Friday, May 28, 2010

Building to Deal with Grief

Recently, I've been dealing with the death of a dear friend. A friend who was my boyfriend for six years, Tyler Kohut. In the six years we were together, we had our moments of bliss and moments of conflict, like all relationships. I've missed Tyler's friendship for a long time. It's been six years since we parted ways, but now I miss him because the other half who shared his life with me, at one point, is gone. I haven't been able to talk or write about the past, and quite frankly don't know why I'm typing these words right now. It's a form of therapy, I guess. I find that when I feel heartache, my hands ache. I do not register pain in my chest, but in my hands. This past week, I was able to engage in some physical therapy to ease the ache in my hands.

From May 23rd to May 27th, twenty one seniors, Mark Isley and I traveled two hours south to My Tho, Vietnam to build two houses with Habitat for Humanity
This is my group of seven students: Jenny, Patrizia, Thao, Ha My, Dai, AP, and Bryan. If you look at the background you can see the beginnings of the house we built. Throughout the week, we built three walls, one bathroom, smashed rocks with hammers to cover the floor, and mixed and dumped mortar to create the foundation. Every day, we looked as if we were survivors of a monsoon. Sweat dripped from the top of our heads, down to our mouth--good salt lick--and our clothes were sopping wet. Our socks were wet, our gloves were wet, our shoes were wet. But, we loved every moment of it. Building, working, sweating, physically moving to create something, a house for someone else, quiets the mass of negative emotions, guilt, grief, and pain that we all struggle with, in our own way. I loved the moment where AP cackled and shouted while smashing rocks. He said he was going to open up his own therapy office with a room of rocks where his patients could smash them. And smash them we did. There's nothing like smashing rocks to wake your mind up and make you feel alive. 
I discovered new talents along the way. I believe there's a machine to straighten rebar, but not in Nam. Here, we straighten rebar with our hands. The first time I straightened rebar, it looked like a snake or the Saigon river, but my second try was a success, or at least compared to the first. Building is so different than grading papers and being part of the writing process. Writing is a work in progress, and I enjoy being part of the student process, but when you build, you can see a finished work right in front of your eyes. To look at a wall and say, "I built that" gives you, gives me, a sense of accomplishment. 

At the end of our build, we were able to present our work to the home owners. Habitat for Humanity expects the home owners to take part in the building process. The man holding the picture of our group, in the center, is the homeowner of this structure. At the end of our week, he thanked us for our work and was proud that he was a major part of the process. I was so impressed with his building skills and the help he gave us while wearing flip-flops! One impressive man. 
In addition to building, there were also beautiful moments of bonding where we all ate lunch together, told jokes, walked through the city, waited for the bus... One of my favorite moments was eating dinner with one of our SSIS student's family. The meal was delicious, and the most memorable dish was the snake stew. If you look closely at the picture, you can see the snake skin, and at the back of the spoon is a snake egg. Delicious and a little frightening, to be honest.
Every student worked hard, slept hard, and ate a lot of food during our trip. We bonded, gave back to our community, and supported each other for five days. It was just like summer camp, but with back pain and heat exhaustion! All joking aside, this was one of those life changing trips that I know I will never forget. 

The pain of losing Tyler is shared by many. I know people all around the world are celebrating his creative spirit and cunning sense of humor. I know that dealing with death is an ebb and flow of emotion, but I also know that I deal best when helping others with my hands. So this, is what I will continue to do.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Saturday Night at the Roller Rink!

What do you do in Ho Chi Minh City on Saturday night? Roller skate! Last night, a group of us from SSIS went to a roller skating rink in District 1. The music was blaring, the strobe lights blinding, and I was the oldest person in the room. We all had gigantic smiles pasted to our faces while rolling around the rink. Paul showed us his fancy moves, Dyana was determined not to fall, Kris and Betsy showed us their couples moves, Elaine was a champ, Stacey laughed her way around the rink, and Michael was our resident photographer. A good time was had by all! 

The Gang, ready to roller!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Phu My Hung Gecko

He was trying to sell me insurance.

Habitat for Humanity

Mark Isley and I are taking twenty seniors to build houses with Habitat for Humanity on Sunday, May 23rd to Thursday, May 27th. Our location is about three hours south of HCMC, and we should be working from sunrise to sunset. I'm excited to be able to give back to our community in such a physical way, and I'll be sure to share my pictures with you upon return. 

Our seniors graduate on Friday, May 28th, and then I'm taking National Honor Society kids to help out at the Wildlife Reserve on May 29th. Whew! I hope to get some sleep within the next few days for the upcoming adventures. I don't know if it's the fact that we have one constant season here, so there's no weather change to mark the passing of time, or if it's my age, but I can tell you that time is passing far too quickly these days. 

Wishing you Health and Happiness, Karinna

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Tale of Two Tylers

I spent six years of my life with Tyler Kohut, and a week ago, he passed away. I am trying to write about him, but at the moment, I cannot find the words. Tyler Hill, my college comrade and one of Tyler Kohut's best friends, wrote a blog entry about their lives together. I want to share this entry with you because it's a beautiful piece dedicated to a smart, funny, caring man who played a significant role in my life and is truly missed. 

Tyler Kohut is the man in the blue shirt. I love this picture. It's our band photo if we were, in fact, musically talented. This picture was taken on the celebration of my 25th birthday.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Dear Friend in SE Asia

Recently, my dear friend, college roommate, troublemaker, Thursday night dance partner, and voracious reader, Ambika flew 17 hours to visit me in HCMC, Vietnam. About ten hours after her arrival, we boarded Jetstar for Hoi An, which is a little over an hour away from HCMC. We spent a relaxing three days in Hoi An having clothes made, walking the streets, enjoying the lanterns that light the small town, and chatting with the friendly strangers. For me, it was one of those moments where time stands still. Although Ambika and I are in different houses, places, clothes, have different hair styles (gray hairs) in comparison to our college years, it was so easy to catch up and carry on. She regaled me with stories of Seattle adventures, and I showed her around my new home and surroundings.

I returned to my work while Ambika traveled to Hanoi and Halong Bay for a few days, but the following weekend, Michael, Ambika, and I boarded the plane, AirAsia (least favorite airline--EVER) for Bangkok. I share my birthday with the Reunification of Vietnam, so I am always blessed with a four or five day holiday around my birthday. Yes, Vietnam loves me too. The three of us spent my 33rd birthday/Reunification Day, walking around Bangkok, Thailand: visiting the Grand Palace, bowing to the Emerald Buddha, eating street food and street bugs, and stopping every five steps to rehydrate--so hot, so hot, so hot, I'm melting. Because of the heat, we could only do about one or two things a day, but the trip to Bangkok was a wonderful celebration of friendship and life. Oh, and my birthday.

We returned to HCMC to finish out the work week after the long holiday and to relax. Michael was able to show Ambika around the city and although I was coming down with the flu, I was able to have lovely chats with Ambika and watch a few episodes of Mad Men. We miss you already, Bika! Come back soon!

My next adventure is my return home to see my friends and family. I'll be in Portland for three days, then with my father, and then my mother. June 12-26 are the dates I'll be back in the states, so if you're around, please send me an email. I would love to see as many people as possible. 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Hotel Recommendation Bangkok, Thailand

The Lamphu Tree Hotel is a fantastic place to stay in Bangkok. The staff is helpful, the rooms are clean and nicely decorated, breakfast is included with the room price, the pool is refreshing, and the rooftop view is stunning. Michael, Ambika, and I spent four days at the Lamphu Tree Hotel and had a wonderful time walking the streets of Bangkok, then returning to this lovely hotel. 

If you're looking for a moderately priced respite, look no further. The Lamphu Tree Hotel is a ten minute walk to Khao San Road and ten minutes to the nearest river taxi. I know many people travel to Bangkok, so if you're in the neighborhood, give this place your business. Thanks!

Today, I'm craving a salad.

I just returned from a birthday trip to Bangkok with my long time friend, Ambika and boyfriend, Michael. We walked the streets, sat in temples, endured the heat, and ate great food, but my need for a fresh NewSeasons salad has not been satiated. I am dying for a fresh, uber-salad with sunflower seeds, tofu, tomatoes, onions...the works.
From my travels in SE Asia, I would have to say that Laos has, hands down, the freshest, most delicious food. The blend of fresh produce with spices, sugars...Ahhh, the tactile smells. I think it's food time. Have a great Saturday or Friday.