Loss, Advice, Travel, Mental Health, Family, Volunteer, Animal Rights

Why I’ll Never Ride An Elephant

Dear Reader,

Tis my first post of 2017! My 1 woman trip to Thailand’s Elephant Nature Park was pure therapy.

1. Traveling Alone: Never Have I Ever

I never thought I’d like traveling alone. Who am I going to be loud with? When I think This looks like an edgy spot Lonely Planet hasn’t discovered, who’s going stop me? Dark alley. Not cool.

To anyone who’s nervous about a solo trip, just think: a machine levitates you into Smore-worthy clouds. By the time you’ve finished Mindy Kaling’s book, fully reclined your seat, and drooled all over your neck pillow…you’re in another world. MAGIC

2.The Elephant Nature Park Experience

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Brave One: Seal!

What You’ll Do

Schedule:

  • 6 am Breakfast
  • 8 am Work 1-2 hours
  • 11:30 am Lunch
  • 1:00 pm Work 1-2 Hours
  • 3:10 pm Elephant bathing/Free Time
  • 6 pm Dinner
  • 7 pm Ceremonies/Performances/Workshops/Free Time
  • Feed Elephants (They LOVE pumpkin and will reject not-so-juicy watermelon)
  • Bathe Elephants (Throw water on them from a safe distance, not into their eyes)
  • Scoop Poop
  • Cut Corn/Wash Watermelons
  • Shovel and sweep mountain to clear way for fire tracks
  • Group meetings to watch short elephant documentaries. Bring tissues.
  • Visit a local school: get your hair braided, drink iced cocoa lattes, jump rope
  • Free Time:
    • Walking handi-capped dogs
    • Assisting the vets
    • Listening to Lek, the founder, teach with love, not hate. Animal rights activists, please choose to educate instead of attack.
    • Waiting for Lek at her dinner table to profess admiration. Realize you’re sitting in her seat, next to her husband. Awkwardly leap to the other side. Turtle.
    • Tell Lek she needs a TED Talk. She’s already been approached. “Who’s Ted, anyways?” she asks. Laugh with the queen. #LekTalks.
    • Eat small donuts with huge bday candles.
    • Pick songs for Group C’s last night hurrah. Everyone loves Pony, especially Germans.
    • Pray for your family with new friends. Moment of silence cut short by trumpeting.

IMG_5341.JPGWhat To Bring:

  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses/Hat
  • Mosquito repellant( Miraculously, I didn’t get a single bite. Could be February. Or god)
  • Clothes you don’t mind getting dirty (they have a laundry service)
  • Long sleeves/pants/socks (cold at night!)
  • 1 pair of closed toe shoes
  • 1 pair of sandals/flip flops
  • Bathing suit to wear UNDER your clothes. Respect Thai traditions. Do not distract the mahouts(elephant guides). A Jumanji stampede is not worth your side boob.
  • $100-$200 spending cash for soda, alcohol, snacks, thai massages, souvenirs (Friendship bracelets, carved wooden elephants, tip generously)

What You’ll Eat

  • Buffet Style AMAZING Vegan Food
  • So FAHCKIN’ good they need an NYC lunch spot
  • So good they’re releasing a cookbook next year
  • So good I’m becoming a vegetarian. Live consciously. More clean, less death. Shoutouts CHolls&Stace&Steph.

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Accommodations

  • 2-3 people per room
  • Single beds with mosquito nets
  • Clean and spacious
  • Shared bathrooms and showers
  • Ours had a balcony overlooking the river
  • Optional: chubby cat/stealth door opener

Golden Rules Of Safety 

  • You are NOT an elephant whisperer. Maintain a respectful distance.
  • Each elephant is different. Some are NOT OK around humans or other animals.
  • Ask the mahout before feeding/touching/engaging
  • Do NOT stand directly in front of them.
  • Do NOT stand directly behind them.
  • Their trunks are extremely powerful. A small flip can send you flying.
  • Stay behind the red line
  • Listen to the staff. Watch Out means “Move away before you get popped like a prune”.

3. The Tale Of Lucky

Lucky loves his mom and his nanny. They tower over him, tickling his face with their trunks. Under the shade of a disappearing forest, they search for food. When vegetation ran out, they eat garbage left behind by humans. When garbage runs out, hunger drives them to stumble upon a farm. When night falls, they feast on sweet corn. Lucky, lulled by his family’s happy chewing sounds, drifts to sleep.

The darkness erupts. A piercing crack rings out. Human yells. Lucky’s mom screams. His nanny pushes him hard.RUN, little one, RUN! Lucky listens. He doesn’t see his nanny fall to the ground, nor his mom.

Days later, the locals find him. Lucky is caught between two trees. He’s starving, dehydrated, lost. He’s an orphan now.

The locals call Lek. She and her team bring food, medicine, transport but Lucky won’t let anyone near him. He refuses to eat. He cries for his family. Did you know elephants can die from heartbreak?

No one knows if Lucky will make it. Lek coaxes him with pumpkin, piece by piece. She sings him to sleep. Some days she passes out from exhaustion. One day, she wakes to the warmness of his trunk. Wake up. I’m hungry.  Lucky is healing.

What happens now?

  1. The locals let Lucky go. Either they cannot afford to keep him, or they understand the ethics involved. Lucky lives out the rest of his 60+ years in peace with the support of philanthropists like us.
  2. The locals ask for Lucky to be returned. They’ve lost time, labor, money due to destroyed crops. Their families need to eat. Debts must be repaid. Time to put Lucky to work.
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Navaan’s mom stepped on a landmine. Thank god for vet volunteers like Paige.

4.The Phajaan: The Crushing

When we see Lucky next, he’s all grown up. He carries us on his back. He paints for us. He performs tricks for our amusement. He walks down a crowded street, waving his trunk for bananas. What we see calm, obedient elephant. What you might miss is that the mahout still carries a bullhook.

None of these activities are natural or normal. How does one get a wild animal to obey?

***DISCLAIMER: This is graphic. I humbly ask you to read on.

There is an age-old tradition in Thailand called the Pajaan. Men tie ropes around Lucky’s neck, legs, trunk.  They shove him into a tiny corral. Imagine cramming a brick into a pencil case. From all sides, he is beaten with hooks. Blue-violet blood oozes out of his cuts. Lucky cries for his mom and his nanny.  He defecates from fear and anger. His eyes glaze over till you only see white.

This process will be repeated until the spirit is broken and an obedient elephant remains. Some don’t survive. 85% of the elephants arrive to ENP with mental health problems.

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Missing an ear. Cruelty is real.

5. How You Can Help: Do’s and Don’ts

Animal tourism puts food on the table for many locals. For change to happen, we need to 1. educate ourselves on better practices and 2. support a sustainable alternative. If we’re only willing to support ethical tourism, businesses will follow. Think SeaWorld’s stocks dropping post-Blackfish.

Education must come first. Laws are only half the battle. For example, once logging became illegal, elephants were either abandoned or put to work in tourism. When there’s no sustainable alternative, all animals suffer.

Do

  • Do your research. Find a reputable, ethical, sanctuary to visit and see for yourself
  • Do educate with love, not hate. Try “Hey did you know that…” rather than “What’s wrong with you…”
  • Do support conservation. Our time and money goes to buying food and medicine. ENP is also home to thousands of dogs and cats, a bunch of water buffalo and horses, and one crazy-ass goat.

Don’t

  • Don’t ride elephants
  • Don’t feed elephants off the street
  • Don’t buy products “made by” elephants. Paintings, etc
  • Don’t support festivals/parades with live elephants
  • Don’t visit the circus or zoos
  • Don’t attack others. Like Lek says, it’s very difficult to educate someone if you make them an enemy.
  • Don’t assume people know what’s going on behind closed doors. It took me 30 years.

6. Goodbye Grandpa

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While at the park, I got a voicemail from my sister. My grandpa passed the day after my 30th birthday. Before therapy, how would I have felt? Guilty. Overwhelmed. Out of control. How did I handle it last week? Terribly sad, but not guilty. I trusted my decision to be in a haven of healing. I recognized who could support me. I allowed myself to feel a spectrum of emotions. I laughed while shoveling elephant poop. I cried doing the same. I journaled, an exercise recommended by many therapists.

I channeled my grief into curiosity. I asked Lek about her grandpa, a shaman in a village of Northern Thailand. When she was 7, he gave her a gibbon to care for. Let’s call it Love.

“Do not name it. Do not hug it. Do not take it to your room,” he said. She did the exact opposite. When it was time to release Love, Lek begged her grandpa to keep it. He ignored her. “Love!” Lek cried out. The gibbon returned to her arms.

“You broke the rules,” her grandpa sighed. He sent her back to the village and freed Love alone. Lek refused to talk to him for months, believing him to be cruel. “I was wrong,” her voice now softens, “I’ve seen gibbons after too much human contact. They chew off their own legs.”

Remember: Love cannot grow in a cage. Release to nurture.

With truth,

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Family, Mental Health, Travel

The Noonday Demon: Dear sister

Dear sister,

The scariest day of my life was neither earthquake nor pregnancy. It was when I received a message from your best friend on facebook.

On May 26, you showed up to work. You stopped talking. 911. The ambulance rushed you to New York Presbyterian. From Boston to Brooklyn, our parents drove through pitch black. You were sedated most of the month. When you were lucid, you did yoga. You sketched. Faces juxtaposed upon faces.

Dad sent me an email about praying. I had no idea he believed in god. You refused to take medication. Every second we waited, you were getting worse.

We had to go to court. The judge ruled that you had to take medication. When you got out of the hospital, your first request was a large cheese pizza. Hope.

Fear

At the airport, your hands trembled. At the restaurant, you walked out. Mom ran after you. Earlier that week, you had opened the passenger door while she was still driving.

On June 12, parallel to the Orlando shootings, I had a nightmare. We were on a plane. Sordid yellow, oxygen masks dangled. I screamed for you to wake up. But you didn’t. I awoke to a silver lining. That day, you put on a coral blue dress and pearls for some fine dining at Not Your Average Joe’s. Glow.

Come midnight, you stopped feeling good. You were shaking so hard you couldn’t put your sneakers on. ER.

The meds were too strong, but you had to keep taking them. I’m so glad you came home the next day. I’m so sorry it hurts.

Frustration

The hospital bills were astronomical, even with insurance. There was a minimum 8 week waitlist to see a doc near home. What happens to those who cannot afford to wait?

On sleepless nights, you came to my door, wiggling the handle, asking over and over: “Can I come in? What are you doing?” I had to lock it. You’d walk over to our brother’s room and do the same thing. Whether I was teaching, laughing, talking, you’d tell me to stop. I never knew if something I said would trigger you. I took phone calls outside.

It was extremely frustrating when you said and did inappropriate things. I worked out every day to keep calm. When I didn’t react, you’d turn to mom. You could always get a reaction out of her. It scared me to see you feed off that.

When you weren’t sleeping, you were eating. I know what it’s like to feel powerless over food. Eating when you’re bored. Eating when you’re anxious. Before Ecuador, I tried to force myself to throw up. I’m lucky I stopped. For so many, it’s a life long struggle.

Change

While the rest of the family tries to change your behavior, I know it won’t make a difference.  You cannot force someone to heal. Mom worries. Dad lectures. Alex tells you to get off your ass. I want to tell them to leave you alone: “Can’t you see she’s depressed?”

But I don’t. I am also recovering from my codependency. I cannot control, fix, save others. I can only offer my unconditional love and support.

What can I do?

I use every tool I learned in therapy. I accept others as they are and build a fortress of solitude around my heart. When it’s too much, I make my muscles scream so I don’t have to.

During my cool downs, I think of our New York moments: your sharp, dry humor that makes me eyes rain. Tuesdays with Sherry.

What Would Nandy Drew Do?

I rummage through your room. Your shelves are stacked with LSATs when you were so determined to become a lawyer. “Drawn Out” shows hellish sketches by a man who lost his dad at a young age. He drowned himself in sex, drugs, rock n roll. When he finally sought a psychiatrist, he discovered he’d been reenacting a “living death”. 40 years old. Illumination. I know you’ll find your lightbulb.

Still, the million dollar question remains: What happened?

There’s no easy answer. Here is my educated guess. Only you, mei mei, can discover the rest.

You were 16 when you stopped talking to dad for a month. 6 years later, you stopped talking at work. Since graduation, you’ve felt pressure to figure out your life. Worked multiple jobs. Said yes when you felt no. Your law office boss made you her personal assistant and punching bag. “She says one thing, but means another.” A sense of inadequacy amplified. Great bosses are rare. Horrible bosses abound. Not only is their behavior is accepted, but promoted. We know the world does not operate on fairness: see season finale Game Of Thrones. Sometimes it’s good to be a quitter.

In the media, whenever something terrible happens, family and friends are shocked, “we didn’t see this coming.” Kill my cynicism. You don’t know til it happens to you. Any questions about whether this is an illness have been erased. It is a cancer of the mind. It is every bit as deadly. “Do you have any family history of this?” the doctor asked. Our parents were confounded. We don’t know what it looks like because it hides in plain sight. Remember when Nai Nai would talk to herself for hours? Her moods fluctuated at lightning speed. When I lost track of time playing outside, she hurt me worse than dad. If there happened to be a romantic scene on TV, she’d turn it off. “Do not trust men,” she’d rage-rant.

I was 12 at the time. Grams is 82 now. She didn’t get a second chance. You do. I’ll be here.

Hope

On June 29, I dreamed of Mary Lynne for the first time in years. Dressed in white, we stood in the kitchen. “Sherry will be OK,” she held my hand. I got my visa to Korea the next morning.

She’s right. I’ve seen you get better. You show interest in life. You hang out with your friends. You got a job at the deli. You go to the gym.

We laugh now. We talk about boys. L said he prefers me paler so I wrote a mini-novel back, loosely titled, “Best love me no matter what color F@$%^&!” You offered sage like wisdom: “tell him you’d prefer him…bigger.” Turns out I misread his message. Glad I didn’t hit send. PMS is real. (L’s still the greatest)

We whatsapp while I’m on Seoul’s, clean-as-a-dream subway. Free wifi, shopping, food stalls, and public bathrooms. All underground. Welcome to the future.

You told me your greatest strength is courage. You told me your greatest weakness is fear.  I believe that words are strong, that they can overwhelm what we fear when fear seems more awful than life is good.

I love you. I’m proud of you. You are fighting the hardest fight of your life.

A fine line separates a fighter and a warrior. One is motivated by reason, the other by purpose. One fights to live, the other lives to fight.

You’re both.

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Books, Ecuador, Mental Health, Travel

Colombia Calling: a series of unfortunate events 

Before my grandmother survived a stroke and heart attack,  before my little sister was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown, before I learned through therapy I have a condition called co-dependency, before Ecuador stopped paying its teachers, before Colombia called…

I had a beautiful dream.

Immersed in deep blue sea, a giant orca whale faced me. Terrifyingly close, awe inspiring. Zoom out. The orca swam in a glass ceiling above my bed. It wasn’t clear who was the one held captive. A mermaid entered the water: only she was accepted by the orca. Trusted.

It is all connected:

Days later, at hangar beatz, a DJ played haunting whale sounds. The next morning, my sister called with the news about my nai nai. My mom and sister had to cancel their trip to Ecuador. So I decided to go to Colombia. A series of unfortunate events began. Yet, somehow, magic remained.

1. Pre Colombia

My friend and I got lost trying to find a concert, stumbled into free Colombia movie week right when the film started. Los Viajes Del Viento: The Wind Journeys. There is an accordion off between two men, matador vs bull, in a dust filled ring. An audience member, driven into a frenzy, stabs the protagonist. The knife misses his heart thanks to the instrument. I didn’t understand half the words, but I understood the whole meaning. Music does that.

Moments later, we found ourselves on stage at Casa De La Cultura, dancing in circles with the locals to live folklore. I ran into one of my old students. Spontaneity at its best.

I met a beautiful rose at Cafe Democratico the 1st night I discovered Afro Colombian jazz. Spirited away by drums, pipes, wind flutes, a french girl’s raspy African tune.  A doctor without borders led our chorus to Redemption Song.

On cue, a true accordion player appeared at 3 am. No such thing as coincidence.

2. Bigger in Bogota

My airbnb in Bogota was located in Chapinero. As with any host or neighborhood, do your research, but people lie. Turns out, the southern tip was filled with addicts, junkies, hooker motels, and the host’s brother had smoked something before we got there. I slept to soothing night sounds: crackheads yelling PUTA outside. The bedroom door wouldn’t close, so we set up a Conspiracy Theory style trap: suitcase, book, glass box. Lamp close to bed as a weapon. We were in pain from fresh tattoos, scared, yet could not stop laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation. You can tell a lot about your bond in the face of the unexpected.

In a rush to leave the next day, we left the keys upstairs, only to realize the 10 foot black iron gate was locked. Naturally, we scaled the gates of Mordor while the neighborhood watched. Chapinero remembers.

We escaped to my friend’s uncle’s apartment in Chia, the sunny equivalent of Cumbaya. He took us to the salt mines of Zipaquira. Interestingly, I almost ended up teaching there instead of Ecuador because one of the WorldTeach cohorts dropped out. At the time, my decision came down to one thing: I wouldn’t have missed my little sister’s college graduation for the world. Full circle.

One cannot sum up a city in 2 days, but I will say this: Bogota has STYLE, asian people(dodo birds!), diversity(we got a lot of smiles) and an excellent asian chain restaurant called WOK (1st pad thai and khao soi in 7 months. Freaked out.).

Day: Better to take a taxi

  • Museo del Oro
  • Candelaria
  • Plaza Simón Bolívar, especially Friday evening SEPTIMAZO(be careful)
  • Monserrate Cable Car(Bogotá is huge)
  • Teusaquillo. Parque Simón Bolívar. (picnic)
  • La mina de sal de zipaquirá
  • El teatro callejero

Night: ALWAYS take a taxi. Underground scenes reco’d by a Bogota friend

  • Cafe Cinema
  • Latino Power
  • Latora 4 Brazos
  • Matik Matik
  • Chorro de Quevedo

3. Magic in Medellin

Took a free walking tour with the amazing guide Pablo. Stayed at a wonderful airbnb with Arthur Leroux. Barrio El Poblado is like the West Village of Colombia.

Medellín has one of the most pristine, spacious metros I have ever seen. It’s their beacon of hope. They do not eat on it. They do not scratch graffitti on the walls. The train reflects the love of its people.

In 1995,  a bomb exploded inside a Botero bird statue(famous for painting large, round figures) downtown, killing a girl as young as 7. The government wanted to remove the destroyed statue. Ring Ring. Botero called: no you must not do that. If you remove it, the people will forget. You remove the memory.

Instead, they built a replica, unbroken, next to the original. Bird’s the word.

Paisas are entrepreneurs. You buy in because of their optimism, resilience, courage.

Day

  • Piedra Del Penol (2 hour bus from Medellin. Epic views, a real life stairmaster 650 of ’em, go EARLY bc traffic back to the city is insane)
  • Metro cable hasta Santo Domingo (ver favelas) /Parque Biblioteca ESPAÑA
  • Jardín Botánico de Medellin (gorgeous architecture)
  • Museo de Antioquia
  • Parque de los pies descalzos
  • Plaza botero
  • Pueblito paisa
  • Rio claro Valley
  • Museo de arte moderno

Night

  • Este lugar de la noche, calle 67 con 55
  •  Yagé bar, calle 68 con 96
  • Tinto Tintero, carrera 43 B-10. Thursday Jazz in el poblado (LOVELY!)

4. Post Colombia 

Ecuador is in an economic crisis. Only the military has been paid due to the threat of a coup. And cancer hospitals(hopefully!). Teachers and everyone else are the bottom of the barrel.  The government owes us but we may not be paid for years. I have faith. I have faith in myself as a teacher: I am working for my students and out of love for the profession.

I may be deported for writing the above. But it is the truth. My family survived communism. I refuse to live in fear in the face of oppression. As a US citizen, I have more options than many others. Let the stress kill you, or keep hunting. I choose numero dos.

Now onto harder subjects…

My heart crumpled when I heard about my sister. I was the first one to get the call. You can imagine how it feels to be thousands of miles away. Helpless. Useless. So I worried, and worried some more. My therapist, who normally just listens, called me out. I am so glad she did. She said this: You need to stop. Stop trying to save others. Stop trying to fix others. You are responsible for you. You are not responsible for your mother, father, sister, brother, grandparents. You spend so much energy worrying about others. You need to take care of yourself. You are a teacher. You are in Ecuador. These are your responsibilities and you must focus on them. Learn to say no. She lent me a book.

Co-dependency means you try to save, control, fix others, to the point where you no longer take care of yourself. People who grow up with any -ism or abuse in their family often have this condition because we were forced to care take at a very young age. It is up to me to refuse to be a victim. I need to put my own needs first and stop rescuing. Let others lead their own lives. Love and care but practice healthy detachment. 

To my nai nai, my sister, to everyone going through a difficult time: we are not lone islands, but we are all responsible for our own lives. It’s OK to put yourself first. Release the guilt.

Pablo’s words resonate: Colombia is a swamp of quicksand. We sink, and sink, and sink. The mud has reached our ears. But we hold on. We hold on to the tiny branch. We fight for every breath. We do not let go.

Find the branch. Hold on tight. Rise.

Love,

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Ecuador, Love, Teaching, Travel

agradecida: blood, snow, sorrow

Dear mother earth, heavenly father and the ultimate universe,

Last Friday, I walked out of my apartment to blood. A man ran down the street clutching his arm yelling after a taxi. His eyes were glazed, his striped shirt matted to his sweat soaked skin.  Instinct kicked in. My friend called the police while I ran after him into the video rental store. Red raindrops covered the white linoleum floor. In broken Spanish,  I told him to wash the cut, put pressure on it, call his family.  High on adrenaline and worry, we listened to Mauricio’s story. A customer came to rent a DVD. At the counter, he took out a knife and pistol. Video stores don’t keep much cash, so Mauricio did not comply. In the scuffle, he was sliced deep before the robber ran off into a taxi( clearly in on the deal).

Moments earlier, I had messaged my friend that I didn’t want to walk to Foch and preferred to get a ride if possible. So I was meant to be there, at that exact moment, to see the blood. It is not the first time nor will it be the last.

In these pivotal moments when a fellow human lost faith in humanity, in the minuscule seconds that followed, precious to shaping future beliefs, I am grateful for good.

1. Blood

I am grateful for blood. If I did not know about blood,  I would not know the complexity of love. I would not know the sound of diamond sharp scissors slicing the air when thrown, rivlets of red escaping skin, metallic smell of fear permeating pores. I remember the shattered child carried out by her grandfather. I remember listening to dad scold mom for her temper. The irony. If I did not know of blood, I would have never found my purpose in healing through Lovingkindness.

2. Snow

I am grateful for snow. I remember the barefooted girl who had never been kissed, running away from home, into the whiteness. Comforted by cold, for the goosebumps were far kinder than the madness of fists, kicks, words inflicted onto 100% my body for a 75% percentile PSAT number. 75, the numbers engraved into my scars, fearing tests of aptitude, even years later. If I did not know of snow, then I wouldn’t understand my students. The paralysis, the amygdala freeze, the somber eyes, the exhaustion you hid from your teachers, because you were really glad to be out of the house, up until the moment when the hard work does nothing against the unrealistic demand of perfection.

So I make sure my students know, that the four walls covered in posters of future civilizations and dream islands, serve as far more than just four walls. With me, they are safe.

3. Sorrow

I am grateful for sorrow. When you have to say goodbye to anyone you love, it’s hard to escape the  nagging feeling you could’ve, should’ve,  would’ve done something different. The questions that keep you up at night: am I the fool? How could I let this happen? You search for pieces of an invisible puzzle.

If I did not know of sorrow, I would not know of acceptance.

The freedom of letting go. The astute talent to just breathe. He broke your heart. She broke your heart. You broke each other. You loved each other once. You may never talk to each other again. Till choice comes to the rescue. The choice to change. To grow. The gift of transformation. You have another turn in this roulette of life. YOU, lucky soul, are still in the game with blood in your veins. So play with integrity.

I am grateful for sorrow. 7 years ago, on Christmas Eve,  I learned of unconditional love. In an utterly private moment, which I had no right or intention to witness, I stumbled upon the spiritual. I watched the gentle hands of a husband washing the greying coiff of his best friend, mother of his children, love of his life, four days before death swept away her suffering. Sorrow taught me unconditional love.

Once you know, you’ll never settle for less. Nunca.

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Mental Health, Teaching, Travel

Fiesta De Quito: The crying woman

Dear Friends,

One month from today, I will be 29 years old. Allow me to reflect, process, regurgitate what little and lot this year has brought in 3 stages…

1. Joy

For their final oral exam, my students created TV shows. The highlight was The Kyong Show: imagine late night meets Jerry Springer. The romantic entanglements of a stepford wife,  basketball player husband, a scruffy pool boy. And a magician. All forced to resolve their problems over beer(water) pong…

Wandering into a fusion jazz bar, getting the last seats, savoring a splendid piece of chocolate cake, served with a boule of helado (ice cream). Soft rain and patio lights…

Flamenco dancers, one gringa in cherry red, one quiteno in blanco, strong jaws, slick black coifs, such fierce tapping you feel it in your blood…

Riding a bike in public. I’m an obsessive soul cycler, but it’s a different ballgame meandering through traffic. Momentum is key. Pedal when turning for more control. Shoulders forward in a perfect triangle, so when you hit a bump, your netherparts don’t get left behind. Freedom racing through the park…

Taking my first solo 9 hour bus trip in South America, reaching my destination, narrowly avoiding a pack of wild dogs, kissing starlight by midnight…

The ocean retains memory, my mompiche soul sistah said, it touches all life. Bubbles, effervescent elation, splashing like a newborn. Letting go…

2. Pain 

In a dimly lit street by an ivy wall(Plaza Teatro), while all of Quito dances, a small crowd gathers around a crying woman. A man in an official looking uniform, conspicuously rigid, eyes withdrawn, tapes an eviction notice to her door. The air is pungent: it smells of macaroons…

The crying woman reminds me that we are ephemeral. Impermanent. Amidst all joy exists acute pain.  I know this well. It’s been too recent since parting ways with friends and lovers. The hurt is raw. Yet the scars will make me stronger…

It’s taken me 6 years to let myself miss Mary Lynne, the mom, sister, best friend who showed me unconditional love. To let myself weep. To feel the enormity of grief…

It’s been 1 year since I’ve talked to my dad. It took 27 years to admit I’ve been emotionally and physically abused since I hit puberty. It’s going to be a lifelong journey to heal. To discover what it means to love and be loved. To relearn a concept sin dolores…

Pain is relative, and mine pales amongst the horrific pasts endured by so many kindred spirits. But it’s a smidegon of proof that to see the light, one must face their darkness…

 

I’m going to therapy soon and I could not be more ready. I’ve always wanted to go.  It’s a profession and a calling that interests me mucho. Thankfully, mental health is less of a stigma in South America. Plus it’s far more affordable, I’m talking $25/hour vs $2 grand, an arm and a leg. I’m a big believer that although a broken bone is visibly bad, a broken psyche is far worse, especially if unaddressed. It’s impossible to heal others if you can’t heal yourself. Someday, could I listen to stories and help guide someone back onto their path ? Nothing would fulfill me more.

My soul died in advertising. In all corporate life. Teaching, however, is rewarding. On Fridays, we mix Spanish and English to discuss deeper issues like spirituality, family, psychology, gender equality, sexism, racism, homosexuality. I’d love to teach in Colombia next, South Korea, then Thailand. Maybe UAE. It’s a loosey goosey 5 year vision, just how I like it.

Know thyself is priority #1. Giving myself and others time to do what’s needed, time to understand what’s best. Time exposes or promotes us all, they say.

I am proud to be the crying woman. In many ways, we all are.  Call me sentimental but I’ll take tears any day over feeling nothing at all.

My deepest love,

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Philosophy, Teaching, Travel

(No Name): 2 months in Ecuador and 7 How To’s

I’m falling in love with Ecuador. Like most special delights in life, it’s the unplanned and unexpected that make up a myriad of defining moments.

1. How to teach English

After a grammar exercise about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it quickly became clear that my high school students had no clue about Mark Twain nor slavery. Another asked me, one on one, if being gay is natural. I tell my students one thing: to always keep asking.  Never take my opinion for law.

Allow for distractions, the mind needs to breathe.

I’m aiming to get TEFL certified with the university this February in order  to continue a worldwide journey. Imagine this chinita in Columbia, South Korea, Thailand, UAE…wowsers!

2. How to travel successfully by bus

Do not rely on the Internet for timetables or routes. Ask at least 3 people on site including ticket sellers, taxi drivers, bus staff pitching to potential customers.  Do as the locals do.

No one sits in assigned seats. Be prepared to see people arguing over your seat and to find another one.

In order to meet friends at Quilotoa, my host dad crowd sourced to find out that there’s no direct bus from Riobamba to Latacunga. I needed to get off at some random, no name stop, then take a taxi to the main station. Alone and amidst a hailstorm.

My nerves were calmed only after sitting next to a nice lady named Faviola who happened to be going to the same place. We split a cab even steven. Yeats said it best: Be Not Inhospitable To Strangers Lest They Be Angels In Disguise.

By sensational serendipity, I arrived at the exact same time as my crew from Quito, despite departing hours apart and from different cities.

3. How to make the most of…

Otavalo: Use the buddy system to bargain. It’s cheaper to buy 2. Take your time browsing and getting price quotes before dropping your cash. Smile.

Go to the birds of prey show at Condor Park. Notice which beasts value freedom over food. Search for the heart shaped crater embedded into the side of the mountain.

Riobamba: Eat hornado de chancho (slow roasted pork with orgasmic thick, crispy skin). It will help you forget that on the 3 hour car ride there, you awoke from your nap to the symphonic chords of  a 10 year old puking profusely into a plastic bag.

Funda.

Quilotoa: Camp for free at crater lake. Bring tons of sweaters, snacks, water, tp. Warm yourself with Puntas(moonshine baby).

In ink black darkness, we climbed down a steep, winding sand-rock filled trail armed with 2 measly, Ecua phone flashlights. The 1 hour hike uphill in scorching heat is a doozie. PLEASE SKIP riding the donkeys/horses: their legs are far more fragile than yours. It’s tempting, I know.

Once you get uptop, reward yourself with grilled goat. Indulge in rich, meaty papas(potatoes)for days. Demolish another table’s full plate of leftovers.

I befriended a stray black lab mix who later summoned her 5 member pack of protectors (will work for food). Slept like a baby through a vicious dog fight. I’ve got 99 problems but No Name ain’t one.

Find big sticks if you venture into the surrounding wilderness. The dogs are trained to aggressively guard the indigenous lands. Good news? You’ll hear them coming. Bad news? Our friend’s pant leg got nipped twice and I had to fend off rabies-r-us while it transformed my branch into a twig…with its mouth.

Adventure.

4. How to live with ever present danger

At night, four of my friends( both guy and girl together, local looking and gringo) have been robbed. Two of them at knifepoint. Scary, though the awareness these events are commonplace oddly comforts. Take a cab to your door if you live in prime-time petty crime neighborhoods like Foch.

If and when it happens, let go of whatever possessions you have.

Keep money in your bra. Always bring a friend to keep watch at the ATM.

Past 6 pm, I walk in a black, over-sized hoodie, hands stuffed in pockets(pseudo concealed weapon), ninja jaunt on, at an effin’ speedy pace. Better to be feared and/or too fast of a moving target.

If I outlasted Dorchester, MA…

5. How to learn any language

My host dad, in Spanish, asked me to keep the door unlocked for their return.

Except he had 2 moto helmets so I assumed there was an errand requiring me to get on a bike. To which I replied: muy frio (it’s too cold).

Read intent through the lens of body language, trust the vocabulary to expand after. Embrace the awkward because people will laugh. Laughter helps you learn.

6. How to survive a nightmare

I’ve met my favorite kind of people: survivors.

One spoke of nightmares: the kind that come when the brains of a 21 year old girl meet the concrete streets of Quito. Split seconds earlier, he’d asked his friend to slow down the motorcycle. It was all too late and far too fast for the boy high on adrenaline and the pretty young thang gripping tightly to his jacket. The friend lived, if that’s what you call it. Fate in the form of accident stole the show.

Another, an indigo child destined to change the world, sat with me on a grassy knoll of an unknown park next to a gaggle women in thick turquoise sweaters and prairie skirts. As they smoked their caramel cocoa cigarettes, she told me about how her boyfriend died, high on coke, his heart stopped. No, wait, that was another story. Hers killed himself.

Why must the best people be cursed with desolation? She cried and I felt her pain as my own for we have all loved someone who feels nothingness.

7. How pain begets joy

I said goodbye to a mosaic of circumstance, however difficult, for the possibility of a true-to-present self.

To find a real shot at the perfectly imperfect, you must continue learning: not the way you’d imagine through unaffordable degrees, but the school of life.

Travel, my friends.

The world is far too lonely. Give love to others, so they see less of your skin and more of your soul.

Let go of money to gain, whenever you can afford it. I used to make over 70k. Now I make less than $400 a month. You’d think it’d be more stressful with less money but it’s quite the opposite.

Relinquish the need for others to approve of your happiness and you’ll be one step closer. (Yes, I’m talking to you “be a lawyer-doctor-hedge fund manager or else” tiger parents.)

Help, however you can, in conversation or human touch, for richness comes in numerous forms.

Reach the eternal fountain of youth the instant you stop searching.

Love from E,

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Ecuador, Travel

My first week in Ecuador: the good, the bad, the what the eff?!

Hola amigos! I’m bed-ridden with a blah case of food poisoning. But I’m alive! Here’s to surviving my first week in Quito, Ecuador.

The good…

1. Your morning companions may include three mud-brown, shaggy, white-faced llamas brunching in a soccer field. Olé, Olé, Olé!

2. The air is crisp. The streets are cleaner than New York. 360 degree views of volcanic majesty. Come night, find yourself enveloped in a blanket of stars. Thousands of flickering lights emanate from densely packed homes. Lift your fingertips towards the heavens.

3.  Ecuadorean President Correa and I share the same hood. NBD.

4. Many of the middle class families have maids. I don’t have to do dishes Mon-Fri. There is a god.

5. On our first Sunday in Quito, a rare supermoon caressed a lunar eclipse. Atop the 8th floor rooftop, we marveled. Children laughed. Couples kissed. Gushing.

I’ll be 46 the next time such a splendid sighting graces the sky. The 2033 countdown begins!

The bad…

1. I have not been pick pocketed(yet), but 2 of our teachers weren’t so lucky. Strange men in a car tried to pick up one of our other male cohorts. Hold your bag the way you hug a body pillow: tightly, eyes forward, resting b&tch face on. Don’t carry more than $15 on you at a time. Don’t walk alone at night.

2. Scopolamine (originated from trees in Colombia)is date rape drug that turns you into a slave zombie. Its properties make you highly open to suggestion. You don’t remember a thing. If asked, you’ll help a thief rob your own house.  Watch your drink like a hawk.

3. Any amount of drug possession can lead to a minimum of 7 years in jail. They don’t feed you so meals must be brought by family and friends. Orange Is The New Black now sounds like Disneyland.

The what the eff?!

1. Unlike this idiot, be picky about what you eat. Avoid raw veggies, unpeeled fruits, which may or may not be washed properly, no matter how appetizing. Diarrhea is a universal language. Ecuadorean remedy? Oregano seeped in boiling water. Stay tuned for results.

2. Pain tolerance varies culturally. It’s low here. The two adorable host daughters (Marty y Lucy, 9 and 6 ) bumped heads on the trampoline and lost it. I’ve seen some epic tantrums at the YMCA but this was stage 5.  Should their ice cream ever fall off the cone, I’m booking it to the nearest bunker.

3. I have seen a total of three asian people. Estoy dodo bird.

No aguafiestas(Debbie downers) here! Have an incredible semana!

-writinginsoysauce

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