Monday in a Picture – Koh Rong Sanloem

I had never associated Cambodia with islands and beaches. In southeast Asia, I had heard phenomenal things about the island beaches in Thailand and the Philippines. I forget who made the suggestion, but someone offered that I could find a piece of island beach paradise in Cambodia on Koh Rong or Koh Rong Sanloem.

I chose to head to Koh Rong Sanloem, the smaller of the two. I’m not sure how many people live on the island, but there is a village community on the northern tip of the island called M’Pai Bay. The community mostly consists of Khmer families, guesthouses, basic shops, and restaurants. The island doesn’t have any cars, but motorbikes are present. The motorbikes aren’t used nearly as much as they are on mainland Cambodia. Moving around the island is typically done on foot (If it’s close enough and there’s a path) or by boat. The interior of the island is dense jungle. I attempted to walk through the jungle on a path to another beach. While I made it to the other beach, it was a bit more of a hike than I was prepared for. The beach, pictured above, was definitely worth it. Of course, I got lost on the way back. Thankfully I found my way before sunset. For reference (if you ever want to go), I took this picture at Clearwater Bay on Koh Rong Sanloem.

One of the biggest attractions of the island, aside from its clear water and beautiful beaches, is the bio-luminescent plankton that can be seen just off the shore at night. In waist deep water, I could briefly see the shimmering light of plankton. As I walked in deeper and disturbed the water even more, I saw more plankton. Moving my hands underwater provided quite a show. It felt like I had figured out to do magic. It felt like I was a deity showing off my powers. This easily kept me entertained for the better part of 40 minutes. For those who may be wondering, it wasn’t possible for me to take pictures of this happening. It is truly something that you must experience in person.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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Monday in a Picture – Mondulkiri Project

Shortly after arriving in Cambodia, I was in a hostel in Phnom Penh talking with PCV who is currently serving here. We talked about our experiences in Peace Corps and life. I asked the Cambodia PCV for recommendations on things to do while here. He spoke very highly of the Mondulkiri Project in northeast Cambodia. The project has an elephant sanctuary for rescued elephants, and offers jungle trekking in addition to visits to the sanctuary to feed and bathe the elephants.

My interest was piqued. I read more about the project, and knew that I wanted to go. The project is home to five elephants. At least one was formerly used for elephant rides in Angkor Wat. Another was used for hauling logs from the jungle. Another was abused by her caretaker. The project also employs Bunong people, who live in the local community where the jungles and forests are.

The 18 kilometer trek started at the tour guide’s homestead just before 9 am. The views from the trek were quite awesome. Apparently, it’s the end of rainy season so the mosquitoes were minimal, but jungle floor was very slippery. This was especially true on inclines and declines. I lost my footing a few times and was invited to promptly sit down on the jungle floor. The trek included swimming in a river at a waterfall right before lunch. During the after lunch trekking, the rain started. Although it started as a light drizzle, it progressed into heavier rain. The jungle floor became even more slippery. We finally reached our destination: the Jungle Lodge. They had hammocks with blankets set up for us. They also served dinner, which included bamboo soup (made in real bamboo), breakfast, and lunch the next day.

The second day was all about the elephants in the sanctuary. We went down to the sanctuary with many bananas. We were able to feed the elephants in the jungle sanctuary. Once the elephants saw that we had the bananas, the gentle giants approached and took the fruit from our respective hands. Some elephants allowed us to remain close while others walked away to munch on some young bamboo. In the afternoon, we were able to swim with and bathe the elephants in the river. After a full two days of activity, I was tired and sore. I’m super thankful for the hot shower and delicious food I had back in town. The above picture is of me admiring the view at the beginning of the trek, when I was still dirt-free.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S. – Here go two more really cool pictures. The first is of a leaf that apparently ran out of chlorophyll. The second is of an elephant munching

Monday in a Picture – Pasar Malam

Some weeks ago, I started looking for my next destination. After lots of internal dialogue and price checking, I settled on Cambodia. Phnom Penh, to be exact. One of the things that I’ve grown fond of is extended layovers. Especially in places where visas are free. On the way to Cambodia, I was so fortunate.

Flying from Chennai, I had to connect in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). When I booked the flight, I started looking for things to do in the city to take advantage of my fifteen hour layover. I found that Malaysia was known for having really good food. I also learned that Kuala Lumpur has a plethora of pasar malams, or night markets, filled with the aforementioned really good food. I had to go.

This blog post helped me figure things out. After landing, I went to the city centre to check out the Petronas Twin Towers and walk around. By early evening, I was ready to let my tastebuds explore. I made my way over to the Taman Connaught night market. It’s massive. Like seriously massive. Like “go with friends and pace yourself with a bite of this and a taste of that because you’ll be overwhelmed with deliciousness” massive. There was a lot of pork, with a smattering of poultry. There were all different kinds of fruit (available whole, in pieces, juiced, and sometimes smoothied). With some dishes, noodles or rice played a prominent role. In many dishes, eggs featured generously. While most stalls had menu boards or signs in English, some did not. It’s an excellent opportunity to see if your eyes can figure out what your tastebuds desire. There were also stalls selling clothing, cell phone accessories, and other things.

After two hours of walking through the stalls, I decided to call it quits. I had been gluttonous enough. I had eaten to my heart’s content. I was ready for a corner and a nap. If you ever have the opportunity to visit (and eat) at any of the night markets in Kuala Lumpur, do it! But pace yourself. For the market is mighty, and the stomach is small. The picture above is of one of the stalls serving salted egg things.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S. – here’s a picture of me about to dig into something called salted egg chicken. It was pretty delicious.

Monday in a Picture – Dosa

Recently, I’ve been checking out the south Indian state of Karnataka. Originally, I was planning to go directly from Goa to Hampi (in Karnataka). A lack of planning and information on my part led to that not happening. Commence an overnight bus to Bangalore, a day train to Mysore, and an overnight train to Hampi. Of course, I took time to explore each place. When talking to various folks, everyone kept saying that I must try a dosa.

I had no idea what a dosa was. Some explained it as being like a crepe. Others didn’t explain it, and just described it as delicious. I have found both of these things to be true. Dosas are usually eaten as breakfast, or as a late afternoon/evening snack. There are different types of dosas. There’s the plain dosa, which is served without any filling or special seasoning. Then, there’s the masala dosa which is filled with some potato or veggie mixture. It also usually has some kind of seasoning mixture sprinkled on it. There’s also an onion dosa, which has chopped onion added during cooking before the batter has become bread. The onion dosa doesn’t have a filling. In addition to these, I’ve also had a something called a special masala dosa, which had a potato filling with extra seasoning. It was also nicely folded into a triangle. All dosas are served with some kind of saucy puree. I’m sure that there are other types of dosa as well, but I haven’t tried those (yet).

While I’ve had my share of dosas over the past week, I have to say that my favorite was a masala dosa that I had in Mysore at Hotel Mylari. It was fluffy, like a pancake, and they didn’t skimp on the butter. It was simply delicious. I ordered two, one after the other, and was contemplating a third when I realized that I was being gluttonous. The picture above is of a masala dosa I had on V.V. Puram food street in Bangalore.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Vipassana

1st September 2018 – Quick Thoughts Before the Course

I have made it to the meditation centre. It’s located in a village in Goa. Upon arrival, I was directed to a space where lunch was being served. Lunch was a delicious veggie thali, with refills! The more and more I sit here waiting for registration, the more nervous I become. What have I signed myself up for? Why did I sign up? I’ve never done meditation. What even is meditation really? How will I make it these ten days? After lunch, I spoke with a man who introduced himself. He’s done the vipassana course twice already. He’s back for a third time. His only advice: “don’t quit/leave/give up”. This is the advice that I’ve heard echoed in blogs and other online forums about the course.

12th September 2018 – The Aftermath

So I just finished the ten day Vipassana meditation course. I had no prior experience meditating. I learned of ashrams earlier this year, and after talking to folks and reading various material, my interest was piqued. Why not try it? At best, I’m a better, changed person. At worst, I lose ten days of my life and whatever financial investment is involved. After searching the internets looking for places to do silent meditation courses in India, I came across this site.

I had no idea what Vipassana was. I briefly read some material, and started applying to do a course. The base course is ten days (you arrive on day 0, and leave on day 11 for a total of twelve days). I learned that the course was donation based. All I had to do was be accepted and actually show up. A course in Goa accepted me. I reluctantly showed up. Wild thoughts second guessing myself ran rampant. I kept reminding myself that if I can do Peace Corps, I can do anything.

When checking in, I had to submit my passport and other valuables for safe keeping. Everyone is also asked to submit their mobile phones, reading and writing material, religious items and any intoxicant. I everything was locked away for safe keeping and I was given a room number. No key. Just a room number. I go to the room. My roommate is already there. It’s a basic room. Two twin beds with sleeping pads and linen. A ceiling fan. A wash room (sectioned off by a curtain) with a sink, and separated squat toilet and shower.

I greet my roommate. For the next ten days, we won’t allowed to communicate with each other. During the course, participants are asked to maintain complete silence. No talking. No gestures. No glances. This is especially true for other meditation students. You are allowed to talk to the meditation teacher. Students are also asked to observe other guidelines including no lying, no stealing, no physical contact, no intoxicants, and no sexual activity.

After a light dinner, we’re shown an introductory video in English and Hindi (the languages this course will be taught in). Afterwards, we are separated by gender and assigned a cushion in the meditation hall. Using separate entrances, men and women are seated on opposite sides of the hall. We sat in silence for a while before the assistant teacher played chanting over loud speakers. We went to bed around 2100.

The first day (and every day thereafter) started around 0400 with a morning wake up bell. Meditation started promptly in the hall at 0430, and lasted until 0630. Breakfast was served from 0630 until 0715. We were given a “break” until 0800 to rest and bathe. The first official sitting of the day was from 0800-0900. Afterwards we’d get a short break before continuing to practice meditation until 1100. Lunch (usually a delicious veggie thali) was served until 1145. After lunch, we had a break until 1300 when we would resume practice. The next official sitting was from 1430-1530, followed by another short break. Following this break, there was more practice until 1700. This is when a snack (of a popcorn/peanut mixture and fruit) was served until 1730. There was another break until 1800, which was the last official sitting of the day until 1900. At this time, we split into groups (for language purposes) groups for the day’s discourse via video from S.N Goenka. The discourses typically lasted about an hour, after which there was another short break. Lastly, we’d come back together to practice until 2100. I typically went to bed at this point, but lights out wasn’t until 2130 with the teacher staying behind to answer personal questions about meditation and practice.

The first three days of meditation were doing using a technique called Anapana, during which the mediator observes their own natural breath as it is. While it sounded straightforward and simple at first, I often found my mind wandering. Bring it back. It goes off again. This process was, and still is, continuous. On the fourth day, the technique of Vipassana is introduced. The technique asks the mediator to focus on their own body’s sensations experienced as they are.

It’s difficult for me to explain. The purpose of all of this, as explained by Goenka, is to free oneself from the cycle of misery in life. Misery comes from craving and abhortion. Something pleasurable in life, but can’t have it now? Most of us crave it. Something unpalatable in life, but can’t stop it now? Most of us abhor it. The technique is meant to relieve one of their own craving and abhortion, and ultimately their own misery. This is supposed to lead to enlightenment, which is what Bhudda reached after he did Vipassana 2500 years ago.

As honest as I’m willing to be in a public forum within my own integrity, it was extremely hard. My mind wandered to many places. My childhood. College. Younger adulthood. My teenage years. Other places I won’t discuss. I realized some of things leading to my own misery/unhappiness/displeasure/whatever. That craving. Whew! The craving. I’m a meat eater. All meals served were strictly vegetarian. I didn’t crave meat as much as I thought I would. One day, I thought about how nice it would be to have a piece of fried chicken. The thought dissipated rather quickly. During the post lunch break on several days, I laid in my bed and thought about how much better things would be if I just had my cell phone. Then I just wanted to listen to some music. I just wanted to read the newspaper. Mind you, I rarely (almost never) seek out newspapers. I just wanted to shake someone’s hand, pat someone’s back, or hug someone. This doesn’t even get into the physical pain of sitting on the ground cross legged trying to stay still for an hour. There were many times that I had to remind myself: progress, not perfection. I understand the technique. I found benefit in the practice. Even absent of benefit from the actual technique, I found tremendous value in being with myself, in silence for ten days. There were definitely things that had been suppressed. I’m trying, even as I write this, to not intellectualize this as I’ve find myself doing with many things. Intellectual thought and theory is great for some things. It’s totally useless in others. Practical things need practice. The plan is to do that.

If you’re interested in taking the course yourself (or learning more), you can search for centres and courses near you. The courses are donation based, so no financial contribution is required or expected. But there is work to be done.

The picture is of the empty meditation hall. It was about 0415, so I guess it can be considered the calm before the other calms.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Vindaloo

Language. Food. Culture. The first two usually have huge influence on the third. While I haven’t learned Konkani (the language of the state), I have taken the opportunity to experience the cuisine. One of the traditional Goan dishes is vindaloo. It’s a red curry sauce with meat. Historically, that meat has been pork, but vindaloo can be ordered with mutton or chicken as well. Everything that I had read made a point of noting how spicy vindaloo is. People warned me in various conversations. I always responded the same. I appreciate and welcome spice. The picture above is of some mutton vindaloo that I had for lunch one day in Panaji. The dish was extremely tasty and flavorful. It was also extremely hot. The following is my stream of consciousness while I ate the mutton vindaloo:

I like spice. I like spicy. This is another level. There are probably fires that don’t burn this hot. My mouth is still cooling down. This spice was intense as fuck. Why am I sweating so much? Like my eyes are watering and my internal body temperature is probably a few degrees higher now. Why does my stomach feel warm? This is not going to good to the toilet gods.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Auto Rickshaw

So far in India, I’ve been to two places: Mumbai and Goa. While Mumbai is in the state of Maharashtra, Goa is a state on its own comprised of several small cities and villages. While moving around Goa can be done by bicycle, motor bike, or taxi among other modes, moving around Mumbai presents several options. In addition to trains, buses, and taxis, there’s the auto rickshaw.

I should note that auto rickshaws are present in Goa as well, at least in Mapusa and Panaji. They just aren’t as popular as they are in Mumbai. When I needed to find one in Mumbai, I could (after going to different ones to find one to take me). The auto rickshaws in Mumbai are metered, starting at a base fare of 18 rupees and increase accordingly for distance and time spent waiting in traffic (which there is an abundance of). I was told that there is a night surcharge, which starts at a base fare of 24 rupees. I’m not sure what time the night surcharge starts. I travelled a few nights after 11 PM, and was not charged a night rate. For a ride of five kilometers, I paid around 75 rupees (just over $1 USD). In the south Mumbai region, auto rickshaws are not allowed so options are limited to trains, buses, taxis and walking.

To contrast Mumbai’s auto rickshaws, the same transport in Mapusa and the rest of Goa do not use meters. Prices are “negotiated” before riding. For a ride of ten kilometers, I paid around 220 rupees (which was negotiated down from 300 rupees). The picture above was taken from a bus window while sitting in Mumbai traffic.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Mumbai Street Food

I love food. Especially good food. It’s one of my main reasons for traveling to new places. Street food is an exceptional favorite. Walking around to take in the sights and sounds gets enhanced by the smells. Since I arrived in India, I have learned that most of what the western world eats as Indian food comes from northern India. As a very large country with different cultures, languages, and people, Indian cuisine is more than curries, biryani, and naan. Each of the states have their own culinary traditions.

Since arriving in India a little more than a week ago, I have kept my eyes and nostrils open for potential street food adventures. The collage above features some of the street food I ate during my first week in Mumbai. While roaming the city, I try to notice street food places where many people are congregating. Though not always true, popular can insinuate good taste.

In the top left is a dish that I can’t remember the name of, but it is traditional served as breakfast in Mumbai and surrounding regions. The sauce is soupy and spicy, but the spice is a slowly building, subtle spice. Moving clockwise, this snack is known as vada pav. A roll is spilt to allow a spicy chutney and a dab of other chillies to put on the bread. The roll is then filled with fresh, hot fried potatoes that have been coated in a light batter. This roll was exceptionally delicious. Continuing clockwise, this is a dessert/snack and I’m not sure of its name. It’s some kind of fried dough and it’s extremely sweet. Like biting into concentrated sugar. It reminded me of the South African dessert, koeksister. Lastly, there’s the amul dabeli. It’s a small sandwich that starts with some spicy chutney spread on the bun. There’s a mixture of stuff that goes into the sandwich filling including a spicy potato mixture, pomegranates, and cilantro. It’s a decadent mix of spicy and sweet without being too much of either. So far, this might be my favorite of the street foods that I have experienced.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Kirby. Full Stop

Guest Post Note: Most of this blog has given you my experience in Peace Corps eSwatini. This week, here’s something a little different. How did Peace Corps eSwatini, through the lens of a PCV, experience me? Meet Lakia. She is currently serving an extension year as a PCV in Peace Corps eSwatini. She enjoys reading, travel, blerd culture and being the greatest aunt ever. Find her on twitter – @pirate_jenn

Kirby P. Riley and I met 2 years and 2 months ago. Well, not really met. More like I tried to greet him on the airport shuttle, he wasn’t interested, I retreated to my own personal space and we carried on from there. But over the span of 2 years and 2 months, I’ve come to completely love and
learn so much from this genuine, kind, slightly anti-social gentleman.

I wish I could sum him up in a neatly bound collection of quirky adjectives and anecdotes, but I can’t. He’s just Kirby. Full stop. Anyone who knows him, knows that this phrase is enough. They understand that there is no box that works, no paragraph that can bind such a fluid individual. All
that I have, all that anyone who knows this weirdo has, is a bunch of interesting experiences so cherished that they simply can’t be shared with just anyone.

Like the times when we traded stories about our work as educators in our respective communities. Kirby is the most dynamic, long-winded storyteller I’ve ever met. But it works, somehow. Because he’s Kirby. Or the times at every Peace Corps training when a guest speaker is present and he has a question. Every question, everywhere, is always prefaced with “Uhhhhhh….hello….Kirby P. Riley,
what-is-kirby-doing-dot-com…..soooo, so my question is….” That’s Kirby. Full stop.

At a glance, he could seem like an aloof individual. But after a range of debates, puzzling Peace Corps moments, crying on his shoulder, and chats into the evening, I have learned he is immensely present. He is there. When you think he might not be paying attention. When you think you only have him as a random colleague in your life. He will show up and surprise you in profound ways. He will stretch your values and demand you know who you are and what you’re talking about. As a true friend does. Full stop.

Kirby P. Riley refuses to be my housemate. Something about “I’ll annoy him forever”, blah blah blah. But regardless, he’s stuck with me. Because like Kirby, while I don’t know everything, I know what matters. Which is when you find something good, something that moves you and helps you grow, you hang on to it. Like the Cowboys, and Reddit, and the Burn, and good soul food and sweet tea. Like our friendship. So sadly, he will find me in lots of places – on the phone, in his emails, his blog posts (but Reddit is where I draw the line, because that place scares me).

Anyone who knows anything about Peace Corps would assume that working in such an organization is trying work that tests your limits. You have to step into the capabilities you are made of. Those assumptions are correct and then some. What I found to be a saving grace in my service has been the connections with those around me who understand the layers of this work and can encourage me while I navigate the complexities of Peace Corps service. Those connections are ones I am deeply grateful for, ones that have changed my life forever. And one of those connections came in the form of a guy filled with heart, soul, compassion and an ear-splitting cackle.

Kirby. Full stop.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – School Farewell

Today, I moved out of my home in a rural southwestern nook in eSwatini. Later this week, I will officially finish my service to the kingdom of eSwatini. Similar to entering service, there will be meetings and paperwork

At school last week, I gave a farewell speech to the student body. Following my speech, one of our senior students spoke on behalf of the learners to thank me for all that I’ve done at the school. Some students gave written notes of gratitude. It’s amazing to know that the students are always listening, watching, and learning.

On my final day at the school, my school co-workers organized a farewell lunch for me. There were speeches as we enjoyed one of my favorite Swazi street foods, chicken dust. The staff presented a t-shirt they had made for me. On the front is a black and white photo of me eating a piece of meat. I was told that the reasoning for this was because I have introduced myself around the community on numerous occasions saying, “Nginu Sibusiso. Ngiyatsandza inyama”, which means “I am Sibusiso. I like meat”. On the back of the shirt, it has my Swazi name (Sibusiso) at the top, “eSwatini KuseKaya” meaning “eSwatini is home” in the middle, and my blog signature at the bottom.

I am thankful to have joined such an amazing core of teachers. The above picture was taken by one of our students after the farewell luncheon and features many of the teachers from our local high school.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.