Tag Archives: Travel Blog

Don’t Give Your Time, Give Your Heart

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Our first full day of activities and, boy, was it a powerful one! We spent the majority of the day at Teboho Trust. A Saturday program that provides students (called “learners” here)–many who are orphans being raised by an older sibling–with a meal and extra educational support. Our day was spent joining the learners in preparing for a spur of the moment talent show, where various age groups (preschool through high school) danced, sung, acted, and delivered orations for us. Incredible talent!

Our group watched or participated in their rehearsals. Our “talent” was as educators. During the talent show, we gave an impromptu presentation about careers and education, helped them brainstorm about future careers, and answer questions about education and jobs in the United States. One very little one (elementary school) asked if we had to pay school fees to attend school–which is a required part of public education in South Africa and a struggle for many of these children (even though fees are some times a low as R100/$7.67 at the current exchange rate). Several of them asked about scholarships, paying for education, and if our parents chose our majors/careers for us.

Fellow volunteers from the Community Engagement club at the University of Johannesburg helped facilitate and emcee the talent show and also asked great questions about American universities, how to keep learners engaged in the classroom, and how expensive universities are. We found that young people here and at home face common concerns about paying for education, being able to buy a house, and the economy. It was these college students that said one can give their time, but spend that time distracted–thinking about other things, wasting time on their phone, or otherwise not really present where they are. Better it is to give one’s heart–the gift of your present, your presence, and your being.

The learners and the university students were hard to leave–we barely made it to the Hector Pieterson Museum before it closed. An iconic photo made Hector Pieterson, an innocent boy killed in the 1976 Soweto uprising, the face of the protest. The 1976 photo by today’s standards “went viral” in the international press.

While our visit was brief, I will share one lasting thought from the tour. The mom of the boy carrying Hector and Hector’s family both asserted that their sons were not heroes. Hector’s family reiterated that Hector was not unique–he happened to be the face representing many innocent children who were victims of police violence in the uprising. The problems that led to Hector being killed were endemic for all black South African children in need of accessible education. The mother of the boy carrying Hector said that her son was merely fulfilling his duty to a fellow brother and that just stepping over him to run away would have been wrong.

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The Next Adventure

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…No, I haven’t found a job yet. I am considering traveling in the next 6 months or returning to Nepal for awhile before those pesky student loans need to be paid off. Any ideas about where I should go?

But I did begin a new adventure this past month. Few things in life give me as much joy as writing about my observations and encounters and reading about the observations and encounters of others. (Some may call this a blog addiction…I prefer to thing of it as being in love with learning anything and everything about people, their thoughts and their values…call it what you will. 🙂 )

For the first time, I met with a writers group. A few friends of mine from graduated school (Freudian slip? I mean graduate school) have probably discussed beginning a writers group for a year. We had a great time, reading each other’s work and receiving feedback.

We were all a bit nervous. Sharing your writing is a bit like bearing your soul. It’s personal when you receive criticism, constructive or otherwise, because (at least for me) word choice and tone are very personal. It’s the means through which you are sharing your experiences and your reactions.

In addition to soul-bearing, each author in the group writes completely different genres and styles. One has a great and pithy style, writing horror and other disturbing subjects. Another writes sort of sad stories–not totally realistic and not totally fantasy–with a point to get across. A third (who unfortunately missed this session) focuses on young adult literature.

And lastly, there is me–who may someday write YA fiction or short plays, but currently blogs about travel, life, searching for joy, my faith, politics, and other various non-fiction pursuits. We are quite eclectic, but I think that keeps us interesting and able to provide feedback from different perspectives.

Plus, who doesn’t love dinner with friends discussing your favorite books and your writing pursuits?

I am however the bad writer…I showed up without writing to present. Next month…

My Culture

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A friend of mine told me about a book that talks about the difficulties women have dating because they are ambitious and career-oriented, but want to have a family and be stay-at-home moms. That apparently men who are supportive of career-driven women may not see the value in a stay-at-home parent or that men looking for a wife who would value a stay-at-home parent may not know that about his ambitious female friends.  (DISCLAIMER: I haven’t read the book, I was just told about it. So this is my interpretation of what I heard. I also think she said it was specific to DC, or urban areas. Regardless…)

I can’t say this worry had ever occurred to me personally. Certainly, I have been in real experiences in which that conversation is necessary. I’ll out myself as an ambitious woman who would love to eventually have a family and be able to stay at home (I say stay-at-home loosely, I’ll probably be “on the road.” 🙂 ) But, it has never been a difficulty in finding someone to date. And let’s be honest, there are a lot of necessary conversations in any relationship. (Like my addiction to international travel…my bank account and I already go back and forth on that. I can’t imagine my future spouse and I won’t have to have that conversation. Or better yet, we should just have the same addiction to adventure. Hey, girl can dream!**)

This post drifts from away from a strictly “travel” blog here and shifts in to one about culture and values. As I was contemplating the existence of this book, I didn’t quite get it. But it did lead me to think more deeply about why staying at home or having a more flexible job as a parent would be important to me. I came up with this: my desire to create a culture unique to my future family. I love traditions, holidays, and rituals. These are what make life so rich. They are the very reason I yearn to travel—to see how others celebrate the joys in everyday life and in the monumental occasions (life, death, birth, marriage, coming of age…). Life is beautiful and it is the celebration of the joys and how we handle sorrows that makes one ordinary moment different from the next.

This thought led me to something else. I have these beautiful friends that aspire to own a farm. They have an amazing blog where they chronicle their made-from-scratch recipes and other craftsmanship projects. I see them value the hard work and the virtues that come with those efforts and I admire them greatly. They take their values and live them. Admittedly I have wondered to myself, if I really wanted to create a culture as I said above, would I be making lye soap or beeswax candles? After all, I like the values they hold that lead them to do this. But let’s be honest…I love projects, but I don’t ever see myself making detergent from scratch more than once for the novelty of it.

Part of the reason my friends’ blog has sparked so much thought was a debate in my Global Ethics class about particularism versus universalism in tackling poverty—that is are we more effective in our efforts to help our own and do it well or are we more effective in helping the most objectively impoverished though they may be in far corners of the world or isn’t the most effective use of resources? While most of my fellow master’s students argued in favor of universalism, I found myself defending a greater responsibility to our own children and our immediate neighbors. (How did I end up in an international affairs program instead of social work, if this is the case? I may never know.) In this same vein, I found myself inspired to volunteer and support local NGOs, dedicated to ending hunger and homelessness locally, upon my return from India.

If I truly feel particularistic—in that I can most effectively help the world by the children I may raise or serving those in my own little corner of the world—would I not be doing something radical like my friends’ in saving for a farm (or whatever it may be that you value) to create that particular culture that fosters those values?

But I have come to a conclusion. (Besides the fact that I think too much about things that haven’t happened yet…) It is through my love of people and exploration of culture—learning what and how people attribute meaning and significance to in life—that leads me to this frame of mind, to my desire to build a domestic culture. I know traveling has taught me so much—it’s pushed me to my limits and beyond on more than one occasion, but it’s also stretched me and forced me to grow. (In retrospect, I think relationships, families, and living together is similar–pushes your limits, but ideally challenges you to improve).

If I have values, I want to live by them…otherwise, they are no better than a presidential campaign—all rhetoric and no substance. It has just occurred to me that some of my specific values are learning, exploring, and finding meaning in it all. Maybe international travel is my farm–the a part of the way I live out my values…and maybe it doesn’t have to be particular OR universal.

***Speaking of dreamy: For anyone who saw The Bachelor finale this week, I wouldn’t mind riding off into the Thai sunset on an elephant either.

“There are less ants on the toilet and that makes me happy.”

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I brought a notebook with me to write and reflect about my trip. My mother is such a talented journal-er that often when we talk and I am away her first question is, “Are you writing this down? Are you keeping a journal?”

Well unfortunately, between my blog and my research report, I can’t say I have that much energy to write more. Plus, as much as I love to read the journal my mother kept about me growing up, I hate rereading my old journal entries. I probably have 2 or 3 entries in 20 journals that span my nearly quarter of a century. The rest of the pages are blank.

My intentions are good. A travel journal. A prayer journal. A self-improvement journal. An inspiring quotes and poems journal. An overdramatic I’m 13 years old journal. A To-Do list journal (now that one was just depressing). A things I could do with my future journal…actually come to think of it, most of them fall in that category—even my first journal entry as a newly literate 2nd grader.

But let’s be honest. I’m not my mother and I don’t have her talent for keeping a journal. I’d like to think I got some of her talent for writing. I brought a journal with me on this adventure. I don’t think I can make a packing list without one. All of the pages sit next to my bed, neatly bound and blank. And waiting. Waiting for me to animate them.

But today, I thought of a new journal. I had a realization today as I was going to the bathroom (TMI?). There are less ants on the toilet today than yesterday, I thought when I turned on the light, and that put me in a better mood. Well, THIS ought to be an interesting journal, you’re thinking…where is this going?

My friend wrote an email to her mom that went something like this: “How am I? Well, our hot plate doesn’t work all of the time, the power goes out several times a day, our refrigerator is broken, we don’t really have real mattresses-more like mats, our air conditioner unit leaks so we have buckets under it. There are ants (and now flea-like creatures) in our bathroom and kitchen and food. We’re pretty much out of food because the monsoon has flooded the streets the last 3 days on the way home from work. But we’re doing okay.”

She read the litany to me and we agreed that all of that was true. We’re not whining about it, this is how things are. Do we get tired of it? Sometimes. Are we happy here? Absolutely. In fact, we laugh about things every day—usually caused by something in that litany. We’re doing just fine. More than anything, it’s just different. And that’s alright because we didn’t come here to acquire old experiences.

As we decided earlier in this experience, “What we’ve learned this summer is that attitude is everything.” It is very true and I am so thankful that we are both upbeat and adventurous. I could go into the “Well at least we have electricity”, “at least we have air-conditioning” mode, which is all true. But that’s not where I’m going with this.

I think after all of this that my journal is going to be one of reminders. That when I buy my first house or any house, I don’t need to have the best master bathroom to be happy. Or if I lose something material and can’t afford to replace, it’ll be okay. That I can in fact be happy and enjoy where I am and that moment. Ultimately, aside from being able to meet my basic needs, my circumstances are not that important. It won’t be anything monumental. Especially to anyone else.

The first entry? “There are less ants on the toilet and that makes me happy.”

Note: First, as with most of my posts, I wrote this entry last week and I’m just now posting it. I have one week left in this location and it has been a blast! My next entry will be photos from sites around Bhubaneswar–today we went to the Tribal Museum and tomorrow we’re going to a temple and Puri (a beach).