizes, ink squirts and flashing iridescent colors.
Mesmerized, in love, and blood thirsty for more, we fished on.







Our growing confidence waned a little when our Thai fisherman demonstrated real effective fishing with a net, but he indulged us, letting us play around for several hours with whatever method we created.
So near 4 hours later with our bucket full of squid and me very seasick...


... we concluded it a very merry adventure, owing our gratitude and safety to the "uncle" that gave us a gracious experience of local life and a gracious gift of our catch and safe return to shore.
He wasn't a murderer after all.



Squid... so cool.






Sunday, June 9, 2013

Asia continued: Thailand '12



Dear Thailand... my, you are a strange memory aren't you... one that is hard to believe belongs to me and my passport. Looking at you I wonder if I'm learning another meaning of the word "compromise."

 'I'll give up the south of India to see Thailand with you if you will see the Taj Mahal with me.'
 
translated into
 
'I have gained Thailand as a mission trip reprieve, an unplanned adventure and a needed enrichment of India.'
 

 I'd like to make this feeling of disbelief at having been so unexpectedly in such a foreign place a regular phenomenon.

And I'd like to eat Thai food every week.



Dear adventure born of disappointment, be my timeline.
 
 
If you're going to experience culture shock it may be the smartest thing you ever do to plan on experiencing it in more than one place. 

And while you're at it, plan to meet up with some adventurous friends along the way.