Kristen Emma Photography: Blog http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog en-us (C) Kristen Emma Photography kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) Sat, 08 Sep 2012 11:05:00 GMT Sat, 08 Sep 2012 11:05:00 GMT http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/img/s/v-5/u530330733-o691004949-50.jpg Kristen Emma Photography: Blog http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog 120 91 Luxury v. Poverty http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2012/9/luxury-v-poverty  

Two days ago I found myself in the back of a BMW on a 3 hour drive to Agra, the city that plays home to the Taj Mahal. It was the former capital of India, and is significantly smaller and more rural then Delhi.

We left at 6am from the hotel, passing through the rarely uncongested roads of Delhi, across the river and South. Despite being a rainy day, the sun still brought the city to life around me as we drove away from chaos, into rural India. Farmland suddenly surrounded the car. If it weren’t for the dark skinned people, and driving on the left side of the road, I would have easily thought I was back in the Midwest.

The entire drive – 2 hours total – I spent wishing I could rent a bike and just go for hours on the back roads where women carried crops on their head, and men hoed their fields by hand.

Its something we don’t see anymore in the States. In fact, its something I’ve never seen in my lifetime.

The worst contradiction is that I was comfortable in my car, driving down the new “Expressway” that just opened 20 days prior. It cuts the travel time between Delhi and Agra down to 2 hours, from 5 – at least for those who can afford the high 400 rupee taxes.

This contradiction seems to be the theme of my time in India.  Luxury vs. poverty.

Only once before have I seen such stark contrast between the poorest in a nation, and the most wealthy – in Cape Town. There, similar to here in Delhi, the homeless live just around the corner from million dollar houses, home to the rich and famous of each place.  I remember 3 years ago when I first saw such a contrast, I couldn’t believe it.

Now, I’m older and wiser, and instead of worrying, I have come to accept it as part of our world. There are the wealthy, and there are the poor. It doesn’t mean that this can’t change, or that I’m encouraging a communist world where everyone shares everything. It just simply means that our world isn’t perfect.

Yet.

We’ve still got a lot of work to do.

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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2012/9/luxury-v-poverty Sat, 08 Sep 2012 11:05:20 GMT
Morning. http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2012/9/morning  

Everything looks beautiful in the sunrise. People, buildings, and even the dirty old streets of Delhi just glow in the golden hues that the morning sun brings. Few people are bustling about, setting up their stands in the streets, waiting for the bus, or just sitting and enjoying the start to their day.

Typically the buildings in Delhi are faded; formerly-bright signs have fallen pastel, dust settles on gray brick, and most of the cars are a worn gray or tan.

But in the morning, the sun brings life to all of these dull places.

Each of the gray buildings begins to look the most pure of gold. Women dress in their vibrant saris, and carry bushels of fresh fruit to be sold at market, bringing color to the streets to the tune of banana yellow, apple red, and mango green and orange.

It was during this time, the “golden hour” of the day, when I found my favorite part of Delhi.

Morning. Beautiful morning.

 

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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) India Travel http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2012/9/morning Thu, 06 Sep 2012 11:02:00 GMT
The simplicity of happy. http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2012/9/the-simplicity-of-happy  

I have been very sick. Both physically, and emotionally, but thankfully it hasn’t stopped me from recognizing the beauty that this country holds.

As some know, I left my volunteer placement yesterday due to illness, and have been staying at a hotel downtown getting my body back to usual. Of course it sucked to leave, but it was the right thing to do. From here, I’ll see what I can of Delhi before I go back to the States on Sunday.

The truth is, of all of the places I have been, Delhi is by-far the most beautiful.  The streets may be filled with trash, dirty water, and stray cows, but the people make this place truly amazing.

I got my first glimpse of the joys of India on my second day at the orphanage. I managed to make it downstairs to see the girls all dressed in their uniforms, all ready for a day at school. It had stormed that morning, so the corridors and open areas of the orphanage were filled with puddles. Despite being in their prim and proper white blouses and red-plaid skirts with knee high socks, each and every one was laughing, giggling and jumping from murky water puddle to puddle.

I couldn’t help but laugh along, and run to get my camera to capture the moment. Then of course I got the usual “take my picture! Take my picture!”.

Nothing brings joy to a child like taking their photo and showing it to them instantly on the small screen. And nothing brings joy to me like hearing them giggle and whisper to their friends about the image.

It is actually a feeling I’ve gotten addicted to over the years. Children giggling and asking for photo after photo.

Of course once school actually started, nearly all of the youngest girls were shivering in their wet shoes and socks, but they didn’t care. Rain is the simplest toy for kids. They even got Ellen, the other volunteer, and me out playing in it with them.

This joy that the girls shared is not limited within the walls of their adopted home. I have found that nearly everyone here is simply… happy.

Even the majority of people who are living in poverty, working day to day just to survive, sit by the side of the road laughing and smiling and just enjoying the simplicity of time.

My absolute favorite thing about being in Delhi is the reaction I have gotten from people, being a white girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. In my past experiences, driving through countries where I stand out, I have gotten nothing but vulgar comments from men and dirty looks from women.

In India, all I get is smiles. People are thrilled to see me! Its like they are so proud to be Indian and me coming to visit their country makes them even more proud. The men don’t say anything rude or inappropriate, but instead smile, say hello and ask how my day is going.

I admire India. It is beautiful and happy and simple. 3 things I could use more of in my life. Although I am leaving so much earlier then I had hoped, I’ve got 4 more days to soak up all of the happy. I couldn’t ask for anything more. 

 

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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) India http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2012/9/the-simplicity-of-happy Wed, 05 Sep 2012 12:51:55 GMT
Defeated at 5am http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2012/9/defeated-at-5am Admitting defeat is always the hardest thing for me. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually successful, completely and entirely admitted that I couldn’t do something.

I have always prided myself in doing the adventurous thing, the cool fun out-there thing that will impress people.

The decision to spend 8 months traveling, by myself, was one of those “people will think this is great” decisions. On top of that, it had the bonus of me getting to see parts of the world that have always been on my bucket list. India being at the top.

Now that I’ve been here for the brief 2 days, the regret of taking on such a big task is sinking in. I’m scared. I really am truly scared. Being seemingly alone in a country of over a billion people is a terrifying feeling.

On top of that, the food makes me sick, the heat prevents me from sleeping, and my work is completely confusing and unstructured.

Not only am I working at an all-girls orphanage, but I live there as well. The volunteer room is hot – just like the rest of India – and the food they serve (despite being delicious) is so spicy that I can’t possibly eat it. Even if I could, I know my digestive system will have a hard time processing anything.

Subsequently, I am either starving or running to the bathroom. It’s the worlds worst dieting plan.

All in all, I am defeated. India has defeated me, physically, emotionally and mentally, all in a short 2 days.

Its embarrassing.

I’m so disappointed in myself.

The question that remains is, what now? Do I stay here, miserable and “tough it out?” because that’s the cool, adventurous thing to do?

Or is it ok to admit defeat, and move on? More then anything, I would like to find a hotel, get a good night’s sleep and some food, and head home. Home to Minnesota where I have my family and friends, and familiarity.

But what’s so adventurous about that?

Not to mention all the questions that then brings to mind…

Does this mean I’m a quitter?

What about my career as a travel photographer? If I can’t do 2 days in India, how the hell am I suppose to make a living off of photos of the foreign places that others don’t visit?

If I don’t do photography, what do I do?

It seems like my entire life depends on whether I “tough it out” 

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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) Culture India Shock http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2012/9/defeated-at-5am Tue, 04 Sep 2012 10:00:00 GMT
Night 1: damage control. http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2012/9/delhi-first-impressions Delhi sucker-punched me last night. Never in my life have I ever been so scared, lost, lonely, or desperately regretting traveling on my own.

I was picked up at the airport by a representative of my organization, and taken to a “hostel” where I was told I’d be spending the night. Orientation would be in the morning, but he didn’t know what time, or where.

Always helpful.

The combination of jet lag, missing my family, and unknown details about my next day, led to easily the worst night of my life. Throw in the heat and humidity of Delhi, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

The jet jag was the worst part. It can be incredibly dangerous, not just because of what it does to your body, but what it does to the most stable and happy of minds.

I scared myself with the thoughts I was having about life, traveling, my relationships, etc. I sat up for hours, tears streaming down my face basically confused about any reason why I would want to travel thousands of miles away to help people I didn’t know. I went back in forth on my own mind questioning the motives of my closest friends, family, and people that have always supported me.

More then anything, I questioned the point of life. I have never once struggled with depression, or anxiety, but after just a few hours of being alone and emotional, I had all but convinced myself there was no reason to continue living.

I hadn’t even been in Delhi for a full 10 hours, and it had broken me down. Physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Why am I here?

What’s the point?

I can’t leave, because everyone will think I’m a quitter.

If I can’t handle this, I’ll never amount to anything.

I’m useless.

I struggled to think of anything that could make me smile or laugh.

The day-to-day tasks of life overwhelmed my mind with their monotony and seemingly pointlessness.

It was terrifying.

So I called my dad. In a panic, I’ll admit. It was a last resort – I usually never reach out to people because I know they’ll just worry. (Or in my dad’s case, move heaven and earth to get me home where I am safe and happy).

He was able to settle me down, convincing me that a pb and j, and some sleep would make everything better, and I’d feel ok in the morning.

Of course he was right, but its still difficult being here. New places are always scary, but Delhi has its own way of bringing about feelings of anxiety and stress to a girl to hardly feels either.

We’ll see what the following days bring.

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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2012/9/delhi-first-impressions Mon, 03 Sep 2012 12:30:00 GMT
Airports. http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2012/8/airports There is this thing about airports. No matter how many places you go, and how many flights you take, you’re always saying goodbye to someone. Whether you’re traveling home, or away for just a while, there is always a family member or loved one left behind teary-eyed, waiting for your return.

However, there is this other thing about airports: they are the gateway to adventure. You never get on a flight hoping “man, I hope this trip is boring”, or “I sure hope I don’t learn anything new, or meet any cool people”. Boarding a flight is the simplest way that I’ve found to explore the world around you, try something new, and expand the perspective you have about everything – most importantly, yourself.

Right now, at 10:43pm in Minnesota, I find myself stuck between the two vices that airports present. I suffered through 2 tearful goodbyes with the Boyfriend, in both Billings and Denver – because one just wasn’t hard enough – and am just a few hours away from another farewell from Mom and Dad.

There goes Kristen, leaving again. Who knows when we’ll see her again.”

But alas, adventure is out there, and I’ll be damned if I don’t find it. I’m 23, unemployed, with a backpacked filled with stuff and nearly my entire savings in camera equipment. I’ve got goals, and hopes, and curiosity to satisfy.

As of tomorrow, September 1st, I’ll be on a one-way flight to Dehli, India, spending 2 months working at a local orphanage, photographing kids, exploring the country, and living out my own “Eat. Pray. Love.” From there, I head Northwest to Nepal, and then continue to Southeast Asia to round out a total of 8 months of work and adventure.

I’m relatively sure I’ll come back a different girl then I left….and I’m positive I’ll have some excellent stories.

Stay tuned.

333KEC

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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) India http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2012/8/airports Sat, 01 Sep 2012 03:39:00 GMT
Celebrations. Love. Goodbyes. http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/7/celebrations--love--goodbyes-  

Celebration is everything in Peru. With Independence Day coming up, it is more important now then ever. However, as wonderful as celebrating can be, I’m seeing it interfere with other important things…such as the education of my students.

This week has been emotional when it comes to teaching in Pachecutec. Additional celebrations means less class time for teaching, but it also means getting to see my little Maricielo be the star of her class in the Independence Day production. Presentations and performances give me a taste of Peruvian culture that I’ve been missing, but it also takes away the next two weeks of classes that I have with my students…which means that today was my last day. What a terrible surprise. Despite being in Peru for another 3 weeks, I had to say goodbye to my students today and leave them with an uncertain teacher for after their “winter” break. I didn’t think it would be as hard as it was, however after a million hugs from every boy, and a billion kisses from all of my girls…I was feeling it.

The reality hit me though, as I headed out of class and towards the rest of the volunteers and found Maricielo waiting with them. I walk her home everyday after school, however I wasn’t planning on it today considering I finished 45 minutes later then usual. However, like the sweetheart that she is, she waited so patiently for my class to be over, sitting quietly next to the others who were running, playing, chatting, and being typical kids. She couldn’t have possibly known that I was still there, or that I was coming to walk her home at all, but she still waited.

I couldn’t help but burst into tears when I saw her little head perk up as I headed up the hill to where she was. Not only did she see me coming from a mile away, but she stood up and ran towards me, bursting with a smile, arms stretched, waiting for the hug that she knew I was dying to give her. If I had it my way, I would stay in that hug for years. I just couldn’t even believe that she waited for me. Couldn’t even believe it. In fact, I still can’t. My baby girl.

Goodbyes are so difficult. I feel like that is just a fact of life. People meet, make connections, and leave. When is that no longer the case? When people come into your life, make connections and stay? It must be an amazing thing. Clearly, my problem is a result of my inability to stay still, however at some point it has to be the case where that changes. Can’t people move with me? Could that person be Maricielo…?

No school for the next two weeks also means a full two weeks of working with Johan every day. I have such mixed feelings about this. Of course, I am thrilled. I love that little boy with all of my heart. He fell asleep in my arms on Monday, and I essentially refused to leave when the rest of the volunteers were ready. However, I am already bracing myself for how incredibly difficult it will be to say goodbye to him on the 8th. Right now I spend only 2 days a week with him…maybe 3 if I’m lucky. However, 5 days a week…5 days of hand holding, walking, running (yes, running…progress) and food spitting…its going to be impossible.

My parents may just have to embrace the idea of a Peruvian grandchild.

In class today, for my final lesson, I taught the kids all the words in English relating to love…“You are pretty”…”Will you be my girlfriend?”… and most importantly, “I love you”. Writing Te Amo on the board, and then asking if they new the translation was amazing. Without hesitation, my 4th graders yelled “love! Love!”. Of course it wasn’t perfect, but it melted my heart. They knew the word, and they knew the importance it has in life, and to me. We proceeded with boys asking girls on dates, girls telling boys they were cute, and finally ended with my star student inching his way to the front of the class and saying – loud enough for all to hear – “Miss, Miss Christine….you are pretty”.

My heart really didn’t stand a chance today. Not at all. It’s a good thing that love can counteract the pain of goodbyes.

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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) Life changing Peru http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/7/celebrations--love--goodbyes- Mon, 25 Jul 2011 00:52:00 GMT
Progress. http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/7/progress-  

Progress is an amazing thing. It is the sole thing that keeps the world turning; on the global front when it comes to dealing with humanity, but also on the personal level. Today Johan walked all by himself. No hand-holding, no guiding, no wall for support. He got up off the ground, onto his unstable little feet, and walked. Amazing.

4 weeks ago when I first met Johan, this would have seemed impossible. Our first interaction involved a good portion of his lunch being spit onto my new Delta Gamma shirt. He was in a fit of rage due to being contained in his high chair. Chicken, rice, and green sauce were smeared all over his table, bib, hands, and face. However, none seemed to make it into his mouth. He enjoyed feeling it too much to waste any through eating.

The work at Semillitas as all about helping the kids with disabilities learn to develop their basic skills. They aren’t striving for a group of geniuses. Instead, they are hoping that, by age 5, they’ll be able to walk (maybe), feed themselves, and communicate on at least the most basic level. Even still, these goals are a stretch.

Johan walked today. All by himself.

I was so happy that I found myself in tears while calling his name, watching his little hands reach out for me, hearing my voice, and trying to follow it through the paths of the orphanage. I couldn’t help but think, “so this is how every parent, everywhere, feels”. Having kids must be an incredible experience when they take their first steps…literally and figuratively.

Progress is also a difficult thing to achieve however. I’ve been putting off grading my student’s exams because I’m too afraid that they all will have failed, and thus I will have failed them. I am so inexperienced in the classroom that I am scared that my ignorance will only be a burden on them. What if their time was better spent learning something else? With a different teacher? I am so afraid that I can’t do this.

This truth is though, I can do it. I am. And that’s progress.

(*Note: My students averaged a 25.5/32 on their exams. progress.)

333KEC

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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) Life changing Peru http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/7/progress- Fri, 22 Jul 2011 00:50:00 GMT
People. http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/7/people-  

This past month I’ve had a dangerous amount of time to reflect on myself and others. The bus ride to the school each morning is a little over 1 hour, offering 2 hours a day to just think. Of course we talk, and listen to music, but I always find myself looking out the window reflecting on things that have happened to me in the last year. At AU, at home, through relationships, loss of relationships, and decisions I’ve made. Most particularly, decisions that others made that destroyed my trust in them. Destroyed my trust in almost everyone.

People can be awful. I learned this lesson the hard way before I left for Peru. People can make promises then take them away. People can lie, cheat, and make you question some of the strongest and truest parts of yourself. This what I learned before Peru.

However, I now am starting to remember that people can also be amazing. People can make promises and keep them. People can tell the truth, be loyal, and support and encourage the assets that you maintain. They can help you improve your strengths, teach you how to trust again, laugh again, and believe again in people. This is what I’m relearning in Peru.

It not easy to relearn something. Especially when everything I was so sure of was ripped from my grasp so violently. The greatest quality about myself – my trust in others, and my faith in all of humanity – was ruined. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it, but the people here are teaching me that it will be okay at some point. I’m also learning from the kids that even though my entire world was turned upside-down, I have the strongest support system that I could ask for. My parents are the strongest people I know. They have given me everything – from the money for my official education, to their own experiences for my personal education. I have always been grateful for their influence on my life — something that many 22 year olds in the USA can’t say, not to mention the 10 year olds at my school.  They don’t have my dad to help with math homework, or my mom to provide breakfast and a hug each morning before school.

Volunteering is one of those things that teaches many lessons. Some of the people I’m living with are here for the completely wrong reasons. They want the appearance of doing good, while actually traveling, drinking, spending money, and bragging about their wonderful lives. I hate those people, especially as I’m here working hard to do as much good as possible in such a short time. I also hate them because its as if they refuse to take advantage of the opportunities we are given on a daily basis. There are a million ways to change lives. Not just in Lima, or Peru, or South America as a whole. But in our everyday lives there are so many simple ways to improve the lives of those around you, without significant effort, or time, or money. However, even when they are handed the opportunity, essentially spelled out for them, they waste it. Disgusting.

Thankfully, volunteering also can show the goodness in people. Volunteers by definition are people who go out of their way to make a difference. They have good hearts, with good intentions, and hopes of learning a few things along the way. I am also, thankfully, living with these people and they quickly become my closest friends. There are a couple people in my house who I admire so much for their work. One hardly traveled so he didn’t miss a day of teaching, while another works extra hours with kids who he barely knows until they learn just a few extra words of English. Their hard work makes me a little more comfortable with the fact that my time is halfway finished. These volunteers are more my heroes then anyone else. Their dedication does not go unnoticed. I know that more like them will come after I’m finished here, and hopefully they will make up for the lack of dedication I see from others. Of course, no one is perfect, but their ability to truly care about the well-being of these children, and this country, makes me incredibly proud to be their friend.

If I could, I would never leave Lima. I would stay always, and spend the rest of my life teaching these kids. Who knows how it would work, how I would afford anything, or where I would live, blah blah blah.  But in an ideal world, these two months would be my entire life. These kids – each of them – have stolen my heart. And I’m completely okay with it.

 

KEC333

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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) Life changing Peru http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/7/people- Mon, 18 Jul 2011 00:42:00 GMT
Chance http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/7/Chance The kids have taught me so much about myself. They have offered the necessary reminder of all of the lessons I learned about life from Cape Town. Life is not easy for 99 percent of the world. Yet, for some reason, I was born into the 1 percent where it is quite simple. For my life, as long as I don’t completely mess up – and maintain a positive attitude when addressing the unfortunate incidents in life, I will be ok.

Recently when I graduated from AU, everyone congratulated me. I couldn’t understand it. What had I done that warranted congratulations, except for exactly what was expected of me? I showed up to my classes, I did the work, and I graduated. None of that seemed hard. My entire life, barring crazy circumstances, that was what was going to happen. So when it did, I couldn’t understand why I was being congratulated. No one had ever congratulated me for waking up each morning…they expected it.

Now, I teach 4th graders who will never go to college. If they make it through the 12 years of regular school, its something worth a true congratulations. Actually, those of them who get a 32 out of 32 on their exam today have earned true congratulations. My graduating college is absolutely no task compared to the daily lives of these 10 year olds. Why is that? God damn life isn’t fair. I’m on the favorable side of life being unfair, and I still hate it. I struggle each and every day with why I was born where I was, and why little Maricielo has to fight for her juice at recess. Why was I given the worlds most supportive and loving parents, when Johan had a father that beat him until he was blind?

I used to say I didn’t believe in luck…I believed in working hard and embracing opportunity. I am not lucky, I am fortunate. However, Peru has taught me that chance can have a huge effect on ones life. In fact, chance is everything. I don’t even know what to think about that.

I guess that’s why so many people believe in a higher power…because the idea that life is entirely left up to chance just doesn’t seem right.

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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) Life changing Peru http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/7/Chance Fri, 15 Jul 2011 12:18:00 GMT
Mis Hijos http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/7/mis-hijos Volunteering is a lot of work. Teaching is a lot of work. And work is a lot of work, especially when you barely speak the language, or have any past experience with the work you are doing. I’m learning this all the hard way, and I attempt to teach by the seat of my pants. My kids are amazing, but they are rambunctious, young, and mostly illiterate. It makes it really difficult to teach them a new language when they have yet to gain a firm grasp of their own.

There are two little kids here that have stolen my heart.

The first is Maricielo, a 1st grader at Segrado Corazon de Maria (my school on Tuesday and Thursdays). She isn’t in any of my classes, and I’m not entirely sure how I originally came to meet her, but she is so darling that I seek her out everyday for a hug. Being a photographer, I always try to make sure that I’m taking a million pictures of her to share with everyone back home, but then it becomes a game of how many pictures I can take without other girls getting jealous. There are thousands of kids in Patchecutec, all of which needing love – among many other life necessities – but for some reason she has completely stolen my heart. I try to work through the English numbers 1-10 with her during the short half-hour break at 10am, but her voice is so quiet and shy, I can barely hear if she’s speaking at all, nonetheless in English. At the beginning of each day, as I sit and watch the gym class before my first class of the day, she creeps up behind me and waits until I see her to do anything. It as if everyday she waits to see if I remember her from the days prior, and if I don’t, she’ll just walk away quietly without saying anything. Disappointed of course, but she would never go out of her way to be noticed. That’s not how life works in Patchecutec.

This attitude of hers absolutely drives me nuts, because her shyness is also why all of the other kids pick on her. For lack of a better comparison, she seems to be the runt of her little 1st grade classroom. Yesterday, during recess, another girl walked up to Maricielo and took her bottle of juice. No words, just actions. Maricielo didn’t even bat an eye. I on the other hand, was furious! In my broken Spanish, I encouraged Maricielo to get her juice back, but she is far too timid and soft spoken to take any action. So, like the grown up and overprotective person that I am, I got the juice back myself. It just broke my heart though to see her stand there, empty handed, when I knew that bag of juice was likely the only thing she could bring from home to have during recess. Combined with the milk and bread provided by the school, I wasn’t sure what else she’d be eating. She needed that juice and no one was going to pick on my baby girl. Even just thinking about it now, about to eat a full dinner with my American and British friends, it brings me to tears.

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The other child that has completely blown me away is Johan, from Semillitas. Johan is everything to me on Mondays and Fridays, sometimes Wednesdays…and always in between. I honestly couldn’t tell you how old he is, something close to 2 years of age, but the reason he is at Semilltas is because he has almost no vision left in either of his eyes, and minimal mobility with his left hand. Being at Semillitas usually signifies that the children are mentally or physically handicapped, but in Johan’s case his disability was due to abuse he received from his father when just a baby. Unlike the others at the orphanage, Johan was born a perfectly perfect baby. 10 fingers. 10 toes. A big heart. All things that he still has, but without the ability to see them or use them like all of the other perfectly perfect babies. My heart just skips a beat when I see Johan after walking through the gate, not because of his reaction, but just because I have come to learn about everything that he does and needs. I make a point to say his name as many times as possible throughout my short 3 hours of work, along with telling him about everything that he’s touching…and tasting (Johan really likes to lick things, including me. If he really wants to experience something, he bites it. Including me). The most amazing part is, that even though he can’t see me, Johan seems to always know when its me taking care of him for the day, instead of someone else. Clearly there is smell involved, but even after just 2 or 3 days of me walking with him, and guiding him in my broken Spanish, he really seems to appreciate me.

The connection I’ve made with him will never ever be replaced in my life. Even now, just thinking about him (having spent the morning giggling, walking and holding him as he slept) I get teary. I told my mom during her visit, that if I were 5 years older, I’d adopt him without hesitation. I’m even considering it now, as a homeless, broke, ever-moving 22 year old.

It would be so difficult to raise a Spanish speaking, blind son, but not nearly as difficult as being blind and being raised in an orphanage. He deserves so much better. They all do. 

The kids at Patchecutec that I teach also deserve better. Growing up in a place without running water, proper education, and thousands of other things that we’ve always taken for granted, is completely unfair. More so, I am at a huge loss when it comes to helping.

The name of my program here, Tarpuy Sonqo, means “Spreading Love” in the indigenous language of Quechua. On a regular basis I find myself remembering this, and telling myself that even though my students won’t be fluent in English when I leave, Johan won’t have his site back, and I can’t give them everything they’ll ever need, I can give them love. I am comforted by the idea that for the 2 months I’m here, these children will get a hug everyday, they’ll have a hand to hold on their walk home through the sandy streets, and always someone to win them their juice back during recess.

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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) Peru http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/7/mis-hijos Thu, 14 Jul 2011 20:27:00 GMT
Las Animales http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/6/las-animales Waking up in Lima is terrible. First and foremost, long before my alarm wakes me up, or the sun rises, Lima wakes up. Not the people, but animals. Pigeons, dogs, and cats in this city are crazy, and continually make noises and sites that I never though I would experience.

Los perros…the dogs…they are everywhere. Strays inhabit each and every corner of the city, following you as you head to the corner bodega for a snack, or a beer for the night. Not only do they follow, bark and sniff, but all of the female dogs are draped with nipples, having each birthed multiple litters in their gross, dirty lifetimes. They also itch and scratch and rub as if their life depended on it…which is does, considering the fleas will eat them alive. The nurse at the travel clinic told me not to pet the animals – shouldn’t be a problem.

Las palomas…the pigeons….they are loud. They are loud, and everywhere. Our back courtyard is continually disrupted by these dumb birds that flap near your face when you are eating, and play amongst the clean clothes hanging on the line. Super sanitary, I know.

And los gatos…the cats….they have sex. Yeah. Sex. And lots of it. My neighborhood is filled with the sluttiest cats in the entire world. Now, for those of you who have never heard cats having sex, let me fill you in. My first morning here, I had a dream early in the morning of two young girl who were in a fight. The first girl would reach over and slap the second across the face, and she would yell out in pain, releasing the most horrifying, blood curtailing screech. Then, the second girl would return the slap, and the first would release a similar ear splitting sound. The sounds of this dream where actually the cats behind my house having sex. Imagine a 5 year old screaming at the top of her lungs, and you can accurately imagine the sound of cats getting it on.

That’s what I wake up to each morning.

You’re jealous, I know.

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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) Peru http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/6/las-animales Thu, 23 Jun 2011 17:47:00 GMT
Don’t drink the water. No…but seriously. http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/6/dont-drink-water-nobut-seriously The best advice I’ve ever been given was to never drink the water in Lima. If you ever visit, please please follow that advice.

Being sick in Lima is the worst. Whether its actually from the water, spicy food, or just traveling in general, Lima is a terrible place to be when you suddenly need the bathroom. I’m going to try to explain this without getting too gross…but no promises.

Like most foreign bathroom, it costs money to use the restroom in Lima. Not because they are trying to make an entrance fee, but because you’re actually purchasing toilet paper. It costs about 50 cemenitoes to get about 3 feet of toilet paper, which is plenty for a normal occasion.

However, as mentioned previously, being sick in Lima is the worst. And 3 feet just sometimes may not be enough. Not to mention, that when you’re sick, and in a hurry for the bathroom, it can be very easy to forget the purchasing part, and skip right to your business…no pun intended. Then your left high and dry…or rather…not.

Anyway…just don’t drink the water. Or carry toilet paper in your bag like I do.

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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) Peru http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/6/dont-drink-water-nobut-seriously Wed, 22 Jun 2011 20:13:00 GMT
Pachacutec. http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/6/pachacutec Pachacutec is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of place. Very few people from the States will ever see anything like these slums that completely cover the hills north of central Lima. However, the truth is, while they may be once-in-a-lifetime to us, they are an entire lifetime to the young girls and boys that I will teach for the next two months. As I come and leave, travel the world, and develop my own life…they will stay in Pachacutec. Minimal education, and even less money, will cause that. Of course, some will escape into other parts of Peru, and around the world, but for most, Pachacutec will be their home.

The streets of Pachacutec are pavement, littered with men and women sweeping the sand back into their “yard” and off of the little government development that they have been offered. The women carry babies on their backs, held by thick pieces of cloth, while the men will move their most precious cargo – crops – in a similar fashion. The hour-long bus ride from Lima out to these impoverished areas, offers a brutally honest view on the culture of Peru – sales on the corners, fresh fish smelling up the air near the harbor, stray dogs digging for food, children begging from travelers, and smog. So much smog that the beach…located less then a mile away…is rarely visible from even the highest point on the hills. If I didn’t know better, I’d guess Pachacutec was located in the heart of Peru.

As a district of Lima, Pachacutec is incredibly large, and divided into smaller portions…numbered 1-8. The schools where I will be teaching are both located in the furthermost portion, peaking out of the houses with their blue, wooden fences, and uniform children running and playing. The sand fills each and every crevice on my boots, jeans, and body during recess as I skip and play and run with the children. Of course, my basic Spanish severely limits the conversations that I can have with them…however, a smile and holding hands are universal signs of friendship. Even in class, when attempting to teach the different pronunciation between Tuesday (“one two, twos-day”) and Thursday (“uurrrrr, uurrrr, uurrrr-sday”), the students may not understand a word that I’m saying, but clearly understand when I smile, and laugh, and dance when someone finally pronounces their English correctly.

Body language really brings people together in Pachacutec. It teaches you that even though money and other resources – such as basic plumbing – aren’t always going to be available, and you may not speak the same words, there is still hope.

333KEC

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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) Life changing Peru http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/6/pachacutec Tue, 21 Jun 2011 15:02:00 GMT
Arrivals. http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/6/arrivals Hola!

 
Yesterday was a crazy day. Una dia loca. And it was only day one.
 
The Peruvian adventure started on the wrong side of 4am in Minnesota. Thankfully, dad took me to the airport; double thankful that my suitcase fit into the trunk of his car. ("Did I mention that I have a gtR?") blah blah blah. Minneapolis airport. Early. McDonalds breakfast (win). blah.
 
The story that you're all actually interested in hearing about is what happened once I actually arrived in Peru.
 
My flight landed around 9pm, and it was a whirlwind of Spanish attempting to make my way off the plan, down to immigration, gathering my gigantic luggage, and pushing the oh-so-suspenseful Red or Green customs button. Thankfully I got green, and could make my way out to the lobby to find the man that would (hopefully) be there to pick me up.
 
Well, that's where it got sticky. At this point, I've been awake for 18 hours, I'm frantically trying to eavesdrop on the conversations around me, and I'm drenched in sweat from dragging 70 lbs of school supplies through the airport. Then, add to that the fact that I am unable to find the handy-dandy little man with a sign showing my name...or my program...or anything in English.
 
The great news was, another group must have recognized how frazzled I was, and asked if I needed help to watch my bags while I looked for my taxi driver. I accepted (of course...then told them to wait 10 minutes and I may join their group instead) and headed off to scope the signs for my name, or really anything that looked familiar. Thankfully I found him: standing in the very back, behind huge signs, holding a tiny scrap of paper folded in half, with my name on it.
 
Someone needs to revisit their job description.
 
Either way, I greeted him, and we headed out to his taxi with my luggage. He chattered with me in Spanish all the way there, and far too quickly I realized that my 8 years of public schooling had seriously failed me. Or maybe it was the fact that I hadn't spoken Spanish in 5 years, and completely gave up on Rossetta Stone. I'm gonna stick to the first one.
 
Once we got to his car, he loaded my luggage in the back, said something to me (that I clearly couldn't understand), locked the car -- with me inside -- and headed off. Back to the airport. Apparently I wasn't the only person he was suppose to pick up, but he didn't feel the need to communicate that.
 
45 minutes later...after sitting alone in the taxi, on a dark, humid, Peruvian night....he returned with another volunteer. Thank god. Not sure what I would have done otherwise; that would have been a difficult thing to explain to my parents.
 
"Yeah, my cab driving just abandoned me..on my way home...nbd"
 
I arrived at my homestay around 10:30pm, greeted by the Director of Tarpuy Sonqo, Lidia, and her son Juan. In the house, there are a total of 14 volunteers residing at a time, all completing different volunteer projects, at different locations during their time here. Its confusing, and overwhelming, but thankfully it means that I'm living with a large group of people who all speak my native language...for better or for worse.
 
Overall, my impressions of Lima, and my program, are positive. Its been a long time since I've been so out of my element, which is intimidating, but also very welcoming in my usually-average life. The language barrier is definitely there. Communication is so difficult, and I find myself unbelievably embarrassed when trying to speak in Spanish, because I know I'm making mistakes. However, I have surprised myself in the past 24 hours with how much I really do remember from school, and how well I can pick up new language, and understand those around me.
 
Tomorrow I head to the school where I'll be teaching for the first time. After, I'll get to sit down and decide my schedule on a weekly basis for the remainder of my two months. Aside from teaching, I have other options, such as working at a local orphanage with teenage girls, helping at a abused girl shelter, and volunteering at Wawa Wassi, a baby orphanage. More then likely I will teach Tuesday-Thursday, Wawa Wassi on Monday, and the girls shelter on Friday. However, the school is over an hour away, and waking up at 7am to get there doesn't exactly sound appealing.
 
However, for better or for worse, I'm going to have a crazy experience here. The other volunteers are already so comfortable with Lima -- granted some have been here for many months -- but it feels like it never going to happen for me. I don't speak Spanish, and I struggle to feel comfortable around kids...especially when I can't understand what they need or want. I guess that's the reason I do these kind of things...to learn and to challenge myself.
 
I'm here for 2 months to have an experience. This is not a vacation, and I knew it wasn't going to be easy...
 
Until tomorrow,
333KEC
 
 
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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) Culture Shock Peru Travel http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/6/arrivals Wed, 15 Jun 2011 11:55:00 GMT
Vamos a Peru! http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/6/vamos-peru Remember that one time I had a life-changing experience in South Africa? Well, here comes round two.

 
I leave for Lima, Peru tomorrow, where I'll be spending 2 months teaching English to school children. Do I speak Spanish? Sorta. More importantly, do I speak English well enough to teach it? I guess we're going to find out.
 
I'll be staying in a homestay with a local family, eating what they eat, doing what they do, and trying to write along the way. And maybe take a few pictures...
 
Stay tuned,
Here goes...something...
 
333kec
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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) Peru Travel http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2011/6/vamos-peru Mon, 13 Jun 2011 13:05:00 GMT
Endings. http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2009/12/endings I've been waiting and waiting for the right time to write my last entry. I know many people have been anticipating it, and I'm so sorry to make you wait, but I knew this one is important. Probably the most important.

 
I wanted to wait a good deal of time after coming home to conclude my thoughts on Cape Town. Now that I've been back in the States for nearly a month, I feel like confident to say I have truly changed because of my experiences of the last 5 months.
 
I'm aware that post after post while I was away, I continually commented on how much I was learning. experiencing. sharing. living. etc. But I didn't think, and still don't, that any of that would truly matter if I just switched back to my old self once arriving back in familiar territory.
 
Well, I think I've passed.
 
...
 
After arriving back in the states, as well as spending considerable time in Minnesota and DC, I have struggled to find someone, or anyone that is willing to sit and listen to all of my stories. This, more than anything has tested my patience with coming home. I spent 4 months trying my hardest to change for the better, and continually pushing myself to grow....for what?
 
for myself.
 
The key thing to remember is that I didn't go for anyone else. Therefore, I can't expect them to listen to everything. I must understand that no one...no matter how great they are...is gonna want to hear about every little story. But that's ok. They are my stories, and although I love sharing them with others, the sharing isn't the important part.
 
...
 
Many people have made comments on my personality and how its changed since I left in July. Dozens have commented on my more relaxed attitude towards life, as well as my new found ability to "go with the flow" -- a characteristic I seemed to struggle with in the past.
 
...
 
I have a very distinct memory of a conversation with my father from years ago. He was comparing the amount of worry he expended on my brother vs. me. His explanation was that he worried less about Johnathon, because he was more flexible, and more likely to be happy in a variety of situations/futures....rather than attached to a strict set of goals like I had, of course leading to a much greater chance of disappointment.
 
After hearing the comment, I remember getting defensive...I wasn't stuck on goals. I could do whatever. I'm flexible. right?
 
Then? Not a chance.
Now? I genuinely think so.
 
Daddy, you don't have to worry anymore. Because although I know you still would have rathered I stayed home where it was safer, I've grown like you wouldn't believe. And possibly the most important lesson you've taught me....one mustn't live their life in fear.
 
The past 3 weeks since S'Africa have been even more of the time for reflection than my entire trip combined. What am I going to do in the future? What about those goals? I continually find myself wanted to completely switch my drive towards a career in photography, design, etc. However, I always get stuck up on that word... "career". Whyyyyyyy do I have to worry about that now?
 
oh wait. I don't. No body said that I have to pick something now and stay with it for ever and ever and ever.
 
good thing too, because that's definitely not going to happen.
 
...
 
More than ever, and most importantly, I have made possibly the largest shift in my outlook towards relationships.
 
In the past, I spoke about how important relationships were to me. My friends and my family were "everything to me". Words, words, words. Not to say it was entirely untrue....but looking back, there were large gaps between how I spoke and how I acted. I love my family, and especially my friends, and its about time that I genuinely treasure them for the gems in my life that they are.
 
Its funny, because I think the person who is most shocked about my new outlook is me. For the first time I actually believe the words that are coming out of my mouth when I speak of taking time to respect my relationships, placing them as a priority in my life, and offering them the attention they deserve.
 
...
 
Let me paint you a picture...
 
here I sit, legs folded, on my bed, in my multi-colored room.
 
To my right, on the floor, rest the still-packed suitcases that made the trip home with me from Cape Town. Scattered about my room, and the rest of the house, are the souvenirs I gathered from my journey -- a wine glass from Nelson's winery, a bracelet that a native Botswanan made for me in the Delta, and my camera which served as a trusty partner throughout it all.
 
Finally, just seconds ago, as if an act of fate, the song "I've Gotta Feeling" by Black Eyed Peas -- my anthem from S'Africa, played in every car ride, club, and bar -- just started playing on the radio.
 
Tears are streaming my face.
 
I can't believe its over. I know I'll always have the memories....but I simply cannot believe its over.
 
333KEC
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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) Family Life changing South Africa http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2009/12/endings Sat, 12 Dec 2009 21:16:00 GMT
A penny for my thoughts? http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2009/11/penny-for-my-thoughts Save your penny, my thoughts are always free.

 
*I've wasted far too much internet this week by watching videos about Taylor Swift. Can't wait to be home where internet isn't paid for by the MB.
 
*It's finals season which means 2 things are guarenteed: 1) I'm sleeping at least 12 hours a day and 2) I'm studying at least 12 hours a day. You do the math.
 
*My first two finals went extremely well. So well that I'm almost scared to get my grade back because I keep having dreams that I wrote all the right answer, but didn't write my name. 
 
*Thank goodness I get to go home on Friday. That's only 6 days.
 
*The weather is suppose to be 85 for the rest of the week. After Monday that's great news, because it means I can finally go to the beach. 
 
*Oh yeah and after Monday is good too because finals will be over. 
 
*I never would have thought that my photography final would be the most difficult. Probably because I get too wrapped up in the photos and don't really care how they compare to other sufferage photography from the era of blah blah blah blah...oops. Just kidding mom, I'm taking this really seriously. 
 
*Having a car in Cape Town is like trying to thread a needle. Except the thread is a car and the eye of the needle is tons of people always crossing the street where there's no crosswalk. 
 
*Noah is my cars name. He's real cute.
 
*I went shopping today to reward myself for finishing all my finals. My last final is in 2 days. Meh, maybe the new clothes will get me extra points from my Sean Connery-esk professor. Except he's fat and not Scottish. And doesn't look anything like Sean Connery. 
 
*I'm very excited to pack to go home. Not because it has anything to do with home, because I'm a really good packer with OCD tendencies.
 
*I watched 5 episodes of "Friends" last night and sat laughing my ass off alone in my room. With candles lit and a giant bowl of ice cream. It was a good night.
 
*I could really go for some toast right now. 
 
*My Blackberry hasn't magically started working yet. I'm not expecting it too, but I just thought I should keep you updated. 
 
*I have to go to the bathroom. 
 
*Twice this week I have had a dream that there was a mouse rotting in my room. Weird.
 
*I miss Sam. 
 
*My leadership babies are all grown up. They are sophomores now, but I'll always be their TA so that makes me feel better. I think I miss them more than just about anyone else...
 
*I've taken to only wearing my sweatshirts with the hood up. I feel more badass that way.
 
*Today my dad turns 50 :) Love you daddy. 
 
*I'm trying really hard to not be jealous that he's celebrating on a tropical island while I'm studying for finals.
 
*It makes it pretty easy not to be jealous because I'm studying for my finals in Cape Town. Rain or no rain this is city still blows my mind on a daily basis.
 
*A song just came onto my itunes that I've never heard before....hmmm interesting. Thank you strange itunes music uploader.
 
*Hey Grandma. Can't wait to go to Chilis with you :)
 
*I submitted a photo to National Geographic contest. I'll let you know how that turns out. 
 
*Somewhere between 57% and 63% of me just wants to pack a carry-on to go back home. Leave all of my clothes and stuff here...except for the new clothes of course. And souvenirs. And shoes. Ok maybe I do need a real suitcase.
 
That's all for now. Home in 6 days. Whoaaaa that's crazy. 
 
333KEC
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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) South Africa http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2009/11/penny-for-my-thoughts Sat, 14 Nov 2009 12:36:00 GMT
Let the countdown begin... http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2009/11/let-countdown-begin Today is November 10th. Which means I have 10 days left in Cape Town. 

 
I honestly don't know how to feel about this. Of course I am beyond excited to get back to the states. However, I feel like I'm just getting settled in here, and it is kind of a waste to up and leave now. What about all the progress I've made? I'm hoping it doesn't all go down the drain the second I land back in America.
 
These past days have been extremely laid back, as I spend my days just studying for finals. In fact it feels a lot like my days at AU when I study study study for all my tests. 
 
I had my first and most difficult exam yesterday, but I started studying last Wednesday. Basically its safe to say I lived and breathed 3rd World Politics until the test was finished yesterday. I'll take my Ethics exam on Thursday, and my last test, Photography, on Monday. 
 
I have also been renting a car for the past few day, and will have it until I leave next Friday. It is SO nice to be able to just hop in and get where I need to go in seconds. Rather than waiting for the shuttle, or walking blocks and blocks. In general the car has just saved me time, and if you know me, you know I value my time above almost anything else. (except for chocolate cake, actually...Yeah it definitely goes 1. Choc. Cake, 2. Time, 3. Everything else.)
 
Speaking of chocolate cake, I have eaten way to much junk food while in Cape Town, and let's just say it hasn't been good for me. People used to always say I couldn't gain wait, which was partially true....until I hit 20. It was like: 20th birthday? BAM! here comes the fat. ugh. 
 
oh well...part of life. But I'm oddly looking forward to being able to go out for a run when I'm back, especially through the MN cold and snow. Maybe because I haven't been able to run here? Most likely. I'll also be taking Pilates and Yoga for credit next semester, to make sure that I'm exercising at least 5 days a week. 
 
Tonight I'm going out to a traditional African restaurant with my friend Naomi, called Mama Africa. We decided to go in order to celebrate (her) finals being over, and our last few days in Cape Town. It should be a good time. 
 
I'll try to keep more updates coming in these last few adventurous days :)
333KEC
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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) South Africa http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2009/11/let-countdown-begin Tue, 10 Nov 2009 07:04:00 GMT
The Garden Route http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2009/11/oh-dear

Its been nearly half a month since my last update....so sorry. I'd say I've been busy, but I really haven't. Its been pretty laid back here in Cape Town, therefore not much to report. 

I had my last classes of the semester last week, only on Monday and Tuesday. 

The weekend before these last (fairly pointless) classes were spent exploring the city with my friend Naomi. 

On Saturday, we did a series of the typical events of Cape Town. First, because it was Saturday, we went to the outdoor farmers market that is just a few suburbs from our houses: Old Biscuit Mill. This market is a combination of a farmers market, where you can buy fresh produce and goods from the local farmers, but also a gourmet food market, where one can find delicious sandwiches, meats, etc. Some of the best food of my life I've found at this market. Also, there are a few shops that sell trinkets, jewelry, and other random objects. Overall its a very cute place, and if you are ever in Cape Town on a Saturday, I highly suggest it. 

After that we made the longer journey down to the City Center to explore some of the markets and finish off our souvenir shopping for friends and family. We ended up visiting 3 different markets, one of which (the Women's market) is run by mainly women, where they use the money to help their families and other's from back home who are struggling. It was interesting to meet and speak to the women as we looked at our handmade goods. One of them was breastfeeding her son while she sold me a bracelet. ha, how's that for culture shock?

On Sunday, Naomi and I did the hike up the mountain to the Rhodes Memorial, which was built for the man who donated all of the land for the University of Cape Town. He's also famous for a series of other things, such as providing the funding for the Rhodes Scholarship. The memorial in his honor has a magnificent view of the city, and we had a nice lunch at the cafe at the top. 

 

Then, as I said, I had my last 2 days of classes Monday and Tuesday. 

Starting Wednesday, Naomi and I left for our long-awaited road trip along the southern border of S'Africa, known as the Garden Route. 

In true Cleveland fashion -- or Brad Cleveland fashion that is -- I had planned out nearly every detail of our trip before we left. I made a couple spreadsheets for our information, researched hotels, prices, etc. I made sure that very little was left up to chance, considering I really didn't want anything going wrong for us 2 white girls traveling alone. 

We left early Wednesday morning, after getting our rental car -- his name is Ned, and he was a red Nissan. The first stop on our trip was the Southern- most point of the African Continent where we got to see both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans in one view. I dipped my left toe in the Atlantic, and my right in the Indian -- just to make sure I had really taken advantage of my unique global positioning. At one point Naomi pointed out that our position made us the southern most people on the entire continent. Wow. Obviously there are other places in the world the were more south than us, but it was still a cool feeling. 

We continued on our way to our hotel for the night, which was located in Mossel Bay, South Africa. This is an adorable little beach town, where we had a delicious seafood dinner, while watching dolphins, seals, and surfers all enjoy the Indian Ocean just outside our restaurant. It was quite the experience. 

Thursday, the next day, we did 3 very cool things that one can really only do in S’Africa.

First, we made a visit to the Cango Caves, which are located about an hour’s drive of our hotel in Mossel Bay. The caves are said to be over a million years old, with some of the formations having been started 1.5 millions years ago. The caverns we were in were unbelievably huge, one of which used to be the home to a make-shift concert hall. Our guide demonstrated the magnificence of the caves’ size by singing opera on the old concert stage. I can’t image an engineers designing a concert hall that could magnify the sound like that natural cavern did. We explored about 600m into the caves, traveling up and down, learning about each different formation as we went.

Next, we visited the Cango Wildlife Ranch. This ranch is known for its work with animals to increase their life expectancy and quality of life. However, I was seriously disappointed with the experience. I was imaging a place where the animals were treated with the utmost respect, and the trainers/handlers were well educated people who understood the significance of the each of the animals they worked with. Instead I was given a zoo, run by a group of college students. Of course they had many very cool animals, however they were kept in extremely small cages. In one instance they had two full-grown Tigers in a cage about the size that my dog has at home. You can imagine my reaction.

Of course, I have been spoiled with my experiences in the Delta of Botswana, and Chobe National park. Oh well, such as life, one must take it as it comes (right dad?)

Finally, our third activity of the day was incredible: Ostrich riding! I never thought that in my entire life I would do something so ridiculous, but of course I did. When we arrived at the Ostrich Farm, we were led to a side-pen where many of the Ostriches were kept. Then, basically without any hesitation, the handlers were encouraging us to hop on and give it a try. Just like that! There was no safety lecture, no seat, etc. Just “go ahead”. And so we did.

I made the mistake of wearing shorts, and will now have scars on my thighs from the inside of the Ostrich’s wings – however, I can’t think of a cooler way to get scars. As we slowly walked around the pen, I couldn’t help but look up at the bird’s head, with its eye peering back at me. It was extremely creepy knowing that this bird could kill me easily, however I somehow felt safe.

I really appreciated the time I had after riding them as well to take their picture and just be in the same area as them. I dubbed myself the Ostrich whisperer after spending about 10 minutes just talking to the birds, and eventually getting one to come close enough so I could pet it.

On Friday, our 3rd day, we started off by doing a canopy tour of the Tistsikamma National Park of South Africa. This was a series of zip-lines from one tree to another, throughout the whole forest. It was a cool experience, however not what I expected. Because we were so high off the ground, I was expecting it to be more of an adrenaline rush than it actually was. Instead it turned out to be more of a relaxing tour of the trees than a thrill. Oh well, still a wonderful time.

After that, Naomi and I took Ned (our car) into the park itself and did a little bit of hiking around the mouth of the Storms River. Here there is a large suspension walking bridge that you can use to cross the river, however it would shake and wobble like you wouldn’t believe. We had a nice time hiking, and laughing nervously while we tried to make it across the many bridges, and back.

Finally, and most importantly, at 3pm that day we did my favorite activity: elephants!!

What amazing animals J

We traveled for just a few minutes to a place called the Elephant Sanctuary, where we could walk with, touch, and ride elephants.

This was easily one of the best experiences of my life. I remember that my cheeks hurts afterwards because I had a smile just plastered on my face throughout our entire tour and interaction with the giant beast.

During our walk with them, we walked in the typical elephant fashion, where their trunks were linked with the tail of the elephant in front. Also, we could hold onto their trunks as we wondered down the path. However, we didn’t hold the trunks in the usual fashion – on the side, where there is thick leather and cracks. Instead our fingers were held out behind us, and the elephant would place its trunk in our hands – meaning my fingers were in its nose! I pulled my hand out after the walk and my 3  middle fingers were covered in black elephant snot.

I loved it! Elephant snot on my hands? How much better can snot get?

We learned all about the parts of their bodies, and were able to touch different areas – like the rough leather on their back, skin that is 3cms thick, the soft part behind their earlobe, rough heel and elbow, etc. The coolest was when we could feel the hair on their eyelashes and tail which felt a lot like wire. It was extremely tough, as if it was a mix of plastic and metal rather than a natural thing.

Riding the elephants, of course was shocking as well. My guide, who was sitting in front of me while we rode, kept reminding me to hold on. “I won’t fall off! I promise!” I just kept responding. In my mind, a giant elephant was much easier to stay on than a running ostrich. Especially because the elephant moved very slowly, taking its time to make the lap around the field J It was so much fun, and I can’t wait to have the opportunity to do it again!

 

Finally, yesterday (Saturday) we headed back to Cape Town, which totaled about 6 hours of driving, with very few stops. Luckily we had stopped at a grocery store to stock up on food, and therefore were able to make the trip much shorter.

It has been a wonderful week! I wish I could share it will all of you…just please promise me, that if you EVER get the chance to look an elephant in the eye – do it. Don’t think, just do it. And make sure you remember what that beautiful brown eye looks like.

God knows I’ll never forget.

Until later,

19 days until Minnesota.

333KEC

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kristen@kristenemma.com (Kristen Emma Photography) South Africa http://www.kristenemmaphotography.com/blog/2009/11/oh-dear Sun, 01 Nov 2009 06:37:00 GMT