Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How are you? How are you.

I had my first Khmer lesson Monday. There is something about learning a new language that never fails to make me feel like an infant. You’re completely helpless and don’t understand anything, and at the same time everything is totally new and beautiful and the world is filled with more possibilities than you can comprehend. There is also nothing like being able to appreciate the beauty in a new language, listening to it aesthetically devoid of meaning. Learning the literal translations that sound like poetry. To say tea you say water of the leaves, and for juice it’s the same; water of the pineapple. Something about that tickles my soul.

On the technical side of things pronunciation is difficult, but sentence structure is easy. There is no need for past or future tense, and no conjugations for different genders and people. Of course I could be getting this all wrong, I've only just started. The thing about languages is when I learn a new one my head tries to fill in the gaps with the same experience, other languages I’ve learned. So it goes down to Kyrgyz and then if no Kyrgyz maybe I know it in Russian, if not Russian than Spanish, and finally English. I’ve lost so much (everything except for scattered phrases) of all these languages but I always retain a few things.

How should I describe my experience: Should I tell you of seeing an elephant in the street? Going to the royal palace and seeing these fantastically beautiful buildings with golden roofs against a blue sky? Did I tell you of tasting a mango spleen, the white pearly center almost too sweet against my lips? Of seeing my first Cambodian rain fall gently into a pool while I sat reading on a pavilion without any walls?

This is a nation that rises at dawn, or far before that. With my jetlag I’ve been rising with them, staying in my room listening to the sounds of the city awaken. At night it’s a different story, by nine the streets are emptying, some tuk tuk drivers are asleep in their vehicles. But in the morning before the sky has lit up and warmth has seeped into every thing already things have begun to bustle.

The pictures; the Royal Palace, the Royal Palace, some marionettes in the Russian market, me with fresh passionfruit juice (so delicious), and the view from my bedroom window.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

On my way to...Cambodia!

That’s right, I’ve accepted a job in Cambodia and am moving to Phnom Penh.
I’m a little saddened that the sight of books in my carry-on (admittedly a lot of books), were so unfamiliar on the scanner that I had to get my bag searched. Despite that little mishap I’ve made it through airport security unscathed and am waiting for my flight to Cambodia! I have just one layover, in Seoul, and I’m worried that with only 55 minutes I’m cutting it too close, but hopefully things will work out. Excitedly, I also got a window seat!

I still don’t understand airlines policy of just one checked bag. Me and everyone around me has a tiny suitcase for the overhead bin, which means of course, that the overhead bin will be too full and we’ll just check our bags for free at the gate. And now for the 18 hours of flight time ahead of me I’m mostly looking forward to getting a nap. Although there appears to be a baby on this flight as well.

Goodbye cold weather, snow, and hello to heat in December.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ice Cream

Whats a girl to do when her CSA box is full of stone fruits? Make sorbet of course.

Though, if we're being honest, considering I've made six flavors in the last five days I was just looking for another excuse to use my ice cream maker. Which I love. So far: blackberry (picked them myself), spicy chocolate, stone fruit sorbet (vegan friendly!), peanut butter (paired with a brownie is possibly the best thing ever), canteloupe, and chocolate with amaretto. How did I not already own this delightful machine?

The only problem? Giving it away before I stuff myself with frozen dairy goodness.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

I am of the persuasion that sometimes you have to work to enjoy a book. It may not be the most captivating thing, but even if I’m not engrossed after the first fifty pages I will solider on (unless I hate it so much and have no optimism, see “Eat, Pray, Love”). And based on reviews of Larrson’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (though I prefer the Swedish title of “Men Who Hate Women”) I thought I had a big payoff coming after the first couple of hundred pages. And this book is long, my copy was a standard paperback clocking in at almost 700 pages. Even though the middle was enjoyable, I don’t think it was worth it.

Larrson has three main issues that he tries to work into this thriller. The first, violence against women, he does fairly well with. The female protagonist is believable, and though the scenes of graphic rape and the way she consequently deals with it are graphic and disturbing, you’re still rooting for Lisbeth Salander. There are a lot of men who hate women in this book, and the male protagonist is painted as a passive man taking whatever women wants him (and for a middle aged man and convict there seem to be a lot) into bed, and letting them totally dictate the relationship. Violence against women is a major theme, one dealt with realistically and well worked into the central plot.

The second issue is financial corruption among major corporations. Readers might read with glee after all of America’s wall street messes recently, but I did not find this particularly enjoyable. It reads like an average Joe on a soapbox (at one point the fictional book the fictional character wrote is extensively quoted on the problems with lax financial investigative journalism) with a juvenile revenge fantasy. The antagonist in this subplot (dealt with the first and last hundred pages, a murder mystery takes the middle) is never fleshed into an actual character and instead seems to be corruption incarnate.

The third issue is Nazism. In this the Nazi characters are simply categorized as insane, and that’s left as that. There is no exploration of the Swedish collective ideology on the manner, or what lead to their beliefs. Instead, it is an idea that is never quite fleshed out.

The writing in the middle, what I believe the book should have been edited out to, is a standard mystery. I hesitate to use the word thriller as times when the protagonists are in any danger is very brief. Was that part a good read? Yes. Was it the epic family saga or great literary gemstone all the buzz is about? I don’t think so. For me this book was poorly edited, mediocre writing, and never lived out as the great book I think it could have been. If you’re to read this, I’d cut out a fourth on either end. The middle is quite enjoyable. How much of this can be blamed on the translation I don't know.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ann Arbor

My friends were awesome and hosted us in Ann Arbor for a night, took us around to see the city (they knit sweaters for trees here), a mural of Poe, and the university.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Friendly Manitoba lives up to its slogan

Manitoba was amazing. We left this morning after being there for a wonderful 6 days. No WWOOF farm could host us, so we ended up staying with a friend of our first hosts who are building a sustainable house out of straw and clay. They already had the walls with the straw part up, but Nick and I sifted clay and then making plaster, and then applying the plaster to the walls. It was really interesting to see in progress and work with rather than just read about it in Dwell.

This family was so kind, they weren’t even signed up to deal with crazy WWOOFers and still took us in. The couple’s children who all mostly live in Winnipeg volunteered to show us around the city. Winnipeg is relatively tiny, but pretty charming. We walked around the historic area, took in some green juice at a vegan café, wandered around the riverfront, and made dinner. Heading back to the country we wandered down to our trailer by the moonlight, and woke up to heavy fog. The house itself was in an undeveloped meadow covered with wildflowers , our hosts hope to take up beekeeping.

We stayed in a trailer on the riverfront part of the property, and ate tasty all from scratch food including sprouted wheat germ bread. Also, I got to see some buffalo!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Land of the Living Skies

A turn for the better! After our disastrous round in Alberta, we quickly sped to Saskatchewan. Land of the living skies. Or, (the motto I prefer), Saskatchewan, naturally. Our current stop isn't WWOOF at all, but a friend of my dog's breeder. We’re boarding at one of the premier Newfoundland kennels worldwide, which means that there are puppies!

11 to be precise. Ranging from 5 weeks to 8 week s and all totally adorable. We’re doing a lot of window washing (which we’re bad at), and weeding (which we’re good at all. Not only that but we’ve lined up our next spot to stay in Manitoba where we will be plastering! Not getting plastered, keep in mind.

We’re sitting in a coffee shop in Regina, which is pronounced quite awkwardly. My day gets made when I hear someone say ‘eh’, and I’m learning tricks like a little Listerine makes a dogs coat look real good. Also got to smash up an old dog door with a hammer this morning, which was tons of fun. Regina seems like a nice city, an oasis of trees in this prairie. Just getting to our hosts require about 10 miles on gravel roads. Nick and I tried to take a walk only to find that the landscape didn’t change a bit, which was nice and odd.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Why I hate Alberta

Or, perhaps more accurately, why does Alberta hate me?

The morning started off great in BC, a farewell pancake breakfast and some recommendations from our wonderful host. We began driving, through beautiful BC, over mountains, and stopping at the world’s largest truck for lunch. Or rather, the grocery store next to the world’s largest truck.

Then we crossed the border. A call to our hosts at our designated meeting spot simply got a response of other WWOOFers who had no clue how to get to the place. We wandered around lost on the gravel roads for two hours in the sun, before finally finding the place. As we stopped to open the gate the car behind us stopped, and out stepped a fake tanned woman in a small pink halter. Not the German proprietress I had expected, but our host nonetheless. I introduced myself, showed her the e-mails we had send confirming, but she was not happy to see us.

As I had not e-mailed her yesterday to confirm a third time she claimed she had assumed we were no shows and had a couple from German coming in tomorrow (I know I plan my adventures across oceans in one day and leave the next) and was too full for us. All she had was a tent. I asked if we could at least have the tent for the night, and would head out in the morning. She responded that there were bears in the area, and we wouldn’t be able to shower. I explained that I had gone three months without a shower just fine. She said no.

So, although the stereotype is WWOOFers not showing up apparently it works the other way as well. We kept driving, not knowing what to do, and headed up towards Calgary. Our first town was full, a rodeo was happening, so we continued on, finally stopping at this strip mall of a place. Naturally my debit card didn’t work, and when I called the bank to authorize it they had no one on staff. Luckily Nick was able to get his to work at a different location and we’ve got a place for the night. But nowhere to go tomorrow.

We’ve gone for home cooked meals of chili, Thai peanut noodles, chocolate caked from scratch, to my dinner of poptarts and fries. The fast food joint was all out of salad. Here’s hoping that we can get out of this province and into something better before too long. But of course, this is just a bit of a plot twist in our journey and with any luck we will be on to a wonderful host soon enough.

Bear spray and other sundries

July 16th (will add in pictures with better internet later),

Tonight is our last night here at Ravencourt Bed and Breakfast, and I’m sad to be going. I’d highly recommend it for WWOOFers or vacationers. We’ve weeded and window washed but mostly have simply been fed well. Its nice working mornings and then lounging afternoons, hikes involve bringing a can of bear spray, which doesn’t work as repellent so much as pepper spray it would appear. Sadly, no bears in sight.

Tomorrow we cross the Rockies and head into Alberta, further East in Canada then I have ever been. Normally if I travel that direction its to another coast, and I’ve never stopped much in between. Even driving through Eastern Washington was a new surprise. Read a collection of Vonnegut’s short stories today and did a load of laundry that dried fast in the afternoon sun. Dinner was some scalloped potatoes and cheese and a tasty bit of ice cream sundae for dessert.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Beautiful BC

Nick and I are holed up on the floor of a library using internet for the first time. After a long but uneventful nine hour drive mostly through the landscapes of Eastern Washington we arrived at our Bed and Breakfast a few days ago to start our WWOOFing adventure. Our first host is a super nice lady who feeds us delicious things (though the maple syrup is Kirkland brand!), and in exchange we work for a couple of hours weeding the garden or washing the windows. Its no farm, but it is a good time. We’ve been hiking, have foraged wild huckleberries, and are now exploring the nearest town of Nelson, which is a good 35 minute drive away.

Lifesaver: The Prius converts to kilometers per hour for me!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Oh Canada

Off to the next adventure! After three months in Kyrgyzstan filled with revolution and mass ethnic cleansing, I for reasons we won't talk about here (the pause in this blog was due to some PC censorship) I came back to America.
And started planning my next trip. My cousin Nick and I are driving from Seattle to Toronto, WWOOFing it along the way of our trans-Canada adventure, and then taking a classic Americana roadtrip back. The car is packed, the trail mix is made, the mix CDs are burned, and all that's left to do is start that engine. So stay tuned for pictures and updates, which depending on how often I get internet, may be quite infrequent.
Also, know someone in Manitoba? We've still got four free days there.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Not Always Sunny

Today was staging! This is basically Peace Corps orientation. We did group bonding activities, did some skits, etc. Nothing earth shattering, but I thought I’d let you know I’m an official Peace Corps Trainee and am safe in Philly. My flight out of New York is at 4:30pm tomorrow, though we’re leaving for the airport at 8. I should arrive ten hours later in Istanbul, at 10am, and have most of the day there. We will arrive in Bishkek a little before 2 am and, get this, are expected to arrive in our business casual attire.
Woke up early this morning, 6:30 Philly time, so 3:30 back home. Walked all the way to Reading market only to discover it was closed, ate a stack of pancakes and came back to my room. Of which I was no longer the only occupant! My lovely roommate got in on a red eye, and it was a surprise to see her. Letting her sleep I went out again, but nothing opened till 10 and by then I didn’t want to pay the money for only half an hour at a place, so I walked around in the gloomy weather. Not always sunny in Philedelphia apparently. I did stumble upon a Syangouge where the mueseum part wasn’t open, but the Rabbi and I had a nice chat before I headed out again.
Back at the hotel at 10, I went down to Chinatown with my roommate and indulged in some chicken fried rice, which was very tasty. I hate having to sit still on planes and it was nice to be able to do so much walking today. Of course, it didn’t last as staging began and we were there from noon to seven.
Dinner I had chicken alfredo and then for dessert had delicious ice cream. Really really good. Black raspberry ice cream at Franklin Fountain or something with a similair name. I’ve never seen so many things named after Franklin in my life, but understandable I suppose.
Well, I’m off.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Two days!

You guys, I leave in two days. Thursday morning I'll be at the airport decked out in things too heavy to pack- also known as my gigantic snow boots and winter coat. With my gigantic backpack that when my poor friend Val, who is probably the epitome of slender, tried to pick up yesterday and kind of failed.

Any time I have traveled on a plane since graduating High School has been a trying experience. My airport karma is not good at all, consider my latest experience: trapped in Vegas for three days during Hanukah when I wasn't old enough to gamble. Or when I studied abroad and ended up stranded in a Barcelona airport on my 18th birthday severely sleep deprived and totally alone. In short, I am not optimistic that I will roll into Philly at 7 on the 25th. But that, after much back and forth with the travel company, is the plan.

The past week has been spent trying to see everyone before I leave. I've been scheduling my time down to the hour and it's been odd to think that I'm not going to see my closest friends and family for two years. I don't think I can fully comprehend that yet, its been much easier for me to rationalize going to Philly and Istanbul, but I'm sure that once I'm in Kstan it will all come rushing to me. As such I've gone through many walks in Seattle parks, eaten a salmon burger (for free!) on the Ballard locks, figured out that all movies I see with Sarah end with the protagonist drowning, had my last ridiculous bus ride from Seattle to Kent, eaten gelato, a whole tub of Beecher's cheese curds in record time, has a last bowl of pho, and a really good cupcake. Tonight I'm having fake Seder, since when I read the religious breakdown of Kyrgyzstan it didn't lead me to believe there would be too many Jews there. So my mom has been awesome enough to make me the traditional fixings, which we all know is code for matzoh ball soup.

I am totally packed, as well. Hopefully my host family will like the gifts of honey straws, Seattle key chains, and some smoked salmon. Hopefully also my luggage doesn't get lost. But I've got a change of clothes in my carry-on, (as well as Infinite Jest, War and Peace, and Doubt by Hecht), and my bag of banana grams ready to go. I've given everyone my address and already have three letters my sister Alli gave me to read on the plane. I'm ready to go.

PS It won't last since I picked Villanova, but I'm ranked super high in my bracket right now! And my huskies are surprisingly rocking it.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Write me while I'm gone!

Tired of opening your mailbox to find only bills, junk mail, and hate mail? Wishing you could gloat to someone about how awesome your indoor plumbing is? Looking to make your friends jealous with your worldliness and far flung correspondents? Curious about Kyrgyzstan? Have I got the solution for you!
Write to me in Kyrgyzstan! I’ll be lonely, isolated, and missing English. Which will means your letter will make my day. Also, care packages if you’re feeling generous. I will arrive in Bishek on the 29th of March. (Side note, I’m back in Seattle from the 15th through 22nd so if you haven’t made plans with me then I’d really like to see you before I leave for two years) The following address is good for my Pre-Service Training, which lasts from the 29th of March till late May. I’ll try and post my permanent site address once I get it. Keep in mind mail takes 3 to 4 weeks to get to Kyrgyzstan.

Mail should be addressed as follows:

722140, Kant city
97 Lenina Street, RUPS
Mailbox # 22
Tomilyn Rupert

ин. 722140, г. Кант
ул. Ленина 97, РУПС
аб. ящик № 22
Tomilyn Rupert

The PST mailbox will close at the end of November and any mail that arrives after the mailbox is closed will be returned to the sender. (If Blogger messes up the Cyrillic let me know and I'll e-mail it to you)
Things to consider: Number your letters! Mail may get lost or redirected, and it would be handy to understand the chronological order of things or if I missed a letter. You might want to print out this address (you need both of them) unless you can write in Cyrillic. Don’t send me anything perishable, or cash. Make sure that I have your address, and if you know its going to change soon make sure I know that.
Also, people who are already awesome and my pen pals, I’m leaving Portland on the 14th so I wouldn’t post anything after Wednesday.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

One month to go!

One month. On the 23rd I’ll be on a plane to Philly, and on the 26th I’ll have my staging. (They’re flying me out three days early without covering three days of hotels but I know to pick my fights carefully and I’m excited to explore the city of Brotherly Love) Which leads me to my next point, in less than a month I’ll be gone.
I mean, I started applying in January/late December of last year and I’ve known my invite for a little while now, but getting the packing list and now having a plane ticket, it’s a little overwhelming.
My current plan is to work my last day on the 12th, spend the 13th with my family here in Portland, and then head back to Seattle to stay with my sister the week before I leave. Which means I have a ton to do.
I’ve been online shopping like mad trying to get things ready. And I had my eye exam to get another pair of glasses, which was pain. My doctor was lovely, but after I had picked out a frame it took them over an hour to figure how to charge me. I’ve never worked so hard to spend so money. So much money that I don’t have.
There is also the matter of where I’m going to stay. I’d like to try couchsurfing, if any of you have experiences with it I’d love to hear it.
But overall, right now: One month! Madness!

Friday, February 5, 2010

A few questions

We got a questionnaire in an e-mail yesterday, which is pretty exciting. It was also a nice reminder of where exactly I’m going, as questions to match with a host family included how comfortable I was with outhouses, bathing once every ten days, and having to walk at least twenty minutes to get somewhere.
All of which I’m totally willing to do, though I may not smell so great. Part of the thrill of the Peace Corps for me is ending up in a totally different environment, and I’m used to be able to take the car (okay, I almost never drive and take the bus, but transport still!) everywhere, having indoor plumbing and taking a nice hot shower whenever I want.
The other questions were about my language learning style, and also if I was okay with not cooking (no!), and hovering. 2 months to go!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How to help with the Haiti Earthquake

My internship at MercyCorps is with the recruitment team. And generally I’m sitting in my own little cubicle working on my own little projects, but today I sat fielding calls from donors. The devastating earthquake in Haiti has sprung forth a great response of people who want to help, and MercyCorps is responding to the emergency. It was great to see how many people wanted to help, but a lot of people also don’t know how to help. As crass as it sounds the most good you can do is to donate money, and not just to MercyCorps any international relief organization can use the help. The Center for International Disaster Information has a great FAQ page (http://www.cidi.org/media/faq.htm) that explains why. Just a short message urging you to help, and if (like me) you’re broke then MercyCorps has a page on how to fundraise or you can volunteer locally in the call banks.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Getting more and more exciteed

Wednesday evening I hopped in the car and got my picture taken for my visa and PC passport (I look angry, which, I suppose, is how I’ll look by the time I get to customs) which was a total rip off by Walgreens but done super fast. After dropping off that and some paperwork I felt super accomplished. As I complete each little task this it becomes more and more real and exciting.

Shakespeare action figure for scale
Next stop was this weekend where my Grandpa and his girlfriend took me out to get some Peace Corps gear (that’s what these lovely pictures are of if you couldn’t tell). Seeing as how I’m constantly complaining of the cold in my heated Portland house, I thought it was best to get updated on my winter gear. Now I’m in possession of comfy and warm new snow boots, a sleeping bag to protect me in my unheated new residence, a giant pack that will be most of my luggage, and a nice puffy coat.

Now, I’m a notoriously light packer. I brought for five weeks in Italy in Spain what my oldest sister brings for a weekend in Portland, and I once packed for five days in my handbag. But two years is a long time, and I’m already dreading that challenge that’s ahead. Mostly everyone has talked about how they brought too much stuff rather than too little, so I suppose I’m just getting ahead of myself.

Finally I had the chance to have coffee this afternoon with my uncle’s friend’s daughter who just got back from Peace Corps Armenia. It was lovely to hear her talk about her experiences and it got me thinking about how excited I am for my own. Other than that, I had a nice time hanging out with my cousin going to first Thursday, and some family dinners.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Things to Aspire to

I’ve been given a ton of paperwork, and one of the more enjoyable things was writing my aspiration statement. Though the format didn’t leave a lot of room for creativity, it did cause me to reflect on my goals for service and why I’m doing this in the first place. As I’ve talked with my friend who is considering this herself, if I was doing the Peace Corps for one reason I wouldn’t be doing it.
Reasons to spend two years of my life in a foreign country without constant electricity:
-I’m 19 years old and an idealist and naïve and want to save the world
-I’ve been volunteering since the fourth grade and never regretted taking it further
-I love to travel and hate being a tourist
-I became an anthropology major because I’m deeply interested in other cultures
-I became an English major because I love books, and consequently adventures
-I was born in Renton, raised in Kent, and went to school in Seattle. Besides a brief sojourn in Italy I’ve never had that globe trekking adventure I so crave
-My career goals involve working for an NGO or joining the foreign service, the Peace Corps will help with both
-Learning a language greatly appeals to me
-I want to be challenged, pushed to my limits, and come out a better person
-I genuinely believe in the mission of the Peace Corps
Things I expect
-To develop an appreciation for the Kyrgyzstani culture and the beauty of the people and land
-More competent language skills (though in Russian or Kyrgyz remains to be seen)
-Help my family and friends better understand the Kyrgyz Republic
-Become more patient
-Become more independent and resourceful
-I expect my service to be difficult and frustrating and crazy and to still love it
-I expect that despite abstaining from my alcohol all my life I’ll finally learn to drink
-To come back May 28 2012 and be a different person
-To be constantly surprised, and constantly challenged
-To miss Seattle, even the climate, but mostly the people
-To really miss indoor plumbing

I know I have three months to go, and though right now that seems like a long time, I suspect it will end quicker than I expect. Right now I’m edge of my seat excited, and despite the mountain of paperwork that awaits me and all the things I don’t know, I’m pretty sure that feeling is going to be sticking around a long while.

Resources for my family and friends: This is a beautiful blog about Nambia, and this website will help you find blogs of other PCV. The Peace Corps directs you to this page, and I’d recommend checking out the CIA World Factbook for the basic stats.