Archive for March, 2010

Facing Fears

I have a bit of an irrational fear. I am afraid of sea creatures. I play it off like I don’t like dark water, but the truth is, I’m nervous swimming alone in a chlorinated pool.

A few summers ago, my family went to Minnesota for a vacation, and we went water skiing and tubing on the lake. It was this trip that I realized I had a problem. When it was my turn to ski, I forced my sister into the water with me. I’m guessing that my family assumed I was afraid of water snakes or something. If only that were true. In reality, I was convinced that a person eating sea monster had been living undiscovered in this very lake for the last several years, and, if left alone in the water, I would surely be eaten by it. I knew that forcing Colleen into the water with me didn’t necessarily guarantee my safety, but it dramatically improved my chances of survival. I am embarrassed to admit that.

With this is mind, fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. Thailand. The ocean. Quite a bit larger than a Minnesota lake with ample room for any number of actual sea monsters, let alone sharks. So, I had a bit of a predicament. Face certain death, or go to the beach and not swim. I decided to swim. I usually only go out to about my waist or a bit higher, but this time, I went up to my neck and even a bit farther at times. It was terrifying, but I kept saying to myself, “This is Thailand. Get in the water!”

Our second day there, we went on an island hopping trip where we were able to go snorkeling twice. As if swimming unaware of what’s around me isn’t enough, to see it almost seems like too much, but I’ve been snorkeling twice before and loved it both times. This time, I’ll just be honest, I was ridiculously brave. I was out by the edge of the island, away from everyone else, and it was incredible. I would pop my head up every once in a while, freak out about how far away I was, and then keep going because the farther I went the more incredible the fish and coral became.

At one point, we jumped off the boat into the ocean at a fairly deep part. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but have been too afraid to. Immediately after I jumped in, my thought was, “This is it, Kari. This is how it ends. These are your final moments on Earth.” But, I obviously was not sucked into the depths of the ocean by my ever looming sea monster, and I found that the more time I spent in the ocean the more comfortable I became. Our last day there, I went swimming alone. I know. I can hardly believe it myself.

I know what my mom is thinking. Did you put on sunscreen? I did. Every day except the last day because I had planned to just sit in the shade all day. Apparently, 30 minutes in the morning plus the reflection off the water was enough to fry my skin and give me sun poisoning on my shins. My shoulders are still peeling. The crackly kind of peeling where a whole section pries off at once. I love that.  It definitely made carrying my corpse sized back pack a joy.


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I write this post with a bit of trepidation. I’m afraid you will think all I do is go on vacation. Now, that is certainly characteristic of this month, but I promise you, I go to work. In fact, I work fairly hard while I’m there.

In February, a dental team visited, which I mentioned before. The time spent with them in the homes was wonderful but also overwhelming for me. Day two of me being back in the office resulted in an emotional break down to which I responded, “Thailand?”. I think yes.

My friend Shamina and I went to Ao Nang, Thailand for 6 days. She needed a friend for her visa run, and I needed life outside of the city here. It was incredible. We walked around in perpetual amazement at the glory of Bangkok. The airport has travelators. Escalators without the steps and apparently with magnets that prevent the carts from rolling. (Trust me, I tested it). We kept saying, “This is like a city from the future.” Now, she is from Pennsylvania and I’m from Ohio, so we might not be that hard to impress.

If I wasn’t tired before we left, I was exhausted when we arrived. We left my flat at about 11 pm on Monday night and arrived in our hotel at noon on Wednesday. We spent all day Tuesday touring Bangkok with my corpse sized (and weighted) back pack, then took an all night train south to the beach. From the train station we switched buses twice for no apparent reason. I have a new policy. I’m not allowed to pack my back pack unless I wear it for at least one day before I leave. I would have left 5 of the 6 books I brought with me behind.

But it was absolutely worth it. I was so refreshed by our time there.

I got home Sunday evening and went to work bright eyed and bushy tailed on Monday and Tuesday, then flew to Darjeeling with some friends visiting from the US. Ridiculous, I know. We had a fantastic time. I haven’t laughed that hard in years.

The theme of the weekend was the music. Our car ride up was magical. A little Taylor Swift, a touch of Back Street Boys, a dash of Bryan Adams (who I had never heard of before). One Bryan Adams song was ten minutes long without a single verse. We sang for the entire 3 hour car ride, and occasionally caught our driver singing along with us. We aren’t sure, but we think he requested us again, because the three other times we requested a driver, it was him, and every time the music was amazing. If we didn’t start singing right away, he would switch the song.

Our first night in Darjeeling, we went to the restaurant associated with our hotel. We were the only people there for awhile, then another couple came and sat at a table near ours. We ordered several dishes to share but we all got our own Kingfisher Strong 500 ml. The waiter wasn’t sure what to do with us. By the end of the meal, we were laughing uncontrollably, mostly because of Dian’s ridiculous antics. The other couple asked to be moved, and it pretty much went down hill from there. The next night we decided to keep it private and ordered in food at our hotel.

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small victories

It’s sort of amazing what a person will live with. Dian and I lived without a light in our bathroom since December. We didn’t even really notice that it was strange until we had visitors in late January. We had showered with a head lamp up to that point. Our visitors commented that, perhaps, we should change the light bulb. Good idea. We promptly forgot about the inconvenience when they left and lived another two months with head lamp bathing. Recently, more friends came to visit,and I decided enough was enough. I removed the lamp decoration and replaced the bulb. The whole process took five minutes, at the most, but it had seemed to be an such an immense inconvenience that we preferred to bathe in the dark with a head lamp for four months.

We also had this shower curtain that had slowly developed a thick layer of slime over the bottom half. After accidentally grabbing too low on a number of occasions, I finally learned to just grab the top half and swing it over on itself. I didn’t ever really think that this was strange, just that it was the way it was. When those same friends visited, they didn’t comment on the curtain but bought us a new one in the market. It has pretty flowers.

I have also knowingly lived with cockroaches for the last 9 months. It was a minor inconvenience limited to unexpected surprises on a used dinner plate, but tonight, they crossed the line. Earlier this evening, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and a cockroach the size of a mouse (not exaggerating) was waddling across my floor, right out of my closet. That is it. That is the line. You do not live in my room. You do not.

Slowly, one day at a time, we will conquer life here. My next goal, which has been on the list since I moved in, is to buy new curtains to replace the death-on-a-wall that we currently have. It’s the little things that matter, but those seem to be the ones I let slip until they crawl across the floor or give me elephantitis.

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live and learn

There are some unfortunate decisions that you (hopefully) only make once in life. Recently, I’ve checked two off the list.

Holi is the Hindu festival of color. The city and its occupants all bear the marks of it for days and weeks after. I was walking around today, and saw whole sections of the side walk still stained hot pink. My hair looks like a beauty school drop out went a little crazy. So, basically, Holi involves coating everyone around you in brightly colored powder. Now, clearly, in an activity like that one, there is considerable risk that I, too, would get covered in powdered paint, as I did. Maybe not so much powder as actual paint. We ran around, chasing people with water guns and smearing paint in their hair and face for about an hour before the paint finally ran out, at which point we started the long walk back to my flat, since most of the public transportation was on holiday.

We looked almost indistinguishable from those around us, except for our very western manner of walking, which naturally attracted the attention of nearly every person we walked past. The layers of color continued to grow until we finally found a taxi. Not really thinking about the layers of paint soaking into our skin, I invited everyone over for lunch. I cooked grilled tomato and cheese sandwiches, and the others sat around my flat talking and, apparently, touching every surface within reach, as my entire flat has had a nice purple tinge since then.

As you can imagine, powdered paint mixed with water and sweat really doesn’t want to wash off with water. I scrubbed my body and face raw, but a week later, I still have pink eye brows and that creatively highlighted hair I mentioned. We all went to the office the next day tinged pink and purple , some worse than others. For future reference: wash the paint off right away.

My second invaluable lesson involved a little bit too much impulsivity on my part. Wednesday at about 5:00 pm, I decided I wanted to cut my hair. It’s officially back sweat season here, and my hair was getting really hot on my neck. I called to make a reservation and was caught off guard when asked if I wanted the 400 Rs. or 600 Rs. slot. (600 rupees for a more experienced stylist) My friend Shamina and I showed up for our 6:30 400 Rs. time slots, and I sent her in first because I was still deciding what I wanted to do with my hair, which was longer than I’ve ever had it. She came back a little less than pleased, so while I had my hair washed, I decided to just have a couple of inches taken off.

My hair dresser came up behind me and immediately began dividing my hair into very exact quadrants. I have never had anyone spend so much time separating the sections before. Usually, they just run the clip along the back of my head and pull the hair up. This guy divided strands in order to keep it absolutely even. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a symmetrical hair cut in my life. Actually, if you must know, just imagine a curly bowl cut, and you pretty much have it.

I, unfortunately, became too enthralled in his hair prepping that I almost missed seeing him pull out his scissors. I said, “Wait!” just as he cut four inches off. At that point, I just surrendered myself to the obvious genius of my hairdresser. Before I really knew what was happening, (I closed my eyes and tried to go to my happy place because whenever I started watching him, my mouth automatically opened in shock) he had given me bangs and a nice tapered cut.

When I say tapered, you should actually read mullet. I was trying to keep from freaking out about my bangs (not much of a fan of hair in the face) when he handed me a mirror to look at the back. You would have expected the back to be the same length as the longest front layer. Not so. The longest front layer was above my shoulders and the back tapered to a nice V between my shoulder blades. In a word, classy. I said, “Ummm, what is this?” indicating the long hair in the back. He said, “V-shape.” I said, “Yeah, I just want it straight across. Thanks, though.” So, he cut the extra 6-7 inches off, and we called it a day.

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