Thursday, December 25, 2014

an exercise in appreciation


Since it's uncharacteristically warm this Christmas on the east, I'm taking a bubble bath after my soulcycle class and dreaming of walking through snowy fields of whiteness. 

As my elbows and toes raisin in this tub, I'm penning this on my iPhone. Tonight we will probably do a low key dinner and catch a Christmas movie. We've stopped giving gifts a long time ago at my request. At the risk of sounding cliche, my entire existence is filled with so many gifts big and small. I cherish every memory. I'm trying so hard to remember every moment. We've lived so much, seen, felt and have done so much. Today I'm just grateful to have been given so much from friends and strangers alike:

• the strangers who housed & fed me in Nicaragua

• the bon vivants who have become travel companions and inspirations 

• the friends who keep me young and grounded, sticking by me despite my flaws

• the lover. Oh lover. Not enough words. This man who would do anything for me without asking anything in return. Unconditionally. 

• the aloof parentals who show love in their own silly little ways. Who gave up so much and continue to. 

• everything that's made me who I am today. Love accumulates. Don't let hate.

• the endless encouragement from people who think I'm worth encouraging. 

• the new friends I've met this year. I can't believe this still happens. I hope we continue on this path. 

Wealth comes in many forms. Only the lucky ones realize this. Don't let quantity fool you. Quality has a bigger return on investment :) 


xx

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

i never loved california



peace + quiet. hello old friend.




It's been a very long time since I've had some time to just graze away beneath my sheets. The past two years have been filled with so many busy moments, terminals and gates, take offs and shaky landings, rushed goodbyes, papers after papers and endless team meetings with people I tend to despise. I know as an adult I'm supposed to be able to get along with just about everyone having honed on my social skills over the years, and I do. But that doesn't mean I have to like everyone. I learned at an early stage that I struggle between misanthropy and gregariousness. You just have to embrace the person that you are and stop guilting yourself into having to like something or to be a certain way. You are you. Before this turns into a Dr. Seuss imitation, let's move on shall we...

So I slept in until 11 today, missing all my gym classes. Then I did something luxurious that I have not done in a long time: I added new music to my collection. The last time I did this was at the beginning of this year in January. In between I resorted to generic pop hits from Taylor Swift and One Direction (please don't judge me).


During my break, my goal is to binge on Korean dramas (Healer & Pinocchio) and lose weight with sleep and good intentions (it is possible). In exactly six days, I move across the country to beautiful San Francisco. This will be the fifth move in my short lifetime. The first on the west coast, and the third location in the United States. And it certainly won't be the last move I make.

Thinking back on all the places that I have lived, I realized that I was so in lust with each and every enigmatic location that each one ended up breaking my heart in the process. I've fallen out of love with New York and Shanghai. I've fallen out of love with Vietnam. I know the fault lies with me and my expectations as does my inevitable disillusionment with each city. The charms still exist in each one, but it was my fault for going in thinking each one will love me back, for idealizing.

San Francisco was a different story. I never loved it. I was never interested in it. I didn't want to love California because everyone loved California. I went for a wedding and we took a wrong turn and ended up on the Bay Bridge. I caught a glimpse of Coit Tower to my left as I sat high above the waters. Something tugged at me. I felt a lump in my throat and my heart sank. Our car could have dropped into the waters and I would have never taken my eyes off that majestic sight. That was all it took.


A few years later here we are in the summer interims living in view of Coit Tower, the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, and walking distance from Lombard Street. Too much good luck. Too much of a beautiful thing. And it was all ours. Sometimes you luck out enough to realize that you may never have it this good again for as long as you live. So I took it all in while I could. I strolled languidly to yoga two blocks away on Hyde. I bought fresh tomatoes from the bodega down the street, and we held hands as we dined in our neighborhood sushi spot. On weekends we enjoyed music at outdoor festivals. We drank until everything blurred. We drunkenly fought on New Years over the steep steps outside our place. Idyllic. Unintentional.

When I would return to the east coast, California stayed on my skin. As the tan faded, friends kept calling. Reminding me I had a place out west.

And that was how I came to love California.

Merry Christmas Eve. May you fall in love with something new this year.
xx

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The years get shorter as we get older



A very wise person recently told me why the years seem to pass by so much faster as we age. Remember when you were seven and a year took forever to end? Summer break would take forever to arrive and some winters felt like the winter of our lives. Well the answer as to why we feel this displacement isn't revolutionary. If we look at the sum of our years lived at the age of 7, one year is actually 14% of our young life. By 25 one year becomes only 4%. The years aren't getting shorter. Your perception of time is dimishing and with it time seems to move faster. 

As I type this entry there are about 22 days left to this glorious year. And how glorious it has been. In such a short span I have managed to fit in Coachella, Nicaragua, Montreal, Toronto, Paris and Disney World. But these are just destinations that anyone with the luxury of time, ambition or a disposable income can achieve. What really counts then?

The mistakes you've made counts (may they not be the same ones as last year's) and the lessons you've learned. The ties that you've severed and the new and old ones that continue to strengthen themselves despite your cynicism about how hard it is to make long-lasting friends at this age. 

This whole year, the past four years actually, have been a non-stop race with my own expectations to try to outdo myself, to rank tops, to silently prove that I am good enough for myself. These have been hectic days. Brutal and sometimes unkind. And the world just refuses to stop spinning no matter how many times I beg for it to just stop. To give me some rest. Please just let me nap for five years (in a kryogenic state or frozen so I do not age).

The truth is, and I am inspired by Steve Jobs here, the crazy ones never stop even if they want to. It's just not in our nature to let opportunities slip by, the little nuts and bolts constantly churning inside our heads. We have this gravitational pull that continually catapults us forward to new terrain, to constantly test and disprove everything we thought we once knew to be true. 

Who we are today is not who we are last year. Next year I will be even stronger. Even more loving and maybe even more jaded. We go through cycles of stress and discomfort and contentment. But the real change only happens when we are at our breaking point. That's when the magic happens. 

As this year comes to an end I would like to wish all my loyal readers (all 2 of you) to never shrink from your own strength. To test what you are made of. To go after your breaking point. I want you to learn how much more you are made of and surprise yourself in your discoveries. I know I have. 

X

SL 

Ps. Don't be afraid to drop the people who add no value to your ever diminishing time. 




Friday, December 5, 2014

Paris, to forget your troubles




Traveling in general makes one forget their woes, but Paris especially. Especially when you are staying right by Ave. Montaigne and a skip from Rue Honore with a 360 degree view of the city with the Eiffel Tower within sight. I don't know how birthdays are to be happy after the 21st year, but the Lover managed to do it and found this gorgeous place on airbnb. The best part was when I returned to learn that the company loved my photo so much they posted it on their Instagram. 



I arrived home with a bit of a heavy heart. This was around the time my grandfather passed away but I felt his presence in Paris, at Pere LaChaise. I feel his presence all the time. 


Loss never leaves you. You just learn to live with the pain. You move on, but you never truly heal. I keep reminding myself how lucky I have been to have experienced such love in my life. 


This was all back in September. Since September I have been keeping busy. Working and school and then more traveling adventures in between. I should update more (I say this in every post). 

Xx



Friday, August 15, 2014

Outside Lands and my favorite set


It was my first time at Outside Lands, the annual festival held in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Due to its northern locale everyone kept emphasizing how frighteningly

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Where your donation will be going

My dear friends, I have been in Nicaragua for approximately a month. I've encountered and worked with multiple organizations that are in need of the donations that you have supplied, but one in particular stuck out the most. Asociación Pro Ayuda a la Niñez Nicaragüense (APAN), which roughly translates to Association for Helping Nicaraguan Children. This nonprofit was founded in 1992 by Ronald Mendieta Gutiérrez and José Arrieta from Diriamba, Nicaragua. Their main mission is to help children who are at risk (poverty, homelessness, crime) through offering technical training courses in carpentry, beauty care, baking, sewing and other arts and crafts workshops. The objective of the courses are to give children applicable skills that would allow them to improve their quality of life through better job opportunities.

One of my favorite things that they do is empowering young girls by teaching them valuable skills to enable them to be financially independent in the future, putting them on the right track to perhaps aim for higher education. Within the past years, they have worked against the machismo culture that pervades Latin American countries by changing the perspective that women hold about their role in society and as equals to men and not their inferior. I think it is important to support an indigenous organization as they possess the cultural astuteness to needed to provide change from within their society. It's an emic approach.



Some of its programs are below:

Vocational trainings: APAN offer training classes to keep children off the street, providing vocational skill building. At the same time this promotes values in education among children and youth. Basic workshops at this point are: carpentry - dressmaking - dance - drawing - craft - hairdressing and beauty.



Working with families: a great deal of follow-up of APAN activities is given to the families of the youth that is attending the social center, the dialog with the parents is very important to find the solutions from their own family environment for the development. Giving talks and workshops on violence, gender, alcoholism, "code of childhood and adolescence", etc.

Recreational, educational and sports activities: excursions, study visits, workshops, lectures, games, crafts, exchanges with Nicaraguan organizations, sports leagues. Many of the current voluntary promoters of these activities are former beneficiaries from previous projects in APAN.

Thematic campaigns: Against violence, civil, political, social and cultural rights, sex education, reproductive health, nutrition etc. Before Christmas time APAN is organizing Caravana Navideña.

Child and Youth Council: Was formed by young people ages 12 to 16, elected by the youth of each of the neighborhoods and vocational-schools in democratic elections. All decisions, complaints about the workshops, proposals, activities etc. that affect APAN have to be discussed also in the Child and Youth Council. It is also the one that takes charge of the relations with young people of other organizations and Nicaraguan groups forming relationships.

“In recent years APAN has experienced a significant decrease of its funding (because of the crisis in 2008) which has forced the organization to reduce staff and service offerings. Actively investigating sustainable strategies to generate revenue to support their social programs, projects and the learning center, APAN has started to create multiple revenue streams through the sale of baked goods and handmade artisan products produced by current students and alumni of their workshops. Based on their success, APAN aspires to develop additional strategies to generate revenue sustainably by leveraging their organization's existing physical and human capital and to convert it into social entrepreneurship activities.” – from a proposal by Santa Grinberga, associate at APAN

TL:DR: Basically, the above states that there is a decrease in funding due to shortage of staff. APAN plans to combat this by exploring alternative streams of revenues that they can incorporate into their programs that will also help improve their community.

Where is it: Diriamba city in a strategic place between 7 different suburbs, and presence of work in 22 districts of the urban sector of Diriamba, with aspirations to expand their work to more municipalities eventually.

Why they would benefit from your donations the most: The laptop that Ashley graciously supplied would help give the children access to publishing software for their marketing campaigns to promote their program and mission. There is a new volunteer member who intends to start a computer training course for APAN. The supplies donated by Alice, Tong, Hema, Glenda and countless others would be for the children to use in technical classes for taking notes and schoolwork. My apologies if I missed anyone, but thank you so much for your donation. I will be visiting APAN during the last week of my program to personally deliver the donations.

I think the impact that APAN has had over the years on its ingénues has been extremely progressive in fighting the machismo culture that is rampant in Latin America and in empowering young women. Your donations will continue to help this important non-profit organization afloat that has been making an impact on its community for over two decades.

So it is with your permission that I hope to be able to take your generous donations to APAN.

-Tu Anh 

photos via APAN's Facebook page. Visit their official website here (only in Spanish): http://www.ayudanineznicaragua.org/

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Just one-piece




Among the 100+ bikinis that I probably own, my most favorites have always been one-pieces. Above are two of my favorite, worn at Lake Tahoe and in Miami, Florida.

Links to purchase: Tavik Mahalo Ruffled One-piece, Shakuhachi Flower Bomb Bustier One-piece, Mirror shades from forever21.com

Monday, June 16, 2014

life in Nicaragua vs the United States



I've been here for about four weeks now, unconfirmed because I'm currently too lazy to look at a calendar and count out the weeks since May 25th, but here are a few things that have stuck out to me culturally and in general.

Granada is a sleepier town than Leon. People tend to keep their schedules pretty simple in Granada since the pace of life seems to be slower. In Leon, there are always people out and about. The city is a bit bigger and there is a lot more traffic.

There are no traffic lights in Granada, and possibly only one in Leon. There are stop signs which people take as suggestions more than as law.

The machismo culture is about one of the worse sides of Nicaragua (I cannot speak for other countries in Central America). What is it? It sucks. According to a student at Stanford University (if you want academia quality citation, you're going to have to look elsewhere than a personal blog), machismo is:
a concept that dictates many aspects of Latin American male behavior, it has particular relevance to male sexual culture. In terms of machismo, males have an “expansive and almost uncontrollable” sexual appetite, and it is their right to satisfy that desire in the ways they choose (1). In contrast, female sexuality is seen as an object over which the male has control. Females are expected to have only one sexual partner, none before or outside of marriage (1). Machismo sexual behavior is a source of pride for males and men must prove their manliness by upholding their sexual dominance. In this way, reputation is one of the driving forces behind machismo (2). Hirsch et al. makes the argument that reputation is the central element of sexual identity. The overemphasis on sociosexual reputation explains why males often act in socially safer yet physically more risky ways (2).
For this reason foreign woman in Nicaragua constantly get "cat-called." Men shamelessly, openly, and overtly display their sexual prowess by whistling, wagging their tongues, making obscene gestures, and verbally harassing women on the street. The more vulgar, the better. In my personal experience, this is mostly harmless as they do not actually come into physical contact with you and do it from a safe distance or as you are passing by. Beyond that, it's more amusing than anything, but if you are having a bad day it can certainly be irritating. I've noticed the machismo culture to be stronger in Granada than in Leon. Young boys will even participate in this in Granada, whereas in Leon it usually comes from adult males.



Customer service does not exist because, in fact, everything will always be your fault. I will not go into details about what a scam the telephone company Claro is, but if you are ever in Nicaragua or any part of Latin America, do not get a Claro plan or SIM card. They will likely be leaving out some fine print on purpose and you will end up frustrated and losing money. Trying to solve the issue only results in Claro pointing the finger back at you and taking no accountability for their mistake if you are lucky enough to even get them to admit it was their mistake in the first place. Just don't do it. It's pointless. Another great example of customer service today:

I was at Pan y Paz in Leon (a French bakery owned by a French woman). I ordered a glass of white wine and a fly flew into shortly after. I notified the owner and asked if I still had to pay for the wine since I don't know their restaurant policy, but I obviously did not expect them to void my wine it as I knew customs are different here, but I asked, just in case. The response was, "Yes you still have to pay as I do not control the fly who flew into your glass." This was followed by a few outbursts of mocking laughter. Another presumptuous bratty American bites the dust (aka, me). How silly of me to assume otherwise.

To be here is to accept the mentality that you are solely responsible for you. And if something goes wrong the onus is always on you no matter whose fault it really is because too bad. What is life.

Having lived in Shanghai, I should have anticipated the alienating and inevitable feeling of being a fish out of water. But with each new incident, the reminder continues to be jarring. In Shanghai, I eventually built up such a thick skin (without realizing it) that I became desensitized to the cultural difference as I reluctantly accepted it as a way of life, and took on the mentality of a fighter going against the world. This resulted in reverse culture shock when I later returned to the states, but that's an entirely differently entry.

The plumping systems here are weak. You cannot flush toilet paper down the toilet. There are trash bins next to every toilet specifically for this reason. Otherwise, do not expect to find a trash bin anywhere else in the building, house, restaurant, etc.

Dusty for days. No matter how much I use hand sanitizer, lotion, or wash my hands, they always feel dusty as if I've been caught in a sand storm. This sensation never disappears. It is what it is.

No AC but fans are vital. Everyone owns a fan, or at least every American gets a fan in their room. This is only in regards to homestays. I don't know what it's like at hotels, etc. Perhaps they know about our proclivity for air conditioning and adversity for extreme heat from experience, but it seems like a normal thing to provide us with a fan in our rooms, no questions asked. I do not object to this at all, but feel a bit bad for having one run through the entire night. It is so unbearably hot here that it is impossible not to have a fan on. I sweat from just breathing. That's not hyperbole either.

This is all I can think of for now. Perhaps I'll continue this on a later date...no guarantees.

xx






Tuesday, June 10, 2014

5 Beauty Travel Must Haves for Hot & Humid Climates



It's 80% humidity here. Or so it feels like it. A girl needs her sunscreen and skincare. This is what I have been using in Nicaragua, the land of heat, humidity and scorching sun:

The absolute basics are above. I use my staple mascara (Chanel's waterproof Inimitable in Noir) and eyeliner (NYC's dark brown waterproof liner), but as far as skincare and maintenance goes, the above are a must in addition to regularly using face masks with calming and brightening agents (a post on that later).

From left to right:
Chanel Les Beiges Healthy Glow with SPF 15 in No. 30: I love this powder. This helps keep away the shine (which you will be plenty of in this weather), gives you a healthy dose of color without blocking your pores, while protecting your skin with vital SPF. One should never go without any sort of sun protection and always look for product that do double duty with added SPF. 

Chanel Retractable Kabuki Brush: The mink fur brushes that come with the Chanel compacts aren't the softest thing ever. They feel rough on my sensitive skin. This synthetic brush feels like pure heaven. It feels like whip cream, clouds and baby's bums. I use this to apply the Les Beiges powder.

Missha All Around Safe Block Essence Sun SPF45: I've long ago given up on American sunscreen products. They usually leave a heavy, filmy residue that can block pores or leave you looking pale like a ghost. That or they end up very oily after a few hours. Sunblocks from Asia do not do this. Missha is a Korean brand that I discovered on a trip to Seoul a few years ago.  Despite being SPF 45, this sunscreen is super light and non-greasy. It does a great job of protecting my skin and not leaving me shiny. It also contains some amazing ingredients such as rose and hazel extracts and none of the bad stuff such as parabens, etc. An added bonus: it's water resistant.

*Forget Shiseido sunblocks. Despite being an Asian brand, I've found Shiseido to be too heavy, leaving a slight a residue. The price for the pint size bottle is also a turn-off. 

Missha Super Aqua Deep Sea Micro Mist in Rose: This is the key to keeping cool under so much heat. Spritz a bit of this all over your face to keep it hydrated and your make-up in place. 

"The Rose scent contains rose oil and water to promote metabolism and revitalize your skin. Each contains 97% deep sea water enriched with minerals to provide moisture and radiance to skin. It also includes seaweed extract enriched with vitamins and iron to soothe and protect skin from external factors."

Protip: Use this to wet your beauty blenders before applying foundation instead of putting it under water. 

And lastly, I forgot to add this to the photoroll above, but M Prism Spot Flash Brightener SPF30 in No. 2: Vital for concealing undereye circles after long nights of drinking rum or cerveza (beer). This brightener contains SPF and gives the face an instant awake look. I seriously cannot live without it. 




Links to buy:



Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Why being lost is not a bad thing - Nicaragua Day 11

Get lost. As many times as you can in your short short life.


The truth is I have never had a plan. I let things find me or follow the things that intrigue me. The ones who have their life planned out, who follow that straight path and have "things figured out," I admire them, but I know it's not the life for me. 

The truth is I get bored easily. The truth is contentment makes me restless. There is something in me that refuses to stay still. It's a chronic thing that's plagued me since childhood. I can't stand redundancy. I have to constantly be challenged, moved, removed; remade. 




I wander because I know exactly who I am. I wander because I truly enjoy being lost.


But let's get real. Life is not an instagram filter combined with a perfectly timed image. There will be those who look at you inquisitively, confused or with disdain. Why don't you have a job? Why don't you settle down? And there will be real adult issues you have to face: like how can you even afford to do what you are doing, let alone a hotel. For those who are short sighted enough to assume that traveling doesn't amount to any sort of real world applicable skills, you can tell them that you are well versed in cross cultural communication and working under extreme uncertainty. Should you ever want to settle your awesome self down, any company with the foresight to acknowledge the courage and resourcefulness that it takes to be a world traveler will not want to lose you. 

I've been told by many recruiters that my real-world experience and past work at Uber, in nonprofit, fashion PR, and most recently as a consultant in Nicaragua makes me a better candidate than most MBA's out there. You can always have adventure. You just have to look for the right project that aligns with it. I believe in purposeful traveling. This way I can also build my resume while bouncing around the world. I also have some technical skills that are highly desirable and set me apart from most candidates, such as coding, graphic designs, and a vast digital marketing portfolio. Be sure to always keep your professional growth in mind even if you are not immediately looking for a job.

I've been doing this for four years and there is nothing that I would do differently.

xx



Friday, May 30, 2014

Day Five – “the strangeness of my life”


Written on Thursday, May 29, 2014

“We sat there peacefully, while I sipped my cooling tea (Lapsang Souchong, smoky and peculiar) and felt the strangeness of my life, and where I was.” – The Goldfinch by Donna Tart

Around six in the afternoon, I sat in silence with a new friend a café in Nicaragau. She was checking her email while I was entranced in coding, working away at functions that I barely understood.



The cafe was aptly named Garden Café, on the corner of Calle Cervantes and Calle La Libertad, a block away from my homestay and surrounded by foliage and books. The sky began to dim as I tapped away anxiously on my laptop, frustration chipping at my less-than-placid demeanor. It was work left over from a computer science course that I had opted to take last winter. I can't even imagine frostbites right now. A cooling cup of herbal tea sat before me, half empty. It was an odd choice considering that the average temperature here is 97 degrees, causing one to sweat just from breathing.

We had just finished four hours of intermediate Spanish lessons that started at 8 in the moring and ended at noon at the APC Language School, located next to the central park of the city, of the same moniker. I came to learn later that every Latin American city has a central park. After class, I skipped lunch to take advantage of the two-hour break that we had to finish coding. Around 2pm, we headed to the San Francisco Convento, one of the only places in Granada with air conditioning, for a three ot four hour round of training for the work we will be doing.

There are members from Duke and Georgetown University in this program. Each school seem to have a unique "air" about them and after a few days of interaction it became very obvious what each group's dominant traits were. The team members fledging from my school are known as the "nice ones." There were only about five students from Georgetown. Some are friendly, and some have very strong personalities. The members from Duke seem to have formed a strong bond amongst one another. They  tend to stick mostly to themselves.

Despite these differences, what we all had in common, and this may be wishful thinking on my part, is a curiosity in social work with the ambition to be one accountable for the direct impact that we will each be contributing. There are many different ways to make an impact, so I feel like everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute accordingly based on their individual strengths. For some of these members, this is their first time outside of the US.

What really stood out to me is the strong individualistic perspective of the majority of the members of this program. This will certainly affect the ability to emphasize with the people we are trying to assist.  The problem with social work in another country is, especially when volunteers possess very strong (and ambitious) individualistic tendencies, is that their ability access a situation can be very limited, dictated by a westernized set of values and beliefs. This can be a problematic when the values of those facilitators are incongruent with the values of those in need of assistance. How can you effectively help someone when your priorities are not the same, when what you think is best is really only what is best for someone like you, and not applicable to the foreign environment that you are trying to impact?

This is tricky territory when empathy fails due to lack of self-awareness, too much ego, and not enough humility. This is when imperialistic values can manifest themselves, resulting in a disconnect and a slew of intangible issues that may be emotional or psychological, etc.

Having just completed this rant, I realize that it really had nothing to do with the quote that I started with in the beginning of this post...


But here I am. A bundle of anxiety and bottled up energy, ready to make an impact in a few weeks with the hopes that my blunders may end with new lessons or better solutions. I am more than excited to start, yet I am also filled with apprehension. My Spanish has been dismal, and because I have been coding for at least 4-5 hours a day since I have been here, I have not be able to practice anything I learned from our Spanish classes.

So back to that quote...

How did I find myself here? From Vietnam to Maryland. From Maryland to New York, then Shanghai (and all the 13 Asian cities in between), then from San Francisco. And now to land in the largest, yet second poorest country in Central America. Thus has been the progression in the journey of my strange and unconventional life.

I sit here quietly. I do not say much for I do not care to disclose inconsequential information about myself. It is a very American thing to talk and talk and talk. It is how they bond. I say they like I am not American. I am. But I am also a hybrid of western entitlements and eastern self-effacements; a mix of arrogance brewing beneath an obligatory sense of humility, often genuine, often not.

Being in such a foreign land, so out of my comfort zone, my insecurities come bubbling to the surface. I worry that I am unapproachable because I can be reserve. I doubt that the traits that make me uniquely me are too fluid, are not good traits, or may not be conducive to helping me achieve whatever it is that I am trying to achieve. Happiness? A sense of belonging? A sense of pride and 'no fucks given'?

Where do I begin to explain how I got here: my journey from school, to non-profit, to traveling, to consulting, to school again, and again to another strange new place. But this time alone. Without the safety net of the lover. 

Nicaragua is exotic and “savage,” as one of our team leaders had called it. After sunset it gets dangerous and we are advise to not be out at all. Yet the people here seem content enough. They make due with what they have. My host mom happily prepares meals for me and insists that I do not wash the dishes. The country itself is beautiful. It has two active volcanoes (or was it three?) and unparalleled beaches made for surfing.

It makes you wander, being away from the consumerism culture of America, where brand names are nonexistent here, what exactly was it that I was struggling so hard with at home..to be happy...to be content... to be comfortable in my own skin?

What exactly was it about that one minor comment that ruined my day and why does a sale at a department store raise my adrenaline and endorphins to new heights? Was it all ever so great or were we stuck inside the machine that we made for ourselves? If we stopped running in the race, we would fall behind with the rest of our peers...and in America, that somehow equates to failure doesn't it?

I did not get married like many of my peers of the same age. I did not stay in one place all my life, nor did I chose the easy way out. I chose to chase after that vague idea of otherworldly happiness; happiness that was not on the map. It is sad that I already know more than a handful of divorcees. 

Mentally removing myself from it all, there is jarring sense of clarity I cannot describe. You begin to reassess your priorities. You begin to wonder if you were a product of your environment or if your environment was a product of you. In a foreign land where people speak foreign languages, where you feel more alone when looking into the eyes of someone who has no idea what you are saying, you are left with yourself, free of the baggage and the burden of your origins. You have no roots. Your credentials only relative.



In a foreign land where you truly do not belong, if you are open to the excruciating experience, you may start to figure out who you really are.

xx

Monday, May 26, 2014

A New Journey - Nicaragua Day 1


We arrive at Managua airport in Nicaragua today at 12:45PM. This is my team from my university. We have been taking a pre-course to get us a bit acculturated to the new environment that we will be facing in Nicaragua during this internship.

I'm sure you are wondering what I am up to. And why the sudden enthusiastic deluge of a full fledge blog entry...I know, I am the worse. But I promised myself that I would document every moment of this journey. And announcing it publicly on social media may force me to be accountable this time.




Background: I am on an eight week social entrepreneurship program with Social Entrepreneurship Corps to work with women in remote regions in Nicaragua -- the second poorest country in Central America -- to build sustainable business models for them. We will help them expand their market and product reach through (hopefully innovative and well thought out) marketing initiatives. A few names of who is involved includes the Clinton Foundation and Warby Parker. If you are familiar with the latter, for every pair of eyeglass that you purchase, they provide a pair to entrepreneurs in regions like Nicaragua, so that they can sell these necessities back to their community, becoming self-sustaining in the long run.  According to Warby Parker:



You can learn more about them here (after you read the rest of my entry and look at the pretty pictures)

But in addition to the optical services, we will be helping to market solar lamps, water filtration systems, hygiene health and advocacy, and gas stove burners to reduce smoke inhalation in the home. 


So this is Nicaragua. This is Managua, actually. As viewed from my bus on our way to Granada. Managua is not as developed as Granada and you can see huts along the way with dirt floors. Wild horses litter the country side and small shops with recognizable American brands (Trident gum, etc) are painted by hand on their facade.


We enter Granada. 


It was a Sunday, so the streets felt a bit desolate around 2PM. A girl and her sister cross the deserted street above.


Hostels are a staple, even in Granada, a historical town with a colonial feel. There are not many upscale hotels, but the hostels are friendly, full of travelers like us, and has plenty of wifi. It was pure luck of the draw, but I ended up with my own room, a queen bed, attached with my very own bathroom and shower...and a fan. A godsend in this humid humid heat. I sweat just sitting here. I sweat from breathing...


The cathedral at the center of the city. One of the main landmarks of Granada. My apologies for not being able to rotate the image. I'm too tired right now.









We found a cafe to grab lunch. There is an attached shop with cute hats. The Garden Cafe is known for its breakfast and coffee. Will have to take advantage of this during the week.


We ordered a pitcher of sangria and some pina coladas. They were delicious and fresh.


Some of my sweet team members for this trip. Lauren dyed her hair a gorgeous reddish/purple after seeing my purple hair. I'm excited to take more photos with her and mayhaps go on a tattoo adventure.


Life seems simple enough here.



I don't know where my feet will take my next, but I am confident that they won't let me down. When traveling, I tend to be more of an observer than a talker. There are personalities here who just love to talk and connect. I do too, but in my own silent peaceful way. I'm sure sometimes it may come off as uninterested, or stand-offish, but I think everyone here so far is so warm and welcoming. They have an open heart and I can't wait to start this journey with them. I mean, you have to be pretty crazy (and passionate) to sign up for something like this. 

We will not be living like royals, but we will certainly be the most fulfilled souls once we return.

Here's to coming back a totally different person.

Spanish class and orientation starts this week!


Goodnight everyone. Thank you for your well wishes and support. They mean the world to me and keep me going when I suddenly feel homesick or lost.

xx



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