Patagucci

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Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Coolest place ever. No challenge. Nothing comes close.

At the start of semester 2, we spent 10 days in Torres del Paine National Park. It’s located in the southern most part of Chile, which is absurdly far from Amman. We arrived after about of 48 hours of travel, and a total of 5 flights. And 3 continents.

When we got to Puerto Arenas, we met our guide for the trek. He goes by Mono, which is Spanish for monkey. He’s a tall, lanky dude, with a goofy grin and a ragged head of hair. He wears big, white, buggish sunglasses, and a bunch of torn up, multi-colored backpacking gear. Mono spends his summers leading trips in Patagonia, and the winters being a skiing instructor. We all love the guy, and miss his unwavering enthusiasm here in Santiago.

We went full mountaineer in Patagonia. There was kayaking, bush-wacking up a peak, mountain biking, penguins, glaciers, and a 5 day trek in the park. I ate strange berries that taste like cotton candy or a bug, depending on which ones you picked. I also saw a fox and a bunch of Europeans.

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Cuatro Caballos, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Everything in that park looks like it is from a different world. Or from an exaggerated rendering of itself. Or Avatar the movie. There are obnoxiously green plants everywhere, and the mountains are crazy steep and jagged, with tall granite towers. All of the wildlife is completely different from the wildlife in the US, from Guanacos, (Patagonian Llamas), to huge condors that circle above the mountains. The ground goes from dark black slate near the bottom, to stark white granite as you climb, to muddy soil in the forest. The trees grow in strange shapes, and the most common type only grows leaves at the top, creating this geometrical canopy across the landscape. It’s surreal.

When you’re in such a strange, stupid beautiful place, it does stuff to your brain. Or at least it does to mine. Can’t help it, I’m a outdoorsy nerd who eats pinecones and thinks camping equipment is cool. But I really do think that there is something that happens when people are in places like Torres. Views can give you shivers. The air tastes different, and feels different on your skin. It makes you think about being a small speck in the landscape, a blip amongst a never ending map. At the same time it makes you feel important, like a caretaker. Like you are a crucial part of that same, torn up map.

The world outside of my own is never ending. And that feeling messes with me. Each new person, interaction, or even a stupid hike, they make me feel that way just a little bit. It all becomes an expansion of my own life. I think part of that was why I left home in the first place. Or at least didn’t go straight to college in the States. It seemed like there was more to do and experience before I got started on school. Like I was still missing out on something. I could say this going into gap year, and I’ve written about this before. But I definitely didn’t know what that meant until we got back from Patagonia. We mostly just did super cool stuff in the mountains, really just for fun. But it definitely gave me time to process the past 5 weeks in the Middle East and what we had ahead of us.

I think what I’m getting a lot of on gap year is not only more of the map, but the role I play in it. What does my tiny dot contribute? How do I follow through with that?

I got nothing to answer that, but I’ll let you know when I do. Here’s some more pictures, everyone go to Torres you won’t regret it.

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Ryan’s back, Mt. Tenerife, Puerto Natales, Chile

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Ryan’s and Ann’s backs, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

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Ryan’s back #3, Mt. Tenerife, Puerto Natales, Chile

-Ethan

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حبيبي (Habibi)

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2 goons, Salt, Jordan

These are my brothers. On the right is Ryan, my roommate of the past 2 months and of the next 2. He’s a bad foosball player, is a quarter inch taller than me, my partner in crime, and a friend to the end. Pictured right is our Jordanian host brother, Saif. During our two week stay in Jordan, we stayed with Saif in his family’s home just outside of Amman. He has never slept, loves his local handball team, is friends with everyone he has ever met, and one of the happiest people I know. We were in Amman to take a 2 week relational needs course at the Ithra’a Training Center. We had classes every morning, and then spent the rest of our time hanging out with our family.

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Treasury Building, Petra, Jordan

Jordan was nonstop. From the moment we got there and met our host families, it was constant activity. On an average evening, Saif would take us from lunch to the mall then to shisha to more food to laser tag, back for more food, then back for shisha. The pace destroyed my body, but I tell you what, my ability to rally now is just absurd. On top of all the fun in Amman, we went on a weekend trip to see other crazy stuff in Jordan. We slept in the Wadi Rum Desert, which is by far the craziest looking place I have ever seen. The rock and mountains make it look like it is from a different planet. Which makes sense, Star Wars and The Martian were both filmed there. From there we went to the beach in Aquba, where we played volleyball and chilled for the day. Then early Sunday morning we left for Petra. That’s the big temple looking place from Indiana Jones. I didn’t know this before, but turns out that there is an entire ancient city carved into the rock back there, with a theatre banks and everything. I also didn’t know that it is one of the 7 Modern Wonders of The World, which is also kinda cool.

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A dude, Wadi Rum Desert, Jordan

But no matter what, the highlight of Jordan will be Saif. In Arabic, the word حبيبي, or “habibi” literally translates to “my love” in English. It is a term of endearment used between men, and “habibti” if it is to a woman or between women. It would be similar to “bro” in the US, but a little more poetic. This was the first word Saif taught us when we got to the Middle East. From the first day Ryan and I met him, we were habibi to him. Without any hesitation, that soft spoken, full sized teddy bear took us into his world with excitement and compassion. It was like we were friends in another life, and we instantly felt part of the group. He introduced us as his brothers to everyone he knew, even the occasional waiter. He could make anyone laugh without even being funny, just by being around him. Saif was a great host, but he’s an even better friend.

I miss you habibi, I’ll see you soon.

-Ethan

Back at it

Toll on group since arrival:

  • 1 passport scare
  • 4 taken out from virus
  • a broken speaker
  • 1 pocket knife taken by Israeli Security
  • 15+ games of Werewolf

The Holy Land has been mayhem so far. We are a week or so into this trip, and I feel like I’ve already been thrown more information than I did in 4 years of high school. I feel like I’m seeing more than I ever would at college. Most days are full on, going straight from the most important religious sights in the world, to refugee camps, straight to class with politicians in Jerusalem. We typically cover geo politics, international law, world history, and monotheistic religion all in one day. As you can imagine, it is pretty overwhelming, and occasionally can be difficult to stop and process everything going on. There is so much going on in this tiny area, it would be impossible to have it all under wraps. As great as all of this craziness has been, the highlight for me has been just staying in Bethlehem. It is like most towns here, built into the side of the mountain, buildings seeming to be piled on top of each other. Some structures predate the Romans. Passing through town or doing community service, meeting people and being in the city has been the biggest insight into what this place is about. Everyday I’ve been here, I have seen more and more of what this region and it’s people have to offer. There is still so much to learn by all, from each side, country, religion, and person. I’m just stoked to Right now, I’m just trying to keep some weight off. They won’t stop feeding us, and I have no self control. Send prayers. Goodnight from Beit Sahur.

-Ethan

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Aida Refugee Camp, West Bank

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Below are select portraits I took on the RTD bus over the past 3 months.

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A man from the back barks at anyone who will listen, choking on each word that comes out of his mouth.A teenage girl frantically flips through a stack of flash cards the size of a brick. An intoxicated woman sings gospel with her boyfriend, on melody but out of time.   A mother scrambles for a fare while her toddler stumbles into a seat.

 

The bus was one of the most important parts of my semester in Denver. It was how I got to know the city, and it’s people. I missed a lot of stops, lost in thought and in observation of all the strange, strange humans around me.

As a house, we talked a lot about the main character theory. It’s the idea that each person believes they are the protagonist of a story, and that the world revolves around that character and their story. Everyone else is an extra, or a supporting role. The cashier, the car next to you on the highway, the politician, Guy Fieri, are all outside roles in your own elaborate plot. But what happens is that the cashier thinks that he’s the center of his story, and the family in the minivan are the center of their story, and honestly, Guy Fieri should be the center of everyone’s story. Trying to see those people’s stories helped in gaining perspective on their life. With every angry drunk man yelling about Soultrain on the bus came a full, dramatic tale of how he got to this point and where he’s headed, and why he loves Soultrain so much.

Being home has been great, but I certainly miss the characters. I know everyone here. There isn’t much that is new here, and not much that is different either. I’ll miss the city, but I’ll especially miss the unknown, imperfect stories it has to tell. I leave for Israel in 10 days, and I hope it continues to bring me more of the unknown.

On to the next one.

Also shoutout Jake Emily Ann Virginia Noah Amy Emma for being some of the best friends I’ve ever had, see y’all in a week.

-Ethan

 

Home

4 months ago, I was content. Senior year was over, I was working a ton, hanging with friends, willfully distracted. The whole summer was like that. Coasting, waiting for August 19th to come. But I was content there. At times bored, slightly frustrated, or tired, but I was fine. I was having fun and enjoying life. Nothing was happening. Then I said goodbye to family and friends and took off.

Now on week 12, I’d do a lot for a few more hours of that feeling. No need to alarm, I am still doing great and loving it. But it has been hard. I knew it would be, but not this hard. I’m finally getting pushed. I’m finding things out about myself that I didn’t know existed. I’ve seen myself at my best, but also at my very worst. The past few weeks have been pretty painful, and I am struggling to figure out how to handle it. Hence, part of the reason I am writing.

Gut reaction? I want to go home. Mask any pain or difficulty with comfort and the familiar. To cower and run when things get scary. Sit in my room at my desk and daydream aimlessly, watching nothing, and the world, pass by my window. Normally I’ve been able to handle conflicts and issues in the past, but this seems different. It seems real. Being home is so tempting because it’s so safe. No one will poke and prod at me. I could just continue coasting, and be content. Probably a little extreme.

But to what avail? I’m here. I’ve learned and experienced more than I know. I’ve met the most amazing, beautiful people. I’m being pushed not to hurt me, but to make me better. The people around me know and want what is best for me. So what that some emotions got the best of me?

Right now it’s hard for me to see. I’m currently frustrated and tired and also pretty vulnerable. My urge is still to hole back up within myself, and just hide. To reject this pain and searching would be too easy right now. But I also know this is what is best for me. I’ve known it since I signed up. Things are happening here. A lot of really awesome things, but then a few hard ones.

And I’m only just coming to terms with that last part.

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29th St, Del Mar, California

Sorry for the rant. I just needed to process and share for a little bit. I go back to Poway for Thanksgiving in two weeks, and I am more than stoked to ride bikes and hang with my brothers and go skydiving. I’ll have to deal with a lot of these issues, but I think it will be a good break. I also have a bunch of super cool stuff planned for before we leave Denver. Thank you again for reading!

-Ethan

Neature

The wind and rain ripped into the side of our tent. It was pitch black outside, and the only lights we had were iPhone flashes. Virginia was trying to pull our stuff away from the wet patches on the side, and Emily is shivering, hiding in her sleeping bag from a drip above her head. It is 9:30, and we haven’t left the tent in 7 hours. We had already given up on cooking a dinner long ago. I started to collect the food we had not already eaten to go hang it, so the bears can’t get it. And I told them camping would be fun.

That Monday, when we first decided to go camping, I can’t lie I was a little skeptical. I love them to death but no one had struck me as the “outdoorsy” type. I was also the only one in the group who had been camping before. If you have never been full on pack-in overnight camping before, chances are that you won’t enjoy it. I mean, who would like carrying 40 pounds up a mountain to eat peanut butter in a cold tent? But, regardless, the group was still down, and so we sent it. Bless’em.

I spent the whole week stressing, picking the campsite, getting all the gear, planning the bus route, and trying to figure out food for 6 people. Shoutout Denver REI for being the coolest place ever, and for hooking us up with rental gear and trail maps. Also double shoutout to the housemates for being cool and helping out.

We took off for Lost Lake Saturday morning. We got to the trailhead around 1, and it was forecasted to rain at 3. We took off up the hill, hustling to beat the weather. It was a pretty rad hike, with waterfalls and greenery and yellow aspens. The lake was gorgeous too. It’s at the bottom of this big mountain face just below the tree line, with bright blue water.

We got set up at the site just before the storm hit. The light drizzle that was forecasted turned into pouring rain and gusts of 40-50mph. And instead of lasting an hour or two, it hovered overhead until 10 that night. All 6 of us piled in the biggest tent and tried to play cards to wait out the storm. Cooking dinner was totally out of the question, so we ended up just eating all of our snacks. It was pretty much as bad as it gets. We all decided to try and get some rest once the rain stopped. It gusted throughout the night, shaking our tent violently.

That night, unable to sleep, I thought a lot about how crazy that situation was. The one time I take people camping all hell breaks loose and mother nature throws a tantrum. But what was the weirdest thing was everyone’s reaction. Like I said earlier, I was totally expecting at least one person to absolutely hate it, and that was without the weather. But so far, everyone seemed like they were still having a good time. Heck, they seemed like they were having more fun than I was. Even more so, I don’t think anyone said anything remotely negative since we left Denver. Regardless of the conditions, the whole group was still just as stoked as if this was the best thing ever. They continued to be positive and make the best out of the situation.It made me look at my own attitude, and realize how awesome my friends are.

We woke up Sunday morning to a scream. the sun had just broken the horizon, and sunlight was pouring in the open door of our tent. Emily was still yelling and screaming about something, but it took me a while to figure out what. The grogginess wears off, and I realize she is saying snow. My vision clears and sure enough, there are 5 fresh inches on the ground. You could see it on the trees and bushes, and a layer of it was resting on top of our tent. Everyone frantically threw on shoes and layers, and climbed out of the tents.  We played in the snow all morning while we made breakfast. Any exhaustion from last night was replaced with childlike giddiness and joy.

That morning, I finally saw how much these people mean to me. This whole year to me was all about experience and self discovery and all that. But in that moment, I saw that it was so much more than that. This strange community of lost teenagers has become a second family to me. To this day that trip is a constant reminder how how much I love these guys. We are all so different, and it is challenging as heck, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Blog camping postLost Lake, Nederland CO

So sorry I have not been blogging recently, have been crazy busy with internships and other awesome stuff. Will definitely be writing more, and have tons to fill in. Thanks again for reading.

-Ethan

Sir

The Thursday before I started at Annunciation, I went and visited campus to fill out some paperwork and meet the class. I was taken to the 1st grade classroom, and standing at the door waiting for me was Sir.

 

Speaking slowly and deliberately, he introduced himself. “Good morning, my name is Sir, and welcome to 1st Grade.” He shook my hand cautiously, and then threw his arms around me for a hug. It was adorable and hilarious, but before I had time to thank him, he turned around and walked back in to class. As the principal was introducing me to Mrs. Anderson, Sir stood up, unprovoked, and flipped over his desk. On his way to the office he went, “Bye Mr. Ethan!” as he skipped by. I’ve liked him ever since.

 

 

This is Sir. He is 6 years old, and this is his first year at Annunciation. He loves football, and his favorite team is the Cowboys, because that’s who he plays for. His favorite candy is Skittles, and he also really likes sharks. Sir loves outwardly, and is a friend to everyone he meets. He expresses himself in a unguarded and trusting way, and inspires me to be more vulnerable and honest with myself.

 

The kid also troubles me. He is not easily understood, which is typical for a first grader. He is very intelligent and capable. When he is not distracted, he finishes his work quickly. He thrives when we do art projects. But he is also very distracted. He struggles to pay attention, and can be a significant disturbance in class. He knows it, and he doesn’t mean to be. There are definitely habits of his that are not all about “showing compassion” as Mrs. Anderson would say. He lies to get his way, or to avoid discipline, and bothers other students for attention. He has a nasty temper and a stealing problem.

 

You can tell that his issues in the classroom hurt him. Sir has told me before that he thinks he is a “bad kid” and that he doesn’t like “always being in trouble”. All I can do is sit down and console him, and tell him he’s a good kid and all of the positive things about him. When he is like this it really softens your heart, but when he turns around and misbehaves again, it makes it impossible to know what to do. At what point do I have to become stern? How do I be supportive? How can I best serve this class?

 

I’ve been working at Annunciation for three weeks now, and this has definitely been my biggest struggle. Each student responds different than that last, and just when you think that you have things under control, they sweep the rug out from under you and then throw a iPad. It’s a balancing act of being stern and being compassionate, being a mentor and being a friend. Working with Sir has been a very challenging task. I mean there are times that you really do want to have it out with him. The frustration is exhausting.

 

But what I have found is that the love that I have for Sir is the same love that I have for this job. He can frustrate me to no end, but I still grin ear to ear every morning when he comes in and we do our secret handshake. No matter how chaotic and frustrating the job can be, each day I am more ecstatic to be there than the last. Every sign of growth, or every innocent, hilarious moment, is making me realize more and more how much I love teaching. It feels natural to me, and I feel like I am getting back what I am putting in tenfold. I had no idea I would like it either. So I guess something about this Gap Year is working. And I think this 6 year old is to thank for that.

 

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I drafted this post on Sunday night. When I came into school Monday morning, I was told that Sir had been pulled out of school. Neither Mrs. Anderson or I had any idea that this was going to happen, and we are both devastated. I ask that you keep this class and Sir in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you again for reading.

 

-Ethan

Weeko Numero Uno

This weekend I found my favorite place in Denver. The Botanical Gardens in Cheesman Park is the coolest place ever. They have every plant you have ever seen and then some, a Greenhouse the size of a mall with a treehouse inside, and a huge art gallery. There is even a lily pad collection. I didn’t know there was more than one type!

As of last Tuesday, the routine has officially started. I made it through one week of full time work and independence, and what a week it’s been. Although I miss the chaos and freedom of orientation, reality has been pretty insane too. I was worried that I would be bored of the schedule of working and classes. I don’t typically like the structure, and have found it restraining in the past. Going into the week, I was excited to start work, but also disappointed because the fun was ending.

Although I was partially right about a schedule, I hadn’t considered how amazing my first internship would be. I absolutely love it. I am a first grade teacher’s assistant at Annunciation Catholic School. There are 18 kids in the class, each one more rambunctious and hilarious than the last.  Along with filing and classroom prep, I am responsible for keeping the troublesome kids out of trouble and on task. From the first day, I have felt a really awesome connection with this class. Each one comes with their own challenges and baggage, but they each radiate so much love and compassion. I’m constantly bombarded with hugs and excited cries of “Mr. Ethan!” every time I walk in. They’re all just lost in their little worlds, starting to figure out themselves and the place they live in. My favorite bible verse is Matthew 19:14, which says “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”. In hindsight, it makes sense for why I picked this internship (thanks Big G). Spending the past week with this class has already inspired me to be a more compassionate and loving Christian. Their excitement for life is contagious, and I can’t wait to see how much more I will grow through this job.

Stoked for week two, Mrs. Anderson told me on Friday that I was going to start leading activity groups, so wish me luck! Also my birthday is this weekend, thinking that its gonna be a wild one. Thank you for reading, and if you like my blog and wanna be generous, anyone who can get me a Cali Burrito from home will be my best friend.

-Ethan

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Denver Botanical Gardens, Cheesman Park, CO

The Beginning of Adulting

It’s 12:30. I’ve been up for an hour, finally having a slow morning to myself now that Orientation #2 is over. Constant 8 to 8 classes and meetings has been awesome, but certainly draining. Everyone else is slowly trickling downstairs, most have slept past 11. I’m sitting in the backyard, watching some squirrels be obnoxious and listening to Fleet Foxes. The city continues to move around our little house on Colfax Ave. It’s a busy weekend in Denver. It’s Labor Day, CU beat CSU last night (skkooo buffs), the Rockies play at home, and there’s a free music festival in Civic Center Park. So I guess I’ll just sleep when I’m dead.

This week really has been crazy. Starting on Monday and ending last night, it has been nonstop. We’ve been meeting new people and leaders, starting classes, exploring Denver, learning public transport, and meal planning. Big G (Greg Fuchs our Denver leader) has led us on a borderline goose chase trying learn our new life. Greg’s a champ but I’d need a whole separate post to tell you about the man, and I’ll make sure that happens. On top of that, we are all still adjusting to being away from home, and more so adjusting to living with each other. Don’t get me wrong, everyone is totally awesome and I still love them all to death. It is just a little different that’s all.

I love this city. I have always thought that I would like living in Colorado, but I’m close to obsessed. To start, everything here has my name written all over it. There are tons of parks in the city, and I can go to the mountains whenever I want. Ski season starts in November. I found good Mexican food. There are concerts every week, and the best venue is two blocks from my house. I’ve also had the chance to meet so many leaders doing amazing things in the city. Everyone at Mile High Ministries, Mark and Nicole from Dry Bones, Darius from the Issachar Center, and many others, have shown me the overwhelming amount of positive things going on in the city to help others. It has been awesome for me to be surrounded by others who are passionate about serving, and I am really excited to spend more time doing that this semester.

But most of all, I have fallen in love with the people of Denver. Sure it has been great hanging out with the hippie outdoorsy type, but what I have loved the most is being around people that are nothing like me. I came here from Poway, California, which is a self proclaimed white upper class christian bubble. Which is great, and I have never lived anywhere different. That is who I am, and there is nothing wrong with that. But getting to be around people from all walks of life is something I needed so desperately. It forces me to empathize with others on a level so much deeper, just because I ride the bus with them. I have learned so much about the homeless community, the Hispanic population, teen moms, American Muslims, and the African-American community in Denver, and I’ve only been here 7 days. I get to walk along side the familiar and the foreign, the friendly and the fearful. It is real, and raw, and scary, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

What excites me the most about this next semester is continuing to be immersed in this city and with its people. Sure I’m stoked to snowboard and see SZA with Smino live, but my excitement for the next 3 months is so much deeper than that. In a controlled environment with lots of support, naps, and snacks, I’m sort of an adulting now. I go to work and live by myself and cook and handle my business. And I’m doing it in real life, with all sorts of people doing it along side me. That is what is most exciting about this semester for me. I am starting a whole new phase of life that is wildly different than anything I’ve experienced before. It’s the beginning of adulting.

-Ethan

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Our House, Capitol Hill, Denver CO

ps. Yesterday for lunch I had pb&j, hot cheetos, and chocolate milk. Adult food is for chumps.

Issa Blog: Orientation

It’s 3 am. While everyone else is asleep, the nocturnal kids in our group are up watching It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and chugging Red Bulls. Empty cookie tins and Nalgenes are scattered across the counters. Phone and computer chargers line the floor like man eating jungle vines.  Living in an apartment with 15 strangers has been a strange, messed up social experiment. Personalities have clashed, diets have been compromised, personal space has been invaded. Most of us have self diagnosed ourselves with cabin fever, and preemptive culture shock. Stress is high throughout the group. Tensions have reached very hostile levels, and things have nearly got out of hand. But please do not be concerned. As scary as it sounds, the alternative was college level stats. I think I’ll stick with the time in the mountains.

Kivu ’18 crushed this week. Straight up killed it. From cooking to classes to trips, everything was just awesome. The whole group was so cool and accepting and open, and it really made the week unforgettable. The 15 strangers from the start of the week have become a group of people that I admire, respect and love with all of my heart. Their vulnerability and openness has been awe inspiring. Seeing this amazing, diverse group of people come together in thought and in life has been a really awesome experience. I cannot speak highly enough of this group of hooligans. If you are reading my blog, please go check out some of their’s as well (on Kivu Gap Year website). I don’t know how I’m gonna make it this semester without all of them.

Tomorrow morning I leave for Denver, where I will be working at Annunciation Catholic School, as well as The Boys and Girls Club at Godsman Elementary. For now, I don’t have much more to say than thank you again. If you are reading this you have probably helped me along the way, or helped someone else in the program. For me, this year has been a dream since 8th grade, so to finally be here is surreal. Thank you for your generosity and support, I am beyond grateful. I hope that you continue to follow me throughout the year, or at least text me once and a while. I’m gonna go finish packing.

-Ethan

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Baldy Mountain, Breckenridge CO