Leaving the New Life Foundation

Leaving the New Life Foundation

I’ve been here almost a month! Still not kidnapped and only one trip to the hospital! Success. Tomorrow, I leave the safe cocoon of the New Life Foundation to move to Chiang Mai. Beginning my trip at NLF was perfect. I got used to being alone on the other side of the world, without being alone at all. It’s like I’ve been wearing traveling training wheels. But, after four weeks, I feel ready to head out on my own. Here’s a quick summary of some of the experiences I’ll take with me from NLF: Meditation Since I arrived, I have been falling asleep, dying of boredom, squishing ants with my toes, learning to meditate. I am really really not good at it. In fact, the more I do it, the worse I get. The only session I enjoyed was one where the guy next to me started laughing and then we all started cracking up and had to call it off. See! Wasn’t that more fun? I know there is the cliched parable of the Westerner who travels to Asia and struggles to calm his or her overstimulated, technology-consuming-mind, but, after weeks of hard work, has a single blissful experience that changes life forever. Or at least that’s what happened in Eat, Pray, Love. That is not what happened to me. I still suck at it. The picture to the right is of the meditation hall. You’ll notice, I am not there. Life Coaching My general understanding is that the only people who aren’t crazy are the people you don’t know well enough. So, I thought it was great that...
Day in Photos: Amazing Kids Doing Adorable Things

Day in Photos: Amazing Kids Doing Adorable Things

This past Sunday afternoon, the foundation hosted children from the Agape Orphanage in Chiang Rai. This was the first time they had been on an organized outing in over a year, so we really wanted to make it special. Volunteers and residents donated money to buy supplies for decorating, activities, lunch, and taxis to bring them out. We set up a face painting station, balloon animals, soccer balls, hoola hoops, and the most enthusiastic game of musical yoga cushions ever attempted. Despite the look on the two girls’ faces in the middle, I promise they had a good time. When they finally had to leave, we were all a little devastated. They were some of the happiest, most gracious kids I’ve ever met, and it was a pleasure to get to spend the day with...
“Teaching” Kids English

“Teaching” Kids English

On Mondays and Wednesdays, one of the New Life Foundation volunteers goes to teach English at the local school.  This past week, the usual teacher was away from the foundation, so they needed people to fill in. I thought that with my experience teaching dance, I would naturally be able to handle teaching English. I was assigned the job, along with two other NLF volunteers. We arrived at the classroom, prepared for an organized few hours of teaching the alphabet and colors to some adorable kids. As anyone who went to elementary knows, the first thing you do to a substitute teacher – particularly ones as obviously inexperienced as we were- is push every boundary possible until they break. We lasted approximately thirty seconds. We chased them around the classroom. Our attempts to get them to sit down resembled a poorly executed game of whack-a-mole. Once the boys started lifting each other onto their shoulders and parading down the hall, we knew we’d lost. So we gave up and just spent the rest of the hour taking pictures. I’m pretty sure the only English things we may have taught them were “sit down, be quiet, ok-fine. pose for the camera.” They understood the last part perfectly. Oh well. Their real teacher will be back next...
The ice-cream bike and my village

The ice-cream bike and my village

As nearly every hour of my day is confined to the foundation’s grounds, an afternoon trip to our local village always feels like a major excursion.  Despite many repeated visits to the single street, it never ceases to entertain me. Furthest down the road is the market. Its inventory consists solely of chips, instant noodles, tobacco, candy, laundry detergent, incense (to appease the foundation’s hippie population) and Kit-Kat bars (to appease everyone). Shoes must be removed before entering. There is a single, long concrete aisle with one light at the front, leaving the rest of the store dark. It’s a mystery as to what’s on the last few feet of shelves. The back room, where the owners live, is open to the store and there are usually children napping on a mattress in the middle of the floor. Every few minutes a scooter will pull up to get gas. The “gas pumps” are basically giant plastic containers with a nozzle and handwritten measurements. In front of the store, men crowd around a TV to smoke and watch Muay Thai boxing. On more exciting days, the ice-cream bike will pass through! A man plays music on a boom box and drives down the road until someone stops him to get ice-cream from the cooler in his sidecar. Up the street, the woman who runs the “coffee shop,” also does laundry, gives massages, and cuts hair. On my first day, I pulled up one of the wobbly plastic chairs and ordered a mango smoothie, deciding it was best to first judge her craftsmanship on a beverage, rather than my hair. As...
The Day in Photos: New Life Foundation

The Day in Photos: New Life Foundation

After a week of volunteering, yoga, thinking about our problems, talking about our problems, and eating the weight of our problems in Thai food, on Saturdays we all get to do a little bit less of each. Well, except the eating Thai food part. In fact, this past weekend a vegetarian chef from Chiang Mai visited the foundation to give our cooks a lesson on making awesome animal-friendly dishes. On Saturdays, kids from the local village are invited to use the foundation’s pool. At first, I wasn’t sure how’d they feel about me taking pictures, but after a tentative first snap they were literally pushing each other under water to get in front of the camera....
Volunteering at the New Life Foundation in Thailand

Volunteering at the New Life Foundation in Thailand

Four miniature Buddhas vibrated on the dashboard as my cab made its way through the Chiang Rai country-side. The entire car was upholstered with a pattern of swirling gold and hot pink leaves, giving the impression it had been borrowed from Enlightened Barbie. Outside the glowing interior, we passed rice fields, markets, and farms. As usual, I was easily entertained. I played an overly-enthusiastic version of I Spy Things Not Seen on a DC Cab Ride: Man with cow! Mountains. Family on a scooter! Palmtreeplamtreeplamtreepalmtree. Man with goat! I was finally on the road to the New Life Foundation, my first volunteer stint in Thailand. They are a recovery center that uses a program based on mindfulness to assist people who are struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. Volunteers come and work during the week and then can take advantage of classes, life coaching, the steam room, the pool … for only $300 a month. It’s a sort of help-others/help-yourself combo pack. After a few minutes down a one-way road, we finally turned onto a long gravel drive-way … and there I was. What was once just a fleeting Google search result about some remote place half-way across the world, was now my reality for the next month. I checked-in, unpacked my bags, and started to explore. The grounds are made up of an office, two long buildings with fifty single bedrooms (everyone has their own room, if you discount the ants and geckos), a main dining hall, a pool, and two meditation/yoga spaces. Despite the fact that many residents are in the middle of pretty raw stuff (some...