Home is Where the Frozen Yogurt Is

Break out the band. Bust out the tissues. The rumor’s true: I’m back on native soil. I’m sitting sofa-side, watching palm trees sway and listening to KPRI, wondering what I’ll cook for dinner. Oh! To cook!
Some of you, I know, may be confused. Like my mother was when she found me silently curled up in “The Cloud” (her bed) in her Los Angeles home. Or when my boyfriend flinched into a double-take, movie-quality-worthy, when I sat down next to him at last week’s happy hour. Or when I crept up behind my best friend to be the next in line for a hug and she burst out in tears.

(I won't tell, I'll just post it on the internet)

(I won't tell, I'll just post it on the internet)

I know, It’s March, you say—and you’re home? (Go ahead, cry a little. I’ll wait.)
Truth is, I’ve been ready to come home since December. I knew there were a few more places I had to see and I was also waiting for a friend to come dive Thailand and Bali with me,

Scott captures my underwater presence

Scott captures my underwater presence

but after Elephant Nature Park, my purpose for traveling dwindled. I also cite my boyfriend’s three-week visit as taking the wind out of my sails. When he left, I felt like Alex Supertramp in Into the Wild, when he writes in his diary that everything is better when shared. Nine months, and I was over traveling solo. I wanted good, old-fashioned, kindergarten-share-what-ya-got interactions. I wanted to see if my mom really had cleaned out the house. Eat the first sprigs of asparagus over dinner with Nik. Run a trail in Mission Gorge with Heather.
Also, life out of a 155 cubic inch yellow and black pack isn’t easy. I missed changes of clothes. Mild weather. Money in my bank account.
So I booked a ticket home. I just didn’t tell anyone.

And now that I’ve been home for a week and am slowly reacquainting with lovers, friends, and San Diego, I’ve had time to think about what some may call the luxury of travel. When I left in June, I had no idea what I was doing or why. I walked away from the love of my life, my family and friends, a great house and job, for no reason other than to see some distant lands and lend a hand or two.
I spent the better part of yesterday (when I wasn’t having a “Hello Again” gigantic helping of frozen yogurt at the Golden Spoon) summarizing what I learned about myself and my world during nine months of travel. It all seemed so cheesy and self-indulgent. This morning I perused Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s cookbook and found this little into to her Cookies and Bars chapter:
“I defy you to show me one person that doesn’t love a cookie. Whenever I want to say thank-you to people I bake them cookies, or I at least think of doing it. Sometimes I bake the cookies and just eat them myself and then send an e-mail with dancing bunnies to thank the people instead.”
This is me sending you dancing bunnies. Or free-roaming elephants, as it were. I thought about giving you the details of what I learned, but I’d rather go have another helping of cake batter frozen yogurt instead.
I realize I’m home early from my arbitrary timeline of One Year. But oh, timelines have always made me shiver. Not to worry—all is not lost—I’m still volunteering. As you know, I’ll be writing away to save my favorite four footed featherweights, the Asian elephants, with the Working Elephant Programme of Asia. I also recently discovered local San Diego groups who marry my work at Pun Pun (which I know you didn’t hear much about—

The making of an adobe home

The making of an adobe home

are you aware that someone, in the near future, will be living in a house I made? Out of dirt? It’s true. And oh-so-scary!) with local resources. San Diego Roots and Food Not Lawns have no idea what they’re in for: a girl back from a whirlwind trip, sans a job, with nothin’ but time.
Also, I’m begging those of you interested to click here to find out more about the terrible problem of the mighty Mekong River dams. I had a chance to speak first hand with those who have and will be affected by this insane project, and without going into too much of a diatribe (I’m abbreviating this for all my Republican friends) I can only say that if erected, consequences will outnumber the doozy we’ve seen here in the Southwest. If you’d like more information I have about the issue, feel free to email me.
So, while this is the last official Volunteer Year post, in so much as immigration and customs cleared me (they did NOT find my tomato seeds!)

A robust tomato with a delicate name: Volunteer 49

A robust tomato with a delicate name: Volunteer 49

I’ll still update periodically with information about volunteering and opportunities I’m involved in here, all from my cozy corner in San Diego.

A million thanks to you for exploring crevices of the globe with me via this blog. Your comments and feedback kept me going, and in some cases, kept me sane. Thanks for composing the audience for my sordid tales and necessary stories: every writer needs a reader, and I’ve found one in you. Having been to many parts of it, I can honestly say, it means the world to me. I hope to chat with and see you soon.

Hugs, high-fives and dwelling in possibility,
The Volunteer-er

PS–check out the latest article: Home at Papa’s House and…when the sun finally sets on this shimmery of days, grab a bottle of wine and hunker around the pixels to see the latest…and final photos of The Volunteer Year.


Sowing Seeds

For the last two weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of trucking

Truckin' through Thailand

Truckin' through Thailand

around Northeastern Thailand learning about the organic foods and sustainability movement. I carted my friend, Deborah along, sure that if I needed laughs like I did in Vietnam, she’d help provide the soundtrack. Turns out though, we really needed each other to listen, to sit and talk, and to figure out where we all went so wrong. When I explained the “tour” to her, I couldn’t tell her what we’d be doing other than visiting some farms and maybe doing some gardening ourselves. I didn’t know we’d build a house and chat with Burmese refugees.

In the hustle bustle of Yasothorn, in the dry eastern area near the Laos border, Peggy Reents strolled up to meet us. She was younger than I expected. I had anticipated a fat Thai farmer, so the girl-next-door from Colorado in Chacos surprised me. She brought us back to her husband’s family farm, down a dirt road in the heart of rice fields.

Over the next day other tour members arrived. There was Cindy, the New York production assistant, Minh, the med-school-gone-awry-traveler, Juan and Marisa, the Mexicans from Oaxaca, Sun and Aum, the Thai farmers, Parker and Bjorn, the American philosophers, Neil, the South African writer, a pair of Julias and a few others I’m currently forgetting. The amalgamation of people would serve us well as we forged ahead, learning about the new movement of Thai organic farming and sustainability, pondering our place in the world and amidst our lands.

And of course, there was Jo Jandai.

Seed Saver Jo Jandai

Seed Saver Jo Jandai

He dons patched-up fisherman pants and an embroidered Karin bag over his shoulder. He’s barefoot most of the time. His hair, true salt and pepper. Though he became a monk at age fourteen and later attended law school, he finds himself back on his family farm and his farm in the north, reclaiming the title “farmer.”

It hasn’t been easy. When Jo began looking for cheap housing and squishing all the dirt around him into mud, slapping it into bricks and building houses out of it, his neighbors laughed. When he refused to spray chemicals or toss out conventional fertilizer on his rice paddies, they called him crazy. His yields went down, he remembers, for the first several years, as the soil remembered how to take care of itself. Five seasons later, though, Jo’s family farm out-produced those around him, and he hadn’t spend a penny on fertilizer.

Jo and Peggy take us around to see some other organic farms in the area. Jo’s success has lead to thirty other men declaring themselves organic, to a co-op for the neighborhood and to exporting their rice to the EU through a fair trade organic company. Long gone are the days when these men had to pay nose bleed prices for seeds, chemicals and take loans out from the bank. The Grapes of Wrath days are over for these farmers, though hundreds around them can’t seem to make the switch.

When asked what prompted many of the farmers to turn to a more sustainable practice of growing, many cited the rising price of chemicals and seeds—up 110% in 3 years!—and illness. A woman at a farm named “Farm of Peaceful Breezes” said her husband lost feeling in his face; nerve damage as a result of spraying the fields. Even his doctor told him he would have to stop. Ironically, the agents used in Thailand are prohibited in the United States. As we are so good to do with other products like guns and armaments, we sell these toxins to the Thais. Later, we import the jasmine and batsami, eating up the carcinogens we avoid on our own soil. Companies make a killing. We are simply killed.

We meet with a variety of groups: the Asoke, a Buddhist group living apart from the traditional Theravada sect of Thailand, where we get into a heated discussion of why women can’t become fully ordained monks.

Monk Chat

Monk Chat

Monk fight! Monk fight! Peggy and Jo take turns translating, hoping not to offend us Westerners when we hear “women can’t do as much as men,” or the monk when we say, “Why?” (That is not a question allowed in this sect of Buddhism.) We meet a feminist group that works with organizations to ensure gender equality and religious tolerance. We interact with a group of young people secretly fled from Burma; they attend a clandestine school and have been learning about sustainability. Their teacher tells them, “You have been practicing your English so much and keep saying you want to tell your story to people, that you want to tell others what’s happening in Burma. Now is your chance.” In halting English, they describe children captured to be soldiers, village leaders coerced into handing over people as forced labor: “If you don’t give them the people, the government says to the village chief: Choose charcoal or bullets.”

On long truck journeys and on our overnight bus we discuss the problems, our disdain for Monsanto and militant leaders and The Man. Yet once we reach Pun Pun, Jo and Peggy’s farm in the North, we walk through a trellis of passion fruit. And that’s all it takes to enter another world.

Here, The Man doesn’t exist. Jo makes sure of it. He collects his own seeds, grows his own food and raises his own muddy walls. Buildings on the property stand as a beacon of what can be done with little money, a wise mind and a set of willing hands. The gardens, bursting with kales and lettuces, bananas and pumpkins, sing of a soil ripe with nutrients and minerals, totally non-existent prior to Peggy and Jo’s purchase. It wasn’t easy, of course, to develop a land where nothing grew for the first several years. But Jo’s avant-garde thinking pioneered the way. “Weeds are friends,” he says, almost sing-songily, explaining how the constant re-growth of weeds added needed food to the earth. Along with the shit. When I bend over to check out the “Humanure” compost pile, all I see is some greens sticking out of soil. But I look closer—it’s a huge tomato plant, two in fact, with the most amazing looking tomatoes I’ve ever seen. Someone passed the plant seeds out while pooping, and here they are, months later, health, vibrant, perfectly edible plants.

From Mud--Home

The farm has produced goods other than food stuffs as well. Two neighboring farms, You Sabi and Panya, sprouted up on the same curved mountainside. The sites offer organic cooking and permaculture courses, high school activities and adobe building for anyone interested. During our three days at Pun Pun (a thousand varieties) we clomp around in the

mud, pour urine on compost and discuss seed-saving. With soiled hands and our new-found ability to use resources all around us, it strikes me as odd that we’ve wandered so far away from the simple things: shelter, food, family.

The sun falls and stars light up the sky—a map in the heavens. New found friends and I watch the last oranges seep away, and Joe shouts at us: “Why nobody watch the moon?” We ponder his question and head to the sala for dinner. Truth is, no one has answers to most of Jo’s questions.


Give Ho a “Crap”

Uncle Ho's Home

Uncle Ho's Home

I’ve been a communist crony for over a week now. After day four in Hanoi, I realized that the loudspeaker message barking in my ear from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. also occurred from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. “It’s the news,” the hotelier told me. “Weather, reminders to wear your helmet, stuff like that.” Pieces of Marx’s Communist Manifesto, excerpts of Trotsky’s terrible tales and old-time quotes from Stalin. Stuff like that. “Yeah, sure,” as the Vietnamese like to say. And though I had just cruised through the thousands of karsts in Halong Bay, inland from where US tankers were supposedly sunk to initiate our engagement in the “American War,” it finally donned on me that I was living under Ho’s head.

So I thought I ought to go see the man himself. My partner in crime, Deborah—a mother of two from Oregon who I met in Chiang Mai—and I jumped on xe om and putted over to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. We had seen the foreboding building from afar a few days earlier. Its grey granite, uninspired design matched the weather outside. We should have known it would be a test of wills and giggles to make it though Ho’s resting place.

First stop: “Take off your sunglasses.” Barely off our scooters and we already had our first instruction. Deborah and I had grown accustomed to this, as many of our Vietnamese tour guides told us, “You will be happy in Halong Bay. Now you get off the bus. Give me a ‘crap’ (clap).” I did as any good citizen of the state would do, and took off my sunnies. We were allowed into the complex. Only to hear a woman shouting into a megaphone: “Stop! Come here!” Our heads swiveled simultaneously. The woman stood about 4’9” and shouted at us from 5 feet away. “Come here!” she commanded again into the squawk box.

"Stop. Come here."

Communism Calls: "Stop. Come here."

We issued the first of many giggles and relinquished our bags to the people waiting behind the counter. “Do you have any knives?” they asked. “Isn’t he already dead?” I questioned Deborah. Purse and weapon free, Deborah and I walked over to the wooden maze that led the way to the father of modern communism.

But there was a second stop. “Wait,” a man in a suit called out. We halted as instructed. We were getting good at following orders. A queue gathered behind us and the pause gave me enough time to snap some photos of our surroundings—signs, orders, everywhere: “Pause.” “Security Control.” “Area no phone use.” “Leave this by guiding.” Thank god Deborah and I could read. Once a herd formed, we walked forward, through the x-ray machine, where we had to place our cameras in a snazzy red bag (also imprinted with directions) which we then had to hand over to other commie cronies at another check point. With all of our dangerous possessions disguarded, we might—just might—be able to see Uncle Ho.

Personnel staged every three feet instructed us how to walk: “Two by two.” How to hold our hands—out of pockets and at one’s side. Once we rounded the corner of the imposing building, we waited again. Five minutes and nine giggles later, four guards in immaculate olive uniforms marched in unison down the steps; spaced themselves out along the red plastic “carpet” that led the way. It was time to see Ho. Two guards fell in line with us, also two by two, making certain we didn’t don hats, hands in pockets, chewing gum or a lighthearted feeling about the whole charade. The only other westerner in our group walked in front of us, and he was reprimanded twice for not having his hands at his sides.

The air in the building felt cold and stale. The dim lights illuminated soldiers with bayonets or guns positioned at evenly spaced intervals. The walls showed only marble, no pictures, slogans or carvings. Deborah and I tried to suppress laughs as we faced yet another guard…everyone was so…serious. We appeared to be the only citizens who couldn’t take orders without guffawing.

And then, around a corner, in an empty room save the plastic encasement, lay Ho. Positioned lower than the catwalk that surrounded it, the body was surrounded by four more guards, all with guns, in addition to the soldiers who flanked the walls of the walking platform. The train of Ho onlookers moved quickly around the three sides, from one doorway to another, all under the careful eyes of the guards and the subtle gold and red lighting.

As Deborah said, “Ho looks great for being dead for forty years. His lips were glossy.” His skin pulled taut across his face, his chin hairs, wiry as they were when he ousted the French. But most eerie were his hands. Laid on black silk that covered the lower portion of Ho, his digits seemed to glow. Levitate almost. As if they were still at work. Soft red lights played on his otherwise yellow-y skin. I felt like giving him a “crap.”

As soon as we moved out of Ho’s room, Deborah and I took a deep breath, oh-my-god-ed. Giggled. What was it about communism that made us laugh? As we walked out of the building, the man who had been asked to take his hands out of his pockets turned to giggling Deborah and said, “You’re sick.” I think he was Russian.

Leaving the mausoleum, we were again directed by signs. “This way.” “No entry.” More guards. Tourists moved like schools of fish in the same direction, and Deborah and I sardined our way around. “This way,” a woman pointed us as we negotiated the oncoming traffic. This country is not for dissenters like us.

But it is for capitalists. To appease my need for irony, outside, just behind Ho’s well-lighted body, stalls sold all kinds of Ho paraphernalia. We tried on some army helmets.

Communist Caps for Capitolist Change

I HAD to buy a few Ho t-shirts. Some Ho pictures. See, I support communism.

At the tail end of our day, just after the water puppet theater and the 4 p.m. “news” broadcast, Deborah and I opted to swing the pendulum as far away from communism as we could. We found ourselves at the Metropole Hotel, Hanoi’s finest French affair. Lounging in wicker chairs under plaid monogrammed blankets, we stuffed ourselves until it hurt at the Chocolate Buffet: éclairs, ice cream, truffles, meringues, flambé, bread puddings…plus an Irish coffee and a glass of red wine.

(Title by Deborah)

Communist Chocolate for Capitolist Pigs (Title by Deborah)

Sure, there was enough chocolate for everyone in Hanoi to each have a piece. But Deborah and I wanted it all. And damn it, our democratic, capitalistic, greedy-grubby passports said we could.

New commie photos will be posted soon; give me a week’s time and you can check out the photo-by-photo-till-they-took-the-photo-machine-away account of our jaunt to Ho.

Also, check out the latest article at: http://www.bootsnall.com/articles/09-01/hygiene-hints-road-asia.html


Oh! The Places I’ll Go

IMG_3036, originally uploaded by linseyis.

It’s New Years Eve. The Thai sun shines in across the far east wall of the old city of Chiang Mai. Paper lanterns line the street, the stage at Thape Gate, poised for song and dance. Someone tests fireworks in the distance. Another year has passed. One-hundred-and-ninety-two days traveled. Six months. The teacher in me wants to assess.

If I had to nutshell the trip so far, I’d say I have: spent more money, drank less booze, seen more villages, learned more new languages, eaten more rice, received more massages, studied more things, and felt more fulfilled than I ever have in my whole life.

At this moment, as the city begins to throb away 2008, I feel lonely—still in shock that my boyfriend found a way to escape the county whose airports were closed. In my loss, I’ve yet to activate my “normal” outgoing Linsey self, introducing and being a part of those around me. Though, I have to keep in mind that solitude and loneliness does not always equate to being unhappy. My writing, and my yoga practice—both of which I said I’d dutifully attend to on the road—need some help. These activities I must do alone. And, quite simply, it’s okay for me to be lonely once in a while. I can’t always commune with the elephants and backpackers of the world.

Part of the reason I set out on this journey was to discover an organization with which I could donate my time, energy and funds. As I’ve traveled from Africa to India, Nepal, Thailand and Laos, I have encountered numerous places that need aid. I’ve seen humans at their worst: governments participating in the disenfranchisement of minorities (the Maasi in East Africa, the Tharu in Nepal, the Karin in Burma and Thailand) parents selling their children, owners stabbing elephants, and, on a smaller but equally inhumane scale: thieves snatching from pockets, a woman struggling with packages and not one of the hundreds around her to help, dogs and humans left listless in the streets. Small and large scale atrocities not even whispered about during the five o’clock news.

Thankfully, however, my travels have also uncovered a brighter light. For every heart-wrenching problem I witnessed, I can honestly say at least one organization exists to alleviate that ill. A free dog clinic in Goa, India. A bear sanctuary in Luang Prabang, Laos. Myriad AIDs groups in Tanzania. Though their niches and radius may span small, concerned, humane and involved citizens do exist. Looking around, it would be easy to say that the world is truly going to shit. Normally, I’d jump right on that tuk-tuk. But the people like Michael Hess, Jenaya Rockman, Lek Chaildert, Elle from Paris, Classisa and Nathan of Perth—these everyday people with big ideas and bigger hearts have become my heroes.

And I’m happy to report that I have found that organization with which to work. The Working Elephant Program of Asia (WEPA) is a grassroots program who has started to make headway in Nepal, though serendipitously, I ran into them in Thailand. Because Nik was in country for an extra week, I pushed my time at the elephant sanctuary back by one. It was that second week when Helena, founder of WEPA and Andrew, trainer for the organization came to ENP. I missed most of their presentation because I was too busy watching a friend receive her first tattoo, but the message did not slip past me: the Asian elephant is in grave danger, physically and emotionally. We must do what we can to help. In this case, it means implementing a humane training program for mahouts, who normally use abusive tactics to get the animal to obey. After a few minutes chatting, I knew the program was where my heart was, and Helena invited me to begin working with the team, in the form of writing grants.

Earlier I mentioned my loneliness. It is said that when you do things for others, you feel better about yourself. I can attest to this on many different occasions as they have occurred on this trip. Just last week, I have learned the Japanese healing system called Reiki. After my level one course, my instructor invited me to go to a local hospital to practice on its patients. I found myself in the Chiang Mai psyche hospital, home to approximately 200 women, 49% of who suffer from schizophrenia.

I treated two women, the second, so fidgety that I found it difficult to perform the session. I spent about ten minutes giving Reiki to her head, at which point she fell asleep. When I finished, I watched the woman sleep. I suspect that our session was the first time in a long time that the woman was touched in a loving, healing manner. The first time she felt comfortable enough to fall asleep while a stranger laid hands on her body. And then I took stock of the fact that I was in a mental hospital in Thailand. That I had wandered around Burma two days earlier. That I spent Christmas at an organic farm where the sun glowed an impossible scarlet. That I had spent fourteen days feeding a blind elephant and as much time trying to befriend a sixteen year old Nepali girl. That I participated in a religious frenzy in a rural Tanzanian village and watched the sun set over the world’ highest peak. That the Great Migration had moved under me as I soared above in a hot air balloon.

Oh! the places I’ve been! The people I’ve met! I think back exactly one year ago, when I was dumbfounded by money and how to get out of the country and how to realize what seemed an impossible dream. About my first day on the road, where I cried out of loneliness and fear. Sure, I may be alone tonight, but I’m living my dream. Found what I set out to find. The sun shines its last light of 2008. And maybe I’m PMS-ing, or maybe it’s the 9% beer, or the realization that the world is both much lovelier and sweeter than I’d imagined…These days, it’s clear that I—little ‘ole me, with weak upper body strength, stubby, almost webbed toes and a heart that believes—can do just about anything. I can change the world.

Happy New Year

Picture: Linsey’s booty up the granite at Crazy Horse Crags, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Oh The Places You’ll Go


Hope for the Future

IMG_2766, originally uploaded by linseyis.


Trunks and Tail

IMG_2805, originally uploaded by linseyis.


Making Friends with Jokia

IMG_2831, originally uploaded by linseyis.