Sunday, August 15
World. International. Travel. A few years ago, it was nothing more than a section of the newspaper that I would casually and carelessly toss to the side. I even remember a much younger me uttering the words “how does this even affect me??” when asked why I didn’t care to read. Now, I’m here. Set loose in the world that, at one time in my life, I barely knew existed. Names that were once nothing more than a bunch of letters haphazardly put together to form some kind of unpronounceable word now roll of my tongue with familiarity, understanding and ease. When tragedy strikes in areas that we’ve never heard of, never been to, never cared to read about in the paper, it’s easier to keep a distance. It’s easier to pay some money to the cause and continue on our daily lives. When we hear our government, friends, or neighbors utter hurtful words about another race, religion, culture, country, it’s easier to jump on board, never challenging the ignorance that is driving the bandwagon. When terror strikes, it’s easier to point fingers, devise plans, create an environment in which hatred thrives. But somewhere along the line, someone else's word just wasn’t good enough anymore. I wanted to experience, breath, look, live, be-- outside of my own box---and see things through a heart wide open. Two years, 3 months, and 8 days ago, I set out on a journey that I hoped would help do just that, and the resulting experiences have been nothing short of amazing. And, although my journey is far from over, an increasingly consistent pull to again plant my feet in familiar soil beckons me to reflect, write, reminisce.
These chapters of my life have taken me through 7 countries, 7 (fascinating) cultures---they have opened up endless opportunities, challenged me to embrace the world and all the people in it, including myself. They have taken me through love—and heartache and every other emotion on the scale of emotions. I have been repelled by home and have longed for home. I have seen the things they omit from textbooks and have been repeatedly shocked by the capability of the human race---both positively, and negatively. I have met amazing people along the way who will forever be imprinted upon my heart. I have learned to work a little less hard (for those that really know me, you know this, actually, is a very good thing!). I have learned to trust my gut, and trust---people. I have learned the true power behind a smile and have learned the depth of peacefulness lurking in a simple meditation. I have, to sum it up, been on one hell of a ride.
A few powerful tidbits that really affected me:
Laos: UXO. An acronym that I never knew existed prior to setting foot in the country and one in which would have been impossible to ignore once there. UXO stands for unexploded ordinances---bombs that were dropped and failed to explode on impact during the Vietnam war remain highly active throughout the country. Straying from the path anywhere in Laos is tempting fate, and, as a foreigner, is unthinkable without a highly knowledgeable guide. However, everyday people have no choice---it’s their land, their farms, their roads, their schools and even today, people are dying every single day when this UXO awakens from its 35 year slumber.
Cambodia: The killing fields and S-21 school-turned-torture prison which showed the horrors of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Learning of such a horrific past while simultaneously being exposed to an amazingly uplifting, hopeful, and strong population/culture has created a humbleness that has seeped deep into my pores.
South Africa: Life in the townships is shocking and inhumane---especially since much of it is the results of District 6 being declared a “white’s only” area. Touring this amazing country gave me the opportunity to gain a better understanding and appreciation for what Nelson Mandela (and SO many others) were fighting for, and against.
Indonesia: In 18 short days, my preconceived notions and fears were effectively shattered by a very open and friendly culture. I received a bracelet from a random stranger that, at first I was scared to wear (why did he just give it to me then disappear?!), and now don’t want to take off. I hope it continues to serve as a reminder not to give in to ignorant driven fears about a country, culture, race, religion.
Philippines: Whale Sharks. They are, I’m quite certain, 1 of the most beautiful, amazing, breath-taking animals I have ever seen. When Ange and I spent 3 days in the water with them, I felt as though I was flying. It was unexplainable. Except for the times when we looked at other boats---at 1 time, there were nearly 10 boats around a single shark. The government has set specific rules for “engagement” --1 boat per shark, 3 divers per side, no touching, no blocking—however, these are only loosely followed. I want future generations to have the opportunity to experience these amazing creatures—so I hope the importance of these rules is discovered---and soon, before it’s too late (and no, this is not a dramatic exaggeration).
Namibia: The simplicity of life in a village is something we can all learn a little something from. I got a tiny glimpse into the importance of greeting, being, singing, dancing, and loving. Ironically (or not…), some of the most materialistically poor people in the world taught me a little something about living a rich and meaningful life…and furthered my belief that cultivating a simple lifestyle can be a very powerful thing.
(Thailand will have to be its own blog/book one day!)
Most importantly, I’ve learned—and have completely embraced the fact that there is always more to see, learn, experience, share and, no matter where my journey takes me next, I hope I never forget….