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Lesson #5: Find Beauty

It is rather easy to find fault with people that are different from you. The list could be long regarding the not so pleasant things that I have seen; however, the same could be said if any foreigner visited the US. The gift is finding the beauty in a different culture and truly recognizing and appreciating the value of that beauty.

For example, the people that i have seen are some of the most beautiful people that I have ever encountered. From their brightly adorned clothing, to their gorgeous facial features and eyes, to their skin tone, etc. Many are a stunning fusion of eastern Asia and the Middle East which makes for a very striking combination.

Another example is the way the Nepali raise their children. I have never witnessed such disciplined, respectful, and well mannered children. They help their parents take care of their siblings. There are five year olds that fetch water and carry it up a mountain when I cannot even get my thirteen year old to put his dishes in the sink when he's done eating. Families will gather together in a circle to peel corn while sharing stories and listening to music. Their is a strong family unit and the sense of being close-knit permeates their daily life. The children are given enormous responsibility at a very early age and they respond in an amazing way.

Although I could make an endless list of all the beauty that I am encountering, I will finish with one last thought. Both in India and Nepal, I have seen a people that not only tolerate other religious views but they embrace, respect, and value the richness that these faith traditions add to their culture and daily lives. It has been a beautiful sight to see so many people walking amongst each other in their various religious garb from those that are devout and have entered the monastery to those that wear the traditional clothing in order to represent their Hindu, Muslims, or Buddhist faith. They walk amongst those that choose a very modern way and dress in a more liberal fashion. What is more significant is that these are not just people who celebrate their faith one day a week or on holy days. These are a people that truly make their faith a part of their everyday lifestyle. No matter, it appears as though all faiths have found a harmonious way to exist respecting one another and understanding the richness that each brings to the entire culture and their nation.
I have seen absolute beauty....
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seed2tree

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What a fun day! Today was the first time that I was able to get out of the city since I started traveling, and so I headed directly for the hills. I did an eight hour hike up and down a local mountain called Chisapani. It was full of surprises. I had the privilege of seeing rice paddies, remote mountain villages and the people who live there, more monkeys, mountain goats, Jurassic Park sized worms, leaches, marijuana fields, and gorgeous jumbo sized red and white butterflies. Upon reaching the top, I sat to look at the valley below. Since it is monsoon season, the view was mostly clouds. For a very quick moment the fog cleared giving me a very quick view of the Himalayas and Mt. Everest for the 2nd day in a row! Pure heaven!

Upon my return, I had appointments to interview a few local NGOs in order to investigate what might be a good fit for a service component if our students journey to Nepal next year. 
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I arrived last night in Nepal and within 30 minutes of my arrival, I already had decided that I loved it. The mountains surrounding the Kathmandu Valley are beautiful, and the people are so gorgeous and unbelievably kind. I am staying in a section of the capital called Thamel which has a very cool hippie vibe to it. I have several highlights and pictures, and I have not even been here 24 hours yet.

First, and foremost, I saw Mt. Everest. The aerial of the Himalayas was spectacular and something I will never forget. I spent most of today touring the city and saw all the major sites. One of the more interesting stops was at Pashupatinath. Here, one can witness the religious ceremonial burning of a corpse. It was a fascinating site. Next we visited several Hindu and Buddist sites including a monastery, temples, and stupas. I went to a museum to learn more about the Nepali monarchy, and I hung out with several monkeys! More specifically, I visited Durbar Square, the neighboring Patan, Bouddhanath Stupa, and the Monkey Temple.

I hope you enjoy the following photos. I had some camera problems so most of my photos cannot be transferred and shared to this post until later. I will write a better reflection piece when I get a little more time. Likewise, I will share my other pictures including the additional photos I have of Mt. Everest.

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Continued from yesterday.....

So, the taxi driver comes back out and says "you need to come in to this office and look up this hotel's phone number because we don't know where it is." I knew that priority Number One was to get to a safe place as soon as possible even if it meant ditching my original hotel. So, I asked him to please just take me to a safe side of town where I could find a reasonable room. This was funny in retrospect as I have circumnavigated this city several times in the last 48 hours, and I have yet to find a section that feels somewhat safe. This does not mean that I am afraid, nor does it mean that I have not met nice people; however, I know what it feels like to have fallen onto the Island in the middle of the story Lord of the Flies. It has this sense that everyone is out to merely survive , and I can see clearly why. It makes sense. Nevertheless, as a tourist you feel like the vultures are circling constantly. As a blond tourist that is also traveling solo, I feel like a rabbit with a bright fluorescent glow-in-the-dark tail and a bell around my neck while sitting in an enclosure with a bunch of starving foxes.

Back to the dark alley: Next thing I know the guy in the office comes out to the car in order to try to convince me to come inside. Intuition said "no" and that I needed to stay in public ... Even if the public was the unsafe dark alley. My instincts told me that I would rather try to fight two men off in an area that has a possibility of an escape. So, i asked at least a dozen more times to just take me to a safe hotel. Finally they Gave up. Needless to say, I checked in to a decent place and got to sleep by 4:30am .

I was ready to go by 8:30 am so that I could get as much sight seeing in as possible. I asked the receptionist to call me a cab to take me to the train station. The taxi came and took me directly to the same company's tourist office from earlier that - although this one was down a different shady alley. What a tourist trap!!! No matter how much I tried to see the city and sights on my own, it would be impossible. I ran into a couple other tourists though out my first day and all of them told me the same story.

So, I have spent more than I budgeted for with regard to guides. I guess in a city like New Delhi it isn't only worth it, but it is very necessary on several levels. Nevertheless, it is important for me to continue to be tuned in to that trustworthy intuition. It never fails. 
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New Delhi has so many gorgeous things to see. It is a place rich in culture and history. Today, I saw The Lotus Temple, Lodin Gardens, India Gate, The Presidential Palace, The central Market, Safdarjung,s tomb and more. 
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seed2tree

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I traveled 300 miles to the Nepali-Indian boarder in order to explore the Chitwan National Park. I am staying at a small Inn called the Rainbow Safari Lodge. My ride to the lodge was on the back of a motorbike. If I had known, I certainly would not have worn a skirt!!! It was a pretty hilarrious sight trying to manage my luggage on my back while holding my skirt down, and trying not to fall off the bike as we barreled down bumpy, rocky roads weaving in and out of bikes, rickshaws, trucks, buses, mopeds, people, herds of goats, cows and an occasional elephant.

Although I was really excited to ride the elephant as I went on a two hour Safari in search of the White One-Horned Rhino and the Tiger, I was disheartened by the treatment and exploitation of the animals. I try not to judge because these people need to make money. The poverty level is extreme, and so I understand the grave necessity to capitalize on their resources. I simply wish it could be done in a more humane manner. On the safari, we saw several wild peacocks, wild elephants, different species of deer and a very brief sighting of a wild boar. I had the most fun watching two elephants get very irritated with one another, growl, sound their amazing elephant calling, and even charge toward each other.

Next, we went on a sunset walk with gorgeous views of the savannah lands inside the national park as we gazed at the pink and orange reflection of the sunset upon the Rapti River. There, I saw two crocodiles. One is the standard fiercely carnivorous croc with which we are so familiar. The other is merely a fish-eating croc known as the ????? It has a razor thin long snout.

We had a delicious dinner afterwards, and then headed to watch the local indigenous people demonstrate their native music and dance. I even went up and joined in with them at the end!

I loved falling asleep at night to the sound of the jungle including elephant calls. What an adventure indeed!
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More pictures from first day in Nepal...,
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Today I traveled three hours south to the city of Agra and saw some important historical sites.

The highlights were Agra Fort which was the Emperor's Palace and the Taj Majal. The Taj Majal, a Persian word meaning Crowned Palace, was built by the Emperor for his third beloved wife after she suddenly died at the age of 48 giving birth to their fourteenth child. He wanted to build something that would demonstrate his immense love for her and represent her beauty. The craziest part is nobody ever lived in the Taj Mahal. It was only built for show and for prayer.

I saw wild monkeys crossing the highway several times. In addition, I saw an elephant barreling down the highway. I cannot tell you how many times we had to stop for cattle and goat crossings. In fact, the road was shared by all. You will see some of these road crossings in the pictures attached to this post.
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Lesson #4: Use your brain and your intuition

I hesitate to share this because my parents might be reading this, and I do not want to alarm them too much. That said, it is important to share all of these experiences especially as a female traveling alone to a section of the world that has recently undergone some particularly horrific news regarding the violence against women in multiple cases.

I arrived at 1:00am and by the time I went through immigration, retrieved my luggage, went through customs, and caught a cab, it was already 2:30am. Long story short- the cab driver could not find the hotel I asked him to take me to. Instead, after 30 minutes of driving and seeing the side of Delhi that exists during this particular time of night (terrifying indeed), he proceeds to drive me down a dark alley in the middle of nowhere. My instincts kick in, and I immediately think about how to escape this situation. I asked where he was taking me. He replied that he needed me to go into this tourist office to find the hotel that I am talking about. It is now 3am! What kind of back alley tourist office is open at 3am?! So, I said "I am not going anywhere. I will not go into that building with you. Please just take me to another hotel." He said "wait here while I go in and ask." So, the alternative was to sit in that dark alley alone in a car with many people still very much awake on the surrounding streets -and hanging around that dark alley.

What would you do? Seriously, think about my situation for a second. What would you have done? Comment below before I tell you what happened next.
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I have limited time to share all the craziness of the last 24 hours so I will not be very creative in telling this story.

Lesson #3: Endurance
As I have had to endure a long and exhausting trip to get to Delhi (30 hours of travel from Albany to Detroit to Amsterdam to New Delhi) I am witnessing thousands of people in this bustling, overpopulated city endure the truly inexplicable. I have always said that the US has the wealthiest poor people in the world. I have seen true poverty though out my travels to Central and South America; however, this is an entirely new level of hopelessness than I have ever observed. My eyes are wide open.

Endurance is an important life skill necessary for either survival or to achieve the next level. I always thought that if you demonstrate a level of endurance there is a gift in the end. This trip has me second guessing that notion. I still think it is true, but it is so easy for me to say when I have not had to endure the lifestyles of the truly forgotten, malnourished, mistreated, and poverty stricken people of the world.

I teach my kids, students, teams about the life lessons endurance can teach each us. It builds commitment, goal setting, tenacity, motivation, grit, adaptability, optimism... The list can go on. To see what I see can only breed disillusionment and the breakdown of our own humanity. The irony is, these people continue to endure, unaware that this act alone breeds an even stronger commitment on my part to do the same. And, in the end this fortifies an even deeper faith in humanity. What an interesting circle...one feeding the other.

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Berkshire teacher (Jenny Biondi Anderson) travels in order to learn and grow personally and professionally
Introduction
The trees of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.  No matter how old we are it is never too late to plant seeds.  These seeds, each encased in love and hope, will spring forth new growth in us as well as in others.  As I embark on my summer travels, I will seek to plant as many seeds as I can in order to cultivate deeper wisdom, love, perspective, empathy, and understanding within me as it relates to the world.  My greatest hope is to exemplify the change and growth that can happen if you take the time to plant, nurture, and grow your own seeds in life.  I firmly believe that if you listen closely to the fertile whisper of each seed, it will gift to you your passion and purpose.