Monday, December 31, 2012

A day in the life...

Happy New Year! 

I'm back in town quickly and, hooray! the internet is working! So, FOR REAL THIS TIME, I present you with "Sarah's Life on Niramayam Farm."

I live here:

Hagrid's hut, anybody?
It's a small circular hut made of stones and clay that reminds me of my ger. Only it's bigger. And taller. And has running water. Like I mentioned before, I start my mornings at 7, when I begin my waking up rituals (drinking coffee) and reading a bit about Masanobu Fukuoka's farming philosophy. I will spare you all the hippie rant about eating locally grown food and blah blah blah, but the ideas are having a huge influence on my way of thinking and where I will choose to go next with my life. I highly suggest you all take a little readsie: The One Straw Revolution.

After I'm sufficiently caffeine-ed, I head out to the fields to do some work!

Suresh plowing fields the old-fashioned way

I have quite a few tasks that I have undertaken here at the farm. Ramesh, the owner of the farm, was interested in testing out a few new ways of farming and set the tasks to his WWOOFers. We built a few gardens using "the double dig" method, where, you guessed it, we turn the soil over twice. We've also built an herb spiral, started a few different types of compost piles, started a Fukuoka-inspired field, and built a pond! Ramesh has also assigned me the task of photographing and identifying the birds on his farm. Easily the most fun and frustrating task I've ever been handed. 

Compostin'. 1 part organic matter (leaves, kitchen scraps, etc...), 1 part cow shit.
After a day's work, we pass the time eating, drinking, and being merry in the good ole outdoors.

Silipy! Daughter of Bayla, the unphotographable.
Ze Mountains at Dusk
Desraj and Suresh, two of the farm's awesome workers.
Being silly by the fire
 And that's that! Life is good people! I hope you all the best for 2013! Who knows, maybe I'll even see you in person! Hugs, kisses, and champagne!

I leave you all with another installment of "How To..."

How To Make a Clay Pond Using Common House/Farmhold Ingredients

Step 1: Gather the ingredients:

A volunteer. The more unwilling, the better.
The most important ingredient of all. Fresh dung.
Step 2: Tell your volunteer to mix the ingredients together. What? I certainly can't stick my hand in cow shit  and take pictures at the same time!

 Step 3: Once thoroughly mixed, wind up and SPLAT.

Step 4: Admire your handiwork and try not to breathe through your nose.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Niramayam Farm

Happy Belated Christmas, folks!

And Merry The-World-Did-Not-End!!

Hooookay, the farm. I've been here for a little about a month and a half now and, boy howdy, I just love it. Everyday I wake up, watch the birds, drink a bunch of coffee, work a little bit, eat some awesome food, watch more birds, work some more, eat more awesome food, sit near a fire, and then go to sleep. After 2 years in Mongolia and 4 months of travel, the farm is like one giant exhale. 

I know I promised pictures and stories and such, but once again, I LIED. I tried to upload pictures but after an hour, all that uploaded was this:

Meet Mastram, one of the workers on the farm (and Lionel, another WWOOFer in the corner)
Now, I'm running out of time because I have to catch the bus back to the farm and also I'm hungry. But I won't leave you completely in the dark! Here's the link to the farm's (outdated) website.

Sorry about the blog. Miss you all and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Monday, November 19, 2012


Namaste everybody!

Sorry for the poor bloggin, but I have once again isolated myself from the outside world of news, cell phones, and internet.

Last you saw me, I was hangin in Bangkok, hating the noise and confusion and waiting for my Inidan visa. Since then, I have travelled to Phuket, where I met Woody Leonard, a friend of my mother's. I sat on the beach all day and ate delicious food by night. More on that later. Maybe.

Then I went back to Bangkok, got my visa, flew to Delhi, met an M-7 (!!!) (More on THAT later), got on an overnight bus (can't get enough), rode to Dharamsala and have been living the simple life ever since.

Oh, by the way, I'm WWOOFING in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Sorry, this is so quick and scattered, but I haven't the time (nor the pictures) to do this post justice. Someday, I promise, I"ll have some great stories for y'all. Until then, it'll be like i'm in Mongolia again. 1 post per 2 months.


Monday, October 22, 2012


Enough about failures! Here's a post about success. 

After travelling through Vietnam for an entire month and never spending more than 3 days in any one place, I decided I needed to find a place to stay. I saw Vietnam... I saw a LOT of Vietnam. But my constant motion made it impossible to get a hold on the culture, the people, the daily life of the Vietnamese (with the exception of Van and the Luu family... miss you guys!). I felt very... distant... from the real Vietnam. Don't get me wrong, I loved it. Vietnam is awesome and I would recommend travelling there to anyone who likes food and fun. I blame it on Mongolia, my thirst to experience culture first-hand, that is. As I moved into Laos, I abandoned my plan, which was to wear out my visa and see as much as Laos as possible. I chose to stay, and watch, and participate, and do what I do best: volunteer. 

Project Kajsiab! 

This little excerpt was written by a  fellow volunteer, Alec, who is one talented man with a pen in hand:

Early in the year of 2004 Nzoua Vue’s family was beset by tragedy. His beloved sister, Kajsiab, died a preventable death due a minor infection and inadequate health care. She was thirteen years old. Sadly, this grievous loss is not an unusual story in many parts of Laos today. Indeed, rather than being a stand-alone case, the loss of Kajsiab to a curable case of appendicitis is instead an indication of the myriad problems that continue to afflict many rural villages of Laos in the 21st century: food shortages, no access to clean drinking water or sanitation, limited or no access to healthcare and no reliable source of income.
It was with the intimate knowledge of these problems and the memory of his beloved sister that Nzoua and his Dutch wife, Lara Picavet, formed the non-profit socially minded company, Kajsiab.
Kajsiab means: a flower that blooms, a heart that opens, a love that suddenly springs. It is the name of a beloved sister who died at the age of thirteen as a result of a minor infection that could have been easily cured with access to basic healthcare.
The rest of the article can be found here.
Basically, women's empowerment is the name of the game! The Daauw House, the main hub of Project Kajsiab, functions as a restaurant, guesthouse, bar that helps earn income for the project. It's main purpose, however, is a shelter for the local mountain people, for whatever reason they may seek it. All this happens under the same roof, making the Daauw House less like a restaurant and more like a living room. 

Not to mention this place is swarming with children. 

For more stupidly adorable pictures of the many children inhabitants of the Daauw House, check out my flicker page

A note on Lara Picavet and Nzoua Vue, the heart and soul behind this organization. Lara, originally from Holland,  visited Laos 10 years and never left. She fell in love with the forest, the people, and most importantly, Nzoua (recall, it's was Nzoua's sister, Kajsiab, that gave life to all this). Now, they have three beautiful half Dutch, half H'Mong children and live with in the Daauw House with the guests, the volunteers, and the mountain people.

The world could use more people like Lara and Nzoua. Their passion is infectious and their goals are focused. They have the unique perspective to see issues from both outside and inside the culture which is their greatest strength. And the best part of ALL this, is how unbelievably successful they have been.

Just in my two weeks there, I witnessed the first day of school for 2 girls, ages 8 and 11, whose previous years were spent raising their younger siblings while their brothers attended school and their parents worked. I saw a young pregnant woman communicate to her husband what she wants and expects. I saw Nzoua counsel a group of young men on how better treat their wives and children. And I saw Zjong, who has lived more life in her short 21 years than anyone should have to, burst into tears of happiness when some customers left a tip for Project Kajsiab, claiming she'd "never thought there'd be a day like today."

There is much that still needs to be done, though. And some of that stuff I got to help with! Like, clearing the land for base 2, which will be a health clinic, organic farm, and another safe-house:

As if Laos wasn't hot enough. Oh, meet Martha and Alec!
Buying handicrafts from a local woman
Painting signs for the Home (or rather taking a break while the children hijack all my supplies)
Visiting villages to buy wood
Harvesting Rice! (I mean, taking a watermelon break... check out that awesome knife in her hand! That's what we cut the rice with)
And here are some other pictures worth sharing, but have nothing to do with work and have more to do with fun. 
Carnival! Which really consisted of this game and the "throw darts at balloons" game. Oh, and Bingo! And a bouncy house!

Along with a billion cute kiddies, there were 2 cute kitties. 

And if we got injured or bit by some unknown critter, Nzoua's mother, the local medicine woman, came to our aid!
Kittie numbero 2. 
Perhaps the best picture to describe the Daauw Home. The restaurant offers a menu to choose your own meal or, even better, you can eat with the local people staying at the shelter. Just like a big family. [Sidenote: Holy shoot, H'Mong food is so good and spicy]
I stayed in a bungalow and here is my bed. 
Traditional home in one of the H'Mong villages.
Another night of carnival fun. This is the look a husband gives his wife after losing all the money she gave him. 

Genius. Would this work on the streets in Chicago? I found my future calling...
Ayla, Bow, and Iniya. The two on the ends are Lara and Nzoua's kids. Bow is Nzoua's sister and these two girls' aunt. This is their first day of school!
Zjong. One of the most amazing women I've ever met. She is proof that Project Kajsiab is on the right track. 

This is Pe. Her story is also riddled with sadness. Her husband is currently in jail and her husband's family abuses her. She took her son, 11 months, and came to stay at the Daauw home until her husband returns. She is 17 years old. But as the days went on, Pe opened up more and more. Turns out, she's a mischievous little prankster with a lot of life and love to share. 
 OH! And then it was my birthday! So keeping in tradition of "how to spend birthdays abroad," we slaughtered an animal and drank a lot of beer:

Aaaaand I'm a vegetarian again. Sorry buddy!
At least there was no hammer involved in killing this guy (Mongolian goats aren't so lucky)
 All of a sudden, the small quiet road the Daauw House overlooks was filled with people. Lara had invited Nzoua's entire village to celebrate my birthday with me!!

Whew.  You wouldn't believe how many more pictures I have. Well, actually maybe you would. I will post them on flicker as soon as I can, but I feel like my iced coffee doesn't cover the 3 hours of free wifi I've just siphoned. So, I'm going to boogie.

Here's a bunch of information on Project Kajsiab. If you care to help, which I highly suggest you do [I truly believe this is aid at it's best. Grassroot to the core and completely in line with the wants and needs of the people they serve], you can give to the Project itself, as they are looking for sponsors currently (though they intend to be completely self-sustaining in the future) OR you can sponsor the education of one of the mountain girls! Chiggity-check it out:

Facebook - Project Kajsiab
Youtube - Info on Project Kajsiab
Lara Picavet:

Peace, love, and empowerment!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Quick update!

Heya folks!

I'm sorry about my real horrible bloggin lately, but I've been busy! Seriously! I've been volunteering at a sweet organization called Project Kajsiab, where EMPOWERMENT is the name of the game. I met many a wonderful person and ate a lot of good food (there is a theme running through most of my posts, eh?).

Anyway, I have more pictures than I know what to do with, but BLOGGER WON'T LET ME UPLOAD THEM. I've reached my quota or something lame like that. I will look into it, I swear, but until then you are going to have to wait a little longer.

Also, I am not feeling very inclined to write about anything nice right now because I'm still reeling from the biggest failure of my adult life. I told y'all I was going to Myanmar, and I did, but you won't be hearing any stories or seeing any pictures anytime soon. I spent all of 24 hours there before it became necessary to leave. I'm totally fine, so don't worry. It was just one disaster after another from the train to the airport, to the sterile quarantine room at the airport, to the damn money exchangers, to the lack of foreign banks, to the hold on my bank account, to the sheer chaos that Yangon currently is.

Sigh. Much of it was my fault and I feel as though writing this on my blog is a confession of sorts. Travelling is hard and so far I've done a good job (I think), but I got had in Myanmar. Myanmar:1 Sarah:0

Now I'm in Bangkok (again), beating my head against the wall and trying to decide what to do next. When I'm in a happier mood, I'll write about Kajsiab because the people involved with Kajsiab deserve a post worthy of the good they are doing.

Until next time,

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sa bai dee!**

**Hello in Lao!

[Before I begin, I'd like to clarify something I wrote in the previous post... the campsite where we ate included the puppy, lunch did not. I still have not [knowingly] eaten dog.]

I have successfully crossed into Laos! My trip from Sa Pa, Vietnam to Odoumxay, Laos went something like this:

7:00 pm - 3:30am: on the road to Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam in a mini-bus with a sleeping Vietnamese man on my shoulder and Vietnam's Greatest Hits playing on repeat at ear-bleeding volume

3:30am - 5:30am: at the bus stop, people watching until the ticket booth opened

5:30am - 7:00am: Got my ticket for the 5:30am bus to Muong Khua, Laos which promptly left at 7. 

7:00am - 8:30am: Attempted sleep on the benches in the bus (which should have been retired 20 years ago), but an impromptu karaoke session kept me awake and amused

8:30am: Reached the Vietnam border. Handed my passport to the bored guard playing Galaga (and whose finger never stopped clicking the mouse, even when checking my papers). Over to Laos, an out-door border crossing, where I got an H1N1 test (a gun shaped thermometer pointed at my head and which cost me 3,000 kip), a visa, and some iced coffee. 

9:30am - 4:00 pm: bouncin and bustlin through the mountain roads, watching dubbed versions of American movies (new American movies, I presume. The movies were all dubbed, so I couldn't follow along, but I watched one with James Franco and some chimps that was really really weird). 

4:00pm: Tired, in pain from sprinting down a mountain and then sitting for a million hours, checked into a hotel where I promptly passed out in front of the fan. 

THEN I WOKE UP AND GOT ON A BUS FOR ANOTHER 8 HOURS. And you know what? I kind of enjoyed it. Call me what you will (INSANE), but I have learned to love the bus ride. In fact, the more crowded with people who don't speak my language, the more I seem to like it. I like being with the people, travelling the way they all travel, hearing the roosters calling from the top of the bus, resting my legs on one of the 25 flour bags filled with fruit. I've found I have less to complain about on these rides simply because no one else is complaining. On an air plane I feel entitled. This seat doesn't recline, give me a new one. I'm sorry, this ice cube is not regulation size, take this drink back! But cramped in a bus, with my knees to my chin, my head halfway out the window, I sit there peacefully and think it could be worse. I could be that guy in aisle straddling the chicken between his legs. And if he's not complaining, why should I? Also, as I keep finding myself to be the only foreigner on theses buses, people tend to give me snacks and drinks and often make me hold their babies, much to the babies' horror. So, despite the other options of travel available to me, I will probably continue to subject myself to the craziness that is bus travelling BECAUSE I LIKE IT OK?

Well, after those 8 hours, I arrived in Luang Prabang, a charming town with more temples than houses sitting at the convergence of the Mekong and ... some other river. And it came with 3 of my fellow RPCVs from Mongolia! For some strange reason, I didn't feel inclined to photodocument any of this, but I swear it happened. We hung out, got drunk, went swimming, drank some more, karaoked (as peace corps volunteers are apt to do), and then got our shit together and went on a TREK. 

I hate the work trek. Especially travellers who are "trekking" through Southeast Asia. Shut up, you're just carrying a big backpack onto many different forms of transportation. 

He he, sorry. Most travelers are awesome awesome people, but some you just want to sock in the face. 

The Trek! It was 2 days, we hiked around the mountains the first day, stopping in H'mong or Zau villages, where I wanted to take many pictures of too cute children, but the other folks we were with were snap snap snapping away right in these poor children's faces, so I backed off. Please read this. 

[that blog is written by one of the RPCVs with me in Luang Prabang. She's delightfully sassy and really effin funny.]
I did get a picture! Here is Ryan with his parasol hiking through a rice field. 
The only picture I took in the village. 
Some more trekkin
So we arrived in one of the villages in the early evening, where we put our bags down, cleaned up a bit, and attempted to entertain little H'mong children while we waited for dinner. We failed, by the way. The kids had a indiscernible hopscotch-esque game, which they would not tear themselves away from. I say indiscernable because from what we could tell, the biggest girl, the one with the stick, seemed to change the rules with each passing turn. She'll make a great leader someday. 

At dinner, we hung with out guide, BK (he loves shortening words to JUST their first letter. For example: How was your B? [meaning breakfast] or Today we will W, E and K [meaning waterfall, elephant ride, and kayak]) who shared many a different story. To give you an idea of how different, one story included his life as a monk and the next included a story of a boy in a tree pooping on the head of a dog. Then we drank some Lao Lao (homemade alcohol) and slept soundly in our little bungalows. 

Then next day we prepped for some W, E and K. 

K was by far the most exciting, as the river was wicked fast and full of raging rapids. Both BK and our other guide were flipped by the waves, but our boat remained afloat (huzzah! I was fearful for my camera... )

After all that fun, the 4 of us from Mongolia met up for drinks and dinner and in the morn, we all parted ways.

And that was my time in Luang Prabang! Swimming pools, elephants, and good friends, oh my!