Thursday, January 02, 2020

Resources for immigration justice

And here's the moment you've all be waiting for.... resources!

The Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice has put together a comprehensive study guide that encourages reflection on how to understand yourself and your response to the struggles you witness and how to use that to better engage in solidarity and activism. It's hard to navigate but worthwhile: https://uucsj.org/study-guide/ Specific to immigration justice, UUCSJ also put out this great list:

Other resources that I read:

If you would like to donate fund or supplies or time and love to relevant organizations, I would suggest:


And obviously check-in with your home faith-based communities for more (and more up-to-date) books and movies and articles and volunteer opportunities!

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Arizona! New Mexico!

Armed with a cold and a still as-yet unprocessed experience on the border, I flew to spend Christmas with my sister Elizabeth at her sister-in-law's house in Sedona, Arizona. My sister generously warned me that the transition from refugees sleeping on the floor to a large house with en-suite bathrooms might be a bit much but we spent a glorious weekend hiking and eating and just generally vegging. My niecey still talks about this trip but only to mention how slowly I hike.











Then I jetted off to Albuquerque to hang with friends from Nicaragua. (Read about our previous adventures here: https://lennisblog.blogspot.com/search/label/Nicaragua) We had a whirlwind day of cinnamon buns and breakfast burritos, nap for baby, mango chili paletas (and art) at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, nap for baby, turquoise buying and church peeping in Old Town, and enchilada dinner. I was mostly bummed that because I had a cold I couldn't snuggle baby but the enchiladas may have compensated.



And that is the information-less, devoid of travel tips conclusion to last year's border adventures. List of resources to follow.
 


El Paso - planties and peoples

On one of my last days in El Paso I was asked to handle the night shift, sleeping over at the shelter to be on call in case of emergency and wake up early morning travelers. To mentally prepare myself, and because I am a plant nerd in my professional life, I decided to spend the morning at the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens and Centennial Museum at the University of Texas. I neglected to factor in school break so instead of chilling in the oldest museum in the city (which was closed), I wandered around the Bhutan-esque empty campus and ate a solitary lunch among the 800 plants in the Texas wildscape. Who are we kidding? It was a lovely interlude.

It turns out that UTEP has a unique relationship with the country of Bhutan (where I've had the pleasure of visiting: https://lennisblog.blogspot.com/search/label/NepalBhutan2016). In 1914, the country was featured in National Geographic, which the wife of the dean of the School of Mines read religiously. Evidently she convinced her husband to rebuild the recently destroyed school in the Bhutanese style. In the 1960s, a faculty member at UTEP reached out to Bhutan for input on the campus thus beginning an official relationship between the school and the royal family. The campus now includes ceremonial prayer wheels, an altar, and a deep kinship founded on a mutual love of green chilies.







I'm so glad I had a chance for some plant-y me-time because that night we had 100 refugees arrive. Every afternoon each of the shelters gets a text message from an ICE official letting them know the approximate number of people and the time they will be arriving. It's a weird system that I'm afraid I got no further background on.

What I've neglected to mention is the great and boundless generosity of the people of El Paso. The city actually has a higher than average number of people living below the poverty line (20% versus the national average of 13%), making it the 25th poorest city in the country. But every day a community group would provide, prepare, and serve lunch and dinner for 30-50 refugees. They would drive people to the bus station and the airport, donate heaps of clothing and help sort it, and manage non-local volunteers doing intake. As we got closer and closer to Christmas, volunteers were harder to come by while more and more refugees were being released to shelters. At one point, someone actually lent me their car to make several trips to the bus station. And several of the generous big-hearted El Pasoans decided to also make back-to-back trips. (I might have cried when a young man signed up for every Christmas morning drive.)

So after a marathon intake session and surprisingly smooth dinner, shower, new clothing rotation, I settled into a cot in the cafeteria for the night. At this point, I had the beginnings of a cold so I conked right out until I had to open the doors at 3AM for a young woman coming back from the hospital.  I napped a bit until 5 when I gently woke up two families to get ready for their drive to the airport. I got to see the sunrise over Mexico!


Later that morning no one showed up to handle the breakfast shift so Sr. Mary and I frantically poured bowl after bowl of cereal and brewed pot after pot of coffee, running out of milk, sugar, coffee and cereal. Then we made thousands upon thousands of peanut butter sandwiches for the families leaving that day exhausting the relevant supplies for that task as well. I was then asked to stay on for one last intake session which I agreed to with the understanding that I would then skip my last day at the shelter. 

After about 27 hours of work (and napping) I headed back to my hotel room where I was immediately faced with a woman YELLING on the phone at someone. Turns out she was to be a new shelter volunteer and had none of the chill necessary. I told her that I had had a long day and that if she gave me half an hour to recenter (in silence) I would then answer all of her questions. This proved to be impossible for her so despite being partly dead I answered her thousand questions immediately and then left the hotel with a book. Despite knowing better than to eat pizza in a restaurant south of the Mason Dixon line or west of New Jersey, I dropped into the Pizza Joint...and it was actually good!

The next day, I wandered around El Paso and accidentally followed the owner of Zona Centro Mexican Eatery into Zona Centro Mexican Eatery and was pleasantly surprised by the vegetarian jackfruit and prickly pear tacos. I was unpleasantly surprised however, to learn that ICE had dropped off hundreds of refugees directly at the bus station and then again on Christmas! But I'll have you know that the good people of El Paso rallied together to bring sandwiches and care packages to the station before getting them to shelters.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

El Paso - sorting socks and eating enchiladas

One of the tasks in the shelter is working in the ropería sorting clothing donations. I'm not sure why but this turned out to be my least favorite thing to do -- unless I'm sorting socks. I like sorting socks. One day my fellow volunteer came into the office to tell me that there is a rat in one of the donation bags and could I capture it and sort through the bags it may have eaten. Why do people think that I'm ok with rodents? This was not the first time I've been in a similar situation! I asked for a broom, a face mask and some gloves -- and was given some paper towels and a prayer. That was sufficient honestly as I threw out most of the bag in question (poop galore) and saw nary a whisker of the perpetrator.

Two things worth mentioning: many of the refugees made every effort to help the volunteers from sorting clothing to organizing and folding bedding to cleaning out the showers. They wanted to be busy and to give back and I think that is very telling. And two, if shelters near you are accepting donations please consider providing new underwear and socks, shoes, and clothing in smaller men's sizes. Please also consider who will be wearing the clothing you're donating. In the bin I found a few of Beto's campaign t-shirts that had "Border Surge" emblazoned across them - perhaps not the most appropriate for a Guatemalan refugee.

That day at lunch I was treated to champurrada brought especially over the border from Juarez by someone whom Sr. Peggy refers to as "an elder." It is like a combination of api and coquito (which is a terrible description for the vast majority of you who haven't had api) in that it's a spiced corn drink mixed with cinnamon and chocolate and typical for the Christmas season. Like api, it's yummiest when super hot. I link to this recipe with the caveat that I've never made it and I'm not Mexican so I can't vouch for the recipe's quality or authenticity (but the first recipe I looked at suggested using Taza chocolate so I rejected it out of hand) so here: https://www.mexicoinmykitchen.com/champurrado-mexican-thick-chocolate/

That day there was no bus arriving so I got to leave early. Another volunteer, a college student from El Paso, had seen my list of restaurants to try on the recommendation of the surly bartender and was horrified. She fleshed out my list with better establishments, including some vegetarian standards, and even offered to drive me over to L &J Cafe on her way home.

L&J Cafe is next to Concordia Cemetery, the final resting place for many Texas outlaws and lawmen alike. It is the only cemetery in Texas to have a section for Chinese people and
it also had a section for Jewish people, Freemasons, Mormons, and babies. Very egalitarian. We visited John Wesley Hardin's grave - yet another figure from US history that I knew nothing about. Basically Hardin killed a lot of people in the 1870s - including a man who annoyed him by snoring too loudly (we've all been there) - and wrote an autobiography of his exploits while in jail. His grave is in a cage because his family wanted to relocate his body but a court order and lawsuit prevented its removal.




When I stepped into L&J Cafe, I got the impression that I had also fallen into a crowd of gunslingers and rabblerousers but then I was seated away from the bar. Their menu supports this feeling: in 1927 the bar was started as a speakeasy popular with soldiers from Fort Bliss. Slot machines were hidden in the walls as well. In 1936 it officially opened legally and was renamed in 1968. Please don't shoot me but I thought my enchilada was a little salty.


Later that evening, I went to El Paso's Christmas fair to find my small-town husband who would show me what the holiday season is all about. But really I just ate delicious delicious churros.

El Paso - the briefest history of Mexico

Most days at the shelter I worked from noon to nine-ish so I tried to inject some border tourism into my life. -- Not on Tuesday though because I spent that whole day in the bathroom. I'll spare you the gory details but at one point my day involved puking down a flight of stairs. (Ok, I didn't spare you the gory details.) -- But on Wednesday I headed over to the El Paso Museum of History which for some reason had a whole room dedicated to the Federal Reserve Bank.

The Museum's focus is the fact that El Paso is a transient railroad town with many people coming and going. El Paso is known for the five C's: cattle, climate, copper, commerce (including the eponymous salsa), and cotton. It has some interesting displays: neighborhood photos from the 1950s, a room of travel items including a vanity case donated by a woman under the condition that it be sold if she needs money, an exhibit of movies filmed in the city, and a copy of Pancho Villa's death mask.

I'd discovered that I know very little about the history of the Southwest and Mexico. This was hammered in when I ask someone if Porfirio Diaz was a poet. In fact, Porfirio Diaz was President of Mexico from 1877 until 1911. One of those benevolent neoliberal dictators, he was supported by the US. After like six terms in office, he held an election but had his challenger Francisco Madero arrested thus sparking the Mexican Revolution in which Pancho Villa was a leader of pro-Madero military forces. Villa wasn't a poet ether although he had like 25 children with like 75 women.

In addition to historical and tourist sites, I also seek out good food in the cities I visit. Another volunteer recommended that I visit La Malinche to which I responded, "I'm sorry, what?" In my experience, that is a not very nice word meaning traitor or whore or traitorous whore I suppose but I didn't know the background of the term. Historically, La Malinche was an enslaved woman who acted as interpreter and intermediary for conquistador Hernan Cortes (and later had his child the first mestizo). Anyhoo, I continued my historical education over enchiladas. I was not terribly impressed but I'm a gringa so don't take my word for it.

At the shelter that night, I notice a teenaged boy sitting miserably outside of the bathroom. Everyone was trying to get him to come to dinner or lay down but he was not having it...and I totally empathized. Later on Wednesday night, I again traded a ride to the hotel for interpretation duties. This time we were dropping a woman and her daughter off at the airport...for a morning flight (gah). I explained where to find a clock, how security works (it's different for migrants without picture ID), where to find water, and how to change flights in Houston (a huge airport that even I got turned around in). The woman's husband had asked that I make her a sign to say "I don't speak English. Please help" and I wasn't sure if that would make her more of a target or less. I was starting to get really nervous when one of the airport cleaning staff came up to us and said (in Spanish) "If you have any problems, in any airport, look for us. We'll help." And we all welled up. It's a theme.

On Thursday I rolled over to the El Paso Museum of Art which was just a really cool space to rest and reflect over historical and contemporary art alike. Including a butter sculpture:

Ha!



Wednesday, December 18, 2019

El Paso - intake and more tears

In the shelter, the Spanish-speaking volunteers (like me!) do intake with each of the refugee families to allow us to organize travel for them. One of the first questions we ask is if they have any family members still in detention and the very first woman I speak to is sobbing because her mother wasn't released. We record these names but its very difficult to do anything with them.

Each person that comes over the border has the name and contact number of a friend or family member living in the US who will serve as their sponsor. Most of the refugees have carried this information with them for months, often physically written down. I speak to one woman who is petrified that she will be sent back to Guatemala because she has lost the contact information for her sponsor. (Which I get from her family over Skype.)

Some families (or family members, usually the women) don't even speak Spanish because they are from indigenous communities. One of these women has come across the border with a newborn. We search among the refugees to find people willing to interpret Quiche or Mam or Ixil.

Each refugee is given paperwork from the US government to replace their ids or drivers license from their home countries. The papers each say that the contents within have been explained in Spanish to the refugee in question. But family after family asks me what they say. The documents give details of their immigration court date: the location, time, and date. They say that families can't travel more than 75 miles from these homes of record or move without notifying the government. They say that the reason they have been released is "lack of space."

After intake we call the sponsors to tell them that their families have arrived and that they'll have to organize transportation. Anyone who didn't cry during our welcome speech usually loses it here.

This is also where I start to feel the pressure of doing my job right as I explain to the families that they will need to purchase a flight or bus ticket and correctly convey the names and birth dates of each family member -- names that might have been spelled wrong or spelled weirdly by ICE but  that are now their official names. I explain which bus lines travel to El Paso and give them phone numbers for airlines. I ask that families kindly book flights for reasonable hours. And then we ask the families to call us back with a confirmation number.

The job of the daytime Spanish speaking volunteers is to answer the shelter phones and record (correctly) the travel details for each family. And there are stories of this going wrong: tickets home booked from the wrong city, tickets booked only for the adults, writing down the wrong bus line.

In exchange for a ride back to the hotel, I go with another volunteer to the bus station to drop a family off. As I stand in the waiting area explaining the timetable to the woman and her teenaged son, I see a few Latino faces watching us and tearing up. One man comes up to me and asks me to explain his ticket as well. He is travelling from Texas to North Carolina - a trip of two days with three transfers. I barely understand the schedule myself and I leave the station with an overwhelming sense of anxiety-- obviously just a fraction of the worry and pain that these families have faced.

This process repeats itself on day two but with some notable exceptions: one of the refugees to come through has a US citizen daughter with her. The daughter, a teen, had opted to stay with her mother when she was detained by ICE as they came across the border. She is rightfully furious at how they were treated. Most of the rest of the refugees are from Brazil. In general, the Brazilian have more resources and after we do intake they opt to leave on their own and stay at a hotel.

That night I went back to the hotel to find that I had a roommate, an exchange student from Japan. I didn't want to sit in the same tiny room staring at each other so I grabbed my book and, despite wanting to be alone, perversely invited her to the bar. I learn that she's a student from the University of Alabama and this is her first time in a bar! On a Monday night we were the only ones there besides a politically apathetic, thrice-divorced bartender. (And despite the rainbow flags and the name (Tool Box) I did not connect the dots that it was a gay bar until I googled it later.)

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

El Paso - Arrival

The first day in El Paso I was not scheduled to work in the shelter until noon so I woke up early-ish and went for a run to explore the downtown. Downtown El Paso is a (potentially literal) ghost town. Everything was closed and there were no cars or people and, particularly striking to an East Coaster, all of the roads are at least four lanes wide and one way....because that's how much room they have in Texas. Post-run I ate the best omelet on the planet at Pot Au Feu with what they said were home fries but were actually teeny tiny actual fries. I still think about that omelet.

Then I meandered around town a bit admiring the fantastic murals that pepper the area and puzzling over a department store called "Fallas" which means "faults" in Spanish.




Eventually I made my way to the shelter. Almost immediately upon entering I was hugged by a small child. Inquiries in both Spanish and English for the center coordinator led me to the kitchen where I was sat down with a plate of leftovers: rice, corn, and cupcakes from the FOUR birthdays celebrated that day. It felt like Peace Corps: being immersed in Spanish, having no idea of the process, yet being well fed and feeling strangely comfortable with the situation. 

I was foisted onto a volunteer named Mary who showed me how to fix to-go bags for the refugees. As the refugees are resettled all over the United States they often wind up taking multi-day bus trips or flights. And we equipped every family with blankets, sandwiches and snacks, water, and one or two toys for the journey. Churches from around the country had also sent welcome notes to include in these bags in charmingly incorrect Spanish. (Do this with your parish or Girl Scout troop or school! The personal touch is so so helpful in making a family feel welcome)

Mary definitely set off my nun-dar and despite my subtle questions like "Are you sure it's not Sister Mary?" and "Are you the flying type nun, Mary?" she insisted on being called just Mary. But she was totally a Maryknoll and my nun-dar is never wrong!

After packing some bags I was then shown how to make hygiene kits: a bag with soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, and hair ties for each family. Other supplies like sanitary pads, lotion, hair gel, diapers, lice shampoo etc were organized into different shelving units for use upon request. This station was my happy place for the week. Not only did it indulge my great joy in sorting things but it was also usually managed by Jean, another nun who had spent most of her life in Chile and who was just sarcastic enough to let me know she was a kindred spirit.

I also got the run down on the clothing bank and the intake routine before a bus of approximately 50 men, women, and children arrived on an ICE bus. As each family disembarked they were cheered and families who had been at the shelter for a day or two held welcome signs and ushered the newbies into the kitchen. Everyone who came off the bus looked scared or numb or shocked; they were holding in so much emotion that they had no emotion. So we fed them chicken soup. And welcomed them. 

The welcome speech went something like this,"Welcome. You are in a shelter operated by the Catholic Church. We are not the government and you are free to go. Please let us know if you have an immediate medical need. Tonight we will get you new clothing and a hot shower and we will call your families or sponsors in the US. We do have some rules...."

Invariably during this speech, one or two people would break down. Every night as people slowly  realized that after months of walking they had made it to the United States, that they would be reunited with their family soon, that they were not in detention anymore, that they were safe and warm and being fed chicken soup by people who cared -- there would be tears. (So of course Sr. Jean and I would well up as well.) The teenagers took longer to relax and it was heartbreaking. I could see them start to celebrate, to smile, to relax, but then harden up - unwilling to fully let down their guard. They were trying to stay strong and stoic for as long as possible.

And whelp, I'm crying again.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

El Paso - typical travel nightmare

This is primarily a travel blog and what's a travel blog without an airplane horror story? I did not arrive to El Paso on a flying unicorn full of rainbows and butterflies. Unless of course you consider the triple threat of flying - screaming baby, medical emergency, and violent turbulence - to be typical with unicorns. I have no way of knowing really. But the flight to Houston hosted the kind of turbulence that causes people to introduce themselves to one another in one potential last act of humanity. As an introvert I didn't partake, but I did safely stow my glasses, tie back my hair, and locate the barf bag in case of emergency.

We landed safely in Houston where I had my first case of US-based culture shock. Everything seemed so much bigger in Texas: the people were taller and wider as were their hats and the airport itself seemed like a never-ending warren of unnecessarily long and empty hallways. And for some perverse reason I ordered a slice of pizza for dinner to just hammer it in that I was no longer in the Northeast.

I arrived in El Paso relatively late at night, stepped outside of the airport and breathed it all in - the scent of many border towns - dust, smoke, and french fries. My travel woes were to continue a little longer as I ordered a Lyft from the airport. I saw on the app that the car was near, I saw the actual car pass me, and then I saw on the app that the car had picked me up (hmmm) and driven further and further into the city. I tried cancelling the ride (which you can't do once you've been picked up in spirit - if not in actual fact) and I tried calling the driver but no luck. So I got in a regular cab and started to chat up the driver. It was fairly obvious that he did not speak much English so I whipped out my Spanish and we had a halting conversation until he mentioned that he was actually Moroccan. He did try gamely and I will not make such assumptions in future.

We had just arrived to the hotel when my original Lyft driver called me to say that she had arrived (to the hotel to bring me to the airport?). We had a surprisingly long conversation about how Lyft actually works and who should cancel the ride and according to the app she drove around the hotel for the next fifteen minutes before finally figuring it out. Texas is big. El Paso is big. And everyone has a car so the Lyft/Uber culture hasn't taken a real hold there so I had similar issues the whole week.

I had decided to stay at the Gardner Hotel which is the oldest continually operating hotel in El Paso. Opened in 1922, it is theoretically fireproof because it is largely made of steel. John Dillinger stayed there in in 1934. If you every decide to stay there please note:

  • the elevator doesn't work, 
  • the bathrooms are very very clean, 
  • if you stay in one of the hostel rooms you share the bathroom with another hostel room and you will have to make friends with them so they don't lock you out
  • has a full kitchen
  • the heat does not work at all times
  • there is a club next door that is bumping pretty much all night every night
  • has a decidedly creepy historical vibe but doesn't seem to be outright haunted
  • and I definitely thought the beds were made to put your head on the wrong end and even though I changed it every night, the cleaning staff would change it back in the morning but maybe that's just my problem. 
Next up: My first day volunteering

El Paso - A brief background

Not quite a year ago, I went to El Paso, Texas as a volunteer with the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice. I'm not a UU and it's not an actual college but a friend of mine (fellow Peace Corps Bolivia volunteer, UUCSJ trip leader, and my personal social conscious) recommended that I apply to volunteer at Annunciation House for a few weeks -- and since most of her ideas are good ideas I thought "Why not?"

A note here to say that I still haven't quite processed my experience and I don't claim to be any kind of expert on immigration policy so this might be a scattered post, or several shorter posts, or just links to relevant articles and books -- or it may just devolve into "places to get good enchiladas in El Paso." Please read with patience.

I mean, even the use of the word "refugee" rather than "immigrant," "migrant," or  "asylum seeker" is a very specific choice. According to the International Rescue Committee, a refugee is "someone who has been forced to flee his or her home because of war, violence or persecution, often without warning." This is an official designation decided by the government or the United Nations Refugee Agency. An asylum seeker is someone who requests this status. The vast majority of refugees from Central America and Mexico are fleeing daily violence (and the threat of violence) from gangs, corrupt police, or military and extreme poverty. It is worth noting, however, that gang violence is not currently recognized among the "reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group" that are used to define refugee status. But almost all of the people who come across the border request asylum and, not to put words in Annunciation House's mouth, their use of the word refugees recognizes the true struggle that the families and individuals they serve are facing in their home countries.

How do these families and individuals get here? Here I'm just going to lift entirely from Annunciation House's fabulous volunteer guide: "Upon arriving in Juarez, the Mexican border city across from El Paso, refugee families cross the border in one of two ways. Some climb the border metal fences that separate the two countries and end up being detained by Border Patrol (BP). Others walk into Ports of Entry, turn themselves in to a Custom and Border Protection (CBP) officer, and ask for asylum. However these families cross, they end up in the custody of Immigration. "Once in Immigration custody, refugees are processed - they are fingerprinted, photographed, interviewed, screened through security databases, and officially charged with having entered the U.S. illegally."

Lenni here. Two very important things:
1. Requesting asylum from inside of the United States is a perfectly valid way to do it.
2. Being prosecuted for having entered the US illegally has increased drastically under Trump. But asylum seekers are not to be penalized for how they arrived in the US. Read this: https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/blog/trump-and-criminalization-asylum

Ok back to the process: "After being processed, families are turned over to Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE), the department that makes the determination of releasing the family, or a part of the family, on parole, Orders of Supervision, or recognizance. Not all families are released. Some are placed on buses or planes and sent to family detention centers like those in Dilley and Karnes, Texas. Some are being sent to Mexico to await future court dates. In addition, some families are separated with part of the family being detained and the other part released. Separation and detention is most frequently seen with the dads of families as well as the young adult children of families being separated and detained."

One more time: "the young adult children of families being separated and detained." And I saw this. And it was crushing. Imagine. You flee your country with your daughter and your 16 year old nephew and they take your nephew away. You have no idea where he is or how to contact him or even how to tell your sister. What the mother F-ing F?

And then after all this trauma, ICE releases these families to the street. With no money. No ID. No phone. No food. (And  a mandatory court date in two weeks).  That's where Annunciation House steps in. A Catholic shelter in existence since 1978, they welcome, house, clothe, and feed refugees and help them contact their families or sponsors in the US and organize their transportation. And for a little over a week in December 2018, I had the great privilege of volunteering with some rabble-rousing Unitarians, some bad-ass Maryknoll nuns, and the warm, open-hearted, and extremely generous people of El Paso to help make that happen.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Nepal - we leave

On our very last day in Nepal we decided to walk along the lake to lounge at Krazy Gecko, which happens to be owned by A's cousin. We didn't introduce ourselves but instead ordered a slow progression of drinks and snacks while lounging in the sun. Well, I lounged in the sun while wrinkleless N opted to remain in the shade. 

N had a flight that afternoon back to Kathmandu and on to Korea so we returned to the hotel. The elevator wasn't working so she asked one of the front desk staff to help her get her luggage down from the 5th floor. By the time the man arrived, the elevator was working again. After saying goodbye to N, I despondently headed back up to my room. I decided to take the elevator. It started to go up and then suddenly stopped. There were no lights so I couldn't see the emergency button so I just knocked like a madwoman on the door. The elevator got power again briefly so when it went off another few seconds later I knew where the buzzer was and I pushed that like a madwoman. Finally the doors opened and I got off on whatever floor that was and walked the rest of the way. My best guess at the time was load-shedding -- the power in Nepal is selectively turned off at certain times of the day so some lights and outlets don't work -- but I think it's more likely that they turned off the elevator manually and had forgotten about me.   

Nothing exciting happened the rest of the day. I wandered around from coffee shop to coffee shop reading, writing, and drinking tea. I discovered the boardwalk along the lake that we had somehow missed in all of our adventures, I packed my luggage, and I watched some terrifying serial killer movie.

The next morning, I too flew back to Kathmandu. I was even less calm about the flight without N to die with me. I hung in the KTM airport for what felt like forever -- running into the newlyweds! -- and flew on home -- through China and NY. It was by no means fun and I'll never do it again... 

...until next time.

 


Nepal - sunrise, sunset

The next day I was legit sore but I think looser. We woke up at 4 in the morning to take a cab up to the town of Sarangkot to watch the sun rise over the town and mountains. As this is a pretty popular outing, N and I made sure to pay attention to what our driver looked like and note his license plates. We walked up about ten flights of stairs to a cement viewing platform that became increasingly crowded as the sun came up. There was even a barefoot white man dancing along to the dulcet tunes of a digiridoo. It was just one of those moments. I was torn between wishing that I was the only one there to experience the light diffusing over the snowcapped Annapurna range in silence and enjoying the fact that I was having this experience with the chatty riot of people from all over the world whom I had never met before and would likely never encounter again.


We walked back down the stairs, somehow coming out in a different spot, and saw our driver. N doubted my recollection of his face as his license plate was not the same. Turns out this car had different front and back license plates. The driver thought it was funny that we checked but I thought we came across as a smidge racist -- all these Nepali look alike!

Then we returned to the hotel for breakfast. N and I both ordered fruit salad and cereal (mine with yogurt and N's with hot milk because she's weird) and juice and tea and eggs and potatoes and pancakes. Turns out I have no idea how to eat a soft-boiled egg from an egg cup. WHY did no one teach me that skill?

Our vacation planner had recommended a nap and then catching the sunset at the Peace Pagoda, a Buddhist shrine on a hill above the city. I would have been down with such a fitting close to the day but we wanted to hike the hill and a sunset hike did not seem wise. So we skipped the nap and set right out for the shrine. We hired a woman to row us across the lake. She gave us an hour and a half before she would head back without us. After about forty minutes we were worried that our timetable would not match the boatwoman's so N wanted to ask a woman coming back down the mountain how much farther it was. She asked this woman (in Korean), "Do you speak Korean?" and this woman answered (in Korean), "No I'm Chinese." And then she said in English that it was five minutes to the top. It was linguistically confusing but we pressed on.




We did our three rounds of the stupa, ate a granola bar, and headed back down the hill. On the boat ride back, our oarswoman started singing. I think she was trying to drown out N's annoying tuneless humming but whatever her motivation, it added flare to the trip.

For further flare we ate lunch at a Korean restaurant. N has a rule not to eat Korean food while travelling but the owner was a friend of a friend so I sat awkwardly drinking free tea while they chatted away. The restaurant was called Nattssul which evidently means "day drinking" so I was all about it.

Then we napped. Suitably groggy, for dinner we wandered to a restaurant that had a stage and a traditional Nepali dance show. We didn't really last long. Tomorrow: we do nothing and  N leaves.



Resources for immigration justice

And here's the moment you've all be waiting for.... resources! The Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice has put togeth...