Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Nolan in Sri Lanka - Snorkeling

Weekend Fun - Snorkeling in Sri Lanka
This past weekend, a couple of volunteers and I spent time in Trincomalee, a beautiful city on the West coast of Sri Lanka. We enjoyed the amazing scenery and the great weather there. We also traveled to Pigeon Island where we snorkeled in the ocean. We saw schools of fish, the coral reef, sea turtles and a couple of medium sized sharks. We also saw cows on the beach! Unfortunately, I did not see any mermaids but I had loads of fun. 

Ben in Ecuador - Week 2

Week 2
This week was much like the first in that we had a cooking and dance class like before, but this week we went to the banco central for our tour. This tour was mainly about indigenous life and Incan practices. We learned that when they would shrink heads, they would sew their lips together because they believed that their souls would escape through their mouths. Our next weekend excursion was el Cajas parquet nacional which is upwards of 10,000 feet in elevation. Our hours of hiking were fun, but it was definitely a struggle because of the altitude. We walked around with a guide for the better part of the days and it was essentially just a day-long hike. We definitely got some great pictures though. The next day our host family was generous enough to take us to their cabin in the mountains. It was only about half an hour away, but the view was completely different. They told us that Susana’s brother rents out cabins on his property to people who want to stay there for the weekend or however long. The brother provides food, transportation, and everything. I couldn't help but observe how giving the Ecuadorian people had been so far.
Behind Banco Central
Mountain House View

The three amigos
Professor Bahk, me and my roommate

The Cajas group

Monday, July 29, 2013

Brenn in France - Week 3

Week 3 - Day 1
Today, we went on an excursion to Aigues Mortes, a walled city dating from medieval times that was a departure point for King Louis IX for two crusades. The part of the city enclosed by a wall was very interesting, and I unfortunately did not manage my time well, so I was not able to take many pictures.  Even though my exploration of the city was limited, I had a great time there with the other students and Dr. Toubiana.  Since we did not have much time between getting out of class and getting on the train, Dr. Toubiana treated us to lunch.  The lunch was very delicious and cost efficient, as each of us ate half a baguette from a boulangerie with some slices of sausage from a boucherie.  He also insisted that we had to try some French pastries, so most of us had a slice of Gâteau Basque.  Somehow, a chain reaction occurred after one person bought a hat, and ended with five people buying hats, including the professor and myself.  I feel like mine is going to make a good souvenir for the trip.

Week 3 - Day 2

Today was an absolutely amazing day.  Well, the day portion was about average for here, which is still a very good day with beautiful weather.  The reason today was so amazing is because it is the day of the Fête de la Musique, which is basically a country wide party involving lots of musicians playing everywhere.  I do not think that I have ever danced so much in my life and it’s the most unrestrained I have been in a very long time.  I had originally gone out without my camera, but after a couple of hours I decided that there was no way I could not capture some of the moments from the night.  The only problem that occurred as a result of bringing my camera with me was that there were so many people who kept asking me to take their pictures, which I did.  Tonight was one of the best nights of my life in which I was able to party with friends and make new ones, and it has given me the knowledge of when would be the best time to return to France for a great time.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Jennifer in Ecuador - Fútbol

Today was the day of the big soccer matchup between Ecuador and Peru, to determine in part who was going to go to Brazil in 2014 for the World Cup. We all decided to go get the yellow jerseys that the Ecuadorian team wears to show our support during the game. We went to one of our favorite spots that had plenty of televisions to watch it. The game started at 9 so we just hung out after class ended at 6:30. We had a good time but unfortunately Ecuador lost to Peru 4-0, which no one expected. They played in Lima and from what I could gather Ecuador had never lost in a World Cup qualifying match in Lima, so understandably the country was very upset at the outcome.

Soccer matches in South America can become very contentious, so police in both Quito and Ecuador ramped up their presence in the days before the game so that they could prevent violence from breaking out. I asked my host dad if people fought after the games and he told me that they got into things all of the time, which I didn't find too surprising. Luckily, I didn't hear about any incidents of fighting breaking out after tonight's game, but that's not to say it didn't happen.

My roommate from Rhodes College leaves tomorrow at one o'clock. I wish I had gotten to know her better but our schedules prevented us from spending a lot of time together. She was very helpful when I was interacting with my host family. I wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors.

On the issue of jerseys, I managed to find one in a flea market for only $6. I'm pretty sure it was a counterfeit but for that cheap it was worth it. Other people in the group spend $30 or $40 on really nice ones but I didn't want to do that. We all looked kind of funny walking around Cuenca all wearing jerseys! We did get a few "Viva Ecuador" here and there from the locals, though. If only our spirit could have rallied the Ecuadorian team to prevail against the Peruvians. Ecuador has a match against Argentina next week. Argentina just played Colombia but it was a 0 to 0 match.

Time in Ecuador is going by very quickly and I find myself enjoying the country and the city of Cuenca more and more. The group has been frequently several local restaurants and hang out spots and we've gotten to know the owners. They really like Americans and we really like their hospitality. Cuenca has about 500,000 people in it but it truly feels like a small town. Walking everywhere is not a problem and it seems like you can get anywhere on foot fairly quickly. If you don't want to walk, a taxi is only $2. Viva Ecuador!

Nolan in Sri Lanka - Week 2

Week 2 - Day 1
Today was my first day of teaching. I arrived at First Friends Preschool around 8:30 am. I saw parents bringing their children to school and then walking them to the front gate. At that point, a teacher would greet the parents and open the gate for the children. The environment at the Preschool was similar to schools in the United States.  There was playground equipment, colorful drawings on the wall, children crying because they did not want to go to school and parents mingling after dropping their children off. Most of the children wore their school’s uniform.  I was first introduced to the principal of First Friends Preschool; she informed me that the school has seven teachers and fifty-two students. All of the teachers were women who also wore uniforms. The children began their mornings at First Friends Preschool with a worship session. At this worship session, children are free to practice their own religion. Afterwards, the children sang songs and did morning stretching.. Today the children sung “I’m a little tea cup” and the Barney song, “I love you.” The children are then dismissed to their classes. They are classified as play school, kindergarten and upper-kindergarten. For the next three weeks, I will be working with upper-kindergarten children.

Today I mainly observed the teachers and assisted students whenever they needed help. I was very impressed with the school itself. The teachers and parents seem to work well with together to ensure excellence for their children. All of the teachers are highly qualified and I am learning a lot from them as well. 

Week 2 - Day 3
I am quickly grasping my new role at First Friends Preschool. I usually lead the children in their morning stretching exercises and teach fine arts, in addition to helping children in the classroom. The entire program curriculum is taught in English. Throughout the week they have learned numbers, letters, addition and reading. I help the children with their handwriting and pronunciation of English words.

Week 2 - Day 5
 In the afternoons, I continue my volunteering experience at a boys’ orphanage in Matale, Sri Lanka. Below is some background about the school. 

     In the year of 1952 the Franciscan Missionary Brothers with the motive of uplifting poor children decided to put up a small hurt with 15 boys and it was named St. Francis Boys’ Home, Matale. This home brought much relief to the thousands who lived here.  Today this Boys’ home caters to 80 boys, age 5 to 18 years. Among them some are sent by the Department of probation & Child Care Services and also Juvenile Court for reformation and rest from broken families. Our concept is rehabilitating them through the school system and teaching them a vocational skill in keeping their aptitude and ultimately relating this to employment opportunities.

     Our boys’ home provides them with the basic needs in this regard. They are also taught good manners. They are provided with recreational facilities. They are also encouraged to do home gardening and animal husbandry. Since they come from broken families we pay more attention to their morale and spiritual development.

     The children who are admitted to our home will leave the same as able-bodied youngsters who will face any problem in their lives boldly with courage and strength. It should be appreciated that the service of this boys’ home, which are based on Christian principles, will nurture these children physically, mentally, and educationally. So that they will lead prosperous and joyful lives in the future. There is no doubt what so ever that the blessing of the Almighty God will come upon the brothers and others for their selfless and dedicated services rendered to this home in order to bring prosperity and happiness to the destitute children.  Brothers also extending their services towards people, Tea estate sectors to develop their morale and spiritual life.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Ben in Ecuador - Week 1

Week 1 
I was a little nervous on our first day of class. Our host mother walked us to school just to show us the way, and we quickly learned that traffic laws are nearly nonexistent. The pedestrians absolutely do not have the right-of-way in Ecuador which made any walk absolutely terrifying. After dodging cars on the way to class, we walked up las escalinatas. These are the stairs that lead up to our schoolhouse. The trek up there the first time was rough to say the least due to the extraordinarily high elevation (almost 8,500 ft.). Everyone was enrolled in both a grammar and conversation class according to their individual level of skill. The first day we started right off learning preterito indefinido and I knew I was going to learn a lot over the course of the month. Our first tour was at a monastery just up the road from the school. The tour itself wasn’t too exhilarating, but it was interesting seeing all of the artwork from the olden days. The thing that stood out to me most was that the sisters (monjas) would be sent to the monastery at eight years old and would never leave. There was a set section of the monastery just for them because they weren’t even allowed to see the outside world. And what was most interesting is that even today there are a handful still living that lifestyle in that same monastery. We also had dance class and cooking class that week. Dance class was very repetitive seeing as we only four girls in the group. So they wouldn’t even let us dance in partners. The cooking class was in our house so it was nice to sort of feel like a host. We had an authentic potato soup which was very good. (We had soup almost every day while we were there.)
Cooking Class
Monastery Clothing
Our first weekend excursion was at a place called Ingapirca. This was an old Incan ruin site about two hours away from the city. On the way there we first stopped at a roadside food vendor unlike any I had ever seen. These people had a whole pig on display on the side of the road and were cooking it by blowtorch. They were cooking a strip or so at a time and then cutting it off and serving it. It was very odd, but overlooked the outlandishness and decided to try it out anyway. It turned out to be pretty good, however crispier than normal. We then stopped by a special church. This church was up high on a mountain, but we later learned that this church was actually built into the side of the mountain. After all this, we finally headed to Ingapirca. It was very interesting to learn about how only the most important people were privileged enough to live next to the sun temple. All the others lived farther away. We saw the ancient aqueducts and foundations of the houses too. One member of our group also found a 400 year old piece of pottery that we sadly had to leave there.

Mountain Church
Inside Mountain Church
Blow-torching the pig

Eating the pig

400 year old pottery

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Brenn in France - Week 2

Week 2 - Day 3
Today, the festival of bands was in our neighborhood. The festival was attended by many people and featured performances from many bands, with many from outside of Montpellier.  When I came home for dinner, around 2100, I decided to stay in for the rest of the night.  I was rewarded with my patience when the dessert was brought out, and one of the items was a large dish of tiramisu.  Nathalie, our host mother, remembered that I had said I loved tiramisu, and so she had made some for that reason.  She is a wonderful person, and cook (the tiramisu was heavenly).  I do not think that I could have been housed with a better host family.

Week 2 - Day 4
Today my roommate and I were taken to Arles, France by Frederic, our host father.  He was visiting he parents there and asked us if we would like to see the city, of which we immediately agreed.  The city is not very large, but it houses a great deal of history, visibly stretching back to Rome. The small arena and amphitheater there were very interesting, and the many church steeples at times reminded me of Charleston.

Week 2 - Day 7
           Dr. Toubiana took the Citadel students to the Pont du Gard, an engineering marvel built by the Romans to supply the city of Nimes with a more than ample amount of water.  Unfortunately for us, the weather was not the best, but we were able to avoid any rain during the trip, as well as the sun.  The aqueduct is an amazing feat of design and beautiful in its simplicity.  The only real problem we had on this excursion was that the bus(es) apparently went on strike, and we had to take a two taxis back to the train station.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Jennifer in Ecuador - Tour of Quito

Week 1 - Day 3
After we ate breakfast we had a great tour of the city of Quito. We primarily focused on churches and religious landmarks. These included the Church of San Francisco, the Basilica del Vota Nacional, La Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus and the Madonna on top of El Panecillo, a large hill in the western part of the city. All of the churches were absolutely amazing and I felt blessed to be able to visit them. The Church of San Francisco was interesting because it had a large square outside that was filled with worshipers as well as people selling helado (ice cream), what appeared to be some sort of lottery ticket, scarves, fruit, hats and basically anything you could imagine. We did not get to actually go into La Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus because they were holding mass. We did get to see a small part of mass in the Church of San Francisco.
          The Basilica del Vota Nacional was probably my favorite because it offered the best view of the city from above. The Basilica was established in the late 1800s and our tour guide actually told us that it is still being worked on today, because when it is done being built it will be the end of the world. What a rumor! It is possible in the Basilica to go up into both the clock tower and a large spire that rises hundreds of feet in the air. Of course, this involves climbing several extremely steep and probably not up to code ladders but the view is worth it. It's a good thing I'm not afraid of heights. When you get up there you are treated with a 360 degree view of pretty much the whole of Quito. It is there that you truly get a perspective on how big Quito really is. It's shaped like a sausage- nearly forty miles long but only about five miles wide.

          The Madonna on El Panecillo was also cool to see. El Panecillo means "small piece of bread" in Spanish. The Madonna was built in 1976 and is unusual because she has a pair of wings. The way the tour guide described it was that they were to help her escape from a dragon. After further research, I found that the Madonna is actually believed to be the Woman of the Apocalypse, who was attacked by a dragon when she was about to give birth to a son who would rule the world. The dragon was believed to be another form of Satan. There are many interpretations of the statue as well as the Woman of the Apocalypse so I won't go into too much more detail.

          We had a neat experience when we went down one street on the way to another church when we spotted a man dressed as a statue standing completely still. At his feet was a box that said that if you put money in he would dance. Well, it's true! He did in fact dance if you put money in the box and then he was gracious enough to let us gringos take a bunch of pictures with him. It was a really neat piece of street performance and definitely something I had never seen before.

          On our tour of Quito we actually got to see where the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, lives. It's not like in the states where you can't get anywhere near the White House without major security checks and all of that other stuff. The building that the president lives in is called the Palacio de Carondelet, or the Carondelet Palace. The building is right on a public square where there are many people and aside from a few guards around the actual doors there really wasn't much separating the president from the civilians. When we saw the Palacio de Carondelet, there was an Ecuadorian flag hanging outside which meant that Correa was in the building!

          After our tour of the lovely city of Quito, we returned to the Hotel Akros to collect our luggage in order to fly to Cuenca. Our flight from Quito to Cuenca also went smoothly and it only took about 45 minutes which was nice.  After we arrived in Cuenca I finally got to meet my host family! Nelly, Paul and Carolina seem very nice. It turns out that they have a girl staying with them who is also studying at Estudio Sampere. She is from Rhodes College in Tennessee and her name is Sarah. She also seems very nice. I was a little overwhelmed by the whole experience and I really couldn't understand what anyone was saying so I hope that tomorrow is better when I'm not so brain dead. Sarah is very good at Spanish and she helped me out to answer their questions, for which I was very grateful.

          This evening has been a little difficult because I don't speak much Spanish and they don't speak much English but I hope that things get better. I am trying to get ready mentally for tomorrow, I have class at 8:45. Unfortunately, Sarah has class at 7:45 and she has to show me how to get to the school so I guess I will just have to wait there until it starts. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Nolan in Sri Lanka - Weekend Adventures

Week 2 - Weekend Adventures
A couple of my new friends from Hong Kong and I had an awesome time on Saturday. Altogether we visited four sites:

Oak – Ray Isiwara Ayurvedic Village, The Spice Garden – here we learned about many different natural herbs and spices that are used in cosmetics, medicines and other products. We saw all kinds of different plants and trees as well. I invested in two bottles of natural hair removing cream. According to the directions, if I use the cream for three months, I will never have to shave again! Imagine the joy of not having to shave for another Saturday Morning Inspection! We were finally indulged with another massage.  

Elephant Ride – I have been very keen in wanting to ride an elephant since I arrived in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, once I saw the elephant I felt extremely guilty. The elephant seemed very unhappy and tired. Nevertheless, the elephant ride itself was great!
Sigiriya, the Lion Rock – Sigiriya is a unique landscape city, created in the 5th century by King Kashyapa embracing a 200 meter rock out crop and its surrounding with nature driven architecture composed of building, pathways, terraces, ponds, paintings and sculpture. There are more than 1000 hand written poems on the mirror wall written by visitors to Sigiriya from the 7th – 14th century. The UNESCO declared this a World Heritage site in 1982. I believe the total steps to the top were 1,321.

Dambulla Rock Caves – here we saw another scared temple located outside the city of Kandy. There we saw the Golden Temple and the Rock Temple.