Strange Sleeps in Xinjiang

In my last post “Alone In China” I mentioned being ushered from foreign hotel to foreign hotel. In Xinjiang Province, there are certain hotels specifically for foreigners. They are a rare find, however.

One afternoon, for example, I was taken in a police van for 200 km, past four different cities, in search of a foreign hotel. Once we finally reached the intended city, the border patrol told us that, in fact, there was no foreign hotel here, either. It was 11 pm at this time and I actually started laughing out loud. “HAHA Why did you take me here!!!?” They were just doing their job, I understood that, but REALLY?! Isn’t that something that you’d check before driving for hours?!! It was a bit comical, but I had a situation on my hands. Camping is forbidden, but there is no foreign hotel. What to do?

Then, I saw him. A tall, lanky, string bean of a man with white hair, sun tanned skin and micro mini pink short-shorts. I probably scared him half to death when I ran over screaming “HELLO! WHERE ARE YOU FROM? YOU’RE THE FIRST FOREIGNER I’VE SEEN IN DAYS! WHEN DID YOU GET HERE?” It was a bit much. But I was so unreasonably excited to speak to someone and have a big ole laugh about what we were going through separately but together.

His name is Marcel, or something like that. He’s an adventurer from Belgium that was traveling by tricle (trycle?) The point was to race other Europeans to Beijing using only solar power and human power.

Anyway, overwhelmed by my energetic presence or not, Marcel and I decided to persuade the guards to let us pitch our tents at the border where they could see us and we’d be on our way early morning. They reluctantly agreed and we started unloading our things.

Marcel didn’t have a free-standing tent so I offered for him to share my tent. He looked trustworthy enough. We spent the night sharing tales of the road and about our lives before this adventure and at some point in the conversation we drifted to sleep. Thank the universe he wasn’t a creep or a snorer. We slept well, despite the occasional truck headlights illuminating the tent and were both up at 7 am saying our goodbyes and riding our separate ways.

 

I had many a strange sleep in Xinjiang Province, the last, however, was probably amongst the strangest. It was my last day in the province and I had spent that day zooming downhill through a lush gorge with waterfalls, horses and small yurts tucked between rock walls. Finally arriving to the border town, Khorgas, I searched for a foreign hotel to sleep. It was near nightfall and I had been to about 15 hotels which had all rejected me. “No foreigners allowed” they said. Strange for a border town. So, I went to the one place that I had been avoiding for the past week– the police station, to ask for help. They accompanied me to 3 or 4 more hotels until eventually, they also gave up. I was nearly in tears, exhausted from the day and from the constant rejection.

A woman who worked in the last hotel was watching and listening as the police officers tried to decide what to do with me. Eventually, she approached. She spoke to them in Chinese, left, spoke to her boss and returned. They chatted some more amongst themselves until eventually, they told me she’d let me sleep in her room beneath the hotel. “Is that okay?” They police asked me through their phone translators. “Yes, thank you!!! Any bed at this point is fine!!”

The woman led the police officers and me to the back of the hotel through an alley way that smelled of piss and cigarettes. Rats scurried from behind boxes when they heard our footsteps approaching the backdoor. It creaked open with difficulty and we proceeded down the dark steps and into a hallway lit with flourecent flickering lights and finally into her bedroom. There was a single bed with colorful bedsheets and a dresser with photos of her friends and family, a hairbrush and some make up. In the corner of the room were a couple of pairs of clothing and her uniforms.

 

She told me I could stay for free and that she would go to a friends house for the night. “The shower’s just there” She pointed to the room next door. “Sorry about the smell.” It was, indeed, repulsive. But I hadn’t showered in a few days so I held my breath and made it a quick one.

I slept well that night, got up in the morning, and got the hell out of China.

What I’ve Been Up To In Nepal

Two years ago, as an English teacher in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I met a woman who introduced me to something that would change the next few years of my life.

I was sitting in a bare, concrete space on the second level of my favorite open mic venue, just finishing up my first enneagram reading with Johanna– a woman with a reputation for instigating transformation.

I sat there on the floor across from this small, cheery blonde woman with deep eyes and my path, indeed, did shift. Happykidscenter_12oct Not only was the enneagram reading a powerful insight, but it was in introduction to the Happy Kids Center, a “peter-pan land,” bamboo structure she, and two othersbuilt in response to the 2015 Nepal earthquake.

We sat across from each other, sharing ideas and plans and inspiration — and a few weeks later my bags were packed, head exploding with naive plans as I boarded the plane for Nepal.

First day back: December 10, 2017 – Right out of the cab from the airport.

“One of our girls has been married off in the night. We think she’s in India.”

I was thrust, not so gently, back into the reality of life here in Bhaktapur, a city still crippled by the earthquake. It’s been two-years since I arrived in Bhaktapur in March 2016, becoming the turnover for the Happy Kids Center at age 23. In those two years, I have fallen in love with these kids and started on the journey of understanding and unlearning from this community.

In the month and a half that I’ve been back, my partners Joyce and Ellen, and I have been working tirelessly on our many projects.26942389_1931932553500763_628406574_o

What started as a semi-permanent bamboo space where “ A Child’s Imagination is Endless” has since evolved into a place where journeys begin– a resource that provides outside programming to the families that come to the center who need a little extra help in breaking the cycle of poverty.

For two years we have watched our little ones working in the streets collecting plastics to sell to the government instead of going to school. 19105850_1285753998189572_4832305583694520986_nWe’ve seen our girls getting married, and sat at their weddings as they cried in our laps. We’ve hugged boney bodies with growling tummies.

After two years of watching, we’ve finally been invited to be a partner in solving the problem.

In the past 6 months, in partnership with the mothers of our kids, we have successfully launched a scholarship program, built an anti-child marriage initiative, and started a health fund. Each of these programs takes a great deal of care and hard work to get off the ground and running sustainably.

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The Happy Kids Center was born as a place where aDSCF1040.JPGchild can escape the responsibility of simple survival, and enter the life of a child– the life of play and color. From 4-6 you can find us at play, nearly drowning amongst a sea of jumping children and playing cards.

Outside the center, you can find us riding a local bus to Kathmandu to visit a 16 year-old sister that was married last year who is pregnant, scared and needs a friend. You can find one of us sitting in the hospital waiting to hear back if Krishna can get surgery to fix his degenerative eye disease. You can find us sitting with the principal, discussing strategy for getting more of our kids off the streets and into school.

We have a full and busy life here but an important one. This year, we’ve been able to do what we’ve never done before. We’ve launched projects in collaboration with the parents of the kids we are serving, built a website, received our legal non-profit status in Nepal and continued to unlearn and build relationships with the community.

In the two months that I’ve been back here in Nepal, I have ridden my bike only three times– far less than anticipated. Working with these kids, has prepared me for my journey in another way, however. It has filled me with motivation and purpose. It is my job to keep these dreams alive by fundraising along my journey.

It has given me the motivation to keep pedaling. Because this isn’t just about my dream, but the dream of 80 others– the kids at the Happy Kids Center.

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