Sunday, November 26, 2017

Community, Forgiveness, and Summits

Community (Thailand)

When I travel, the heightened sensations, new experiences and adventure are there - but the depth of cultivated community is not. It takes time to nurture community, a luxury most do not usually have when traveling. Though I have a long length of this trip, I have been bouncing around, never somewhere for more than four nights in a new place - this makes it difficult to be a part of a community.

Returning to Thailand was different. After a month in Vietnam with my share of adventure and travel fatigue, stepping off the plane into Bangkok: familiar smells, sounds and language — I felt I was home. I breathed a sigh of relief. 

When we made it to Chiang Mai, my old stomping ground, we (Anna, Alicia and I) spent the majority of our time in Chiang Mai with my community. Kru Toi, my host teacher, welcomed us into her home our first night there and managed to get us tickets to the infamous lantern festival for Loy Krathong at Maejo University.

As always, pictures do no justice to the feeling of magic as hundreds of lanterns light up the sky in the same moment.  The idea behind the holiday is to let go of the bad of the year, and get ready for new and better things. It was perfectly timed as I adjusted to an end to solo travel and travel with friends; with a tough few months behind me and a whole future ahead of me. 

The next portion of my community in Thailand is two young women, Bouquet and Paranee. They were both student teachers alongside me when I taught in Sansai. These two have my heart, and are the main reason I continue to return to Chiang Mai over and over again (although, the food, Kru Patchy & Kru Toi are close seconds). It was an honor to be able to introduce them to Anna and Alicia, who for years had seen pictures and heard stories. We adventured to some of my favorite places, climbing up limestone waterfalls, dancing the night away and walking around Chiang Mai University. (And of course, I took everyone to Pai for a few days, my favorite little town in the world - mostly because I love the feeling of riding the motorbike). 

I was struck by how easy it was for me to reconnect with Bouquet, Paranee, and Kru Patchy and Kru Toi as well. I have built lasting friendships all over the world, each of varying degrees. We do not talk often throughout the years we are apart, but when we reconnect it as though no time has passed. Being back in Thailand for ten days was a brief, but helpful reminder that home is wherever my relationships are. Though I have no idea when I’ll be back to Thailand, I know that I will connect to my community again when I am there, and hope to someday host them as kindly and open-heartedly as they’ve hosted me for the past four years. 

Though I am in no rush to return to Massachusetts, I know that I have also built an incredible community there that I look forward to nurturing and growing when I return. —And Thailand will always remain another home for me. It was a great trip back. 

Paranee & Jessye @ Chiang Mai University — and the whole gang before our overnight bus

Summits - Real and Imagined (India)
Though my previous experience in Southern India was wrought with illness and a fair amount of harassment, I decided to give India another chance - and I’m very glad that I did. This part of the trip was organized by Anna and Alicia, as they had been wanting to come here for quite some time. We ended up first in the Northern mountains of Dharmsala, toward the bottom of the Himalayan mountains. After one too many overnight busses for my taste, we arrived to the small village of Bhagsu within Dharmsala. 

We arrived at 6am and the sun was no where close to rising. Our taxi dropped us off at the bottom of a hill and gestured in the direction of the dark hill and said he thought our hostel was somewhere up there. Nervous, exhausted and in good spirits, with a phone flashlight in hand the three of us began the trek up the steep incline. We knew the name of the hostel, but beyond that did not have much information. After a few fearful stops due to terrifying street dogs, followed by a few wrong steps, and following a herd of donkeys to protect us from the dogs, we eventually found the hostel. No one was around and a sign told us to sit on the rooftop until reception arrived later in the morning. 

The next day, with a paper map not drawn to scale, we headed out to explore some treks on our own. I had previously done some trekking in Vietnam in the mountains and rice paddies of Sapa, and the three of us had done a tough hike up to Doi Suthep temple in Chiang Mai, but nothing had prepared me for the Himalayan hikes we did over the past few days. 

The views took my breath away, as did the altitude.

We climbed up stairs, past rivers, through small towns, and on paths that weren’t really paths but somehow got us close to where we needed to be. The views were mesmerizing and I wish I could transfer what I have seen into photos.  My legs ached and I had to take many breaks, but I did not give up. Never in my life did I imagine I would be able to do this. 13 miles of a variety of terrains later, we took a death-defying taxi ride back to our Bhagsu village and devoured a proper Indian meal. 

The next major hike we did was up to a specific summit, Triund, where we had planned on camping out overnight, but the frigid wind and cold temperatures had us decide to brave the steep decline back to our village that same day instead. 

Hiking up to Triund was one of the most intense physical challenges (if not the most) I’ve ever put myself through. There was a mix of anger at myself, for how difficult it was, as well as pride when I eventually reached the summit after five miles of steep incline and mostly stairs the entire way. At the top, the snow capped mountains and clouds surrounded me and I let myself cry. Tears, for pride of making it to the top even when I thought my legs would not keep going, and sadness for how little I had believed in my ability to ever reach such summits. But, I did it. I look forward to continual summits in my future, real and imagined. Now, I know that I can, there is no turning back. 

New Group, New Place:
After Dharmsala, we went to Kasol, further into the Himalayan mountains. The cold there made Dharmsala seem like a cool fall day in comparison to winters. We hiked alongside snow mountains and even hiked in a little snow ourselves. Looking out your window, walking down the street or hiking, the views were absolutely breathtaking and I continued to challenge myself to new summits. Without heat in most places, it was a constant struggle to find somewhere warm to sit, and we took many trips to the local sulfur hot baths to warm up. 

One of the mornings in Bhagsu, Anna and I trekked to an early morning meditation class in the village of Dharmkot. I was prepared for an hour of silence in which I would try to harness the power to control a stream of my thoughts, or at the very least try to just focus on my breathing. 

We sat in a room full of mostly foreigners, with some Indian locals, on cushions. Silence was the law once stepping onto the grounds. After awhile in silence, a women came to the front to guide the meditation. She explained that today’s meditation would be themed, and she would guide us through. 

The topic of today’s meditation was “forgiveness”

More tears. Not entirely sadness, but a deep gratefulness for the opportunity to be here and to focus on a topic that was so poignant to what I was internally working on. Forgiveness of myself, and forgiveness of those who have hurt me as well. 

As we were guided through a powerful meditation on forgiveness - of ourselves and others - I found myself letting go of anger, and checking in with myself in a deeper way than journaling or self-meditative thought usually gives me. Forgive yourself, she said, as you have suffered enough already. 

That same day, we visited the temple of the Dalai Lama, where he was exiled to out of Tibet. Though he is currently traveling around, Dharmsala is his home and it was fascinating to enter the temple where he worships and is home. The Dalai Lama’s words around opening our hearts to forgiveness and using compassion echoed throughout my head over the next few days. 

May we all reduce suffering by practicing radical forgiveness. 


I hope that everyone who celebrates had a lovely Thanksgiving. I missed my family dearly and wished to be home, but did have a veggie pizza and some Oreos, while sitting by a heater up in the Himalayas so...I celebrated. 

Yesterday, Anna and I said goodbye to Alicia (who headed stateside) and flew to Bangalore, where I am currently writing this blog. Tonight we take an overnight train to Hampi - then back to Bangalore to fly to a new country on the 30th! Sri Lanka! :-) 

Thank you for reading, thankful for all of you - near and far! 


Bouquet & Jessye - silly as always 

Dharmsala hikes

Kasol - Tosh point

Climbing around Kasol
Top of Triund

Being grateful for every moment of this journey - even when I want to give up. Thank you for reading. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

A glimpse of Vietnam: another young (yht & privileged) woman travel blogs

Many travel blogs focus on what the person did: Where they went, what they saw, and tips and tricks.  I have not been in Vietnam long enough to tell you what the country is like, or how the people are - and without speaking Vietnamese, I really have no way of knowing. My experiences have all been positive with the Vietnamese people I’ve met. The places I’ve seen so far have been beautiful, bustling, and confusing. Similar to Thailand, the locals who work in tourist zones speak some English and the Vietnamese people I’d really like to talk to, don’t speak much (or any) English. The cities are similar to cities back home, but with a more rustic feel and more pop-up shops. 

Some memorable experiences have been with Vietnamese university students who’ve stopped me on the street to ask me questions and practice their English (often recording it to show their teachers). Their most common questions are “Have you tried Vietnamese food?” and “How do you like Vietnam?”  They are a bit flustered when I ask them questions back in response. One evening I spent over an hour sitting on the pavement in a circle, with a group of 10 students who asked me to practice English. They took turns referring to their print out sheets of paper and asking me questions, sometimes answering mine. 

Getting lost, taking risks, frightening and/or frustrating experiences that turn into great stories later on - these are the things I think of when I am reflecting on these past few weeks in Vietnam. Many times when I’ve been lost, without data on my phone, I’ve pointed aimlessly at my phone maps in the hopes someone will point me in the right direction. It takes several people before someone even understands what I’m asking (and then I feel guilty for not speaking Vietnamese). Some days I set out purposely to get lost, believing I’ll find my way back. 

Pictures do no justice to the breathtakingly beautiful landscapes I’ve seen, (Sapa, Halong Bay, Cat Ba Island) nor do they capture the adrenaline rush  of crossing insanely busy streets with motorbikes and cars that don’t stop for you, but move around you in some sort of traffic dance.  


I have spent most of my time here in Vietnam walking the streets, from busy cities like Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) & Hanoi to the smaller (more scenic?) places like Cat Ba Island and Sapa. I have written every single day. I challenged myself to hikes I did not think I could do, only to succeed. I swam on monkey island and watched cautiously from the blue waters as the monkeys appeared to be planning an attack on our stuff ashore. Halong Bay, one of the natural wonders of the world, was simply inexplicable. My favorite experience there was kayaking in the bay with towering rock islands above me and blue green water below. There is something about realizing how small you are in comparison to great world wonders, that somehow makes me feel full. 

Mama Mao’s Homestay in the Hâu Tháo Village
By far my most memorable experience was a three day trek into a Hmong village in the mountains of Sapa in Northern Vietnam.

As I stumbled off the overnight bus at 6am, Mama Mao greeted me and asked if I had already booked a tour. Having done some research, I had discovered that booking through a hostel meant they paid the local people minimally. The best way to do a home stay was to meet someone like Mama Mao when you got off the bus. 

Mama Mao showed me the trail we would go on to her village, to waterfalls and rice paddies. We agreed to meet the next morning at 9am so that I could have a day to explore Sapa’s little town. 

Mama Mao picked me up the next day as agreed and with my small day pack, we headed out. The first day was mostly uphill, muddy and slippery. At one point the downhill parts were so steep and slippery that Mama Mao and Mama Mae were both holding my hands preventing what they told me was “death time” if I were to slip down the steep hills with drop offs on either side. They also requested we take a selfie together. (#globalization?)

                                          (Mama Mae on the left, Mama Mao on the right) 

Mama Mae appeared out of nowhere when I was about to fall, gripping my hand and guiding me through rocky, muddy downhill paths. Though I later found out that really she just wanted me to buy something from her, (and after saving my life on the nearly vertical hills I obliged). She followed us for a few hours of the trek back to Mama Mao’s home. Though foggy and the rice had been recently cut, the views were still beautiful and I know it is a place I will to come back to. 

Mama Mao is 30 years old. She has 4 children and married her husband when she was 15 years old, having her first child at 17. Her husband doesn’t work, and their families income is dependent on her doing these tours.  She was kind and patient as I stopped to take pictures or catch my breath. We hiked many miles that first day and then arrived back at her home. I could only see two or three other houses nearby. 

Her home was two large adjoining rooms with cement floors and walls. There were several beds with mosquito nets, a room with a plastic table and then the kitchen - which had a small cement cut out in the ground where a fireplace was that cooked the rice, spring rolls and tea. There was a small hot plate in the corner where the rest of the cooking was done. 

With the trekking over, as the only person joining her that night, I read and wrote. I played tag with her four year old son and helped shuck corn to feed the pigs. The next day we trekked again from 11am to 5pm. The day after that, from noon until 4pm. My legs ached but I valued the solo meditative walking time to be in my own head. 

In the evenings we would sit around the fireplace and her family would all speak Hmong while pausing to tell me to eat more, eat more - in between lively conversations. 

I loved seeing the way Mama Mao and her family lived, and I was welcomed into her home as she does to everyone she brings there. New foods, such as fried maggots, also added to my interesting experience. A homestay is a must do!  


When I’ve tried to start this blog entry several times, this is the sentiment I keep coming back to.

Grateful for the privilege to be able to travel to Vietnam. The United States passport privilege, English speaking privilege, can quit my job and spend my savings privilege, sublet my room privilege — Privilege coats my experience in daily life back in the states too, but here it’s a different awareness.  As I navigate a relatively homogenous country with rich history and a new culture, I am aware of my otherness and the privilege I have to be here - when many of the Vietnamese people I meet have never left their cities, towns or villages. 

I am grateful for my two feet and able-bodied self.
These feet have traversed the globe. Walking up mountains I didn’t think I could summit, but listening to me when I say “I am going to try this.” These feet of mine help me see new sights. They help me take in breathtaking beauty in nature and bustling cities. From the rolling hills and rice paddies of Sapa to Halong Bay, one of the natural wonders of the world.

I am grateful for the kind, warm hearted Vietnamese people I have met who have brightened my days.  Grateful for the delicious Vietnamese street food that fills my belly after easy days and tough ones alike. Grateful for the few fellow travellers who’ve made lonely evenings more fun. 

I am grateful for this experience. Though I want to say it is “once in a lifetime” - the more I travel, the more I know this is going to be something I do for my entire life. As long as I can, I never want to stop exploring. 

Solo Travel: Lonely & Empowering 
Most of the experiences I’ve had thus far, from trekking for many miles in the mountains of Sapa, to walking around West Lake, to swimming on Monkey Island, to just daily adventures around the cities, museum trips — etc - I have been solo. Solo travel to this extent is new to me. 

Though I spent a year alone in Thailand, and many evenings in solitude, I had my Fulbright and Sansai community and a home to come back to - and I could speak a bit of the language - and I had purpose and a job to do. 

Now, each day is up to me. It is a daunting task sometimes to figure out what it is I want to do, how I want to do it, for how long. Free of responsibilities and lost in my overactive mind, I find myself thinking constantly about the world, politics, travel...I write stories in my head, analyze my life, make plans for the future, recall memories — all while taking in the vastness of the new place I’ve put myself in. 

Some days are lonelier than others. There are other travelers I’ve spent evenings and days with, no one consistently but someone here and there. While it fills the void for a day or several evenings, it lacks the depth and vulnerability of a friendship in which you know someone deeply. This I miss. 

However, I have enjoyed these lonely days in a new way. Pushing through them is a triumph. I am learning to enjoy those times when pleasant aloneness transcends into loneliness and back into pleasant. 

I am the only person I have to spend the rest of my life with, so I must learn to love my own company and depend completely and solely on myself. This is my ultimate goal - to be able to battle everything on my own, hold my hand, be my own best friend. 

Of course, FaceTime and some texting here and there keeps me afloat sometimes, but it’s briefly in the morning or at night - the days are just me - while my friends and parents sleep. 

So each day, I adventure, learn, grow, write, read, drink coffee, eat, walk, bike, jog, swim, kayak, hike and more. I do it by myself 90% of the time. It’s invigorating. 

This weekend my friends Anna and Alicia will join me as we head to a beach in Southern Vietnam, followed by Thailand next. Stay tuned! 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Quit job, will travel: my next liminal phase

Pain has a way of causing us to re-evaluate what we want from life - and where we are headed. The recent ending of a long-term relationship and the realization that I was also unhappy at work, led me to feel I needed to get away for a little while, to reclaim myself as Jessye, just Jessye.

Against social norms, or rather against the so-called "responsible" route, I decided to take a leap of faith, quit my job and travel around the world. It is something I have been wanting to do for a long time - and finally have the means, the freedom and the privilege to do so. Emphasis on privilege, I am very lucky.

Since January of 2015, I was dating someone I loved deeply. When our relationship came to a close, my patience was waning at work and my boredom level was growing. Eager for a new challenge and adventure, I realized the time was now. I have been working for this agency for 2 years, 9 months - in two different positions, with a supervisory role as my most recent. Ever the wanderluster, NEW felt important and so...

With those realizations, I gave notice to my job. Put my own mental health first. My last day is September 29th.

I bought a one-way ticket to Vietnam, leaving October 10th.
Two friends join me at the end of October then we go to: Thailand, India, and Sri Lanka. 
Dec 13th I fly to my first alternative home, Ghana, for my dearest friend's wedding.

 I don't have a return ticket yet. I'm not sure of my plan.

So, here I go. Enjoy the updates.

Picture from my last adventure - Colombia - July 2017

What is home? Is travel ethical or unethical?

What is home? Is travel ethical or unethical? These are the two questions I am asking myself the most.  I have spent the last four plu...