It has been just over 3 weeks since our team from All God’s Children International (AGCI) and Rain City Church visited the government-run orphanages in Addis Ababa (see my previous post “A Hard Day in Addis Ababa“). I am now back in the safety and relative luxury of the bubble which I’ve carefully created for me and my family here in Seattle over the past couple of decades. However, what I experienced in Ethiopia then, and in the days that immediately followed, will stick with me forever.
When we returned back to our guest house after visiting the orphanages, I felt an overwhelming sense of helplessness and despair for those children. How could they ever have the opportunity to break out of a generations-old cycle of poverty, let alone survive, without the benefit of family and a support structure capable of preventing them from falling through the cracks?
The next day, we flew to Mekelle, the capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The landscape was beautiful in an Arizona desert sort of way. The beauty of the surroundings, however, was obscured by the reality that the rocky soil was not exactly conducive to a healthy, sustainable existence. The evidence of that reality lay in the rundown buildings and tattered clothing which seemed to be the unwitting uniform of the people–especially outside of the city. This is the stuff I expected to see long before we arrived in Tigray.
What I did not expect, however, was to see the smiling, joy-filled faces of so many otherwise orphan children and their grateful guardians (often single parents fighting serious health battles of their own or other relatives). These children in Mekelle and Samre were not hopeless like the kids we met in the orphanages in Addis Ababa. Instead, they shared with us story after story about how the Educational Sponsorships they received through AGCI allowed them to go to school and help support their families.
At this point, I could drone on about my feelings; eventually segueing into an appeal for you to consider helping these kids. Well, if a picture is worth a thousand words, and videos can deliver 60 pictures per second, then I have a feeling that the following vids will be much more effective. Many of the people I met (including the tireless, dedicated local AGCI staff) and the things I experienced are captured by Tati in these videos when she took a similar trip about a year ago. I urge you to please take the time to watch this series (about 22 minutes total) as they do a much better job than I could ever do in this blog.
We visited 2 government-run orphanages and a homeless “camp” here in Addis Ababa today.
Kibebe Tsehay Orphanage
The first facility was for newborn to 8-year old children. While apparently in far better condition than it was less than a year ago, the place was far from what that I’d consider conducive to raising thriving children. When we walked into the room where the infants stayed, I locked eyes with a 2-month old boy with big, beautiful eyes and a HUGE smile. About 30-seconds later, I looked at the dilapidated poster above his crib and realized that his name was the same one shared by my great-grandfather, my father, my son, and me: MATIAS. I was immediately reminded that I should feel nothing short of grateful for where I was born and raised. I left the room immediately to avoid breaking down right there and then.
We moved to another part of the facility and entered a room of 1- to 2-year olds. To our surprise, the children were already waiting for us–standing and facing the door expectantly. As soon as we walked in, one little boy rushed past all of us, latched onto Gabriel’s leg, and begged to be picked up. Gabriel hesitated, as doing so is rarely encouraged in these settings, but our local hosts gave him the green light. The boy’s eyes lit up like a Christmas Tree and he grinned from ear-to-ear. Within seconds, Marisa had two kids in her arms, and soon we were all surrounded by little humans craving affection. One little boy with a red, racing car hoodie leapt into my arms. As I picked him up, I noticed that his diaper was heavy and pants were damp. I didn’t even care. The boy did his best to communicate with me via pointing and gestures–I think he was trying to get me to give him a water bottle from atop one of the shelves. We eventually had to move on. I was the last one from our team to leave the room and will never forget seeing the disappointed little faces; and, even worse, hearing the children’s wailing screams as I backed out of the room.
We hopped back into our van and made our way down the road to the orphanage for 8- to 18 year-old girls. The living conditions were a little better than the first facility and a couple of the older girls seemed very well equipped to discuss and advocate for their needs as they faced aging out of the system and returning to the outside world to fend for themselves. Any sense of desperation was much more subtle than with the little children at the first orphanage. The mood changed quickly, however, when we started to leave. Suddenly, one of the girls latched herself to the van and did everything she could to prevent us from driving away. The girl was probably 14–the same age as my daughter–and we learned that she had recently named herself Julie in the effort to make herself more appealing to foreigners. She believed that foreigners would be more willing to help a girl with a Western name that only ate Western, not Ethiopian food. There was so much raw emotion–those 5 minutes felt like an eternity. As we began pulling away, I watched the older girls try to get Julie to put on a smile and wave politely to our team. In that moment, I said under my breath, “Julie, please keep fighting for yourself and don’t ever stop believing that your forever family is out there ready to fight for you, too.”
Lebu Homeless Camp
Our last visit was to a homeless camp filled with 100+ families living in 10’x10′ shelters made of corrugated sheet metal. On the outside, the conditions were pretty bleak. Dusty. No running water. Limited electricity. Raw sewage running down trenches in the middle of the dirt roads. However, we also saw some signs of hope. We meet a single mom with her children–both of whom are sponsored by our partners, AGCI. Because of the support received, the mother is able to keep the kids at home, send them to school, and also receive access to critical .medical assistance. She proudly welcomed us into her home and I was struck by how peaceful and even comfortable it was, all things considered.
We ended the day with a nice Ethiopian dinner show. The food, drink, and entertainment was as good as I’d hoped, but it was difficult to think of anything else but Matias, the red hoodie boy, and Julie.
Now that Facebook has just about killed off Throwback Thursday (aka #tbt) by encouraging us to repost memories any day of the week, we’ve decided to simply go with the flow.
A year ago yesterday, the #SeattleBundas went to the top of the Haleakala volcano in Mau’i, Hawaii. As cool as that experience was in and of itself, it was the coming back down part that made this a memory of a lifetime.
Check out this vid and let us know what you think!
It’s been just a hair under 6 months since any of the #SeattleBundas have posted here. Life keeps happening and the “somedays” keep coming, but I find it very difficult to sit down and write with any sort of consistent passion. That said, I have resolved to get us all back on the horse again. In some crazy way, capturing our experiences–the good, the bad, the ugly–is one of the ways that I can show my gratitude for the life we’ve been living these past 2+ years.
As of the last post, we were touring the streets of Old Delhi and had NO CLUE what the next few weeks traveling around Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan would bring. I think I’ll sit down with my daughter soon so we can start piecing together all of our pics and vids. So much amazing footage!
We also had a few surreal days in Dubai on the way back to States. The contrast between the UAE and India are downright startling. Sadly, there are no blogs or vlogs to show for that time either.
If you’re really interested you can scroll down way down in my instagram feed off of the home page and you’ll get a taste of what we experienced. So what’s up next?
Yesterday, we just performed a soft-launch of the Someday Let’s Visit page on Facebook. I’ll call it what it is: an experiment. Starting with this blog, we’ll be posting content from somedayletsvisit.com, as well as our other social media accounts. We’re in the very early stages and pretty much making it up as go along. Therefore, I hope you’ll indulge me when I say that I consider it a huge win that we created a logo today. Baby steps!
More to come in the very near future–including pics/vids/blogs from our current vacation here in Florida and the Bahamas–so please be sure to FOLLOW here and LIKE on FB if you’re at all interested in keeping up-to-date. We’ll also be inviting others to share their “somedays” as well, so please reach out if you’re at all interested.
If you are friend and/or have been following this blog for a bit, you know by now that we #SeattleBundas are off on yet another adventure. This one in particular has been a long time coming, so please allow me to get you up to speed.
U.S. Re-Entry: Last October, we returned to Seattle with the intention of being home through the Spring. We wanted to be home through the holidays, as well as be around a couple newborns in the family–including our nephew, Anders, and our hanai niece, Katy Rae. Therefore, we agreed not to make any new plans until then.
It’s No Fun Being an (Illegal) Alien – Being back home was bittersweet for me. Despite the many comforts of home (fast/consistent internet access, any kind of food available to me at a moment’s notice, a HUGE and comfortable house by much of the world’s standards) and the company of our dear friends and family (weekly Seahawks/GoT/whatever parties, lunch/coffee appointments, our church), I still felt like an alien that was trying unsuccessfully to “wear” the life that I’d previously lived less than a year earlier. The thought of returning to work in Corporate America and filling up the rest of our lives with the busy-ness that plagues so many made me physically ill at times. Nonetheless, since we knew that we were staying put for at least 6 months, it made sense to suck it up and try to get my head back in the game.
Living an “Uncommon” Life – The experiences we had during our family sabbatical were so rich, so transformational, that they forced us to rethink how we might be called to live our lives moving forward. Could the SAFE framework that we used for the sabbatical (read more here) actually become our new normal, as opposed to something that applied only for a specific season in our life? Could we keep traveling and immersing ourselves in cross-cultural experiences? Could we keep finding opportunities to serve others both locally and abroad? Could we satisfy our thirst for adventure and fun? Could we keep learning? Could we figure out a way for me to work 9 months of the year so that we could devote the other 3 months to SAFE experiences abroad? While I’m still not 100% certain how well or how long this will work, we’ve already taken a number of steps to try and make this concept, this dream, a reality. So far, so thankful.
So here we are now: 10 months after our last BIG adventure, doing our part to help serve one small pocket of the 65.3 million people around the world whom are considered refugees. These people have been forced to flee home countries like Eritrea, Syria, and Afghanistan due to persecution related to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group. They have landed in a small German town called Bad Blankenburg–following dreams of a better life, but facing the reality of language barriers, limited job prospects, and cultural persecution from locals who fear those who are so “different.”
“S” is for Service – We’re working with an International non-profit called, Youth With a Mission (YWAM). This is the same group with which Laura and I worked when we first met over 20 years ago. We’ve only been here a few days, but we’re working quickly to figure how to best use our skills and experience to make an impact. Laura has already stepped up to teach English 3x/week. Meanwhile, I am working on documenting the various programs happening here with the aim of helping the teams to streamline, prioritize their efforts, load-balance, then mobilize their limited people and financial resources. Finally, Trey and Kamaile are helping with a local second-hand clothes boutique, as well as children’s outreach programs.
I have feeling we’re just scratching the surface of the “what” and the “why” for our family in this latest adventure. We’ll do our best to keep you all posted. In the meantime, thanks for your prayers and, if nothing else, for supporting us in this ongoing journey.
Starting off 2016 by giving a shout out to the friends (old and new) whom we met abroad in 2015. You shared meals; you shared your homes; and, some of you allowed us to become a significant part of your lives for a season. ALL of you gave selflessly to help enrich our #SeattleBundas Family Sabbatical.
7 days into our 2-month Europe trip & what a blur it has been! Hence, the cover pic (see what I did there?).
If what we’ve experienced, thus far, is any indication of what’s to come, then finding adequate time to provide regular, ongoing updates will be a quite a challenge. Therefore, I’ve decided to try and provide a weekly write-up during this time to give everyone slices of the #SeattleBundas life on the road that complement the myriad Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter posts currently provide. As always, feedback is welcome.
Monday – Travel Day (Seattle to Frankfurt). We spent the morning doing last-minute packing adjustments, which is tougher than you might think when committed to One-Bag travel. We also finished cleaning the house, changing the linens, etc., just in case family/friends need a place to crash while we’re abroad. • At airport check-in, I expecting a bit of a fight as our assigned seats–for which we paid extra to reserve–were mysteriously changed the night before. To my relief, the Lead Agent happened to be looking over the shoulder of the Agent helping us and fixed things before I even had the opportunity to inquire. • The 10.5-hour flight from Seattle to Frankfurt was long, but not too terrible. Condor Air served us a ton of food, so that was a plus. My seat mate was a large (as in big and muscular) Polish man. Initially, I was irritated that he seemed to take over 25% of my space. 3 hours in, however, and I felt bad that he was having so much more trouble getting comfortable in his seat.
Tuesday – We arrived on Tuesday afternoon and breezed through Immigration. The officer remarked how much he’d have to work to pay for such a long holiday. I told him that I’m certain I’ll be paying for it (in some way) for a while as well. • We took a short walk from the airport terminal to airport train station, then waited in line to activate our Eurail Global Passes. Our transaction was fairly routine, save for a small clerical error that needed sorting. Meanwhile, the scene next to us was quite entertaining. A Vietnamese gentleman was trying to get home via a different train and airport after missing an earlier connection. Meanwhile, his agent hummed the Star Wars Imperial March as he found him an alternate route. What? LOL • We took a short train ride from the airport to the main train station in Frankfurt. The station was gorgeous and had me excited for all the other stations that we’d be visiting during this trip. When you live in a city like Seattle, with its woefully inadequate mass transit system, you really appreciate things like this. • After a 10-minute walk, we checked into our hotel. The place was unspectacular, but we ended up getting a 2nd room at no cost when the realized that they forgot to account for our 4th guest request. Score! • That evening, we walked around the surrounding neighborhood and down the the Main River to begin the process of fighting off jetlag. We even found a little playground where the kids could run around a bit. • We finished our very long day with schnitzel, schweinhaxe (pork knuckle), and Binding (local Pilsner) at a nearby restaurant called Baseler Eck.
Wednesday – This was our only full day in Frankfurt, so we were determined to make it a meaningful one. Through the course of our pre-trip research, we kept hearing about how boring Frankfurt was compared with other German cities. In fact, more than a fair share of contributors from travel sites like TripAdvisor and Trippy recommended other cities when talking about Frankfurt. We decided that taking the proverbial road less traveled might be our best bet and hung out with Therese (our guide from the Frankfurt Free Alternative Walking Tour) and 15 other travelers. Therese largely led us away from Frankfurt’s few tourist traps and we learned, among other things, about the city’s efforts to legalize (read: regulate and tax) prostitution and drug use. Needless to say, this required some pre- and post-tour conversations with the kids. • At the end of the tour, a handful of us decided to eat lunch together before going off on our separate ways. Our lives are richer for having spent some time with: Therese, the Socio-Cultural Geology student and Part-Time Guide; Sebastian the Hotelier from Switzerland, by way of Eastern Germany; Justin, the Vietnamese-Canadian on a 6-month European hitchhiking tour; and the British trio on holiday from University. Safe travels, guys!
Thursday – We took the morning train to Rothenburg ob der Tauber (RodT), a medieval Bavarian town that was largely untouched for over half a millennia. On a whim, we decided to take advantage of our rail passes by stopping for a few hours in Wurzburg. We had no clue what to expect, but they Interwebs said that the town should not be missed. Wow! We spent some time visiting the Residenz, a massive and opulent palace built by Bavarian Prince-Bishops. I’d never heard that phrase before, but learned that these guys possessed a combination of secular and spiritual position–effectively giving them absolute power. Ego much? • We made our way to RodT a few hours later and were greeted by our first heavy rain of the trip. Nonetheless, the town walls and buildings were stunning. Kamaile leaned over sheepishly saying, “Dad, don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s almost like Disneyland.” LOL • After checking into our hotel near center of the Old Town, we visited a Medieval Crime and Punishment Museum. That place was far too creepy for me, but the rest of the fam seemed to get a kick out of it. • Not creepy, however, was going upside down with our dinner–beginning with trying out the local pastry called Schneeballs and ending with dinner at a place called Zur Höll (“To Hell”). Let’s just say that eating the best sausages I’ve ever tried in a building with foundations dating back to the 900s was awesome. • After dinner we went on a stroll around the city with The Night Watchman. We heard about this guy from a Rick Steves episode. Corny as they come, but informative and fun!
Friday – Our train journey to Paris left at 09:00, so we dragged the kids out of bed for a 06:00 walk. We roamed the foggy, nearly-deserted streets and walked atop and 1000 year-old walls. Many Americans do not quite have the same sense of history that most of the world enjoys, so this was a fantastic experience for the whole family. • 4 different trains over 10.5 hours took us from RodT to Steinach, to Stuttgart, to Strasbourg, then to Marne le Vallee. Just beautiful! That said, I quickly put aside any romantic notions of biking the French countryside; thankful that we were on a comfortable, super fast TGV instead. • Side Note: In Strasbourg, we noticed a group of French military with assault rifles and very serious expressions. We later learned that another TGV was the scene of an attempted terrorist massacre. Thank God for the people–especially the 3 American friends–for laying their lives on the line to prevent a full-blown tragedy.
Saturday & Sunday– Consecutive full days at Disneyland Paris and then Walt Disney Studios. I’ll leave it the kids to post a separate blog about our time there. In the meantime, I’ll go ahead and declare now that, for me, Disneyland Paris > Magic Kingdom > Disneyland > Disneyland Tokyo.
It’s Wednesday afternoon here in Bandung. Sitting here at our favorite western-style-coffee-donut chain not named Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks, neither an Iced Hazelnut Latte nor a Choco Forest J.Cronut (see Wikipedia under “chocolatey, croissanty concoction created by the Devil”) can break my funk. I’m irritable. I’m snapping at Laura and the kids for the dumbest reasons. Frankly, I need to get a grip.
What’s the deal?!
It wasn’t the 3-mile walk we just took through back-alleys, a graveyard, and countless stares from the locals. We’re quite used to sticking out like sore thumbs and we’ve really come to love and appreciate the beauty in that which we once considered messy.
It wasn’t the nasty snarl of moto and mobil (car) traffic. While crossing the street was particularly hairy this afternoon–no doubt due to the many people scrambling in preparation for Lebaran (or Idul Fitri, a major Indonesian holiday)–it was way more fun than stressful. Kamaile even mentioned how much she prefers traffic here over what we experience in Seattle.
It wasn’t the overly persistent street vendor trying to sell me something despite the fact that I had no clue what that something was. I could’ve sworn he said it l was for weed, but that would make zero sense around here. According to this guy that I met while hiking recently, not only is weed illegal, but it’s really hard to get. But I digress…
Heck, it wasn’t even the heat. If you’ve been following this blog for the past few months, you know how much I like to complain about heat, humidity, and my sweat. The high today was 82F with 81% humidity. Funnily enough, I didn’t even mind.
As I write, I’m suddenly realizing that I’m grouchy because this SE Asia leg of our Family Sabbatical is about to come to a close. 4 sleeps and we head back to the states.
I’m excited to go home and see family and friends. I’m excited to eat decent Mexican food. I’m excited to sleep in my own bed and shower in my bathroom. I’m excited to have people over for BBQs and s’mores by the fire. I’m excited for some of the creature comforts that my comfortable First-World life affords (e.g. Hi-speed WiFi, my huge 4K HDTV, playing Destiny with Trey, etc.).
On the flip side, I’m sad to leave Waldemar and Rosemarie Kowalski, Pauline, Josie, Friska, Pak Asep, Ibus Assih and Apong, the Street Kids at Stasiun Hall (more in a future blog), and the many other new friends we’ve made during our time here in Bandung… I’m also frustrated that we didn’t make more progress connecting with potential local partners for the Kowalskis.
Finally, I’m a little scared about what happens next. We remain on track to keep this train moving from a financial perspective, so that’s not the issue. We’re still planning on heading to Europe, but in the absence of firm plans or even plane tickets, we’re facing at least a solid month of uncertainty. In the meantime, I will undoubtedly wrestle even more with that voice of doubt that I’ve somehow managed to keep tucked away in far reaches of my mind these past few months: “Are you insane? Shouldn’t you be saving money? You’re throwing away your career! What about your family’s future?”
So, yeah… this is more of a vent than a blog, which at least would have the potential to be valuable to you. Regardless, I’m trusting that if you’ve read this far you can handle it. I’m also trusting that we’ve made and will continue to make the right decisions. For as long as Laura and I have been together, things just have a way of working out. God is good. All the time.
Go and visit. Stay and connect. This is one of the tag lines (or themes) which we’ve used as a family to help guide our journey from the moment we first decided to embark upon our Family Sabbatical. However, going into our recent Indochina Peninsula Tour, we knew that the jam-packed schedue (4 countries, 15 cities in 25 days) would make connecting with locals challenging.
One of the unexpected joys of the tour turned out to be the local guides whom served as our Hosts in their respective cities/regions. They were our Teachers, providing cultural and historical context to the many sights, sounds, and experiences. They were our Guardians, giving expert local advice on how to avoid shady people, places, or situations. Some even let down their guards enough to become Friends whom we look forward to someday hosting in Seattle.
Gai was our guide in Bangkok and Ayutthaya, Thailand. She was energetic, she smiled with her eyes (you could even tell through her sunglasses), and her manner reminded me of some of my Aunts in the Bunda Clan. Gai was a proud Thai–she even mentioned that she wished the country were still called “Siam” like it once was. She lived in the U.S. (Virginia) a few years ago, but decided to come back after 3 years because she missed her country and “her people.” Gai was a devout Buddhist. Her knowledge in that arena came in handy as we visited more temples during our time with her than at any other time on the tour. Gai quickly gravitated towards Kamaile took extra care to ensure that she understood what she was seeing.
Kay was our guide in Chiang Mai, Thailand. At first, I assumed that she was an introvert, but I realize now that any guide would seem that way to us right after Gai. Kay actually had the same laid-back demeanor that many of the people in Chiang Mai seem to possess. Like many guides, she herself is an avid traveler. Kay took particular interest in Trey–commenting a number of times on his height, as well as the fact that “many Chiang Mai girls will be interested in him when he comes back in a few years.” Too funny. Kay was paricularly good at helping us get unique experiences (Tigers!) despite the fact that we were in a number of tourist-infested places.
Sengphone was our guide in Luang Prabang, Laos. He lives with his wife and kids in Luang Prabang, but is originally from a mountain village near the Chinese border. When we first met Sengphone, I remember thinking that he had the calm, gentle disposition of a monk. Shortly thereafter, we learned that he, like many poor boys from the countryside, joined a monastery when he was 13. Sengphone went on to explain that his primary motivation for joining was Education (there were no schools in his village), followed by bringing prestige to his family, and finally for religious purposes (his own). One thing I really appreciated about him was the way he actively partipated and/or taught when we visited local craftspeople in their villages. Sengphone came across as someone who could actually make the mulberry paper or silk cloth himself, not just talk about it. Finally, being a father himself, Sengphone was also very good about reading the kids’ moods and energy levels–suggesting modifications to our time in Luang Prabang to better suit our needs.
Jay was our guide in Hanoi, Vietnam. We arrived pretty late in the evening prior to our Hanoi Bike Tour, but he still took it upon himself to greet us and try to gauge our excitement about the next day. His given name is Giang, but he introduced himself as “Jay, like Jay Z.” Needless to say, I had a good feeling about him. Our bike tour itself was tough. We nearly quit after Kamaile crashed within the first 20 meters of our ride out of the Old Quarter. The fact that we were already exhausted, fighting crazy heat and humidity, and in a very hectic, new place was not a good combination. After about an hour of riding, I was about to call it a day. Jay suggested that we just sit and chat under a tree to cool off a bit. In the next 40 minutes, we engaged in an amazing conversation about Jay’s hopes and dreams for the future, his struggle to keep up with his peers (the Rat Race is alive and well in Hanoi, too), and the role of faith (or lack thereof) in his life, which he initiated 100%. He then invited us to ride to a neighborhood well off the beaten path to see how he and “most people in the city live.” I believe the only reason he felt comfortable enough to to bring us there was the very unscripted conversation that we’d had just before. What a privilege!
Thuy was our guide in the mountain city of Sapa, Vietnam. She was easily the most reserved, even close-vested, of all our guides on the tour. Thuy fascinated me for a number of reasons: 1) She was from the Red Dzao tribe and dressed in traditional clothing every day, whether or not she was working; 2) She talked openly about her views on the courtship (previously non-existent, now Facebook vetting is acceptable) and marriage practices for the Dzao, as well as the many Hmong tribes in the area (still arranged, but at least kidnapping your potential bride from another village/tribe is no longer common); and, 3) She shared less about herself than any of the other guides on the tour despite our best attempts. During our last 30 minutes together, she finally spoke a little about her husband and son.
Toan was our guide for our day trip to Ky Son Village (outside of Hanoi, Vietnam). He was a humble man whose parents met in another village while his father was part of the Viet Cong. As the story goes, once the Vietnam War (or “American War” as they call it there) was over in 1975, his parents chose to move to this farming village to start their new life. Toan grew up as a farmer as well, but when a businessman from the city bought up property in his village to create a museum/resort for visitors, he jumped at the opportunity to earn money in a different, less physically strenuous manner. His English was good, as is, but even more impressive to me when we found out that he learned primarily by talking to visitors (as opposed to the formal training that each of the other guides received). Toan was proud of his village and that pride was only surpassed by that which he felt for his 15 and 10 year-old daughters, Ngoc an Linh. He even brought us over to his house for a few minutes so we could meet them and share tea together.
Ty was our guide in Hoi An, Da Nang, and Hue, Vietnam. He was a nice guy that was very proud of Central Vietnam–especially his hometown of Hue. More so than any of the other guides on the tour, Ty took a long time to grasp that we were not the type of people to passively just go wherever the itinerary said (or, worse, wherever he wanted). Ty also had a couple quirks which were sometimes irritating, and at other times funny. He did not seem to prefer talking and walking at the same time. Coupled with his habit for repeating a concept 2-3 times at minimum, this meant we spent long stretches of time standing in the hot sun listening to him lecture through a thick Vietnamese accent. The poor kids really struggled to pay attention. I think he finally got the picture on the 2nd day, when I would put my arms around the kids and just start walking off in a direction as soon as he started repeating himself. To Ty’s credit, things started to go much more smoothly after I took him aside a couple times to specifically explain that we had limited attention spans and only enough energy to see the specific things which interested us.
Lot wasour guide in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. The amount of fun we had with Lot may have even surpassed our experience with Jay. She was quirky, funny, and a bit of a jokester. At the end of our first day, she said flat out that we’d be seeing another guide on the second day. When I tried to give her a tip, she quickly ducked away with an awkward goodbye. Lot then returned the next morning but introduced herself as Lot’s sister and tried to keep it up for a few minutes. What?! LOL Lot also treated Kamaile and Trey as if they were her niece and nephew–with that familial mix of fun, protectiveness, and even some correction when warranted. I know that she made the kids’ experience that much better.
Proney was our guide in Siem Reap. Heat have been the most compelling of all of our guides. Like Sengphone, Proney spent time during his teenage and early adult years as a Buddhist monk. Like Toan, war was a part of Proney’s history–just much more recently. When the Khmer Rouge was in power, nearly 1/4 of Cambodia’s population was killed. Most of those people were the well-educated (doctors, lawyers, businessman, and civic leaders); and, in the eyes of Pol Pot, capable of organizing resistance against the Khmer Rouge. As time went on, young boys (especially those from poorer families) were often forced to fight for the Khmer Rouge. For a short time, until he escaped, Proney was one of those soldiers. Risking great peril, he eventually snuck away and joined the relative safety of a monastery where he learned about Buddhism, as well as the English and Japanese languages. Proney mentioned that many of his immediate family members were not so “fortunate.” His father was shot by soldiers one day while farming–apparently mistaken from a distance as a resistance fighter. Proney also lost 2 siblings to some of the many land mines which still plague parts of the country. Unbelievably, he lost 2 moresiblings to starvation. With very little outward emotion, Proney told me that his story was not special; that “everybody lost family.” Proney now treats his profession as a calling to help bring prosperity (via tourism) and stability (via educating others) to Cambodia. Stunning. Heartbreaking. Inspiring.
Thank you to ALL of our guides for your part in making our Indochina Tour a life-changing experience. Thank for giving us glimpses into your lives and teaching us about your cultures. We are forever grateful!