We All Have Dreams

“A Man Has Dreams.” A song on my Mary Poppins playlist: at least four minutes, and a slow and quiet dialogue between only two characters- no ensemble. From my dance teacher’s perspective, four minutes is a long time for two characters to dialogue onstage, especially two that don’t need  any extra solo time to even the stagetime among my cast. I looked over it last fall and thought to myself “I’ll trim that down some.” I’m always looking for ways to make our shows just a little shorter- after all our classes and soloists dance, it’s plenty long enough without adding unnecessary scenes. For this scene was one I never understood when I was little. When I reached that part in the movie, I’m pretty sure it’s where I chose to take a bathroom break, or find Mom and ask her for a snack. Nothing much was happening and I didn’t understand the words Mr. Banks exchanged with Bert anyway.

But as I wrote this show and as I cut, trimmed, and meshed music to create our custom playlist, I found that this was a scene that simply couldn’t be cut in any way. For I found that this was indeed the climax of the plot. I can’t say I expected this since as previously stated, it was a scene that was left misunderstood during the time in my life when I watched the movie the most. But if we examine the storyline of Mary Poppins, the title character is not the character who undergoes any change in the story, she is perhaps the most rigid character of all, the static character. After all, she is already “practically perfect” when we meet her;-) Rather, she is a catalyst for the change in the most dynamic character of all- Mr. Banks. And this scene is where the dynamic takes place deep within, where Bert speaks truth and for the first time, Mr. Banks listens.

So I left the length, and I apologize to all the brothers out there (namely, my own) who think the show should be much shorter than it is. But I encourage those watching to take to heart, the transformation that takes place within Mr. Banks. For he sings (and she dances) here of the dreams that were had, of worldly desires that were dashed, yet are suddenly found unimportant in light of transformed dreams. For I think there is some of Mr. Banks in all of us- that rushes past important moments, that ignores a plea for care, for a listening ear, all in pursuit of other things that we see as dreams. I pray that the shining eyes of our little girls and boys onstage- your children, your family, your friends, are the catalyst that Mary Poppins was to Mr. Banks. That the magic of rooftop-dancing and jumping through chalk pavement pictures might draw us to put down our phones and join in the laughter and smiles that are our families and community. May they never be unimportant. May our everyday dreams include them.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders: make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. -Colossians 4:5-6

Nepal: January 19th

19 Jan 18
En route Kathmandu to Istanbul to Home

We have finally taken off from Kathmandu after sitting at the gate for an extra two hours. One last (hopefully last!) frustration at Nepalese transportation- though this seemed to be a problem with Indian airspace. It’s amazing how quickly frustration can be turned to joy- as we taxiied to takeoff, we got one last glimpse of the Boudha Stupa, where we spent so much of our time. As we rose above the smog, there again are the Himalayas, at my eye level. It again reminds me of childhood years spent staring out the school bus window, marveling at the intricacies of nature, looking as deep into the woods at the landforms, swamps, and laurel groves as they flashed by. These mountains are so very large, they do not flash by, rather, I am allowed a few minutes to marvel at the intricacies and beauty of each one.

How blessed am I to see these in my lifetime, the beautiful sculptures, frosted with snow, a reminder of the gift God gave us in Creation. To have the means to travel here, to be one to listen to the stories of these women, to come away with an expanded view of this world, of humanity, in all of its beauty and pain, problems and gifts. And this knowledge and experience comes with a challenge- to live in harmony with this Creation- to love and respect the environment in which we live, so these majestic mountains may remain snowtopped. To be aware of the pain in this world, to pray for those experiencing such and give thanks for the gifts in my life. To listen and seek to understand the stories of those around me. I am thankful for this experience and pray for all those I have met along the way.

Nepal: January 18th

18 Jan 18

Our breakfast discussion:

David shared insights and we discussed our own reflections on not being defined by possessions, but seeing each material that passes through our hands as a precious material from the Earth. Environment and conservation: we are called to embody the example of how to live. We have seen on this trip, vast amounts of litter along the roads, especially on the banks of rivers. And of course we see in our society at home, the manner in which we embrace all things disposable. Seeing such large amounts of trash everywhere we went on this trip reminds me again that something that is disposed of in our household and our sight certainly does not mean it is in any way returned to how it was before it came to us, but rather becomes yet another unusable item in the world.

The bus breakdown yesterday:
Sarala told us how other passengers kept confronting the drivers and saying “we can wait more, but what about our guests?” it was heartwarming to hear how they saw us as guests and wanted us to have a pleasant time in Nepal.

Visit to Entertainment Sector:
Sarala says this part of town is active at night, but not in a good way. We visited a building within the sector of the city and met with several women there. This is a resource center connected with Shakti Samuha that helps women exit the entertainment industry. It was established in 2011 to work with girls and women here and help them find jobs outside of this realm, for the entertainment industry itself feed trafficking through its dance bars, massage parlors, and other services. The goal of this center is to provide an introduction to these women of their rights and empowerment.

From my understanding of the conversation, these are some of the people who work here:
A counselor to work with the women who come here.
A beautician, who helps teach them what true beauty is and can also train them as beauticians.
An outreach worker, who visits the sector at night to evaluate the situation and coordinate with other organizations and the police.
There is a library here with stories of trafficking survivors and empowerment material. Women are also able to receive some nonformal education here.

The house was very clean and they were so welcoming to us. And of course they served us milk tea=) This is a place that does receive funds from NCP, especially for microloans so that women can start their own businesses in order to get out of the entertainment industry. They say that “NCP” is a common term around here! There is one woman who knits items to sell. Another woman first tried to start a spicy noodle business, but when that didn’t generate enough income to support her, she started pig farming. She is now making enough to support herself and is no longer working in the entertainment industry.

women who have received microloans to find work outside the entertainment sector

During the afternoon, we met together once again at the headquarters of Shakti Samuha to discuss our trip, ask further questions, and so that David could discuss with the leaders of Shakti, specifics of how NCP can help their organization between now and when a group will come here again. See, this is how NCP does its business- with the people, among the people, and working with them to create a community between us the giver and the recipient of the gifts they receive- it’s inspiring to see the empowerment that takes place.

journal and milk tea
leaders of Shakti Samuha, David, and Sarala

After a last dinner at our favorite restaurant, a few of us took a walk in the square around the Boudha Stupa to buy last-minute gifts and souvenirs and make use of any last rupees. As we headed back to our guesthouse, Sarala stopped us at one of the candlelighting stands: “Let us light candles together and pray for solidarity for the women affected by sex trafficking and all who work that it will no longer exist.” It was special to pray together for this on our last night in the city. I continue to pray that Shakti’s work will someday be finished in Nepal and in all countries on this Earth. May God be with all affected and with all who fight it.

lighting candles and praying for peace

Nepal: January 17th

17 Jan 18
Chitwan to Kathmandu

We left Chitwan this morning at 8:00. It’s 5:00 now and we are stranded by the road, 1.5 hours from Kathmandu by a broken gear on our bus.

The first stop we made for this problem was impressive- they had parts off the bottom of the bus and in a shop within a few minutes of stopping. Apparently this was a needed repair but did not solve the problem because we soon stopped again due to loud banging noises from under the bus. This time, they took off the universal joint to find several missing teeth. We are currently waiting for a new bus to come from Kathmandu to take us the rest of the way.

men of the group waiting for our rescue bus

I just finished reading Hidden Figures and I hadn’t realized when I packed the book, the significance and connection it bears to this trip in themes of women’s empowerment. It leads me to back to the through of parallels. Women in so many nations, racial disparity in so many places. It’s human nature, it seems, to attempt to come out on top,and any difference is one we can identify as an excuse to do so. I like to think human nature is good and works for good of all, yet these patterns plague the world again and again.

Nepal: January 16th

16 Jan 18
Chitwan National Park: Safari

We boarded dugout canoes at 8:00 a.m. The river was misty. We saw many birds, especially ducks. We stopped for a ten-minute break in a dried mud flat, where we were able to see many varieties of animal prints.

Before boarding our boats: thanks to Claudia for snapping this!
elephant print, Paul print

We reached our designated shore around 11:00 a.m. Before setting off walking, our guide instructed us in how to ward off each kind of dangerous animal.

cruising through the misty morning
cormorant drying his wings
peacock in a tree

Elephant: run faster than 30 km/h- you must run at least 31 km/h!
Rhino: act like a cartoon! Hide behind a tree and walk around the trunk if you need to to stay on the opposite side of the rhino. Or you can climb 7 ft. or higher- you pick.
Sloth bear: stand close together in a big group and start yelling to confuse it!
Tiger: not much. Just hope it doesn’t start crouching and wiggling its hindquarters like it’s about to pounce. If it does, try backing slowly away while keeping eye contact. Luckily, these are nocturnal.

girl meets tiger.

Just as we set off, the sun came out for the rest of the day. When we reached the first fork, we encountered a tree full of monkeys. After watching, our group split, so our larger group would be less likely to startle wildlife. Each group was led and followed by a guide with a large stick. We walked on a road through the grasslands until we encountered a ranger on patrol, riding an elephant. Though we didn’t see anything besides peacocks, we stopped for a packed lunch at a park station and ate in the raised lookout there. Hardboiled egg, vegetable patty, fruit, juice, and oreos. After we resumed our walk, we entered the woods. We never saw any large animals besides deer and we certainly never encountered or put into practice the more dangerous animals the guides were obligated to warn us about, but we did see evidence of them: plenty of tiger tracks, and holes that were dug by sloth bears in order to find and eat termites.

That evening, we were able to arrange an impromptu meeting with the owner of the Chitwan Gaida Lodge. It turns out, he is a ornithologist and very much into conservation. He was able to tell us some of the history of the Chitwan National Park and the troubles with poaching within the park and how they’ve been able to combat this.

Nepal: January 15th

15 Jan 18
Pokhara to Chitwan

Today, we traveled by bus approximately six hours to Chitwan, where we piled into an open vehicle (“try not to look like a tourist!) and were delivered to the Chitwan Gaida Lodge. (which means “Rhino Lodge”) There, Sarala asked for a snack for us, which turned out to be cauliflower soup, then fries, then friend veggie balls (for lack of anything else to call them). And of course- milk tea! They took us on a sunset walk by the river and through some of the park. We saw crocodiles, a rhino in the river, and came out by the elephant pens. Sarala purchased some spicy noodle during the walk and shared it with some of us. After returning, they transported us to Sauhaha’s Cultural Center for a dance show.

“try not to look like a tourist”
bathing rhino

Chitwan sunset

This is not what I was expecting on this trip, but of course I’m always up for a dance recital! We were treated to several cultural dances and were invited to participate in a dance at the end. Sarala wanted Paul and I to join, but of course she only got me onstage. Nevertheless, it was lovely to share a dance with her!

finale dance with Sarala!

Nepal: January 14th

14 Jan 18
Dhampus to Pokhara

Today was full- when I think about it, I should be overwhelmed and exhausted by all that we did, but somehow it seemed a natural pace. A few of us woke to see the sunrise, but unfortunately the Annapurnas were obscured by clouds. I am glad they were out for last night’s sunset- seeing the range from Dhampus was alone worth the trip! The beauty of the mountains against the sky gave the impression of a theatrical backdrop- it was hard to believe it was real. Our elevation was one mile but the Annapurnas are in the range of five miles!I imagine that we weren’t even that close even though they seemed so.


After a delicious breakfast of eggs, porridge, hash browns, and Tibetan bread, we had a quite a bit of confusion getting down the mountain. Some were hiking halfway, some riding, and some shopping beforehand. In this, one group member got left at the top of the mountain. White the van went back up to find her, the rest of us took a leisurely stroll down the mountain road. Though dusty, it was nice to see the countryside at a slower pace. The botanists held us up even more, exclaiming and theorizing over various plants, crops, and flowers. We we finally picked up, squeezed back into the vehicle, and delivered back to our hotel in Pokhara.

Goat buddy along the road.
Mustard crop: grown for oil.
our botanist/farmer contingent, providing insight along the way.

“Though I’m not sure what age would be appropriate for this trip’s subject and content, I wish there were young girls on this trip at least to see Sarala being a boss. What a role model to look up to!” -Paul

We went from the hotel to the Riverside School. While we met with the leaders, I watched out the window behind me from time to time. I saw two boys tussling with a box of pencils and wonder where the box came from and what it meant to them. I watched boy running behind a dump truck heading for the quarry, then caught on and hung off the back for a ride- I wondered if this was fun or if he was hoping for pocket money by helping to load it. I also shared a smile with a little girl standing in the doorway. She was standing in the doorway, in a nearly perfect first position (ballet) with her hands on her hips. She smiled at me and gave a small plie. It was a reminder that she could be one of my girls. I could teach her ballet steps and she would smile as she twirled. At the heart, we are created the same, created to dance.

Riverside School: classroom

The Riverside School provides informal education for children in the neighborhood to prepare them for formal schooling. It was previously funded by an outside group, now it is funded by the government, but that funding ends in April. It takes $500/month to continue the mission of the school, but they are not sure from where that will come after April. This $500 funds three staff, supplies, and lunch for the students. Some children bring younger siblings. These children are usually migrants. If not in a school setting, these children will work, filling trucks in the quarry. They can be lured by truck drivers into trafficking situations. Many parents in the neighborhood use alcohol and quarrel amongst themselves- children then run away and risk trafficking. At the Riverside School, children are educated on risks of trafficking, since the school is a collaborator with Shakti Samuha

We walked through the quarry as we left, trying not to get in the way of men carrying loads of sand and river stones by straps on their heads, trying not to gawk at people going about their jobs, their everyday work. These workers carried loads of 160 lbs., spent the days sorting rocks according to size, all for $1.00/day. Paul and I wondered why it’s not more mechanized in this era. We know it would simply deplete the riverbed, but in this day and age, the method of work we saw seemed primitive.

the quarry

We went next to WSDO, where we saw women spinning, dyeing, weaving, and sewing. It was wonderful, but such a contrast to the quarry. Function versus dysfunction, fair versus unfair.

WSDO is a Fair Trade workplace for women who are disabled, abused, single mothers, previous trafficked, or other factors that make it difficult for them to find other work. There are currently 568 ladies working here, spinning, dyeing, weaving, or sewing. 80% of the work they create is sent internationally to be sold. Women here earn a fixed salary, which it based on the number of pieces they create. We found them very welcoming and were excited to watch them at work, weaving and sewing. (I admit we hadn’t had lunchtime and it was nearing supper-hour by that time, so we tried our best to enjoy ourselves even if we were slightly hangry by that point)

freshly-dyed yarn drying, I love this since Paul picked out a red handbag for me from WSDO!
Yarn: this is the side of the room of chemically-dyed yarn. The other side of the room stores the naturally-dyed yarns.
Using a backstrap loom.

Nepal: January 13th

13 Jan 18
Pokhara to Dhampus

This morning before we left the hotel, we had a lovely conversation with Razana, a hotel worker. She has worked in the hotel industry for eight years, but this hotel only thirteen days. She told us that her sister lives in Connecticut and is being adopted there. She is in college, but comes back to Nepal for service projects. Razana wants to visit her in the U.S., but is awaiting a visa. “I want to visit once in my life!” She told us that Americans are so nice, that when Germans and French come to the hotel, the workers are afraid to say “hi” to their guests. “But you, we have the same heart!”

I found it so refreshing that as I view with sadness, so many hateful posts on social media directed toward foreigners visiting and immigrating to the U.S., that this disdainful view has not made it to at least all the foreigners in the world. I am glad that to some at least, we are seen as kind and welcoming- let’s keep it that way.

Food we love here:
Mo mo!
Milk tea
Naan (though it’s not so common that everybody serves it)
Tibetan bread (explanation later)
Grilled tomato

Each time we arrive to a new place, we are greeted with “namaste” and colorful scarves. We have so many scarves!

This morning, we visited an emergency shelter home in Pokhara, which offers a home to girls under the age of 18. Here, girls stay anywhere from one day to six months and are those who are either without guardian care or have been removed from risky home situations. The six month time in the home makes it difficult for workers to effectively help and equip young women to face issues in their lives, so they are looking to change the facility to a long-term shelter.

The shelter, until recently, sent their girls to government schools. Now they send them to private schools after a harassment issue took place within the government schools.

The Nepalese government does have a branch to look after child welfare, but will use an organization such as Shakti Samuha to carry out the mission.

What percentage of these girls come here from domestic issues versus commercial?
Most here in this home are domestic. Domestic issues are a huge risk factor to push girls into the commercial sector and traffickers.

Is there a way to have the girls receive their education right here in the home?
If we had teachers, that would be wonderful!

This visit truly expanded my view on the mission and work of Shakti Samuha. Before our visit to this home, I suppose I was under the impression that Shakti mainly worked with women who had been formerly trafficked and raise awareness about the presence of trafficking. I wondered briefly what, if anything, they did to fight trafficking before it ever happened, and here was my answer. These were not girls who had necessarily been trafficked, but they were at risk of being trafficked in the future. And Shakti Samuha was working- in their amazing networking with so many other organizations and the government too- to help provide a better environment and lifestyle for these girls so they would never be pushed to seek foreign employment and find themselves trafficked. I am humbled and impressed by all they are able to do within this country.

Our second half of the day was devoted to getting to Dhampus, a mountain town from which we would be within spectacular view of the Annapurna mountain range. From what I gathered, our original plan was to get to the bus park and catch a bus up the mountain, which would drop those in our group who wanted to hike halfway up. However, we missed our bus. Sarala negotiated with some other drivers at the bus park- one who was driving a land rover/jeep vehicle. We had taken two such vehicles on our day trip to Sindupolchuk, so figured that would work- we had taken two for our group. Turns out, we were to take one this time! Our next half-hour was spent “sardining,” figuring the best way to fit our group of one dozen people into one vehicle- an adventure that literally “brings you closer together!”

Luckily, our sardine ride was not long and half our group was dropped off by the trail halfway up the mountain. Turns out the trail was more like a continuous set of stairs- I have a new respect for the power of gravity! The views, though……were breathtaking. And the view of the Annapurna mountain range when we reached the top was alone worth the entire trip!

We found our hotel at the top of the mountain and while we made ourselves at home, David & Sarala ordered our dinner. A group of us took a hike to the ridgeline while dinner cooked to watch the sunset over the mountains. We had a spectacular view of both sides: the sun shining on the Annapurnas on one, and the sun setting over the valley on the other.

Sunset greetings from some locals.
Our first view of the Annapurna range- that sharp peak behind us is commonly known as “Fishtail” and has never been scaled because of its sacred status.
Every dancer needs a jumping photo when they travel someplace cool!
Spectacular sunset over the Annapurnas.

Nepal: January 12th

12 Jan 18
Kathmandu to Pokhara

Today, we are headed to Pokhara. We were scheduled to do this yesterday, but decided to stay in Kathmandu an extra day after our late night before. Our activities yesterday were lovely and I’m so glad we got to visit the Shakti Samuha Safe House. To get to Pokhara, we rode a public transit bus both way. It will be lovely to find cleaner air- at least, we are hoping it will be so in Pokhara.

Paul: “what do you call it when you finish your Nepalese dinner?”
Alaina: “no mo mo mo!”

restaurant at our lunch stop

1:30 p.m. and we are in crawling traffic on a mountain road. We stopped for a delightful lunch of rice and noodles. Nepalese food is much like Indian and it’s delicious!

The car horns are so much cooler than ours!

We arrived in Pokhara after ten hours on the road and were excited to find that the air is indeed cleaner! We checked into our hotel, and then took a walk to the lake to explore the city and find dinner. This was the evening that Jay, our delightful biology professor member on the trip, held true to his wish for fresh vegetables and plan to get them. See, as we walked the streets in Kathmandu and in Pokhara, vendors offered the freshest-looking vegetables for sale. Wanting some but having no kitchen of our own to prepare them, Jay simply purchased some, gave them to the restaurant cooks, and asked that they be steamed. We enjoyed steamed vegetables with our noodles that evening!

Coming into this trip, I was curious to observe the difference in “connectedness” of the world, compared to my last trip in 2010. Then, I had next to no communication with anybody back home for the entirety of the trip. The only time I got to check email or post on social media was at a little internet hut where we paid for 30 minutes of time to use a computer and internet. Of course, this was also back when smartphones had only just come into existence. I did not yet have one and neither did most people I knew. Departing for Nepal, I had a smartphone along with me, but I did not know how often I would be able to connect to wireless internet over the course of our trip. I was surprised to find that I actually had access to wifi nearly everywhere we stayed. I have no profound conclusion to this, it’s just an observation and small marvel to find that communication in the world has come this far in eight years.
I think though, to a conversation I had with a fellow teacher a few years ago about the rate of change in cultural norms among high school students in the past decade or so. When we were in high school, texting was only just making its debut, you were cool if you had a flip phone, and social media was maybe something a few people were on. I wonder if ever in history has the way we communicate changed so much in such a short period of time- and will it continue to change at such a rate, or was this a revolution? This revolution is what I feel I see in my connectedness to home now, compared to 2010.

Nepal: January 11th

11 Jan 18

This is an extra, unexpected day in Kathmandu- David decided after arriving back in the city so late last night and not able to find dinner at that hour, that it would be wise to relax for a day before traveling. An unexpected day with no agenda was rather exciting, and David had several ideas on ways to make use of our time. (more ideas than we had time for, actually)

We began by taking a tour of the monastery associated with the Shechem Guest Home- a friendly monk showed us around the building and patiently explained the rituals and principles of the monastery.

prayer wheels at the Shechem monastery

The monk talked about many aspects of life in the monastery; from the process by which to boys come to study here (must be a wish of both the boy and the parents) to the projects that take place- we toured the place where they make incense and the art studio. One thing that especially stuck out to me was his discussion of body, mind, and soul and seeking unity between them. This is what they refer to as enlightenment and life is much easier when you can achieve unity between them. This reminds me of studying ballet- especially when dance is done so as an offering to the Lord. The physical component is the most obvious, but it also takes commitment and focus to grow and improve as a dancer. That could be all you need to gain technique, but the aspect of spirit, dancing for a higher purpose- to give back to the God who gave you that gift, brings a new depth to dancing

After our monastery visit and lunch, we got for a visit to the Shakti Samuha Safe House in Kathmandu. We rode public transportation to get there, which was an adventure! When we

photo courtesy of Nina: selfie on the public transit bus!

arrived, we were ushered into an upstairs room and served milk tea. I was impressed by the team that was there in the home: a coordination, case manager, psychosocial counselor, and a home counselor.

“We try to protect from problems, but sometimes they happen anyway. In this case, we try to build them up stronger than before.”

The mission of the Safe House:

  1. Missing case/rescue
  2. Repatriation
  3. Rehabilitation
  4. Reintegration
  5. Follow-up (see if they want to come work for the Shakti campaign because they are the warriors.)

Women stay in this home for 6-12 months. This is the first step when they return from trafficking in the effort to reintegrate them to life in Nepal. Here, they receive counseling, health services, and entertainment as well to make life integration as “normal” as possible.

young boy at the Shakti Samuha safe house: he took a liking to the men in our group!

After 6-12 months, women are transferred to a Halfway Home. They usually spend another 6-12 months here, learning life skills. What these life skills might be depend on the individual- their needs and their interests. Some may receive education- they will place women in classes and schools based on their interests and skills.

The obstacles they face are “infinite.” First: their budget. Second: collaborative operations- Shakti works with governments, families, and many more- all in efforts to rescue and rehabilitate women and battle trafficking. Third: the stigma, the perception of survivors by society.

We asked how the Shakti Samuha workers receive their training. They said they learn to do what they do through experiences in their lives- studying, doing, and experience.

How many enter this program every year?
There are no fixed numbers, but 2004-present, 660 women have passed through this home. There were approximately 69 in 2017. Only 9 were actually survivors of external trafficking. (outside Nepal) There are four home like this in Nepal. The youngest girl to enter this home was eight years old. The oldest was fifty. Normally, they are teenage through early thirties.

David then asked Charimaya if she would share some of her personal story, and she shared much more than that! Charimaya is one of the original founder of Shakti Samuha- she was also the first woman in Nepal to prosecute her trafficker. (a case which she won) I must note that throughout these meetings, I was never aware of which women in the room were formerly-trafficked women and who were only workers for Shakti Samuha. I very much respect that they were never introduced as such- it reflected their commitment to viewing these women as survivors rather than victims and not allowing their past to define the person they are today.