September 24, 2011

4 Powerful Lessons Learned From Children

As I have been privileged to meet and spend time with children around the world I have learned great lessons from them.
Scriptures teach “and a little one shall lead them…"  It is a common theological ideal found in many ancient forms of writing from Oriental writers to Greek and Roman. It is found throughout history and throughout the world because it is true.
A few lessons I have learned from the children I have met on my many travels are these:
1.“Bless that we will love everyone wherever we go” a thoughtful prayer uttered by a 10 year old boy in Cambodia. If only adults and political leaders could follow this boy’s example there might be peace throughout the world. What a sweet and simple, yet powerful, prayer to express each day. It’s all about love; loving everyone wherever we go.
2.  “My name is Pasco” announced the gentle 11 year old boy in the Philippines. He lived in absolute poverty, his name was Michael Luis but they called him Pasco. Now, that is only significant if you know what Pasco means. Pasco means Christmas. What an amazing lesson to be learned from such a young, impoverished boy. He, who had nothing of his own, somehow managed to always have little gifts for his friends and family.  So much so that he earned himself the nickname of Pasco. He was always giving. He is charity in action.
3. I learned a heartwarming lesson from a sweet 3 year old girl in Mongolia. When we arrived she was very shy and clung tightly to her mother. We got busy and began visiting with the family and taking photographs. Slowly but surely she started to warm up. At one point, I was in the bedroom setting up for the next shot. I wanted to photograph the three sisters. All of a sudden, sweet little Yuki climbed onto my lap. It didn’t matter anymore that I was from America. It didn’t matter that I, at 5’8” with long blonde hair, looked completely different than her mother, or any other woman she knew, for that matter. She now realized I was warm and kind. I was a mother too and I could love her.
4. The darling Ho boys: Mao and Wang from Hong Kong taught me another lesson. Even if you traveled the whole world over you couldn’t find cuter boys than these two brothers. After spending several hours with this wonderful family these boys decided they really liked us. We were sitting around the table and they were hiding underneath. They would hide, then sneakily peak their heads out and shout “Boo!” We would act surprised and giggle. They would fall back under the table laughing hysterically. Over and over “Boo!” hee hee hee hee!  “Boo!” ha ha ha ha!  I’ve come to truly appreciate that children are the same wherever we go. They play and laugh and giggle just like other children. All children like to be happy. All children want to be happy. And all children, if surrounded by a loving family, are happy no matter where they live.
This is why we rush through the day without eating enough. This is why we go without sleep. This is why we put up with 10 hour flights and 6 hour layovers. This is why we are here! To have our minds enlightened and our hearts enlarged. We come so we can share these lessons with others. We come so we can give back. We are constantly reminded that it is for these little ones. 
That is why we are here. And the beautiful children lead us along the way. 

September 20, 2011

What a Discovery!

Although I had researched and learned a little about the Philippines, I had no idea what was in store. Ferdinand Magellan discovered this mass of small islands while on the errand of King Philippe of Spain. Magellan came, discovered the beauty of this land, discovered the warmth of the people, and claimed the islands for King Philippe. Hence, the name: Philippines!
That was way back in the early 1500’s. Spain ruled for almost 350 years. Then the Americans arrived, at war with Spain, and took over. America ruled for another 42 years. Japan invaded and ruled for just two years during WWII. Then, the ominous General Douglas MacArthur arrived and chased the Japanese out. Freedom at last in 1946! Then, I arrived in 2011 to the BIG, busy city of Manila and didn't quite appreciate what Magellan had apparently discovered so long ago. It has been a long time and some things have changed. Some things.
Manila is a crowded, dirty, wet city of over 9 million people. We discovered that many of the people in the city are homeless. Seeing people sleeping in the streets, shabbily dressed children playing in the streets, hungry, dirty families hanging out in the streets was a common site.
It took a trip 2 hours out to the countryside for me to discover what Magellan must have found when he arrived and claimed this land for the king. It was beautiful, lush and green. Thick trees and tall palms lined the roads. Rice fields and pineapple farms covered the rolling hills. Fat, gray clouds filled the sky.
We drove out to the suburb Santa Rose which sits on the banks of the huge lake Laguna de Bay. Most of the people in this town are fisherman and that is what we were looking for. They live a very unique Filipino life. It was perfect.
The poverty was almost overwhelming until we met the people. Again, the best way to appreciate a country is to meet the people. As we meet and come to know the different people of the world assumptions are corrected and barriers come down.
We watched a father and his son come in from the lake on their small boat with buckets filled with fish. Together they washed and prepared the fish and took them to market to sell. Dozens of other children were at the waterfront playing and watching us, clamoring to get in front of the camera.
The Filipino family is an extended family. Everyone in the neighborhood, friends and family, came out to see the Americans taking photographs! We quickly discovered they were all related somehow. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. The Filipino family extends up to the most distant recognized member of the clan.
While we were, perhaps, distressed at the extreme poverty the Filipino people are extremely happy. They smiled constantly and laughed often! They are warm, friendly and easy going. I asked Espi, one of the mothers, what kind of concerns she may have living in the Philippines. Her answer surprised me, but it shouldn’t have. She sincerely replied:  “We may be poor. We live simple life but we are happy. We spend much time together and we are very happy in our life.”
These sweet, happy Filipino people were genuinely happy to help us. They were so proud to have their families photographed. It was a wonderful discovery! If Magellan hadn't claimed this land in 1521 I would have claimed it today!

Philippines: To Market, to Market, to Buy a Fat Pig...

Our first day in the Philippines was exciting! We woke to busy, crowded streets. Cars everywhere; honking, turning, pushing their way through traffic. As if drivers were competing for the front of some important line. No one stayed within their lanes. No one obeyed traffic laws. Several times while waiting for a red light the car next to us would decide they weren't going to wait anymore and drive through the red light. It was hilarious.
The streets were full of our favorite fun discovery in the Philippines: Jeepneys. I had read about Jeepneys and was anxious to really see one. They were even more fun than I expected. After the US forced the Japanese out of the Philippines during WWII they left hundreds of military jeeps behind. Resourceful Filipinos turned the jeeps into taxi/buses. They are known for their flamboyant decoration and crowded seating. They have become a ubiquitous symbol of Philippine culture. They are fun, bright and colorful! And they fill the streets of Manila. Jeepneys are supposed to only seat 16 people, but we saw Jeepneys so crammed full  that they people looked like sardines; arms hanging out windows, legs falling out the door and even people hanging onto the outside getting a ride.
We met a family down by the wharf for our first photo shoot. They were darling. 4 boys and one beautiful little girl.  It is said that one of the best places to meet the people of the Philippines and see their daily life is to go to the market. So to market, to market, to buy a fat pig… we went. But we didn't find very many pigs. What we found was FISH: fat fish, skinny fish, slimy fish, shell fish, dead fish, live fish… so many fish! 
And so many people! I always have a hard time with the smells at fish markets and this one proved no different. The smell of fish lying around in a hot, humid market is just not a good smell! But we bought lots of fish and had the restaurant next door cook us our lunch. It was delicious. Although, I have to admit I did not eat the squid.
We also found lots of delicious fruits. Different fruits than what we can have at home. I was excited to find some Durian “King of all tropical fruit” because it is big and delicious! We also ate some dragon fruit: bright pink and sweet. Later, we found some Jack fruit at a little roadside fruit stand. Jack fruit is the largest tree fruit in the world. It didn’t taste great. But the pineapple we got was sweet, juicy and delicious!
It’s interesting to be in an Asian country but feel like I am in South America. Much of the food has a Latin American flare.  The people are a beautiful blend of Chinese and Spanish. Roads, businesses, towns and people often have Spanish names. And these people are very warm and easy going like many Latin Americans.
It was a good day to go to market to buy a fat fish, have a delicious lunch, meet 2 wonderful families and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the Philippines. 

September 15, 2011

Hong Kong

The closest thing to Hong Kong I have ever visited is China Town in New York City. Well, Hong Kong is one GIANT China Town! Big and busy! Streets crowded with people, skyscrapers everywhere (more than 7600), hundreds of taxi’s competing for space on the road, bright colored Chinese lanterns dangling from rooftops, large billboards with Chinese characters enticing local shoppers, and thousands of little shops and restaurants along the street.
Hong Kong is an approximate phonetic rendering of the pronunciation of the spoken Cantonese name which means “Fragrant Harbour”. This was one of the very first points of contact between British sailors and local fisherman and the reference to fragrance refers to the incense from factories lining the coast.
But, as usual, my favorite part of the trip was meeting and visiting with the families. Our visit with the Ho family was purely delightful. They are a rare commodity for China: a family with 6 children! Six beautiful children. We had a great time getting to know them. They fed us delicious dumplings, moon cakes, star fruit and more. We were getting such a kick out of the three little boys who kept eating non-stop! “They are growing boys!” we said. But Elsa, the mother, informed us that this was part of the Chinese culture. She explained “When Grandfather was a refugee, when the communists took over, there were many refugees, and they did not have enough food. Many people were hungry and died of starvation. So this is important to the Chinese people. They feed their children all the time, as much as they can because they do not want them to be hungry. You never know when your food might be taken away from you again.”
The Grandfather was very proud of his Chinese culture. He fascinated us with stories. He demonstrated how to write in calligraphy with his paintbrushes and unique rice paper. He would gracefully lift his wrist and elbow making each stroke just right. The history of Chinese calligraphy is as long as that of China itself. Calligraphy is one of the highest forms of Chinese art. He also showed us his beautiful Chinese paintings. The Chinese have been painting since 4000BC. Art is a very important part of the Chinese culture.
Then they gathered for a final family photo. Three generations. Father, son, grandsons. Everywhere we go families are important. It doesn't seem to matter where or how they live. Fathers and mothers love their children, worry about their children, and want to raise their children to be good people. Everywhere we go little boys still wrestle and play, little girls giggle and laugh. Even with all the wonderful diversity we are still so very much the same. 

September 14, 2011

Mongolia: The Land of Five Emotions

They call Mongolia “The Land of Five Animals”: horse, cow, goat, sheep and camel. I call it “The Land of Five Emotions.” For that is what Mongolia did to me. Experience after experience brought emotion after emotion. As we drove around Ulaanbaatar to visit families I was struck by the destitution in this country. Hundreds of old, dirty apartment buildings that look abandoned. Roads full of pot holes. 
Hills covered with rundown ramshackle homes. Garbage everywhere. It is a sad reminder of what communism does to a country and to a people. It was difficult and heart wrenching (1) to drive around this country. By mere appearances it is depressing (2). However, although these emotions stirred within me I would soon discover that Mongolia was so much more!
We were privileged to meet with families and go into their homes. Their homes, tiny and without a fancy thing to be found, were kept nice and clean. As I entered their homes I immediately felt peace (3). Their small and humble homes were beautiful because they were filled with faith and love. It was a sweet and powerful reminder of how righteousness blesses lives. In what seems a horrible place these people were happy (4). Husbands loved their wives. Parents loved their children. Families smiled and laughed. The power of faith to bring peace and happiness to anyone, wherever they live, whatever their circumstances are, is truly manifest in Mongolia.
And so each emotion stirred within. As I moved from emotion to emotion I found gratitude (5) to be the emotion I felt the most. Gratitude to be in this far away country. Gratitude for faithful families. Gratitude for the opportunity to meet and come to know the sweet, humble and generous people of Mongolia.

September 12, 2011

More Mongolia!

 Well, my plan has always been to just blog once for each country. However, I feel, perhaps that I owe Mongolia an apology. My blog from yesterday may have seemed negative. I was being honest, from my own perspective, this is a tough country to be in. But some may think I’m just a spoiled American girl. And I would have to admit that may be very true.
But another miracle has occurred in Mongolia. Today, we drove out to the Steppes: the beautiful grasslands of Mongolia to visit another family. They are the ultimate, classic, traditional Mongolian family and it was incredible! The miracle is they were exactly what we needed and we got every shot we wanted – plus tons more! They live in a Ger: the traditional home for Mongolians. Some may know it as a Yurt, but that is the Russian term and Mongolians don’t like it!
It was an incredible day with this family. They fed us homemade cheese, yogurt, biscuits and Khuushuur: meat dumplings. As I researched countries and prepared for this trip I had learned about Airag a very unique drink to Mongolians: fermented horse milk! Oh boy. Well, this family had it for us. We all tried it. I’m not sure how to describe it, except that it exploded in my whole mouth like fireworks! J We photographed this darling family, in their colorful deels (traditional clothing); cooking, herding sheep, milking their cow, riding their beat up motorcycle, gathering wood for the fire, and even jumping rope. It was a fabulous, fun day! 

September 11, 2011

Miracle in Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
We arrived in Mongolia late at night after another long day of traveling. Besides the fact that it was dark, we were all so tired we didn’t notice too much about Mongolia on our drive from the airport to the hotel. Except we did notice the crazy driving and the bumpy roads.
Our first night here was an experience that will go down in our books as CLASSIC. In an effort to save money we stayed in a cheap motel. And “cheap” doesn’t even begin to describe it! It was:
1.       Old, dirty, Cigarette smoke FILLED and infested, No hot water, TINY beds squished into a TINY room.
6.       Wet towels. Not just damp, but full on wet! Weird, but it was like they washed them and then stuck them in the room to dry, which they hadn’t.
7.       Naked lady paintings on the wall!!
8.       No plugs, No heat, and people up and noisy all night long.
And the very best part, we discovered it was… ummmm…  “a house of ill repute”! We checked out the next morning and decided sometimes it is worth paying extra for a hotel! Oh boy.
As we drove around Ulaanbaatar the next day to visit the families I was struck by the destitution in this country. It seriously looks like a war torn Afghanistan after the Al Qaida invaded, destroyed and took over! There are thousands of apartment buildings that are old, run down, dirty and look abandoned. They look like they need to be demolished. Then, with a closer look, I noticed laundry hanging on the balcony or dirty, torn curtains hanging in the window. These apartments weren’t abandoned they were lived in! The few paved roads in the city are full of pot holes. There are no curbs, or if there are they are broken and falling apart. There is no greenery or pretty landscape. Garbage is everywhere. It is a sad reminder of what communism does to a country and to a people. Russia controlled and occupied Mongolia up until the early 1990’s. It makes me so thankful for the country I live in. How blessed we are. I don’t think I’ll ever complain about the poorly planned road construction in Mesa again!
It is difficult and heart wrenching to drive around this country. By mere appearances it is depressing. But the amazing thing is we were privileged to go into people’s homes! And herein lies the Miracle in Mongolia: it was incredible to enter these homes and suddenly feel a peace. These homes were kept nice and clean. As I looked around I saw pictures of the temple or the prophet pinned to the wall. It was a privilege to be with these faithful families. It was a sweet and powerful reminder of how the Gospel and faith blesses lives.
In what seems a horrible place, miraculously, these people were happy. The Gospel of Jesus Christ brings peace. The power of the Gospel to bring peace and happiness to anyone; wherever they live, whatever their circumstances are, is truly manifest in the Miracle in Mongolia. The Lord loves all his children and He will bless them wherever they are.

September 08, 2011

Ohhhh Tokyo!

Konichiwa. Tokyo has been awesome! The families wonderful, the kids amazing, the food tasty and the scenery spectacular! I'm just sorry we've only had a few days in this amazing country. If you visit Japan and have a limited amount of time ~ here are a few MUSTS for each visitor:

1. See the adorable toddlers out on walks in their strollers.

2. Visit the Ancient Temple Suwa in the cute little town of Yamanashi.

3. Walk around downtown. It's big and busy but I am astonished at how beautifully clean it all is.

4. Try Takoki: traditional dumpling with octopus. Surprisingly very tasty. (don't try Natto ~ fermented bean dish. Oh boy! I tried it and it was pretty nasty)

5. Meet these amazing, warm and happy people. That really is the best part. Better than any tourist attraction.

What a privilege it has been to be here and spend even a small amount of time with these friendly, generous people. I have loved being in their homes getting to know them; sharing food, stories, and laughter. And they do laugh a ton!
Next time, I will have to stay longer! Sayonara!

September 05, 2011


Konichiwa! We made it to Tokyo! After a LONG flight (which surprisingly wasn't too bad) we arrived in the "Land of the Rising Sun".
It was a very tearful goodbye at the airport in AZ. Oh boy, I almost changed my mind about going! I'm excited to be here, I need to be here, but I will miss home so much!
Note to self: the LA airport is freezing cold! I needed my jacket before I ever even left the country.
We had sushi with our dinner on the plane. I wish my daughter and husband had been there to eat mine. :) I guess I better get used to sushi. Right?
We stopped several times on the drive from the airport to the hotel and took some great shots of people working in the rice fields. I loved this cute, TINY, old woman working in the field. She was seriously 80 years old. It was fun to stop and visit with her. Well, sort of visit. She didn't speak any English. Thankfully, Steve can speak Japanese pretty well. The language barrier will be a big challenge on this trip to 15 different countries.
We got checked into the hotel and then walked down the busy night streets to find dinner. We found a fun little restaurant and had some great authentic Japanese food. Like New York there are lots of fun restaurants and shops everywhere. I don't know what we ate. Steve just ordered for us, but nothing weird. :)
Time for bed. We're crammed into an itty, bitty room. Everything is TINY here. We are all exhausted. We've been up all night! We have a busy day tomorrow. We meet with our families and a school. Lots to do: so many photos to take, interviews to do, questions to ask, video to capture!
It will be a great day. I can't wait.

September 03, 2011

Counting Down To Blast Off!

So, the COUNT DOWN has begun! Officially. I mean, we've been "counting down" for a few weeks but we've all been so busy with everything I haven't even had time to get super excited or stressed yet. And I have to stress a little about leaving the country for 54 days - right? It just hasn't all sunk in. So counting down... 2 days, 8 hours and 36 minutes.

Here are a few random thoughts all fighting for attention in my frenzied mind:

1. Will my daughter survive without me? She'll have ALL of her Dad's attention. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Will I survive without them?

2. Did I think of everything? Did I think of all the right things? Groceries for the family at home. How many frozen pizzas will fit in my freezer? Clothes for all kinds of places, cultures and weather. But make sure it fits in a small carry on! What? Are you serious? Will 3 pairs of shoes be adequate? Why are shoes so big? They take up so much space! Sleep aids for nighttime, caffeine for daytime. Yikes! I'm totally breaking my personal "no caffeine" rule on this trip.

3. Do I have enough text for books? Shot lists for books, shot lists for families. Camera and video equipment. Passport. My life is in one small suitcase!

4. Will I have to eat bugs in Asia? Or Marmot(squirrel) in Mongolia? I must be brave. I'm going with an open mind... and an open mouth. :)

5. We are about to get our world rocked! And hopefully change the world a little in our own way.

6. This opportunity is a chance of a lifetime!

We have a dream. We believe in families and in children and we want to help them. Our vision is grand. It will take lots of hard work, lots of long flights and lots of sleepless nights. But I know we can do it. And, hopefully, I won't have to eat too many bugs along the way.