Welcome to South Asia.

It’s a good start when this is your welcome.  A beautiful flower and matching orange earplugs.  I am getting use to having my senses assaulted again.  From the sounds of traffic, honking horns, people interacting, discussing, talking and heavy rain on the streets.  To the oversweet smells of the fruit market, garbage piles, fresh rain and car exhaust.  Feeling the humid stickiness, dust, a cool breeze while riding in an auto rickshaw and the unfamiliar unevenness of the sidewalks.  The taste of sweet mango lassi, dahl and an american cinnamon roll.  And the sights that confuse and delight, the cows walking through the road, the sheer numbers of people everywhere, men washing windows held up only by ropes and a friend, piles of fruits and vegetables, the colorful temples, children playing and laughing.  It’s a wonderful, interesting, strange and beautiful world that we live in.

Reminders Before I Travel

This evening I fly out of San Francisco.  My brother and I will drive down, have dinner with Grandma and then I will be dropped off at the airport.  I am all packed and under weight.  42 pounds in my suitcase and it almost rattles because it is so empty.  A lot hinges on this trip.  Maybe I will fall in love with a country, a team and a group of people and know that’s where I am suppose to go.  Maybe I will love multiple places and have a difficult decision ahead of me.  Maybe nothing will seem quite right and I will come home wondering just what God is trying to teach me.  Maybe I will be swept off my feet by some handsome stranger sitting next to me on one of my 12 different flights.  I don’t know, maybe the odds are not in my favor on that one.  But that’s one of the appealing things about travel, the world is literally at my fingertips and anything can happen.

So just a few quick reminders for you my faithful blog reader:

1. Be patient with me.  I will try to update my blog whenever I can but it will most likely be more sporadic.  However, I promise to keep my camera in hand and my ear open for any interesting cultural stories.

2. If you receive an email from me asking for money, don’t send any.  Even if the hackers get the country right this time, I am ok.  Even if everything I am carrying gets stolen and I am lying bleeding in the streets, I have other ways of taking care of myself.  I will ask the people I am going to be staying with, I will contact my bank, I will contact my employer, I will contact JUST my parents, anything besides sending out a mass email asking for a ridiculous amount of small unmarked bills.  And my plane tickets for the return trip are also already purchased.  If this is not making any sense to you, read the post that I wrote after my email was hacked soon after my last trip and DON’T send money.

3. Just to make it easier on the hackers though, here is my general itinerary so you can be praying for me specifically in each place.  First stop, South Asia for a week.  Then a weekend in Switzerland for a wedding.  Second work stop, Berlin for week.  Then I fly into Hungary and get picked up and driven to Slovakia for another week long work stop.  And finally I have a day or so in Hungary before flying back to Berlin and then back to California.  I will be back on American soil on June 7th, a month from today.

4. Please pray!  Pray for the actual travel, all of the flight connections, layovers and airport pick-ups.  Pray for health and safety.  Pray for interesting opportunities for conversations.  And pray that I would gain wisdom and direction for the future.

Richard Rohr once said, “A good journey begins with knowing where we are and being willing to go somewhere else.”  I know I am willing to go somewhere else but I think this trip will help me to figure out where I currently am.  Thanks for being a part of this with me.

Packing for 5 Countries / Tips from a Seasoned Packer

My packing prowess has been featured before when I was going back to PNG for the last time in January 2011.  I was carrying a lawn mower and a printer among other crazy things.  And in December 2011 I packed for my trip back to California from PNG where I passed through a couple very different climates including sunny South Asia and snowy Germany before arriving back in the US.  Multiple countries always creates unique packing challenges.

In less than a week I leave for my next trip which includes 5 countries and two continents.  This means different climates, cultures and let’s throw in a wedding for good measure.  It depends on the item but I consider multiple things before adding anything to my suitcase.  Here is just a bit of the thought process I have while packing for almost any trip.  While most things are geared towards international travel, a lot of it can be adapted to any travel whether it be a week or just a weekend away.

Toiletries: Can I buy this where I am going?  Is the price reasonable?  If yes, then pack a small amount and replenish as needed.  If no, pack just enough and a touch extra.  What do I need that I don’t normally use?  Make sure you have sunscreen, lotion, hand sanitizer, bug spray or other things that you might not normally use but that are place appropriate.  This goes for little things like q-tips and tissues as well.

Medication: What do I normally use?  Make sure to pack enough and a little extra (in case you drop something) for the whole trip.  What might be helpful?  I always carry a small amount of things that could prove useful like Advil, Tylenol, NyQuil, Sudafed, Pepto Bismol and sleeping pills.  Remember a small amount of bandaids (antibiotic ointment already included) in various sizes.

Clothes: Layers. Color. Weather. Culturally Appropriate.  Activity Appropriate.  Is the item multi-functional?  No. Don’t bring it (unless it’s a swimsuit or pajamas or other similar, necessary item).  Yes.  Then ask, how many outfits can it work with?  I always go through multiple packings when space it tight.  There is also something to be said about a mix between fashion and comfort.  Also consider how often and where you will be able to wash things.  But always bring more underwear that you think you need.  Also don’t forget who you are staying with, can you borrow items?

Shoes: Muti-use.  Match everything.  Comfortable.

Electronics: Computer?  Only if actually needed.  Kindle? Yes, I did buy one.  Ipod? Just the Shuffle which weight-wise is almost inconsequential.  Large thumb drive?  Always, especially if you don’t have your computer.  Camera?  Always.  Make sure the SD card is clear.  Adapters, cords, misc. electronic accessories?  Make sure you have what you need for each thing you pack.  Batteries?  If needed yes.  If you can buy them on the road, only two extra sets.

Paperwork:  Passport. Paper copies of tickets, ticket information and itinerary.  Phone numbers, directions to your destination and helpful airport information (especially if it is a new country where you don’t speak the language).  Keep all these things together even if everything is supposedly electronic.  Paper copies can save you.

Money: Some American cash.  Almost always useful in a pinch.  A small amount of local currency.  Sometimes useful but almost not necessary because of ATMs.  A working ATM/Debit card.  Make sure it actually will work and that you have a 4 digit pin.

Miscellaneous:  Handkerchiefs.  Ziplock bags of different sizes.  Small sewing kit.  Super useful for lots of reasons.

The Ultimate Carry-On: All the paperwork and your computer.  Entertainment.  Sudoku, something to read, notebook, pen and music.  Also a cribbage board and cards.  You never know who will be in the seat next to you.  Comfort.  Your own blanket and blow-up wrap-around neck pillow.  Worst case scenario.  Change of clothes, toothbrush, basic make-up.  Enough to freshen up if something spills or keep you ok for a day if your luggage doesn’t arrive.

The Suitcase: Keep it under weight.  Rolling suitcases work best for airports and modern destinations.  But a good backpack with waist straps can be invaluable.  Any place where you have to carry the suitcase for long periods of time without the benefit of rolling is a place to carry a backpack.  There are packs available where the straps get zipped inside to protect them from the airport conveyor belts and other things where they might get caught, cut or broken.

This list is by no means exhaustive but hopefully it can give you a few more things to think about.  Packing well makes any trip that much better.  Happy Packing!

Why did you need a Visa?

Literacy is needed in many places all over the world.  In deciding where I am going to work next, I can’t just look at needs.  Finding the right place is more about having all the various aspects of life and work come together.  My job doesn’t just involve the 9 to 5 work hours but instead it is a life, lifestyle, new culture and language that I am committing to.  The team I am working with, the people I will be serving, the place, the work, it all needs to fit together.

Most job searches involve putting in an application and going through an interview process.  Then the boss chooses if you are right for the job.  There is an aspect of this involved for me because a team leader could tell me that i’m not the right fit, however, there is also a role reversal here.  I am in many ways conducting my own interview of the place and the people.  Three places have made it through first interviews and second interviews require travel.  During my trip in May I will be a tourist for a week in South Asia, Germany and Slovakia.  Traveling to these three places will give me a chance to put my feet on the ground, meet people, pray and get a feeling for each of the places individually.

This is just another part of my year in transition.  Figuring out how to live in America again, getting over culture shock, enjoying time with friends and family all the while praying and looking towards the future.  This trip is exciting and stressful.  Maybe I will return in June with a decision made or maybe not.  Only time and travel will tell.

Book Review: The Hindi-Bindi Club

The Hindi-Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan is a fun, easy read filled with recipes you will want to try and easy to follow cultural insights and historical detail.  The character’s lives themselves are an interesting mix of east and west, young and old, traditional and modern.  There is enough explanation that you do not need to know much about Indian culture to appreciate the book but not too much that you are bogged down with unimportant details.

Food is a major theme throughout the book.  The women and families bond over food and they live their lives  in the kitchen and around the table.  The recipes placed throughout the book give a special nod to this important part of Indian culture.  It is only a problem when you are enticed with a certain food in the chapter just to find out that its recipe was not included.

This would be a great book-club/food-club book.  Get together with some ladies, discuss the characters and try the recipes.  If you don’t take it too seriously, this book will provide lots of interesting discussions about relationships, culture, food and life that happens in between.