New Year 2015 in Thailand with Volunteers

Namaste and Sawadee-Ka (hello in Thai),

It never ceases to amaze me how much life is lived during a ten day retreat with Yogamour volunteers.  When a group of people with open hearts, a clear mission, and a sense of adventure get together there is no limit to what can be accomplished.  Life-long friendships are formed or deepened, new things experienced, like riding elephants and trekking the foothills of the Himalayas, and children’s lives are forever changed. 

We arose early to share our breath and time on our mats, helping to clear minds and keep us present through our daily work.  By far, the most important work accomplished on this retreat was helping to provide vision care to over 80 children who had never before received such care, nor realized they were even struggling to see.  It was so moving witnessing the pure joy in the children when putting on glasses for the very first time, clearly seeing the world they live in.  One of the children was my little friend, Arissra, a very shy girl, a bit of a “wall flower” who does her best to blend in.  While checking on the children this week, I was overcome with joy to see little Arissra, schoolbook in hand, reading aloud to her friends.  It’s amazing how much a simple pair of glasses, providing the ability to see clearly, can impact a child’s life and open new doors to the future.  

Life can be so complicated with problems so huge that it seems impossible to progress or make a difference, but every time I work on one of our retreats, I’m reminded of just how much can be accomplished and what a BIG difference can be made when we come together.  Typically, Geni or I send a letter from each of our retreats, this time I felt it important to include words from some of the gracious volunteers who shared in the retreat.  I hope that you enjoy our volunteer’s, very own, "letters from the heart".  Thank you, so very much, for your on-going support. 

 Lead with your heart,

 Beccah


From the boisterous laughter at Thai cooking class, to the serenity of a Buddhist temple brimming with devoted followers deep in prayer,

...the magnificence of ringing in 2015 with new friends and filling the night sky with lanterns, to the calmness of meditating at a mountain top temple, 

...the hustle and bustle of a Thai market - over stimulating one visually, olfactory, and kinesthetically, to the solitude of sitting, contemplatively, amidst a breathtaking, rippling waterfall,

 …the initial anxiety of venturing 32 hours to a faraway land, to the joy of making new friends, who share a larger world view,

 …thinking that you were coming on this trip for one reason, to leaving with the understanding that new doors and ideas, a sense of empowerment and cultivating the next dream were the unexpected "take away",

 …not speaking a word of Thai to phonetically writing "suk some one bee my" on your hand and uttering it to various passerby's and seeing their faces light up as you wish them happy new year in their tongue,

 …from a western mindset, to experiencing a gentler, simpler, more respectful way of life,

…profound experience of supporting the medical mission work at the school in the hill country and providing all 80+ students with eye exams resulting in 27 new pairs of glasses,

Thailand, every day was a contrast in experiences, emotions and enlightenment. Thank you, KAP KONG KA, for all you gave us and for all we will take with us.  You are so much more than temples, curry, and massages.  SO much more!”

-Melinda H.

“Thank you for an unforgettable experience, one of which I would not trade the world for. I've learned so much in the past 10 days, come to clarity, allowed time to find what it is that inspires me and seize it. Such an amazing group of people, changing the world one Thai at a time.  Yogamour, you are a true blessing to this world and thank you to all the volunteers...I think I've fallen for yoga!”

-Alessandra N.

"Thailand with Yogamour was so very different than all of my other travels and retreats.  Being given the opportunity to devote a portion of my time away to the hill tribe children gave this trip a richness money cannot buy.  Taking in the wonders of Thai culture and history on our side trips to the waterfalls, elephant camps, Asian Cooking School, Sunday market, New Year's Eve lighting of the lanterns at Tha Pae Gate, and Chiang Dao cave - paled in comparison to the three days I spent with the Hill Tribe children.  It's their smiling faces that keep me awake at night or take my mind on a little side trip now that I'm back home…"

-Claudia H.

“Really, do I have to go home, ever?  Thank you YOGAMOUR for everything!  My heart is full and I am thankful for what I have seen and experienced so far!  I know tomorrow I can say, "today has been my favorite day"     (Mid-Retreat)

-Keri Z. 

Five Ways to Practice Seva In Your Daily Life

Our Co-Founder, Geni Donnelly, on the philosophical meaning of Seva, her experience with Seva through Yogamour and some tips on how to easily integrate Seva in your daily life.

The word "Seva" is a Sanskrit word often associated with the facet of yoga  meaning “service.” However, it is more than just a simple desire to help others. As Swami Niranjan explains it, “seva” is actually composed of two words, “saha,” which means “with that,” and “eva,” which means “too.” Taken as a whole, the word “seva” means “together with” and describes the actions that seek collective uplifting through the understanding of the needs of others and are based on togetherness and integration. It is an expression of compassion for others and a genuine desire to uplift those around you. 

Through the spirit of selfless action, when we have nothing to gain and nothing to lose by not doing, performing acts of Seva through our actions, we attain that height of realization into a higher level of consciousness. The practice of Seva becomes a path to self-realization which is the essence of yoga. 

Seva should be done with no expectation of reward or even acknowledgment of the work that is done. We serve not to convert or save a soul, but simply to serve and for no other reason. No strings attached. No carrots. Make yourself invisible and do acts of kindness without expectation of return, coming from a place of love. 

In co-founding Yogamour, I’ve been able to offer Seva opportunities through volunteer yoga retreats locally and globally.  By participating and organizing, I have relished the opportunity and honor of working with like-minded spirits and creating everlasting friendships.

Friendship is universal and has the ability to transcend differences. By being immersed in a community in need and cultivating friendships, through what seems oceans apart by virtue of language and culture, counter intuitively ends by being a reminder of our shared humanity.  As we work together turning compassion into action, our volunteers and supporters are our tireless friends partnering the act of selfless service or Seva yoga. 

So how can you make Seva part of your everyday life?  Here are 5 easy ways you can connect with others through service:


  1. In line buying coffee?  Offer to pay for the drink of the person behind you.  We never know what struggles those we encounter so briefly are experiencing.  Every extra action can help.

  2. See some trash on your walk to work or even on your favorite hiking trail?  Pick it up and place it in the trash or recycle it.  We can give service to our planet as well as to others.

  3. Have a little extra time?  Find a volunteer opportunity in your community -- a local school, an animal shelter, you name it!  You can find them for all levels of time commitments.  You could even volunteer with Yogamour!

  4. At the grocery store:  There are countless opportunities to be of service.  Carry someone's heavy load of groceries, lend a few extra quarters, reach for the unreachable high shelf.  Did you bring extra grocery bags?  Share them with a stranger.

  5. Read with a child.  Whether it's your son or daughter, a niece, a friend, or a student, just one book read aloud can take less than 10 minutes and will open a child's mind to a new world with endless possibilities.  

How do you practice Seva in your daily life?  Share with us in the comments below or join the conversation on Facebook!

Volunteer Spotlight: Traveling to India with a Group of Yogi Volunteers

Ever Wonder What It’s Like To Travel To India With a Group of Yogi Volunteers?


Madison traveled to Jaipur and Agra, India with Yogamour in January of 2013. She had always wanted to go to India and when our co-founder, Beccah, told her about the amazing opportunity to volunteer with children she seized it.

In this interview with Madison, she describes her experience volunteering with Yogamour: beauty, the link between yoga and volunteering, elephants, being vegan in India and some of the lessons she brought home with her.

What was a typical day like on your trip?

We would wake up at 6am and go downstairs to the yoga room where we would practice yoga for an hour then meditate for about a half an hour. Then we would all go to the dining area and eat together.

 After that we would go get ready for the day and meet up to go to the school. At the Vihaan School we would help the students make crafts, clean the school or work on the garden. After our time at the school we would usually go see a temple or have an afternoon excursion where we really got to experience the Indian culture. In the evening we would go to dinner and then go to bed! Always super tired from a jam packed day!

Describe your accommodations.

The Arya Niwas hotel where we stayed was lovely. The garden in the front of the hotel was the best! The rooms were simple but they had a lock box for personal items, tv, heater, and bathrooms with a toilet and a shower. The water wasn't always hot but that's what you have to expect in a developing country!

 Besides the typical fine India dust and dirt that you become accustomed to after the 3rd day, the hotel was very clean and the food was awesome. Our hotel was one of the nicer hotels in the area. 

Did you come across anything in your traveling, volunteering, daily experience that was difficult?  How did you react to it initially?  How did you learn to deal with difficulty as your trip continued/progressed?

The TukTuks were very scary to me at first. They were wild and the traffic was rough and unpredictable! Our driver and savior, Poran, was amazing and so sweet so I got used to that after 3 days. I began to become accustomed to traffic patterns and the bumpy TukTuks. 

 The animals for me were the hardest part of the trip–so many uncared for animals everywhere that were hungry and so skinny. Being an animal lover it was hard to see dogs and horses being uncared for in a way we are accustomed to in the United States. Each day I had to mentally tell myself that there was nothing I could do at the moment to help these animals except by feeding them or giving them water which I did.

It was hard, especially seeing people themselves just as starving and unkempt, but for me it was just tough for me to see animals that we keep as pets not being taken care of. The cows however looked well taken care of due to the religious beliefs. This part of the trip never got better to be completely honest. 

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Describe some of the sights you visited, beautiful things you saw.

Absolutely everything that was either a palace or a sacred temple for the gods was beautiful. The colors and the adornments on the buildings were so ornate. The wind and water temples were breath taking and the Taj Mahal was indescribable. Just seeing that in real life was worth all the emotional issues associated with the trip. Traveling to the elephant sanctuary was amazing and so special to experience because it was so peaceful. There were too many beautiful things on that trip to put into words. 

What was your favorite non-volunteering activity on the trip?

The elephant sanctuary trip. "Driving" our elephant, Pinky Darling, was one of the most exhilarating and peaceful experiences I've ever had. Also, to know that these elephants are being taken care of so well and have their own homes in the sanctuary was reassuring, along with the fact that some animals in India besides cows were being well taken care of. Those elephants were so gentle and lovely! 

 Additionally, the trip to the Taj Mahal was obviously unlike anything I've ever done. I can say I've seen one of the 7 wonders of the world! 

What was your experience with the food in India?  Since you are vegan, did you find it difficult to find options for you?

Oh no the food options were amazing! So many vegan options! I had to make sure there was no paneer, which is cheese, in my dishes but everything was mostly vegan! We went to an actual "meat" restaurant once that was labeled on the outside that they had meat on their menus but otherwise we ate at eateries that were 100% vegetarian! It was amazing!

What was your experience with doing daily yoga practice?  How did this enhance your trip? 

In the beginning it was very tiring after all the traveling and jet lag but once that wasn't an issue it was so amazing! I learned so much about yoga and my body! I would have loved to have had a local teach a class to see how they practice but Geni and Beccah taught awesome classes! The classes each morning made the trip so much more spiritual. We also worked on breathing to help with the pollution issued we experienced. 

Do you see a link between the work you did volunteering and the teachings of yoga?

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Yes, I'd say that yoga got me into a better mindset each morning to open my heart to the children in the school and the experiences we encountered each day. I might not have been able to accept some of the harder experiences on the trip had I not had a good mental readjusting each morning. 


What did you learn from this trip?

Gosh, I learned that I am blessed. Absolutely blessed in every way. Although the culture is different and most will never know anything but poverty, I saw that those people were still happy and made the best of everyday. They embrace so much more than we do and I try to carry that with me everyday! I keep telling myself whenever I'm down that things could be worse and the people of India have it much worse than I ever could but they are resilient and I should be too!

I also learned that the children in the Vihaan school are so intelligent and more willing to learn and excel in life because they have so little! They could become leaders when they grow up because they've been fortunate enough to be given this experience! They truly were so loving and special and I feel that I grew as an individual because of them!  

Yogamour in South India

Namaste friends or Namaskaram here in Malayalam!

It has been a whirlwind romance for our volunteers in Kerala! The group has basked in the beauty and glory of the culture, climate, children and cuisine! Each of us have been amazed by the dramatic variances between the northern and southern regions of this complex country! India is a never ending story of vast diversity and change. Our volunteers have traveled from the chilly rainy days of Jaipur to the warm beach weather of Kochi within just a short three and a half hour flight. 

We have been working our early morning hours with the children and nuns at the Cottolengo Disabled Children's School. The school resides in Kochi as a special sunlit oasis touched by the Arabian Sea. The order of nuns at the Cottolengo School have been caring for the students for over 20 years. The school is comprised of a rainbow of attendees from orphans, to part time live-ins and day students; but all continue to live with some form of disability with ages ranging from two to sixty two years of age. It is amazing to witness the love and dedication between the caregivers and students!

Our volunteer group has been building an edible garden and painting the surrounding walls to form a children's art project. The edible garden will aid in serving their lunch program (currently there is an allocation of 5 rupees per child for daily meals roughly equates to .08 cents). After beating the daily heat in the garden, the students will participate in handprinting the garden art wall and finishing with their personal signatures! We are in the process of creating a bounty of healthful eating with fruit trees and lots of veggies. We will make sure to post lots of pictures!

Of course it has not been all work as we have been exploring the beaches, visiting historical monuments and spending time sampling the delicious local cuisine! 

As we delve into our new surroundings and spend an immense amount of time together, we have enjoyed growing and strengthening our new friendships! We have shared many experiences, from hotels and train rides to yoga and service projects; but through it all we are stronger, wiser and have relished the supported of our communities here and at home. It will be difficult and heart aching to bid farewell within a week's time after we have embarked on our final excursion to Munar in the mountains of Kerala. We are so grateful for this new family and all the inspiration they've given the Yogamour projects. Our volunteers have presented new perspectives and have blossomed as valuable participants on these projects. The Yogamour tribe traveling through the north and south of India have weathered together everything from sickness and health, the flavor of spice and sweet, and an array of climatic variances. We have supported and amazed each other with positivity and dedication.

Many thanks to those who continue providing unyielding support! Yogamour looks forward to seeing you at one of our springs Bazaars' or perhaps as an active participant with one of our projects!

Lead with your heart,

Beccah 

A New Year of Volunteers in India!

Dear Friends, Family and Supporters,

I arrived in India about a week early to prepare for our group of volunteers to arrive in the beginning of this new year. You can do a lot via Internet but with so many wonderful people joining us and full schedules, you always have to remember it is India and often times people say "most certainly, madam that will not be an issue" but they really mean "no not a chance in hell!" So it's best to see with our own eyes before we firm the plans.

As I entered India I am reminded of last year being here and what a different space I occupy now. I have gone through some major personal changes in my last year both painful yet absolutely amazing. But as life has it, both allow for growth. So it begins! Let India make me grow once again. One of my greatest changes over the last year is that I have moved to Thailand and have been studying the language. Learning a second language at 31 years old is again both painful and amazing. I have been spending a lot of time over the past 11 years in Asia and a bulk of it in India. It still surprises me coming from one Asian culture to the next when I know both so well that I still experience such deep adjustment. I guess you find your rhythm no matter where you live and have to adjust to the new life that surrounds you. Upon arrival to Delhi, my first experience was getting into a cab and having a group of children push their faces against the window begging for food. I usually am so in tune with these situations that I even save the crackers on my flight, bars of soap from a hotel room and have my purse packed full of goods upon arrival. Reliable in the way your grandmother always had candy in her purse to sneakily pass to you when your mom wasn't looking. Not this time! 

I had lost the awareness which ultimately made me so grateful to revisit my roots...I was back. We all need reminders to keep us on track and I am so lucky that mine comes so often because and I am ready for some grounding and eye opening reminders to connect me with the world after this whirlwind year. I also have the heaviness every year that last year's volunteers aren't with us this go around. During each project, within such a short time you develop an amazing bond that runs deep regardless of time and space. How often in adult life do we spend an entire two weeks day in and day out with the same friends doing something as satisfying as important as a heartfelt volunteer program? It's probably the equivalent to five years of cultivating friendships in our so familiar world. So it's always a little sad that your friends weren't just there frozen in time waiting for you to come back for them. But then the magical thing is that you realize the memories are revisited. I often find myself laughing out loud in public when I see something that reminds me of something we did or get choked up when i see the kid that bonded with one of prior volunteers...and a child asks for a volunteer by name. Ultimately, this is what makes India wonderful for me because it's full of people I love whether they are physically there or it's memories of each of them that comes to life in my imagination and ultimately that's what makes India like a second home. Every year it runs deeper and the excitement for new friends to come and more memories to be created grows. Just to see all the connections growing and feel the energy that only happens when you have so many open-hearted people join forces and do something to connect with another open and loving community on the other side of the world. So I wait patiently and prepare myself for the adventure to begin. It's like waiting for your birthday when your a kid... It's hard to be patient when you want the fun to begin!

My days have been full with purchasing supplies for our projects this year which include, a free dental clinic, a teacher training program, fixing up class rooms, building edible gardens, putting on a play, and a "love animal art project" which involves have the children create a quilt promoting animal awareness. So there is a lot of preorganization that happens but again it's India so everything takes a little more patience and a good sense of humor. There are no Home Depots or Targets...not even a really stocked corner bodegas with a small selection of items for life's necessities so you have to go to the paint store or the pen, pencil paper store or the tooth brush store. Let me just explain the tooth brush store! Yes, they do sell some body wash and tooth paste but mostly shower items! And literally each shop is in what we would consider a garage. So when I go to purchase 150 tooth brushes for Dr Sissy's dental clinic, the first shop owner and I negotiate pricing based on the cost of 1 tooth brush. We finally settle on 20 Rupees each (about 30 cents) and then have to negotiate when exactly I can receive these tooth brushes. We finally settle on tomorrow morning! He, of course, will contact his friend and upon arrival I should hopefully have 150 tooth brushes! Yippie!

I was also so lucky last Sunday because someone opened the school special for us to drop supplies as Sunday is a holiday. So we went to the slum for a visit-which is where the Vihaan School is located. At first glance, it made me sad because there's been so much surrounding construction and a lot of the leftovers have been dumped on to the slum. Then, of course, I being greeted by smiling familiar faces climbing over the rubble, suddenly nothing looks like trash; instead, it just looked like love. Really it's amazing how quickly your mind adjusts and your heart breaks open. So Pooran (our faithful driver), about 15 children and I walk through the slum carrying goodies and doing our secret hand shakes at about least 100 times...clearly making up for lost time. It was absolutely wonderful to feel at home in this space with these little ones and have them all inquisitively asking "madam how many friends you bring us this time?", "madam what is your grandfathers name?", "madam does it snow in Australia?" ,"madam does your sister have a baby?","madam does your sisters have a baby?"....and the list goes on with irrupting giggles.

Our wish is that we can share this experience and these children with many present and future volunteers. Even if you cannot travel with us but care to send a life line of love to these children, email Geni or myself for donation details. Or  participate in our next Bazzar! This community is for all of us because we are all connected and the volunteer services that  Yogamour offers would exist without our community support at home and abroad. 

Stay tuned for more stories as we will be volunteering through northern and southern India through January and February! We have two new projects including offering services at a disabled children's homes in Kerala!

Thank you all for your love and support!

Lead with your heart,

Beccah

Letters from the Heart, Thailand 2013

June 22, 2013

Dear Friends and Supporters,

Time has moved at light speed this trip! Today we completed our last day volunteering at the Ban Chang Nam School in the village of Mae Taeng. The village which is nestled within the mountain side, is spotted by thatched huts weaved together by winding dirt roads and paths. This is home to the Akha people, who are part of the hill tribes residing in Northern Thailand. Yogamour volunteers have spent the last week volunteering at the school with an unconditional labor of love.   

As we were met by children with tanned faces and brilliant eyes every morning, each of our volunteers contributed their time, skill and devotion to the school. Dr. Sissy and her assistant Darragh laboriously improved smiles daily! Six hour days throughout the week allowed them to see all 81 of the children at the Ban Chang Nam School, filling approximately 70 permanent teeth, and over a dozen tooth extractions. Morning yoga quickly became Darragh and Sissy's counter pose to long hours of dentistry. Dr. Sissy's selfless contribution to the Yogamour Smiles project included the transport of her mobile dental unit and all of the necessary surgical equipment half way around the world. Needless to say this has been a tremendous success (without too many tears ;).

Maddie and Keagan also found some artistic talent amongst the children in their Love Elephant Art Project. Through the use of crafts and facts, they succeeded in bringing awareness to the school concerning the plight of elephants in their homeland. Yogamour is going to have a blast displaying this art work on cards and stationery!

Beccah and Margie spent ample time interacting with each activity, playing circus and floating children down the outdoor breezeways to and fro the dental chair. Everyone remained gainfully employed! And when not participating at the school, the volunteers could be found zip lining over the jungle, learning to cook authentic Thai cuisine or bathing and riding elephants.

Our last evening in the village was enjoyed by another satisfying dinner at the Bamboo Country Lodge. After dinner, we lit the darkness of the jungle releasing our fire burning lanterns into the sky with a promise to return. This ritual is celebratory of a Buddhist tradition in Thailand which signifies an accumulation of good deeds, acts or thoughts that carry over to later in life or into one's next life.

The volunteers are now dispersing towards home or venturing on to travel Southern Thailand. It has been unanimous that our journey to Thailand has cultivated new found friendships in our hearts, and a shift in perspective that will forever impact the future of our lives.

Love to all,

Geni

 

Letters from the Heart (Beccah flies solo), India 2013 part 2

June 11, 2013

Kerala, India

God's own country is what they call this area of India and from the moment you arrive you can see why. It is lush with green palm trees, flowers, rivers, beaches, mango trees, wildlife and more. If you love nature, this is surely heaven on earth. June is the low season here as it is the beginning of monsoon season. It is much different than January, when the weather is a perfect 85 degrees with a sea breeze, you can stay all day outside and the streets are bustling. It is storming hard when I arrive and my dear friend Rafi (our main driver for the volunteer trip this winter) arrives with his friend to pick me up in a SUV. Thank goodness, because I originally said the tuk tuk is fine, I don't mind the 90min drive, but he insisted this was not the way to go. I quickly found out why as we wove through the flooded streets and had to take multiple detours taking us nearly twice the amount of time it should have. I still would have liked to have attempted the adventure in the tuk tuk though. Ha!

We arrived at SeaHut Homestay, an amazing real home stay that I was fortunate enough to come across in January. SeaHut is owned by a sweet family that of course has a strong practice of true Indian warmth and hospitality. it is located only a short bike ride from the center of town and our two volunteer projects. It was just me staying there with Hema and Antony (the owners) and their wonderful children Shilpa and Saraith. Shilpa was home from college break, where she is studying social work, and she even joined me for part of the volunteering. Saraith has just finished with college and was waiting to start an internship on a ship because he has to log 18 months at sea to finish his degree and become a ship captain. Their parents are the sweetest people and took me in as their own, it felt like home again in a way that you can daydream of just staying forever. I spent many of the nights laughing till my stomach hurt with the kids on the porch till the late hours of the evening just like they were my own brother and sister giving eachother a hard time and playing little jokes and swapping life stories. I really loved their stories about growing up in a home full of cousins, aunts and uncles and how everyone pitches in to help eachother all the time. I also really appreciated their in depth break down of how Kerala has worked so hard through the education system to bring up the literacy rate and start to desperate themselves from many of the typical struggles found in other regions in India. They have a very anonymous system for grading to try and rule out the cast system from effecting individual student placement.  

On my second day there Rhaki, our in-country coordinator and avid yogi friend came to meet me for tea in the morning so we could discuss all the details of how to set up a new project in Kochi. So much behind-the-scenes work goes into each of these trips, and she is such an asset and wealth of knowledge. She was born in Bangalore but moved to Kerala a long time ago, raising both of her teenage children there. She's also a former school teacher, so she is wonderfully creative coming up with ideas for how to use the volunteers' time the most wisely at both of the disabled children's homes where we will volunteer. Our first priority was to visit the projects and sit with the main teachers and discuss the January trip, and also deepen our relationship with the communities to make sure we are supporting them in the most productive ways possible.

We started with a visit to Reksha to meet with the director Elizabeth. She is an infectiously energetic woman who is obviously living her dharma. There are so many programs running out of this one building, it is quite impressive. Elizabeth's dream to keep adding on and to offering support throughout each of their student's lives and even outreach into community awareness makes you want to follow her around all day and help in any way you can. There are over 100 disabled children attending the school, a physical therapy unit with 2-3 therapists on staff, a vocational school, and the beginnings of an outreach program to provide internships to the students after they have graduated. We sat as she explained how difficult it is to build awareness in the city that disabled doesn't mean unable and that the students need to find ways to be employed on some level so they can feel fulfilled and provide a little for themselves, as many are orphaned. The ones with parents have their own set of struggles as well. She told me a story about one girl in particular who is wonderful at henna and loves artfully drafting it on to people. This girl found her an internship at a nice shop for her to work, but the mother was to concerned that something could happen to her daughter during a work day and she wouldn't be able to tell her about it, so the mother didn't allow her to start working. This is a valid concern and it is a question we all struggle with over protection or independence - which one provides the best quality of life? Another thing about this school I am in love with is that they have a program to help acclimate mothers to taking care of their disabled children. They act as a support group and help them stay grounded and give hope. Many of these mothers are extremely young and from very poor fishing villages, so they strive towards keeping this program as well as all of their programs free or available for a very small fee. Elizabeth is also one of the employees who has worked there for the least amount of time (a short 14 years), so the whole staff is steeped in knowledge and extremely dedicated to this cause as they tirelessly work on a shoestring budget.

I started the next day with a 2 hour yoga practice with Abraham, your quintessential Indian Yogi master who speaks to the oneness of the universe in each practice. He has spoken at colleges around the world, been featured in magazines, and yet he still continues to offer donation-only classes 2 times a day on the top floor of his home, which is decked out in pictures of Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna. There are Om signs all centered around a giant stained glass sun that lets light shine through in streaming rays of gold (we will have a yoga class with him as well as a pranayama workshop this January). My favorite nugget of knowledge he constantly loves to remind the class is that there are sea turtles that live up to 400 years and they only breathe 4 times a minute, so we need to slow down are breathe and live a long time like the wise sea turtles.

After yoga, Rhaki and I went to visit Cottolengo, a disabled children's home run by a group of nuns. Sister Judy took us for a tour of the school. There are 62 students here: 28 board at the school and 12 of them are orphaned and are wards of the school. They offer the education for no cost and boarding for no cost or a donation if the family can afford it. They fundraise for every part of this school as they used to receive some government funds as well as some help from the Vatican, but due to some government corruption that one of the mayors is on trial for and the Vatican citing "lack of funds," that money is no longer available. At the same time that they lost funding, they had also established which resulted in a flood of students the Sisters didn't want to turn away. As a result, they have taken it on themselves to try to fund the school, boarding and public service physical therapy clinic themselves through donation requests. Each of the sisters calls the students their "little jewels" and you can feel the love between them. Everyone is constantly hugging and helping each other. The sisters invited me to come and teach a yoga class to the school at the end of the week, so of course I excepted the invitation even though I was unsure of what to teach exactly. I reached out that evening to my friend Christine who teaches yoga to autistic children and got some great tips. After the Cottolengo meeting, Rhaki and I set out to find a home stay for all of us in case our group is to big for Sea Hut Homestay. It is low season, so there was hardly anyone in any of the home stays, but in January every room will be almost filled, so many didn't want to take groups or didn't have a yoga room. Still, after hours of looking, negotiating and investigating we found 3 great alternatives.

The next day, I wanted to explore Anthripally Waterfalls where we will be taking an excursion in January. Rafi and his two friends came to pick me up in the SUV again and we headed out to the jungle. It was a 1 hour drive to the foothills, then another hour up into the mountains. One of his friends knew the area very well since he was a location scout for a Bollywood movie that is about to be filmed there called Masala Café (we will have to have a Bollywood night and all watch it together :) ). Once we reached the top, there were monkeys all around. They were as fearless as squirrels in Manhattan and would come right up to you. One came up and stole my water bottle then tried to get my purse. I wish I could bring one home with me so badly. We trekked out to the waterfalls followed by a stream of monkeys. The top of the waterfall is like a beautiful still lake where everyone is bathing and surrounded by trees. I was literally the only Western tourist here. I found it so ridiculous how the men were all bathing in their tiny underwear, while the women were swimming in their full saris. Just another typical only-Indian scenario. I sat on the rocks and soaked my feet with a gaggle of women who told me stories of this sacred river while my newfound friends went for a swim.

After the waterfalls my friends took me to meet a baby I had been reading about that was from a very poor family and needed heart surgery. I didn't even realize I was going to meet him, I thought they were just showing me the neighborhood but then all of a sudden I was whisked down this alley full of people and into this small crowded home and out came the darling baby in his mother's arms. The family was so kind and generous sitting with me and having their story translated by my friend. You could tell how nice they were, but also how genuine their exhaustion was. They still are going to owe about $2000 for the surgery and the doctor almost refused but the newspaper article raised enough for a down payment. I'd love to help this family and cut them a break - they surely deserve to be concentrating on letting him heal, not on bills.

My final day in Kerala was a perfect sendoff, going back to Cottolengo. Shilpa, my new roommate at my home stay :) , traveled with me to the school to teach a yoga class to almost 62 students, some English volunteers and a few nuns. The students had had a regular yoga class a few months ago and they remembered so much. At the end of a 30 min yin class I asked if any of the kids wanted to be teacher and this one little girl stood up right away. She was all smiles and so sweet, she couldn't talk very much and had been orphaned to the school, but she clearly in her own perfect way. She led us through 10 beautiful sun salutations, her favorite fish pose and rounds of Om then into a peaceful shavasana. The kids around me were giggling during shavasana and we all started to hold hands and the laughter was infectious. With all the struggles these children have gone through, they are pure light and are so happy it's unbelievable. Also the tenderness these sisters have with the children gave me so much peace, because they have completely adopted each other as family in their hearts. It is going to be such a privilege to spend time working side-by-side with all these inspirational people and I can't wait to share this project with everyone.

There are so many more stories to tell, but they will have to wait till we come back and I can make everyone a cup of masala chai (I am desperately trying to learn to perfect this recipe). Thank you all so much for your support, for spreading the word, and for being part of the Yogamour community. We are looking forward to having you join us and to bring your own experience to these lovely communities.

Lots of love and keep leading with your heart,

Beccah

 

Letters from the Heart (Beccah flies solo), India 2013

June 1, 2013

 "Welcome home..."

This is the first message I received on my "What's Up App" (the easiest way to communicate in India) after stepping off the plane from Dubai from our dear in country coordinator Karnika. Home is strangely exactly what India has began to feel like. I get a pit in my stomach and a smile on my face as soon as I hear the buzzing of rickshaws and smell the evening fires. There is always this singular purpose you feel when you are traveling you get to let go of the multitasking and just be focused, it soothes the soul. India amplifies this driven focus in me I love all the energy, movement, colors, noises and smells moving so fast and yet still it is so foreign it's like being in a symphony each thing blending into the next.  

I have only been here 5 days and it feels like so many things have happened. First of all let me start with it is hot so bloody hot! Literally a low of 91 and a high of 119 so I am doing all I can to stay hydrated and awake basically 50% water and 50% coffee all day long. But it is so worth it. It has been a number of years since I have been to India in the summer and it is definitely a different place but it also has an added sense of reality and the struggles throughout the year our communities we work with here go through. 
 
I first arrived in New Delhi around 8pm and hired a public cab to take me to my hotel where I'd be staying for the next two days. We were terribly lost and what should have taken 30min took about 2 hours most of that was because we had to wait for 2 trains to pass at a cross and it took about 45 min there. No wonder India is the founder of Yoga you have to learn to enjoy being patient and how to make life into a moving meditation. In the words of Karnika, "Beccah, you can not let time rule you, you must resist and learn to rule it." Such a good lesson and something I need to work on always.

I decided to stay in Delhi 2 days so I could meet DrKumkum, the founder of Vihaan and too many other amazing things to list, she was there on business and we usually don't have the opportunity to just sit the two of us and talk about the school. She spoke to me about the many struggles of the school and trying to motivate the children's parents to keep them in school. Their main current struggle is that the owners of the property the school is on has been suddenly thinking that after 8 years it may be more profitable for them to rent the property to families for living or they want to double the rent for the school which would result in not being able to afford teachers.

Which lead us to sit down in Jaipur with the land lady, Karnika and some Vihaan staff to negotiate a bit. Karnika and I tried to relay the message of what great people they are for doing something like aiding in educating their area and how proud everyone is of them, I even wrote them a letter last night congratulating them. So far it seems like some positive psychology has done some good as they gave it a rest for a while.

At Vihaan the kids were actually on Summer Camp. The school works hard to provide this for a number of reasons the first is that if the children take a break in school the parents will often send them to pick trash and then once they make even smallest amount 5 Rupees (less than 10 cents) in a day it is hard for the parents to send the child back to school. So offering some supplement during summer break is essential. They also open the summer camp to kids for free throughout the slum that don't regularly come to school in hopes to gain their parents interest and grow their students. Vihaan usually charges $1 for the first child 50 cents for the second and free every child after that, most families have between 4-7 children. Yet most of the time the parents never pay this small fee but the school never makes consequences as it is so difficult to convince much of the community the deep need for education.

Every day at summer camp there was Bollywood style dancing, singing, art, English class and science. It was full of laughter and excitement but I still couldn't help but notice how skinny the children are due to malnutrition and how I never saw one single meal and only once saw one bottle of water. Summers are difficult here and they are trying hard to smile through the difficulties they are dealing with right now.

There was also an open workshop at Vihaan for the mothers of the slum to learn some textiles skills through Khunar a slum development program our in country coordinator Karnika is working with. These ladies were the most beautiful gentle woman I have ever met. They had all been through so much, abusive husbands, divorces that caused them to be shunned by their families, giving birth at 13 and 14 years old, and the list goes on. But they were graceful and sweet never a scowl on their face and they paid proper attention to each thing they were learning. They all wore beautiful saris and would hide their faces under them each time they giggled. They all could have walked the runways in NYC they were so beautiful but they tried so hard to be wallflowers. On the last day the woman knew I was a hairstylist and asked me to cut their hair and give them a little eye shadow it was so cute. Goes to show we all just want to feel pretty sometimes and self care goes a long way. They all were so relaxed as I brushed their hair and put some lotion on their skin with their eyes closed and a little smile, I seriously could have done this forever it was so gratifying taking care of these beauties for a moment. Their gratitude was unspeakable it was almost embarrassing. As abrupt as India can be their is definitely a balance in this extreme sweetness the people here can extend. 

Being here alone this time has proven to be very productive as I was able to spend a lot of time with the teachers and hear their stories. First Vihaan often has an issue gaining qualified teachers because it is looked down on to work with the cast of this slum and can "damage the reputation of a teacher". These teachers are incredibly brave for breaking the mold and showing up for barley any money each day. They are only from a cast slightly higher but still it is a risk. I learned that they all have to take a few buses and walk quite a ways to get to school so it takes them about 2 hours to get to the school each morning and 2 hours to get home and this is no 270 commute in an AC car listening to music. The woman are often harassed, they have to leave plenty of room for delays on buses as well as brave the heat. Two of the female teachers have been divorced and had been treated terribly by their husbands, getting a divorce is not to be taken lightly in their lives as there is no chance to be remarried and often your family will be devastated over your decision and may not speak to you. They risk everything to stay and everything to leave, I can't begin to even imagine what it must have been like and to still be so devoted to life and children you continuously make sacrifices day in and day out to be part of the Vihaan School. They make such little money none of them had ever been to Delhi (4hours away) or Agra to see the Taj Mahal (3 hours away) actually none if them had even ever been able to afford a train anywhere ever. Every year we go to the Taj Mahal on this beautiful Shatabdi Train with meals served and comfy seats tickets to Agra are about $12 round trip (indian resident) and entrance to the Taj for Indians is about $1 such a small amount but to us it would be like taking the time and saving the money to travel for a year around Europe or something. So we invited them to join us in Agra and to ride the train with us, the faces were priceless if only I could have taken a picture. There is 9 teachers at Vihaan and they will be joining us in January on our next Yogamour trip one morning to Agra and see the Taj then take the train back in the evening. It will be the best $13 we could have ever spent on a person, I can't wait to see the Taj with these devoted teachers that so deserve a little something special. It is going to be such an honor.

 "So many more stories to share..."

I have also been spending a lot of time at Khunar Slum Development Program. They make some beautiful clothing and teach textile design to adults from the slum. Most of the time there is no electricity in the building but everyone diligently works away in a sea of beautiful recycled sari fabrics. I brought in tow a few fashion magazines for them to see some western designs and see how we could fuse some Indian & western charm in with what they are already making. We came up with 3 dress designs and 1 yoga bag design. It was so fun and they made each piece better than I could have imagined . Geni and I have already been selling some of their products at Bazar's we throw but now we will have some of our very own designs and will take part of the proceeds to fund future projects in India. I cannot wait for everyone to see these beautiful pieces and see all the love and labor that they have put into the details.  

I also have been having a little non work related fun and spent an evening with our friend Rahul. He always takes me for my favorite adventure in Jaipur, riding on the back of the motor bike through the bustling streets of Jaipur. I am obsessed with it hitting traffic lights and everyone on top of each other and people giggling at the foreigner on the bike. It makes you feel like you are flying through a colorful heaven filled with lovely faces. Then I spent another evening with my new friends I made this January, Palak and Rajat who are a delightful brother and sister. They are live in Jaipur too. They came to Vihaan and were volunteering through an organization Rajat's college friends had started that support slum schools all around Rajasthan by providing nutritious meal as often as they can. Pallak came to pick me up one evening to go meet Rajat and go to Tapin an amazing tea house and restaurant on a roof top over looking a park and a temple. This was another side of Indian I haven't seen before, it was young and progressive in a weird way it reminded me of California. I have been to a lot of top notch restaurants in Jaipur but they are usually much more traditional this was a new age coming through. We ate Maggie which was my favorite these thin noodles cooked with spices and loaded with tons of chopped olives. I sipped on Hibiscus Iced teas and we took in the views. They are the most infectiously fun brother and sister. I love the joking manner that most Indians embody and it is amplified in a sibling relationship as they were constantly playing little jokes or telling an embarrassing story about each other. They asked me to go meet their parents with them and go out for a special sherbet in the old city I of course said yes! So we went to a dosa restaurant in this lovely garden to meet them where they were on a little date night. They were so darling and full of kindness and playfulness just like their children. We all rode together into old city and went on one of the back streets where cows were sleeping under the awnings of stores for the evening and then there was this beautiful little jewel box of a shop serving this rose sherbet over graham flour noodles it was so sweet and delicious after a long hot day. The mother has invited Yogamour volunteers over this January to learn how to make dosas! She also gave me a gift of two aryuvedic candles for no reason other than Indian hospitality is the most amazing thing ever. Their dad was so kind and treated me to the sherbet and as I left the man working the counter wanted to know where I was from and said he was so happy to have a foreigner in his shop. I mean the sweetness and sincere interest people have here makes you feel like a celebrity. It is so addictive and everything feels like a grand adventure. 

I am currently heavy hearted as I am leaving Jaipur now and riding on a train to New Delhi. It gets harder and harder to say goodbye each time I come. I made my rounds to say good bye in the slums yesterday and everyone was so kind inviting me into their homes and giving me blessings for my travels. I am glad to be spending the next few months devoted to this type of work and can't wait to see our newest addition to our Yogamour project in Kerala India where we will be supporting 2 disabled children's homes.   

Sending lots of love and light too all of you. Thank you for all of your support and we look forward to having you come along with us on one of these adventures...

Lead with your hearts,  

Beccah


 

Letters from India 2013, part 2

February 1st

Dear Friends and Supporters,

While referring to a familiar saying in India, "don't let time rule you, you must rule time," I soon came to realize that this really only meant that patience is a necessary practice as a guest in this country. Sinatra may have wooed New York as being the "city that never sleeps", but I don't believe that he had ever visited Jaipur, India! With all of the busy fervor of rich brown faces, brilliant smiles, colorfully flowing sarees and the background humming with chants  to prayer, it is an undeniable experience of "sensory overload."

Our Yogamour volunteers beautifully ventured forth cultivating their unique relationships with the children at the school. We were greeted with a clamoring sense of welcome everyday as we began our morning journeys through the narrow allies of the "slum." The early sun reflected a true essence of life in the dry, slim tributaries as we witnessed the synchronization of sight and sound; the laughter of children, the vibrant color of drying laundry, animals tolerating people and...oh...the smells that tickled the senses. Reaching outside of our element as far as we could have ever possibly imagined, there emanated a sense of cohesiveness and beauty that could only be held and touched by the warmth of the human heart in this newly discovered reality.

The plans for our sustainable garden became more of a negotiation than the simple project of turning earth and sowing seed. Nothing here comes with ease or without lengthy discussion. Dirt turned out to be not such a readily available commodity, and therefore huddling and bantering over a small pile of soil mixed with trash proved to be quite the community buzz. After solidifying the purchase and many trips hauling dirt through the allies (Emily looked so cool with a bucket full of dirt on her head by the way ;), the garden project was no longer a vision. Knowing that hope springs eternal, the creation of this garden may be Yogamour's contribution towards a healthy lifestyle for the Vihaan family, and enough of a viable project for a grant proposal to keep edible veggies sprouting!

After productive days at the Vihaan School, our deeds were rewarded with tours to palaces, temples, local shopping, a visit to an astrological park, and of course traditional Indian food! And as our group would agree, a trip to India would not have been complete without an excursion to the Taj Mahal! While our days were busy yet productive, we were never without love and laughter.

It was a bittersweet departure as the group began to disperse and embark on home bound journeys. We bid farewell to our fun loving auto rickshaw drivers, Pruin and Handsome, the ever faithful photographer from Thailand, Bank, and our knowledgeable guide to India, Rahul. Flowered with promises to return and maintaining a faithful contact with the Vihaan School, a group of volunteers who began an adventure as strangers, departed a sisterhood. 

While our presence may have been as simple as the extension of a hand and a smile with an occasional feeling of being merely a drop of water in a vast ocean, giving a vision of "hope" is life changing.

Love,

Geni

Letters from India 2013, part 1

January 4

Dear Friends and Supporters,

After traveling half way around the world, Beccah and I seamlessly found each other under the rather large hand mudras in the Delhi International Airport. But losing baggage on an international flight seemed like perfectly orchestrated protocol after twenty four hours of air travel. As our evening turned towards morning, we found our baggage, pulled our resources together and ventured towards our Delhi destination. We spent the next two evenings with our gracious host, Jessy exploring and enjoying the tastes of Delhi. Thursday morning we boarded the train from Delhi to Jaipur. As the sun began its journey across the morning sky and the dense fog began to lift, we absorbed the sights and sounds of a very raw India.

We were met upon arriving in Jaipur by Pruin, who would serve to be our auto rickshaw driver, city guide and counselor for the next month ;). I'm sure that there are only a few cities around the world that could compare to the incredibly dense population and lively streets of Jaipur. They flawlessly lack continuity; cars, auto rickshaws, motorbikes, bicycles, cows, pigs, boars, camels, dogs and people roam aimlessly creating perpetual chaos. Traffic lights are by the way mere suggestions, and blowing your horn is a gesture of politeness (and everyone is always being oh so very polite!)...so can you only imagine this perpetual bumper to bumper scenario flooding your senses?  

Our boutique hotel, Ayra Nawis which has become our little oasis in the heart of Jaipur proves to be a welcoming reprieve. The volunteers began arriving on Friday, and after long stints of air travel and gradual recovery from the sights and sounds of a new and culturally stimulating environment, everyone appeared to settle in with ease. We spent the weekend acclimating to our surroundings as we found solace in our yoga practices and spent time enjoying each other’s company.

On Monday morning, after a grounding practice, we began our indelible journey. After parking just shy of our destination, we made our trek into the allies of the slum. While immense poverty was indescribable, the streets were undeniably peppered with the vibrant colors of this ancient culture.

The children at the Vihaan School greeted us with smiling eyes and open hearts. Sally, Paula, Andrea, Beccah and I spent the morning clearing rocks from a secluded space within the school walls so that we could break ground for an educational garden. Kate, Emily, Dale and Madison tapped into their math skills, vocal abilities and artistic creativity while engaging young and willing smiles.

While the days have been exhaustive, we leave the Vihaan School with joyful hearts. It is an amazing gift to be immersed within the pulse of this culture and take home the simplicity of playful minds and brilliant smiles.

Sending warm thoughts,

Geni

Letters from Thailand 2012 (Geni flies solo), part 5

July 13th

Caught a minibus to Kanchanaburi Friday morning in front of The Royal Embassy Hotel which is essentially across two streets and a rotary from the entrance of the catacombs. It took fifteen minutes to navigate my way to the hotel which is really only a stone's throw away, due to the continuous flow of buzzing motorbikes, buses, cars and tuk tuks. Bangkok certainly earns its well-deserved reputation for its high traffic volume. The concierge at the hotel offered me the two and a half hour minibus ride to Kanchanaburi for 2,000 baht. I graciously declined opting to board the bus with the local crowd which scored a dramatic difference of 150 baht. So, that would be a difference of 65 dollars verses 5 dollars.

Being the only pale face on the bus squeezed in amongst bags of rice and linens, I befriended a Sergeant in the Thai Army who was seated next to me. He was returning home to Kanchanaburi after spending his week in Bangkok at the military school learning English. I spent the next two and a half hours reviewing the weekend homework with him in preparation for his final exam on Monday. My only reprieve from offering instruction was a stop for gasoline (thank goodness...was feeling pretty queasy). Upon stopping for gas, the driver made everyone get out of the van and started physically rocking the vehicle while the petrol was pumping. We had seen this done by our driver in Chiang Mai. Apparently it allows for the intake of more petrol?

I was dropped at my prearranged destination in Kanchanaburi and was so pleasantly surprised what 35 dollars per night was able to offer. Although a block from the river, the friendly open air boutique lodging was perfect; and oh my, a quiet, comfortable setting with soap, more than one towel for a couple days, hot water and enough space so that I didn't have to back up against the wall to get around the bed. I immediately opened the windows which viewed a luscious courtyard, water fall and swimming pool. Finally a place to practice yoga!

Finding a twenty four hour bike rental for 80 baht, I lost myself in the rural countryside. And I did literally get so lost! I kept riding further and further drinking in the sights; groves of banana trees, rice and tapioca fields, and the breathtaking mountains! Enjoying this get away from the bustle of the city, I realized that I hadn't really paid much attention to my route and thought given my keen sense of direction that I would loop back around and towards the town center. Hmmm...I really hadn't been making much headway, so I stopped at a few road side stands where I tried desperately to communicate the name of the town with a bit a Thai tone. After rerouting a few times, I made my way back just before the valley was engulfed in a cloak of darkness.
 
There is this lovely yet modest resort on the river behind my accommodations, known as Camila's. The setting is spectacular offering views of the river and jungle against a majestic mountain range. I've enjoyed very peaceful late morning teas and tranquil evening dinners (excepting for the occasional passing of quick long boats with Karaoke loving tourists ;). Saturday morning as I enjoyed my ritual tea, I spied a lone kayaker and almost immediately asked the waitress where and how I could jump into this activity.

An hour later, a friendly local fellow met me with a kayak hanging out of the back of his pickup truck. We drove about 15 kilometers up the river where he dropped the kayak and me in the river. His final words before he smiled and drove away were, "three hours up river, after second bridge turn left,  look for blue roof where I meet you, but don't go far past second bridge because two rivers meet and then we say bye bye." Although this did not instill much confidence, I had no choice at this point. Besides, it could be worse like a brewing storm or something and the weather at this point had been beautiful.

It was a wonderful and peaceful trek as the river wound through untouched jungle and revealed what could not be seen by land. Three hours can be quite a bit of time when weather dependent, and remember winter is the rainy season in Thailand...and so. The last forty minutes I enjoyed cooling off to a torrential downpour. When I heard thunder, I thought for a fleeting moment that my guide might try to find me, but if he was going to say "bye bye" as I made my way into the current of two river, I couldn't rely on false hope. So, I persevered and chose to enjoy my ride. I made the mandated left after the second bridge entering a small shallow tributary inundated with lily pads, trash and massive beds of seaweed. I squeezed my two and a half foot wide kayak through narrow passages of broken down house boats, and finally under a low bridge while ducking to avoid the wooden support beams and dangling electrical wires. I obligingly tied the kayak to the pathetic piling where it appeared it should be moored at a pier extending from a house with a blue roof, but of course i never saw the guide again. And then with my Buddha on, I made my pedestrian one mile journey back to the hotel in the pouring rain. After all, it was about the adventure, right?

A few dozen mosquito bites, sunburned, cuts and bruises on my legs, I felt painfully like ten years old again. Although, I never saw too many cyclists...solo at that, i enjoyed riding my little beach cruiser bike with a handlebar basket sporting a map, book and sketch pad up and down the river town exploring new roads and niche neighborhoods (don't so much enjoy trying to out pedal the crazy barking packs of roaming stray dogs though...almost worse than the alligator).

Today I embarked on a physically challenging excursion cycling towards the base of the mountain range on the outskirts of Kanchanaburi (felt like a trek to Everest's base camp for all I knew...ooolala). Wat Tham Khao Poon has the largest and happiest Buddha belly I've seen yet. He's perched on the edge of the river conveying the illusion of overseeing with obvious pleasure and contentment, but then again maybe it's not an illusion ;)

Wat Tham Poon is home of a limestone temple cave which has rooms housing multiple manifestations of the Buddha and Ganesh. I was the sole tourist in the cave under the guide of a six year old Thai boy who would lead by throwing rocks  into each cavernous room before we would entered. I didn't understand why this ritual was a part of the tour, but very quickly discovered that it involved the light flapping of hundreds of wings a few inches above my head upon each entry, and they weren't butterflies! I wasn't so sure this was necessary though.

This was my last evening in Kanchanaburi. The thought of heading back to Bangkok was not settling well, but one more evening in the old familiar alleys before a Tuesday departure would be secure and fitting. And besides, it's nice to have had created a life time of memories in such a short time. As Bec so eloquently summarized it when she got home last week from Thailand "it's such a drag to understand the conversations going on around you." It really is like a reversal in sensory overload!

See you soon!

Love,

Geni

Letters from Thailand 2012 (Geni flies solo), part 4

July 11th

For those of us that strive to maintain a healthy life style while watching our diets and with regular exercise, unless an avid yogi, Thai Massage Therapy could be complimentary component. Needless to say massage is ubiquitous in this country and is preferred over most other forms of exercise including yoga! It's pretty difficult to find a full spectrum yoga studio in Bangkok.

I am studying traditional Wat Po Thai Yoga Massage Therapy as an only student under the instruction of Jing and Tom of which offer 25 years of combined experience. The philosophical theory of Thai Yoga Massage Therapy is similar to that of Ayurvedic Massage which is based on the life energy channels and the belief that a person's health and wellbeing relies on the balance and flow of our own life's energy? Likening to a regular yoga practice, when Thai Yoga Massage if applied properly, can help to decrease blockages and increase the energy flow bringing into balance body, mind and spirit. A huge added benefit is that it also assists in a journey towards more flexibility. So, just in case you may have been wondered why I have been in Bangkok besides falling in love with the Thai culture that could be a large part of it ;)

I wasn't sure what I was searching for when I opted to travel alone. Initially I had thought perhaps it was because I had never had really flown solo, or it could have been because the past year had dealt me some not so welcoming hand of cards. All that now aside, this has become a wide open door offering endless opportunity for experiences and friendships. There is such a lesson in treating folks the way you expect to be treated...with respect and dignity. It can be "oh so unfortunate" (that one's for you, Bank), that this does not always translate in our day to day interchanges and possibly within our own family dynamics. When traveling though, this is a valuable tool to have tucked away in your back pocket. Now that's how you yogis should be thinking anyway ;)

Morning hours with the teachers have proven to be wonderful and the comfort level is running high. For the past two days, I have decided to stay local or close to the catacombs. Meandering the alleys and streets, getting massages and view shopping (that's what the Thai girls told it was called here as opposed to window shopping) the outdoor markets can be an overwhelming experience. Life in Old Bangkok appears to be on a twenty four hour moving carousel ride...except for the guy sleeping on the other side of the alley from Madam Joe's who hasn't moved since my arrival. I honestly have been wondering.

Yesterday, I was astonished that I had not noticed the majestic temple at the end of Kahn Son Street which spans about four square blocks. I'm the peaceful oasis which offered a great deal of solace in the middle of this circus ride.  The soft streaming echo of monks chanting from the temple, pulled me through the heavily golden laid doors only to join devout practitioners in a meditative practice. I sat for about twenty minutes and then sheepishly exited the scene when I realized that I had been sitting in the temple sleeveless and in shorts. Covering shoulders and knees is protocol in temple, and I was feeling a little naked as I made my way to my little Havaianas at the bottom of the grand marble steps.

As I continued my exploration, there was a whole new world to be had existing in the allies around the temple. I'm not sure of the zoning regulations here, but anything seems to be permissible. Ten outdoor vendors within a ten foot radius seems very typical. But today I found a added delight in the mix of goods, an official Muay Thai boxing event. This is not my passing fancy by any means, but I did take some pictures for you, Leith! A very chatty gent from Belgium was sitting next to me as we watched the alley boxing debate. I wasn't so sure why he felt the need to tell me that, "it was a good thing we were too old for this sport" as he gave me a 'you know what I mean' smile. Departed from that bench shortly thereafter.

Today, my teachers gave me a special treat...over three hours of Thai and fresh herbal massages. I hadn't worked that hard in a long time (at least since I've been here...involved a great deal of moving and bending). I was feeling more limber and detoxed, even more so than after a two hour hot yoga class with Maria! Tomorrow we will be visiting Wat Po which is the temple that holds the original ancient scriptures documenting the birth of Wat Po Medical Thai Massage, and then to the market where we procure the proper herbs for treatment and application in massage therapy.

Although tomorrow is my last day of class, Madam Joe (being short for a very long Thai name by the way) had the underground posse track me down as I was tucked away in a seedy little joint making email connections? She was so excited as she babbling only in Thai (because she does know a bit of English...sort of like when Ricky can't control only speaking in Spanish when overwhelmed with Lucy) that my certificate had arrived from The Thailand Ministry of Health. No, I am not going to skip my last class tomorrow despite the early honorary presentation. 

Heading to Kanchanaburi tomorrow which is river town located north of Bangkok. Looking forward to a reprieve from the crazy business of the city! 

Kanchanaburi is infamous for the Bridge on the River Kwai which was erected during the construction of the Burma Railway during World War II while under Japanese occupation. The town is chalked full of history and natural beauty while located at the foothills of a fabulous mountain range.

And by the way on a quick note, I am reading a great book, "Classic Indian Philosophy" by Somparm Pomta. It's a comparative perspective that discusses the disciplines of the world in relation to their ethical views. Although the book is chalked with so much to ponder, I love when the author notes T.D. Suzuki as saying, "the West talks while the East keeps silent." Doesn't that seem to ring so true?

Love,

Geni

Letters from Thailand 2012 (Geni flies solo), part 3

July 10th

My dear friends and family,

If you start to open your eyes, any situation has opportunities and there is a potential for so many more silver linings than you ever imagined. So in just less than a week I am starting to find such a sense of endearment in my catacomb of sub allies. This area may be viewed as being not the most reputable in Bangkok but I think that could possibly be a misunderstood sense of perception...maybe. The staff that works with Madam Joe at the guest house is absolutely gracious. I do spend very little time in my room for a possibly a plethora of reasons of which might include exploring Bangkok after a long day with my teachers. 

It astonishes my friends at Madam Joes that I would even entertain the idea of walking everywhere in this city. They are constantly telling me that my journeys around Bangkok by foot are "too 'wong' and I need to take tuk tuk." The truth is that traveling from point A, B and C are really not too far when you really don't have anywhere to be at any particular time (for the first time in my life), and I think that most folks around here might want to (or should) get anywhere very fast to avoid the pollution from the millions of motor bikes and cars overcrowding the streets.  

I visited a fabulous temple yesterday. Now, when I remember the name...I promise to share. Its history was fascinating and I spent an inordinate amount of time reading each tablet which revealed the teachings of the Buddha encapsulated in the ambience of the lovely open air temple. I made my way to the fourth level cupola which provided a breathtaking three hundred and sixty degree view of the city. As I looked down over the railing, I realized that there was no one left in the court yard. I listened and didn't hear any other voices in the temple. Having a foreboding feeling, I ran down the steps to find that that the iron gates had been closed and I was locked in this lovely temple. I was not feeling very Buddha like at this point, but tried to look at the bright side...how many could say that they had spent the night in a temple with over five hundred Buddhas?

Well maybe I didn't want to own that story, so I revisited the second level and shouted down to a couple passing monks. The response was interesting. They looked up at me and walked away.  Attributing this to their very peaceful nature, it was probably their best response because about twenty minutes later, I was released with many apologies. I put my Buddha on and remained very passive ;)  

Today was not as crazy eventful. Got lost in Bangkok. I walked to the Royal Palace and did the traditional tour...incredible hue of unspeakable gaudiness. After thoroughly enjoying that tour, I meandered through an extremely crowded market and unexpectedly found the Mae Nam Chao Phraya...or the river. At that point, I thought it would be entertaining to catch one of the passing ferries to Chinatown for a bit of adventure. Bangkok's Chinatown is an overwhelming market of food, and anything and everything that could be sold on the street. Busy, busy with cars, people and more than the eyes needed to see.   

So now I found that I was really lost. Maps in English are not helpful when most of the street signs are in Chinese or Thai. Upon a few friendly yet cautious encounters, I was able to find my neck of the woods. Walking for what seemed like days, I was never so excited to see that shady entry back into the underground of my little safe haven.    

Hope all is well on your side!  

Love,

Geni  

Letters from Thailand 2012 (Geni flies solo), part 2

July 8th

Dear friends and family,

While last night was alive and eventful, nothing could have been more amusing than returning to my compound only to enjoy whom I believed to be the proprietor singing Karaoke to "Brick House" with all of the "r's" rolling like "l's." Needless to say, there was not a large crowd at that end of the canal but I thoroughly enjoyed that bit of mixed cultural entertainment ;)

It certainly is a magical to wake up to the distant sound of monks chanting from temples along the canal in Ampawa. This morning, I was lured by the sound of lively music and voices toward the temple across the bridge from my compound. The glimmer of this temple had caught my eye since arriving in Ampawa and this presented a better excuse than any other to make the journey.

While this appeared to be a local event, I ventured over to the neighboring temple which was clearly abandoned by evidence of the heavily boarded windows and doors. As I walked around the temple followed by half a dozen roosters and a couple baby chicks, I was approached by a monk with a toothless but an ear to ear pleasant smile. Again, only able to converse in varying tongues, he gestured me to follow him into the temple as he opened the huge bright red wooden shutters which flooding the ornate building with well-deserved sunlight. Although this temple was not as elaborately adorned as its predecessors that I had visited, there were a myriad of paintings of manifesting the Buddha over his life time on earth. As I walked around in bare feet with my newly befriended monk asking questions in English, he so obliged me in Thai.  

After forty five minutes of communicating in our own special way, my monk again gestured me to follow him to the neighboring temple where he introduced me to a celebration of a newly indoctrinated monk. Apparently, it takes some years of study to graduate to this point and is not achieved until twenty eight years of age. He was perched on center stage with beautiful robes of gold and sheer white cloth draping his small framed bronze figure, a very neatly cleaned shaved head and an expressionless appearance of serenity. This was a very honorable time for this young man and I was blessed to have had my picture taken with him on stage in front of at least a hundred supportive friends and family. 

After picture taking time, the audience started to rumble and someone pulled me to my feet handing me two full plastic liters of Cola and Grape soda decorated with streaming ribbons of green, pink and white from the bottle tops. I was pushed into a parade lead by dancing villagers which was followed by a marching band, and folks carrying flowers. Somewhere in the group between the band and soda pop brigade was our fresh monk basking in his glory...after all this was his debut! The tradition is apparently, to parade this very slow moving act around the temple three times. At this pace, I was sure that the rest of my morning was going to be lugging two liters of soda in the blaze of a very hot sun with over a hundred very happy villagers around a temple for a very long three laps. 

As I enjoyed the movement of this village ritual, I spied another rather large western gentleman (meant in the kindest of terms as it all relative) meandered in to take a couple photos from the steps of the temple. Really, this was a photo shoot not to be missed as an outsider! Unfortunately though, it was a missed opportunity for me as I paraded around with my soda. The heat must have been too much for my western friend because he fainted and cracked his head on the marble stairs. So knowing that I was the only one that spoke English, I not so reluctantly handed off my sodas. Although the parade did not stop, he was smothered with overwhelming attention by anyone close at hand. After chatting with him and knowing that he seemed okay with being dumped into a van that appeared to be taking him to a medical aid center, I was pulled into the front of the parade by an entertaining group of elderly dancing women. 

So now I was leading the parade as they danced and laughed with me...or at me?   We circled the temple a couple more times laughing and dancing and then our new monk was escorted up the marble white steps and stopped. He turned, smiled and nodded at his onlookers and then stared tossing little hand woven ribbons of origami ribbon. I'll have to say I was not quick enough to jump on this opportunity, but my crazy dancing lady friends showered me afterwards with their gifts of ribbon from heaven.

After sweet good byes, I took my last stroll down the canal which is still rather quiet in the late morning before the weekend warriors arrive. In passing an eatery that had lovely exotic music floating over the piers, two elaborately dressed women insisted that I come in for a very fine meal. The meal was very fine at that and the lovely ladies with very manly voices insisted on very many pictures. Ampawa does not appear to have too many visitors from the west so it is a special occasion to indulge them with pictures and open ended conversation with the likes of someone like myself...even ladies with beautiful manly voices ;)  

I left a part of my heart in Ampawa as I bid farewell to the cute little chickie who drove the white Toyota and maybe the proprietor (assuming but never really found out for sure). Upon checking out, I attempted to inquire as to how I was going to get back to Bangkok or at least a more direct route this time. "Ca...motorbike to bank." Hmmmm...after my backpack was nestled on the handle bars of their resident motorbike, I hopped on behind the driver to the bank? There had to be some reason to this rhyme...I hoped. After a ride that now best describes "fear" for me, I was dropped at the Bangkok Bank. Standing in front of the bank not knowing what to do, my escort pointed across the street to a make shift tent with a lovely sign hanging above only in Thai of course. His nod and redeeming sense of geography as he blurted, "Bangkok" was somewhat of a relief.  

Eighty baths to Bangkok in a minibus as the only foreigner was becoming very comfortable. After an hour and a half, back to the bustling city, I immediately longing to be back in Ampawa. Arriving in Bangkok, I took a taxi to New Joe's accommodations which is actually run by a Madam Joe. The accommodation is not easily accessible as it is really not situated on a street but rather through a catacomb of subway like allies. (I just would like you all to know that because no one asked me where I was going to be during this time in Bangkok...a little fyi now ;) 

The Madam is very nice and owns most of the alley where I am residing this week. She owns the school where I am to study Thai Yoga Massage, the restaurant, the sort of hotel or hostel place, the internet cafe and a couple other hottie spots that she pointed out during my very informal tour. The room could not be any more basic or if I can't say anything nice...nothing at all. So remember that I was in a hut in the jungle with furry friends and in Awpawa with the reptiles. This just has more of an urban shake to it.  

Bangkok does not have the same flavor for me as the rural parts of Thailand. There are a lot of Europeans here and that does not bode well as always being a very friendly environment for the most part. But it is all part of the journey, so until the next tomorrow....

Love,  

Geni 

Letters from Thailand (Geni flies solo), part 1

July 6th

Hello friends and family,  

Being In Bangkok and trying to find passage out of the city can prove a bit challenging. A tip from a friend brought my thoughts to the floating market in Amphawa which is located in the Samutsongkhram province. My journey began with forty five minute metered taxi ride to the train station in Hua Lamphong (250 baht) which is situated in the Chinatown of Bangkok. My cab driver, Cent, certainly enjoyed trying his hand at English, before he finally left me on the curb at the train station with such profound advice, "don't trust anyone in Bangkok." He drove away as I half heartily tried to wave him back shouting, "what do you mean...who am I supposed to trust?"

The station was packed with folks sleeping on the floor, eating on the floor and waiting in seemingly endless lines. After I waited in one of those lines, I was told that there were no trains at this station to Amphawa. So, the next bit of valuable advice after starting the process of waiting in line all over again, was that I needed to catch the #29 bus to Victory Monument. Acquiring that little bit of information was a long and painful task with my language barrier...I know all of three expressions in Thai. Back to curbside, I jumped on the #29 bus (8 baht) not knowing where or how to recognize Victory Monument. The good news is that I figured out who to trust as long as it was the right time of day. At the end of the school day while easily recognized by their neatly pressed uniforms, countless students poured out into the streets and onto my bus!

I had the most fortunate experience of being seated next to a very cordial medical student who offered to help me find the minibus to Amphawa at the Victory Monument stop. After he advised me to stay very close at hand, we got off at our mandated stop and proceeded to weave through allies created by the outdoor vendors. After passing lines of white minivans adorned in Thai words only, I was left standing in front of one of those white minivans (80 baht) that was destined for Ampawa! Well, so I thought! And wouldn't you know, once again, I was lucky enough to be sitting with yet another student.

Oh no, this was a one hour bus ride to another town where I was supposed to find another mode of transportation to Awpawa. Later after reading my Lonely Planet (appropriately named), I discovered that this town was called Damnoen Saduak. Once we reached this town of which at the time had no name for me, we channeled out of the bus and my student guided me through alley ways and fish markets to a line of worn blue Isuzu trucks with open cabins and benches in the truck beds. She motioned for me to hop on and the driver would take care of me the rest of the way. I jumped in the back hoping that I was finally on my right path (8 baht). I stood out like a white sore thumb. The elderly gentleman on the bench across the bed of the truck did not take his eyes off of me except to occasionally turn and bow as we would pass a Buddhist temple.

After a twenty minute ride on a road that likened the journey back and forth from Chiang Mai to Mae Taeng except of course that this was Bangkok, yet another student informed me that this was where I was to dismount from my truck. Thank heaven for the students! Except now I was standing on a dirt road along a roadside stand without direction. With name and address of the accommodations which I had scoured from The Lonely Planet in hand, I flagged a tuk tuk (well not really...looked like he was sitting there waiting for the likes of me). Now at this point, every mode of transportation in this journey had remained under approximately $3 dollars relative to the distance covered per leg (about 30 baht to our dollar). My tuk tuk driver ushered me in the open three wheeler with three rows of seats (including the driver's seat) and drove about three blocks to a very rustic local canal restaurant bestowing me with a nonnegotiable fee of 30 baht (my most expensive ride at this point, but really only 1 US dollar). I was introduced with nods and smiles only to whom I assumed was the proprietor of this establishment.

Not knowing why I was standing in his outdoor restaurant as it started to drizzle, he made a phone call and gestured me to sit down. He offered me a glass of water and although I was famished at this point and I tried to universally sign a request for a menu, he again so very sweetly nodded and smiled.

I waited for about twenty minutes while my new friend and I had a lovely conversation not knowing a lick of each other's language.  Our time together quickly drew to a close as slick little white Toyota with dark tinted windows pulled up  producing an energetic little female smiling from ear to ear proudly revealing her shiny braces with little hints of green and pink. She scurried me across the alley through a jungle of trees to a little hut. Well, I guess she knew my reason for being there?

The hut resulted in being quite tidy and it did have air conditioning which turns out to be a necessity here since none of the windows seem to have screens. And as we had experienced, mosquitoes in the jungle have no mercy for us. The bathroom captures everything in a 360 degree standing rotation; one very compact sink, toilet, and shower hose. After my hostess delivered me to my long awaited destination, I asked her about the market, food and a map. She smiled and nodded indicating that she would be right back. That was two hours ago.

I am now sitting in my jungle hut in Ampawa as it begins to storm and the rain doesn't appear to be residing anytime soon. Not sure how to find anyone (no phone or office) for an umbrella? It is sort of the winter season in Thailand right now and really all that equates to, it is continuous rain!

And continuing this very new experience, I just walked outside as the rain subsided only to hear a rambunctious scurry through the brush and up the bank from the small tributary about six feet from my hut. It was a rather questionable sound as I could not see anything at eye level. Upon a downward glance, I was entertained by a four foot alligator quickly making his way to what seemed directly towards me. I jumped on my very small porch and he jumped on my very small porch. I then jumped on the built in bench on the porch and onto the back rail. He opened his jaws and appeared to grin, and after a few very long seconds, he turned to jump right back into that little mucky flow of water next to my hut. Of course when I felt the coast was clear, I cautiously and swiftly strutted up to visit my open air restaurant not knowing really whether it was the chick in the slick Toyota or my friend who I dialogued with in multi tongues who managed this compound. I tried to explain my encounter with the alligator by motioning my arms as the opening and closing of the jaws. Ahhh, I think they got it as they nodded and laughed this time. My interpretation was that everything would be fine with more smiles as I viewed the shriveled skin of about a six foot alligator decorating the wall behind them. The only thing that I was able to glean from this lack of conversation was that it could be dangerous for me to venture around at night and I really should stay quietly in my hut.

Well, of course I was not into that! This place comes alive very late at night. When I had arrived a short time earlier in the day, the canal looked as though it was a shanty town on a narrow small brown river with teak shutters closed off to any form of life. Just past six o'clock, the pulse in the heart of this town starts to rock! Every teak shutter opens and it happens to resemble work- live spaces but with an age spanning decades or centuries back in time. I walked down the boardwalk like setting where householders were worshiping, eating, watching television but at the same time selling on the open floating piers. The music was crazy and loud spanning from American familiars to local Thai artists. When I arrived only hours earlier this was more or less a ghost town!

So I am retiring with my resident alligator outside the door and a couple geckos running down the walls. I am lulled to sleep by the sound of mixed cultural sounds and music drifting in my windows.

 Looking forward to another tomorrow!

Love,

Geni

Letters from Thailand 2012, part 3

July 3

My dear friends,

I suppose that we could consider the end of our project the beginning of new lands to continue exploring and friendships to hold dear in our hearts. Our last day at the school came to an exquisite closure as the students had us sit on the basketball court only to present a traditional Akha dance performance. We departed without dry eyes as the children followed the van down the drive waving good bye with promises of next year's visit.

Our travels then took us to the heart of our Akha Village in Mae Taeng to continue creating our signature gardens. (I say "signature" because although we are trying to establish some sustainability, the irony is that I think they are much more agriculturally knowledgeable than we could even pretend, so they welcome us with smiles and accepting arms ;)

The conclusion of our weekend included visiting a jungle outside of Chiang Mai where we flew and zip lined our way through the trees. It was a liberating way to free our minds from a rather emotionally charged week.

After the incredible Sunday evening market in Chiang Mai which spanned for blocks and maybe a healthy mile, the first of our volunteers started their evening departure. Good byes to Sissy and Ian proved to be rather difficult as they time traveled half way back around the globe only to gain extra hours on their homeward bound journey. The following day, we all dispersed in different directions with fondly cast memories.

"The present is the ever moving shadow that divides yesterday from tomorrow. In that lies hope." ~ Frank Lloyd Wright

Love, 

Geni

Letters from Thailand 2012, part 2

June 28

My dear friends,

There is so much to experience and learn from this culture. Being a predominantly Buddhist country, the integration is reflected as ornate alters honoring the Buddha adorn every street corner in the city as well as a peppering throughout the country side. Monks draped in orange robes and shoeless feet can be seen softly walking through the streets of Chiang Mai or on the road to Mae Taeng. There is a sense of peace and gratitude that lives in the heart of this country.

We begin our morning yoga practices with a symphony of sounds from the jungle, enjoy fresh food for breakfast and then venture to school. Our last couple of mornings have been busy meeting the curriculum that we have created for the classes of children at the Baan Chang Nai School. Beccah reported has broken the shyness barrier with her fourth grade class. Ian and Leith have been leading competitive games of soccer and basketball with the first and second graders. Emily has been spotted strutting the hula hoop across the school grounds with the best of the fourth and fifth graders. Jen chooses a new classroom everyday as she guides them through the process of creating greeting cards and envelopes. And if interested, when we return, we will be selling the cards in an effort to raise money to meet some of the needs at the school ;) Dr. Sissy and Mary have been visiting a couple classes a day teaching dental hygiene, handing out toothbrushes and singing The Hokey Pokey (that's a stitch to watch)! Jan and I have had the third, fourth and fifth grade classes drawing pictures of their families and homes while labeling in English and Thai. We hope to create a pen pal exchange with same age children in the United States. 

And of course our yesterday would not have been complete without riding elephants, lounging with a few tigers and finding a wee bit of entertainment slithering with snakes. It's true though, we did watch an elephant complete a landscape painting...pretty amazing and starting only at 1500 Bth! 

Today was a special day for the school as Beccah with the help of the children, forged the community garden. They planted carrots, kale, eggplant, bok choy, and worms! Additionally, each student planted their own veggie pot to take home as a reminder of the time we have had together (and promote good eating habits ;) It was bittersweet being the second to the last day before our departure from the school.

Tonight we had an exceptionally wonderful evening which included a monk chat at a temple and dinner in Chiang Mai. One of the monks tried in earnest to recruit my fifteen year old Leith into the monastery. It was an interesting and enlightening exchange!

Our travels throughout Thailand would not be as enjoyably enhanced if it were not for the crazy and enjoyable company of our in country coordinator and guide, Bank (our Thai guru). He has bestowed each of us with our Thai nick names which is supposedly indicative of our personalities. I'll share later when I can figure out the English for each of the names ;). 

Hope all is well on your side of the world and I'll be sending our final letter from Thailand in a few days!

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."  ~ Margaret Mead 

Love, 
Geni

Letters from Thailand 2012, part 1

June 22

My dear friends,

As you may know, Yogamour has spent much time organizing a yoga and volunteer trip to northern Thailand. Beccah and I were so fortunate to begin our journey with a group of seven enthusiastic volunteers. 

After twenty six hours of flying, Chiang Mae was the light at the end of the tunnel! This is where we spent the next couple days enjoying the graciousness of this culture. While shopping was a highlight and visiting the historic Buddhist Temple of Doi Suthep highlighted our senses, moving on to pursue our project was the inevitable goal.  

Before meeting our destination in the province of Mae Taeng, we visited the Akha Village which neighbors our rather rustic resort, The Bamboo Country Lodge. We had the honor of meeting many of the villagers including some of the children who would be attending the Baan Chang Nai school where we were volunteering. Mumu, our precious seven year old guide gave us a tour of her village and home which was situated at the highest peak in town. After hula hooping and participating in home spun games through the village, we found an evening of respite at the resort. And by the way, my fifteen year old son become the popular one with the locals because of his lovely porcelain (that would mean very white and pale ;) skin and interactive nature. 

Just want to note that it is quite the roller coaster ride into the resort but well worth experiencing the primitive beauty of the jungle. The huts are rustic, yet accommodating. We are all adjusting to the idea of of living extremely close to every aspect of nature as well as each other. Our group could not be more dynamic! We are blessed with the energy of the two fifteen year old boys, Ian and Leith, lovely Emily all the way from Arizona, our enthusiastic Jen from Connecticut, Mary and Jan who keep the humor flowing, Dr. Sissy, our resident pediatric dentist, and of course Beccah and myself. 

The children and teachers at the Baan Chang Nai school have been wonderfully receptive. Volunteers are few here...so the love was flowing! Likening to organized chaos, we created our own curriculums from math and English to arts and crafts, and physical education. The school houses eighty three children from kindergarten through sixth grade. The students, donned in tidy uniforms greet us with smiling faces at every turn. We left smiling longing for the future.

 Ken and his daughter, Patty (names I'm sure were only created to cater to their guests) spend an inordinate amount of time making our visit as comfortable as they would expect our next visit ;) Meals at the lodge are lovely and the company even better. Thai food is always fresh and wholesome and I don't think we could ever expect less (so far).  

The Thai word for elephant is "chang" of which is conveniently integrated into the name of the school. And so, Mae Taeng is the home to a busy family of elephants. After a heated day of teaching, we decided to spend the latter part of the afternoon indulging in the task of bathing the family of elephants and their extended members in a tributary off of the Ping River. Now that was worth quite a few embarrassing photographs..stay in touch for a later viewing. 

Our second day at the school was equally as rewarding and even more productive. I do believe that we've found another home bound niche half way around the world. We left the school with a promise of a community garden and another tomorrow.

So, for a moment close your eyes and imagine moving to your yoga practice surrounded by the symphony of sounds from a jungle in northern Thailand and ask yourself, "what experiences in my life have changed or shaped me in a positive way and how can I radiate this change and make a difference in the world around me?"

Hope all is well on your side of the world I look forward sharing so much more!  


Love, 

Geni

Letters from India 2012, part 2

My dear friends,

As I would like to continue sharing the Yogamour experience in India of volunteerism and yoga, below is a combined letter from Beccah and Darragh. Their experiences are colorful, adventurous, real and creative!

Namaste and enjoy, 

Geni 

January 10

Hi Mom, 

Namaste. I am sorry it has taken me so long to write, but it has been quite the whirl wind since our arrival in Jaipur. As you know, we got here a couple days early. Our group of yogi volunteers arrived in Delhi on Friday and missed their flight to Jaipur due to the fog. But, they resourcefully found a cab driver to take them, in the middle of the night, on a six hour trek from Delhi to Agra. So, we had to rush to Agra from Jaipur in the wee hours of the morning to connect and transport them. Agra was full of cultural emersion in itself...just crazy, busy, spiritual, dirty, spicy, loud, but surprisingly bursting with vibrant color all the same. Of course, the most important thing was that we found each other! We even eventually found the Taj Mahal that first weekend and that was quite the architectural experience! (Btw, the subject of reconnecting in a country like India could take a week to describe in detail and certainly would need some face to face time.)

When everyone finally arrived in Jaipur, we were so pleased to find that our hotel, Ary Niwas was a beautiful oasis! Since then, we have been nonstop with yoga, journaling, sightseeing, elephant trekking, and eating! We saw the floating palace (Water Palace or Jal Mahl in Hindi). We also went to the Amber Fort, which may have been the most beautiful place I've ever been in my life. Jan and I were talking of how amazing it would be to get married there. We ended the day with an elephant safari through the Jaipur countryside; beautiful little children flying their kites and waving to us, their mothers wrapped in brightly colored saris, fields of peacocks and makeshift tent villages. This was pretty amazing against the lush green fields and pink skies as the sun was setting. 

We began our volunteer work this past Monday morning at the Vihaan School. We were all moved to tears of joy as we interacted with these beautiful children. Our days at the school began with the children singing and dancing and each so talented in their own special way. We all seemed to find our own niche within this school. We (Beccah and Darragh) taught English (today was proper sentence structure). Izzy's creative instruction inspired the children to draw, sing, dance and laugh a lot. Teresa and Sheri worked feverishly organizing the new cards for the upcoming fundraising program. Marion's specialty was teaching the children to read on a one to one basis...they loved the individual attention! Jan may end up taking over as principal by the end of the week so I am not sure if she will be coming home with us!  All kidding aside, she really has been monitoring class room after class room...its awesome! Jan and Sheri lead half of the opening assembly Monday morning and it was incredibly moving!

Wish you were here! And you have to know, that our Beccah has been quite the yoga instructor extraordinaire!  So, Mom, while it's been difficult to fit yoga, meditation, journaling, volunteering and sightseeing and everything else that this chaotic, polluted, overpopulated, beautiful place has to offer, it's an amazingly spiritual place. But you will come here next year and of course there will be Thailand in June. I have to admit, I am very much looking forward to the Thailand reprieve. I suspect it will much less exhausting, a time to rest, journal, Skype...all the things I haven't yet have time to do while I have been here.

I will leave you with the starting point from our journaling exercise today and maybe you will want to reflect as well, and see what comes..."now is a time in my life when..."

xoxox

Beccah and Darragh

Letters from India 2012, part 1

My dear friends,

As you may know, Yogamour spent a loving amount of energy organizing a yoga and volunteer trip to northern India. A dynamic group of seven women from the Frederick area departed on January 4, 2012 for Jaipur, India. Beccah and Darragh of whom will be leading the group, embarked on an adventurous day in Delhi before continuing on to the Pink City of Jaipur. As I remain steadfast on my path to healing and recovery, the group will be sending thoughts, letters and pictures of which I would like to share with you as their journey evolves.  

Namaste and enjoy, 

Geni 

January 4

Hi Geni,

So today we saw someone that looked like you and my eyes filled up with tears. I am so sad that you aren't here, but can feel you with us. I know you are the reason everything has been going so well here, and that we will be back many many more times.  

So far we started in Delhi and stayed in a lovely hotel. We started our morning with a bike ride through old Delhi and all the spice markets. The streets were very crazy and the things you see are indescribable, some very sad, some very colorful, some very traditional. It was like riding your bike through an emotional rollercoaster that you knew you would remember forever.  

We arrived late last night in Jaipur and our driver (and friend) Pruin came to pick us up. We came back to Ary Nawis and at first honestly we were concerned with the bed rooms but it appears Dara and I just somehow ended up with a dud room and the rest are lovely of which I was fine.  

Today, we went to pick up goodies for the guest and met with Karnika. She has quite the itinerary for us and I am putting D hard to work organizing it and taking notes. Also, good news, they gave us the most beautiful room in the whole world to teach yoga. It looks like a marble temple with stain glass and so much more!

Karnika wants us to come to Jaipur twice a year and she will continue to make it the most memorable experience. She said this was the week for the heritage festival and October would be the color festival. Look it up and tell me what you think? 

Love and miss you tons, 

Beccah 

we will write soon again…