Saturday, October 11, 2014

England in Pictures

Some of my favorites from the three months I spent in England.

I lived on a boat on the Thames. It was really lovely. A nice, picturesque spot near the Kew Bridge. 

Part of the kitchen and living area. Yes, I could touch both sides of the boat with my arms stretched. Let's just say this makes my apartment here in Cambridge seem massive.

If you squint, you can see my little, green and red narrow boat across the river on the left.

These guys were my neighbors!

Saint Paul's Cathedral was stunning. I looked for the bird woman from Mary Poppins, but all I found were tourists.

This photo reminds me of the Treasury in Petra peeking through the walls of the Siq.
Except this is Saint Paul's Cathedral in the middle of London.

Allergies. I was utterly miserable as I battled this white nonsense in the spring. It was the WORST. 

Loved the green expanse of the English countryside. This is near Stonehenge. 

Cream tea. I miss this afternoon delight so much.

I love trains and I also love train tracks. This sight was plentiful in London.

Gymnastics and Swimming and Soccer, Oh My!

I know it has been FAR TOO LONG since I've posted anything. I really dropped the ball on updates from the last few months of my Watson adventure. I've had posts swirling around in my brain for months now. However, October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month!! This was just the motivation I needed to hop back on the blog horse and share a few more stories and tidbits from my Watson year.

One of the most interesting and fruitful things I was exposed to during my time in the U.K. was the Down Syndrome sports community. I did a few sporting activities with individuals with special needs in other countries, primarily through Special Olympics, but what I found in the U.K. was a thriving community of athletes competing in Down Syndrome-only sporting events. This is a fairly unique approach to sports and something we don't really do in the United States.

I found the discussion on the merits of Down Syndrome-only sports to be quite interesting. I had thought some on the efficacy of Down Syndrome-only sports in Germany when I went on a training walk with Running Club 21. This was a small, but successful group of people who trained for marathons in particular. The U.K. though has made Down Syndrome-only sports a prominent and organized sporting community. Special Olympics is a great organization, but due to its pan-disability participation, it may not be the best fit for people with Down Syndrome who have both intellectual and physical limitations. Down Syndrome-only sports provides an opportunity for individuals to train and compete against people with similar abilities. Of course, there is a wide range of ability level amongst individuals with Down Syndrome themselves. So this approach doesn't entirely eliminate the discrepancy.

The president of the Down Syndrome International Swimming Organization, who turned out to be one of the most welcoming and helpful contacts I made in the U.K., explained that these were some of his motivations for starting the Swimming Organization. Additionally, he shared that Down Syndrome-only sports attempt to provide higher caliber training and competition than Special Olympics provides. Bailey is doing Special Olympics soccer at the moment. The team practices once a week for a few months and they participate in three tournaments. This is the typical time commitment for most Special Olympics sports. And it works great for most people! It's good exercise and provides a fun time with their peers. However, there are some Down Syndrome athletes who would thrive given the opportunity to practice multiple days per week and compete with other similarly abled individuals in legitimate competitions. There is a lot of debate about whether or not people with Down Syndrome can and should participate in the Paralympics. To combat this, Down Syndrome-only sports provides the opportunity for these individuals to reach the top of their sport. Whatever the sport, whatever the intensity level, Down Syndrome-only, or pan-disability, the most important thing is to provide the opportunity for people with special needs to do what they love.

I got to see a couple of these sporting events in action. I went to a regional swim meet just outside London. It was fantastic! All the athletes did a great job! And the strong chlorine smell and extreme humidity in the pool really brought me back to my own swimming days. Everything was very well organized, but there may have been a few races when the athlete didn't know he or she was finished... It became quite a struggle to flag some of them down! They just wanted to keep swimming! Too cute.

The same day Bailey had one of her track meets, I was at an all day gymnastics event in Leicester (which is pronounced Lester...) Once again I was impressed with everyone's efforts. It was especially amazing to see the boys on the rings and parallel bars. Wow! Such strength! Gymnastics offers numerous opportunities for medaling. Each medal recipient was so excited to get a medal and stand on the podium. It didn't matter if it was their first or their fifth, the joy brought a smile to everyone's face.

Awesome moves on the parallel bars!

These little boys were great!

Team artistic floor routine.

Had to include a picture of my sister! I loved getting What'sApp
updates of Bailey in Oregon as I watched gymnasts in England. 

The swimming and gymnastic events were great examples of high caliber Down Syndrome-only sports. Some of the athletes I saw do compete on the international level. However, more low key Down Syndrome-only sports are available in the U.K. as well. DSActive is a program run through the U.K.'s Down Syndrome Association. They work directly with the local soccer (errr football... but now that I'm back in the U.S. I'm going to call it soccer again...) and tennis clubs to offer weekly practices for kids with Down Syndrome. I was really impressed with the coaches' patience and their ability to adapt the drills to fit everyone's skill level.

One of my favorite memories of DSActive soccer is of a young man named Chris. Chris was pretty quiet and shy, but he had a sneaky gleam in his eye. During the scrimmage he camped out near the goal and quietly scored multiple goals, even nutmegging the goalie on one occasion. It was brilliant! After each goal, he would give a subtle thumbs up and reposition himself near the goal. I think back on simple little stories like this a lot. In the midst of my crazy, grad school schedule, when my Watson year feels like the distant past, these sweet memories take me right back to the moment.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Words from C.S. Lewis

Just a few of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis's book, Mere Christianity. I finished it recently and loved his insight, analogies, conciseness, and honesty. It had been on my list of books to read for years and it did not disappoint.

Enemy occupied territory- that is what the world is.
- Book 2 Chapter 2 The Invasion

After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven.
- Book 3 Chapter 5 Sexual Morality

Virtue- even attempted virtue- brings light; indulgence brings fog.
- Book 3 Chapter 5 Sexual Morality

Love, as distinct from "being in love," is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God.
- Book 3 Chapter 6 Christian Marriage

(Speaking on pride) There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it in ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.
- Book 3 Chapter 8 The Great Sin

A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.
- Book 3 Chapter 8 The Great Sin

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Denmark in Pictures

I thought I would share a bit of my life in Denmark with some of my favorite photos. I'll post more on facebook, but large photo albums can be a bit tedious. Here are a just a few highlights. Enjoy!

Panoramic of my room. It was cozy and lovely!

The quaint street with apartments located above the cute flower shops and clothing boutiques.

The beautiful colored buildings along Nyhavn. Very touristy, but so much history! Constructed in the 1670's it was the gateway into Copenhagen for cargo and fish and sailors. Hans Christian Anderson, famous Danish fairy tale author, even lived here for some years in the 1800's. 

Rosenborg Castle Gardens. One of my favorite places in the city! When I arrived, little blossoms were just starting to poke through the grass. Danish castles are a bit more humble, not so ostentatious, when compared with those I visited in Germany. 

Also Rosenborg Castle Gardens. On a bright, sunny day everyone comes out to enjoy it! And you better believe I was right there with them. It had been a few months since I'd gone outside without a heavy coat... The sunshine and warmth was most welcome.

The Little Mermaid. A classic, Danish icon. She's a bit smaller than I expected and the industry seemed odd in the background of the dainty figure. 

I absolutely LOVED the flowers displayed on the sidewalks everywhere. It never failed to make me smile and brighten my day! I must not have realized just how dreary those winter months can be. Spring was a welcome sight to my eyes. 

Yes, that's right. I went to IKEA in Denmark. I think the meatballs tasted even better closer to the source. Fun Fact: IKEA opened a store in Jordan this year! I got to see the building progress, but obviously missed out on the grand opening. Hope the Jordanians enjoy the lingonberry sauce!

Tivoli Gardens! The second oldest amusement park in the world, right in the middle of Copenhagen. And the world's oldest amusement park, Bakken, is just a short train ride north of the city. I say the Danish really know how to have fun. 

Tivoli is a magical place with a very different atmosphere than Disneyland... Perhaps more relaxed and cozier. I went with Anne and Eva and we picked a beautiful day to go!

Just a photo I liked from the canal tour I took one day. There is so much water in Copenhagen, it's really quite amazing!

The view from the path along the sea where I ran nearly every day. If you look closely on the horizon, you'll see a line of windmills. The Danish love their wind energy. I couldn't get enough of the fresh, sea air. It was glorious! 

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Misconception

Life in Denmark was good, as I’m sure you all read in my last post. But with how much I enjoyed my time in Denmark, I must note that I almost decided not to go to Denmark at all. Back in January and February, during my unsettled month, I had a lot of second thoughts about spending a month in Denmark. This doubt was triggered by a couple conversations with people in Germany. These well-meaning people, who wanted me to see the best of disability provisions in Europe, informed me that Denmark offers free prenatal testing to all pregnant women. Thus, the number of babies born with Down Syndrome has significantly decreased in the past decade or so due to abortions following a prenatal diagnosis. The perception of Denmark and the government was that it is their goal to eradicate Down Syndrome from society. 

This was extremely disheartening to hear and I began to look into alternative countries. However, it dawned on me slowly that, assuming what these people said about Denmark was true, project work in Denmark would open my eyes to a whole different issue I had yet to explore this year. Prenatal testing, its connections to people with special needs, and the mindset of a society that heavily prioritizes a woman’s choice are highly relevant topics and aspects of my project I may have missed out on had I not traveled to Denmark. 

I did quite a bit of reading on prenatal testing while in Denmark and I brought up the subject with nearly everyone I spoke to. I am happy to report that the negative perception that people in Germany have of Denmark is not reality. What I actually found is a country very much in tune to the needs of people with special needs and an adequately funded social welfare system that does its best to provide for people. 

I want to highlight one organization, Lavuk, that I found quite impressive. This organization’s whole mission is to create meaningful spare time activities for adults with disabilities. One of the main supervisors I spoke with said, “It’s my job to make everyday special and fun.” How awesome is that!? Lavuk is open in the evenings Monday to Friday and transportation is provided to the facility and events located elsewhere. They have more than 200 members who regularly participate in activities offered during the week. 

The activities are completely varied. They have music events at the center, art and sewing time, sports activities, and of course movies and video games available. They also serve dinner for anyone who would like to join. They go horseback riding and bowling and even offer six or seven overnight trips each year. So, how is all of this paid for? It’s really quite interesting. When an individual requests to become a member of Lavuk, staff members get together and compose a proposal to send to the municipality. It is the municipality, basically the city level, that manages the budget for people with disabilities in their community. The municipality then approves for funds to be allocated to the individual. Some members attend Lavuk five days a week, others only one or two days, this is all based on how much funding they are given. Of course, the funding is not unlimited. If an individual with special needs is already receiving funds to live in a residential home, it might be more difficult to receive money to attend activities at Lavuk as well. If an individual lives at home, funding might come more easily. From what I heard though, the goal of both Lavuk and the municipality is to work together to meet the needs of the individual as best they can. 

Following my initial visit to Lavuk, I was invited to come back for their live music event on a Friday night. It was a happening place! There was a band, with a few members who had disabilities, playing great music. A number of people were dancing, many of them with Down Syndrome I might add. I could have predicted they would be on the dance floor. :) Others were finishing up their dinner, staff members were ensuring that those in wheelchairs were comfortable and had a good view of the action, and others were visiting with their peers, enjoying a cup of coffee. After dinner there was a snack bar set up as well. People lined up to buy an ice cream bar, a bag of chips, or a nice cold Carlsberg beer. I sat down and chit chatted with Trine and Claus, while others came over and shook my hand throughout the evening. We listened to the music and talked about traveling, food, Denmark, movies, and music. It was good fun!


On the way home that night, I was really moved by what good work Lavuk is doing. The friendly, welcoming, and loving staff members are all about creating fun, social time for people with special needs. Think about this for a minute, all of us “typical” people have the ability to organize our own spare time. We can go to the movies and effortlessly buy popcorn. We can call up our friends and meet for coffee. We can ride bikes and go shopping, you name it. By the time we are teenagers we are completely independent. We are capable of organization, transportation, and any other logistics that arise. None of this is true for most people with disabilities, especially people in wheelchairs and even more severely, people in wheelchairs who can’t feed themselves or communicate. But these individuals have the right to social activity too! They shouldn’t just have to sit at home after work (if they do go to work) because they have certain limitations. Lavuk is one such organization that makes it happen. I was impressed and deeply moved by their efforts and the compassion and joy that staff members have at their job. They make sure everyone is cared for, loved, and included. It is a safe and clean environment where individuals can drink a beer, buy a candy bar, use the computers, play video games, watch movies, and just generally be stimulated by their peers and the activity around them. It was awesome to experience. Well done, Lavuk!

And I have to say again what a privilege it is for me to get to spend time with people with special needs all over the world. Even though some of them smell funny or have drool coming out of their mouth, even though I don’t know how clean their hands are when I get a heartfelt handshake or they spit in my face when they talk, I love them all. They deserve attention and love and respect as much, or perhaps even more, than everyone else. And anyone who commits just a bit of time, attention, and love to an individual with special needs will see their efforts repaid ten-fold with the sincere kindness, joy, humor, and simplicity that a person with special needs gives. 

Looking back, I can’t believe I almost didn’t go to Denmark. I would have missed out on a lot of learning opportunities. As far as the issues with prenatal testing, it seems to me that perhaps well-meaning people in other countries saw one news article about the declining birth rate of kids with Down Syndrome and assumed the worst about the government and the healthcare system. While I do think that Denmark favors a woman’s right to choose, it is certainly not anyone’s goal to eliminate imperfections from society. And I’m so grateful I took the chance to visit Denmark and discover that for myself. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Life in Denmark Was Good

Goodness, I’m so behind with blogging! Here I am, more than 3 weeks into my time in England and I’ve haven’t shared anything about Denmark! But before I talk about the good life in Denmark, I want to preface things by describing a bit of my emotional state upon arriving in the country. I have posted some of the highlights of the two months I spent in Germany, but what follows is a closer look at my thoughts and struggles during that time. I wrote about this in my third quarterly report I sent to the Watson last month, so I will include a lot of it here. It serves as a good recap of the last few months. 

“I took a different approach this quarter and was not stationed in one city for the whole time. Instead, I had a short term home base in three different cities, in two different countries. As a result, the past three months were very different from the six months that came before. My experiences, emotions, thoughts, project work, and living situations the last three months in Germany and Denmark were vastly different when compared with my time in Jordan or Japan. 

I started this quarter in the quaint city of Nuremberg, Germany and my time here was marked by one word—unsettled. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly relished the luxuries of being in a Western European country after my adventure in the Middle East: good indoor heating and plumbing, convenient public transportation, and no stares from loitering men. Likewise, it was rather refreshing to be in a small, sleepy, Bavarian city after the utter chaos of Amman and the crowdedness of Tokyo. Despite these positives (and many others) I was often consumed with anxiety about the coming months. I wasn’t sleeping well and my brain was all over the place. Half of me was present in Nuremberg, while the other half was planning for a visit from my family, scheduling my stay in Hamburg, Germany, and assessing the feasibility and timing of my stay in Denmark. I quickly realized the nice thing about staying in one place for a longer period, there’s far more time to focus on the task at hand. In Jordan and Japan my brain was not pulled in so many different directions and I missed that during the month in Nuremberg. 

However, having too much to think about isn’t necessarily a foreign feeling. Four years at Harvey Mudd taught me a lot about handling anxiety and constant busyness. Of course, there’s one big difference between the brain pull of school and that of the Watson. At school, my schedule was mostly prescribed for me. I was told when to go to class, turn in homework, or attend meetings. The “have to” mindset has no part in the Watson Fellowship. Nothing is dictated for me. And while this complete freedom is one of my favorite aspects of the fellowship, during this month in Nuremberg I felt the exhaustion of having to constantly create my own structure, routine, and priorities. During this month, it was quite taxing to think about how to fill my days. All of these feelings—unsettledness, anxiety, exhaustionleft me significantly unmotivated. 

But with a lot of prayer and a “just push through” attitude I made it through being unmotivated and made some fantastic project connections! After three months of “Arab time” where scheduling is flexible, most things start late, and communication is hit or miss, I so appreciated the quick email responses from people in Germany and their willingness to meet with me. It was really a good place to go for such a short time because everyone was so efficient at getting back to me and scheduling appointments! 

Some of my struggles that first month in Germany may have been due to missing my family as well. After seven months away, I needed to see some familiar faces! So, my family’s visit was a refreshing interruption to my solo travels. Their visit was just the beginning of a complete whirlwind of a month though! After sending them off, I headed to Hamburg in the northern part of Germany. I was short three travel buddies, but I gained a suitcase (winter clothes take up far more room than clothes for summer in Japan) and a fresh perspective on the convenience of traveling alone. 

After just two and a half weeks in Hamburg, I uprooted myself once again and moved to Copenhagen, Denmark. I handled this transition far better than the move from Amman to Nuremberg, only slight anxiety and much more excitement. However, I didn’t get much chance to adjust before I headed to Norway for a three day conference organized by the Norwegian Down Syndrome association. I had a total blast meeting different families, listening to interesting lectures, sharing my experience as a sibling to new parents, and learning about the situation for people with Down Syndrome in Norway. I even learned some sweet new dance moves from the kids at the Disco night. It was a fantastically stimulating three days and I can’t think of a better way I could have spent my time on World Down Syndrome Day.

The Norway trip concluded my whirlwind month. I came back to Copenhagen for the final month of this quarter. A month marked by complete joy and contentment. I finally felt like I was able to take a breath, rest, and reassess my priorities.”

German was amazing, but it took its toll on both my mental and physical energy. I was able to rest, recuperate, and process everything in Copenhagen. Here’s some of the things that generally contributed to my contentedness:

I had a fantastic living situation. I didn’t know this before coming to Copenhagen, but there are not many vacancies in the city. Just as I was beginning to think I would have to spend five weeks in a hostel, I got a response back on an ad I had posted a couple weeks before. Anne and her daughter, Eva, had a spare room they were renting out. It was perfect and absolutely an answer to prayer. Anne and Eva treated me like part of the family, but gave me space and independence as well. I felt completely at home, the room was luxury, and the location was a place I thought I would only dream of living. 

Speaking of location, the sea was only about one mile from the apartment. One mile through a beautiful wooded park and past an old castle before opening up onto the coast. It's been years since I ran seriously in high school, but in Denamrk I started running again. I had to take advantage of the perfect location and was even further motivated by the healthy and fit Danish people around me. After the extreme heat in Japan, the cultural stigma of running outside in Jordan, and the cold winter in Germany, it was time to get out and run. And I loved it!

Finally, let’s talk about “hygge.” This is a Danish word that doesn’t translate well into English, but it is a hugely important part of Danish culture.  After talking with numerous people about what hygge means to them, the best way I can describe it is “cozy quality time.” Getting together with friends and family, sharing a meal, engaging in conversation or watching a movie, that’s hygge. Intentional quality time with the people you’re close to, in a cozy atmosphere, that’s hygge. And I think it’s fantastic! Without knowing we were channeling our Danish roots, my family (particularly my Mom) is quite good at cozy quality time, it’s something I grew up appreciating. For example, I remember so fondly the “picnic” dinners we had when I was kid. A simple meal spread out on a blanket in the living room as we watched Little House on the Prairie or You’ve Got Mail. Learning about and experiencing hygge in Denmark made me feel so at home and relaxed. It was lovely. 

Part of the reason I didn’t blog so much during my stay in Denmark was because it felt like my time, time I just wanted to relish for myself. But now, after the fact, I appreciate the opportunity to relive it as I share it here. Life in Denmark was good. :)

Eva (left) and Anne (right). My Danish family! 

Love them so much!

Eating traditional Danish ice cream in Helsingør. Two scoops of ice cream 
topped with whip cream, jam, and a flødeboller 
or chocolate covered marshmallow. YUM!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Hamburg Highlights

I was in the beautiful city of Hamburg for just about two and a half weeks. I stayed quite busy, but it was definitely not enough time to see and do everything. This visit also proved the beauty of the Watson Fellowship and the random, but awesome, connections I've made around the world. While I was in Japan, Nobuko (a Japanese friend of my aunt's who has a daughter with Down Syndrome) introduced me to Carolyn (who happened to graduate from Pomona College and also has a daughter with special needs). Carolyn then introduced me to Steffi and Marc, a German couple from Hamburg who happened to be visiting Japan while I was there. As it turns out Steffi works with people with special needs! So, I made a point to visit Hamburg during my time in Germany.

In Nuremberg, I learned a lot about what life is like for high functioning individuals with disabilities. However, in Hamburg I was able to complete the picture and learn about provisions available for lower functioning individuals who need a bit more daily help than others. Steffi works in what I will call a day care center. The umbrella organization, Alsterdorf Assistenz, has a long history in Hamburg and last year celebrated its 150th birthday. Providing for the needs of individuals before the year 1900 was quite revolutionary. Sadly though, Nazi policies during WWII tainted the organization's history. While the leadership of Alsterdorf didn't necessarily approve of the euthanasia practice, they were perhaps powerless to stop the program from affecting those within their care. It was absolutely heartbreaking to learn about this heavy history. I was only consoled by seeing the true redemption that has occurred in the organization and the community since that dark time.

There were a lot of different activities going on at the day care center. After a leisurely morning of breakfast and coffee, people did art projects, went grocery shopping, worked in the kitchen preparing lunch, folded laundry, played games. A few times a week people are also transported to other locations for fun activities or small jobs. I got to go dancing with them a couple times while I was there! All of these activities provide meaningful stimulation for people with disabilities. This is NOT a day care where people just sit idle all day, they are active and engaged. The staff provides smiles and encouragement all day long.

Here are some of my friends at the day care center. It was dress up day so I got to wear a crazy hat. I sure love all the wonderful people I've met on this journey!

I think what I was most impressed with though is the Ursprung Cafe that is a part of Alsterdorf. The cafe is a great example of productive community effort. It is located in the lobby of a local church that lends the space for free, making it possible for Alsterdorf to afford running a cafe. People from the day care center are assigned to work in the cafe each day for the few days it is open per week. In the morning, everyone works together preparing lunch and serving the morning customers. To make the job accessible to everyone working there, the staff devised a really unique menu system. Each table in the cafe has a corresponding symbol. So, if someone sits down at the star table, they will receive the star menu. The menu then has a cards for each item, a coffee card, a lunch card, a tea card, each with the star symbol on the back. The customer orders by giving the cards to the worker. This way, even people with disabilities who may not be able to read and write, can still participate in the cafe work. I thought this was quite clever and empowering. The staff really try to make sure that the people with disabilities are doing the work and getting the experience. It is a team effort, everyone has a lot of fun!

Here is Steffi and Christian getting the tables set up with the cool menus. 

Chopping carrots for lunch.

The cafe crew.

Another striking thing I learned in Germany: people working with individuals with special needs have a surprisingly high level of education. For instance, Steffi has a degree “staatlich geprufter heilerziehungspfleger." This roughly translates to a “certified care worker,” which I would describe as a mix between a social worker, a special education teacher, and a nurse. People working toward this degree take classes in physical care, inclusion, disability policy, and do one or more internships at an organization. As far as I know, the United States does not have an equivalent degree. In fact, I would venture to say that very little education would be required for someone to work in a similar day care center in the U.S. From what I saw in Germany, the quality of the staff’s education at day care centers, workshops, and residential homes really improved the quality of the programs, activities, and general atmosphere. The U.S. would do well to learn from Germany in this case. I expect my professors, for example, to be educated and qualified to teach, why not expect the staff working in the special needs community to be appropriately educated and qualified as well.

There is one final thing I want to mention about my time in Hamburg. Steffi took me to an awesome exhibition called Dialog in the Dark. It was an amazing experience that gives visitors a glimpse into the lives of people who are blind. Small groups go through the experience in complete darkness led by a blind guide. We went through rooms that simulated different environments. We crossed a busy street, went to the supermarket, rode on a boat, and listened to music all without our sight. Throughout the tour the guide gave us some insight into different techniques blind people use to get through everyday tasks. Then at the end of the guided tour we sat in a cafe (also in complete darkness) and chatted with each other and our guide about the experience. The 90 minutes I spent in the dark was one of the most interesting things I’ve done this year. It was fascinating to experience things without the aid of sight. At the supermarket simulation, there was a stand of fruit and vegetables near the street. I found the sounds of the street and the people around to be so distracting that I could hardly identify the fruits and vegetables by touch. We pick out foods at the grocery store without even thinking, but take away sight and I couldn’t tell a tomato from an orange. I noticed immediately that I am not particularly kinesthetic. Touch did not prove too helpful in getting through the exhibition, but the sound of the surroundings and the guide’s voice was much more meaningful and easy to follow. I didn’t want to leave the darkness, I wanted to keep learning and exploring. I was reminded of how I would close my eyes and try to walk through my house without sight when I was younger. Of course, I am more grateful than ever for my sight, but I appreciated the stimulation and what I learned about myself. I would encourage everyone to try an experience like this sometime. (And if anyone knows if there is something similar to Dialog in the Dark in the U.S. let me know!)

As always, there is so much more I could say about my jam-packed time in Hamburg. I took a sightseeing trip to Berlin, toured a particle accelerator, learned about some interesting Down Syndrome research, got to see my dear friend Veronika from Jordan, spent a night in a tiny German village... Ask me about it sometime! :)

Sitting at Dietrich Bonhoeffer's desk in Berlin.
I felt like a fan girl enthralled with the famous German theologian.

Made my own chocolate bar at the Ritter Sport Store in Berlin.

LOVED the cross walk symbols! Too cute!

A nice drive through the German countryside.

Flensburg, Germany

Toured the tunnel that will soon house a
new particle accelerator.

Friday, March 21, 2014

World Down Syndrome Day 2014

Happy World Down Syndrome Day, everyone! I am currently at a conference in Trondheim, Norway organized for this special day. While most everything is in Norwegian, it is just exhilarating to be in a room with so many people who love their family members and friends with Down Syndrome and are passionate about seeing each of them reach their potential. I do have a few kind interpreters, so I'm learning lots about the situation for people with Down Syndrome in Norway! (Perhaps more about that in a subsequent post...) There is also a youth conference for young adults with Down Syndrome happening parallel to the one I'm attending. They invited me to their dance party last night! I squealed with glee along with them when the DJ played Justin Bieber and learned a thing or two from everyone with great dance moves. So much fun! :)

Today though, I just want to show some love to a few of the incredible people I have in my life and to some of those I have met in my travels. Each one of them has made me smile and laugh. They have taught me patience and to remember what is important in life. Each of them has opened my eyes to see past my own minuscule problems. They have shown me unconditional love. And all of these people have brought great joy to my life.

From Germany:

My walking buddy, Steffen.
My train riding buddy, Youstina.

My little friend, Mikey.

From Jordan:

Shahed (left) and Aya (center).
My favorite star!

From Japan:

Shoko and Naru taught me some
sweet dance moves!
Karaoke will never be the same without
Eiko and Shinichi!

And last by not least, from back in Oregon:

My sweet friend, Kristin. I love her enthusiasm!

Bailey's friend Danielle.
My go-to source for all things Portland Trail Blazers!

Cousin Peter, always ready with a big hug!

And the best little sister in the whole world!

I so want to give each of them a big hug in person, especially Miss Bailey, but this picture collage will have to suffice. For those of you who it! Give them a huge hug! One from me too! Show them how much we love them!

Note: For those who may not know, March 21st (3/21) is World Down Syndrome Day because people with Down Syndrome have a third chromosome in the 21st pair. Cool, right!?