Category Archives: Blog Post

Peru, Part II

The Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, May 15-19

We took a flight from Lima to Cusco, then a taxi to Huaran, a tiny hamlet in the Sacred Valley. Our accommodations were at the Green House, the best B&B I have ever stayed in. http://www.thegreenhouseperu.com Hosts Bryan (from Liverpool) and Gabriel (Buenos Aires) are funny, friendly, and gracious. Just one of many examples of their helpfulness: For our day trip to Machu Picchu, we had to catch a very early train. No time for breakfast. Bryan was up to see us off–with a bag containing a picnic breakfast of sandwiches, fruit, and cookies for us to eat on the train!

Julia and I are both dog lovers, so we were delighted by the three house dogs Paco (aka Puppy), Yana, and Laika. Laika takes special responsibility for the guests, cuddling whenever invited to, and taking them for a lovely walk to a nearby waterfall.

You can opt to have dinner at the Green House, cooked by Gabriel, and we did this three out of the four nights. Our menus:

Wednesday:
–sweet potato soup
–Green House beef stew over mashed potatoes
–apple crumble with ice cream

Thursday
–individual broccoli quiches
–Green House spinach cannelloni
–chilled lemon mousse

Saturday
–guacamole with tequenos (crisp rolled pastries stuffed with cheese)
–trout over a potato mille-feuille topped with salad
–chocolate brownie and ice cream

Nothing too fancy–home food instead of restaurant food–and every dish was delicious.

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The stunning view from our room at the Green House. Only four rooms total. The village of Huaran consists of a school and three tiny shops. (If you want shopping and night life, this is *definitely* not the place for you.)

Regular visitors to this blog know that I don’t usually spend this much time describing my accommodations. But the Green House is special. I don’t expect I’ll ever stay in a more peaceful and pleasant place anywhere in the world.

Laika leads the way…

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…past the rainbow…

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…to the waterfall…

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Julia gets into the Green House groove.

Friday, May 17: Machu Picchu

Okay, so everyone takes millions of photos at Machu Picchu–you can’t help it. But even the best photos cannot convey the essence of the place. Those below are just to prove that We Were There.

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Except for a few brief breaks in the cloud cover, it rained almost the entire time we were in Machu Picchu. Didn’t matter. In the morning there were a couple thousand other people there. Didn’t matter. The high altitude and hundreds of stairs had me puffing so hard I almost saw stars. None of it mattered: Machu Picchu is truly wondrous in a way that’s impossible to put into words, even for someone like me who likes to put almost everything into words. We stayed until late in the afternoon, when the place emptied out almost completely, and it was even more magical then.

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There’s still more to our trip (including a really fun horseback ride and a perfect final meal in Lima), but enough for now. I’ve been home for twenty-four hours and am still smiling.


More from Peru, Part I

Home after a wonderful trip. Extra special thanks to author Julia Durango, who traveled with me: Julia speaks fluent Spanish, and if it hadn’t been for her, I’d *still* be in the wrong taxi…. Many of the photos below were taken by her (JD).

May 11-14, in Lima:

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At Huanca Pucllana archeological site. (JD)

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In the Pueblo Libre neighborhood at the Museo Larco: saying hello to the resident Peruvian hairless dog amid lush display of bougainvillea. (JD)

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Whenever I’m traveling abroad and staying in hotels, I always have at least one impassioned “wish I had a kitchen!” moment. This was it for me in Peru: The local supermarket sold beautiful small scallops on the half shell with the roe attached. (JD)

At Colegio Roosevelt:

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With John Kurtenbach and Julia. (I think Tina took this photo?–Thanks, Tina!)

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With library assistant Tina Raventos and elementary librarian Michelle Roberts. And Knuffle Bunny.

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With the Simpsons. (Papier mache heads display in the elementary library. Thanks again to Tina for taking the photo.)

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With the students from the Korean club, who helped organize my evening presentation to the school’s Korean community. Two of the students did simultaneous translation of my remarks–not an easy job! (JD)

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Delicious stir-fry of flounder and veg at Chez Wong, a quirky little restaurant in Lima. No menu: First course is flounder ceviche, with or without octopus (we had it with), followed by the flounder stir-fry, and then another flounder stir-fry with homemade black-bean sauce. Very simple food and very delicious.

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At Amaz restaurant, specializing in dishes made with ingredients from the Amazon region, several entrees were wrapped and steamed in bijao leaves. This is my hearts of palm and chicken, which was interesting and tasty; Julia’s fish dish was even better.

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The Dunkin Donuts in Lima airport: a donut called Delirium.

Our wonderful stay in Lima was due to the efforts of John Kurtenbach, Lisa Gore, Michelle Roberts, Tina Raventos, and all the library staff at Colegio Roosevelt. Thanks also to the teachers who used our books with their students, and most of all, to the TERRIFIC STUDENTS who read our books and were such enthusiastic audiences!

Next entry: Part II, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu


Peru!

On Tuesday I finished a two-day visit at Colegio Roosevelt, the American international school in Lima. Librarian John Kurtenbach arranged a great schedule for myself and author Julia Durango, who’s traveling with me. Julia saw the pre-K/K classes and did a joint presentation with me to grades 1-2. I saw grades 3-8. Attentive and enthusiastic audiences. A special shout-out to the Grade 6 group (which included a couple classes of 7th graders), all of whom read A LONG WALK TO WATER–they were my final presentation and a terrific finish to my time at the school.

Julia and I had arrived on Friday evening, so we’d had the weekend to explore Lima before starting work on Monday. On Saturday, John took us to two museums, including the beautiful Museo Larco, and introduced us to Pisco, the Peruvian national beverage. Sunday, we shopped the Indian markets and had dinner at Huanca Pucllana, a restaurant that overlooks an archaeological site that’s dramatically lit at night.

I’m awaiting photos from the school; in the meantime, a few photos from our first days:

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Greeting visitors at the Museo Larco: a Peruvian Hairless dog, a native breed. Never seen anything like it!

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The ruins at Huanca Pucllana in Lima.

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At the Huanca Pucllana restaurant, assorted appetizers. In the foreground, chicharrons de cuy. Cuy is one of Peru’s most famous dishes. (Look it up…)

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In the library at Colegio Roosevelt, pointing to the photo of previous visiting author Laurie Halse Anderson.

On the way from the Cusco airport to the Sacred Valley:

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Llama llama woolly mama!

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Julia and baby llamas.

It’s difficult to post photos from here, so I’ll probably wait until I get home to post more. And there *will* be more…. This is truly an amazing place.


Random photos

From Chicago and elsewhere.

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Friends Grace and Iris who, with my longtime college pal Steve, shared a great meal with me at Frontera Grill in Chicago.

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Art Institute of Chicago Picasso exhibit: ‘Mother and Child’, with lost-and-found Dad.

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The guy could *draw*…

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Always gotta check out the Korean celadon.

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Latest knitting project. Knitters out there will know what I’m talking about: the triumph of finding…

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…the Perfect Buttons.

And last but certainly not least: Through the efforts of librarian John Scott, I’ve skyped a couple of times with the Friends School of Baltimore. In my presentation, I talked about how Koreans celebrate Children’s Day–a national holiday–by going on a picnic and flying kites. Well, the school decided to have its own Children’s Day celebration! 🙂 Teacher Jillien Lakatta posted this photo on Twitter:

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I thank the stars for great librarians and teachers helping literature come alive for their students.


My kind of town

24+ brilliant hours in Chicago.

Thursday evening: Met dear friends Steve, Iris and Grace for dinner at Frontera Grill. Food all really good, the mushroom tamales GREAT.

Friday morning: Steve and Iris took me to the Art Institute to see the Picasso exhibit. Arranged more or less chronologically, a wonderful overview of Picasso’s career. Enjoyed it immensely. Favorite part: the “Mother and Child” painting and the story behind its excised third figure. (Least favorite part: typeface on the walls difficult to read, especially from a distance whenever there was a crowd. Note to exhibit curators: for aging boomers, the font needs to be BIGGER and DARKER. And serif, but maybe that’s just me.)

Friday dinner: with the Sutherland Lecture committee at Tesoria, an Italian restaurant on Adams St. Ann Carlson, Gillian Engburg, Janice del Negro, Lee McClain, Mary Ogilvie and Linda Ward-Callaghan were delightful company. Missing and much missed: Betsy Hearne (traveling in Ireland) and Roger Sutton (grounded in Boston). I had the burrata with caponata, and then the roast suckling pig. Food divine, conversation even better!

Friday evening: The Sutherland lecture. After Liz McChesney’s welcome and Janice Del Negro’s (terrific, humbling) introduction, I stepped to the podium and proceeded to speak for what felt like an aeon with a GIGANTIC NASTY FROG in my throat. It took approximately 75 attempts to clear it. This had never happened to me before; however, it is one of the recurring anxiety dreams which I have regularly before major speaking events. I wonder if now that it’s happened I’ll stop having that particular dream?

Anyway, the audience was very patient, and the frog finally hopped (hocked) away, and the rest of the speech (titled ‘Writer vs. Author’) went fine. The head count was nothing like it was last year (for Neil Gaiman) or will be next year (for John Green), but everyone was enthusiastic and supportive. At the reception afterwards, I got to chat with many of the folks who came.

A huge thank you to the Sutherland committee, the University of Chicago, the Horn Book, and the Chicago Public Library; to Clarion Books for sponsoring my appearance; and to everyone who attended.

And when I got back to the hotel, I found out that the Mets had won their game against the Braves in the tenth inning. 🙂

Saturday morning: A decadent breakfast at the hotel (the Sofitel, probably my favorite chain, very European). Now off to the airport.

I heart Chicago!


a 17

If my days were rated on a scale of 1-10, yesterday was a 17.

I woke in New Haven, CT, at The Study hotel, quite a nice place. (Sleek nice as opposed to cozy nice.) The Study’s ‘theme’ is books. They partnered with The Strand bookstore in Manhattan to come up with a list of 100 titles everyone should read. At The Study, you can buy any of the books on the list—or the entire set of 100. I asked the desk clerk if he’d ever sold anyone the complete set. He looked surprised and answered, “I’ve sold five or six sets today alone.”

Pretty good place to start the day.

After a little exercise and a shower, I had a long phone chat with pal Julia Durango. We discussed our upcoming trip to Peru. (Note the casual delivery of that line….) Then I set off from the hotel into the glorious spring weather. I was headed for the library, and was hopeful that I’d find a quick bite to eat along the way.

What I found was three street-food carts in a row, all selling South American food. Talk about serendipity! I had an arepa (sweet corn & mozzarella) with pork, fresh salsa, rice & beans and fried plantains.

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Really delicious. Five bucks.

Then I went into Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library. I’ve been reading books set in Peru (see above casual statement) and learned only last week that Hiram Bingham’s archives are held at the Sterling. Bingham was (probably… arguably) the first explorer to lay eyes on Machu Picchu. In the Sterling reading room, three boxes awaited me; they contained Bingham’s letters and journals for the Yale Peruvian Expedition of 1911.

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The frontispiece is written in ink, quite legible, but the entries themselves are in pencil.

Much as I loved seeing and holding the actual small red leather-bound journal with which Bingham traveled, it was almost impossible to read the very faded pencil scrawl. Thankfully, Bingham had also produced a typescript in which he expanded into narrative the brief notes in the journal.

I started right at the beginning, with Bingham’s departure from New York in June. I already knew that the date he first saw the ruins at Machu Picchu was July 24. As I read through the typescript, I had to laugh inwardly at myself: I was leaning forward on the chair as the date crept closer to July 24. Even though I already knew what would happen, I couldn’t wait to read about it.

July 21 . . . 22 . . . 23 . . . and then—

July 25!?? What the freak—

There were SEVEN pages missing! The exact pages for the July 24 entry!

I almost knocked over my chair in my haste to find a librarian. Three of them examined the file. All were bemused. They apologized and said they had no idea where the missing pages were but would attempt to trace them.

Then I really had to laugh. I mean, what else can you do?

The mostly-blissful session in the Sterling Reading Room was followed by an event at the Beinecke Library across the street. The current exhibit being displayed on the mezzanine of the Beinecke, “By Hand,” http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/exhibitions/hand-celebrating-manuscript-collections was curated by Dr. Kathryn James. Readers of The 39 Clues: Cahills vs. Vespers series might recognize her name: She’s a character in the title I wrote for the series, TRUST NO ONE.

The ‘By Hand’ exhibit is breathtaking–a selection of the most famous and/or intriguing items in the Beinecke collections. And one of the display cases holds the Voynich manuscript–which is the linchpin of TRUST NO ONE.

To my surprise and delight, Kathryn decided to include a copy of TRUST NO ONE in the display case, as well as a couple of my manuscript pages! I sent her before-and-after pages for which my Scholastic editor, Rachel Griffiths, had made a suggestion for a change. Rachel’s comments are printed out in the margins in bright neon colors, using the MS Word program–a rather jarring contrast to the vellum and parchment in many of the other cases!

Kathryn also invited me to do a presentation about my book and the research I had done, which included a previous visit to the Beinecke to look through the Voynich as well as to case the joint and figure out a way for Dan & Amy to steal the manuscript. (To find out if they succeeded, you’ll have to read the book.) She did a lovely introduction, and after my presentation there was a wine-and-yummy-nibbles reception.

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With Kathryn James in front of the display case. Over my shoulder, a copy of TRUST NO ONE, and next to it, the Voynich itself!

Then Kathryn took a small group to dinner: Three librarians, editor Mallory Kass from Scholastic (standing in for Rachel, who is on vacation–Mallory did A LOT of the work on The 39 Clues), and a young reader (the son of one of the librarians. And I do mean READER). We had one of the best dinner conversations ever…and the food was good too. (Zinc restaurant in New Haven. I had a lentil salad and scallops.)

I can’t thank Kathryn enough–for her help with the book, AND for the opportunity to present at Yale!

But the magical day wasn’t over yet. When I got back to The Study, I listened to the last few innings of the Mets-Dodgers game…

…which the Mets won on Jordany Valdespin’s walk-off grand slam.

WOW. What a day.


E.L. Konigsburg

My four favorite Konigsburg titles, in no particular order:

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FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER.

–The *plausible* adventure story. A HUGE influence on my work. Even when writing my titles for The 39 Clues series, I wanted to Dan and Amy’s escapades to be plausible (which is not the same as realistic), within the realm of true possibility for two kids traveling with an au pair. MIXED-UP FILES taught me that.

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A PROUD TASTE FOR SCARLET AND MINIVER.

–Historical fiction can be FUN, and funny, without having to be slapstick.

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JENNIFER, HECATE, MACBETH, WILLIAM MCKINLEY AND ME, ELIZABETH

–Friendship is *complicated*. At any age. Tell it true, even to the very young. (Hello, Frog & Toad, and Elephant & Piggy!)

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FATHER’S ARCANE DAUGHTER.

–IMHO, the most sophisticated mystery ever published for young people.

I got to meet E.L. Konigsburg once. It was surely one of the highlights of my life as a children’s writer.

I’ll miss knowing that she was in our world…but will find comfort by re-reading those four books over and over.


Roger Ebert, in memoriam

I never met Roger Ebert. But I feel connected to him on quite an intimate level, just one degree of separation.

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http://www.anitasilvey.com/books/bk_everything.html

Several years ago, I submitted a short piece for an anthology edited by the indefatigable Anita Silvey. (If you don’t know her amazing Book-A-Day blog, get thee hence immediately. http://childrensbookalmanac.com/ ) The anthology is titled EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED FROM A CHILDREN’S BOOK. Along with more than one hundred other people (from Jay Leno and Julianne Moore to Deval Patrick and Steve Wozniak), I was asked to respond to the question, “What children’s book changed the way you see the world?”

I had a terrible time deciding on which book to write about. (ROOSEVELT GRADY, by Louisa Shotwell; WHAT THEN, RAMAN? by Shirley Arora; A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, by Betty Smith…were three other candidates among the many I considered.) Finally, I ended up writing about THE SATURDAYS, by Elizabeth Enright. Here’s how I ended my essay:

The book was one of several that made me want to live in New York–and when I grew up, I did.

When I received my author copy of the finished book, one of the things that most interested me was the handful of instances where more than one person had selected the same book. HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON, by Crockett Johnson, was chosen by both Maurice Sendak and Chris Van Allsburg. Tiki Barber, Donna Shalala, and Edward Villella had all written about Watty Piper’s THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD. Beatrix Potter’s animal stories were the choice of Ken Follett and Beverly Clearly.

I’m sure by now you’ve guessed where this is going.

One other person chose THE SATURDAYS. Roger Ebert wrote about how much he loved Enright’s Melendy family adventures–THE SATURDAYS is the first in the series.

Those books were the first real ones I ever read. They taught me that stories could be wonderful…

I wish I’d had the chance to meet Mr. Ebert. I know we would have had a terrific conversation about our beloved mutual friends, the Melendys.


Final post, Dhaka

My final day in Dhaka was a boat trip on the flood plain, arranged by librarian Colleen Boerner. It was a wonderful way to finish a terrific trip. A few last impressions…

Women in Bangladesh wear both saris and salwar kameez (tunic & trousers).

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Library assistant Shuborna in one of her beautiful salwar kameez.

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Colleen in salwar kameez.

I enjoyed these fanciful fruit carvings on the hotel’s breakfast buffet:

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Melon boat…

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Watermelon rose…

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Honeydew bunny!

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Gecko, spotted in the school’s gymnasium area during the conference badminton tournament.

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The boat for our trip on the flood plain.

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Delicious potluck lunch on the boat!

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Only an hour outside Dhaka, foreigners are a rare enough sight that the village children never fail to wave, often calling to summon their friends to wave too.

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Reflection.

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Cricket, wherever there’s space enough.

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Riding on top of the trains is free.

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With AISD’s Middle and High School librarian Colleen Boerner…

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…and Taipei American School’s lower-school librarian Barb Middleton.

Both Colleen and Barb bent over backwards to make my visits memorable. Many thanks to them and everyone else at their schools who made the trip such a special one for me!


AISD assembly

Yesterday I attended the American International School of Dhaka’s elementary-school assembly. These take place first thing in the morning once or twice a month. Part of the assembly was a thank-you for my visit; two students presented me with a beautiful gift: a triple strand of white and gray pearls with matching earrings! More pearls, hurrah! (My Korean name, ‘Myung-gin’, roughly translates to ‘precious pearl’ or ‘shining jewel’, so I’ve always been partial to pearls.)

But it was the rest of the assembly that most impressed me. As students filed in, the student rock band Checkmates played (electric guitar, bass, drums). The cast of the school play ‘Alice in Wonderland’ sang a song (they sounded great, and I hope they break a leg when they perform next week!). This was followed by the regular features of the assembly:

–Students whose birthday is in March came to the stage. The whole school sang a lively rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’, with ‘cha-cha-chas’ and dancing interspersed. Each birthday boy or girl got a pencil.

–One class was recognized for their good behavior (or performance or sportsmanship etc). They took possession of the school mascot, a huge stuffed tiger:

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Elementary school principal Lara Manasfi waiting to present the tiger…

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…to representatives of Mr. Taylor’s first-grade class, this month’s winners.

–And finally, my favorite part of the assembly. Because of the nature of the school’s population, with parents who work for NGOs and embassies, students at AISD come and go more often than at local schools. When students leave, they are honored at the assembly. Classmates prepare a scrapbook of letters and memories, and some of the letters are read aloud to the whole school. Yesterday three students were recognized, and their classmates’ remarks were simple and heartfelt.

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The girl in red at far left; the boy in yellow, center (who’s looking at his scrapbook); and the boy in white at right are the students leaving the school; they listen while their classmates honor them.

This assembly helps create a wonderful sense of community. I’m so glad I got to attend.

Today, last day in Dhaka. Flying out tonight…getting ready for the thirty hours to be spent in transit. Please send good-travel-karma vibes my way…