I guess you are here because you have discovered one of my books and enjoyed it enough to find out more about the author, me. Either that or you’re a potential employer who is investigating me to see if I would be a good fit for your organization. In which case, surprise, I write books as well as teach. Some might look at that as a bad thing, and if so, please explain to me how.

For whoever finds my site, I want to welcome you, and also allow you the opportunity to follow me on a regular basis. Anybody is welcome as long as you keep your posts appropriate, and respect the other followers to this site. As long as everybody follows those two simple rules, I won’t have to kick anybody off. Let the friendly banter begin.

I am hoping to create an interactive site that everybody can enjoy. Of course, I will keep you up to date on the latest writings coming out of my head, and I will also let you know when and where I will be in the world, so someday you might be able to meet me in person. Most people regret that decision, but who knows, maybe you’ll be in the minority.

I will also tell you about my world-wide travels as this is something I do on a regular basis. I’ll show you pictures from places I have been (this one is from Dubrovnik, better known to fans of The Song of Ice and Fire as King’s Landing), and tell you the exciting stories that happen to me along the way. You are also welcome to ask me any questions you may have about the place I have been, and I will try to answer them in a timely manner.

I know it all sounds amazing, and I can see you wondering why you haven’t been a part of this fantastic experience so far, but let me tell you about the most exciting part of following this site – the interactive part.  You were probably wondering when I would get to that part I had promised you earlier. Well, I plan to create a list every month, and I want you to participate in its formation. I do love countdowns, but I am always disappointed in them. So I have decided to take matters into my own hands. You will be able to post your top ten of each monthly list and at the end of each month, I will comprise the total list to give you the countdown for that subject. Look for each new subject on the first day of each month, and the final list of the previous month by the fifteenth.

Otherwise, it is very nice to have you a part of this experience, and I look forward to all of our future posts together.


Accountability – Part 3 – Chapter 7

I know it has been awhile, but here is the conclusion to Accountability.


Dr. Nancy Ann Blur’s death was written up in the press as a heroic tragedy reminiscent of Shakespearean times. Almost every paper claimed the pressures of her highly important job had finally captured her and she just snapped. After seeing another woman who was unfit to be a mother, they conjectured, she had just given up hope that the youth of this nation could be saved, so she had ended her life on that warm April afternoon. So many people had witnessed the event live on television and because of the gruesome nature of what had transpired, the news showed it again and again in case anybody had missed it. The front page of The Denver Post had actually captured a still of the event showing the gore flying up behind her as she began to slump towards the ground, one eye open and one eye already closed. It was the talk of the nation. What could have driven a woman, respected and loved by millions, to such a horrendous act to end her life? People could only speculate on what the truth behind the matter was.

The People’s Network did a little more investigation than the other networks did. For some reason, every other reporter there forgot about the main reason they traveled all around the city of Denver and not one of them interviewed me about my involvement in the story. They only stayed focused on the act Dr. Blur performed. The People’s Network remembered the name of Rachael Britva and made sure to include an interview with me in their broadcast. They believed this would give them some insight as to what actually happened. I told them my side of the story. I even went as far as to give them all of the paperwork I had about how Dr. Blur and Sam Hogston were a part of a scandal that would bring down the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act forever. They broadcasted all of this information, and they thought they had the scoop over every other sensationalized network and newspaper out there. Once again, the People’s Network was dismissed as a propagandist who tried to create something terrible out of someone else’s tragedy. Other newscasters and reporters wouldn’t even look at the evidence because they thought it was just another conspiracy theory by a second rate news organization. They believed there was no way the American people would accept this information as true.

That was the saddest part of this whole story, the way the truth was so easily dismissed. Most news organizations gave the story some credence by talking about it a little bit. It was usually sandwiched in between information about the return of the McRibb sandwich or what the president was planning to have for dinner when he invited the Green Bay Packers to the White House. A couple of people even spent as much as two minutes on the story.

The explanation they gave was rather clear. Even if the information the People’s Network presented was true, it wasn’t what was best for the nation. The media went on to explain that the precepts laid out in the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act were exactly what the nation needed. Mothers had been given too much leniency in the past and the standards held these people accountable for the first time ever. It also made it easy for the common man to understand the way the mothers were being graded for their performance. It consolidated everything a mother did into one simple number that could be understood by everyone. There was no need to complicate things with individual reports pinpointing exactly what it was each mother was doing wrong while raising their children. Who had time for all of that nonsense anyway, especially when there were more important things to worry about such as which movie broke box office records the previous weekend? The People’s Network was lambasted by all of the other media outlets as trying to tarnish the name of a true American patriot. It was so bad that the network’s already pitiful ratings dropped even further and nobody would claim to have ever watched the network at any time in their lifetime.

Things were not much better for me. Dr. Nancy Ann Blur was kind enough to finish the report on me before she went off and killed herself. It was lying nicely on her desk. Officer Provata read through it while I was waiting for a ride back to my home. I never got that ride home because I was immediately arrested after he finished reading the report. The event was not met with any fanfare because the circus had packed up and gone back home by the time he had reached this part of his duty.

Luckily, I was not sent back to the Capital Limited Re-education Center. Brandon was nice enough to fill out the paperwork to make sure I would be excluded from the assessment’s findings. Part of the deal he had to make while doing this was to divorce me and once again my name was changed back to Rachael Ervaring. I was not allowed to have contact with any children in a mothering capacity again which officially took me off the dating market for the rest of my life. I was okay with this ruling because the experiences over the last couple of years taught me that being a mother was hard work. I knew this was true beforehand but with all of the bureaucracy now accompanying it, it made it almost impossible for a woman to do what they needed to in order to make sure children were raised in a proper manner. I felt sorry for Ben and Katie because they would now become a part of the system and would eventually live their lives as mindless individuals perpetuating the situation instead of propelling us into a brighter future. My heart still ached to see Zach and Lindsey again but I knew that would never be possible. I had nothing to remember them by except my own memories. It made my heart ache every time I saw a young brother and sister and it made me wonder what my children were doing with their lives now.

The government was kind enough not to leave me completely helpless. They did find me a job. That’s why I’m talking to you in this break room right now. Being a nurse isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I was even lucky enough to be placed on the maternity ward floor. I get to see new life being brought into this world every day, and even though I do have my moments of heartache, there are enough moments of joy to make the job bearable. I’m no longer responsible for a child and it pains me when I see a first time mother cradle her child in her arms. She looks down at the helpless young innocent being and wishes the best for it, but I know the truth of her situation. She will be subjected to so many laws and regulations she won’t know what it means to be a good mother by the time the child turns two. The child will take over the control of the household and the woman will just go through the motions thinking she is doing the right thing, but in the long run the Department of Motherhood will find an excuse as to why this woman is not doing her job properly. She will be removed from the one thing she loves more than anything in this world and she will be disillusioned into believing that if she plays the game, she will be able to return to her family. But this is a lie. This doesn’t benefit the people who are really in charge. The people who are in charge will manipulate the rules to work it toward their advantage. They won’t care whose spirit they crush in the process. The sad thing is they will wave the flag of Capitalism and patriotic pride in the process and in a sad, pathetic way these are the gods they truly pay homage to.

It pains my heart to see this happening in my maternity ward every day. These mothers’ true expressions of joy are going to be dismantled within the next few years. I feel sorry for those mothers, but there are the other women who come into my ward that bring me happiness because I know what they will eventually go through. These are the women who gave mothering a bad name in the first place. They never cared about their children and they never will. It doesn’t matter what laws you put in place to combat this, they will always find a way around it. There will always be people out there who will work the system towards their advantage as long as there is a system out there to work. It also doesn’t matter what job you look at; there are always individuals who do an outstanding job and then there are the ones who just try to get by. Of course, there are always the ones who just do a terrible job, but why should the ones who try to do a great job suffer for the actions of the ones who don’t care? I wish the laws this country created focused on rewarding the ones who do a good job instead of trying to punish everybody to prevent the bottom dwellers from doing a poor job. Even though I don’t agree with the current system, I do enjoy watching justice being handed out when it is deserved.

Just the other day, I was given a surprise. I couldn’t believe that of all the people coming into my maternity ward, it would be Palin. After all the pain she caused me with her attitude and sense of entitlement, Palin had arrived to have her baby delivered at the hospital where I worked. Not only that, but she brought Dustin with her to witness the event. I could hear her screaming as she was being pushed into the lobby in a wheelchair, “EPIDERMAL!”

It brought me back eight years when I was in the same situation, and even though on that date I was in a lot of pain, it wasn’t as much pain as she had caused me two years ago. She hadn’t seen me yet as I grabbed a clipboard and walked up behind her wheelchair. She grunted out air as Dustin tried to pat her back and calm her down, “It will be okay hon…”

“Oh my God, nobody told me it would hurt this fucking much,” Palin screamed as reached her hand back, and gripped her boyfriend’s bicep tightly. He collapsed onto the ground as her nails clenched firmly in the soft flesh of his arm. She dragged him to face her and screamed at him, “Make the pain fucking stop!” She continued her short hesitating grunts. The commotion finally reached the threshold of Dr. Laura Ripetizione’s office as she opened the door and stepped out into the lobby.

You know who Laura is even if you never had contact with her. She’s the one walking around this ward like she owns the place. She was given a job here by the Department of Motherhood. In fact, I understand every maternity ward in the country has a person just like her with an office somewhere nearby. Their job is quite simple. They are here to assess the new mothers as they give birth. They want to make sure the women are giving birth in a manner reflective of the standards of the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act. Because the law makers need to believe they are doing something for the greater good of the commonwealth, they have tightened up the rules behind the act to make them even more stringent than they were when I was a mother. The research had shown that the standards were not changing the landscape of motherhood the way they hoped these regulations would. In fact, the research showed there had been a decline in the performance of mothers. Instead of getting rid of the law, they thought it was better to make it stricter, and with only two people voting against it in the Senate and twelve doing the same in the House of Representatives, the law passed. Now mothers were assessed twice a year and it only took one grade of non-proficiency for the mother to be taken in for re-education. Husbands were also required to pay more money for the re-education process because more and more of the Capital Limited Re-education Centers were being filled to capacity and the Department of Motherhood needed more capital in order to build more re-education centers.

The Mother Mall was also becoming very popular. Some of the larger cities had up to ten Mother Malls in their city limits, with Los Angeles having fifteen. Denver was still a little behind the other markets with only five. These huge stores were also popping up in the smaller communities of the country. You can find them now in the smaller rural areas and sometimes in the middle of nowhere. It was this new restructuring of the act that brought Laura to our hospital. And of course when she heard Palin screaming bloody murder out in our lobby she had to remove herself from her office and find out what all of the ruckus was about.

Laura adjusted her glasses on the bridge of her nose with a replica of Mr. Clicky-Pen. Every assessor was given one of these pens in respect of the now legendary Dr. Blur. Laura tucked her clipboard more firmly into her breasts as she assessed the scene. She walked over to where Palin held her boyfriend in her terror grip. Dr. Ripetizione looked at me for answers, “What exactly is going on here?”

“I’m sorry about the commotion Dr. Ripetizione, but I have just arrived at the scene myself.”

Palin heard the single word she knew to be the most important word she ever heard, “You’re a doctor?” She had released Dustin from her death grip and swerved around to look Dr. Ripetizione in her eyes, “I need this brat out of me NOW!!!!!”

Mr. Replica Clicky-Pen said, “Click, scratch, scratch,” as Dr. Ripetizione shook her head.

“My, my. Standard Number Four: Proper, loving shelter shall be supplied to everyone under the legal care of the mother.”

I couldn’t tell if the moisture rolling down Palin’s face was from the sweat of her labors or from a tear because of the pain, but Palin’s eyes grew large in disbelief. “Are you kidding me? Are you a fucking doctor or not?”

Dr. Ripetizione rolled her gaze down her nose to Palin’s panting frame. “I’m not that kind of doctor. I’m a doctor of sociology and a prominent influence in your government.”

Palin looked around for Dustin, but couldn’t find him because he snuck closer to the exit of the hospital, so instead she asked anybody who would listen, “Why am I talking to a fucking politician?”

I believe Dr. Ripetizione was truly surprised by Palin’s response. “Because in a couple of hours, I will be the most important person in your life.” She whipped out a packet from her clipboard and presented it to Palin. I’ve personally actually been forced to read it at one time in my life and I’m here to tell you that you are not really missing anything if you never get to peruse its contents. Of course when I read it, it was a binder, but they have condensed it to pamphlet form now. The name is still the same, How to be a Better Mother, and it still holds the standards and Motherhood’s Ten Commandments. As far as I’m concerned, it is still garbage, but it was nice to see it presented to Palin in such a manner.
She grabbed the pamphlet and looked at it, “How to be a Better Mother. Why would I need to be a better mother? I’ve never been a mother before.”

Laura smiled, “That just means you can’t be anything more than better.”

Palin looked up at me and I tried to avoid eye contact. “Is this for fucking real?”

Instead of answering her, I handed her a clipboard of my own with some paperwork on it. “Ma’am, we just need you to fill this out so we can check you in.”

“Are you kidding me?” She looked right at me when she asked the question. I couldn’t avoid eye contact any longer, and I saw the instant recognition. Her mouth dropped and all of the blood in face quickly rushed out. All she could say was, “Oh, fuck.”

Mr. Replica Clicky-Pen continued to scratch away as Palin sat on the wheelchair with the clipboard in her lap. I gave Palin a pen for her to fill out the forms. It dropped through her limp hand and landed next to the clipboard in her lap. I continued to act normal, “When you have all of that filled out, you can turn it in at the nurse’s station right over there. That’s where I’ll be waiting to check you in. Afterward the doctor will be able to see you.”

I walked away and for the first time since I had known Palin, she was speechless. Dr. Ripetizione continued to go over the new standards with Palin as she started to fill out the paperwork. It was fun watching her go through the pain of contractions as she was getting lectured by someone from the Department of Motherhood and trying to fill out the information all at the same time. Dustin had disappeared completely. It must have been stressful to live under the thumb of Palin, and when he found an opportunity to escape he took it. Even though I was pretty sure the child about to be brought into the world was his, I doubt if he would ever have contact with it. It wasn’t his responsibility and he would never be held accountable for the child’s upbringing. That commitment would fall on Palin’s shoulders and she was starting to realize her life was going to change dramatically. It was great to see her get her comeuppance. It put a smile on my face to see her struggle and know the next few years would be difficult for her. I made it even a little more difficult for her by going on break just as she started to wheel herself over to the nurse’s station. I bet she’s still out there right now hoping somebody will come along and take care of her while Dr. Ripetizione continues lecturing her.

Even though I am enjoying my little bit of revenge, there is a part of me that feels a little regret for the situation Palin is going through. Don’t get me wrong; she deserves everything she’s getting. The National Caring and Loving Behavior Act in some bizarre way might even help her become a better mother by taking away the child when the government discovers how terrible a mother she really is. But this isn’t the part of the episode that bothers me. There are probably hundreds of mothers out there who are a hundred times better than what Palin will be. And for all of those hundreds of mothers, there is a Palin out there to give motherhood a bad name. Because of these Palins out there, all the other mothers have to now be held accountable to the same level of absurdity. The other mothers are doing their jobs of raising their children. Yes, they struggle some times, but that doesn’t mean they need some government organization looking down upon them telling them how to run every aspect of their lives. All the other mothers are now being lumped in with the Palins and are being treated like bad mothers. There has to be a better way of holding the terrible mothers accountable without having to restrict the integrity of the good mothers. If the government doesn’t figure it out soon, each proceeding generation will be worse off because this cookie cutter mentality of raising children will only produce more generations of mindless individuals who will not be able to think for themselves, but feel entitled to everything they have not worked for.

I know you are sitting there getting tired of listening to some older lady ramble on about her opinions because she was never able to live up to the simple standards laid out in the first place, but I ask you to look at all of the information out there to determine for yourself if this is really the best way to raise the youth of America. Is America really a better place ever since the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act was delivered unto the masses? Is America still competitive with other nations or have they lost a step? Are children really more interested in the world around them or are they gravitating towards cheap easy entertainment to numb their minds and their existence? Are mothers really trying to live up to these standards or are they leaving this noble profession in droves because they are fed up with the bureaucracy behind the law? Does the government constantly try to find a way to come into a family and instill their own ideals and agendas? Are more and more husbands running off to pay for a service that was at one time considered a free right? I guess the best question I have for you is: Do you feel freer now because of this law?

Of course, I can answer all of those questions for you, and you might be right in saying I might be a little jaded after my experiences, but I believe if you look at it all with an objective mind you will come to the same conclusion I have. This law needs to be repealed.

But now you are sitting there asking what you can do about it. That’s a good question. I tried to fight it once and I got my ass kicked. This experience has made me a gun-shy veteran of a war against an absurd law, and sitting here in this break room may make it look like I have given up on the cause. You might be right. Sometimes I feel I have given everything I can, and there is no more I can give. Maybe, I need to get off of my soapbox and continue the fight. Even though bad things occurred in my life because of my battle that doesn’t mean the next time won’t be different. I might even be able to make a bigger impact than I did the first time around. If I just continue to sit here in a break room and complain behind closed doors, I am not really solving the problem. In all actuality, I’m probably contributing to the problem more than I am to the solution. Maybe it is time for me to take the fight to the next level and never stop until I have achieved my goal. Even if I don’t achieve that goal, at least I can say I have given it my best shot. I can die happy knowing I tried to do some good in this world instead of sitting on my butt and hoping that someday what I want just happens to fall into place.

Maybe I need to tell my story to more people, and by telling my story to you today, I have maybe changed one person’s mind about what is wrong with this law. Maybe I can reach more people by telling my story at larger venues and writing it down so others can read it. Maybe I can come up with solutions to the problems affecting mothers rather than just complaining about the ones I don’t agree with. My revolution might not have been successful to begin with, but that doesn’t mean I should give up on the cause.

Thank you for listening to my story and making me realize the next steps I need to take in this ongoing battle. Maybe you can help in the cause. You could be a game changer. What’s your name?

Luang Prabang – Day 6

I woke up early on my last day in Laos to the banging of drums moving down my street. I had heard that the Buddhist monks had this procession every day and it was quite the sight to see, but it was at 5:30 in the morning and the thought of finding enlightenment underneath the covers of my comfy bed felt like the more important thing to do, so I did not make it out to witness this. In fact, on my last day I went back to doing the touristy thing.


In fact, I went and did the most touristy thing that the city of Luang Prabang has to offer, Phousi Hill. This hill stands in the middle of town and I could see the temple on the top from many different angles as I traveled the streets of this town. Many visitors try to make it to the top of this hill right at sunset so they can witness the sun dip down over the horizon and look at the whole town at the same time. I have been told that it can be incredibly packed at this time of the day.

So I tried a different option where I would find solitude away from the craziness of the crowds. I went up early in the morning and it was worth going at the off time. There was nobody out there but us and a small tour group from China. I didn’t have to shove my way to find the best views and deal with the uglier side of humanity. I could relax and enjoy the view at my own leisure.

There are two ways to reach the top. One entrance is right in front of the National Museum and this is the way that most people go. It is easy to find and the route is very direct, but there is another path on the other side of the hill that not many people know about.

This would be the side that I would recommend. There is a whole lot more to see on the other side than on the one most traveled on. Numerous tiny shrines to Buddha exist on the other side and a new marvel awaits you with every turn.

And I am glad that I was not urged on by big crowds as I made my way up this side of the hill. I was able to sit and enjoy the sights without having to hear the click of cameras, and the babble of twelve different languages. There were even a couple of hidden spots that I would not have found if I had followed the crowds, the most exciting being the imprint of Buddha’s foot. I had to wind off the path a bit to see it, but it was worth the small detour.

It was also really cool when I finally made it up the 360 steps to see the town. No, I did not count the steps on the way up, but I was told by the cab driver coming into town that there were 360 of them, and I don’t know if he meant both on the way up and the way back down because it did not feel like that much.

The views were really pretty up there. I was able to survey the whole town. I could point out all of the places I had been while I was up there, and I don’t know if I should have left it for the last thing I did before I left town, but it was a nice way to say bye to this town that had enthralled me for so many days.

I took the more touristy path the way back down the hill, and it was not as exciting. There was a really cool tree on the way down but nothing as notable as the way up. It was the way that most trips end. You whisk yourself off to some airport for some adventure and excitement, and when you make your way back to the airport at the end you are left with a bunch of memories but nothing seems as exciting as when you first made your way to the adventure. It was still an amazing trip that had a lot of memories, and it will be a long time before the memories I create in Laos fade away.

Luang Prabang, Laos – Day 5

I only had one day left with the elephants before I headed back to the comforts that Luang Prabang had to offer, but this was the day that I actually got to contribute to the care of the elephants. After spending a couple of days at the Elephant Conversation Center, I wished that we had planned things a little differently and would have gotten the one week experience at the site rather than the three day stay. If we had opted for that option, we would have helped out a lot more because it involved doing volunteer work at the camp after the three days were over. The only problem would have been that I would have wanted to stay there if we had gone for the longer option, so it was probably for the best that we were there for only two nights.

On my last day there, I got to work in the enrichment area. The idea of this part of the camp is to train the elephants to what it means to look for food in the wild. I know this may surprise many people to think that elephants need to be trained how to forage for food in the forest. Shouldn’t there instincts kick in allowing them to find food for themselves? Well, it is not that easy.

These elephants were trained since the age of three to either work in the logging industry, or perform at the tourist camps. They never had to search for food because it was always given to them by the mahouts. They never learned how to be elephants. I was told that the first time a new elephant was left alone in the enrichment area, they would stand there not knowing what to do because they had never been left alone in their live. And even though the goal of the Elephant Conservation Center is to get elephants ready to love out in the wild again they need to work their way up to that point.

Think of it this way. If somebody came to your house, grabbed you, traveled all the way around the way around the world and dropped you off into the forest so you could return back to your natural habitat, how well would you do out there by yourself? It is the same thing for these elephants. They need the time to learn how to survive on their own.

The two elephants that I got to watch in the environment took a little while to get going. They were able to find the food that was closer to the ground rather quickly, but they had a tendency to ignore the food that was hidden in the higher spot. I watched them walk right under some of the more obvious spots wondering why they couldn’t find the food hidden in these spots. I even asked the owner of the place if they has a weak sense of smell because of this phenomenon, and I was told that elephants have an extraordinary sense of smell which is what I thought in the first place. He told me that they just didn’t think of looking up high and this was the whole reason that they went through the process of training them.

He also told me that the elephants at first would start by struggling the various puzzles that were created for them, but after they figure them out, then the became way too easy for them. It required the center to come up with new and exciting ways to challenge the elephants that also simulated what it would be like for them to find food on their own. The elephants we were watching we just starting to figure out the easier puzzles and they still needed to work on finding and solving the more difficult ones.

Even though it was fun to watch the elephants in action, we had a boat we needed to catch to head back to our last full night in the more comfortable parts of Laos. We headed back to Luang Prabang and got a room closer to the center of town. It made for a very nice evening of enjoying drinks by the Mekong river and enjoying an amazing dinner.

It also meant it was the last chance I would get to travel across that wooden bridge that they build every year during the dry season. The bridge did not look as threatening at night, but as soon as we stepped on it and made our way across it, we could really feel how rickety it actually was. There were a couple of holes along the way that came from the continuous use over the last couple of months, but I also knew that the people of Luang Prabang would not fix these holes due to the fact that the wet season was starting soon and the bridge would have to come down anyway.

It was worth it making it across though because there was a wonderful restaurant on the other side that featured the Laos version fondue. It had many of the same features of Swiss fondue such as a nice broth to cook various kinds of food in over an open flame. But the difference came with the vegetables they used adding such things as cabbage, and scallions, and the addition of noodles. The meat was also cooked on a grill rather than being heated up in the broth. Add some of the spicy peppers to the broth and it made for one of the best meals I had while I was out there.

The trip had come full circle, but I felt like a completely different person because of it. A lot of the thanks for this has to be delivered to the Elephant Conversation Camp. I almost felt bad for going back to this life of luxury, but I now could use the new knowledge I gained from the journey to use in my life as I moved forward.

If you would like more information about the Elephant Conservation Center please check out the website at http://www.elephantconservationcenter.com

Sayaboury, Laos – Day 4

I woke up early on my fourth day in Laos, and enjoyed a little peace and quiet while reading a book on the patio of my bungalow. Little did I know that one of my past mistakes would come to haunt me on this day.

This is not the only trip that I have been on where I roughed it with the elephants hanging out nearby. About eight years ago I was lucky enough to be able to travel to Tanzania where I was able to experience these majestic animals out on safari.

Of course, there are some differences between African elephants and Asian elephants. First of all, African elephants are a lot bigger, and they have ears that look like the continent of Africa. They also haven’t been domesticated in the same way that the Asian elephants have, so there might have been a time when they resembled each other more, but this is not the case any more. Despite these differences, there are many factors that make them similar.

One of these similarities is threads of hair that can be found on their tails. It is not like the hair that can be found anywhere else on their body because it is a lot coarser. It feels a lot like wire if you ever get the opportunity to ever rub it between your fingers. Elephants use it to clean their genitalia, especially with female elephants, by swatting it with the coarse hair. The thing is that many people think that because it is hair, it will grow back quickly which is not the case. But because of this belief, many of the owners of the elephants will clip off the hair, braid it together, and sell it as a bracelet or a ring. Many people end up buying them as mementos and it encourages the selling of more of these bracelets. Elephants lose the hair that they need in order to keep themselves clean which can eventually lead to painful diseases and in some cases cause elephants to have problems with giving birth. So something that appears innocent at many of these tourists camps where this practice goes on, actually contributes to the depletion of the species.

This is where my past came back to haunt me. When I was out in Tanzania while we were traveling between national parks, we stopped at a gift shop on the side of the road to pick up mementos of our trip out there. One of the things I always look for on my trips is something I can hang on my Christmas tree that helps to remind me of all the places in the world I have been at. This particular time I had found a nice wooden carving of a giraffe’s face, but when I went to check out the man who was selling me the item hounded me about buying one of these elephant hair bracelets. At the time I thought it was just wire because that is what elephant hair looks like. The man claimed that if I wore it, it would make me strong. I still wasn’t interested in it, but he continued to pester me about it, and I considered it an act of charity to buy one off of him even if it was a sham.

My wife and her family has continuously made fun of me for making this purchase. They tell me that I need to be strong and learn how to say no from time to time. It wasn’t until this trip that I learned the truth about my purchase which made me feel even more miserable. If I had known what I was buying was genuinely an elephant hair bracelet and what damage I was doing, I would not have done it, but I had never been educated about it. It takes trips like this to help me learn about these small things in the world. And hopefully by telling the world about my mistake, it will prevent somebody from making the same one in their lifetime.

It is another reason that I really loved the time I got to spend at the Elephant Conservation Center. It wasn’t just about hanging out with the elephants and watching the staff help them become more self-sufficient. It wasn’t knowing that the elephants were well taken care and examined by a veterinarian in large stalls at regular intervals. It wasn’t knowing that this organization was helping to create a forest where man has come in and depleted it without really thinking about the larger consequences of what that could mean about future generations. It was the fact that this place took the time to educate the people who stayed here about what they could do to make sure they weren’t contributing to the problem by the decisions they made half a world away.

This is why travel is so important. If we never go out and take the risk to see what the rest of the world is like, we get set in the mind frame of the place we come from. We don’t see the larger picture. We don’t understand how the buying of palm oil helps to contribute to the depletion of the forest. We don’t understand how the buying of certain products gives money to the people who would continue to abuse animals for their own superstitions or their own wallets. We need to be aware that we live in a global society and each decision we make affects the lives of so many others.

So as the sun started to set on my second day at the Elephant Conservation Center, I was able to reflect on my life and my contribution to the problems of the world. I was able to see that I needed to be more conscious of my decisions as I continued down this road of life and make sure that I make the right ones.

If you would like to find out more information or contribute to the work happening at the Elephant Conservation Center, check out their website at http://www.elephantconservationcenter.com.

Sayaboury, Laos – Day 3

My third day out in Laos was the one I was the most excited about. It was the day where I was going to leave Luang Prabang behind and take a two hour trip to the less populated part of the country in the provenance of Soyaboury.

The lifestyle in this part of the country was a little more simple. It wasn’t so much about tourist and café streets where I could sip a drink and watch the crowds mingle in a facsimile of a small town in France. Instead, the people found a way to live off of the land. Mainly this was done through fishing on the lake we ended up on, but there were also plantations around here and small towns to supply the people of this area what they needed to survive comfortably.

The houses weren’t as fancy either. I stayed in a cabin in the middle of the forest on the edge of the lake. There was some electricity to the place but that created only at night and with the use of a generator. And I was forced to get off the grid because there was no internet service or wifi available anywhere. It was great because I was able to return to the simplicity of the wilderness that I had not been able to experience for a long time, and I was reveling in the experience.

But all of these things were not the real reason that I went out to this remote place. It was to visit the Elephant Conservation Center and witness all of the amazing work they are doing with these elephants in this region of the world.

The name Laos use to translate into the land of a million elephants. Now, I am pretty sure that the population of these beasts was never that large in this area of the world, but the idea that elephants were all over the place probably was. These gentle beasts had been domesticated by the people of Laos over a thousand years ago and they were used to help with gathering the wood that people needed in order to build houses, and support themselves. For many centuries this structure maintained a strong economic structure allowing the country to continue peacefully in a symbiotic balance.

But then the logging industry came in and the tree population started to decline and more elephants were needed to help deplete the forest. The people who were trained to handle these creatures could not train enough people to train the animals in the proper way, and soon the animals were abused. Because of this many things happened. The forest grew small and wasn’t able to support the wild population of the elephants. The animals were forced to find food at people’s farms and were executed because of this. Many of the elephants were also sold for great profit to Chinese wealthy individuals who used many parts of the animals for old remedies that they believed still worked. The population of the animals fell in both the wild and domesticated populations leaving the country with an estimated 800 animals that are left today.

This is when the Laos government stepped in. They were trying to save what was left of the forest and what was left of the elephants. They banned the logging industry and the animals who were beasts of burden were forced to move to tourist supported camps. The abuse there got even worse. The mahouts, the trainers of elephants, would train them by using a large hook and tapping the animals in certain places to get them to do what they wanted them to do. Because of the untrained mahouts that were working these tourist camps, they did not know how to use their tools correctly, and would hit the animals way too hard. It would leave areas of scars on the animals similar to what can be seen on the head of the female elephant pictured above. Some of these abuses eventually led to death.

This is where the Elephant Conservation Center came into play. The people that run this center were not looking to use elephants for commercial reasons. They, instead, were trying to save elephants, and then train them to eventually return to the wild. They have also been working on a breeding program to help bring the population back up to where it once used to be. They have hired skilled mahouts to help in this process, and what started off with only three elephants seven years ago has grown into a population of thirty. They have saved a few elephants from the terrible fate of having to work the tourist camps that don’t treat the elephants kindly, and they have even recently been donated 13 elephants that were scheduled to move to a zoo in Dubai.

Their efforts are some truly amazing things to see, and I was glad to have been able to spend two days and three night learning about all of the great things that they were doing at this place. I will tell you more about what they have done in my next couple of posts, but in the meantime, if you would like to find out more or would like to help by contributing to this great organization, you can contact them at http://www.elephantconservationcenter.com.


Laung Prabang, Laos – Day 2

On the second day in Luang Prabang, I decided to get out of the city and explore the countryside a little bit, and one of the big attractions out there is the Kuang Si Waterfall. It is a series of waterfall over pristine lakes that brings in tons of tourists to enjoy its beauty and to cool off in the water of the pools. It is about a forty-five minute drive from Luang Prabang, but there are many ways to make it out there. My wife and I rented a van to drive us out there for about the cost of six U.S. dollars. It was totally worth it too, because we just got to relax in the car and enjoy the scenery instead of feeling the pressure of driving in a foreign country and not really being accustomed to the rules of the road that the locals follow. Even though we took the easy way, there were still a bunch of other tourists who rented bikes and made their own way out there, or found tuk tuk to take them.

Entry into the park costs 20,000 kip which is just over a couple of dollars, and it includes entry into the Tak Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center. There are many people who live in this region, mainly Chinese I am told, who believe that the bile from the sun bears has healing properties, so they will trap these bears, keep them in small cages, and extract their bile from them for their own use. It was nice to see that there was a group in Laos dedicated to protecting them, and they had created large environments for the bears to roam around so they no longer felt the pressure of having to live in the cage.

The same people did an amazing job of keeping the water of the waterfalls pristine. I couldn’t believe the frosty blue that shimmered in the pools collected by the water trickling down the hill. And even though there were some crowds in the place, I was still able to find a private spot where I could enjoy the water. It wasn’t as cold as I was expecting it to be either. It was quite comfortable and if the weather was warmer, I would have stayed in longer.

Other people there found place where they could jump into the water and enjoy the crowd a little bit more. It was the perfect place to find the amount of people you wanted to contend with, and when you found that level you were free to enjoy yourself.

Of course the hike up the waterfalls had the big payoff at the end. The huge waterfall cascaded down a series of rocks and there were many places you could go to click the perfect picture. Granted the crowds got a little bigger here than some of the other places on the hike, but it was still never so bad where I felt like I had to fight through the elbows in order to enjoy the serenity that the spot had to offer.

We were also more adventuresome than some of the other people there. There was a small path on the left of the waterfall that we took to reach the top of it. The path was kind of steep and there were a couple spots where it was really slippery because you needed to walk through the side of the waterfall itself, but we made it too the top. The pools were not as pretty up there, but the views of the countryside was worth the trek.

It wasn’t only about the waterfall either. There was some amazing trees out there and every once in a while we came across an explosion of flowers. It was during the dry season as well, so I couldn’t even begin to imagine what this place would look like if it got enough rain to really explode.

For the most part, the hike was really worth it. It was the perfect blend of nature and man made structures to support it but not take away from the natural charm of the area.

It is a must stop for anybody who finds themselves in Luang Prabang, and I am glad we made it out there. After a couple of hours enjoying the area we made it back to the parking lot where our driver was happy to take us back into town.

Luang Prabang, Laos – Day 1

Luang Prabang is a small town situated in the heart of Laos. It is an obvious tourist destination but it does not attract the younger crowds looking for a night of crazy partying mixed with days spent around the pool. Yes, you can still have a few drinks at night and then spend the day sitting around a pool, but that is not the real attraction of this place. Instead it is a blend of a couple of things that really come together in a surprising way that makes people wonder what part of the world they really in. Laos used to be under the control of the French and you can still see that influence out here around every corner. It sometimes makes me feel as if I am in some small European town, but then there is also the fact that it is in the middle of Asia, and the place also holds on to the charms of the long rich heritage that has been here a lot longer than a few invading European forces could crush with their imperialism.

I could see it when I looked at the lush landscapes around the place. It is situated between two rivers, the bigger Mekong river, and the smaller Nam Khan River. When I looked at the banks flowing down to the river, I saw the power of nature as it took over the land with its jungle landscape.

But then, walking through the town, there are many places where the foliage has obviously been landscaped to look pretty and perfect, making the simple alleyways in town tempting little places to explore. The nice thing is that they are fun to explore because the town is so small that I am never worried about losing my bearings and getting lost in a dangerous part of town. I don’t think there is a dangerous part of town.

Unless I count the foot bridge that takes people across the Nam Khan River. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. It looked like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, and would be ready to collapse at any moment. It just meant that this would have to be something I would have to cross some time while I am out here. I did not do it on my first day because it costs a dollar to get across and I wanted to explore the main part of the town first, but it is definitely on the list of things to do while I am out here.

Apparently the people of Luang Prabang rebuild it every year during the dry season. When the rains come, the river gets really high and takes out the bridge. This just gives me another reason that I have to cross it because it is there and this version of the bridge will only be there for a limited amount of time.

I guess the rest of the year when the bridge is not up, they use ferry boats to get across the river. It would be fun to take one of these as well, but not as much fun as that bridge has to be. But I do need to make my way to the other side of the river while I am out here because there is a whole different part of the town over there. This is probably where most of the people who work out here live, and they do need a way to get across.

It goes back to that mixture that I saw on my first day out here. There is a healthy amount of fishing that takes place on the river, and it is probably the main source of food for the people out here. The river looked huge in my mind when I watched fisherman throw out their nets, and I am sure that they could bring it a big haul everyday, and this was still the dry season. I could not imagine how crazy this river gets during the wet season. It has to be huge, but then again I come from Colorado where we think that the trickle we call the Platte River has earned the title of river. When I see the Mekong during its low period, I learn that Coloradoans need to rethink their position on rivers.

Beyond the river is the town itself with its many features. There is the old palace that used to house the king of Laos that you can tour around. It is absolutely beautiful inside and even though the presentation chambers are decadent, it is surprising to see the humble quarters where they lived. Granted the bed room is probably close to the size of my whole apartment back in Seoul, but it is its simple decoration and practical living styles that remind me that I am looking at the living space of an Asian king. There are also many Buddhist temples out here, and their intricate design and peaceful atmosphere make them a wonderful place to visit and tour.

But as soon as I leave the grounds of these tourist spots, I find myself back into the French influence of the country. There are numerous bars that spill out to the sidewalks at night and people sit in their chairs sipping on their cocktails as they watch the various people pass them by. They serve food that is a blend of Asian spices and French cuisine. It makes the choices of food amazing. Laotian food is very similar to Thai food with its spicy deliciousness, but I can still find a nice Western style meal if I want to. Eating will be one of the things I will enjoy a lot while I am out here, and it makes me excited for what other adventures await me on this trip.