Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ben in Ecuador - Farewell

Final Day
We had our going-away sendoff with the school that last Friday. Our whole Citadel group went with our teachers to a café nearby and held our conversation class there. It was slightly sad seeing as we had bonded with all of these people for the past month, but most of us were very ready to get back to the States. Our group of friends later went to our hangout La Hamburguesa. We just couldn’t escape the American food. We said our final goodbyes and headed to the airport with Susana and Fernando. The adventure back home was long and tedious. We had to spend the night in the Quito airport which was rough, but we made it somehow. Joe and I both then had another long layover in Panama where we parted ways. When I reached Houston I was incredibly excited just to hear English spoken regularly again. It was an extraordinary trip, and I highly recommend it to anyone willing to learn culture and the Spanish language.
Final Send Off

Our local hangout
One of my favorite memories

Parque Central

Monday, August 12, 2013

Nolan in Sri Lanka - Farewell

St. Francis Boys' Home Farewell
On Thursday and Friday, I spent my last two days at St. Francis Boys’ Home. I gave the children balloons, bubbles and name cards so that they could label their personal belongings. I also showed them pictures of my family and of me as a child. Furthermore, I gave some of the children my contact information to pass around if they ever need to speak with me.

Looking back on my last three weeks at the boys’ orphanage, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself. The boys are so much like the people I remember growing up with back in South Carolina. They absolutely love sports, games, creating things and learning new things about another country. The younger boys are always full of energy while the teenage boys stayed relaxed and helped look after the younger children. I found it hilarious that just like teenagers in America, the Sri Lankan boys at the orphanage cared so much about having the perfect hair. All of the teenage boys kept their hair extremely stylish. I hope that the staff at the boys’ orphanage continue to plan creative things to keep the boys interested. I was also impressed by the children’s dedication to Christianity. I wish them the best in life and plan to stay in touch with the boys there.

First Friends Preschool FarewellOn Friday, I spent my last day at First Friends Preschool. It was a day filled with fun, surprises and sadness. The teachers gave us a going away party with cake and presents. I also left the children with gifts that I brought from the states. Thank you to the teachers and children at First Friends Preschool.

This summer I spent three weeks of my life at a great learning institution where I was able to touch the lives of the children and teachers. I had an awesome experience and met some extraordinary people. I am so thankful that I was able to travel to Sri Lanka and I learned that just like in America, education at a young age is very important in Sri Lanka. I hope that I had somewhat of an impact on the children’s learning in my three weeks at the preschool. The teachers at First Friends Preschool taught me new teaching techniques, songs and dance moves. I hope to someday visit Sri Lanka again. Thank you to Principal Tovini for allowing me to be a part of First Friends. I would also like to thank teachers Dulanjalie, Muthu, Shanthi, Thamasha, Niveen, Irfa and Dilrupa for their great hospitality and warm welcomes. I will stay in touch with these amazing people! I am so blessed to have met each and every one of you. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Jennifer in Ecuador - Kushiwarya

Today we spent the whole day in the indigenous village "Kushiwarya" with the residents, members of the Canari tribe. The ancestors of the current villagers settled on the land thousands of years ago, becoming farmers who lived off of the land. The people still live off of the land, farming and collecting herbs and medicinal plants. They live to be over 100 years old and that is without using modern medicine. It's really amazing that they are able to survive. I wish that I could live like that, because they seem a lot healthier and well adjusted that most people in the United States.

We did a lot today. First we hiked up into one of the pastures that the villagers graze their animals in, and our main guide showed us the methods that the Canari use to grow maiz, or corn. The corn in Ecuador is very different from the sweet corn that I am used to, and I'm not sure if it will ever grow on me. They would probably say the same thing about our corn. After that, we were shown the sacred forest that the villagers go into to collect the medicinal plants that they use to stay healthy. I honestly can say that I've never been in a sacred Canari forest before so I was really excited. One thing that was interesting was that we had to ask Mother Nature for permission to spend time in the forest. Some people in the group thought that this was a little silly but I was willing to go along with it to be respectful. I don't think that it's too much to ask for that opportunity, and I sort of believe in there being more to this world than the physical. But, that's neither here nor there.

The ceremony involved some playing of indigenous instruments, the waving of some medicinal plants and saying of traditional prayers. I volunteered to be prayed over and I just thought that it was a once in a lifetime experience. How often do you get to be blessed in a sacred forest in Ecuador? We also ate lunch, which was delicious. It's probably the most organic and healthy food I've ever eaten- chicken, rice, carrots, herbal tea, etc. There is a difference when the food is grown and raised with love and hard work by people with experience.

Our main guide showed us how to play instruments that he made with his own hands, and then we played farm games. They had a cool zipline that was really fun to go down, which we all took advantage of. We chased chickens, and then played pinata with clay pots, and then I learned how to milk a cow, which wasn't too hard. The lady that showed us how to do it was a lot faster than I was!

We were all tired by the end of the day but I think everyone agreed that we had a wonderful time and were really grateful that the Canari showed us so much of their culture. I know that I was. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Ben in Ecuador - Week 4

Week 4
This week’s excursion was at the local zoologico in Cuenca. Here we saw all types of animals. Some I’ve seen in American zoos, others not. We saw a puma, lions, and Andean mountain bear, many monkeys, and many birds. We also saw tigrillos or ocelots which came right up to the gate and licked my friend’s hand. Another strange run-in was with the monkeys. The owners let the smaller monkeys roam free around the zoo, so they were not afraid at all to come up to the humans. A member of our group held out a banana to one of the small monkeys and the monkey proceeded to jump on his back and scream until he gave it the banana. It stayed on his back until it was good and satisfied with eating the banana and then it jumped off and went on its merry way. Another unsanctioned excursion was our trip to eat cuy. Cuy is a delicacy in Ecuador, which was strange to us because cuy are pets in the states. The translation of cuy in English is guinea pig. The brave majority of the group made a reservation to a restaurant that served this dish and we all had a quarter cuy to ourselves. It was hard to wrap my mind around at first, but the meat is actually very rich. Though we all agreed, one quarter cuy is not nearly enough for a full meal.
Cuy on spits

Kissing the deer



At the zoo

Friday, August 9, 2013

Brenn in France - Marseilles

Week 4 - Marseilles
Today we visited the city of Marseilles, the second largest city in France.  I find it somehow fitting for our final excursion to be to the purportedly oldest city in France.  After a brief walk from the train station, we reached the old port of Marseilles, and unfortunately the boat tours were already done for the day.  As an alternative, we took the little tourist train thingamabob up to the Notre Dame de la Garde, a beautiful church with an unmatched panoramic view of the city.

Week 4 - Farewell
Today is the beginning of the end of my fantastic journey to France.  Classes are now over, our grades are final, and I take a train ride this evening to Paris and fly out tomorrow.  I place the experiences I have gained during this trip beyond measure, and hope to one day return.  The time spent here rapidly came to an end, much too quickly.  At times I feel as though this was all some imagined fantasy and that I will look back upon it as though it was just a dream.  Whatever the case may be for how I look back upon this experience in the future, I know that I will forever be grateful to the opportunity that presented itself and the assistance and encouragement I received that made this possible.  I give my deepest thanks to Dr. Toubiana and the School for Humanities and Social Sciences.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Nolan in Sri Lanka - Week 4

Week 4

Olympics in Sri LankaAs my time in Sri Lanka is coming quickly to an end, I spent one afternoon with two new friends, Chris Weatherby of England and Darcy Sutton of Australia. So what would three guys do on an afternoon in Sri Lanka? Well, each of us is fairly athletic and enjoys competing. Therefore, with a tennis court, ping pong and pool table easily accessible, we decided to have a miniature Olympics in Sri Lanka. I must note that the tennis court was awful but after a couple of games I got adjusted to the clay, mud and rocks mixed together. Unfortunately the outcome was not as I hoped but I had a fun time. Congrats to Chris on his great playing.

First Friends Preschool
With my third and final week at the preschool, the staff and I were pleased to welcome two new volunteers, Kieron Robinson and Georgena Jennings who are both from England. Throughout the week they did a fantastic job working with the children. This week the children worked with numbers, colors, letters, dances, music and paintings. On Tuesday, the teacher had a doctor’s appointment and was unable to make it to school. This left Georgena, Kieron and I to lead class on that day. In my opinion, everything went great and according to plan. Kieron and I lead the class with teaching numbers while Georgena taught reading during “English Time.” I’m picking up a lot of great teaching techniques like tracing numbers and alphabets by hand before the children write independently.  Later in the week a great musician came to First Friends Preschool and sung songs with the children. He did an amazing job and the children really enjoyed his music. This week I also spent time working with the lower kindergarten class which was very exciting. We also celebrated the birthday of one of the upper kindergarten children. Happy 5th birthday Senal! 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Jennifer in Ecuador - Cajas National Park

Today was probably my favorite excursion so far. We ended up going to Cajas National Park about half an hour away from Cuenca by bus, which really wasn't too bad. A lot of people were tired from the night before because it is a Sunday but I went to bed fairly early because I knew we had this trip. I think most of the group forgot that we were even going. Anyways, Cajas was simply astounding. It's pretty much the definition of desolate. The elevation is extremely high, about 4,000 meters (or 13,000 feet) and is subsequently very windswept and cold. It reminded me a lot of a cross between the Scottish Highlands and the moors of England. Most of the flora and fauna were very hardy species such as lichen, stunted trees and grasses. You'd have to be pretty tough to survive there. The temperature is fairly bitter but after a while it wasn't too bad if you were wearing enough layers.

Many of the plants and animals that live in Cajas are actually only found in that national park, which was really cool. They even have wild llamas, whom I promptly bestowed the title "llamas of the mist". They also have wild guinea pigs, rabbits, birds and even the only species of bear found in South America. Additionally, there is a species of giant hummingbird that lives in Cajas. Cajas is very important to Ecuador, in particular Cuenca because the drinking water flows down from Cajas. The spongy ground found in the park acts as a natural filter, making the water in Cuenca the cleanest in South America.

We all joked that we felt like we were in the Lord of the Rings trilogy because of the way that the land reminded us of the environment seen in the movies. The movie was filmed in New Zealand but I have to say that it really did look like we were about to battle orcs. I was excited to tell my father because he is a really big fan of Tolkien. I only wish he could have been there to see it.

We hiked around for a good three hours. Most of the hike wasn't too difficult but we did have a bit of uphill climbing in the beginning. I didn't mind but the people in the group who weren't really prepared for the trip certainly were feeling it. We had a great tour guide who was very informative about the park and showed us the best views, and boy were they stunning. It's probably one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been to, and I'm really glad that we were able to go. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Brenn in France - Cassis & Nimes

Week 4 - Cassis
Our excursion for today took us to the city of Cassis.  The bus ride down from the train station teased us with glimpses of the landscape and the ocean.  When we reached the bottom, Dr. Toubiana treated us to lunch since we had not had time to get any and make it to the train on time.  The majority of us tried a sandwich made with merguez, a sausage with North African origins, and were rewarded by its rich and distinct flavor.  We then boarded a boat to take us to various inlets around the area.  The beauty of the cliffs and the clear blue sea merging together is unfortunately beyond my capability to describe in words or to capture on camera.  All of the students embraced the brief voyage and we seated ourselves at the prow of the ship to better enjoy the trip and the view.  Of course, our position did cause some ocean spray to splash amongst us, and eventually cause our good professor to decide it might be more comfortable on the inside of the craft. Upon docking at the port, we then were treated once again, this time to some exquisite ice cream.  From there, we parted ways to meet later at the nearby beach.  Some of the other students decided to go into the water, whereas I declined the opportunity, even though I did come prepared for such an option.  They were later to describe the water as being quite refreshing, and by that they meant very cold.

Week 4 - Nimes
Today’s excursion was to the city of Nimes, home to the most well preserved Roman arena, which has a very interesting history with its evolved uses throughout the years.  From the top of the arena, we were able to get a very good view of the city.  We also visited the Maison Carrée, an extremely well preserved Roman temple.

Nolan in Sri Lanka - Week 3

Week 3
This week, about twenty-five new volunteers came to Sri Lanka through the IVHQ program. Their countries range from Australia, the United States, Germany, China, England and Singapore. It seems like it was just yesterday when I first came to Sri Lanka and did not know anything about the country. Now after two weeks of experience, I am showing and telling the new volunteers about my adventures so far. I am really happy that I am meeting so many great people.

First Friend PreschoolStarting my second week at First Friend Preschool, I am quickly gaining more responsibilities. On Wednesday, I taught the entire student body how to properly brush their teeth. I am also starting to actually help lead classroom instructions and I am noticing more and more the children that need extra help. Some children are struggling to properly identify the alphabets and its pronunciations. In all honesty, I get a little frustrated sometimes but then I remember to take a step back and take another approach. I also keep in mind that I am not the brightest student myself at school and relay on some great professors to take the time to offer extra help. I also rely on the amazing teachers at First Friends Preschool to give me advice on the different approaches to take with the students. The children are getting used to seeing my face and usually ask me to help them with their lunches and getting their book bags. They are also becoming more playful around me as well. I look forward to spending more time with the children and teachers at First Friends Preschool. I am really humble to have this amazing opportunity. Originally, I had plans on volunteering at this project for two weeks before moving on to another project, but I will continue working at the preschool for another week.
St. Francis Boys’ HomeI am gradually learning most of the boys at the orphanage. Every day I see a new face that I have not seen before. On Wednesday, another volunteer and I participated in evening worship with the boys. I was completely blown away by the passion and maturity the boys showed during worship. I am use to seeing the boys playing and joking, so I was absolutely amazed to see them take something serious. The boys participated in the service by singing, reading scriptures and serving as ushers. They did not simple go through the motion but it seemed that they enjoy their time in fellowship with one another. This was a truly amazing experience. Furthermore, on the first time on Thursday, I visited the Boys’ orphanage and it did not rain. As a result of the dry weather conditions, I was able to engage them in more physical activities. We ran around, played on the monkey bars and did a couple of pull-ups. On one occasion, I fell from one of the monkey bars and slightly scraped my right knee. After I stood back up, the children kept asking me am I okay or do I need a Band-Aid. However I was totally fine and did not need any medical treatment. I am really enjoying my time at St. Francis Boys Home.