Thursday, September 27, 2012

Life in The Sandbox Take Two

First of all, I'd like to start by saying I am completely aware of my failure to fulfill my commitment of blogging more this year that I did last year. I totally thought I would have a less eventful year this year and be able to focus more on personal things. I was completely wrong! Not only have I been super busy socially, I am making a conscious effort to have healthier sleep habits, I've become more active in different committees at work, and I've joined a gym. With that being said, please bare with me. I'll blog as much as I can, but it won't be as much as I originally anticipated.

So to answer the burning question, yes. My life in Kuwait is still wonderful. I've had a few hurdles to jump this year already, but overall its coming together quite nicely. My car isn't functional at the moment, I live 25 minutes from downtown, I've experienced two flat tires, I hardly see my friends from last year, I live where they build buildings before roads and sewage/water lines, I got stranded on a balcony, my massive effort to get my diploma certified this summer was for nothing, I have massive roaches, sometimes my electricity goes out, it isn't uncommon to run out of water in my apartment, and the closest shawarma stand is...who knows. I haven't seen one in my hood. But, with all of that happening, I still have a smile on my face all of the time. I still love living here. I still love the people, lifestyle, weather, travel opportunities and kids.

When I first got here, I tried to continue the same routine I had last year. Go to work, spend the entire rest of my time with my friends, deprive myself of sleep and start all over again. I was getting so frustrated. Why couldn't I just do what had made me so happy last year? Before I left the states, I wrote a blog about how this year I'm not going to make countdowns, time limits or live by a check list. I genuinely meant that, but I don't think I really knew how much I would really follow that commitment. Living so far away from everyone has really made me focus more on my career. I've always said I work to live, and I'll never live to work. I've always just looked at work as something I do during the day and I completely leave my work at work. This year has been so much different. I'm not sure if it's the 3 classes a day, the block schedule, the awesome positive energy, the coffee club, the amazing students, or living so far away from anyone that I can't even fathom doing anything during the week. Either way, I've been forced to commit to this new lifestyle. I hardly look at the clock. I enjoy being at work and I never have a dull moment. I helps that I'm being more than just a teacher at work. I've been more involved outside of the classroom, which is super fun! I'm also pretty happy to be teaching Chemistry only again.

Today I had a kid ask me why I don't have a clock in my room. My response: "What is time, but a number?" He liked that answer. It was mostly a sarcastic answer, but there's some truth in it. When I first started traveling last year, I started dealing with so many different currencies. It made me start thinking, "What is money, but a currency?" The more currencies I accumulated, the more I felt like I was playing monopoly. That's kind of how I feel about time right now. Jumping from time zone to time zone has just made me realize that it doesn't matter the hour you do something. What matters is what you're doing with the time you have. Are you living for the moment, or trying to conform to what society is telling you to do at that moment. Take advantage of your surroundings while you have them. I'm in Kuwait in a Chemistry classroom with 25 kids. I'll take advantage of that and use what I have to show them as much as I can with the time I have. Eight months from now, I wont have them. So, I'm going to add to my last post. Not only will I not dwell on countdowns and lists, but I'm going to take advantage of the situation I've been given. I'll always be 100% there. Whether I'm in the classroom, at dinner with friends, somewhere in Europe hiking across the continent, or in an aerobics class at The Palms, im 100% there. Who knows when I will be stripped of these opportunities?

So...for today, I have open house and then quality time with friends. I'll be there 100%. :)

I'd upload pictures, but I've been told that's not allowed because of the limited bandwidth at school. I'll post later...inshallah. :)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Mr. A-Z is my new life's why

Last weekend I was so privileged to go to Jason Mraz's sound check before his concert at Gexa Energy Pavillion in Dallas. I totally wish we could have stayed for the concert, but it wasn't an option. Since then, my friend and I have become quite the Mraz researchers. I've liked him since I was a sophomore in college. I knew every word of his all of his songs. I never really read up on him at the time, but I'm quickly finding out that he's much more than just an awesome musician. He's an amazing human being. He strives to travel the world and build community wherever he ends up. Here are a few links to some awesome videos for you guys to get an idea of how awesome he is!

This one is one of his newest songs. If you've never seen VH1 storytellers, what happens is he explains the motivation behind the song before he performs it. I absolutely loved this song when it came out, but now I love it even more knowing the reason for the writing. It really hit home for me. When I first went to kuwait, I knew I was making the right move, but I was so torn. I'm struggling with this again as I pack up and head back to the sandbox. I've rekindled old friendships and it's hard to get in a mindset to leave it all again. Before he sings, he talks about having to make a decision to drop everything and stay with a girl, or to go navigate the world and grow. Listen. It's great.

I Won't Give Up (VH1 Storytellers): Jason Mraz performs "I Won't Give Up" for VH1 Storytellers in New York City.

This video is a segment of something that may or may not become a documentary. Everywhere Mraz travels, he makes a short clip of his time. This has been an inspiration to me. I've been so horrible at documenting my travels this past year. Pictures are great, but I always rely on someone else to take them. Listen to John Mayer's song "3x5". It will explain my thoughts exactly. This year, I'm going to be better at documenting. I'll definitely blog more and I'm going to buy a flip camera that's simple to carry around a pull out any time I want to document something. This is Mraz's clip from Morocco - somewhere I'll probably never go actually.

Lastly, this is a new favorite of mine of his. He has a heart for traveling, so a lot of his songs hit so close to home, but this is one is my favorite. It's another VH1 Storytellers clip. Listen to his personal definition of "home". It's pretty amazing!

93 Million Miles (VH1 Storytellers): Jason Mraz performs "93 Million Miles" for VH1 Storytellers in New York City.

If you weren't a Mraz fan before this, I hope you're one now. He's definitely figured it out.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

...and that's a wrap!

I was sitting at a friends house the other day and there was a picture of a path...kind of like the one above. It was through a foggy forest. You can't see where the path ends, and it looks a bit scary to walk alone. My friend's had this picture hanging in his house since before I knew him, but this time when I visited, I had a different view of it. I never really gave it much thought before. I remember his mom telling him once that its a horrible picture to have hanging in his house. It doesn't offer balance and warmth that a house should have. I kind of laughed it off, but the more I looked at it this time around, the more I understood what she meant. Who wants such a lonely picture welcoming you home? Who wants to take a path that leads to the unknown...alone? It's not normal for use to want that. As I was sitting there thinking to myself and all of these interpretations were going through my head, I blurted out, "Why can't I be normal and be satisfied with a normal life - life in suburbia with a house, husband, family and security? Why do I have to choose this path that I walk alone into the unknown?" Alex quickly replied, "Because you're not wired that way. You enjoy adventure and the unknown." I accepted the answer. I do live for adventure. I jump out of airplanes without question. I pick up and move to the middle east with little hesitation. I travel across Thailand in an overnight train, ferry, bus, plane...whatever gets me there. I eat at fish markets with no USDA regulations. I have dinner with strangers and hear stories I'll never hear in my local Starbucks. I go to islands off the coast of Kuwait and play in old Iraqi tanks while being stranded because our car wont start. I feed sea turtles and dig in gem mines and drink king coconut milk in a local's house in Sri Lanka. I wouldn't take it back for an extra year in suburbia with security and food regulations. My question is, how long does this chapter last, or is this a lifestyle change? Whatever it is, how do I make the most of it?

When I left Kuwait for the summer, I was dead set on this visit to America being just that - a visit. I had found paradise in Kuwait. I have such an awesome group of friends, gas is cheap, I can get anything delivered, I can fly anywhere in the world for not much at all, and they love Americans. Is that what this gift of life is all about - having an easy life? This trip to America this summer has definitely exceeded my expectations. My travels typically do, but my travels are normally venturing off into the unknown. America's not the unknown for me. I've traveled it quite a bit. I expected to visit old friends, see a few places I've missed and jump on a plane back to my paradise. I'd say there's truth in that, but as I said - my expectations were surpassed.

I was able to catch up with old friends, make new ones, and strengthen friendships that were just mere acquaintances before I left. Sadly, I didn't get to see everyone that I planned to visit this summer, but I challenge you to visit everyone important in your life in just a summer. It's impossible, unless of course I cut some trips short or skipped out on a few things here and there, but if you know me at all, you know I'm not wired that way.

I had a guest speaker my first year of teaching that I will never forget. His motivational speech was so simple, but it stuck. He said that as Americans, (and I've learned this past year that this goes for human beings in general), we all naturally live for the next milestone, or the next thing to check off the list. As teachers, we watch the clock for the bell to ring and the next class to come, for the day to end, for the week to end, for the next break, for summer break, for retirement, etc. How often do we "stop and smell the roses" of the moment? I'm so guilty of this, especially the vacation thing. I counted down the days to Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, Dubai, Jordan and wherever else I got to go this past year.

I always look at my Grandpa and Grandma Wagner and say to myself, "they've figured it out." They genuinely embrace every day given to them. When I visited them this summer, every day was filled with simple things, but each moment was cherished by them, and by me. My grandfather has a woodworking shop in his backyard that is the most make-shift shop I've ever seen. He's created his own saw dust vacuum, and used other tools to do jobs of tools he doesn't have. To see his excitement while he told me all about the little things he's made brought it all together for me. Life is what you make it. You can choose to check off the next milesone, but what happens when everything checked off? What's the next milestone? You're funeral? Have fun with that. I never want to finish a checklist of life.

As I was thinking, how can I be more like my grandparents? How can I appreciate all of the blessings given to me? I may not be wired to have the normal suburbia life and go through the normal stages of life, but how can I better appreciate the life God so graciously granted me? When I thought of my grandparents' life, it dawned on me, of course they soak up every moment. They have no job, no children at home, no deadlines. They have volunteer work, traveling, mass, and daily walks to complete. I got a little taste of retirement this summer. No deadlines, no job, clearly no children, no obligations - just travel, visit people and enjoy. I've had a job since I was old enough to work, sometime a few jobs at a time. When we have responsibilities that others are dependent on, we automatically make it a job to complete those obligations. What happens when you have no obligations? I was a bit nervous about having the entire summer off. How would I stay busy? What if I get bored? I can't even sit still for 5 minutes! So, as I traveled and went nonstop, I was naturally able to stop and enjoy it all. I could take detours and it didn't affect anything. I could stay an extra day here or there and it was fine. I was able to take a walk with my grandpa and we had one of the best talks ever! He gave some great life advice and encouragement. I was able to sit with Danielle and watch the sun set over the Dallas skyline, and see a ton of sunrises with her as well. :) I was able to have fun day with Zach Ray, story time with Alex, a road trip with my dad, pool time with the Hendersons, and a fancy dinner catered to us by the Chef at Borgne in New Orleans with Mike and Matt. I was able to meet the coolest group of Canadians while dancing around Lollapalooza with them. I was able to visit my Aunt Heidi one more time before she was called home. I never made a checklist of these things and I didn't really sweat it if something didn't get done. I think that's how it should be. Matthew 6:34. Look it up.

My Texas flag!

A glimpse of my road trip with my dad

pool time with the Hendersons

Borgne in New Orleans

Fun Day with Zach Ray

So many memories made with her this summer

My new awesome Canadian friends!
Lollapalooza - definitely becoming an annual trip.

Some quality time with an old friend - Alex

So how do I carry this way of living into the school year? How do I balance both work and staying focused on absorbing every moment? A lot of people tell me I'm doing it right. They tell me they always wish they would have taken a few years before "starting life"  just to travel. They tell me they wish they had the guts to just pick up and leave everything to go overseas. I totally recommend it to everyone, but I advise anyone who chooses this path to make  the most of every moment, and document everything. I promise you, you wont remember everything, and for those introverts out there, you'll have to come out of your shell and become extroverts. It's a must!

My goal this year is to live every single day with the same mindset I've had this summer. Who cares if I have work 5 days a week? Who ever said that teaching can't be treated as a treat? People always say, if you pick a career that you love, it wont be a job at all, but rather a privilege. Although teaching wasn't my original career patch, it quickly became a privilege rather than a job. I was able to embrace every moment this summer because I was doing exactly what I wanted to do, no matter the day or the time. Teachers, you know those classes where the bell rings and you're in complete shock and so are the students? You look at each other and you say, "Is that the bell already? Are we on a shortened schedule? Alright...fine. No homework. We'll pick up here tomorrow." This typically happens more when you have motivated students (it happened a lot more in Kuwait). My point is, as cliche as it sounds, "Time flies when you're having fun."

That's my challenge this school year - have so much fun that time flies, but not for reasons I used to want time to fly - reach the next deadline, bell or vacation, but rather it would be because I'm embracing the moments given to me. I'm so blessed to have this life I've been given. I'm glad I'm wired the way I am. Why rush through it? You teachers know that if the students can see motivation and passion in teachers, they too will be motivated to be passionate.

Work is just one category of my life that serves as the best example of how I'm going to try to love my life more. I'll try to spill this challenge into the smaller things as well - the drive to work, chores, exercise, socializing, travel, etc. I know...I sound like some sort of person who's high on life and you pessimists out there are laughing at me right now, but that's ok. Too many times we get caught up in the obligations of life that we forget that it's the best gift ever given to us. How often have you received a gift and seen it as an obligation, chore or series of checklists that you're ready to be finished with instead of a blessing that you're thankful for? Not often? Then why treat life that God so graciously handed to us as an obligation, chore or series of checklists instead of a gift? So, my challenge to us as human beings is to treat life as a gift, use the heck out of it, love it and cherish it. Live each moment as its the most precious one given to you. Don't get caught up in the deadlines, chapters, stages and obligations. I don't believe that's what the instructions say.

Farewell, America. It's been an awesome ride. Kuwait, I'll see you in a few days! I hope you're ready!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Skimming Through the Table of Contents

A lot of times when we start a new chapter of our lives, we typically use the metaphor, "When one door closes, another opens." This summer, I have made an effort to go back and visit people that I haven't seen since the last door closed and this one opened. I've spent several hours driving all over this beautiful country and have genuinely learned how to appreciate what my own home country has to offer. Those several hours driving have literally forced me to sit still (with reference to the car, for my nerdy physics friends), listen to some awesome tunes and really reflect on the last year, as well as this short summer.

The mindset I've had since I left Kuwait for the summer is that I have found paradise. Kuwait really is a place I don't mind calling home. I've reached a new happy chapter of my life, and I couldn't ask for more. I honestly was a little afraid to step back into my old stomping grounds. What should I expect? Who would still be around? Who got married? Do we still all go to Molly's on Mondays and Stan's on Tuesdays? Thanks to Facebook, there were far less surprises than I could have encountered. For the record, no Molly's on Mondays. They shut down, but you better be at Stan's on Tuesdays.

I've absolutely enjoyed catching up with everyone. I have literally been going non-stop since I landed. As soon as I landed, I visited with my parents for a bit and then headed straight to a friend's gig followed by a comedy show in which I was featured. :) The next few days were spent catching up with friends at local hang out spots and indulging in foods I haven't had in a year. I went on a road trip with my dad that included, Albuquerque to see family, Santa Fe, Hoover Dam, Las Vegas to spend time with more family, and the Grand Canyon. I stayed a few more days in Dallas before heading to Houston and New Orleans to visit some awesome friends. I just got back in Sherman yesterday to go visit my aunt who has been battling cancer for years. She's reached the end of her rope. I've also just planned a spontaneous trip to Waco for the weekend. After that, I'm off to Chicago! I'll go into much greater detail about all of these trips a bit later.

What I've realized in this adventure of which I'm halfway through is that our lives aren't much of a novel at all.  Novels are fictional. Novels lack one thing - a table of contents. Why? Because a fictional story wouldn't be the same if you started in the middle. You never have to refer back to previous chapters because it flows so easily already. I feel like looking back in life has always gotten a bad wrap. We should only face forward and see what life has to offer for our future. I'm learning that this isn't always necessarily true. Old doors are never locked, and you can always refer back to your personal table of contents. Pick up where you left off with old friends, and reunite with people who you haven't seen since chapter one.

I came up with this metaphor on the spot in class a couple of years ago when my students asked why I never go on dates. I told them we are all big tall sturdy trees. In order for trees to stay strong and thrive, they have to have a good set of roots. The people who keep me grounded are my roots - my mentors, family, best friends. Trees also have leaves that come and go with the seasons. Why spend your time on ones you know will just be leaves?  Leaves are the ones who make an impression and I share my life with, but when seasons change, we don't keep in touch.  This past year has shown me the importance of the leaves. It's important to keep in touch with the people God blesses your life with. Don't take the leaves for granted. I've made more of an effort to make time for every leaf, root and whatever else in my life the last month, that I did the whole time I lived in this country. When there's a time limit on things, it makes you make time for stuff and people that you might have thought was that important in the past.

So, I challenge you to make time not only for the roots, but also for the leaves - the grocery clerk, the Starbucks barista, your old college roommate you haven't seen since you were a freshman, the family you babysat when you were 18, family you've never met, friends you met once, etc. God created leaves for a purpose, figure it out. Slow down, water them and see what they become. What's the rush anyway? Flip through your table of contents, read old chapters, and make sure there's nothing you missed the first time around. Just remember which chapter you're currently in, and always grow. I have four more weeks left in my old chapters, lets see what else I missed the first time around!

Here are a few pictures! ...totally out of order
This is a pretty special group of kids...definitely roots. 

He's totally a natural!

I was trying to capture the neverending rain in New Orleans, but I ended up with a pretty picture of the porch view instead.

Fish in a bag!!! So delicious and totally worth it!

Everyone in the south is so hospitable, even the chef!

I met these two guys over a year ago in New Orleans. I made a trip out there is summer, and they totally became roots! Danielle enjoyed the trip as well. :)

 Bourbon Street New Orleans.

I went to Vegas to visit my Uncle Joe and Aunt HuiSu who I haven't seen in 20 years. They're great people and I don't make enough time for them!

My dad braved the longest leg of my summer road trip with me. This is at the Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam

I love my Grandpa. We visited him in Albuquerque and he took us to a nuclear museum, Madrid and Santa Fe.

We stopped at the Grand Canyon on the way back to Texas. Breath-taking!

This is my youngest cousin. I met her for the first time the day before. She cried when we left. They're such a sweet family!

My grandpa has it all figured out. There aren't many grandpas that would choose to go get pedis with their granddaughter. He's definitely a root!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Prodigal Blogger

That's right, my friends! I've returned. Before I moved to Kuwait, I was a naive American with close to zero travel experience. I totally thought I would get here and have no social life and be forced to really find myself. I've always been caught up in the fast-paced life that I tend to lead and never really stop to make time for myself. I knew this was going to be a huge lifestyle change for me. But, just as life always turns out, my expectations for this year have been exceeded beyond belief. I've had indescribable life experiences and have met some incredible people whom I hope end up being life-long friends.

And to let you know, I genuinely tried to add pictures right here, but yet again the internet sucks. I'll try again at home!

So what have I been doing since November? I've added a few countries to my list of travels. After Sri Lanka, I absolutely fell in love with traveling. It's an expensive hobby, but Kuwait's location makes it extremely convenient. I went to Jordan (Petra, Aqaba and Wadi Rum), Thailand (Bangkok, Phuket, Phi Phi, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan), Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Istanbul. Everyone asks me which place was my favorite, and that's an impossible question to answer. They're all so unique and intriguing in their own way. It's so amazing how much history, art and picture-perfect landscapes this world has to offer. God knew exactly what he was doing when he built this place! Traveling from far east asia to India to the middle east to the European side of Turkey has been interesting. You can really see the similarities and the things that fade as you go more west. I'm going to focus more on Europe with my travels next year. I also want to backpack Nepal and go to the Maldives before it becomes a lost island! My goal next summer is to backpack Europe for 4 to 6 weeks. Anyone want to join me?

When I got here, I immediately decided that this would be a one-year experience and I would move back to the states after I'm done. The longer I stayed here and sadly the less I kept in touch with people back home, it got harder and harder to say I wouldn't be back. I decided in January that I wasn't ready to return to the western world quite yet...or ever, but I didn't know if I really wanted to stay in Kuwait. I started searching and had a ton of offers in far east Asia and South America. Some were great, but I couldn't say yes. My friends here convinced me to apply to a school here in Kuwait. I did and a week later I had a job offer. The superintendent called me around 6:30am after I had just landed from traveling in Dubai. He had been trying to get ahold of me about the position all weekend. Without even thinking, I told him on the phone that I accept the job. After the spontaneous decision, I didn't look back. I started planning for life in Kuwait for two more years! When I moved here, I was told that Kuwait sucks people in and they stay for years. I never thought I'd be one of them, but I believe I have. I absolutely love this place. It doesn't have the prettiest scenery and there are a few laws that are a bit inconvenient, but that's what makes Kuwait what it is. It's such a small country with a huge expatriot community. Everyone knows each other and they're all so welcoming! I love going to dinner with a group of people and having about 10 countries represented. It's a rare occasion when I'm not the only American at the table. There's never a lack of stories to be told. It's refreshing, and it's not a bad lifestyle at all!

One group of people who have really brought this experience full-circle is my students. After the first semester, I went from teaching 4 sections of physical science and one section of physics to teaching 1 section of physical science, one section of physics, 2 sections of chemistry and one section of fitness, not to mention coaching track and basketball. My workload was so overwhelming and I started getting really frustrated with how much work I had compared to other colleagues with not much help. I'm not a stressor, so I never broke down or felt like I couldn't handle it, but I definitely couldn't teach at the level I was teaching the first semester. The two classes I had all year really struggled with this. I didn't have time to give them pretty outlined notes and be available 100%. I felt insufficient. My friends were put on the backburner during the week and all I wanted to do on the weekend was sleep. My personality didn't agree and I was really stretching myself thin and hardly keeping my head above the surface. I stopped trying to plan perfect lessons and just went straight through the curriculum and improvising lessons - something that is quite frowned upon. Surprisingly, my kids loved it! I always have been kind of theatrical and I was really able to do that with no script to follow. When we reached the end of a section, I asked them to figure out which day they want to test. They really proved to me how mature, strong and motivated they are. They learned, I kept up and we bonded...massively. I couldn't have asked for a better group of young ladies. I'm going to miss the heck out of them. One thing I've done is had "story time" with them. They LOVE hearing trivial little stories I have - cab rides, walking home from school, meeting interesting people. They've asked me to send them a bedtime story every day when I'm in the states. I have to try my hardest to stick to this. It'll be fun!

There's one girl in particular that has really taken a pretty large chunk of my heart. She showed up the first day of basketball tryouts and we immediately connected. She started coming to my classroom after school every day just to hang out. She's one of the most amazing teenagers I've ever met. I have been going to the reception every day after finals to say bye to her. Finals are strict here and they aren't allowed in the hallways at all. They take exams in the auditorium, cafe and gym and never come I go to them! I asked how her English exam was today and she told me she wrote about something I told her. I had no idea what it could be. I tell her so many random things that it could really be anything. The topic was to write about a recent life lesson you learned. About a week ago, she came to me a little upset because I'm not coming back to ACA. She said it was ok because teachers come and go here all the time and she'll find another teacher to love. She's been saying this to me for a few months a joke. This time she was really upset and she isn't really sure how to handle the situation. I could tell it was really bothering her. I'm not one to comfort people when they're upset, but she's special, so I made the attempt. :) Here's what was said:

Me: "Do you want to know a secret of mine?"

Ahad: "What is it?"

Me: "Never make goodbyes a big deal. I move around a lot and I meet so many awesome people. If I stressed every time I had to say goodbye, I'd be a mess! The people who are genuinely important to you and you to them, you'll keep in touch with. I don't stay in touch with every awesome person I meet, but I naturally connect often with those who I'm close to. You're one of them, and I'm not leaving forever. I'm here for two more years. We'll keep in touch. No doubt. Don't be upset!"

Ahad: "Ah. ok! Promise?"

Me: "Wallah!"

...and we hug fighting the tears. :)

I'm going to miss the heck out of seeing this girl every day! I told her about one teacher I had in middle school. I was good friends with his son and he was a part-time pastor so he was more of a mentor than a teacher to me. We're still in touch and I still totally look up to him. He has one more year until retirement and to this day tells me there hasn't been another Lauren who's come through the classrooms. I can totally see it from his perspective now. I honestly never think there will be another Ahad. She grabbed my heart on day one!

And this, my friends is why my career is cooler than yours. Yes, we get an enormous amount of vacation, but the best memories happen to be in the classroom. The pay may not be as great as the corporate world, but the rewards are priceless. I wouldn't change these experiences for anything and I'm thankful for this life I've so undeservingly been given.

Western fellows, I'll see you in 23 days!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Discovery of Sri Lanka

When I started thinking about blogging about my trip to Sri Lanka, I was overwhelmed with how much I have to talk about! There wasn't a second of the trip that isn't blog worthy, so I've decided to break it up. I'll probably cover about a half of a day or a day for each blog, but for now I'll just give a basic outline.

Sri Lanka is located off the southeast coast of India and about 75% of the population consists of Sinhalese. I hadn't ever heard of them or their language but apparently Sri Lanka is one of the most literate countries in Asia. When we first saw the writing of the language, Andrea coined the term "Curly Cue" so we stuck with that until we gained further knowledge. Although the island is fairly small, it takes forever to travel anywhere. They have no highways - only somewhat two-lane roads that run through village after village. Road signs don't exist and maps are pretty much useless. Even our driver who is a native of Sri Lanka stopped every now and then to make sure we were heading in the right direction. Most of the transportation consists of tuc-tucs and scooters, and when passing someone, it doesn't even matter if there's on-coming traffic. The trip was a never-ending game of chicken. The beaches and mountains are beautiful, and so are the people! 

Here's a little roadmap of our travels:

Colombo --> Hikkaduwa --> Ratnapura --> Polonaruwa --> Sigriya --> Kandy --> Colombo

Day 1:
Arrived in Colombo
Drove to Hikkaduwa
Beach time
Party at Mambo's (hotel down the beach) with the locals


The waves were great for surfing, but the undertow was pretty strong. I didn't get a chance to try to surf. This is the beach right outside Rita's where we stayed in Hikkaduwa

This is the beach at Mambo's where we went the first night we were there. There were a ton of locals, Australians, British and a few Germans there...and then of course about 20 Kuwait teachers!

Day 2:
Shopped for souvenirs around Hikkaduwa
Took a tuc-tuc to a lagoon, temple, and fed sea turtles
Hung out at Mambos with more ACA teachers until 5am

This is at the lagoon the tuc-tuc driver took us to. They had several different plants. This one was cinnamon.

This is the catamaran we rode in around the lagoon. It can fit up to 7 people.

This is the sea turtle we fed on a beach down the street from our hotel. Once I fed him, he kept following me. I thought he was going to bite my toes off!

Day 3:
Andrea, Kristina and I branched off from the group. We decided not to do a guided tour. Our tuc-tuc driver was so awesome so we asked him to be our driver for the week. He ended up getting his brother in law to take us because his van was broken. We had a vague idea of what we wanted to do, but we made up our trip as we went. We jumped in the van at 6am and headed to Ratnapura.
Saw a waterfall
Picked up a local
Dug for gems
Went to a temple

This is where the workers dig for gems. It's definitely different from digging for gems in Arkansas!

This is the waterfall we went to before we dug for gems. It's used as a bathing place for the locals.

After we went to the gem fields, we went to a man's house we met on the fields. He was trying to sell us gems, so we went and checked them out. Let's just say that when you buy gems from the miners, the prices are a lot more reasonable.

He showed us how he cut the gems. It flew off the holder a few times and almost hit me in the face!

This is the man we met at the gem fields. When we got to his house, it started pouring, so we had King Coconut milk (he's cutting the coconut here), and we also had tea.

Day 4:
Drove to Polonura
Saw the ancient city and several statues
Went to a woodshop
Drove to Sigrya

Here is one picture of a temple in the ancient city. 

I'm not sure what he's carving here, but they said it'll take about 2 months to finish.

We weren't allowed to take pictures with the statues, so we tried to be sneaky...

And then we found out that we can take pictures, but we can't stand with our backs toward the statues. There were bats flying all around this one!

Day 5:
Climbed Lion's Rock
Drove to Kandy
Went to Ceylon Tea Plantation
Saw Sri Lankan Dancers
Drove to Colombo


Lions Rock! What a climb...

About halfway up about 1000 stairs later, we started taking a ton of goofy pictures to keep our mind off the climbing.

We finally made it! We decided nobody ever actually tried to talk to the king if it took that much effort to do it. 

These are some tea pluckers that were finishing up their day. We took a picture with them and gave them about $10 USD to share. They thought they won the lottery. 

The whole 3 km up the mountain to the tea factory was full of tea bushes. It's definitely not what I expected...way more awesome.

This is the first step in the factory. There's a huge fan that takes the moisture out of the leaves here.

Day 6:
Flew back to Kuwait

Here's a few pictures more from in between each stop!

Along the way we would stop at these little shacks to eat. The food was good, but SO spicy so I didn't eat much. My driver told me to eat sugar. It worked miracles! I'll definitely be using that trick again.

This is the Curly cue language I was talking about. I've never seen it in my life. 

When we saw someone bathing an elephant on the side of the road, we stopped. The monks stopped to help as well. Apparently monks never get in the river or bathe elephants, so we were lucky to see them do both!

This is a tuc-tuc. three people can fit in the back and the driver sits up front. You steer with handle bars, not a steering wheel. I heard they are priced at about $3,500 USD. For a lot of Sri Lankans, this is their business in tourist cities.

This is another elephant we saw on in a river. He seemed pretty sad when his owner tried to get him to lay down.

Here's a wild elephant. We also had a night when we were driving when an elephant was stopping traffic by walking in the middle of the road. They apparently are known for hitting cars and breaking windows as they walk by. We didn't experience this, thankfully.

He was a nice elephant. They had him chained up by his ankles to make sure he stayed put. I felt sorry for him! I wish they could all just run free.

 Next time, I'll tell you all about day 1! It was probably the most uneventful of the trip, but we all needed on day of a little R&R.