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Home » Archives » February 2007 » Spring Street International School "Dispatches" From The Field - journals and tales

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02/27/2007: "Spring Street International School "Dispatches" From The Field - journals and tales"


Excerpt Ten - Dispatch from Izamal:

Spring Street International School Travelers Kai Wilson, Chelsea DeCouteau, Alex Freeman, Sonja Anderson, Ingrid Carlson, Evan Anderson, Zack Milkis, Gabe Colburn and Grant Schwinge
We are all sad to be leaving Izamal in just a few more days. Time really has passed much too quickly.
Yesterday we returned from a two-day trip to the ruins of Uxmal, the Loltun Caverns and the walled city of Campeche. Loltun and Uxmal are in a region called the Ruta Puuc, which has a lot of ruins but not much in the way of towns. We took the wrong turn at one point and wound up in the middle of a huge finca full of orange, lime, mango, banana, guava, mamey, and avocado trees. Alex climbed right up a mandarin tree like a monkey and started throwing fruit down at the rest of the students. They were delicious and some of them were as big as naval oranges.

The Loltun Caverns are the largest in the Yucatan and go in about 6 kilometers, 2 of which are open to the public. After walking for a kilometer or so underground you come to a spot where the light is shining in through two big openings in the cave ceiling about 50 feet above your head. Trees and vines grow up through the openings and it is very impressive. The caves were used by the Maya for religious ceremonies. They believed that caves and cenotes were passageways to the underworld.

Uxmal is one of the major sites in the Yucatan. Its construction was influenced by the Maya and the Toltec and the site includes dozens of buildings. The main pyramid here is one of the largest in the world. The students all said that this was their favorite ruin site so far.

Campeche looks like it was taken straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean. Its walls were, in fact, built to defend against pirates and most of them are still standing. The cobblestone streets within the walled area are very narrow and are lined with Spnaish colonial buildings all painted in pastels. Its easy to imagine what it would have been like in the 17th century. We were there on Tuesday of Carnaval and most of the museums and stores were closed, but just walking on the street or along the sea wall was a fun experience.

On our way home from Campeche we stopped in Chochola, a town just south of Merida, to swim in a cenote. We had done this before, but this cenote was a true cave with a narrow, jack-hammered tunnel as the only access into it. Inside you found yourself in an open cavern filled with crystal-clear water. We guessed that at its deepest the water was about 15 feet deep. Light bulbs were strung along between the stalactites on the ceiling, giving the whole experience a very unique, and slightly claustrophobic, feel.

Carnival took over the entire peninsula for the last week. In the evenings there were dance contests in the plaza put on by Izamal school children. Local organizations and businesses drove around the streets throwing candy to the kids waiting in front of their houses. There was a huge party wagon full of people--basically a motorized set of bleachers--that played loud music while circling the neighborhoods. We arrived Tuesday afternoon from Campeche just in time for the city-wide water fight. It actually involved much more than just water--oranges, tomatoes, motor oil, paint and an itchy fruit called Pica Pica. Our students thought this was about the best thing they had ever seen and began making plans for a similar festival in Friday Harbor. Yesterday was the first day of Lent and last night they burned Juan Carnival in effigy in the main plaza.
That's it for now! We will be leaving on Sunday morning so the next group email will likely be from Akumal.

Un fuerte abrazo,
Adam and Angie Erickson


Excerpt Nine - Calcutta and Mother Theresa's Home

Our group is standing outside the Calcutta airport blinking in the sun and waiting for news about Jacob's pack, which ended up continuing on to Bhutan. Our group could sense immediately that we are no longer in cushy sweet Thailand, where even the poorest people have flip-flops on their feet. A flock of dirty barefoot children were touching us and begging for money. We watched a tag team of extremely thin, dark men in loincloths, graciously carry stacks of twenty bricks on their heads up a twenty foot bamboo ladder. They actually balanced the two stacks of ten bricks on their heads and climbed the bamboo poles with no hands on the ladder and no hands on the bricks. They looked to me to be swaying with the weight, but Finn said they might have carried more if they could reach higher, as they were making their own stacks on their heads.

We happily piled into our chauffer driven, air-con van and drove around busy Calcutta, dodging bicycles, three wheelers, cows, and bicycle rickshaws, stopping first at Kali Ghat. This is a temple to Kali, the Lord of destruction. It was a special religious day so the line of people was too long to actually enter the temple. We were pressed in a crowd of Hindus worshipers and, before we knew it, we were witnessing the central attraction in the courtyard, the sacrificing of one black baby goat after another. They were systematically lined up in a little stone courtyard outside the temple. Serious men, standing barefoot in the pool of blood, were holding them one at a time on the chopping block, and whacking off their heads. The meat is cooked for the hungry who sit in the street and eat, and the hides, we saw later from the bus, are piled neatly on the back of a bicycle in stacks of one hundred and delivered somewhere. Curious people who came too close to the block were pushed aside by bloody hands, and red splatters were everywhere. Faithful people who could squeeze close enough between the sacrifices were kneeling and dipping fingers in the blood on the block, touching it to their foreheads. I am sure you know a kids scream sounds like one of our kids.

It was a little much for most of our students, but it wasn't easy to leave as were pressed into the crowd while trying to keep track of each other. We were definitely the only tourists. Finn was holding his day pack in front of him as we were coached to do for security. There were people on all sides of him so he couldn't see what it was he was tripping over with each step, till the crowd parted a little and he saw a fresh baby goat's scalp, horns and all.

We visited Mother Teresa's home for the destitute and dying and her orphanage, both of which were very clean and compassionate places. Many of our students were powerfully moved by seeing those rooms of dying people being lovingly cared for in a minimal environment. The Sisters sweep through the hospitals, rescuing patients who are going to die from insufficient care, so they can bring them home. A man we were introduced to had lost his feet, when they were run over on a railroad track. The hospital bandaged his feet, but since nobody came to pay them for his treatment, he was left with unchanged dressings for two months. Now he is almost healed and sits smiling very peacefully on his narrow bed in a room with thirty other men. The sisters all wear a habit like Mother Teresa did, white with blue trim. They have a special bed under a crucifix where they put the person who they think is most likely to die next. That person is never left alone.

I met a Scottish man named Jim who is over seventy, holding a patient's head up and giving him water. I thought perhaps he was a volunteer here for a week as he looked so clean and had such an angelic smile. Then he told me he has lived and worked here for 15 years. I guess I was surprised because he didn't look exhausted in any way. Clearly the work feeds him.

I didn't have time to visit the women's' room, but Nikki and Peg said there was a really old woman close to death who lay there and sang to them. It moved Nikki to tears.

The orphanage was really sweet. The children all packed in happily and calmly. It's well organized but with a really low ratio of adults to kids. The one and two year olds were all in matching madras outfits, dancing to music! There were more than thirty of them in a room with two women. Cutest sight EVER!

In the next room, we could see thirty iron cribs painted yellow packed so tightly together I couldn't imagine how one could walk between them. Our students had fun playing with the older children in the playground. Again, we were the only visitors.

Calcutta is so immense and intense, cacophonous and crowded, that we didn't even stay the night; but took an all night bus to Varanasi. I hope all your kids are writing to you individually, but if they haven't in awhile don't be surprised...there is so much going on its a challenge just to maintain ones equilibrium and they are all doing fantastically well at staying clean and healthy and hydrated. We have hot showers in our rooms and a rooftop restaurant with safe food in a hotel for Hindu pilgrims. Outside the air is full of smoke from funeral pyres, the Ganges flows buy, and wild and wonderful things are happening in every minute and in every square inch.

The last thing I saw before returning to the hotel was Megan and Maria swept into a wedding crowd in the street dancing with arms overhead.

Love,
Liza Michaelson


Excerpt Eight � From Amritsar NW India in the State of Punjab

Amritsar in Punjabi translates as: "Pool of the nectar of immortality"
Liza Michaelson writes from Amritsar the Sikh capital of India, the day before terrorists blew up a train that had departed from Amritsar. Sixty-six killed. Happily, SSIS kids are far from that sad event!

"So Many camels walking by that we stopped counting.
They are incredibly tall and strong and walk alongside the roads in Rajastan and all the way into Delhi. Some are painted with zigzag stripes of black coal, making them look like burlap pieces quilted together, with outlines around their eyes like mascara.
They have bells and blankets and they are pulling and carrying an assortment of things. Mountains of firewood, huge bundles of mustard greens, carts full of people or propane tanks, or water in big round brass jugs, or hand stitched mattresses... They don't move fast, just chug along.
The drivers all have rags wrapped around their heads, black beards and mustaches and dress in plain colored wraps. It's dry and dirty all around.

Camels aren't all. The kids rode elephants yesterday, up the mile long ramp to the Amber Fort. Did you know the tail of an elephant is higher than my head? I was squeezing between all the elephants trying to get good pictures looking up at the kids, wondering if I would get stepped on...Elephants are incredibly aware of their feet. I saw one take a little side swipe to kick a trainer without breaking stride.

In Varanasi, the police were busy rounding up the dirty beggar kids and kicking them out of the train station, while a cow walked all around inside the big room with over 1000 people sitting and standing squished together, and nobody paid it any mind. Cows are sacred and beggar kids are dirt. Belonging to nobody.

Alex Oettinger gets the prize for finding the most places to sleep...yesterday it was on the floor in the aisle of our rented bus, with his sunglasses on and iPod plugged into his ears. Jonathan Balise eats the most, grateful for every left over donation...Anna Haefele is finding things to eat around her wheat allergy, chick pea samosas, etc.
Today is Petra Borhani's birthday. Peg and I woke her up singing to her on the train... She and Lindsey Cummins bought oranges and bananas for everybody while we sat on the pile of backpacks in the Delhi train station last night. Corwin Waldron stopped to see a sadhu with a huge snake in Varanasi and the next thing he knew it was wrapped around his neck! Noah Yang is always first at the meetings, which is a great trait when trying to organize 25 people. Rebecca Mason and Alice Haefele are out trying on shoes, the Rajastani kind with sequins and mirrors on them... for Petra's birthday present. Joanna Leff is at the Golden temple with Peg Hope and Jonathan and some others. Ted Hope and the college kids were here this morning when we got off the train and came to the hotel. It was fun to cross paths again. While we were at the Amber fort and Jaipur, they were here in Amritsar with the Sikhs. Everybody was together for sunrise at the Taj Mahal, and they all loved that! The amount of headaches and attention to detail Ted and Peg put into this boggles me. I really don't think there is anybody in the world doing what they do ESPECIALLY with students.

It has been a ragged pace (yesterday 10 hours on the bus followed by ten on the train) and some of the kids are wilting. They will thrive and rekindle tomorrow when we climb up to Dharamsala in the mountains where the air is clear, the pace is slow, and the Tibetans greet them with open arms and warm smiles.
Ted was so eager to get there he skipped breakfast and waited in the van!
So fun to see him and Peg excited yet again to be on this trip.

Honestly I don't know how they do it. Sometimes I think I am too old for this."
Liza Michaelson



Excerpt Seven - On the Ganges River - India

The river is wide and slow as a lake, sweet and languid. The other side is
a flat empty sand field ready to be covered in water when the
monsoons come. Monkeys run on railings and rooftops, snakes in sacks to dance for horn players on the ghats, rats will eat food left in your room, mangy dogs
bark all night, and sleep by day. Cows walk wherever they will, sometimes
in the middle of a wedding party, sometimes in the middle of a narrow
stairway, sometimes giving birth in the street with a garland of fresh
marigold blossoms hanging around their neck.

You cook on an open fire in your 1000 year old stone house filling it
with woodsmoke. All the water for washing and cooking comes from an
outdoor faucet, but you have a cell phone in your pocket.
You can tell the history of your country, but not without including the
activities of the Gods.
You can pray to any number of publicly displayed stone phalluses,("Shiva
Lingums"), rubbing them with gold leaf and showering them with rose petals, but you cant touch a woman (even your wife) in public, and women must cover their legs and shoulders and drape their bodices with flowing fabric.
You can see that there are 23 sewage outlets directly into the Ganges in a two mile stretch. The ashes of 300 people a day are dumped into it as
well as 50 unburned bodies, but it is still a wonderful holy
experience to bathe in and drink its waters, every day if you are lucky.
You can hire a bicycle rickshaw for one, two, or three people and watch
the driver in hid loin cloth pedal hard, or squeeze the same number into a
noisy motor rickshaw, or you can pay a motorcycle taxi, or rent a bike or
walk, but there is not enough room for cars in the old part of Varanasi.
You can ask a question of a smiling local, but you can't tell by the head
waggle response if it is a yes or no answer.
You can drink chai from a tiny ceramic cup for five cents, but you cant
use it again as it will not be pure, so toss it in the street.
You can see the laundry being beaten and rinsed in the river until its
clean, but then it is stretched out to dry on the filthy dirty stone steps
of the ghats.

Everyday you can see human eyes outlined in black coal to protect eyesight, black spots on babies foreheads to ward off evil, Ganesh statues painted with fresh orange paint.
Every day there are lepers, people with strange limbs,
and smiling people crawling along, shaking a can for alms. There are sounds of drums,
chants, shouting matches, cymbals, ringing bells, horns, dogfights, birds,
chickens, pleading beggars, "Madam please, only milk for the baby." and
insistent silk marketers, "Come I show you!" Silk shops have tiny rooms
with padded floors where you sit and watch as one after another silk sari
is opened in a massive pile before you. This happens even if you are just a high school
student who didn't ask to buy anything. Indian women dressed in every
color of the rainbow, as many as 24 bodies burning in pyres near the river
at any one time, the air thick with smoke.
Completely naked Sadhus covered in white ash, with long beards and
dreadlocks are camped out by the hundreds on the Ghats. The day after
tomorrow is Shiva and Parvati's anniversary, and ecstatic Hindu pilgrims
from all over the country are flocking here to celebrate.

Watch your step, as there is no sidewalk and you share the twisty
labyrinth of narrow road with cow dung, dog poop, and human feces; as well
as holes in the street, piles of trash, muddy puddles after the rain,
small fires, chai stoves, samosas being fried, men facing walls taking
leaks, cast iron wheels on carts rolling by, and dead bodies wrapped in
gold red and white fabrics being carried on bamboo stretchers by large
family groups winding their ways through the narrow alleys down to the
river. Usually behind them will be a throng of people carrying large
chunks of dried tree brought from their village for this most sacred day,
cremating their loved one on the burning Ghats in Varanasi.
I will venture in to story land tomorrow...today all I can throw you are
these snatches.... and yes your kids are all winners...all navigating this
sacred and dramatic place with wide eyes and open hearts.

Happy Valentines Day!!!
from the sacred city of Varanasi,
LOVE and Amazement at all they have to teach us,

Liza Michaelson






Excerpt 6 - Varanasi - India

Varanasi is pleasant as long as you stay in the old area down by the river where there isn't any room for motor vehicles and the pace is slow.

Feels strange to be here in this sacred place with thousands of Pilgrims arriving by the hour for the three days of celebrating while all we seem to be thinking about is buying bangles and silk. We are physically here, but we have brought so much of our culture with us, that in some ways we aren't really here. I have to say though, that I am really proud of our students. They have done a good job of "wandering like cows" as Ted Hope puts the assignment. He says if there are 25 of us there should be 25 different stories at the end of the day, and indeed we all had TONS to talk about. We are taking it in, but I am not at all sure that we come anywhere near to "getting " this unique and powerful place.

Nikki and Corwin Waldron spent lots of time all alone wandering and meeting people. Justin Blevins and Jacob Dubail shared their knowledge of the best shops with everybody. Jonathan Balise bought a guitar. Justin went to a classical music concert and videotaped it. Ted arranged a sunrise boat ride on the Ganges for us all. Jacob, Justin, Cameron, Bethany and Alice Haefele all had clothes tailored for them. None of us need any silk, but when a scarf is two dollars, it's hard to pass up, and everybody is happy with their purchases.

The most interesting of all for us was the opportunity to meet and talk with the real sadhus, holy men. Some of them are phonies: anybody can dress in orange and grow out their hair, but this week is like a convention and they have come from many distant places to gather here for the first time in 6 years, so there aren't many fakers here at this time.

Today we were lucky enough to have a special invitation with one of the most highly respected Gurus present in Varanasi. He was hidden away up a hundred stone steps up the ghats and into a tall old house with many floors and rooms; which we later learned is an ashram, a place where a whole bunch of Sadhus live.

We were taught how to introduce ourselves including bowing and touching his feet, then sitting near, but not touching his mat. He was dressed in a big wrap and had long greying hair and deep brown eyes and three white stripes across his forehead and one red dot in the middle. (This is how most of them looked, the only way we could know he was special was the introduction by Cynthia Gould who lives here, a friend of Petra Borhani's mother).

Unfortunately, we didn't have much time and were eyeing our watches and sneaking peeks at one another as we had to be back at the hotel in time to catch our train to Agra. We will all be touring the Taj Mahal tomorrow. Fantastic! We will LOVE it.

Now firecrackers or something are going off outside amidst much shouting in the street, and the guy next to us is inviting us to the free all night concert, "Its very special, you will like the celebration" but we are not comfortable running around after dark, so will turn in now.
It's late.

Liza Michaelson



Excerpt 5

Dispatches from the Field �Izamal, Mexico

The kids are doing well in their internships. Adam and I get reports that they are all good workers, keeping busy and practicing their Spanish. Kai Wilson mentioned that she wanted to try something different, so we arranged for her to work in a bakery (a favorite haunt of the Gabe Coburn and Evan Anderson), but then she found out that she has to work when a couple of her friends have free time. She didn't like that idea that much, but we really feel strongly that the kids need to get out of their comfort zone and practice their Spanish (she is a little shy) so we persuaded her to try it (there are only six more days of internship time). Today is her first day. She seems hesitant, but we think it will be great for her in the end.

Sonja Anderson is going to continue assisting in the English classes at the school. If we had more time we would start our own English classes, but with such few evenings left and Carnival coming it won't work out for this year. Since she spends so much time at the school, she has become something of a local celebrity. Everywhere we go there are kids who recognize Sonja from school.

Ingrid Carlson is wearing a huipil (traditional Mayan dress) standing head and shoulders above her Mayan coworkers. They love her at the restaurant. Last time we were there, her coworker told me, animatedly pantomiming her story, about the day before when Ingrid made her first tortilla by hand. Not only is she learning a lot, she gets to try all of the dishes on the menu too--yum!

Alex Freeman, a perfectionist, sometimes worries that she doesn't get enough work done during her time in the restaurant. But just yesterday Wilma, the owner, told Adam and me what a great worker she is and remarked how she keeps herself busy the entire time. Sweeping even when the floor is clean! She says that Alex is learning a lot and that her Spanish is getting better every day.

Zach Milkis is working in the library now. We just saw him there this morning. The library here in Izamal is not as popular as the library in Friday Harbor. Nonetheless, he helps out with the computers and practices Spanish with his coworkers. He comes to Spanish class with lots of questions--so we know that he is getting lots of conversations in at work.

Chelsea DeCouteau is working at a cafe. She has quickly made friends with her coworker, and the two help each other out when there are no customers by exchanging English and Spanish vocabulary. Her SSIS classmates stop by frequently to visit Chelsea and have a slice of cheesecake--the only place in town that offers such a familiar treat.

Gabe Colburn is doing a great job taking photos with the local newspaperman. He is lucky because he gets to see a lot of the surrounding area (small villages around Izamal) and learn about local issues. We are keeping copies of all of his published photos. He ended up staying with Evan Anderson for the homestay. We searched for a solo location, but we were not able to find one close enough to the center of town. Their family is welcoming, easy-going, and loves having the two boys with them. Plus, strange but true, they have their own ancient Mayan pyramid in their backyard!

Grant Schwinge and Evan say that the work they do checking people into the hospital is hard. Hard because they are really busy for the entire time and they have to interact with the public constantly. Plus they report that the newly computerized system is very confusing. Since it is the free hospital they see a lot of the poor population--some only speaking Mayan (they have a coworker that is helping them out with the Mayan language).

We went to Merida last night to watch the Baile Folklorico (traditional dances). It was fun to see the big city, and Adam and I restocked our peanut butter supply since the kids often stop in during the afternoons for a pb and j sandwich.

Carnival will be celebrated from Thursday to Tuesday. We don't know exactly what to expect since neither of us has been in Mexico in February before. We think there will be a circus, based on a truck that was traversing town towing a trailer with two goats and a monkey loudly announcing, via huge speakers, their forthcoming arrival. We will see.

That's it for now!

Angie and Adam Erickson and the SSIS Adventurers



Excerpt 4

� Remote Village of Mo Ti Ta � Northern Thailand
Five hours drive through the mountains of northern Thailand on a roller coaster road to the Karen tribal village of Mo Ti Ta. There are 40 houses built on stilts, and somewhere around 500 people there. Twelve of us pile out of two 4-wheel drive pickup trucks in front of the soccer field.

The people all around are making us wonder - is this some sort of joke? The yellow powder smeared on their grinning faces? Some have finger lines on streaks, others in circles, others totally smeared in for a ghostly look...and yes, it's a for-real tradition - a natural sunscreen.

Aside from the hot pink or deep red sarongs worn by everybody over 30 or so, the people are dressed in cast-offs from the western world in various degrees of filth and rags. Everyone's face that isn't smeared with the yellow powder is dirty, lots of kids have runny noses and everybody over thirty who smiles at you shows a mouth full of rotten teeth from all the beetle nut they chew.
We sat on the cement floor of the school and ate lunch spooned from huge kettles by a wrinkled man in a hot pink sarong.

I have walked through other hill tribe villages, but never had the opportunity to look inside the houses and now we not only peeked in, we are sleeping and eating with various families. I have to say I am SO PROUD of these students. They seem to be rolling right along with the punches like its no big deal... Karen homes are built of wood and raised on stilts so the pigs and chickens have shelter below. The rice pounding tools are below.

When you walk along the only color you see is the clothing hanging over the railings. Everything else is varying tones of brown dirt or wood. Clean really isn't high in their reality. Once inside, no real surprise, its just empty space. Not one stick of furniture, only a fire pit with a hanging pot, a bucket for dish washing and a dirty wood plank floor. That's it.

Joanna Leff and Rebecca Mason and I were together in our house with three kids and mom and dad and not one word of language we could understand. On the wooden floor is a stack of blankets. The girls set work, cheerfully making us a bed for three. At night it was around forty degrees, our breath turned to mist. Cold hard nights, not to mention noisy! After all the human sounds of the village settled down, there were the animals with loud conversations of their own and then like clockwork 4:30 every morning starts the pounding of rice. They have these long wooden levers to step on and at the far end is a wooden bucket of rice still in husks. Step-step-step, pound-pound-pound and the little rice kernels are broken open. When everybody is doing it, it sounds like a wooden machine of sorts, and it goes on for hours. That's only the first step. They then sift it for hours in those shallow round woven trays. Men and women share all work. Everybody is skinny and strong!

The next afternoon, Alice Haefele, Rebecca and I were taking a nap stretched out on the floor when Becca said, " I can't believe we are here. Can't even fully take it in!" And it was amazing in the moment to realize we were actually living alongside very primitive people. This is the most remote place I have ever been. In a few years with Western contact no doubt they will become greedy like the rest of the world, but these people didn't know enough to know we have things they might want. They have really nice woven shoulder bags, but nothing for sale. The only store in the village is a 4 by 4 foot locked closet with 5 bars of soap and some shampoo, matches, lighters, and a few plastic trinkets.

They just smile and make gestures like eat and eat some more. Oh My! Eating was a struggle for me. Alice and Joanna were GREAT, politely smiling and finishing off whole bowls full while whispering "I wonder what in this..." We knew their primary protein comes from rat and dog, which appears as flecks of meat in the broth. But what was most difficult for me was seeing crabs the size of a quarter and then, on closer inspection, a centipede and a fat white meal worm in my bowl.
Liza Michaelson



Excerpt Three

Thailand � Ban Lek School
A continuing report from Spring Street International School's Experiential Education Trip by Liza Michaelson. This correspondence comes after the group's 5th day in Thailand.

"Life is good here in here southern jungle hills of Thailand. We will soon be going north to do our service project near the Burmese border. For now we are enjoying the place we are staying, its sweet people, the warm river and delicious food. This is a great group of kids, so positive, willing and inclusive. I am VERY impressed, so helpful and happy, lots of laughing.
Yesterday all the kids worked at a local school. I have to say that little Ban Lek School was the prettiest spot for a school I have ever seen. The students here meditate every day in class, starting in preschool. They are all very smiley and extremely polite, not only bowing when they walk by us, but if we are seated in a chair, they bend over so as not to stand taller than us (even our students as they are considered "teachers").
We are staying at an isolated eco-lodge owned by two Dutch women - Rose and Ingrid - who run a foundation, which serves needy children from the area. They live an extremely simple life, seemingly very content here in the jungle.
Today, after breakfast, we walked 6 miles through gorgeous terrain to their "mountain" (22 acres recently purchased for $20,000, including river front!), where we got to work helping to finish a cob house to be used as a storage room for their sports equipment at the soon-to-be playing field next to the river. Exclamations of, �THIS IS FUN" were soon trilling in the air as we mixed clay with sand and cement and dried rice husks with our feet.
Then we got to slap it in huge fists-full onto the bamboo- framed wall while others of us smoothed it out. We placed empty bottles of colored glass here and there, and made a few windows for ventilation. After a couple hours we decided it was time to hit the river where the kids went swimming in all their clothes to get clean. Alex had so much mud on him, he hardly had a square inch of skin left, even his hair was full of it. Everybody else was well decorated too. It was fun and also really a great thing to learn how to do.
We were hot and tired and six miles sounded a bit far, so they piled us in an open truck and drove us back to the lodge. I was quite happy to climb the two steps up into my little bamboo house, shut the bamboo door, and slip under the mosquito net. The girls are all in one room in the main house, except for Petra and Lindsey who chose the loft in the living room, which has a nice queen size mattress. The boys are all together in one room with foam mats on the floor. We share one big bathroom. This is the gross part. Thai toilets have very narrow pipes. Instead of toilet paper they use kitchen sprayers, which at first can be a little alarming but everything dries so fast here it's no big deal and actually it works a lot better than paper. Our kids KNEW this but somebody forgot and we have plugged up the toilet with paper. Its one of those squat toilets on the floor with a huge tub of water next to it, and you dip a bucket of water and pour it down the bowl, and its supposed to flush right down but its not doing that anymore. We offered to plunge it, but Rose says they don't have plungers in Thailand. Not sure why I am telling you this, but it's the small things that make up a day.
I tried to write you yesterday to let you know everybody is doing great, but I lost my entire message and had to hurry back before dark as I am on foot and would definitely get lost. Honestly, I can't believe there is a computer here in the jungle next to the river.
I have my fingers crossed that I can send this. Wish I could send you photos�if I could you would see our kids at the Royal Palace, in the Bangkok Weekend Market, entertaining children at the school, covered with mud, and swimming in the river.
Tomorrow is a day to swim and play and write in journals, and then head out for the night train north to Bangkok. If we are really lucky and it gets in on time we will go to the Shanti Lodge for breakfast and a shower. If not so lucky, we will go directly to the bus station for our bus north, which takes most of the day. The good part is we meet up with the college students, who are traveling with us, and Ted and Peg tomorrow night�then trade places with them so they can come here and finish building the cob house�.
It's dark and I don't have a head lamp and better get going...

Liza Michaelson



Excerpt Two �Izamal, Mexico

Our Spanish immersion group, led by SSIS teachers Adam and Angie Erickson, is spending this month in the small town of Izamal in the Yucatan. Students are living with families who speak only Spanish and are doing internships in the family businesses or serving the local community in other ways. The following are some notes about the students from Adam and Angie after the first few days in the village
Sonja Anderson
Sonja's family consists of a teacher, a seamstress, and their son and two daughters. Her internship is teaching English at the secondary school, but so far they have mostly peppered her with questions in Spanish leaving the English for a later class I suppose! Sonja and most of the girls in the group will be dancing with the local youth in the town's Carnival (a huge celebration in two weeks). They started practicing tonight.
Ingrid Carlson
Ingrid is living right in the center of town with a grandma, an elementary school teacher, and her 15-year-old daughter. It was a little awkward in the beginning as the ladies of the house were a little quiet and mostly stared and giggled at Ingrid for the first evening, but she says that it is getting better every day. She is working in a local restaurant where she is required to wear a traditional Mayan dress.
Grant Schwinge and Zach Milkis
Grant and Zach are living with a Presbyterian pastor and his family. They will have lots of stories to tell about church services that they graciously attended! They are sleeping in hammocks! Grant has been a great traveler and Zach so far has really been amazing considering this is his first trip--working hard on his Spanish, never complaining about anything, and maturely handling everything that has come up so far. Zach and Grant are local celebrities--all the girls want to know who the blond guy is and who the short one is (we all stand head and shoulders above most of the Mayans). The girls in our group love teasing Grant and Zach about their recent popularity. Grant's internship is at the local hospital with a doctor, and Zach is working in a stationary/school supply shop.
Gabe Coburn and Evan Anderson
Gabe and Evan are in the center of town in the home of an owner of a restaurant in the market, an elementary school principal, and their son (their daughter is away at college except on the weekends). They have a great home and a really fun family. For his internship, Gabe is taking photographs for the local newspaper!! Evan is working for his host father in the restaurant, but we are helping him find something a little more challenging because there are already too many employees at the restaurant. He is determined to end this month fluent in Spanish.
Chelsea DeCouteau
Chelsea is staying with one of the administrators of the school with which we are working. She has had such a great time so far--surprising us all with her fondness for oranges covered in chili powder. There are two other teenagers in her house so she is acting as social coordinator for our group, making sure everyone is meeting and greeting. She is working in a cafe in the central plaza--today we stopped by as she was learning to make cappuccinos. Gabe took her photo for the local newspaper--there will be a story about the American students and their internships.
Alex Freeman and Kai Wilson
Alex and Kai are living with a doctor, a restaurant owner, and their 15-year-old daughter. As both girls are freshman, they are having a little bit of a struggle with the language. Alex is really digging in, determined to learn as much as she can. Kai is a little shier, but she seems to be enjoying her internship with Sonja teaching English. Alex is working at the restaurant belonging to her host mother, who told us today that she is a great worker.

Everyone is fine, though we have already had some bouts of the usual traveler's woes: blisters, bug bites, upset stomachs, diarrhea, allergies, mixed up senses of direction, and homesickness.
We are so pleased with the group that we have with us--ALL of the students, without exception, have been great. The town that we are in is perfect for this experience. It often reminds us of Friday Harbor as everyone is a friend of a friend, or at least it feels this way. We have been warmly welcomed and feel that a positive cultural exchange is taking place.
We will be in touch again soon--hopefully next time with pictures!

Angie and Adam


Excerpt One � Bangkok, Thailand

This year, Spring Street International School's Experiential Education Program has two groups of High School students at opposite ends of the world. One group is in southern Mexico, participating in a Spanish language immersion program. The other group, led by SSIS teachers Ted and Peg Hope, has landed in Bangkok, Thailand, and will be making their way slowly to their eventual destination in Nepal. The student group is composed of Petra Borhani-Bakker, Alice and Anna Haefele, Corwin Waldron, Noah Yang, Jonathan Balise, Lindsey Cummins, Alex Oettinger, Joanna Leff and Rebecca Mason. One of the trip leaders, Liza Michaelson, a Spring Street alumni parent, sent the following report just after arrival in Bangkok.
"Our trip was thirty hours from bed to bed and when we reached the beds most of us only slept a few hours so we could wake up to the great day in Bangkok starting with a fantastic Shanti Lodge breakfast. We knew right away that we were not in Kansas!
We had no glitches until we arrived in Bangkok and found the immigrations at 1:30 am to be grossly understaffed. It was over two hours of standing in lines and by the time we got our packs our vans had long given up waiting for us. Nevertheless, everybody was in the best of spirits. Maybe it helped to be WARM in the middle of the night, stark contrast to the freezing temps at home.
The Shanti Lodge where we are staying is an oasis in a large city. It is on a dead- end street in a little neighborhood near the river. Mosaics, fountains, organic food, great music, people flowing in and out, plants, and a memorabilia wall including photos of our Spring Street students from various years. It is really like a home away from home.
The kids are the best! We are off to a somewhat difficult start with the jet lag and lack of sleep on top of hydration issues and culture and climate shock, but what a great group!!!

We walked through the fish market and past the orchids and never experienced any other two minutes of life with so many different smells. Each of us had something different to remark on while we waited by the river for a boat. "Did you see those eels in a bowl of blood?" (yes, eels being chopped into one inch lengths like pieces of asparagus). "How about the frogs?" (yes, toads... all eyes and jumpy in big bowls). "How bout the eggs?" (teeny, dirty and spotty).

All of a sudden a loud whistle and a boat pulls up, like a city bus, and we all pile on!!! We go down the Chao Phraya River - five stops on the packed boat, lucky enough to all have a place at the railing so we can see the city go by, a variety of boats on the river, each with its own bunch of fresh flowers and colorful plastic ribbons hanging from the bow in a prayer. At the fifth stop, we squeeze through the crowd of passengers including a few tourists, lots of local folk and more than a few monks in orange robes, to leap onto the dock and count heads, miraculously all here!!!
Following Ted, we walk the few blocks up to the Royal Palace and hear his story about the history of the place. The part that moves you is it was built while London was still a "cow town". I have seen it four times before, and every time I am amazed at the gold and glitter and detail and sheer beauty. Way better than Disneyland!
It was HOT, so rather than wait at the river for the next boat, we chartered one for our group and we went directly up the river to our dock at Tewet. We were pounding down water and thankfully so far no serious dehydration.
Hungry kids munched on Shanti Lodge food: soups, salads, mangoes, and Pad Thai. There were a few card games, a few kids spraying clothing with bug repellent for the jungle days ahead or emailing home. Seems like early to bed, or is it catch up on sleep now that it's dark out...

More later.
Liza Michaelson


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