1/7/14:

Home is a fairly foreign concept to me. I am a wanderer by nature, never putting down roots for longer than a few years or so. This has never really bothered me in the past. There was always something more to see, do, explore that kept me moving. More recently however, certain experiences have led me to question this lifestyle, desire a home and people that await anxiously my return.

Today was one of those days. I watched a friend of mine reunite with his family after 25 years of separation. Scattered from their homes during war times, they all were forced on buses and led to refugee camps in Thailand. Those who were lucky enough to be sponsored, continued on to America. Those that were not either settled in a new country or waited until conditions were better and returned to resettle what was left of their land.

Sela’s family was fractured in two. His mother, one of four siblings, was brought to the US; the rest settled on a small plot of farm land. As we sat around the family table today, sipping fresh coconut water from their backyard garden and eating a communal meal fit for a king, it was a beautiful sight. His grandmother had not seen him since he was 5 years old. His aunts and uncles with their young children have only faint memories and snipets of stories they’d heard about the young boy in the pictures. Yet, in this moment, distance nor time seemed to matter. They welcomed him home with open arms.

He was welcomed to a place he’d never been or seen with generosity and genuine excitement solely because he shared blood. Now jealousy is not becoming for anyone but this did stir up a bunch of mixed emotions for me. My parent moved away from all of our family before I was born. My limited interactions with my mom’s side and my dad’s small family has left me with a few close connections but essentially many of my friends have become the family I never knew. I chose this route, having had opportunities to connect with blood relatives that I opted not to pursue, and I do believe that I am surrounded by incredibly wonderful people. Through my travels, and having moved almost every two years, my family is spread around the world, made up of people with a mixed bag of personalities, ambitions, and ways of expressing love. Some I keep closer contact with than others, but when we are together it is just like Sela and grandma–excitement and happiness as if no time had passed.

I may not have a home in the physical definition of the word. There will always be places I feel more of a connection to than others and during certain stages of my life, those will feel like home. Sometimes I have to allow myself to feel jealousy and confusion over why there is not one place or home I gravitate towards, yet I must remember that I am lucky in many ways to have both the family born to me and that which I have created. When I am with these people it feels like home no matter where we are, even if it just might break the bank to visit them all. I’m thinking I might need to impose a “family” reunion one of these days. I am thinking somewhere tropical, whose in?

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1/2/14:

There is an interesting phenomenon I have been learning about in the past few months: body language. No I do not mean understanding what other people are telling me with their body. I am talking about an internal dialogue, the power of our body to tell us what we need and guide us if we stop and open ourselves up to actually listening. I am definitely guilty of getting caught up in work, going for days on end with little sleep, indulging in food that isn’t good for me, and just generally physically and mentally neglecting myself. We all are. Often times it takes a serious health issue to wake us up or scare us straight. Or if we are lucky we come to these realizations naturally over time. Whatever the case may be, I see it as a form of study. We spend years learning how to read and write in our verbal language, the same must be the case for interpreting our individual body language.

The only one with the true decoder ring to translate is us, and in some more obvious cases our doctor. Just like any other language we must study, learn, practice and listen if we want to become fluent in our body language. The signs will tell us when we are hungry, sick, sad, in need of affection, tired, bored, etc. It tells us when we need to take a break, when we need to be alone and when to have company. However, when we aren’t in tune with our body’s frequency, wants can easily muddle up the messages our needs are sending us. Then we attach feelings and emotions to those wants and soon we verbalizing a “need” for chocolate or acting on a “need” for another drink, regardless of the truth that these are just wants in disguise. Acting on wants is a part of human nature and when handled with care is normal and healthy. It is when we don’t listen to our body’s basic needs that we are neglecting a powerful tool.

I have been learning to stop and listen. Learning to balance wants and needs in a healthier way. I am no expert. My biggest battle has been when it comes to eating too much and sleeping too little. Never wanting to miss out on experiences has led me to some very late nights out and indulging in way too much delicious food. As a result for the past week and a half I have had a cold. My body is fighting back. In its own language it is telling me to get my act together. I still not fluent, and sometimes I feel like a small child who is plugging her ears and screaming “I can’t hear you” when it says something I don’t want to hear, but I am taking time to study me. I have too much I look forward to doing and seeing, and I need a healthy body and mind in order to get there. Therefore, learning to speak my body language is of high priority on my list of things to do.

12/23/13:

In less than a weeks time I will have have been on the road for half a year. Certain aspects of my pre-Asia life still feel extremely present, while others are worlds away–both literally and figuratively. The distance however, has solidified certain things for me, and in positive ways has made me a more headstrong and determined person.

After the insanity that was Teach for America, grad school and the past two years of my life relationship wise, 6 months of doing nothing and spending time alone with my thoughts has brought me a lot of perspective and clarity. I used to be entirely unable to sit still. Asking me to do so was like asking a dog to stop slobbering when it sees food–essentially it was a lost cause. I’ve remidied this by doing a lot of writing and meditating. It’s not to give the image that I have become this solitary person. Anyone who knows me wouldn’t be able to imagine me sitting alone legs crossed and breathing for an hour straight. My journey exploring spirituality in Bali has taught me ways of experiencing my life, anger, sadness, and basically any emotion in a much calmer and detached way. It has changed the way I react to just about everything and I have loved being able to share what I have learned with people I meet along my travels.

Even though I’ve been out of the classroom for quite a while now, my passion for working with children has not dwindled in the slightest. Education is still the best fit for me. I miss being around children, their unconditional love, and the fun that I had becoming a part of their families’ lives. As crazy as they might have thought their child’s dancing and singing teacher was, in Latino culture there is also a huge sense of respect and gratitude towards education that translates to you being a part of their family whether you ask for it or not. To have students and parents messaging me these months saying how much they miss me is an incredible reminder of the impact I made. While I have tried the odd job whilst abroad, the excitement I feel towards the next chapter and moving to Honduras to set up a school is a perfect indication that I am following right career path.

Now the arena of relationships has been the most challenging to get my mind around. My desire to travel and explore new things does not really match up with the desire to create deep loving relationships. All things considered, I feel I have done pretty well at not letting distance drive wedges in friendships, but when you meet people and really hit it off, it is often only a matter of days before you part ways with no idea if you will ever cross paths again. 5 days feels like 5 months in travel time and bonds grow fast, but unfortunately in many cases it is hard to maintain contact as our busy lives continue. I strive to adapt the cliche that “it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all” to sound more like this: “it’s better to love, cherish those experiences and do your best to continue to do so in the future (a Maxie Gluckman original).” I have run into people months or even years later, and with good friends it feels like no time has passed. I just have to remind myself that this is the nature of the lifestyle I am choosing.

Basically, I am cherishing living life with no regrets and to the maximum. I am fully aware of how lucky I am to be able to live this experience. I am humbled by that thought and the people I befriend that may not have these same opportunities. I am being challenged all the time and it has made me a much better person to gain a global context. This lends itself to my future success in both professional and personal endeavors. Now in just three months I will back stateside for one month before heading south. The thought evokes a mixture of excitement as well as fear. What will my relationship with friends and family look like? What will it be like to return to my school and see the smiling faces of my students that broke my heart to leave behind? Will I be able to maintain my drive and self-respect when reencountering with people that once challenged this? A half a year may have changed a lot, but there is still so much to learn. Next stops, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao, Vietnam, Philippines, California.

Does it take for us witnessing or experiencing death or tragedy to really begin to appreciate our lives?

Today I was one of the first 20 people on scene to a major accident where a small tour bus went over a bridge and flipped landing face down in the valley below. 10 Chinese tourists were trapped, the drivers body from the neck up crumpled under the door, and all passengers bruised and bloodied. The response was immediate, locals and foreigners alike climbing down through the shrubbery to see what they could do to help. Paramedics had been called but with the nearest hospital over an hour and a half away, we were left to our own devices–problem was no one could communicate with each other with a heavy language barrier between the Balinese and the Chinese passengers in trouble. Those easily accessible and responsive were pulled haphazardly from the wreckage screaming and keeled over in pain. Now I am no doctor, but by the way they were dragged out of the bus and up the hill, I am guessing there wasn’t much thought put into their potential spinal injuries. What’s worse is that a young woman and man crying in pain were then loaded onto the back of a pickup to be taken to the hospital–bumpy roads, no stretcher or support, this could not end well.
I didn’t know how to help. I lent a woman my shoes as she was stumbling up the hill supported by two men so she would at least avoid cutting her feet on more glass. Then I noticed a woman laying face down in the back of the bus. While there were no signs of movement or sound, she was in fact breathing. No one was paying attention to her, her face clearly trapped, but I needed to go to her, at least see if she was responsive, could squeeze my hand, anything. From my experience always being injure, I learned that if you have a concussion you shouldn’t be allowed to sleep. I climbed down, now barefoot, and reached my hand through the shattered back window of the van to grasp her limp arm. She jerked up, grabbed my hand, squeezed in return, and moaned something in Chinese I couldn’t understand. It was heartbreaking. She tried to pull me to help get her out, still crying in pain, but her head was trapped and all she managed to do was almost pull me in with her, cutting my foot in the process–a small price to pay for showing her she was not alone. I gestured and yelled to people that she was alive and trapped but no one seemed to pay any mind as their efforts were focused on an older woman who they had just pulled free.
It had been about an hour and a half. They were yelling that people needed to move since the ambulances were on their way. That meant I needed to leave the lady I was helping and stand back and hope she was ok–that they would be able to get her head out and help her in time. The scene had become a madhouse, with every passerby stopping wanting to know what had happened. The only way to help at this point was follow their requests and leave, letting the professionals do their job and hope and pray everything turned out all right.
Now I am at my friends home, hearing the sirens all across town, sitting with a heavy heart remembering that tug the lady gave my hand. I hope she is all right. You better believe I will be reading the news to find out. I’m not sure how to react, how to feel, whether or not to pray or just hope–I am shaken up. This is my first up close and personal view of a fatal accident as I am sure it was for many of those around me who looked on with disbelief. When terrible things happen one might wonder: Does it take for us witnessing or experiencing death or tragedy to really begin to appreciate our lives? I think in this moment it is important to address this because I don’t know the answer. I love my life, I hope I am grateful enough, do enough good, give back, and don’t take it for granted. It shouldn’t take an experience like this to remind me. But in the case that I haven’t been thankful or vocal enough to all of those that are important to me that I love them, I am taking this moment to do so. Thank you for the support, love, and respect that keeps me going every day. I wish you happiness, health, safety, and love. And if you need me–no matter how big or small it might be–I will do my best to be here and hold your hand, even if I can’t be there physically to do so.

In a book of Buddhist teachings, I came across a quote by Buddah that really intrigued me: “we are already dead, the rest of our life is just a bonus.” What an interesting thought–everything I do, whatever I experience is extra and free–this sure does relieve me of a lot of stress. If I were truly to take this to heart no longer should I be shackled by my ambition, always striving for better, planning, calculating, worrying about money, or any other of these extremely western ideals. I would be much more apt to practice mindfulness, and live present and engaged with the now. I most likely wouldn’t even be taking this time to reflect and write; I would be out sky diving, street racing, or eating a whole cheesecake–indulging in the bonus I have been granted of a post mortal existence.

Yet, somehow this quote resonates differently with me; it curiously induces a stronger sense of guilt and indecision. If I have earned extra credit on my life before death than this induces 3 main channels of thought 1. Let me pat myself on the back–I must of done a really nice job in my past life to deserve this. 2. Oh shit, this is probably my last chance I’m being given to make up for past mistakes before some sort of judgement. And 3. I better make the most of this gift, because I don’t know how much more I have left. So here is where the stress begins to build up again.

So what did Buddah teach me when he told me I was already dead? What am I supposed to learn from the idea of mortal and post mortal becoming indiscernible? That I have no idea what in the world Buddah is talking about? Or that what we are experiencing, whether it is life or after life, is a bonus, beautiful, and we should be present and take advantage of it. I think that lesson is one I can live with. Yikes, does that saying even make any sense if I am already dead?

10/30/13:

If I were to imagine a place that I thought I would never fit in, Ubud, Bali would be that place. The land of yogis, spiritual gurus, healers, raw food cafes, and every self help experience imaginable, I am the odd one out. The one living on another level of spiritual awareness, presence, and priorities. While I wouldn’t identify myself as ignorant, unaware, or judgmental, when it comes to the essence of Ubud and the life many people here lead, I was the epitome of a non believer. I figured I’d eat my way around the city, see the famous thousand temples, and get the hell out of dodge–there was no way I wanted my first few days of solo travel in a while to be here where I couldn’t envision connecting with anyone or even being able to hold my own in a conversation about any of the aforementioned topics.

However, here I am 5 days later with no intentions of leaving anytime soon, engaging with a new network of friends who are broadening my horizons and educating me in ways I never expected I would be receptive to. It happens that my curiosity and thirst for knowledge is endearing. This community is deeply generous and has so much experience to share–experience that surprisingly parallels many things I’ve dealt with at one point or another. Realizing the similarities of human experience makes everyone more relatable. The people I have met have made mistakes, been confused about their place in this world, struggled with emotions and relationships, and just come out the other end differently. That’s all it is.

Once I opened my heart and more importantly my mind to learning from and experiencing the real Ubud culture, my innate curiosity took over. I have experienced massage exchanges, life model sketching sessions, chanting exercises, meditation, Watsu water therapy, ozonation, and a state of peace, calm, and acceptance that I never knew existed. As the sun set over the picturesque landscape of rice paddy fields last night, I gathered around a fire pit, mediated in a sauna, and basked in a steam bath while the DJ guided us through a night of new friends, knowledge, and relaxation. I questioned myself about a million times where I fit into this picture of Ubud expats. The interesting thing was, no one was questioning me. They were teaching, sharing, and not once put off by my naivety. There are not many other places I have experienced that level of acceptance. So here I am, listening and taking it all in and deciding that I just might call this place home for a little bit longer.

10/7/2013

As I sit here, giddy after reading my latest guilty pleasure romance novel, I shift my eyes from one side of the room to the other. Both of my travel companions, entranced in their respective interests, looking so content and at peace, while at the same time determinedly focused. Writing and reading are what make them happy; and while my desire for attention and my playful energy is abounding, I can’t help but smile and quietly find an alternative outlet in my own writing. Passion is an interesting thing. The way it affects people, drives them, energizes them. Consider what it has done to the three of us. It has transformed a rainy night in a sleepy island bungalow into a haven where three independent souls coexist but feel no distinct need to interact. We all know we are here, together, but no one makes a move to turn our attention away from what inspires us–the keyboard continues to click away and the sound of pages are swiftly turned. I choose to find happiness in observing and reflecting.

I have realized in my past few relationships what an incredibly attractive thing it is to see someone passionate about something. Whether it be a job or a hobby, the way we approach what inspire us is unparalleled by any other motivation I’ve experienced or witnessed. The pursuit of wealth and beauty breed shallow ambition, easily faulted by setbacks and difficulties; however, when we pursue things that are a part of who we are, there is a more emotional reaction and drive that allows us to persevere in spite of such challenges. I want to believe that we all have at least one thing that we are passionate about, and naive as it may sound, that it is possible to maintain these interest despite financial and societal pressures. Unfortunately, on more than one occasion I have experienced conversations like the one below:

Person 1: I hate my job
Me: If you don’t like it, why don’t you find another one
Person 1: I am not sure what else I would do
Me: What is it that makes you happy? Start from there
Person 1: I don’t know. Money makes me happy but I don’t really like working.

All jest aside, I have had this conversation on numerous occasions. If it is with a romantic interest, most attraction is immediately extinguished. Fires doused in a downpour of rain. I can’t quite explain what it is, but it leaves me with an urge to shake them and scream “There must be something other than money!”

However, I know it is not always this easy. It’s not simple to pinpoint what it is we love, how this can play into what we do, and how not to get caught up in material desires that might deter us from our original intentions. If consider myself lucky to have even been able to address two of these three things. #1 know I love the world of education and #3 I am willing to accept that in this world I might not ever make a lot of money and am more than happy to continue my pursuits despite this fact. It is #2 that trips me up. How can I channel my passion for education, travel, and research, all of these things that inspire me, into a career, into a future?

As I observe my two companions, I am energized by the models set in front of me– both of which have been able to channel their interest for reading and writing into their work and day to day life. Their passion is what fuels their focus and determination on such a lazy rainy evening. I hope to learn from our time together, and continue to brainstorm my future trajectories in both life and work. With no clue where it will lead me, I have nothing to lose and envying to gain. To the pursuit of passion! Just after my more immediate pursuit of a good nights sleep that is…

11/24/13
I wonder if this is something we will ever get out of our systems, doing things I know aren’t good for us just because they feel right at that moment. I’m talking from the scale of indulging in that unneeded candy bar, to picking up the phone and calling someone that you know you shouldn’t. Society has groomed us to expect instant gratification. Text messages, video games, and credit cards teach us that what we want is often directly at our fingertips. However, unlike the reset button that pops up every time my Halo character is slain, or the Staples easy button that seems to make problems go away, life doesn’t readily react the way we expect it to.

There is a permanence to things that is not always under our control. Our scathing Facebook message cannot be unseen; we can’t undo screaming at our bosses and quitting to make a point; and going after the bad boy can end in trouble. At some point in our lives I believe everyone will do one if not many of these things. Not because we don’t understand the repercussions, not because we enjoy some good inner turmoil, it’s because in that moment we indulge, let go, or do something that feels right in that moment, we are happy. In the pursuit of happiness our judgment may be clouded as we aim for that instant gratification we’ve gotten so accustomed to. What we are left with in the end is having to pick up the pieces and assess the damage we may have done to others and/or ourselves and hopefully learn from the experience.

Now, not all impulse decisions or decisions driven by our wants have such treacherous outcomes. One candy bar is not the end of the world and friendships can be mended even if you post a rude comment on their wall when you were angry. The trouble comes when the things we choose to do that aren’t good for us stop seeming so bad. Our sense of self control, and morality shift, allowing ourselves excuses for more of these actions to take place. So how can we balance our desires with our needs and uncomplicate our lives? I think the truth is we can’t. We are complicated beings and often that is part of the charm of our multifaceted nature as humans. However, as long as we continue to challenge our choices and have those close to us hold us accountable, we can all afford to indulge every once in a while, right? By being conscious that not everything we will do will always be in our best interest, we accept that it is ok to make mistakes, try and fix it, and move on.

Stranger things have happened than what happened yesterday evening. Yet, still, falling asleep with some new friends on the beach whilst being serenaded by local Indonesian called Sol shouldn’t seem all that normal. Dancing to Reggaton at a reggae bar on an island where you can’t go swimming shouldn’t be what I expect to experience during international travels. Even being gifted a fresh banana off a tree when its 3 am and your really hungry yet everything’s closed should should still throw me off guard–but it doesn’t. This isn’t the first time I have found myself in a new place, with new people, a new language, and no idea what is going on. Yet last night reminded me of something I had seem to have forgotten–I am completely and utterly out of my element. 

Being able to say hello and how are you, doesn’t make me a local. Being invited to join my guest house family for a sunset picnic doesn’t mean I immediately fit in. However, something has changed in my approach the more time I have spent abroad. Having no foreseeable plans, expectations, or preconceptions, these new and often strange experiences are my life. When I get asked when I live, I have no real answer. If you were to ask me who my friends are, I would gesture all around me to any new smiling faces I happen to have chatted up that day. This is my standard, normal, everyday. 

 

When I think about how I have gotten to this mental space, I know it did not happen over night. My up for whatever attitude has been shaped by good friends who have challenge me, as well as experiences that should have had me running home or feeling uncomfortable. To be able to say as I walked home last evening that “Stranger things have happened,” might mean that my normative scale is shifting. I question, what will phase me after a year on the road? Imagine 10 years, the stories I will share and my reactions to similar scenarios. Will I constantly be in search of something that is more exciting, more out of the ordinary, a stranger story to tell? Or does getting over the initial shock factor quicker that usual allow me to take away different elements from the same situations? While I continue to enjoy and revel in this new acceptance of strange, I wonder, what will be the next things that happens that makes me go “Wow, that was really odd?” Don’t worry, you will be the first ones to hear about it. 

 

 

10/4/2013

Today, as I scanned the passing signs on my bus to Kuala Lumpur, I realized that I was born with a special gift. Something that as much as I might deny its worth always seems to help me conquer new places, makes the trying seem simple, and opens me up to infinite opportunities and people. This gift is having English as my native language. I grew up lucky to be speaking the world currency. While no country will ever admit or accept that speaking English is one of the quintessential parts of competing and interacting in the global community, it’s one of the main reasons I have been able to travel with such ease through these various countries.
I enjoy thinking of language as a form of international currency, because this makes me pretty rich–not something your probably used to hearing from a teacher. I am fluent in the two most spoken languages in the world, allowing me to communicate and interact with a fairly large % of the 7 billion people on this planet. For a true extrovert, this news couldn’t be better. This however, might be the one instance that I allow myself to get “money” hungry. I crave more currency, a desire to speak more languages, open up my social world to more people, cultures, and experiences.
I by no means am willing to rest on my laurels relying on everyone to speak English–so much gets lost in translation. However, it’s also improbable to attempt to learn ever language in the world. If I truly want to enable all those I come in contact with to openly express themselves through language our options are currently very limited–gestures, pointing, and pictures will only get us so far. So how can I address this seemingly insurmountable challenge? Will there ever be a way for all humans to communicate in a meaningful way? If more people considered language as a form of currency would language education become a larger priority in our global economy? I guess in the mean time I will just have to make it a personal aspiration to learn as many as I can. 2 down, over 7000 known languages to go!