TURKEY–the final stop :)

TURKEY…

Arriving in Turkey was another very early morning, and upon exiting the Istanbul airport, I had a difficult time locating the subway….  As had become my custom by now, I just looked around for another ‘backpacker type’ (ie: someone traveling with a backpack, looking casually around, or simply young and adventurous).  I located a young man named Nico, and we both found our way to the trains.  He had a more central location to get to, but we were able to together decipher the map, and figure out which way to go.  My particular hostel this time was up a winding street, and took me a few tries to get to–but I found it!   The host was very welcoming and gracious.
 
Being in a Muslim country, there is certainly an expectation that I would not engage the men eye contact, and so I was grateful to have a S. African friend (Nico) to look at during this trip…  I found my way to the east side of the river, and then up to my little hostel to get a nap.  In this hostel, I discovered that the only outlet was high on the wall, so I had to move a chair over there in order to charge my devices.  I had a momentary concern as I couldn’t find my passport in one moment–and then realized they had borrowed it when I checked in and I hadn’t received it back.   Throughout my entire trip–the passport and camera were constantly in reach, so I had to take a few deep breaths and re-think the morning before I remembered where it was.
 
After getting a couple hours of sleep, and a shower, I headed down the alley from the Red River Hotel to the city.   I was able to watch some men playing backgammon for  little bit, pick up a banana and yogurt in a shop, and find my way back across the Bospherous straight.  On this first day in Istanbul, my priority was figuring out the rest of my LAST week of travel.  What was different on this day is that I was more profoundly aware than ever of traveling alone.  See, I had three friends who had  considered joining me, but none of them were going to be there with me.   
 
I first headed to the historic blue mosque, and was stunned by its majesty…  There is the usual juxtaposition that you see at a historic religious site, where there are some followers of that faith engaging in their own worship, and then the much larger throngs of visitors/tourists capturing it all for their first (and often only) time.  I know that in Colorado, when people see the mountains for the first time, I am often reminded what a majestic place I am surrounded by daily, and I imagine those worshipping here might have a similar experience.
 
I enjoyed my first Turkish coffee (WOW, that’s strong stuff!!), and some delicious foods (dolmas, hummus, etc.) overlooking the plaza, and then headed over into the Hagia Sofia.  This building is under a great deal of construction right now, as the country is bidding for the 2020 Olympics.  The Hagia Sofia has been occupied back and forth by Christian and then Muslim influences over the course of its history.   One of the byproducts of this frequent change is that some of the works of art have been defaced (literally–the faces have been scraped off) because in Islam, it is not acceptable to have images of people in the place of worship.  I also then visited the Blue Mosque–both amazing buildings in their artistry and the amount of work being done in restoration.  
 
At the end of my first full day, I was trying to figure out flights/transportation to the other cities in Turkey that I wanted to visit, and I went to a travel agent.  Turns out that arranging everything through them would be 4 times more expensive, and this is when I really was wishing I had someone else with me to do some of the planning / coordinating for a change.  
 
I went into a little hotel for dinner, and proceeded to realize how sad I was about being alone here.  It seemed that everyone who walked past was either part of a large group, a cozy couple, or some clan.   I started crying right there in the restaurant, and as I was the only patron, the server was a bit perplexed!  How to handle this kind yet crying American girl??  He kept smiling at me, served me well, and was just a friendly face.  I was able to get online, and thankfully get support from a friend who was up at that crazy hour!  Then, just before I logged off, someone mentioned ‘flower tea’ to me, so I said I would look out for it in the coming week.  Well, this night turned out to be just perfect, because the lights over the two impressive buildings (Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque), as well as the fountain, were impressive and stunning.  I enjoyed walking around and taking pictures, and wouldn’t you know–just then a vendor came by with flower tea (yummy stuff…).  So, I leisurely worked my way back to the hotel, and asked God to provide the company I need and want for the rest of the week… and boy DID HE EVER!?  
 
The next morning, Wed March 13th, I met up with a lovely gal named Julie at Starbucks!  I was over there because my hotel manager had arranged for me to leave my bag at another hotel and not have to lug it around all day before my evening flight.  Julie, it turns out, is from Florida and is on vacation awaiting news of her Bar Exam (yes, she passed!).  She and I enjoyed the HopOnHopOff (or HOHO) Istanbul in the morning, and then connected with Nico and Brooke at the Izbat restaurant for lunch, overlooking the harbor.  This was another one of those simply amazing meals and moments with people–all three of them were delightful.  I popped over to the Basilica Cisterna, which is an underground cistern, later to be brought to mind as I read Dan Brown’s INFERNO on my Puerto Rico trip…  After the haunting and cool Basilica, I hopped on the trolley, but then I was worried I wasn’t going to make my flight–so I jumped into a taxi.  As it turned out, this was one of my closest travel connections, but I did make the plane to Izmir.  
 
Funny thing about this transfer, I had read something about ‘plan ahead’ in Turkey, so I got on my phone and made a reservation in Cappadocia (at the Flintstone Cave Hotel), and asked for a shuttle pick up at the airport.  Little did I have in my pea brain, that the airport is TINY, and over an hour from Cappadocia! This led to one of the most interesting/stressful/crazy moments in my trip… I get off the plane in this tiny town, and just after you grab your bag you are out the door.  Hmm..  I look around at the shuttle drivers (with names on their papers), and none of them has my name on it.  So, I approach the one with the most names, and ask if he serves Flintstone Hotel, he says yes, but because my name is not on the paper he is unwilling to transport me.  Well, this went back and forth a few times (ask me for the full story, its better in person), but I did end up on his shuttle.  Praise GOD, because this was apparently the last shuttle of the night, and I have no idea how much a private taxi would have cost me… At that moment I was so immensely grateful that I’d listened to the nurse in my spirit.  
 
As we drove into Cappadocia, it was dark, but there are beautiful lights on the outlines of the ‘Fairy Chimneys’…  I was stunned.  I was dropped at my hotel, and immediately connected with this little group of three: Magda, Elton and Aga.  They told me there was a tour they were going on the next day, so I decided to join them–AGAIN, how little did I realize.  Had I not done a tour, there is little way I could have gotten to all the sites we saw.  Underground churches, carved out homes, the Monk’s Valley, Goreme open air museum, it was amazing!  The whole place reminded me of those sandcastles you make just by plopping wet sand down–they are somewhat surreal, and yet this is also where many a persecuted believer has hid out.   Thursday night, after this amazing tour, we walked down to dinner at the Top Deck, and it was fabulous, cozy, friendly and SOOO delicious. I also remember giving some medicine that morning to someone, and when they came back they reported a flawless day ;). That was a treat. 
 
That night, Nico and Brooke arrived, and I made plans with them to drive around on Friday!  Together, we drove and took in the Ihlara valley (including a nice long hike, tea at the bottom near the river, and many OLD churches in the walls of the valley), Derinkuyu underground city, and some little towns along the way ;).  I visited the Hamman Bath for a Turkish bath in the evening (and my lady wanted me to bring her back to the states!), and then boarded a bus at 8:30pm to Parmukelle (arriving at 530am).  In Parmukelle I hiked up and down, connected with another Magda and Albero–we enjoyed walking together, napping in the sun, seeing the old ruins of churches, colosseums, and the city there.  
 
At the end of the day, I headed to Ephesus, and toured Ephesus on Sunday with Wing-see (a friend from the bus) and many others.  We spent time at the possible house of the virgin Mary, drove through the countryside a little bit, and spent most of the day at Ephesus.  After spending time in the ‘city’, we stopped by the site of the Temple of Artemision (Diana), one of the seven ancient wonders of the world.  It was amazing to be where Paul preached so many years ago, and imagine the commerce and life so long ago here.  Another bus brought me back to the airport to Istanbul, and EARLY on Monday morning, I began my flight home.  Impacted. Changed.  Exposed and Connected.  
 
These three months are hard to summarize in words, but suffice to say they will continue to impact me, probably for the rest of my life.  There is really nothing like getting out and seeing the world, interacting with it, and serving alongside people from other cultures and backgrounds.  I am so grateful to God for the provision, safety, and direction all along with this trip (from first idea, to the final landing).  There are more stories to tell, but at least I have all the progression and itinerary finally completed on here ;)… feel free to strike up a conversation with me about any of this whenever you want–I think about other countries just about every day.
 
Let me encourage you to get out there and explore–it doesn’t need to be as long or broad as this trip to be impacting, if you want advice, just ask!
 
HAPPY NEW YEAR–here’s to a great 2014 :).  
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South Africa!! and Swaziland

Flying to South Africa, I met a group of believers going to S. Africa on a missions trip while we were in the airport in Ethiopia and joined in with them for prayer on our way to Johannesberg.  Then, when I arrived at the JBerg airport, they were my point of contact until I found myself another hostel to stay at… I really find myself amazed at the connection between believers, no matter where I go, and it is a great source of joy and comfort!!   It was rather comical, because I kept criss-crossing the arrivals area, looking for a cell provider that was compatible with my phone.  Took me three tries, and I did succeed.
 
Using cell phones in other countries has given me mixed success.  In New Zealand and India I obtained SIM cards, and it was a godsend.  During my trip to Haiti, I intended just to use my US phone, and was unable to do so.  Communication is an interesting thing, because throughout this trip, the ability to Email, Skype, text, use Facebook or otherwise remain in contact with family and friends has been a lifeline :).  Upon entering S. Africa, I knew that I would need a phone again, because I had plans to visit Swaziland and knew that being in touch with the workers there was going to be important.  Interestingly in the JBurg airport, I had to go back and forth between Telecom and Ccell because the one didn’t have sim cards that fit my phone, so it took me a little while to get that squared away.  Eventually I did, and then shared a cab with a couple of other backpackers to the hostel :).  I was often in the trust of other peoples’ information when looking for housing, and it almost always yielded great results!!  
 
This time I arrived in a new country, I ended up again speaking with some very knowledgeable locals, who suggested I make my way quickly south to Cape Town.  So, I booked a ticket on the bus and then took off that afternoon. Waiting at the bus terminal, there was again no board indicating which gate my assigned transport was to be at, but this time I did find the right one..  In Johannesburg, it is a bit chaotic, with large numbers of people toting around carts of luggage and goods for sale in many places.  However, I did have the benefit of everyone speaking English gain!
 
The (18 hour Intercape) bus trip south to Capetown was uneventful–I did have a few good conversations with the friendly young student next to me, and it was interesting that some of the bus stops are really in the middle of no notable place (ie–nothing developed and no landmarks).   My poor neighbor student, though, when she was preparing to get off at her ‘in the middle of nowhere’ stop, realized that another passenger had disembarked with HER laptop, not theirs!   Intercape was helpful and immediately reached the other passenger to reunite her with the papers due at university… How’s that for an ‘I’m sorry its late’ excuse?
 
When I arrive in Capetown, I promptly found my hostel, which was a lovely three story building, with alot of raucous college-aged folks, but quickly connected with Ruth (a professional photographer) and her mother, who were just arriving and beginning three months in Africa.  It was a sweet connection, and we talked about what there is to do in town.  I settled into my room, locking my belongings in the locker beneath my bed, and headed out to explore.  I visited the musuem, and people-watched in the gardens near the hostel.  Then I worked my way down to the pier area and inquired about tickets for Robbin Island, as I really wanted to see that landmark.  I was told that if I come in the morning, there may be tickets…. So, I walked and explored the pier area, some amazing art exhibits, and then enjoyed a lovely dinner overlooking the water.  
 
Today I went down to the docks, and was able to get on an early tour out to Robbin Island. THe site where President Mandela was held captive for years because of his stand against apartheid is simple, sterile, and sacred.   I found it surprising that one of the other former prisoners was our tour guide, and when I had a chance, I asked him about how it was for him to still be on this island, in a different capacity.  He said that there are days it is hard, but it is also a privilege to educate people who did not know about this revolution and the human rights violations that were a part of that time…  I was honored to see where former President Nelson Mandela ‘
 
After spending the morning on the island, and seeing the beautiful view of CapeTown heading back into the harbor, I checked out a couple of the merchandise/shopping areas and grabbed some lunch there.  I then hopped on the tour bus and made my way out to the vineyards!!  The tourbus allowed me to see other areas of town that I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise, and shared about certain sectors of the city that still haven’t been rebuilt since the outlaw of apartheid.  I went past the bird sanctuary and a botanic garden, and I disembarked at a Groot Constantia vineyards… the history of the vine here in SAfrica stretches further back than I had realized, and I enjoyed a great sampling of cheeses, wines, and good company…  It was a beautiful day, and as I gaze around at the acres and acres of crops, and consider how much history has shifted in even the last few decades, I was struck with a sense of timelessness.  Upon my return, I caught a taxi by one of the beaches who was willing to bring me up to the Table Mountain trolley, and wait for me there.  SO… I did that.   The reports were saying there was 0%   visability, but I figured if I didn’t get to the top, then I definitely wouldn’t see anything, so I might as well get up there.  About a third of the directions were visable, but there was significant fog and cloud cover.  It was chilly, and I again had to pause for a power-up at a random cafe.  Irish coffee on teh top of a mountain, when it is windy, chilly, and overcast is just so sublime!!  I took a bunch of photos, and then scooted my way back down…
 
The next day, I was a part of a tour group to go see the penguin  colony and the Cape of Good Hope.  This was just a spectacular day of company, experiences, and sightings!!  The penguins were RIGHT under us on the boardwalk, and it was just a bright and warm day.  We caught many pictures (and a video of me wobbling like the Boston Aquarium commercial from the 80s), and it was just so majestic to see these little guys hobbling around, burying their nests, and surfing in the waves in ffont of us.
 
As we entered the park area, our guide indicated that it was unlikely we would see a variety of animals, as there is such a vast expanse of land here.  But we MIGHT see zebras, waterboks, baboons, or ostriches.  Well, before the day was out we had seen ALL of those creatures!!    Upon arrival, we got geared up on bikes, and then headed out across the prairies, with the cape of Good hope just south of/in front of us…  We spent about an hour and a half biking 8-10 miles, and it felt so good, as I hadn’t been on a bike since the fall of 2011 because of my back injury!!  At the end of the ride, we gathered to share lunch, and then headed over to the cape.  We took pictures, climbed the lighthouse, and enjoyed being at the ‘southern most’ tip of S.Africa (there is actually another place that is more correctly considered that, but common knowledge labels the Cape as such….
 
At the end of the day, I hopped on a flight back to JBurg, and then rented a car and drove on over to Swaziland!  
 
SWAZILAND
Driving east to Swaziland was somewhat of a surreal experience.. I thankfully had a very contemporary and safe car, but as I looked around I realized that there are vehicles 15+ years and older on the road.  I continued to drive through forest after forest, and I could see cattle wandering up on the road, lumber being harvested, and then many spatterings of thatched roofs and villages scattered along the way.  I entered Swaziland on the south of the country, and thankfully I had requested a letter from the rental company about traveling across the border.  When I came through, I had to pay a fee, go in and out of two different buildings, and the vehicle was searched twice.  Having a cell phone, I thought I would have no problem connecting with Erica, but it turns out that although Swaziland is surrounded on all sides by S.Africa, the phone didn’t work there!  So… I just continued along the road until I saw a game lodge, and then pulled over to request the use of their phone.  I connected with Erica, and she said ‘just look for the white girl on the side of the road’.  So, I drove another 15 minutes down the road, and there she was!!  Mxlosi was with her, and I quickly was oriented to the Anchor Center, which is the site in Nsoko I have been supporting since its inception 7 years ago…. It was alive with ministry work, and go-gos from the church.  I was so blessed and encouraged to see this beautiful outreach that Jumbo and Kreik  launched right as I went to the Amazon in 2006….
 
Erica showed me around and introduced me to the ministry partners, and then we prepared to go to dinner.   AS we came upon the game lodge, there were 2 giraffes immediately visable, so we walked around and enjoyed their company.  As we walked, more gathered and eventually we were just yards away from 8 of these lanky and stealthy desert divas.   They were lazily and confidently gathering food from the tops of trees, hugging each others’ necks, and generally seemed to be enjoying the happy hour of a reserve–when the tourists have mostly gone home, and they get to reclaim the land without gawkers.
 
Erica and I proceeded to talk and connect at length, and it turns out that she knows my pastor and our small little congregation in COLORADO!!   SHe used to come to our 24/7 house of prayer!  :)  What an amazingly small world…  For the next couple of days, she showed me around, allowed me to be a part of ministry, and introduced me to the people that Anchor Center and the care points have impacted…  
 
ON SUNDAY I attended church with her–and there was a little boy in blue who followed us into the van, and came to church.  She doesn’t know his name, or even who is mamma is, but he wanted to be in the house of The Lord for worship. He wore threadbare shorts, and a dust-covered shirt.  He spoke very little, but he was my buddy for the day.  HE sat in my lap, kept me in sight, and worshipped with me in a language in which I don’t know a word (okay, so I learned a couple, but barely!).  The connection with him was one I will always remember, while I was from half a globe a way, the fact that I was present, loving, and connected made a difference.  IF only for that moment, and I will always remember his trusting and gentle eyes.  We sat next to two of the Go-gos (grandmas) in the congregation, and  I was just blessed.  One uses a wheelchair for mobility, and has a a very gentle spirit, despite the challenge of rolling a wheelchair over dusty and uneven paths, and getting in and out from the ground because both of her legs are amputated.  The other gal next to me is a 80+ year old who is engaging, smiley, and blind (I believe because of diabetes). They both proceed during the worship service to dance around and express their deep love for The Lord.  Physical challenges present an extra effort anywhere in the world, but in Swaziland, without adaptive services or supports, I only imagine how the community responds differently to these beautiful women…  I have been in churches in at least 10 countries, but hearing a Gogo thank The Lord for provision here was something to behold.  She stood up and recounted to the congregation that she was struggling, because she didn’t have ‘food’ to cook, but then the Lord caused her to remember she had grass outside which she realized she could boil to make a soup.    Even in a survival situation, I’m not sure I would have considered that option–perspective is everything.  WE ARE SO spoiled…. Realizing that the majority of people in this country are HIV or TB positive, and that 19 people survive on one paycheck, that monogomy is a foreign concept to them, few children grow up with two parents, and many are double orphaned, it is all so heartbreaking.  The afternoon I arrived, I was talking to a 9 year old on the playground, and she was asking me about my family–as she has seen her share of visitors/short term missions folks come through the Anchor Center.  Etched into my memory and heart is her reaction when I told her that I still have two parents.  That sentance almost didn’t seem to compute in her gentle little mind, and in that moment all I wanted to do was provide parents for all of these children.  If you have ever considered adopting–let this be a strong encouragement to DO IT  (think its expensive–know that there are resources, I’ll help you find them)!!  Also, please pray with me that God would raise up and send workers to the nations!!
 
While in Swaziland, I was able to give a couple of massages to the GoGos, and visit all of the 10 carepoints near Nsoko, which I have been supporting for 7 years.  This ministry began with feeding 30-50 people in one carepoint, and now there are about 500 being fed daily!! What a blessing to be a part of this provision….  One of the greatest things for me to see was the partnership between Adventures in Missions, the game reserves, and some of the plantations in the area.  They have pooled their funding to provide medical care in this remote area-both in the building and the staffing for providing this need.  I love seeing practical and logical weaving of supports for communities!  :)
 
As I drove back to S. Africa for my flight to Turkey, I an opportunity to drop off a phlegm sample for one of the Gogos who might have tuberculosis at the hospital in Manzini.  I say opportunity because it was an interesting snapshot of African life.  The interesting thing about this was how the hospital had a huge section for TB, for HIV and then for maternity… But the orthopedic/emergency/cancer and other treatments were all lumped together.   In the U.S.A., there are maternity wards, but certainly few clinics devoted entirely to TB or HIV, as far as I know, because the case incidence is so much lower.  The building was mostly outside hallways, and when I told them I had a sample for TB sampling, people backed away from me like I was carrying the plague in that bag.  Knowing universal precautions, and having had TB vaccines, I wasn’t concerned about handling a double bagged canister, but it gave me a sense of the rejection, isolation, and judgement people dealing with these diseases must frequently experience.  Who knew it would be such an opportunity just to do an ‘errand’.  ADditionally, the patient has to present herself in person for results two days later.   I also found it curious and slightly disturbing that my cell phone proliferated ads for single-partner sexual engagement, there were vasectomy signs everywhere “–be a man, have the surgery”, and “just one partner=longer life”
 
After leaving Swaziland…  I headed out via a stop at the glass factory and then flew to TURKEY!!
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India: trains, rickshaws, Taj Mahal, and many beautiful people…

TUESDAY 2/19 Entrance to India…

How can it already be 2/19, and i will be home in under a month!?  it is hard to believe i have been gone from the US for just about two months…  So many experiences, miles, people, moments, tastes, sounds, smells and emotions have happened since then!!!  This journey is amazing…and  I think the greatest of these is the experience of how much we all just want to be connected.  Whether on a ferry, in a restaurant, or walking down the street–I believe there is a mighty power and love conveyed within a smile or a warm nod, bow (in countries where appropriate), or other greeting.
Being in New Zealand had no specific outward ministry, but the joy of connecting to people in the moment often felt like eternal earthly moments (meaning that though they may only be here on earth, something is happening in a spiritual sense)…  Moments that stand out to me are the joy of the wine with a new friend from France, or the peace of worshipping with a small community that rarely gets drop-in visitors, the excitement of kayaking Fjordlands with poeple from all over the world, providing a ride for hitchhikers/backpackers in need and having political, religious, philosophical conversations with a wide variety of folks from Germany, France, NZ, Israel, and more….
ON TO INDIA…
I arrived in DELHI, INDIA on Monday 2/18 at 11:30pm.  It was a long trip from Sydney to Bangkok to Delhi, and I was exhausted by the time I  arrived.  Late on a Monday night, I got my taxi to the Hotel, and crashed into my bed quite promptly.  The hotel was not what I expected for the price, but alas all I really need is a flat and safe surface to sleep on…
I am a seasoned traveller, but India will give anyone a run for their money!  Within just three days I was taken for more money than a service was worth (aka-scammed) at least three times.  Granted, this didn’t amount to many greenbacks, so in the scheme of things, not a huge deal, but it leaves the ego a bit bruised.   I managed to let someone be my driver from the hotel, for the convenience.  He of course charged me much more than the subway would have been (and it would have brought me close to my chosen destinations).  The room was supposed to include breakfast, but I was in a rush leaving and was charged for the mail as well–didn’t have time to work it through.  Lastly, I paid more than I should have on my first Indian clothes…  And, these are all learning opportunities!   Remember to give myself enough time, and if I am really out to do something the cheapest way possible, don’t just give in to offers.   These experiences are part of my first impressions of India.   I feel the need in this country to keep my guard up all the time.  Of course as a traveler, some of this is just for security/safety sake, but here it is also to not be scammed.  In the movie I watched on the way to Delhi (Peace, love and misunderstanding) there was a great scene about how the main character as a lawyer is always interacting with her virtual fists up.  I am feeling that here in Delhi.  Of course not to fight, but rather to protect.  As my driver, Kasmeer admitted yesterday, everyone here is ‘out to get an opportunity.’
2/19 TUESDAY  Comparative driving summary
When people heard I was traveling to India, the universal phrase I heard from people was that the country would be ‘an assault on all your senses’.  I imagined that it would be stinky, noisy, crowded, busy, and just about overwhelming.  While there is plenty of different olfactory input, traffic and rukus im many places, and a different pattern of foot, wheeled, hoofed, and other traffic, to me it wasn’t an assault on the senses.  Interestingly, the driver who took me out was complaining about his own city.  As a visitor, I find these a part of the soundtrack, if you will.  They are the setting for the scenes that take place here.  The smells are different.  There’s the fires on the street, the smell of traffic (although most tuk tuks are now PNG, natural gas, so I imagine this used to be MUCH worse), animals and their by-products, food vendors, waste that is strewn about.  The traffic here is intense, but I sustain that Haiti is the worst I’ve experienced in all my travels to date.
Here’s my summary of driving conditions I have encountered in a variety of countries…

US -level 1 traffic rating.   Same as Israel, easy, law abiding, predictable,right side driving.

New Zealand, Ireland -2, same good law abiding drivers, utilizes left side
Italy – 3 same, but very narrow lanes
Singapore 2, same, but on left side, more pushy drivers
Thailand– 3, busy, left hand side, but lawful (follow lights, etc)
South Africa/Swaziland–4 left hand side, lawful, but watch out for cows, sheep and goats!
China 5, rules are abided, but some are flexible (don’t have to follow the lights.  Right side driving
Cambodia– 8  very little regard for the rules, speeding on uneven roads, playing chicken,
India– 9  cows, chickens, goats, bikes, rickshaws, tuktuks, LOTS of tuktuks, lights are obeyed though, few vehicles going the opposite way
Haiti–10 there is diesel everywhere, people hanging out of the vehicles, stopping wherever they want, different directions, chickens!  roads are in terrific disrepair!  lots of last minute swerving.  sewer waste in the road.
ON TUESDAY 2/19 Ode to transit drivers
Okay, so I’m not a poet, maybe someone (MK?) can help me here??  I would really like to write a poem extolling the value and indispensable nature of those taxi, tuk tuk, tsong tao, and bus drivers.  Before this trip, when I’ve seen names on placards at the airport or train station, I think those are for VIP folks, and really they are just organized ahead of time.  I have a whole newfound appreciation for the value and importance of taxi and bus drivers, for getting me places safely.  During the trip I have been on public and private buses, suwbays, boats, taxis, rickshaws, bike rickshaws, personal vehicles, motobikes, planes, and tsuang taos–thankful for the safety that has been around me!!  Stepping out and having someone there for you is such a comforting feeling!
Negotiating and figuring out one’s lodging, transportation, details and directions can be exhausting.  The best thing people have done for me in hosting is by far helping with transportation.  In Beijing Susan helped with this, Steph, Borey and Alli in Cambodia, Julie in Singapore, and my families in India all were such a gift in this.
Today, I enjoyed my time at the Red Fort, and watching the many families and couples just visiting, picnicking, and enjoying this national treasure.  I was able to visit Ghandi’s burial area, and was able to pay my respects there. This was one of many times that I had the pleasure of smaller than expected/normal crowds.   Just after I paid my respects and said a prayer for this nations future, three buses of children and asian tourists arrived!  After these sights, I went and had an amazing meal, and played with some of the kids outside, sharing some paper and making paper airplanes :)..  These moments are so precious…
WEDNESDAY 2/20 Adventures in train mis-travel
I had a train ticket to head to Agra at 6am, so I got up bright and early, but when I got to the station (with little time to spare), the electronic board which lists the trains and their assigned platforms was not working.  So, having my 19Kg back on my bag, and 7kg on my front  (roughly 50 pounds for those of you not used to metric), I was quickly and yet politely trying to find someone who speaks enough English to point me to the right platform. Two walking passes up and down the bridge to the 9 platforms do not reveal the name of the train overhead, and I was starting to worry a bit about my time.  This was one of the few moments when I really felt alone…  But I kept searching for someone to help.  Well, eventually I was directed twice (once by a railway staff) to the same place, so I was feeling confident, that this is the right direction.  So, I board the plane awkwardly with my big bags, and sat in my assigned seat just in time.  Well, turns out I was still in the wrong train!  After sitting down and sighing deeply, another passenger asks for my ticket (put placing his palm out and tapping it for the paper).  When he looked at it, he points out the window to another platform.  Uh-oh!!  Thankfully, I was in someone’s seat, so I didn’t discover this at the end of the journey (who knows where I would have ended up!) ;).
I quickly got off and ran to where (he said) my platform was, up the stairs over 30 yards, and then down again, and wouldn’t you know that this is a day the train ran on time…..  This was where I was hoping the the claim ‘nothing goes on time in India’ would have been accurate).  Sigh.  I guess I’m not on my way to Agra at this point!  So, in the dark and cold of the morning (roughly fifty degrees at this time of day) I proceed outside to look for the ticket counter and someone tells me the English speaking office is down the road.  I remembered reading this, so I was pretty sure it was not a scam, and I arrange a taxi for the short ride because of my nerves, the hour, and my luggage.  Once I arrive, though, I discover they could not re-issue my ticket for today.  So, while getting ready to stay at a hotel there, (after going on the subway and a bicycle rickshaw) I was able to make contact with the family at Asha house.  Actually, I had left messages for them the day before, and at JUST the right time they called and said they would send a driver up to get me.  What a beautiful feeling it was to know where I was headed, and that the people had my safety in mind!!
As we drove the forty-five minutes down to the house, I was talking with my driver about how he liked driving here.  He related it to a video game, and how you just have to take care of the next thing and always be alert.  It really is amazing how they navigate all of the different vehicles, animals and people on the street!!  Today there was a strike of the motorized tuktuk drivers, so the roads were a bit quieter than usual in Delhi, but suffice to say this is a country in which I would never attempt my own driving!
Arriving at the Asha House of Hope was beautiful, because I remember when Alli was just helping them get up and running, and contributing and praying for the staff and kids here.  Since she started the children’s home, an amazing Indian couple and their family has been called to lead and serve the children.   I quickly met all the younger kids who aren’t at school this time of day, and began to play with them, as the house mom is telling me the stories of how some of the children came to be here.  We sang songs, played games, drew a bit, it was wonderful.     One of the things that is beautiful to me about this place is how God brought the leaders together in vision and then in mission and actual project.  I was blessed by the hospitality here, and enjoyed the simplicity of everyday life here.
One of the things that is different in India is that most rooms have more than one or two people in them.  The rooms are not tiny, but there is such a closeness to the families here.  Children often stay in beds with adults, or share with another child. In the cool of Indian winter, this also serves to keep them warmer, but I believe it is fundamentally about just being close.  In the room I was staying, I think there were seven of us–two adults, one older girl, and 4 little ones.  I found the care joyful to watch and participate in..
THURSDAY 2/21 Life with 32 kids
I am impressed at the ease of the system and schedule at the house from feeding and prep to devotions, school study and play time.  The older ones help the younger ones, and the adults are there as needed, too :).  My favorite moment today was singing praise songs, and I started with Jesus Loves Me, they responded ‘Open the Eyes of my Heart God’…. Oh, Father, I see your eyes so much in this moment.  Little Aksa is like a burr on cotton, and constantly at my side.   I just flow today in the peace of the home.  I provide massages for 3 of the women serving there, none of whom have had massage before!   The house grandmamma says to me, ‘It is good what you do’ with a broad and thankful smile. Touching the world as I go…
I must mention that I really love Indian food!!  While I’m not the tidiest at eating with my right hand (and no fork), I enjoy the experience.  There’s a whole different sense when you are feeling your food before tasting it… If you’ve never tried it, I encourage you to try rice and deal without a fork or spoon :).  The team is willing to offer utensils, so I alternate at different mealtimes depending on the liquidity of the dishes being served.
FRIDAY 2/22   Trains, take #2
Today I have a ticket that the team helped me to obtain, so I am sure of where I am going, and this time I actually have him walk me to the train.  When we get to the platform we check on the paper outside the car (I like this feature, it CONFIRMS you are in the right space) and away I go.  Wow, I really like that confirmation part!!
I arrive in Agra, look around for someone else with a backpack, and quickly find someone.  I should share that in many of my cities, I don’t arrange housing ahead of time, but rather trust the info desks at airports or look for backpackers at the train stations–and it has been mostly successful!  In this city, they direct me to a splendid little hostel (Tourist Rest Hotel) where there are lots of foreigners.  We actually decide to share a tuktuk, and I connect with  a few of them and we make dinner plans.   I then go to explore Agra fort on my own, and I walk there and back.  As I walk in the heat of the day, I am seeing the kids come out of school, smiling and saying Namaste…  I am watching women go to and from market, and being stared at by the men or invited to shop by everyone on the street ;).   There are animals to dodge on the street (beware of the cows, one of my new acquaintances was tossed by one!), trash to walk around, and many vehicles to be aware of at every turn.  I realize that although I brought my iPod with me, I have listened to it very little outside of my quiet times each day, because I feel the need/desire to be aware and alert of my surroundings. If I were in the US, I most certainly would have my music in, and it I realize that these everyday observable aspects of life are not observed by us ‘at home’ because they are everyday.  We are ‘in it’.  I encourage you to someday treat your home streets and stores/markets like a new land, what do you notice differently?
After going through the Fort, I *almost* use a rickshaw to get back to the hostel–but just as I get in, and say ‘straight to Tourist Rest House’, the driver says ‘it is free, I get gas from the store owners.’  This is a tip-off that he is going to stop and try to make me shop at various places.  So I jump out and say ‘no thank you’.  Of course, he keeps trying to get me to come back into the vehicle, but I switch sides of the road (important tip to avoid being harassed!), and focus on the walk back… it is warm, but I just grab another water and enjoy the half hour walk back to the hostel.  Much nicer than being forced into commercial stops at various stores ;).
I get some good sleep and orient myself to the town… Evening dinner at Zorbas is great with a group of Brits that I met at the Rest House (Connor, Chloe, Maddie, and two others), and we are able to find an ATM so I can get some more Rupees out.   Ever since my experience in China, I always appreciate a smooth and successful ATM withdrawal so much more!  And having a few others around makes me feel safer in the midst of those transactions.  We walked by a wedding reception (with some really loud, not so ideal speakers!), lots of small fires on the streets, and saw the market setting up for the night.  Enjoying a city by foot is always a great way to really get the feel for it.
Diana at Taj Mahal

Diana at Taj Mahal

SATURDAY 2/23 Taj Mahal
Connor, Chloe, Maddie (my friends from the hostel) and I started the morning by waking up at 430am where we picked up a 5am rickshaw to the Taj.  Upon arrival at the Taj it was 515am and no one was around really what so ever so we kind stood there making sure that we would be first in the ticket Que! 15minutes later it started to rain… Not just lightly but a big storm with a huge roar of thunder and the lightning occasionally cutting out the street lights leaving us in split second darkness! Luckily we girls had waterproofs on but Connor made the rooky error of not bringing one trusting it wouldn’t rain! At 6 o’clock the que started to build up but we couldn’t buy our tickets until 630 and then had to join another que to actually enter the Taj which wouldn’t open until 652am (sunrise).   Meanwhile, I went to go put our electronics and water in the lockers, which also opened at 6:45am.
Finally we were inside, not only inside but one of the first few people inside so we headed straight to Diana’s chair where we took our photos without a crazy rush of people! And, behind us some people asked “is that Diana’s chair”–to which I replied, ‘yes, it is my chair’ –with a smile ;).   Then it started chucking it down so we heading into the actual monument itself, it really is a stunning place and words don’t quite describe how incredible it is… Pictures don’t do it justice either… You have to be there and see it through your own two eyes if you really want to experience it!!   The vastness of the intricate marble and mosaics is immense and makes you feel pretty small.  The sad thing is that when it was finished in 1653, the  emperor who had commissioned it for his wife, Mugal Shah Jahan, had been moved across the city and basically imprisoned by his own soo :(. The Taj Mahal is widely recognized as “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage” (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/252.  That was the day I thought to myself, though–that it may not be a good idea to view too many world heritage sites back to back, because the grandness reduces a little if you compare Ankor Wat for example with Taj Mahal…  Still, the Taj is amazing!!
After exploring the whole area and taking far to many photos we left as it was absolutely heaving rain despite being 9am in the morning! Then we went and ventured through Agra to find somewhere for breakfast considering the time we’d been up! We went to a nice restaurant that lonely planet advisedewhich we never would have chosen in a million years.  It was fantastic food and very cheap! Getting back into a rickshaw where we headed back to the guesthouse, the horn was rubbish so Connor decided to make the horn noises and its crazy how you can just hang outside and it’s perfectly normal!
After a couple hours snooze we then reconnected and headed into the ‘Bizarre’ where there were markets and shops, just to do something rather than sit around really! We also headed into another restaurant recommended by lonely planet again, which did traditional southern Indian food which was absolutely gorgeous… Different but good!
(Credit, Connor Ordish: http://connorordish.weebly.com)
SUNDAY 2/24
5:10 am is not a human time to depart a train station, but I did it!  Woke at 4:15am, showered, and then had my rickshaw driver pickup at 4:30.  Arrived at the train station in the dark, with animals, people, and vehicles all around just before 5am.  The thing that I now know to look for on the side of the train is my name as a confirmation that I am at the right car, and then the seat numbers are right above my berth.  On this ride, I slept much of the time, as I was in a higher bunk and able to put my bag beneath me (The bigger bag was locked to the seat).  Rolling along the countryside as the sun started to rise was an enjoyable experience, and I am coming to like train travel–which is not something I have had much experience with before…
I arrived in Jaipur at 9:40am, and was being picked up by the family hosting me.  So, I call my host, and let her know I am coming out of the platform.  Following the masses, but when I get there, apparently I’m at the wrong exit.   I walk back up two flights of stairs with my two bags on, and then look out the other side of the tracks, that’s not it either.  I call her back, and she explains that the station is actually in the middle of the 10-15 tracks that are all gathered there.  Finally I come out in the right place, and Manoj greets me.  I have such a sense of joy when the drivers come up, and I can say ‘I am waiting for my friend’. :)
We drive out of the city, past a number of the settlement/slum areas, and eventually turn up into their home.  It is a two story concrete home, and they live on the first floor with their 5 children, grandfather, and Munoj.   I spend the afternoon visiting with the kids, getting to know the family, and having a little nap..  It is a sweet time of rest!
MONDAY 2/25 Jaipur touring, and colony visit
In the morning, I went to City palace (which takes up 1/7 of the city’s land!), the Bazaar, Hawa Mahal (the Palace of the wind/ women’s viewing area, 5 stories high, and with 953 small windows!!), and then I went to LMB for lunch.  The largest hand-made silver vessel is in the palace, as well as a variety of arms and art.  The Hawa Mahal was a great place to people watch, as many families come here and take pictures together.  I had a marvelous lunch at LMB and picked up some sweets for my host family.  As I was waiting and looking for my rickshaw driver, I was worried I wouldn’t find him, but thankfully his vehicle had shiny tassels, helping me to locate it–and my whiteness makes me an easy target ;).  Took a few minutes and an extra phone call, but we connected.
In the afternoon, I went with my host family to visit believers in a nearby colony of Puppeteers.   We brought the whole family, and packed into the small home we were in.  They of course brought us chai, and the children played as the adults visited and prayed.  It was a very touching time of connection.
TUESDAY 2/26 kid time, and more home visits
Today, I spent the morning in extended quiet time and study, as well as connecting with the kids.  They really enjoy teaching me how to play cricket, we enjoy badmitton together, and I share some of the games on my iPad with them as well.  The twins are hilarious, and though there are no paved roads, the driveway and hallways make for great biking areas!   In the afternoon, I go out with Jaideep, Munoj, and the grandfather.  We arrive at a home, and just wait for others to arrive.  Turns out the ladies want to pray for my–for my husband to come (its unheard of to be single at my age), and then ask for my prayers as well, for family and health issues.  One of the girls has an injured leg and I commit to following up in the states about possible resources.  On our way to the second home, one of the ladies takes my hand and calls me “mia didi”–or my sister.  One of the sweetest phrases and moments of my whole trip. When you are operating in foreign languages, gestures like this impact you monumentally more than they might in your same culture, I think.
WEDNESDAY 2/27 Amber Fort, package, lunch, babysit!
I spend the morning with Ashok, Manoj, and grandpa at the Amber Fort up on the hill overlooking a lake–this is a palace combined with a great wall!!  It is expansive, including underground passageways, images of flowers, elephants , a peacock, scorpio,butterfly.  We had a great time touring around, and climbing up and down admiring the traditional Hindi architecture and artwork all around.
After the Fort, we went to the market to purchase some more items for gifts, and Ashok was amazingly helpful!!  We then proceeded to the shipping store, and although I didn’t have my passport, I had it in an email, so that worked, and we got a package heading home to the USA!
In the evening, I watched the kids so the parents could go celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary, and we enjoyed watching How to Train your Dragon together on my iPad, and I made popcorn.  :)  Good times!!
THURSDAY 2/28-SATURDAY 3/2 YWAM
6am train to Delhi–this time I have homemade food to bring with me, as well as local snacks :).  Sadly, these trains aren’t ‘long enough’ for overnight timings, but I again am tired and want to rest.  On this particular train (Jaipur-Delhi), I am seated across from a mamma and her little one, and both are very curious about me. So, we play lots of hand games, and at the end take pictures with me holding her daughter.  I discovered where I needed to get off was not the stop I expected, but luckily tourists stick out, so people will shoo you off.  I left the train with some other travelers, and we all made our way to the subway together.  There’s an interesting comfort for me now in subways, because I generally know the information I need will be there… so I then take that out to the next group I am connecting with down in Noida, and as I am entering the blue van there, I think–this is crazy, just because I know someone who knows someone that I can trust this!?   What a wild adventure…  And as I start to converse with the two young people, I wish I had more time here.  As soon as I enter the home, they hook me up with wifi, and it turns out my flight has been moved back a day!!  HAHA.  God heard that prayer.  
 
Lots of ping pong, worship, prayer and visiting with the YWAM team there is sweet.  I have a chance to teach, and watch my chicken dinner be executed and skinned, go to the market, walk around a lot, visit with local kids, and love on the team here.
SUNDAY 3/3  ON to SOUTH AFRICA
LATE at night on Saturday, three of the amazing team pack up the van and drive me the 1.5 hours to the Delhi airport, way west from where we were.  They packed their tools, and I provided gas money, but it was such a blessing to not have to navigate public transit or even be with an unknown taxi driver at this time of the day.  This group of people was such a gift to me!!!  Love you guys…

SOUTH AFRICA…

A few comments on the journey though, if you will indulge me.   My flights were uneventful, but the layover in Ethiopia was remarkable.  The remark that I would make here is that relationships are developed, not demanded.  I have in the course of my travels exchanged many an email, phone number, and made quite a few new Facebook friends.  Each of these represent a connection.  Some new relationships were created in just an hour or two, others over an entire week.  In the Addis Ababa airport, I had an experience where a gentleman sat down, introduced himself, and immediately wanted my contact information (email/FB/phone).  Of course I refused, but I found it interesting how directly one can tap into human nature, because his response was ‘don’t you want to be my friend?’.  And what I shared with him was about how I have had people ask for things before they are my friends, and if he wants to sit down now and talk, that would help me to know if there is a reason I would want to stay in touch…
For those new to traveling (or a reminder for seasoned folks)–remember that you are not just an individual when you are abroad.  Though I am Diana, when I am abroad, I am also American, I am Women, I am Opportunity (by the nature that I can afford a flight, people’s rerception in the country that I am visiting is that I am rich).  Bear this in mind when approached and/or are tempted to reach out to a new person.  You always have a right to do this on your terms…  I sure have to remind myself of this at times!
The flights from India to South Africa started at 3:30am Sunday morning, stopping in Ethiopia for an hour and a half, and then continuing to Johannesburg.  When I arrived in Johannesburg, I didn’t know where I was staying, so I found some other backpackers, and headed where they were going ;).  Seems to usually work out just fine!!
Spent the afternoon down in the city botanic gardens, and met up with some other great travelers at the hostel–had a pizza dinner and searched out (but didn’t find) wifi…
LAST TRAVEL (ie–narrative) coming soon ;)…  I hope you’re enjoying the stories!!!
MAY 23rd (Sunday) at 3pm I will be showing heaps of pictures, and telling even more stories, if you are available to come to Englewood, CO–put the date and time in your calendar!!  Address to follow :).  Thanks again for ‘being with me’ on this amazing world journey….
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Girls just wanna have fun!

Jumping for joy with Aga and Magda as we explore Cappadocia together… :)

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Countdowns 4, 3, 2, 1!!

Countdowns!!
4 favorite meals
1-hot pot in Beijing with people from 8 countries…
2-Indian meals at families homes, especially the spicy goat.
3-izbek in Istanbul, Kufte! With Nick, Brooke, Julie. Beautiful views :).
4-all Cambodia meals with HPC team, Esp. Jars of Clay Luk Lok w/Judy.

3 things/people that surprised me
3-conversations in China with nationals, about how they wish their country were different
2-how on time things were in India! I had been told everything is late ;).
1-the amazing love and hospitality in Cambodia of HPC and Khmer friends

2 best reasons to travel:
2- to explore and share
1-to return home.

#1-I want to thank Yahweh, the One who has made the way for this journey and been most present throughout it the entire way!!
Just one journey remains, two flights home…

Note to all…
As I begin my ‘re-entry’, please know that I DEEPLY appreciate everyone who has (and those who haven’t) followed this three month journey, and I look forward to being in touch with you as I return stateside. I also want to share that I am starting my next class (teaching) in just under two weeks, so I am in a bit of a preparation time crunch.

I welcome all of your calls, emails, etc, and ask in advance for your patience and grace if I take a little bit of time to return the contact :).

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Fairy Chimneys in Cappadocia, Turkey

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Basilica Cisterna, Istanbul, Turkey

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