When American parents get the note from school that someone in the class has lice, a bit of panic sets in. All sheets, towels, pillows, and even stuffed animals get sent for cleaning. And then the process of shampooing and picking out nits begins.
When I arrived at the volunteer house in Pokhara, Nepal, one of the volunteers warned me that all the children had lice. I cringed at the idea, and then asked what to do about it. I was told to wear my hair up. But that didn't really answer the question - what I needed to know is what were we doing for the children? The answer at the time was "nothing", but my new friend Grace and I set out to plan a "lice day". Quite a challenge with 54 children in a country where electricity is limited and the children are responsible for their own wash and care.
Grace and I set out throughout the town to buy lice shampoo and combs. We were continually told that there "are no lice in Nepal" so finding the supplies was not easy. But we went to every pharmacy that we could find and bought ALL of the small bottles of lice shampoo and the lice combs we could find. Then we set Sunday as the day to tackle this task.
We started the day by collecting all the sheets and towels from the children. These are all usually hand washed, but we took them to a laundry mat for care. Electricity is a scarce resource so our timing had to be perfect if we were going to be able to get all the sheets and towels washed and dried during the limited period when power was available.
At the same time, we started the children in an assembly line so that every child could get washed and combed while the laundry was being done. It was quite a project! But we got lots of help from the other volunteers. Unlike the lice outbreaks that I have heard about in the US, these children had been living with the critters so we were passed the nit-stage. It was a lot of work!
When we put the children to bed that night, they were so grateful! For the first time in a long time, their little heads didn't itch. The hugs were extra tight that evening, and I was glad that I had come to Nepal.
I arrived at the airport early for my flight. This is the way I prefer to travel - not rushing through, cursing about security lines, and praying that I have time to get to the bathroom before the gate closes.
I decided to check in outside with a Sky Cap. I gave him my passport and he looked for my reservation. At first, he could not find it (momentary panic!) and then he asked if I had a "hypen" in my name. I asked "do you mean an apostrophe?" He said "yes". I explained to him that although the Federal government could handle an apostrophe in my name, Delta cannot. So he found my name with the "o" and "b" blended, and got me checked in.
I made it through security and am now in the Deta Sky Club, one of the few perks left for Gold Medallion members (thank you, DTF!). As I enjoy a Sweetwater 420, I contemplate that sad apostrophe. It's not that unusual - we use them in contractions! I once had a subscription to National Geographic magazine and realized that the last name on my address label was "OapostropheB".
So I toast to those with symbols in our names. May technology one day catch up!
Nothing like waiting until the last minute to get everything ready to go. I am not normally like this. I tend to have my bags packed days before I leave. But this trip has proven to be harder to prepare for than I anticipated. So it is 8:30 pm, and my sister is picking me up at 10 am tomorrow, and I still have much to do before I leave for seven weeks.
Many people have been surprised when I told them that I have planned a trip for seven weeks. I didn't win the lottery, do no have an overly generous employer (well, maybe I do since I work for me!), and I don't have staff to back me up while I am gone. But you only turn 50 once, and there are still so many places that I want to go!
This trip planning started over a year ago. My older sister and I are what are considered "Irish twins" - we were born within a year of each other. In our case, we were actually born in the same calendar year - she was born in January and I was born in December. When we turned 40, we celebrated the milestone with a trip to Antarctica. It was a great trip so we decided that we would do something big for 50.
We go the idea that we would go "Around the World". Each of us had read stories about people who had done such a trip, so we settled on the idea, but never really did much about it.
In January, 2016, my sister started doing the research for our trip. She's a professor and very organized so I let her put the big picture together. It's fair to say that she quickly experienced sticker shock. Going around the world is bloody expensive! And really involves either a significant commitment of time or the desire to spend a lot of time moving from place to place. We started to look into other ideas.
Since I work for myself, I wanted to spend the whole summer on this trip. My sister decided that she really only had a month available to travel. So we decided that I would do some independent traveling on the front end and the back end, but we would meet in Indonesia and then go to Central Australia together. It felt like a plan was coming together.
Since we were looking at traveling to Australia, I considered going to New Zealand at the start of the trip. But our summer is New Zealand's winter, which would mean that I would have to pack for multiple seasons. Not easy when you are trying to travel light.
The next option was Thailand. I have been to Vietnam and Cambodia, but I have not seen Thailand. A friend was initially considering joining me for this part of the trip, but we definitely had different ideas about how to do this portion of the trip. She wanted a tour and I wanted to wing it. And as our planning progressed, I realized that family issues were going to make her travel difficult, so I decided to go it alone.
I really don't mind traveling by myself. The first time I ever went abroad was to Ireland for one week by myself. Since that trip, I have traveled by myself to Costa Rica, Vietnam, Cambodia, and done a semester abroad with lots of solo trips mixed it. I find that being by myself often makes it easier to meet locals.
When my job was eliminated in 2013, I took advantage of a severance period and took on international volunteer trips in Ecuador, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. These turned out to be amazing experiences where I had the chance to learn about the local culture and meet people from all over the world. I have learned that international volunteering is a great way to travel solo.
With this in mind, I reached out to the agency with which I have volunteered before - IVHQ out of New Zealand - and found a volunteer project in Chiang Rai on the northern border of Thailand. I have a few days in Thailand before I start volunteering so I will spend 2 days in Bangkok before I fly north. My volunteer project will last a week, and then I have five unplanned days in Thailand before I head to my next location.
I will meet my sister in Jakarta, Indonesia. She is in charge of this part of the trip so I don't really know what we have planned. It looks like we have 2 1/2 weeks to get from Jakarta to Bali, with lots of places to see along the way.
When we leave Indonesia, we will head to Central Australia. My sister was an expat in Australia, and saw much of the country. But she never made it to Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock). We will spend some time in Alice Springs and traveling through Australia's Northern Territory.
When we leave Australia, my sister heads home and I will head to Zambia for another volunteer project. Why Zambia? Why not? I have heard that Victoria Falls, which is near Livingstone, the town in which I will volunteer, is a spectacular site. So I will spend a week volunteering and then a few days in Victoria Falls before heading home.
With travel time, I will be gone for seven weeks. It's a long trip, but I cannot wait! And, as an aside, because of how my flights work out, I will be flying "Around the World"!
Happy 50th birthday to me!