Monday, August 27, 2012

Traveling the same path as the Bhutanese refugees over the River Ganges into Nepal

Day one in Nepal.

I was happy to arrive at the border and be greeted by Fr P.S. Amal. I was a little worried because, as usual, I didn't know where I was going or how to get there. So if he hadn't been there, I would have been sleeping in an airport that I couldn't even point out on a map.

But he was there and he took to me to what I believe is the loosest border I've ever crossed. It was just some small concrete building on the side of the road. I filled out the paper, paid my money and was on my way. 

We crossed the border. Then we crossed a large bridge over the River Ganges, the same bridge that 110,000 Bhutanese refugees crossed by foot over the last few decades. Fr Amal, who was riding with me in the back, chain-smoking and talking about the JRS and Jesuit commitment to the refugees pointed to the far bank of the river saying, "It was on the banks of this river we began our commitment to educating refugees in Nepal."

As we crossed the other side of this holy river, I saw a group of people ceremonially burning a body on the riverbank. While Nepal is known for the Himalayas, I was struck here at the border by the vast flatness; I could see the Ganges twist and turn into the fog at the horizon. I knew I was going to like this country.

Still, I have a lot to see and learn. I am spending my week in the refugee camps to take photos and videos and invite the people we serve to give testimonials about their lives in the camps and their thoughts about their future resettlement.

And I am thrilled at the end of my day to return to a beautiful Jesuit house with hot water, cold beer, clean sheets, three wonderful Jesuits and two incredible sisters.

I can promise a photo of the Nepalese sunrise since the temple next door starts making all sorts of noise at 5 a.m. Until then, here is something I drew in one of my less optimistic moments in India.

Title: "Self-Motivation"

Friday, August 24, 2012

Mother Theresa's Calcutta

I visited Motherhouse in Calcutta this morning. I went to Mass with the sisters and a load of volunteers. Father Maria Joseph, a Jesuit who I am working with this weekend, was kind enough to have one of the sisters unlock the museum and the room where Mother Theresa's tomb is. So I got my own private tour and experience, which was wonderful.

After touring Motherhouse and sitting in Mass with everyone, it makes my last blog seem kind of ridiculous.

The women there accept their work and their challenges with such grace, that it makes me envious, another thing I should probably feel bad about.

Now, for those that know me, know that I am not a graceful person - be it in the situation of a first kiss, or meeting new people or even trying to walk up a flight of stairs; grace is not my strong suit. But I am trying today to look at grace in a different way. Instead of wondering why I am in this situation or trying reframe it or imagine or draw my way out of it, instead of just running down the clock, I should look at where I am and what I am doing and appreciate the challenge. You know, with grace.

...keep in mind I am writing this while smoking a sneaky cigarette out the window of my room. Smoking isn't allowed on the premises of this Jesuit compound, and while I technically quit when I was in Omaha, I bought a survival pack on my arrival to Calcutta. So with one hand out the window, listening for footsteps of Jesuits in the hall, I am trying to write about grace.

Not very graceful, I know.

But I'm still trying to learn something. Maybe grace isn't about the way you carry yourself, or whether or not you sneak cigarettes or make bad jokes when you're uncomfortable with the new batch of Jesuits you've just been introduced to.

Grace, at least for me today, means being able to fully experience what you are doing while you are doing it. Accepting the difficulty as well as the achievements and just sitting with everything that is happening.

Easier said than done, for sure. But that's my goal for today. Work is hard. I am being eaten by mosquitos and I feel really really lonely. And that's all ok.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hey Calcutta, you're insane!

Where's the shittiest place you've ever stayed overnight? Mine would have to be hands down, my new room one the Jesuit residence grounds in Calcutta.

For future reference, if you are ever picked up at an airport and a Jesuit says, "This is a lot different then Delhi. Delhi is much more developed," you know you're in for a bumpy ride.

Now, of course I've only been here for an hour or so, so I might be prematurely judging. I'm going to go out a photograph what I am sure is an amazing city.

But right now I am sitting in my room. My room, which smells like my old bomb shelter. And it's just about as pleasant. No, scratch that. The bomb shelter was more pleasant because it had board games. They were covered in mildew, sure, but still games. There is mattress on the floor here covered in mildew, but it's not as fun to play with...

The Jesuit who brought me in, after unlocking the pad lock, pushing open the cracked and peeling plywood doors and turning on the light decided it was "a little stuffy in here," and opened my windows to let some fresh air in. Fresh air? All my windows open to the tent city slums on the street. That's the opposite of fresh.

So I'm on the cot. I am not removing the sheets to inspect the quality of this cot. I am just going to get through the next two days. Spend as little time in here as possible and pray that the refugee camps in Nepal are better. Or at least, less smelly.

Biohazard mattress

View from the window
...more photos to come.

Monday, August 20, 2012

What do I do when my heart is broken?

As some of my dedicated readers (Abby) might know, whenever I'm feeling down, I like to draw a robot to make myself feel better. The idea is to draw the most pleasant thing possible, and then I can't feel sad anymore.

So, if I draw one robot when I'm down, it might go to show how I felt that I drew nine of them, doing the can can with a bunch of old-timey skeletons.

This is just a preview. I'm not finished yet, but the grand drawing, that is taking longer and is more involved than anything I've ever drawn, involves this guy:

(Cab Calloway, in case you weren't sure)

To get everyone in the mood for the upcoming epic Cab Calloway drawing, here is my favorite clip of him. No, don't click away... Did I mention there are Muppets involved???

Recent drawings

I couldn't come up with anything to draw while I was in Thailand. My mind was a little busy. So instead, I drew some of the quotes I couldn't get out of my head that were helping me survive that crazy, crazy country. Whaddaya think?

Kimya Dawson "I Like Giants"

Lyrics by Woody Guthrie, but sang by Billy Bragg on Mermaid Avenue. The song is "Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key." Thanks, Ryan, for playing this over and over again whenever I requested it, and a few times when I did not.

Cat Stevens "The Wind"

Drawn on Koh Chang while drinking beers with Ollie. It was these beers that led to my tattoo...

Son House "Grinnin in Your Face." Drawn with Jack White's guitar in the background since he does such a great cover of it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

First thoughts on Delhi

Ok. Not too crowded. I can do this. Oh, it's Independence Day, you say? That would explain that. Hey, these cars are cool. Like the ones in the movies about India. I guess that makes sense. Is that a donkey on the highway? Who does he belong to? Who is his master? Where is he going? I wonder if he was on my flight but couldn't get a taxi… no that doesn't make sense. Molly, I think you're tired. These Jesuits seem nice. I wonder if they think I'm a lunatic. Probably. I think I'm a lunatic. Like a fox. But at least I can put together their website. Boy, how do these people sleep along the highway? At least find some shade. How is this traffic not waking you up right now? Sleeping in the streets? Ok. Guys hold hands here? Guys hold hands here. Like Walter and Perry. The horns sound different here. Oh, this is where I live. Chickens. Kids begging for money. What do you MEAN I don't have satellite TV? Just kidding. Bucket showers. I'm into it. Very Leonard Cohen, "I choose the rooms that I like in with care, there is only one bed and only one chair." This is the office? Is this the same organization I was just working for? So, JRS South Asia regional office. One table, three computers, three staff and this guy. Well, this is going to be a party. Excuse me sir, can you point me in the direction of the nearest Sur la Table? Sir? Sir? What a trip.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Missing home but ready for adventure

Drawn on a New Glarus Brewery paper bag. Their logo is behind me, Manky and Daniel in the balloon.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Quite Early Morning

Just wanted to post a quick drawing of a Pete Seeger quote that I did on the island last week. Serendipitously, it's the same song that he sung on Colbert recently. I was blown away that he sang the same song that I had just drawn in my notebook. Ollie says things like that happen all the time. I'm not so sure. If they did happen all the time, I would die of awe and exasperation.

This is my favorite quote of the song, but the whole thing is pretty beautiful. Here are the lyrics along with my favorite video version of him playing it:

Don't you know it's darkest before the dawn
And it's this thought keeps me moving on
If we could heed these early warnings
The time is now quite early morning
If we could heed these early warnings
The time is now quite early morning

Some say that humankind won't long endure
But what makes them so doggone sure?
I know that you who hear my singing
Could make those freedom bells go ringing
I know that you who hear my singing
Could make those freedom bells go ringing

And so keep on while we live
Until we have no, no more to give
And when these fingers can strum no longer
Hand the old banjo to young ones stronger
And when these fingers can strum no longer
Hand the old banjo to young ones stronger

So though it's darkest before the dawn
These thoughts keep us moving on
Through all this world of joy and sorrow
We still can have singing tomorrows
Through all this world of joy and sorrow
We still can have singing tomorrows

My ACTUAL favorite version of this song is when he sang it live at Carnegie Hall with Arlo Guthrie. He gave a little explanation as to how he came to write the song, and how he came to steal the tune from Woody Guthrie. Alas, I can't find that version online so if you're lucky enough to have that on vinyl, I recommend putting it on, dropping the needle and turning it up!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Get a bamboo tattoo in a bar on a tropical Thai island -- check

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Pete Seeger
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According to Ryan Dudzinski and Ollie White, I have strange luck. Like, very good luck. I buy that. I guess I just never thought about it.

Ryan thinks its lucky that I can go couch surfing and not get murdered. Or travel wherever I feel like without ever making arrangements. I wouldn't consider that luck, exactly. Most people don't get murdered. And most people can show up in a city and find food and shelter. So I never agreed.

It was until a few days ago that Ollie said the same thing, that I think I might be getting a reputation as a lucky person. This time is wasn't about getting murdered. It was about getting hepatitis or something like that.

Cut to Ollie and I on Koh Chang (again) for a long weekend. I am back in Thailand for a few days as a pit stop on the way to India. So Ollie and I decided to head back to our favorite island.

Last day on the island. Dropped off our motorbikes and aloe'd our sunburns and went to our favorite bar for a giant hamburger and a beer. Now, when I say "bar," I mean a structure with two standing walls and a bamboo roof that has deemed itself "Margaritaville."

It was here, over our burgers that we met the owner - a nice tatted guy from Sweden - and his compatriot, Charlie, who is apprenticing as a bamboo tattoo artist on the island.

Now, I've always been interested in getting a bamboo tattoo. Back in the day they would whittle down a stick of bamboo to a fine point and use it to hand-tattoo people in monasteries. Today, they attach a tattoo needle to the end so they can make finer lines.

After talking to Charlie for all of five minutes - keep in mind I couldn't understand most of what he was saying through his thick British accent - before I decided now is the time for one of these tattoos. A quick conversation and a brief pencil sketch later, we were in business. 500 baht. 30 minutes. We pay for his Diet Cokes during and his Singha beers after.

So this is how I found myself sitting on the floor of Margaritaville, hunched over a chair with delightful young Brit jabbing a needle into my neck. I requested Johnny Cash as the tattoo music and the the bar owner obliged. So, Johnny, Elvis, CCR and some other blues/rockabilly later, I had this to show for it.

This is my Pete Seeger tattoo. For his 90th birthday, while I was living on the reservation, I wrote him a letter about he inspires me to go to new places and write about different kinds of people and whatnot. You can see his postcard and my letter to him here.

I know he would probably hate the tattoo. He's not that kind of guy. But I love it. And I loved getting on Koh Chang.

As Pete would say, keep on.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Hearing a song for the first time, after all this time (no drugs necessary)

Isn't it funny how sometimes that part of your brain, the creative, feeling, wonderful part of your brain, just wakes up? Sometimes I have heard a song a million times and know it by heart, and that part of my brain wakes up and I am able to hear it for the first time.

This happened today with the song Mr Blue by the Fleetwoods. A great song, but not my favorite Fleetwoods song or a song that I thought too much about.

Until today.

I was listening to the RadioLab on colors (you have to listen to this episode!) and the last song they played was a cover of Mr Blue by this band I've never heard of. Do yourself a favor and listen to their version of the song here.