Welcome to dilapidation

nc (22 of 27) nc (21 of 27) nc (10 of 27) nc (25 of 27) nc (9 of 27) nc (5 of 6) nc (16 of 27) nc (24 of 27)   Taken in Lenoir, NC just before Christmas.  We had plans to return to these homes and take staged photos.  We went back two days later and nothing was left but dirt.


Black Boots

When I walk, I can feel the space between the sole and the heel crack grudgingly.   Air passes where it shouldn’t and pulls me off balance. Sometimes when I don’t pick up my feet high enough the front gets caught and trips me up. Walking with two broken boots presents this off-kilter vibe providing a perfect feeling of comfortable inadequacy. I know they don’t do their job, but I need them. They’ve sheltered my flat and unkempt feet from many a Bogota rain shower. They’ve dealt with running after children five days a week. They’ve been painted, stepped on, bike ridden, used as cleats. They’re black hosting tiny, supposedly stylish yet unnoticeable, holes on each side. I bought them right before coming to Bogota, and I feel like they’re innately part of my journey here. Their ware and look resemble the city’s chaotic character I’ve become accustomed to. It’s hard to let go of things you attach yourself too. Things you take for granted. Things that support you unknowingly.   But when water seeps into your shoes a mile before you reach home, or when one sole completely loses itself to its lifeline, I guess it’s time to retire my dependency and find another match. If anyone knows of a good brand, I’ll take recommendations.

The black boots once took me to Villa de Leyva 2 (1 of 1)8 (1 of 1)3 (1 of 1) 5 (1 of 1)7 (1 of 1) 10 (1 of 1) ph //zelevphoto



I adore Colombia.  I’ve never been in a place where I’ve felt such opposites.  Comfortable and uncomfortable. Hot and cold. Same and different. Alive and dead.  It’s these mix of feelings that keep me intrigued.  I went home for Christmas and wrote this:

Damn, I’ve missed you.  That’s what I feel like saying to a lot of people.  I’m at home for Christmas, and, so far, it’s been a lovely mix of physical affection and talks with mom.

If anyone has ever traveled and worked abroad and sunk yourself into another culture, you know how difficult life can be with language and cultural barriers.  While Colombia, especially the area I live in, is overtly Americanized, I still feel left out.
It’s been a year and a half in a Spanish speaking environment, and I continue to struggle with getting my point across and having a successful and meaningful conversation.  I’ve come to appreciate quality conversations all the more.  I’ve realized the value of friendship and love and being able to convey those feelings and emotions more than ever.
Relationships are incredibly special.  Being able to share a thought with someone and have them take it in and respond is a beautiful thing that sparks endless possibilities and ideas. In Colombia, I don’t have so many of those conversations, and I miss that.
I’m trying to be patient and to actively learn and earn my place in Colombian society. To feel like I deserve to be part of their history and their conversations.  A lot of not knowing is exceptionally exciting, and I only have to get over my temporary frustrations.
I will continue to study and observe and to be thankful for my ability to communicate, but, now, I have such an appreciation for those nice long talks you have over dinner with friends or those random encounters in super markets (aka Trader Joe’s wine Saturdays).
I still feel pretty much the same, but my Colombian community continues to grow, and I like where it’s going.  I have a lot of exciting projects coming up with new and old friends and am going to enjoy this Latino ride and all the talks and walks it provides for a bit longer. Thanks Colombia.
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In Choachi, I met a few cool people, learned about birds and saw the biggest waterfall in Colombia, La Chorrera.  It was incredibly refreshing to step outside of the city. Bogota has the power to suck you in and devour your energy, but after this weekend, I plan on escaping more often.  I can’t recommend this trip or the tour operator Bogota and Beyond enough.  They provided a lovely adventure that was well worth the price.



In December I returned to a place I used to call my center, Lenoir.  It’s where my family is and has been for hundreds of years.  This time, I found it to be full of heartache and misplaced purpose.  I have since returned to Bogota, but being home changed me.  I feel everything now.  In the past, my emotions were always behind my actions, after thoughts that casually changed with time.  Now, I can’t get rid of them.  They stick to me like dried mud. Here’s to 2015 and feeling it all

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ph// LL

3 month mark

I feel about six emotions at once here.  Here is Colombia.  I left Madrid as June was ending, rested a few weeks in North Carolina, and, then, made the move south in July.  Two months have passed and everything keeps going.  The move was easy.  I had a few friends. I had a previous relationship.  It’s a growing country.  The jobs seemed easy to find. It’s great to look at, and I sort of fell in love with it all when I first visited in April.  The move made sense.  I had nothing keeping me at home and was still craving independence and difference.

At home, I missed Spanish.  Understanding everything around me felt foreign, and I didn’t like everything I was hearing.  I missed my family and was happy to spend time with them, but other things were happening I didn’t like.  I was applying to jobs, probably jobs I wasn’t qualified for, but receiving relatively little feedback. My friends were spread out across the country.  Everything was expensive.  I wasn’t prepared for the stagnant conversations and all of the financial stress that seemed to occupy most people.

I especially knew I wanted to leave when I heard gun shots outside of my grandmother’s house.  They seemed quite close, so I peeked out the window and saw the neighbor shooting outside.  I went outside to ask him what he was shooting, and he replied, “These darn cats.  They’re everywhere.  I don’t know where they’re coming from, but I’m gonna stay out here until I get erry ‘ last one of em’.”  It wasn’t a monumental moment or anything that grave, but I knew I didn’t want to stay in Lenoir, my home town, and I had zero money with little prospects to encourage a transition to another part of the country.

I already had a starting job in Colombia working at an antique shop taking pictures and updating the website inventory.  This would pay for me well over two months.  With this time I could decide if I wanted to make a more permanent move.  Of course, I would have to probably find a Colombian to marry or weasel my way into an American company if I wanted to stay over 90 days as my tourist visa would expire.

I found a Colombian to marry.  Nico, whom I had been dating in Madrid, decided I’d do, so we went to a notary and made it official.  I can’t say I’ve ever put a lot of thought to marriage, but when you do it as a formality; you start to see how seriously everyone else takes it.  Like when we told Nico’s mom, she went a bit loca.  Imagine an Italian accent, “Seriously? You’re married? Really married? Not a living union? But seriously married? Like matrimony?” yes. “Oh dear god, I need to breathe.  We have to get the finca (farm) ready.  We have to have a party and announce it to everyone.  You can invite your friends.  Oh, how about we do it in December for the holidays.  I’ll invite the family.  We can do a small ceremony in the chapel.”   Then, a week or so later, I told my mom.  All she really said was, “Do you realize what you’ve done.” No.  I told an ex.  He replied, “You’re my first lover to get married. Congratulations.”

So after the marriage was official, there was the process of getting a Colombian I.D. which was basically a 200 dollar waiting process.  After receiving the marriage certificate, we waited from 7 AM to 2 PM in immigration, and I picked up the ID a week later. It was a simple solution to me staying in a country I am starting to really appreciate and call home.

Even before I had gotten my I.D., I had accepted a job in a school as an English assistant.  I wasn’t thrilled about the job as I preferably don’t want to go into teaching, but I felt overtly fortunate to have been offered such a good opportunity so quickly with a lot of paid time off.

So I took it, and I’m at Campoalegre.  A school made for dreams.  It’s located on a farm about an hour outside of the city.  They offer an alternative form of education which focuses on outdoor education and the arts.  It’s been going very well, and my co-workers are exceptionally welcoming and helpful.  I work with the preschool and art department and the kids are so freaking cute and affectionate.  I get the best hugs every single day.

We’ll see how the rest plays out.  Aside from the terrible public transportation system and the traffic, Bogota is an excellent place to live in.  The food scene is incredible, and there is always something going on.  There’s been a jazz festival, a rock festival and this week there will be a hip hop festival.  I have two friends from college coming in October, and I can’t wait to show them my new home.

[[fotos:Dani A. Nico V. Lauren L.]]

Losing Track

j8 IMG_8330   IMG_8371 IMG_8379   IMG_8356 IMG_8439 IMG_8366   I’ve spent a few weekends hiking, and the hikes are incredible.  On the last hike we saw the Yelmo at La Pedriza.   It’s located in the Guadaramma Mountains just outside of Madrid and seemed like rock climber haven.  The gigantic rock formations burst from level ground in all directions.  It’s a granite mass that makes for an excellent adult playground.  I was jumping over the rocks, pulling my self up on to boulders, and descending between small cracks.  All smiles and laughter until… Javi (purple shirt) and I decided to go take some quick pictures a few formations from the group.  We were having fun gliding over the smaller hills and maybe spent about 15 minutes exploring.  When we returned, no one was there.  The only thing around was Javi’s pack he had left.  It was a group of about 60, so I wasn’t worried they would miss us, I just thought we could run and catch up to them with out a problem. We headed down the mountain as fast as we could certain we would find them soon. Then I get a text from another friend, Rob, asking us where we are.  I sent him our location, and  he said they were headed down a different way.  We plan to meet at the bottom where we had gotten lunch earlier that day.  Javi and I make it down in about 45 minutes. We grab a beer and wait.  An hour passes by.  We talk about music and the illuminati.   Another hour passes by. We watch Spanish boys hit each other, and by this time three hours have passed since we had reached the bottom.  We don’t have cell phone service, and the bus driver can’t get in contact with the group either.  How can 50 + people not be seen coming from a barely covered mountain? At about 9 PM, a car comes by and one of the guides gets out, and without a word, he goes on to the bus.  We follow suite.  We start driving back to Madrid, and I’m thinking have they already gone back on a different bus? Had they been looking for us this entire time?   Seems unlikely as we said we had reached the bottom, but for over 20 minutes we rode on this bus. Finally, we make sense of it.  The rest of the group had gotten lost.  For over three hours they had been walking in the complete wrong direction.  They had walked so far, they were in another town.  Not sure how that happened, because you can see the bottom of the mountain from the top with a clear path.  But, nevertheless, the path was averted and over 50 people were lost in the woods.  All were sunburnt, hungry and some upset.  It was a bizarre vibe, but the hike was still great, and I ended up getting to know someone a bit better.  Hiking in Madrid is still one of the best things I’ve stumbled upon, and I’m sure future hikes will be just as adventurous sans getting lost.

Semana Santa


Making decisions is a skill.  Being able to make yourself vulnerable to a position or state isn’t easy.  As far as decision making goes, I am quite spontaneous.  I let my emotions carry me.  Which, in the end, I cannot say I wasn’t honest with myself, because, for me, spontaneity immediately places you in front of your current desires. It, more often than not, makes me happy.  But I’ve only lived a short life, we’ll see how it works out in the long run.

Those thoughts aside, the last month has gone by quickly.  School days have become blurs of children who scream, laugh, throw paper, complain, give compliments, insult each other.  You can imagine. It’s exhausting, but fun and lively too.  Weekends are full of traveling and exploring and drinking and eating.
On Monday, I returned from at ten day trip to Colombia. It was our Easter break, so I took advantage of it and went to see a a good friend, Nico.  I found a moderately priced flight and decided I would spend my free time on a new continent with someone I really liked.  There are not enough positive adjectives for Colombia.  From the sweet arequipe to the warmth of the Colombian people, the country was overtly welcoming. And having Nico there made it even more special.

I landed in Bogota and spent the night there.  The next day, Nico took me to his family’s farmhouse about an hour outside of the city.  This place is magical filled with a variety of flowers and vines that sweep over the house and the chapel. The house is consumed by antiques and the overgrown gardens that surround it  create an inviting mystique. Just south of the house are hot springs you can slip into.   They were the best.  We spent hours talking, relaxing and photographing.

The next day, we headed, with two of Nico’s friends Paolo and Laura, to Bucaramanga in the Santander province.  Laura’s boyfriend was from Bucaramanga, so we traveled north to eat more than enough empanadas, yucca, and meat and to lay by the pool and drink Club Colombia.  The following days were full of exploring the curvy roads and national parks and eating at the most delicious restaurant, Le Cevicheria.  Just fyi, they pass with double yellow lines around deep curves. There are only a few crosses littering the sides of the roads and a “peligro” sign about every 100 meters…

There were a few mishaps in the travel, but they just made it more exciting.  The car we were driving was quite temperamental.  First the breaks start squeaking, and we get those checked out.  Then, as we’re driving back to Bogota from Barichara, it starts its first overheating episode. A day later it proceeds to overheat at a Bogota stoplight while there were maybe one hundred cars behind us.  We rushed to push it off to the side before the light turned green.

When returned to Bogota, Nico showed me the local markets which consisted of entire neighborhoods that had been overtaken by local artisans.  Bracelets and the likes spilled over blankets extending for at least a kilometer or more.  Musicians could be heard playing jazz and Cumbia, and everything from the vibrant colors of the buildings to the people in the street seemed to be participating in this understood dance.   I bought a wallet and some amazing shoes.  The woven shoes they sell there are great.  They’re like TOMS, but local and only ten dollars.

My time in Colombia ended quickly, but I couldn’t be more pleased with my decision to go. I’m glad I got to share Colombia with Nico for a bit.  I could see myself liking it even more with time.  Hopefully, I’ll return one day.

Hiking in Madrid

An afternoon well spent in Patones de Arriba with Carlos and Hugo!

If you’re looking for a trip out of the city and want to practice your language skills, definitely check out Hiking in Madrid!

Phrases learned: “I’m hungry” in Mandarin: (phonetics of course) “woh ee ley”

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Tomorrow I don’t have to go into work until 1. I feel so free, and yet, I’m scared of wasting time. I’ve spent the last 30 minutes thinking of how I can best utilize it.

Thinking about the summer. I’ve applied to a few programs to either be involved with media or Spanish-English education. I applied for an experiment leadership position with my study abroad program, and my fingers are tightly crossed in hopes that I’ll spend my summer with SIT.

I’m also still deciding what to do next year. It’s quite hard living off of 830 euros a month. While it’s definitely doable, and I’ve lived off of far less in the past, it’s not fun when your friends want to travel each weekend and you’re struggling to pay off student debt.

I’m still doing what I want and saving by living somewhat minimally. I tend to waste a lot of money on food, so trying to cut all that ish out. Cheap tapas and bread and hummus are where it’s at. Good thing I can eat the same thing everyday and not really care.

Part of this rudimentary eating is helping me get to Paris and, hopefully, Greece this May. My first European countries outside of Spain since I arrived! I’m ready to explore more of Europe, but since March, my heart has belonged to Spain.

As spring approached and the almond trees started to bloom, my love for the city started to surface. It took a while, but last week as I was lying in the Retiro grass everything seemed clear and wonderful. My breath was shaky from a short run and the grass was dry and prickly. My mind wandering was absent, and I felt a happiness I had been missing in my first few months.

Teaching is becoming more natural, and the students are so much fun. For the past week, I taught the 10 to 13 year-olds “the cup song” by Anna Kendrick. The lesson couldn’t have gone better. I was so proud of them as I watched them sing and smile. My private classes are going well too. The girls love to bake and do crafts. So we generally just spend a couple of hours chatting while making bracelets, baking cookies, or chasing each other outside.

Although teaching is fun, something is missing. I’m not sure if it’s the language barrier that makes me feel distant from the students, but there’s definitely an element that makes the job less than fulfilling.

Where teaching lacks, the weekends make up. Last weekend, my roommates, Kate and Valerie, and I went hiking in a small town north of Madrid with the organization Hiking in Madrid. We found the group on Facebook and decided to join them for their trip to Patones de Arriba. With about 60 others, we ventured away from the city for a gorgeous day outside. They lead hikes every two weeks, and I wouldn’t mind attending as many as possible. Great people, great place, and plenty room for adventure. It was super laid back, and we had about half an hour (Spanish time) to go off on our own. This is what we found.

an alcazar and the guadalquivir

Aside from collecting three 100 euro speeding tickets, Seville was incredible.  In our weekend trip, we took a walking tour around Triana, the city across the bridge, ate at Patio San Eloy, watched Flamenco at La Carboneria, and strolled through the Alcazar and Parque Maria Luisa.  Seville brought old travel partners back together and created new friendships.  I could spend a lot of time here.













a bolivian parade

Valerie and I went to Alcala de Henares a few weekends ago, and on our train ride back to Madrid, we saw a lot of colorful people in the street and decided to see what was going on.  Turns out the Bolivian organizations in Madrid put on a parade for Carnival (Mardi Gras).  There was singing and dancing and elaborate costumes.  We ended up staying for the entire three hour parade.





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until now

I haven’t seen you in a while.  Life’s good. Traveling. Learning how to teach. Attempting to teach.  Wondering how to manage this beautiful thing called life.  Met a boy. Visiting him over Semana Santa, or as we patriots like to say “spring break.”  He’s cool.  From Colombia.  He’s kind of a biter, but I dig it.  Friends met his friend on a train ride to Porto, Portugal.  A friend drags me to this bar in November to meet this new friend from the train. He’s celebrating a friend’s birthday.  I’m in the middle of taking this calculus class, and I really don’t want to go to a bar nor am I in the mood for a birthday.  Of course I go anyway, who wants to be lame?  My friend’s friend has a friend. This friend speaks English, and leaves his birthday party friends to talk with us hopeless Americanos.  I’m sure I looked hopeless.  He takes my camera and goes around shooting pictures.  I like the pictures.  I like how comfortable he is.  I’m ready to go home.

I see him again at a bar. Then, again.  He asks me to take pictures, I oblige.  We hang out again.  I start to like him.  He’s so nice.  Things get lovely for a few months.  Christmas, New Years-amazing.  He returns home to Colombia.  The End.  Maybe not. We’ll see.

I run a 10k, stop running for 3 months, eat a ton for the holidays, go to about as many international dinners as you can possibly go to.  I remember two Korean nights, one Jewish night, one Peruvian night, one Middle Eastern night, a Colombian night tossed in there, and, well, the rest is history,

I get depressed when it rains everyday.  I can’t stop smiling when the sun shines.  It’s shinning a lot nowadays.  So I’m in love.  I’m not sure what I’m in love with, but I feel in love with something. A teacher today asked me if I was in love. Maybe I’m in love with the lightness of the situation.

Teaching has gotten loads better.  I remember before Christmas it took all that I had in me for me to wake up and make it through the day.  I had no fucking clue what I was doing. How do I get these kids to stop screaming?  But they’re always incredibly affectionate and adorable.  Thus, for all of their screaming, I still have mad love for them.  Somehow I’ve gotten the hang of it now.  It’s because I’m more comfortable.

I always manage to put myself in uncomfortable situations.  I bring it upon myself. For example, a co-teacher asked me to go play basketball with her so we could practice English/Spanish.  I was like, cool. Let’s go. I can manage a game of horse.  I arrive at the gym, and of course, she’s invited me to practice with the professional Spanish women’s team.  WTF.  She’s like, you went to North Carolina, you know how to play. Right? Ha, if only.  I continued to practice with them.  It was embarrassing.

November I got my wallet stolen after ordering a burrito at 6 AM.  Guess they saw me type my PIN in the keypad because they proceeded to take 700 euros out of my bank account.  That was fun.  Had to go through the entire process of getting a new NIE, new cards, new phone, and seeing if bank insurance would cover the loss.  Luckily it did, and I got all of the money back a couple of months later.  Watch your shit.  Many people are the subject to petty theft in Madrid.  Recommended: Small, cross-bodied, zip-up bag.  Maybe put a padlock on it too.

Since December, we’ve been traveling.  When I say we, I mostly mean other expats I’ve met and my wonderful college roommate, Megan Roosevelt.  Megan and I went to Granada and Cordoba after New Year’s,  Absolutely adored both places.  The Alhambra, jesus. Spectacular.  I love going to a place you know fairly little about, witnessing it in person, and attempting to absorb its significance.  That’s what’s so great about traveling.  Learning and sharing experiences and understanding significances in different parts of the world.  To get around, Megan and I used the online site,  Wonderful method of transportation.  You get to practice your Spanish and meet new people. That’s what I’m all about right now.  In fact, I should be writing this entire thing in espanol ahora.

Time is a very valuable thing.

With the expat crew, we went to Granada again for my roomie’s birthday, we traveled north to Salamanca, and, then, south to my favorite city so far, Seville.  Seriously.  I’m not sure if I was just in an amazing mood, but Seville was the bomb.  Our hostel, Oasis Backpackers (Palace Version) was on point. Light atmosphere, cool people, helpful staff.  Then our walking tour guide, Dario, taught us so much about the city and its neighbors. Seville has a pretty racist history.  They kicked all the gypsies out over to the town separated by the Guadalquivir River, Triana.  Seems standard.  Dario led us through the streets of Triana as he shared his knowledge of Seville and its long history dating back to the Roman Empire.

On the first night of the same trip, a girl hit on Rob, an expat amigo.  We ran into her the next day enjoying the sun by the river, and in someway we mentioned wanting to see Flamenco that night.  She recommended Carbonaria, which translates to “revolutionary, conspiratorial society.”  We ventured to this conspiratorial place, and for free Flamenco, it was perfect. Had a cave like atmosphere, and there was the cutest, hunchbacked man getting down to the music.

If you’re ever in Seville near Calle San Eloy, you also HAVE to eat at El Patio. We ate there twice.  Affordable and muy muy rico.  Try the salmorejo or a chorizo montadito!

Unfortunately, we returned to Madrid with notice of e-mail speeding tickets.  Not one, but two.  Both 100 euros each.  Doing 147 and 137 respectively in a 120km zone.  Whoops.  #learning.

That pretty much brings us up-to-date. Other things have happened here and there, so shout out to those things (LIKE A FREAKING AWESOME BOLIVIAN PARADE for Carnival).  I also developed a mild crush on my gym teacher in training.  I think him and my roomie, Val should fall in love.  They would create an amazing gene pool.  I won’t encourage it, because I believe in population control.

Above are some photos taken along the way.

If I said I would send you a postcard, they’re coming. I swear.


An American Wedding

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[[Arey + Batten wedding: NC: Emily + Alex + Austin: OLD SOUTH PHOTOG]]

I wanted to share a few photos, mostly from the ladies dressing room, of my lovely cousin’s wedding this past weekend [10.12.13].  Very happy I went home for the week to take part in the festivities.  I’m an only child, and Emily and Alex are like sisters to me- no way I could have missed out. Emily made a beautiful, elegant bride while Alex made a hilarious, fun Made of Honour.  Best wishes to Emily and Austin as they start their lives together!

Now it’s back to the Spain grind.

Appreciating this woman’s words right now.

And addicted to this song.

to spain from summer

September 1, 2013

‘It’s time to leave:

visa, check

health, check

suitcase packed, no where close to being done

see you laters, ugh those suck

birthday cake surprises, check

finished school, check

spanish proficiency, borderline scary

breathing, check

I’ll miss summer.  Summer is by far the best time of the year.  Everything comes alive at all hours.


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I wrote the above before I left.  I thought summer was a season of liveliness.

Madrid has already changed my view of what it means to be alive, to live a life. Madrid is always breathing, always seeing, always touching, always being touched.  Nothing ever ends.  A constant flow of electricity seeps through its people who continuously buzz around its space creating life.  Very full lives.  The days are the longest I’ve witnessed.  They wear me out before I find myself aware that I’ve been consumed by their consciousness.

And while there’s always Spanish time to consider, I feel overwhelmed by the casual consumption of time.  Maybe because while it is casual, it’s on going.  Its slowness leads to its longevity.

I’ve decided I want to become used to this longevity.  I want to stay here for a while.  I’m in the mood. And I feel like falling.  Falling into a place.  A place I can know for a long time.


It’s been a week and a half since I arrived, and I’ve already settled into a flat in the Chueca neighborhood.  I have eight roommates, two of whom are doing the BEDA program with me.  The other roomz consist of a fellow American study abroad student, a Brit trying to get in on the culture, and two lovers who epitomize the Chueca ideal.  They’re all fantastic, and aside from the fact that the flat is really fucking tiny (in most of the rooms, I can reach across and touch opposite walls), I’d say I lucked out. It’ll be a grand introduction to the city.

The two lovers moved to Madrid from Argentina and Peru as a way to comfortably express their sexuality.  Caesar, from Peru, loves to cook and has already made us a family style dinner consisting of papa a la Huancaina (one of Val’s and my favorite dishes from our time in Peru) and fried fish topped with ham and cheese.  He said he’s so happy people are in the flat who appreciate his cooking.  His boyfriend, our other roommate, Martin, is an amazing pianist.  He’ll play a little bit everyday, and we all seem to gravitate towards their room as the sound filters through the hallway.  He’s spectacular.  I could sit and listen to him for hours on end.  I’m so grateful that I can witness someone so effortlessly exude such talent everyday.

I’m excited to see where Madrid and Spain takes me.  It’s been such a short time, but some new friends and I have already made a trip to Valencia spending time relaxing on the Mediterranean coastline and exploring possible sites of the Holy Grail.  Tomorrow, I’ll meet with my school coordinators to set up a work schedule, as my job in Madrid is working at a local elementary school assisting with its English program.  We’ll see what happens as these days just seem to flow together.

//photos: nc:spain; Mika Chance;LL//

Raleigh + Happiness

Ah, it is so nice to be back.  From late night singing to finding special, new places, my week back in Raleigh has been, overall, wonderful.  I’ve seen and shared delicious meals with my beautiful friends and settled into a new job and new internship.

I’m interning with the NC Museum of History, and my boss is a rockstar, seriously.  It’s only been a week, and we’ve already bonded over sushi, Star Trek and tattoos.  She has her masters in Archeology, and as soon as you walk in her office, you see her collection of lightsabers and other Star Wars memorabilia.    It’s going to be a fun, creative environment to work in.

Much different from my night job as a waitress.  God, I am really getting two sides of life these days.  I go to work in the morning with a bunch of 40+ intellectuals, and then head over to the other side of town where everyone’s smoking weed and chillin hard.  It’s great.  I’m loving the variety so far.

While my time is mostly spent at the museum and the restaurant, I did have a lot of time to get to know Sarala this weekend.  While I’m in Raleigh, Im staying at a friend’s, Jon, parent’s house. Sarala is Jon’s sister. and we spent our days together exploring the neighborhood, making bread, and staying up all night. It felt great to make a new friend so fast, and I feel very thankful for Jon and his family right now.

Sarala showed me Lake Lynn, a place I intend to spend a lot of my time. It’s only about half a mile from the house, and I’m already in love with it. While at home, I spent so many hours at the Lenoir Greenway walking my dog and running, and I thought I’d really miss that part of home.  But Lake Lynn might be better. There is a trail that goes two miles around the lake, and during my first two miles on the trail, I kept thinking of all the differences between the two parks.

Lake Lynn 

+Geese/ducks; people under 60; tan guys running in swim trunks; canoeing; fishing; apartments with pools

-poop everywhere; attacking dogs


+++++My dog; Hans; people over 60; people who say hi to you

-no lake; no people

The biggest, kind of upsetting difference is the friendliness of the people.  In Lenoir, everyone waved and in their polite, southern accents said hello.  At Lake Lynn, I wave and give a breathy, somewhat sweaty hello, and these people look at me like I’m crazy.  But the aesthetics here are still awesome, and my eight mile run today (I hadn’t done anything that long since high school and was super surprised at how easy it seemed), was perfect.

It’s funny, I wrote the below excerpt about a week before coming to Raleigh.  I can’t believe I was so apprehensive about moving and was contemplating staying at home.  I’m glad I had time at home with my family and was surrounded by love, but I can already tell that the summer here is going to be fulfilling and just what I need.


I know what I am doing for the next one to two years.

It feels so strange.  Never would I have thought that time, place and travel would have worked itself out so well, yet again.

I have a internship in Raleigh which starts in June, and then, I’ll be headed to Madrid, Spain to go to school and to work as a language assistant with their Catholic school system.  I don’t think the idea of uprooting myself again, me living in Madrid, relearning and learning Spanish, being surrounded with all new people, places and things has really hit me yet.

I love new adventures and am really excited to be consumed in a Spanish environment, but for some reason, I don’t feel very adaptable right now.  I think one of my fears came/is coming true, I feel too content at the moment.  I’m even feeling apprehensive about moving to Raleigh for the summer.

Needless to say, I can’t quite understand my uneasiness for change considering I’ve been so good at it before and usually enjoy it.  It’s probably seeing my friends continuing to graduate school and picking a place in the world and making it their more than temporary home.  Maybe living at home has a little to do with it too.

I have spent more time with my family and at home in the past few months than I have in years, and it’s been nice.  It’s been stressful. It’s been fun. Uneventful. Fulfilling.  I’ve missed my friends, Indonesia, Chapel Hill, spontaneity, late nights. conversations. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how easy it has been to enjoy my time here and to be grateful  for what a supportive, caring and affectionate family I am fortunate to have.

Living at home definitely has its perks.  Saving money being one of them.  No going out, no spending money.  One simple equation I can dig right now.

I’m working at a local, chain restaurant, and it’s kinda fun.


Looking forward to the upcoming weeks full of reunions and music and long drives. In the works: Bonnaroo, DC, Tallahassee, New Jersey, and PREPARING FOR ESPANA!!!  Hello friends and travel, I’ve missed ya!

Screen Shot 2013-05-30 at 4.25.01 AM gbbanPhotos [Sarala+Lauren; Raleigh, NC]

View from a Kite

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||bottom 2 photos taken from Eric Coovert’s kite in Bellingham, WA||

A few weeks ago, I spotted Eric Coovert’s aerial videos of Lenoir, NC (my hometown!). Mr. Coovert combines his passion for kite flying with aerial photography and captures some cool stuff.  These kites can get as high as a couple thousand feet, and they’re quite the sight to see.  While I was hanging out with Mr. Coovert, many cars stopped on the side of the road to admire the 100 ft long beauties.

Happy National Kite Month!









I’m discovering what faith is as I learn to believe in the people around me and the ideas I grew up on.  I’m accepting my own faults and those of others and realising the power of openness and change.  Change in beliefs, change in environment, and change in routine.  It’s funny, making myself vulnerable to change and faith while at home seems harder than while being abroad.

People who have faith:

+ This church 

The Uighurs

[photos: Borobudur&Prambanan; Indonesia]

Indonesia + family + today

Two of my favorite people in the world had their birthdays today.

Made and Dewi made up part of my Indonesian family, and they’re celebrating 12 hours away.

Missing everything about Indonesia right now.


Yogi [brother; 4 year old with a personality unlike any other]


Mas Agung [brother; Indonesia’s king of music]


Bu Putu [sister-in-law; maker of the most delicious nasi goreng]


Putri + Made [sister, brother-in-law; best couple award]


neighbourhood kids [best afternoon company and entertainment]

What do vegetarian zombies eat?

diffusion_coronal diffusion_sagittal


None of this is mine, even the joke.  While in undergrad, I would often make my way over to Duke to participate in medical studies (no harm done, yet). Before I left for Indonesia, I participated in a cognitive study, and the researcher, Micah, sent over some brain photos.

Here’s what it means according to Micah:

“Ok so these are special diffusion tensor images, which are structural images acquired from measuring the diffusion of water molecules in your brain. because axons constrain diffusion, this technique is really good at reconstructing the white matter pathways in your brain. the red shows you groups of axons traveling left-right, green shows front-back, and blue shows up-down. good for framing :)”

Not sure what to make of it, but the photos are cool. Now I have this song stuck in my head.


You can now send messages, update statuses, tweet, etc all from the grave.  Right now I’m thinking this is way weird, but I’m trying to wrap my mind around it and see it functioning in society.  It’s kind of fun to think about all the scenarios on how this could play out… dreaming

Speaking of dreams, I stayed in a hostel that kept a dream diary in the common area.  Many people took advantage of it, and it was by far one of the most pleasurable reading materials I’ve stumbled upon recently.

AND while I may have picked up a couple of knockoff Longchamp bags in Indonesia, I love this ad!

To Admire






A few weeks ago, one of my best friends, Alyssa invited me to a Carolina Hurricanes game. Alyssa works with a non-profit, CORRAL, that helps at-risk, teenage girls and rescued horses, and the Canes’ Kids N Community foundation is a big donor to CORRAL.  Girls with top grades and high behavior points were given the chance to go watch the game (in Eric Staal’s box!), and Alyssa asked if I wanted to tag along.  Of course I said yes, and it was such a pleasure to see the girls getting really into the game-shouting, clapping, smiling.  It was also nice to admire Alyssa in her element as I could see her work and this organization were changing these girls’ lives for the better.

One thing Alyssa mentioned concerning how CORRAL reaches out to young girls  and encourages them to stick up for themselves and their values was, “When you say no to others, you’re saying yes to yourself.”  I think that’s a really simple, positive expression for these girls and for anyone who needs support in difficult situations at home, in school, or at work.

Other things I’ve been admiring:

+ high school teachers

+ book art

+ K H U S H I

An Awesome Wave

In honor of my new favorite album and our celebratory trip to Nusa Lembongan

helenaari me bracelets helenawater

This trip has been an incredible wave.  I can’t believe all of the the work is over.  I just finished my last presentation and my last paper of my undergraduate career. I think I’m in shock. What now?  Our hopes and fears for returning home.


It’s a good thing I studied abroad my final semester because there is no way I could have adapted back to the lifestyle of a UNC college student.  I love UNC and the friends I was fortunate to have met there, however, the learning environment’s not for me.  I cannot waste away in a library for eight semesters in a row.  I cannot read 300 pages a week and begin to comprehend what I’m intaking at an unfathomable rate.  While UNC may be a hub of innovative students who create discourse and do wonderful things, while there, I found myself overwhelmed with imbalance.  I found myself drowning in an overload of ideas with no context.

It’s definitely by fault of my own personality.  If I could do it all over again, I would study abroad for at least two years, or I would find a university or institution that allows me to absorb information and knowledge as I did this semester.

I’ve been in awe with this semester.  I’ve found appreciation in so many corners I had previously ignored or slighted.  Tonight I was walking home from school, and I stopped to stare at hundreds of flying insects attacking an overhead light.  I thought what sort of euphoria did the light symbolize for these bugs.  Their preoccupation with the light resembled mine with Bali.  For this time, I only wanted to be here and experience here, and, for the most part, I think I did.


I’m going to miss this place and these bugs.




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As part of completing my semester abroad, I had to work on an Independent Study Project and write a final paper concerning my chosen topic.  It took me forever to decide what I wanted to focus on.  I kept picking topics, and then deciding that I didn’t have enough expertise or time to explore the topic fully.  I had read a previous student’s ISP conducted in 1990 on mental health facilities in Bali and thought a modern depiction of facilities and mental health approaches in the Balinese context would be exciting and provocative, but once again, Pak Garrett, an academic advisor here said without a background in psychology, the topic would be difficult.  Five days before our ISP proposals were due, I was still at a loss for what I wanted to study.  Most of the other students already knew they wanted to focus on Indonesian street art, Tajen, Muslim-Hindu relations, etc, but I still couldn’t find my niche.  I looked around the program center, and I found a book, Bali Blues, on the 2002 Bali Bombing.  In that book, I found a deeply unpacked tragedy along with my future topic.  As I’ve spent the last two weeks speaking, writing, and reading about the events that took place in Kuta on October 12, 2002, I don’t really feel like completely rehashing it out, so here’s an excerpt from the introduction of my ISP:


Her home is in a crowded neighborhood where you can’t tell where one house ends and the other begins.  We walk in hardly announced, there are drawings covering the entrance wall.  While the drawings are bright, the mood is sullen.  We make ourselves temporary acquaintances to once again surface emotions that she’s spent ten years trying to suppress.  I can tell she has had to recount this story all too often for inquiring outsiders as she immediately hands us photos of her, her children, and her deceased husband with a caption of events that occurred the evening of October 12, 2002. As Bu Ari, Dede, and I ask her questions about her life after that night, she graciously answers.  Tears silently flow down her cheeks when the horrifying memories and hardships become too much for her to recount. Her name is Wayan Leniasih, and her husband perished in the October 12, 2002 Bali bomb attack.

On the night of October 12, 2002, Bali met the fate of three bombs. Music and excitement that normally fills South Bali’s streets was silenced as carefree and lively tourists turned into screaming crowds in a cloud of smoke and destruction.   The first was a comparatively small detonation outside of the United States Embassy ten kilometers away from developing nightmare.  Minutes later, a suicide bomber carried a backpack of explosives into the Paddy’s Pub on Jalan Legian in Kuta.   The surviving tourists fled to the streets only to become witness to a more powerful, second blast coming from a rigged van parked outside the popular Sari Nightclub.The bomb at the Sari Club, along with the preceding explosive at Paddy’s Bar, killed 202 people and seriously injured another 350.Western tourists comprised of the majority of the casualties, including 88 Australians, 23 Britons, nine Swedes, and seven Americans while 38 Indonesians also perished.

The tragedy set itself in the heart of Indonesian’s tourism sector where western travelers have been carousing since the early twentieth century.  The attack on Kuta wasn’t an attack on Indonesia or even Bali, but to a culture that had risen out of Kuta as a result of a clash between the capitalized on Balinese culture and western ideals of leisure.  Bali has been continuously packaged and sold as an “island of paradise” by the international tourism industry.  Year after year, millions of travelers from all over the world flock to the island to get a taste of its exoticism. Not to witness the hard work in the rice fields nor the burden women face in such a patriarchal society, but the mesmerizing Ramayana dances, the over marketed yoga and meditation facilities, and the lavish temple festivals.  Tourism also had transformed itself into an equal paradise for the local Balinese who over prided themselves in their rituals, declared their culture a commodity, and reaped the benefits from a tourist based economy.

Indonesia has a population of around 240 million with Bali only comprising of about four million.  While Bali is predominantly Hindu with 93 percent of the population practicing Balinese Hinduism, Islam is practiced by 87 percent of all Indonesians.  In effect, Bali is quite the anomaly.  And while the Balinese-Hindus may be accepting of the money filtering into their province through the bulk of western tourists, Islamic extremists in other parts of Indonesia find the immoral acts that take place on the island intolerable.   Moreover, the Kuta bombings were an attack on western societies and their international diplomatic practices and neocolonialism most directly related to the United States War on Terror and its imperialistic popular culture.

Ali Ghufron or commonly known as Mukhlas was tried and convicted as being the coordinator of the bombings and was prosecuted for financing the bombings and for approving the targets.  Since then, 36 others have been convicted of crimes related to the attacks.  Mukhlas was said to influence his younger brothers Amrozi and Ali Imron for their perspective roles in the attacks.Mukhlas is stated to have encouraged fellow attackers by describing to them his times working as a laborer at Malaysian construction sites, and “the abhorrence he had felt while overhearing Australian technical consultants boasting about leave-time debauchery in Kuta, their drunkenness and their corruption of Javanese women.”  Bali’s exceptional amity towards western culture would soon be tested in its Indonesian context.

In any account, it was obvious that the Kuta bombings were an act of terrorism based on a clash of differences, but in wake of the immediate aftermath,  religion or race went unconsidered, Kuta residents from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs came together to unravel the chaos.  Throughout the night and into the following week, local and international police and aid agencies arrived and sifted through the charred vehicles attempting to evacuate the injured in Denpasar’s hospitals.

Sanglah Hospital in Denpasar rapidly filled to capacity.  With limited resources, Sanglah and surrounding medical facilities were ill-equipped to manage the hundreds of injured victims.  Foreign and local volunteers spilled in to assist in looking for lost loved ones, care for the injured, donate blood, and clean up the rummage.  Medical aid, food, drink, and other necessities arrived as did distraught relatives.The bombers had fulfilled their mission, but their statement was not without dramatically effecting the innocent.  People’s lives were forever changed.  Husbands, wives, children, friends were all lost in this devastating tragedy.  Meanwhile, the predominantly Hindu Balinese community, for their part, staged a large scale purification ritual aimed at regaining the cosmic balance that was lost as a result of the bomb tragedy.4

Traditionally, after a disaster, the Balinese perform appropriate ceremonies, then make no further public mention of the incident.  Coming from the West, people have to understand that their approach to the tragedy will vastly differ from Balinese-Hindu’s approach. The way to achieve peace comes in the form of balance between all forces: good and evil, life and death, light and shadow, war and peace.  However, commemorations of the Bali Bomb by westerners promoted discussion among the Balinese that they, too, would not dismiss the incident from their collective minds. Both sides require acknowledgment and acceptance in order to cleanse the island and its people.   While many relief efforts stemmed from compassionate communities desiring to make a positive difference, some came from the greedy wanting to capitalize on the fast incoming foreign dollars.  Distinguishing between honest aid and fraud was a huge issue as hundreds of NGOs arrived and grew out of the response to the tragedy.

For the past month, I have volunteered with the Inspriasia Foundation, one of the non-profits that developed after the attacks.  Through my time with Inspriasia ( and its affiliate, YKIP (, and through working with employees and beneficiaries, I have observed and analyzed its model and have drawn my own conclusions of how it approaches need-based aid concerning the Indonesian community it addresses.  In this ISP, I will layout the stories of two wives of Bali bomb victims and describe how their lives were personally affected by the tragedy.  Then,  I will describe the foundations of Inspirasia and YKIP and demonstrate how these non-profits fostered a new, even better, Indonesian community, as a result of the tragedy.(SNI)


For my time working with Inspirasia and YKIP, I volunteered at their outreach art project at Balinese artist Made Wianta’s gallery.  Inspirasia is in the process of opening a new center, The Annika Linden Center, and the project was aimed at creating a ceiling fixture for their new lobby.  Beneficiaries from Inspirasia and YKIP from all over Bali were invited to participate.

Seeing things set

Every afternoon for the past week I’ve seen sunsets that require my full attention.  They don’t last long, maybe half an hour.  Each one has been incredibly different.

The time between the sun setting and rising again is often the most unpredictable.  Whether in dreams or endless nights where time casts no boundaries-it’s in this time that I’ve enjoyed the last week.


Indonesian Favorites:

Nasi Goreng-Fried Rice

Satay- Grilled Meat

Pisang Goreng- Fried Banana

Roti Bakar- Grilled Bread

Cap Cay- Mixed Veggies

Black Rice Pudding

I remember, while we were in Yogya, Steven stopped at a food cart as we were walking down the street.  We sat on miniature,  neon stools just to the side of the busy road as we watched the cart owner slab butter on a thick piece of bread.  It took about ten minutes to conjure this greasy beast with shredded cheese and condensed milk.  With all the fried food we had been regularly consuming, my stomach clenched in fear when Steven offered me piece, but free food can hardly ever be turned down. To my surprise, condensed milk does wonders for a grilled cheese.  But seriously, everyone go make a grilled cheese with mozzarella cheese and condensed milk, and throw in some chocolate sprinkles.  From the moment of first taste, I was in absolute lust.  We ordered two more, praised the cart owner, and couldn’t stop laughing over how great the moment and the food was.  An Indonesian man with a guitar and Beatles bold cut stopped by and sang a bit of “When I’m 64” only to add to our happiness.

A few weeks later, after our final exams, Lelox, a friend and local artist, had invited us to have a cookout.  We had bought some pig meat that morning and headed over to make satay, seasoned, grilled meat on a stick.  As soon as we got to Lelox’s, he was already waiting outside his house and told me to hop on the back of his bike.  Meat in hand, we walked into a house where we met a man who threw the meat, peppers, onions, and garlic it to a huge chopping contraption.  After a few minutes, we had our chopped meat ready for satay.  Back home, Lelox prepared a small grill on the ground and he, Steven, and I dug our hands into the meat and started applying it to the sticks.  I thought there wasn’t an art to putting meat on a stick, but obviously there is as Lelox and his brother continued to laugh at my inability to do it properly.  After over 100 sticks were prepared, we started the grilling, where I was once again teased.  We flashed insults and jokes at one another as the finished satay began piling up and made promises to go fishing and to have as many cookouts as possible.  I’ve had satay many times since arriving in Indonesia, and to be honest, I’ve never really enjoyed it, but this satay was fantastic.  I inhaled about ten skewers before giving in to my full and satisfied stomach.


steven + lelox

Tagen, cockfighting, is a ritual practiced in Bali symbolizing animal sacrifice.  The spilling of the blood acts as an offering to evil spirits.  While cockfights that induce gambling were made illegal in 1981, the ritual still persists during times of ceremonies.

A few of us went to one yesterday, and the gambling spirit is still very much alive.  Men surrounded a small ring and threw up their hands in response to bets.  Much of the time was spent attempting to make the roosters angry and ready to fight.  When the majority of men who were betting agreed on which two cocks were to fight, a 3 inch blade was tied to the rooster’s ankle with a red string.  Once the fight commences, the winner is decided by death.

After watching a few of the fights, we walked to Lelox’s, an avid cockfighter and local tattoo artist, house.  He showed us his rooster farm, which consisted of around 20 roosters  that were mostly imported from the Philippines-he said they’re more aggressive there.

Munduk Pakel

Ive heard a few people comment recently that life is what you make it.

For four days, we stayed in our Academic Director’s village, Munduk Pakel, with around 20 other students from universities in Denpasar, Udayana and Warmadewa.  I was sort of indifferent about the excursion.  I was having such a nice time with my family in Bedulu and didn’t want to leave them yet again.  Thus, the first day I wasn’t myself.  I felt sluggish and not in the right mood to be present and willingly excited to meet and interact with new group of students. Because of my reluctance to be in a positive mood, I didn’t enjoy too much of the first day,

While in the village, we each were to be paired with two students who were to help us interview villagers on a topic of our choice. I was paired with two students from Udayana, Purwa and Wahyu, and I had chosen to interview the village leader on waste management and water resources within the village because of a recent lecture we had heard on environmental issues in Bali.

Early the second morning, we quickly became involved in a conversation concerning waste management and talked for hours about current environmental problems as well as other arising issues in the youth movement and societal structure.  We talked about how nice the McDonalds in Denpasar was and how life is pretty much the same no matter where you are.  As I let myself become completely immersed in our conversation, I began to feel myself enjoying the moment and enjoying the new company.

As part of my new found appreciation of being aware and present, I was able to enjoy the next three days to the fullest.  To hang out with local students and make new friends who were all our own age was something we hadn’t been able to do in Bali, and I had sort of had forgotten how much fun it is to be around a crowd of young people.  By the end of the fourth day we were all belting out cheesy, American pop songs to all too familiar guitar rhythms.  I even learned 3 chords thanks to a new friend, Akmil  We all got progressively better at playing volleyball as well as a new, favorite card game, “shithead.”  We had walked in awe between rice fields, met a traditional healer, choreographed rain dances,  danced in circles, watched fireflies, acted as ninjas, caught fish, and made a fire.  The end came all too quickly.

A New Center













Two Agung families have entered my life here in Bali.  The first was in East Bali at Karangasem where we stayed for the orientation of our program.  We spent our days in the Puri Saraswati Palace under Bapak and Ibu Agung’s hospitality and Balinese culinary skills.  We studied Bahasa Indonesia around five hours a day, made excursions to the local market, climbed the 270 stairs to the Lempuyang Temple, immersed ourselves in the water of the Titra Empul Temple, and bonded over Michael Jackson and the humor of our wonderful Academic Director Bu Ari.  The Agung family made us feel welcome by always making small talk and letting us sample all of their sweet treats.  The ladies of the Agung family were continuously busy making offerings and cooking, and many days we would hangout with them as they did so. This time I happened to take out my camera.

Offerings are a central part to the Balinese Hindu tradition.  Three times a day, the Balinese make offerings to the Gods.  As they’re called in Bahasa Indonesia, “canang sari,” these offerings are given to maintain a good relationship with the Gods.  This doesn’t begin to unveil the traditions or history behind Balinese Hinduism, but understanding this ritual is the first step into understanding how life revolves in Bali.  And, for me, the past two weeks have been about understanding a different way of life and expanding my ideas of family, spirituality, responsibility, and companionship.

For a reading assignment, we read a short article, “The Green Banana,” by Donald Batchelder.

You can read it here yourself.  It’s short.

Batchelder speaks of how everyone has their own center of the world.  We all have this idea of a place that is essential to our lives.  We get consumed with that place, the people who surround it, and the daily activities that turn our mornings into nights.  We become that place.  Over the past three years, I’ve been fortunate to call Chapel Hill and UNC my place, but now, as my undergraduate career comes to a close, engaging with a new center of the world and witnessing new perspectives allows my ideas, thoughts, and identity to transform.  There’s life outside of my center, and I now have the time to enjoy and absorb it-its pleasures and its hardships.