A Window into Life: Incredible Experiences in Guatemala – Photo Story

These weeks working and living in Guatemala have been so full of life and experiences. Time seems to fly by, even as it carries the weight of so much life and all that has been happening, all that has been changing within me, and all that I have been able to impact while I have been here. My last post was over a month ago; but let’s be honest, I don’t have time to write internet updates when I am living in a mountain village, translating conversations in Spanish, and traveling all over the country with eleven college students.

But I do want to provide a window into some of the amazing blessings and even the hardships that have been defining my life this past month or so…

A while ago, I got to go to the Caribbean with my students to relax after a few weeks of intense classes. It was a relaxing and joyous trip — and just so happened to be where I was blessed to have my 24th birthday. As is tradition there, I was tossed into the Caribbean with all my clothes on to celebrate the new year ahead of me. I also got to hold an adorable baby sea otter, and climb around on some breathtakingly beautiful waterfalls.

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I have been so happy to have been living in Antigua for the majority of my time working here. It really is a second home for me — never have I felt so comfortable and assured that I belong somewhere. I have already posted about my Antigua community, my amazing host family, my love for the musical community here; but I am going to share a few of my favorite pictures from this wonderful city.

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Here is a sunset I was fortunate to watch from the roof of my homestay:

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Speaking of amazing sunsets, I traveled with the students about three weeks ago to Monterrico on the Pacific coast to have a weekend at the beach after living and working in the mountains for a few weeks. There are some incredible skies there. I also got to adopt a baby sea turtle from a near-by refuge and release it into the sea to start on its adventure.

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For a total of a month, I work with the students in Magdalena Milpas Altas in the mountains while they do internships in different areas of community development. I get to help out with medical clinics for childhood malnutrition, play ukulele for mentally disabled kids at the hospital, visit homes in El Gorrion to build relationships with the hard-working mothers there, and work with an amazing group of students learning so much about Guatemala and relational development.

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I have made some wonderful friends since I have been living here — sharing a house together, playing music together, and traveling together. I want to introduce you to a lovely new friend for life, Olivia: She works at the Pina, and supports me in my music and has listened to me rant about life and made some beautiful memories. Here she is holding a sweet baby:

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This is a picture that Olivia took of me playing at the Pina — one of my very favorite activities…

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I also had a few great Spanish teachers this trip, and wanted to introduce you to Yolanda (Yoli) who mentored me, taught me, comforted me, and helped me really express myself in another language.

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Some of the girls I live with came with my study abroad students and I to the All Saints Day celebration  at the cemetery in Sumpango for the Gigantic Kite festival. These larger than life tissue paper kites take more than 6 months to create and are stunning in their varied colors and forms. Such an amazing sight to see — and so many people all in one place! The tradition of flying kites for the day of the dead is something so touching, because it is believed that the kites are seen as messages from family and loved ones down here on the ground to those who have passed on into the skies.

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At Sumpango I was also privileged enough to see the Mayan Royalty. There is a Cultural Contest (instead of a Beauty Contest) held every year for the many diverse Mayan tribes to show their culture, traditional dress, and language. The winners are then the Mayan Princesses for the year and go to all the significant cultural traditions and celebrations. This is a picture of them watching over the kite flying contest the First of November.

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Our most recent group excursion was to Tikal in the Peten region of the Guatemala highlands. I have been to these ancient Mayan ruins before, but it was so good to see them again and share my knowledge with the students. This time, however, we got to stay on the amazingly beautiful island-city of Flores. It reminded me so much of Sardinia, the Italian island in the middle of the Mediterranean – the colors, the quaint streets, the island life. This island took about 7 minutes to walk around, and it was surrounded by such green jungle and a beautiful lake full of life. I also learned how to walk on water….

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My thanks to all who took a browse through this post — a little photo story of what’s been going on in my life here in the amazing country of Guatemala. I am truly blessed, and that is solidified to me every time I go through these snapshots. I have a great community, friends, and opportunities to travel, grow and fully engage with life and all it brings.

Peace and Blessings,

–Kira

A Paradigm Shift: Antigua/Magdalena

For the last month, Antigua, Guatemala has been my home. I don’t have a house, I don’t have a job, I don’t have a plan for my life when I get back to the states, I just have a passion to be in other places. Being in this place has been so full of life, language, people, learning. Yet the path I have been on living here in Antigua is going to change, and not just geographically.

Tomorrow I am moving to Magdalena, a small, poor, rural village about half an hour into the mountains. I will be living with a family there, eating what they eat, speaking their language, and learning their life. My internship is in social work in the near-by village of displaced people, El Gorrión. These people had their whole village wiped out by a devastating landslide, and were relocated by the government and kept in poverty, not able to own their land and dependant on trucks bringing in water each week. Where I fit into this is something I am going to be finding out over the next two weeks. Yesterday , after our group bible study, I was able to speak with the head of the social works in El Gorrión, and when I asked about what I was going to be doing exactly, I was given the answer, “you will be going to people’s homes and hearing about their problems.” Perfect. I am a relational person, and I don’t have anything special to give to these hurting people other than my time and understanding. Yet another reason why I am so thankful that my Spanish is really taking off.

This shift with be quite the culture shock: from the touristy and comfortable quaint-ness of Antigua, where I was just starting to make some local friends (you know you are in when you get the Guatemalan cheek kiss), to the unknown, rural life of early mornings, devotion, and pouring out that will take place in Magdalena and El Gorrión. I am excited to live in this new place, and be taught so much about God and relationships from there people who live there. So here is to the comming paradigm shift — may I be prepared as I can, and flexible for what is to come, open to learning and relishing this other side of Guatemala.

From Classroom Books to Caribbean Beaches; Life is Good

It’s all downhill from here. I did it – the last, hard push through of the mountains of homework and credits, and my last classes as an undergraduate student at SPU. Now I look forward to weeks of Spanish language school and my internship with Students International working with rural community development in the nearby villages of Magdalena and El Gorrión.

However this weekend was a time of transition – from the full force of intensive classes (fitting in an 18 credit senior quarter into two weeks) to the more Guatemalan pace of language school and community building. What better place for a relaxing, get away weekend than the Caribbean shore? No better place, is what I say.

Thursday morning, all fifteen of us students piled  into a van headed for the capital, Guatemala City, where we then loaded onto a double-decker bus headed all the way across the country to the small section of the Caribbean that Guatemala claims: Puerto Barrios. After the 6 hour journey, we head in a smaller, sweatier bus to our next mode of transportation: a boat. There are no roads that connect with the Christian retreat center we are headed to. We skim up on the water to the palm leaf covered dock of “El Faro”, The Lighthouse (no lighthouse in sight, by the way, it’s more the idea of Christ being the guiding light, etc., etc.). I am instantly in heaven. This bright, humid shore steals my heart as I unload and walk straight into the 80 degree water. The sand is soft and welcoming under my feet and I have to let out a squeal of pure delight (or two, or five…). It had been one of my life goals to swim in naturally warm water, where at night its warmer then the air around me. Goal status: Check.

The whole weekend that followed was blissful: air conditioned apartments, meals cooked for us, hammocks in the shade, beautiful tropical forest all around us, fireflies in the evening lighting up the grass, parrots greeting us with “Hola” in the mornings, and hours and hours of nothing planned other than to be in and enjoy nature. I held a monkey for the first time, learned how to machete open a fresh coconut, drink the milk, and scrape out the sweetest meat I had ever tasted, and laid in the close, bright, hot Caribbean sun. It was a dream sharing this all with my friends, practicing my Spanish, playing ukulele in the palm trees, singing praise by a bonfire under a star-filled night, and swimming in clear, crisp pools of water fed by slowly cascading waterfalls. Butterflies the size of my face were commonplace. Shrieks of joy were heard loudly and often as we flew skyward off the water trampoline and blob. Sunrises at 5:20am set the morning clouds ablaze with passion. An evening rainstorm pounded on the dried leaf roofs and robed us of electricity for the night, letting us see more clearly the fireflies, and hear more clearly the jungle insects and birds.

As you can imagine, it was hard to leave. Yet coming back to Antigua made this cobblestoned old city feel even more like home. I loved walking in the door to hug a hello to Doña Christi and excitedly tell her about my weekend adventures. Today started the first week of Spanish classes, one on one teacher conversations that are fit specifically to the areas I need to address and practice. This is one of the best ways to learn a language: focus on the areas you know you need help in, study, and be able to walk out the door and immediately use it around the city and in the house I live in. Immersion and study complementing each other perfectly. I am excited to see how much I grow in my language ability, and even more excited to use that knowledge to work with the internally displaced people of El Gorrión in just two weeks’ time. I just know my next two months here will fly by, filled with learning and new experiences. Like tomorrow’s adventure: watching a futbol match between the Guatemala “Cremas” and the Seattle Sounders in the Capital. I can whole-heartedly say, “Life is Good.”

Celebrations, Learning, and Garbage

Of all the times to be in Guatemala — this is a pretty great time to be here. Elections, Independence Day, Dia de los Muertos, and the start of the sunny spring season.

Yesterday was the Dia de La Independencia for not only Guatemala, but all of Central America. It started on Wednesday night with runners from central park here in Antigua running a lit torch to the pueblos around the city, with boys running ahead blowing on whistles to “ring in” the Independence day. All day on the 15th were parades of students from the many different schools playing more drums than I have ever seen in my life. Marimbas (the national instrument) were abundant in the square as the people celebrated their freedom and showed their patriotism. Blue and white flags graced the city, and everyone had a sense of excitement and alegria.

Independence Day Parade in Antigua

My roommate and I, however, spent most of this joyous day doing research for our capstone paper which is due very very soon. This stress has been the worst part of this trip, because we want to go out and really See Guatemala and experience the culture; which is difficult to do when we are having to assign every hour to class or homework or writing. But soon it will all be over! This time next week I will be laying out on the Caribbean beach, celebrating being done with University and ready to move onto Spanish language school and my internship. Until then: writing and cramming information into my head faster than it can hold it. Yet I am still having one of the greatest experiences I could have hoped for–I get to be a part of  great things going on here. It was a blessing to see one of those things today.

Today was an amazing experience. The Global Development class took a trip into the capital, Guatemala City, in the morning to visit Compassion International and a church that is partnering with them to help the children and families who live in the trash heaps of the city. We visited the city dump and got to see the community of people who live and work there, recycling anything they find for pathetic amounts of money (about 30 Quetzals a day, which is only about 5 dollars a day). With this money they have to buy the “clean” water brought in every once in a while by a truck. Here is a picture of the tubs of water that cost about 6 of their Queztals:

I loved seeing h0w the kids of this community are still being kids, playing (even if it is around garbage and in polluted water) and laughing. The church and the people who do development in the community try to emphasize that the kids are not allowed to work, but sometimes they want to help their parents.

I got to chat a lot with the wife of the pastor, who also serves as the main doctor of the medical team that gives services to this community and the homeless around Guatemala City. Her name is Laylah, and she was so happy to answer all the questions I had. It was such a blessing to be able to translate for my other classmates and to talk about complicated issues with Laylah in Spanish. Thankfully my time translating at Agros International in Seattle has taught me pretty useful vocabulary, like human development, maternal health, and governmental support. The program in the trash community has been running for about two years, and Laylah described to me how much progress and improvement she has seen since they first started. She remembers going to the dump and seeing the people wrapping themselves in nylon fabrics and sleeping in the piles of garbage. Now there are dirt paths, less garbage, shanties of metal, and they are starting to put in concrete floors for many of the families to improve health.

So a good way to sum up my time in Guatemala so far? Learning. Sure it’s a fatiguing experience, but I wouldn’t trade a minute of it. I am so blessed to be able to learn in a place like this, and see what I have been studying for years first-hand. Tomorrow? I am going to hike a volcano. No joke. As part of my earth science class, we decided it would be pretty applicable if we got to see actual lava flows. I’ll be sure to take pictures and post as soon as I find a spare moment! Thanks to all who read this horribly long post, and to all of my new SPU readers out there! Many blessings on you all —

Namaste, –Kira

 

Soak it in

Guatemala, Antigua, and the beautiful people who live and work here have been teaching me wonderful things in the past couple of days. I am so content to be in another culture and to be able to really put my Spanish to work. I feel as if the many bits and pieces of the Spanish that I know, the vocabulary, the random ideas of grammar, and the sounds of the letters, are all weaving themselves together and are finally being gathered into one place in my brain. just after a few days, I am comfortable holding conversations and kick starting my brain into processing this amazing language.

I suppose I should share a bit about my situation: with the 12 other Seattle Pacific University students, we arrived in Antigua in a very shaky van on the cobblestone streets, we shown where we would start our language courses in two weeks, and then delivered to our various home-stays. My friend Kjersti and I are rooming together at a home which is run by an amazing 85 year old woman affectionately called “Doña Christi” who is super sweet, has a great sense of humor, and has been hosting international language students for 50 years…wonderful lady. I love waking up in the morning and drinking local Guatemalan coffee, chatting in Spanish, and seeing the sun stream in through the open courtyard.

The weather here is phenomenal — bright and clear in the mornings, hot around lunchtime, and then the clouds roll in for the afternoon rains. Right now I am listening to the evening downpour on the tin roof and thanking God for how blessed I am. This is truly going to be an amazing quarter. We started classes today, beginning with the class I am mentoring (Intro to Global Development) in the morning, and the Earth Sciences class in the afternoons. Lots of learning going on.

Today I was able to walk around the city and explore as part of my morning class, and my favorite part for sure was the crowded, bustling, loud market. So many fruits and vegetables, lots of colorful craftworks and fabrics, women with chickens on their heads, and me trying to squeeze through the short Mayan people. I wish I had a picture to show, but I have not been good at taking pictures so far…or at all yet. I am hoping to soak in a bit more, and feel my way around the city. This is definitely a tourist center, and I guess that thing in me that tells me to blend in and be a part of the culture is stopping me from taking pictures “like a tourist.” But really–there is too much color and life and nature here not to want to capture as much as I can. So tomorrow (amid the piles of homework I already must accomplish) I am going on a photo journey, reading at a cafe, and soaking in as much as I can of Guatemala.

I couldn’t be happier — this is what I thrive on: living in other cultures, meeting new people, and of course speaking other languages. Thanks to all who read my blog! I hope to keep up with all the amazing adventures that are going on down here. including the nation-wide elections that are going on tomorrow. I have had the great opportunity to learn more about this process and how Guatemala is dealing with the transition. Many blessings and joy on all of you,

Namaste,

–Kira

Summer in This City, Means…

I’m sitting here in the rare, but ecstatically celebrated, Seattle sun– enjoying my summer and my freedom, and a few much needed days off work. This is my first summer here in Seattle, and I am at coffee shop number two for the day, soaking in all Seattle is best at: unique coffee shops, nature, and yoga. In my rejoicing in the sun, I am wearing a sun dress and watching the ships pass along the canal. Life is good.

It is always so important to remember that. Many of my friends tell me they like or are amazed at how optimistic I am. I try to be that way as much as I can, but of course I am not always in a chipper mood. And when I find myself down, I have to follow one of my own “Rules of Thumb” for my life: It’s ok to cry; it’s not ok to wallow in sadness. So I look at moments like this, where I am happy to be me, happy to have the life and opportunities and friends I have, and I make sure to count my blessings, tracking them in my mind to store at a later date, when I can pile them up and see that the heart of life is good and beautiful.

I am a relational person…very much so. We are made as relational beings, but I mean, I really love people. However, it follows that I really like being in a relationship. So I am learning that single is not just ok, it can be good. It can be great. Those times when I think its not fair that my exes are happily married and engaged and have someone, are the moments when I need to remember most that life is good. My life is good! God has great things in store for me, I know; He promised me so.

So, Optimism, here’s to you sticking with me. Here’s to Seattle being a great place to live. Here’s to the faith I have in God’s promises. Here’s to coffee, yoga, sunshine, dresses, and love. And to finally having the time to write new ukulele songs! Always hope. Always.

Namaste

–Kira

Drowning…but I Know I can Swim

Here it is, only the third week of Winter quarter, and I already feel like I am drowning in a never-ending flood of homework. From Politics to Middle Eastern history to Global Health, its always something. Not that I don’t see the value of what I am learning, but does it have to completely take over my life like this? Well, apparently for a university senior who is taking 19 credits, it does.

So if that is the case, then I’ll face it dead on! I found a quote this week that felt very applicable,

“Believe you can, and you are halfway there.” –Theodore Roosevelt

It’s amazing what attitude can do. I have found it my constant relief since the start of 2011, taking on an attitude of loving myself, of knowing things will get better, I can heal, and I grow from every life experience. Yoga has been amazingly helpful in shaping this attitude about myself. Loving yourself and being grateful for exactly where you are can give you an emotional makeover.

That being said, I have camped out on my couch with my fuzzy blanket and Middle East homework spread around me, gathered the needed supplies of Dr. Pepper and some Ben and Jerry’s, and turned on some really great tunes. (I’ve included one of my new favorites that I have most definitely learned on my ukulele. It’s a great mash-up with lots of heart and sweet sound.) I have the attitude I need to tackle this next step in my life, with my degree in sight. Taking it one step at a time is all I can do, especially when I feel like I am drowning. So tonight, I battle the flood and pray I come out victorious.

Namaste, –Kira

The Summer Season

Summer is in full force now, as I feel the sun hot on my back. This morning I woke up in a tent, drank hot cocoa, and finished a good book by a sparkling river. I’d say that is a pretty good picture of this sunny season.

I spent the first part of this summer in India, where in fact I was fast forwarded into their monsoon season: wet and very autumn-like. But still the heat was my constant companion as I worked in the Dalit Education Centers, teaching English, playing with the outcasts, and seeing so much beauty and joy amongst so much hardship. I was the one being blessed by the kids I met there and the ministry being done. I drank chai, got mehindi, learned some Telugu, wore a sari, and saw a culture from the inside. It is said that India changes you, and I believe that is a true statement while I still hope to see more of that change seep into my life in America.

My life back in America so far has been such a contrast, even within itself. I was tumbled back into a hectic pace, a nomadic life, a confused heart, and noisy brain, unable to process. But after heartache, my best friend’s wedding, living out of suitcases in my car with the lingering scent of incense, I was ready for peace. For home. For family. For a connection with the change I had tasted. So I headed to my current location: Dayton, WA, tucked in the wheat-covered Palouse hills, and far away from the battering confusion my heart was losing against. And this is where I find solace in my best friend (my mother) and the peace of nature.

I have focused my attention to my inner musings and have watched them come out in songs I write. With my tenor ukulele in hand, I sat on the kitchen floor and wrote my first song in attempt to move in the direction  of healing. I smile now, when I catch myself humming the tune that’s in head and realize it’s my own. So I hope to write more, think more, pray more, and just be me for a while, as I soak in this season of my life: Summer.

The Busyness of Life and Love

Here I am, caught in a crazy pace of life: a whirlwind of events, learning, scheduling, planning, homework, laughs, dresses, cups of coffee, and tears.

I have been given tokens of love from many people:

Flowers from my future housemate, Caroline, Coffee from my lovely Lauren when I picked her up from the airport, and a ukulele virtuoso CD from my father dearest who has such faith that someday I will play like that…

I have been surrounded by dear friends recently, having fun, dressing up fancy and forgetting the feelings of overwhelming stress for a bit–which in turn saves my sanity. I am so blessed with these gems of moments, laughing, dancing, snapping pictures for posterity and instant memories. God is surrounding me with Joy reminiscent of what I have in Him alone.

So for all of that, I am thankful for fancy dresses, pouring rain, tearful conversations, tea and crepes. Life and Love can keep one quite busy…and I would have it no other way!

Wisdom

This week was a very rough start to Spring quarter on my lovely flower-filled campus of SPU. It involved being plummeted back into due dates, paperwork for my summer in India, stress for living plans next year, juggling a crazy work schedule, and how to handle my various roles as student, SMC, small group leader, friend, SPRINT leader, and Global Development Major. There were tears shed over stressful Indian Visa applications, waiting in line at the DMV, textbooks were scrambled for, homework pressing in, and schedules were figured out. But amongst it all were gems of the joy I am finding in the springtime: breathing in God’s peace in yoga, hanging out with SMC people at interviews, starting the Quest process, and meeting with my lovely small group and getting to see how we have grown together over the quarters.

But what I really want to write about is this weekend. I have gotten so much wonderful wisdom from some beautiful sources….

On Friday, I was faced with a rough reality of the challenge of one of my courses, “Political and Economic Development of Nations”. The reading is graduate level, my classmates have solid, educated opinions, and I feel as if the teacher hasn’t taught us things yet. So as I was amidst my struggling and nigh panicking, I look to my left over at the girl next to me and her computer: on the bottom corner of her fancy Mac-book was a quote from a woman I hold in high esteem, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt herself. It said exactly what I needed to hear at that precise moment,

“You must do the things you think you cannot do.”

This encouraged me immensely (as did crying it out to Hannah while sitting on her lap). I have to put a lot of effort forth in this class, but I have to keep looking to what it will enable me to do: better the world around me, close the gap between the over-privileged and the oppressed, and to fully understand the systems that power this world we live in.

After that, I was able to shed the classes and stresses of the week to start off my weekend with a bang by hanging out with the world’s best RHMC, miss Hannah. We got gourmet ice cream, talked about my SMC evaluation, got free Jones soda at the factory, and even gave blood together. It was my first time to give blood and I am surprised at how well it went, and at how happy I felt afterward to have helped save a life (or four, if they are babies!) Sure, it was tiring to loose a tenth of my blood, but I am blessed to have some to spare! Another huge chunk of my weekend’s wisdom came from Hannah, during our great conversation about my work as an SMC on 3rd Moyer. She reminded me that I am being refined by God. That there is such potential in me and I am still on my way to learning that potential, and using it to serve God and the people around me in the best way I can. Yes, I am human, I make mistakes, I feel like I am constantly stumbling, yet look at where I have come since last fall. Even since winter break…God is molding me still, teaching me always, and holds me so perfectly in a state of constant refinement.

Here is how creative my RHMC is….

My final pieces of wisdom and hope come from the most trustworthy of sources: My Abba Himself, God. This sunny Sunday morning, I went to Quest church with a few girls from my floor and was so blessed by the verses that were selected for the teaching. It was Colossians 3:12-15,

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful!”

These verses spoke to me in how God was gently reminding me that my worth is ultimately found in Him. That means don’t fuss over how I look, model myself after Christ in my actions, love all people and put energy into building loving relationships, and know that peace will come over me if I trust in God’s will and in Christ being the ruler of my heart. I have to listen to God when He points out something to me that goes against His will, or when I realize something in my heart has gotten bigger than Christ. These gentle reminders were so amplified when I went up to the altar to take communion. The strength from God’s sacrifice of flesh and blood for me is what helped me realize I need courage and prayer if I am to fully follow God’s will and listen to the wisdom of people in the church and those that care for me. I took that need for courage to someone who prayed for me over my specific struggle, and I was so blessed by a stranger’s love for me, who met me where I was and helped me reach out to God for what I need to do, how I need to be refined.

Overall, I am thankful. Wisdom has reassured me that there are struggles, and we overcome and move on. This weekend has helped me move onto the next week of the quarter, hopefully not feeling behind before I even start! I know I will start off the week with something new: a new “do” for my hair! Short, sassy, and oh so curly. Even this had to go through a process of refining until I was happy and confident about my “freed” hair (as Hannah likes to put it!). So thanks, Hannah, for your talent with scissors and vision, and most of all, wisdom!

Blessings to all who made it through this overly-long post; I pray some wisdom was passed on through this conduit of internet blogging.

Namaste –Kira