May 02, 2009

we now take a brief intermission for:
The Adventure of the Trimming of the Labrador!



Half-time (which lasted about 2 weeks!)...

And back for Round 2!

Posted by Picasa

April 11, 2009

Thailand Adventure
Part 1: The Senior Trip

Exciting day! There's nothing quite like waking up in the cold, drizzling winter and knowing that by the end of the day you'll be hanging out in the tropics. Because of where we were meeting up to take the bus to the airport, Nelle and I did have to walk in the drizzling wintery rain, wearing only clothes that we would want to have with us in Thailand for 2 weeks, so it was a very brisk walk, to keep us warm, and because we were, as always, running a little behind. We were each put in charge of a group of about 8 seniors, organized by color, with bandannas to match. I was the Reds (Be the Reds!). In the past, herding 50 seniors around inside of airports, with tickets and Alien Registration and money changing and immigrations and EVERYTHING, has ended up being a minor disaster, which it shouldn't take too much work to imagine. So we keep a pretty close eye on our kids.

Travel there was long. ("there" is the Maekok River Village Resort, or MRVR, which is where we live while on the senior trip. The British couple who built/own the place do run a resort, but the place also has facilities specifically designed for teams of students coming through for a variety of reasons.) We flew into Bangkok, and caught a connecting flight up to Chaing Mai, a fairly big city up north. We spent our first night at a hotel here, right next to a night market that is pretty popular with the kids. This location is also the most likely source of "The Plague" (more on that later). The next day, we took big vans even further up north, almost right to the border between Thailand and Myanmar, to Chaing Rai, which is where we stayed. It wasn't that bad, I guess--only a day and a half of constant travel--but it felt like longer. Probably because we had to be constantly vigilant of the kids. Pretty much everyone was exhausted once we got to the MRVR. The kids were all in bunk-rooms, 6 kids to a room, and the chaperons were in single rooms in the gender-specific dorms. What to do with a married couple, though? Well, they do run a resort.... :D So Nelle and I got to say in the resort section of the place, which was really classy. It's $80 a night to stay there, and it was just really tasteful and beautiful. Far nicer than we could have afforded.

Once at the MRVR, there were a variety of activities the staff there had planned for us, both on-site and out in the hillsides. On-site, we first did some team-building things, then various color groups cycled through a rotation of activities like Hiking, Mountain Biking, Tubing down a river, a low ropes course, and probably some other stuff. We also worked some in the local community with the hill-tribes.

About 100 years ago, the border between (then) Burma and (then) Siam was the Maekok river (which I have now tubed down). The powers that be realized, however, that if the river were to say, flood (not an impossible scenario to imagine) and change it's course, the boundary between these 2 countries would shift. Worse, if the river were to cut a new channel for itself and create an oxbow lake, it was conceivably possible that people could wake up one morning and be citizens of a different country, if the river had changed course drastically enough. To fix this situation, the political boundary was moved northward, to the main ridge of mountains north of the river--the watershed. Depending on the specific location, this newly designated land between the old border and new that now belonged to Thailand was, in some cases, a lot of land--enough that there were not only whole villages, but whole ethic groups, lived between the two borders. These people now technically live in Thailand, but the Thai government has never really been that excited about welcoming them--they are, after all, not actually "Thai", but Burmese--so they don't receive the same kind of support a normal citizen does--schools, ID cards, public utilities, etc.
**End Explanation**

CAJ has gone back to the same area for 3 years now, raising money to buy the materials needed for the students to work to improve the quality of life in these villages. This year, the studnts worked to fix up a schools bathroom (it had been used for years by people wandering by the school, and had deteriorated to the point that it was pretty much unusable), and to continue work on a nursery facility. We actually got to spend the night out at the school in tents one night, after a fun ceremony where the elders of the village and the heads of the schools swapped songs around a campfire with us. things were organized so that out of the 6 color groups, 4 were working and 2 were teaching english and playing games with the kids. It was at the beginning of this work time when The Plague struck.

At first we thought it was just that the students weren't staying hydrated--it was super hot, and we were all working really hard. So, at first, when one or two kids came and complained about not feeling well, we gave them a hard time for not drinking water, and told them they coudl lay inside until they felt better. And it was the ones who were already pretty sickly, anyways, so we weren't that surprised. At first it was one kid every other hour or so, not that big of a deal. One of them had a temperature, so the nurse was checking her regularly. She got the chills, OK, but it was still something that she could have picked up in Tokyo, the flu or something. Then one of the "dehydrated" kids started getting chills, and we found out he had a high temperature too. Just on a whim, the nurse checked a few other, and sure enough! Temperatures all around! The most common symptom seemed to be diarrhea and a fever, with the chills, aches, and everything. The slow trickle of kids getting sick increased in frequency, until more than half the kids were lying down, or had been taken back to the resort. The nurse started getting concerned about our food and water supply being contaminated, and started asking where the nearest clinic or hospital was.

At the peak, something like 33 out or 47 kids were all sick at the same time. It all came to a head the 3rd night there, when some of the students were so dehydrated the nurse wanted them on IV's. While we were there, the doctors did some tests, and came back with a prognosis--Typhoid Fever. AAAAAAAAAaaaaaaggggg! The plague is upon us! Would this be the last senior trip for CAJ? I ended up doing a night shift in the hospital with two sick students who were getting IV's. One got done after about an hour, and I called back to the resort to have him picked up, but the last kid was taking forever. Finally, sitting around until about midnight--nearly 4 hours--reading and watching stuff on my iPod (and watchin stuff through open doors--yikes!), a nurse came over and told me that the kid had probably another 5 hours left to go on his IV. We reached an agreement--I could take the studnent back to the resort, with his IV still in, and bring him back in the morning before her shift got off. But what to do with the IV? I learned the hard way that it actually is really important to keep the IV bags elevated. (Ever wonder why the tubes don't just fill with blood? Well, I still don't know, but I do know that they will if the bag isn't raised!) I asked if, since we would be coming right back, and she'd still be there and everything, we could just take the IV stand from the hospital with us, and bring it back when we came back in the morning. She agreed! Perfect!

All told, 40 out of 47 kids came down with it, and all the chaperons but Nelle and I got it. Once more tests were run, the general consensus is that it was food poisoning from the hotel we stayed at when we were traveling through Chiang Mai. So, no Typhoid. It was still scary in the moment, though.

After our time had ended, we headed out to the airport in Chiang Rai for the flight back to Bangkok, and then Tokyo (for everyone but Nelle, Tom, and I!!). To get to the airport, though, we got to have some fun! The Maekok River runs right next to the place, and they have a dock and everything, so we got to take these long, skinny boats for 2 hours down the river, which, after being filthy and hot and dirty, was just a welcome change of pace. The kids and I played "Hey Cow", as there were cows and water buffalo periodically along the shore or in the water. We did get stuck on a sandbar once, actually only 5 minutes after we had started our journey. As they zoomed by, all the other groups laughed at us struggling in the knee-deep water trying to dislodge our boat. It was great!

The boats didn't take us all the way to the airport, but they did take us to an elephant camp! We all got to have a turn lumping along on the back of an elephant, which is actually a somewhat jarring experience. The trek took over an hour, and included an amble through the river for the last few hundred meters. A lot of the kids bought banannas and sugar cane for the elephants, so we had fun feeding them all. They really are such big, gentle animals. Some of the kids got to "drive" the elephant, sitting on its head, while the actual driver just wandered off, talking to the other elephant handlers. I didn't get to, sadly, but we still managed to have fun. There's always hope that I'll go on this again next year!

From there, we took vans to the airport, and flew into Bangkok. Nelle and Tom and I were supposed to stay with the group as long as we possibly could before starting our own Thailand Adventure, but we weren't quite sure what that would look like. The kids had about 5 hours in the airport between flights, and we were expecting to have to hang out with them until 10pm, although hoping not to. As it so happened, the airport separated the connecting flight people from the baggage claim people almost immediately, which meant that we would leave our kids behind. It was actually kind of sudden--most of the kids were in front of us, up escalators and everything, when we realized that this was our parting point. The other adults were with us, so there was no confusion, but most kids didn't even realize that we weren't behind them anymore until they gathered up a few minutes later.

And from that point on, we were on our own Thailand Adventure, this time down south in the tropical-land!! What happened on this trip? Where were we? What was it like to go back to Koh Chang? And why didn't I wash my hair the whole time? Check back in a bit to find out!

April 04, 2009

Home, safe and sound! Totally uneventful trip back, except that the 747 we flew from Bangkok to Tokyo had really bad sound on their movies, so now I've seen "Quantum of Solace", but couldn't follow the dialouge at all, so I have no idea what it's about.

All in all, it's been a little depressing to be back. At the point I was getting off the plane in Narita, I seriously believed, just for a moment, that someone had turned up the air-conditioner WAY too high. Then I remembered where I was, and a cold, bitterness settled upon my heart that matched the weather outside.
I think I may have been designed to live in a tropical country.

Check back--pics to come soon.

March 25, 2009

Hi from Thailand!  We left the seniors at the Bangkok airport after some fun times in Chiang Rai, and flew down to the Bay of Thailand the next day to catch our boat to Koh Chang.  Turns out it's gotten pretty stinking busy and expensive there, so after 2 days we took another boat to a more remote island - Koh Maak.  I'd sorta been hoping to go here for a while, so I'm glad it worked out.  Things here are awesome--there are very few people on the island, which is small enough that you really could walk everywhere...if only it wasn't so stinking HOT!  it's a charming place that actually has a purpose in life besides tourism (coconut and rubber plantations that are over 100 years old) so it lacks that glitzy/grungy feel of places that exist only for tourism.  We've got another 3 nights here, then back to Bangkok, then back to real life...

March 14, 2009

Finally! I've been pretending for so long that I'm not going to Thailand, just because i knew that i wanted to be there SO BADLY! and the weather recently has been awful here--constant rain, just above freezing. we've had to go to the laundromat to dry our clothes. the laundromat! as if we were one of those rich snobs! but no more--as of tomorrow, i'm off to the land of sunshine and hotness. one of the reasons i know it's going to be awesome is that the supplies i packed for a 2 week trip could fit in a medium-sized grocery bag. I just LOVE tropical places!

So the first week will be in Chang Rai, working with the senior trip. So, I won't be teaching, but i'm told it's a lot of work. I'm looking forward to it. I will also apparetnly have my first ride upon an elephant. I've heard they are delightful creatures. As happened a few years ago, Nelle and I will be staying in Thailand after the seniors leave--the trip backs up to spring break. So week 1 will be lots of fun hard work up north, and week 2 will be lots of sitting around on beaches and driving scooters to remote locales. i'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it. I hope to come back with all sorts of photos, but if you're curious about what it's like, here's some pics from last time. funny historical note-last time, nelle and i had only been dating for like 8 weeks when we did this last time. seems kinda like it could have been lot of strain for a relationship...but we had so much fun doing the same kinds of stupid things, it just made everything better. I was glad to know that she's the kind of gal i could have adventures with. and yes, it was good to know what her reaction would be if i crashed a scooter with her on the back (she's pretty forgiving, turns out). So, here's the pictures from last time, and Here's a map of the area we're planning on being in the vicinity of (nothing too concrete, you know). Aaaaand I'm outta here!

January 13, 2009

Ok, last one!
So, last morning! As is becoming the custom, I think, the other leader, Bea, and I made plans to sneak away whilst the children were sleeping. I was actually sleeping outside so as to sneak away more quickly. Bea was sleeping right inside the door, so that I could easily wake her up when the moment was right--I had the only extra watch. Which, turns out, I set the timer for, but failed to actually turn on. You'd think I would have learned something in college! So, we made it out, but not with as much extra time as we'd planned; we made our getaway something like 20 minutes before the kids' alarm went off. Yikes!

The student leaders for the next morning know we're leaving, just for safety's sake, and so they ask us any questions they might have before we leave, but they're sworn to secrecy. So whey their alarm went off, they got to break the news to everyone: they're on their own! It's not really true, of course. Bea and I went back up the trail just far enough that we could hear them go by, but they'd not be able to see us. And we sat, and waited, and I learned all sorts of interesting things about Australia from Bea. Did you know that the only reason anyone in Australia would go out into the woods was if they had a deathwish? It's so full of poisonous EVERYTHINGS that it's against the law to hike anywhere without a professional guide. She said her friends would flip out when they found out she was in the woods for 4 days straight as one of the leaders!

The hike down was fun--trying to stay close enough to keep tabs on them, but far enough away that they wouldn't see us. There were a few times that we suddenly realized that they were closer than we thought, and stopped in our tracks, and there was one time when I thought we'd stumbled on them around a corner into an opening, and one time when I really did. It's hard to hike fast enough to keep up (I'm learning that the kids really hike unbelievably fast that last morning), but still try and keep an eye out. The time I thought we saw them, I actually hurt myself falling on the ground trying to keep out of sight. Turned out to be a tattered piece of tarp. The second time, I really was probably less than 15 feet away from them. There were a few stretches with big boulders to clamber down and around, and I rounded a corner and just about threw myself off the mountain trying to get back out of sight. The trail did a switchback, and the whole group was struggling through a tough spot right below me. Ha! They never saw me, but it made for fun conversation later.

As we neared the end, and the town we were hiking to got less and less distant, I realized that I had told the leaders to go to the town, but had said nothing about what to do once they were there. Because I had the bigger picture, I knew that it was the same town we started from, and the Camp we were headed to was a few stations back, but I had never told them! Bea and I caught up to the kids just as they were heading to the nearest police station to ask directions. They had suspected that we were back there, they said, but they were still pretty surprised/excited to see us. We moseyed to the station only to find that the trains only come every 45 minutes, and one was leaving in about 1! As the often do, the stationmaster told us to get on the train, and pay wherever we got off. I love Japan! (and we did pay, of course!)

From there it was a sort-ish ride back to Camp, and exciting reunions--some other groups caught the same train as us, and some of us had spouses waiting at camp! We weren't the last group in, but we were the last to go through the food line and the bath line--we had a really long debrief, which actually makes me happy. We went around and all shared stuff we learned about ourselves, and encouragments for others. Definitely my best debrief yet.


January 11, 2009

Man, so much cool stuff has happened that I can't post about, because I never finished my stress camp blog.... :'( So, I'll finish it quickly.

The next morning we woke to a light but steady drizzle, the kind that soaks you before you really notice. Some of the kids woke up pretty wet, but I way warm and dry! This was probably the hardest day for the kids to hike. They were tired and wet, and the ones that had been hiking the slowest were also the ones that had set up their flysheets the worst, so somehow that made them hike even slower. At one point, two of our gals from up front actually came back from the peak to carry one guys' backpack up the last bit for him! Wow. Thinking about it, the group really represented both ends of the spectrum--I feel I had some of the highest-quality gals I've ever had, but the slowest 2 guys I've ever had. Hm.

We made it to the hut in time for a late lunch. It had stopped raining at this point, but was still wet; the low temperature coupled with the wind had motivated us to never stay still for too long on our breaks. The hut actually had futon and quilts in it, an area for a firepit, and a little stream. These are all wonderful things. We sat around out front and ate our lunch, then I had the kids go inside while I explained our activity for the day--a solo. We had a handout for them with a story about integrity on it, and I told them the rules: Don't leave where I put you, use the whistle for emergencies, etc. I also promised them emphatically that I would not forget about them or leave them out in the woods anywhere. They aren't supposed to know how long they'll be out in the woods, but I sort of blew it...I told them that we'd be staying in the hut that night, which a few of the brighter ones realized meant that I would be leaving them in the woods for kid of a while, since it was only lunch time now. It might have been good to at least give them that, though. I talked to them about it later, and a few of them initially thought that a "solo" was for like 20 or 30 minutes. I left them out there for 4 and a half hours! I think if they hadn't known that they were going to be sleeping in the hut that night, some of them would have sunk farther and farther into despair with every minute.

So, I set off down the trail and dropped the kids off. Some of them spent the time sleeping (until it got dark, which freaked them out too much to sleep...?), trying to build fires (none of the guys did this, which i was surprised by), and at least one person was praying/reading scripture at the top of his lungs, which was actually pretty cool to hear bouncing off the hills in the fog.

While the kids were doing this, Bea and I were hanging out, talking and laughing, and getting stuff ready for when the kids came back. We tried to get some firewood gathered, but had a hard time finding much that was dry. Eventually I found the motherlode--siding and flooring leftover from the building of the hut! I brought a saw with me, so I went to town. No worries about a fire tonight! We got my stove set up and got supper going so the kids could have supper when they came back in from the cold. When I finally went to get them, it was well after dark, so it was extra freezing. I was glad I'd had them take their full packs with them on the solo--last year on the solo, the kids got so cold one of them actually blew her whistle in a panic, and they were all chilled to the bone. This year they were fine. Yay for learning!

The theme for the solo is supposed to be integrity, and we have questions that are supposed to guide our discussion to that end, but I didn't really like them, and the kids aren't really going to open up and share ways that they lack integrity in life with 11 other people that they don't know terribly well. I asked some of my own questions, had them share their experiences and whatnot, and it actually turned into a surprisingly good conversation. As much as I like to let the kids volunteer to talk, I learned that sometimes we just have to go around the circle and everyone talks. Next year I'll start with that, and move towards volunteering information at the end. Hm, hm... very wise.

As is becoming the standard, Bea and I were planning on sneaking out of camp an hour before the kids broke camp, so we went and found the leaders and broke the news. HA! they were super nervous. I was scared that they were just going to find the nearest road and walk downhill, but in the end they chose to follow the path, which I liked, and which turned out to be some of the coolest geography I've seen on stress camp.

So that night, all the kids bundled up in the cabin, sleeping on futons and under quilts. I couldn't help but feel a little guilty--where were the other groups sleeping tonight? What ever happened to roughing it? I felt like I was doing them a disservice my making stress camp too easy. I still do, a little....but we'll give this curriculem a few years, and see what the kids are saying about it when they're 20 and 21. That's when we'll know if it was worth it or not.