Category Archives: Adventures

My Last Two Weeks

Picking Up Where I Left Off
A lot has happened since I arrived in Nepal two weeks ago. After landing in Kathmandu at 8am, I had to navigate the hectic airport, apply for my Visa, and find my bags amongst the chaos of tourists. I also had to purchase a SIM card and data plan for my phone to use for emergency communication. Thankfully, I ran into a nice girl from the Netherlands named Firazia. About 28 years old and a veteran of travel to Nepal, she knew the drill. With Firazia’s help, I was able to find my way out of the crazy airport and hail a taxi cab in no time.

On the taxi ride to my hotel, I got to know my driver, Rama, quite well. He introduced me to much of Kathmandu as we drove through the city. I told him about my two-month stay and work in Nepal—trekking to Everest Base Camp, working in Annapurna, and returning to Kathmandu for medical work. He gave me his card and insisted that if I ever need a ride, I give him a call. Then he handed me an old beat-up journal from the center console of his car and asked that I write my name and where I am from inside. I obliged, scribbling “Jordan Dunn — Nashville, USA” amongst filled pages of Nepali handwriting.

Meeting my Guide & Team
After a few minutes, we arrived at Hotel Marshyandi, a rather nice hotel in Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu. There I met my guide—Ram Moktan—and the others I would be trekking with across the mountains. Ram is an older man from Jhapa, a lowland district in far southeast Nepal that borders India. He has worked as a guide for visitors to the Himalayas for over 25 years, leading hundreds of Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit treks. Now 55 years old, he is seen as one of the most experienced and respected guides in the region. Over the course of my time with him, I asked many questions about Nepal, its people, and its culture. He became indispensable to my learning about the complex reality of natural landscape, social climate, and economy of the country.

Our team was composed of three Americans (including myself), six Australians, and two Brits. This made for a fairly diverse group, all of us different ages and from different backgrounds. I was the youngest, with most everyone else being 28, 32, 40, and so on. Regardless, I made out pretty well with a spectacular team and first rate guide. This made all the difference in my journey.

The team during our acclimatization day in Namche Bazar.

Our amazing, wise, and fearless guide—Ram Moktan.

Traveling to the Mountains
Once I met Ram and the rest of the team, I had to be in bed early for the 8:00am flight to Lukla—the gateway village to the mountains. Normally one would fly to Lukla straight from Kathmandu Airport, but because of renovations on the runway we had to travel to the nearest alternative airport—Ramechhap Airport in Manthali—four hours away by bus ride! It was not an easy journey… We had to be up by 3am to arrive at the airport by 7:30am. With the rough road conditions, steep cliffsides, and crazy drivers of Nepal, this drive was quite the adventure. One of our team members experienced some severe motor sickness and spent the whole four hours clinging to a vomit bag! There were also a few moments I thought we might have to choose between hitting a car head-on or driving off a 200 foot cliff! By the grace of God, we all made it there in one piece.

The long, dusty, and bumpy ride to Ramechhap Airport.

The massive, cliffside on the drive to Ramechhap. This photo is blurry thanks to the bumpiness of the road.

The World’s Most Dangerous Airport
At Ramechhap Airport, I boarded a small propeller plane for Lukla. Sitting at 9,383 feet above sea level (already higher than any place in Tennessee), the small village of Lukla is home to one of the most dangerous airports in the world—the Tenzing-Hillary Airport. Named after the first two men to summit Everest (Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing), the airport runway is nothing more than a short uphill stretch of concrete. Because of the nature of the mountainous landscape, there is virtually no flat straightaway anywhere around to fit a proper landing strip. As a result, the Tenzing-Hillary runway is only 1,729 feet long (compared to Nashville’s 11,000-foot-long runway) and can only handle small prop planes. The runway is essentially built into the side of a mountain and ends with a large rock wall. This means that planes will crash straight into the rock wall against the mountain-side if they don’t stop in time, making the landing process quite risky. It’s a similar story with the take-off. Because the runaway basically ends with a sudden cliff, a pilot must take flight, otherwise they risk nose diving straight down into the trees below. Because there is not enough clearance to pull up if a pilot botches the landing and no additional runway if the takeoff goes wrong, Lukla is considered one of the most dangerous airports in the world. There is no room for error. Once a pilot commits, he commits.

Boarding our small prop plane at Ramechhap Airport headed for Lukla.

Fortunately, we had spectacular pilots! I was absolutely impressed by their maneuvering against the strong Himalayan winds. During the short 20 minute ride, I could see Everest and many of the other snow covered summits (Ama Dablam, Nuptse, Lohtse, etc) peeking through the clouds. It was just a taste of the beauty and majesty of the Himalayan landscape. When I felt the plane shift into descent, I became a bit nervous about the difficult landing process for Lukla. But our pilots were experienced professionals. The minute the plane touched down, they threw every brake on, flipped the ailerons down, and switched the spoilers up—all in an effort to create enough drag to slow us down before smashing against the rock wall at the end of the runway. We stopped about 20 feet short of the wall and taxied over to a small holding facility to retrieve our bags and head inside for tea and our days briefing.

The Himalayan peaks poking through the cloudy sky.

The pilots shifting into descent and preparing to land at the world’s most dangerous airport—Lukla.

The runway at Lukla—you can see the absolute drop off at the end.

Drastic Change
As soon as I stepped outside of the plane in Lukla, I felt the cool mountain air against my skin. Wearing shorts and a t-shirt worked in Kathmandu, but it was far too chilly for that in Lukla! When we originally took off, we were surrounded by bright reddish ran dirt and palm trees, baking in 80°F heat under the hot sun. Upon landing in Lukla, were reached the alpine zone and were now surrounded by deep green pines, misty skies, and strong Himalayan winds. It felt like I jumped from summer to fall in a matter of minutes. This was the mountains!

The drastic change in landscape—reaching the alpine zone in Lukla.

My roommate, Darcy, and I walking through the streets of Lukla.

Surya and Biru
After landing in Lukla, we enjoyed a bit of tea and met our assistant guides—Surya and Biru. They would be paramount to leading our group, answering our questions, and assisting Ram throughout our time in the Himalayas. Surya was a 25-year-old born and raised in Lukla. He, much like Ram, knew English very well. It seems he had made a name for himself in the community as a strong assistant, working his way from porter to guide in half the time it normally takes. An incredibly intelligent young fella, Surya was the brains of our operation.

Biru, on the other hand, knew very little English. A 27-year-old from a small village about two days walk from Lukla (the name escapes me), Biru became the brawn of the team. Despite the language barrier, he communicated with us well. He led our chain of hikers into the thick of the unknown and through the mountains with incredible speed and determination. Nepalis tend to use “the” before words in unnecessary places. As a result, Ram often began our treks each morning by exclaiming, “Follow the Biru!” For this reason, he affectionately became known as “The Biru.” Many of the guys, in awe of Biru’s speed and strength, would say, “You don’t earn a ‘the’ at the beginning of your name for no reason!”

The Biru, chilling during a rest break on the way to Dingboche.

Following the Biru was easy thanks to his bright orange pack.

Surya, undoubtedly the brains of our trek.

Beginning the Journey
Immediately after meeting Surya and Biru, we began our long journey on the trail. Over the course of our 14 days, we would travel on foot from Lukla all the way to Base Camp, going village to village and staying in local tea houses along the way. In total, it was over 100 miles of trekking and about 9,000 feet of elevation gain. That kind of distance with a camera, extra lenses, and other gear on your back, plus the drain of thinning oxygen at altitude, made for long and exhausting days. Thankfully, we didn’t carry everything ourselves. Local porters were hired by our guiding company, Intrepid, to carry our larger items inside a duffel bag. At first, I felt guilty that someone else was carrying my heavy items. Over time, however, I realized that the mountain economy depends heavily on the use of porters. By paying them to carry my items, I was supporting the local economic system.

Precautions for Altitude Sickness
Because we traveled from just over 9,000 feet in Lukla to about 17,500 feet at Base Camp, acclimatization was key to maintaining our health. Hike too fast and we risked getting sick. For this reason, our trek was extended over a longer period of time, allowing our bodies to slowly get used to the altitude. Unfortunately, natural acclimatization can take many months, so everyone also took Diamox—a medication that causes you to take deeper and longer breaths in order to sustain oxygen levels. Without these precautions, we might find ourselves with Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)—which begins with simple headaches, nausea, lack of appetite, and fatigue, but can ultimately prove life threatening. The entirely of the trip, we had to be on guard against AMS, ensuring that we didn’t try to “tough it out” but instead paced ourselves to retain good health.

Our Route
While I plan to go into detail about the major villages and what each was like in future posts, this is a basic breakdown of our route:

Day 1: Lukla to Phakding
Distance: 5 miles
Elevation Change: 660ft descent

Day 2: Phakding to Namche Bazar
Distance: 6 miles
Elevation Change: 2,625ft ascent

Day 3: Acclimatization Day in Namche Bazar
Distance: 4 miles
Elevation Change: 1,312ft ascent

Day 4: Namche Bazar to Phortse
Distance: 7.5 miles
Elevation Change: 1,312ft ascent

Day 5: Phortse to Dingboche
Distance: 7.5 miles
Elevation Change: 1,970ft ascent

Day 6: Acclimitization Day in Dingboche
Distance: 4 miles
Elevation Change: 660ft ascent

Day 7: Dingboche to Lobuche
Distance: 5 miles
Elevation Change: 660ft ascent

Day 8: Lobuche to Base Camp to Gorak Shep
Distance: 5.5 miles
Elevation Change: 1,312ft ascent

Day 9: Gorak Shep to Kala Patthar to Osho
Distance: 14 miles
Elevation Change: 1,200ft ascent + 5,250ft descent

Day 10: Osho to Tengboche
Distance: 5 miles
Elevation Change: 820ft descent

Day 11: Tengboche to Chumoa
Distance: 9 miles
Elevation Change: 3,280ft decent

Day 12: Chumoa to Lukla
Distance: 5.5 miles
Elevation Change: 1,640ft descent + 1,640ft ascent

As one might imagine, this was a tough schedule. Most days consisted of early morning breakfast around 7:00am, then we would pack up our stuff, fill up our water for the day (which required lots of filtration and adding purification tablets), trek for about 5 to 8 hours, settle into the next tea house, eat dinner, and finally go to bed to start it all again the next morning. This left very little free time other than a few minutes after dinner. By that point everyone was normally so exhausted that we headed straight for bed. There has never been another time in my life that I found myself going to bed at 7:00pm!

My Next Posts
Despite the challenges and strain of trekking, the experience was equally peaceful and pleasant. In part, it was nice to get out in nature, but it was especially interesting to see how the villages and people in the Himalayas operated. In my future posts, I will detail the many things I learned about the deep mountain communities—as well as my potential thoughts on how the system might be capable of improving. There is much to unpack and I look forward to sharing it all!

An Introduction to My Journey

Wow! These last few weeks have been a whirlwind! As I worked hard to plan my trip to Nepal, school simultaneously kicked my butt. Just within the last week of school, I had an analytics presentation, empirical study in economics, strategic management audit project, business ethics paper, and Honors thesis project due—all on top of final exams. Simultaneously I was working this semester to find a job for my return stateside to start my career. Needless to say, Belmont did not let me off easily! But by the grace of God, I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a 4.0 as an Honors Scholar. Now I head to Nepal, capping of my experience at Belmont by working in the Himalayas—all thanks to Lumos!

All geared up and ready for the long journey to Kathmandu. Nepal.

Preparing for Departure
Unfortunately, I didn’t get much time to rest after classes ended. Two days after my last exam was graduation, then I immediately began packing and preparing for Nepal—communicating between Projects Abroad, Belmont, and the local workers in Kathmandu. Knowing I only had a week before departure, I gave my best attempt at saying as many goodbyes as possible and taking in the joy of graduation.

Delivering the Old Testament Verse at the commencement ceremony for graduation.

RUF Summer Conference
Two days after graduation, I left for RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) Summer Conference—a week-long conference for college students to study the Word and spend time together in Christian community. That week was such a blessing and truly served as a springboard for my work abroad! It gave me Monday through Friday to spend time with the Lord, reflect on graduation, pray about my future, and prepare myself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for Nepal. Because my good friend Taylor Brown and I were leaving early from the conference—me for my trip to Nepal and him to move to Colorado—our pals in RUF ceremonially saw us off at the beach. Two of my best friends—Emily Tomsovic and Koby Langner—gave Taylor and I an especially unique goodbye. The four of us stood on the beach together, our feet in the water, and read the liturgy “For Leavings” from Every Moment Holy. Then we had prayer together as we processed the thought that our close friendships would now have to fight the difficult battle of distance. Each of us is entering a new chapter as we move on to our futures and leave college behind. It was a special moment, and one I’ll remember forever. I would not be in the headspace I am in now—a posture of readiness for both giving and receiving—had it not been for that experience.

Koby, Taylor, Emily, and I at RUF Summer Conference before our liturgy “For Leaving” on the beach.

My Last Few Days Home
After getting home Friday evening from Summer Conference, I spent Saturday and Sunday packing and doing the last bits of prep. As you can imagine, my schedule was a bit exhausting! But I tend to thrive when pushed to my limits and this trip is certainly no exception. My last few weeks were as follows...

  • April 25-30: Final Exams/Projects
  • May 3-4: Baccalaureate & Graduation
  • May 6-10: RUF Summer Conference
  • May 13: Departure for Kathmandu

This left me a total of 5 free days between exams and my final departure for Nepal, so cramming everything in was quite a challenge. With the help of my friends, Projects Abroad, and especially my family—we made it work!

I tried to see as many good friends as possible to say farewell—especially knowing that many of them are moving away to start their careers after graduating. I also worked hard to make every moment count with my beautiful girlfriend, Gabrielle. She helped me shop, pack, and prepare every step of the way. Throughout the planning and preparation process, my Dad was a saving grace, guiding me every step of the way. My last day home, I enjoyed lunch with my Mom to celebrate Mother’s Day, exchanged letters with Gabrielle, and got my last few things in order. Even though 9 weeks doesn’t seem like much on the outside, it feels like an eternity when you are apart from loved ones. But I am confident that I can make at least a small impact during my time in Nepal. While I wish I could stay longer, I am keeping in mind that this is only the first of hopefully many projects across that beautiful country!

Saying goodbye to my Dad, who has been a huge part of making this trip happen. I would not be here without him.

A Little About Nepal
To be as ready as possible for my work, I have dedicated much time to reading about the culture, natural landscape, and logistics of Nepal. Being land locked between two global giants—India and China—Nepal has long struggled to maintain its sovereignty and stability. For many years the country was in isolation, and it has only had a stable government since 2008. As a result, there is very poor infrastructure and low economic development. Most of the Nepalese economy is based on agriculture and services, but a solid 30 percent of the nation’s GDP comes from remittances—or payments back home from family members working abroad. To put it in perspective, a quarter of the entire country lives below the global poverty line. For this reason, Nepal is among the poorest developing countries in the world, and it is in need of economic resurgence, especially in the rural areas.

A Little About Me and the Sherpa
My story began when I was a freshman at Belmont. Interested in mountaineering, I began reading about Everest and I stumbled upon a group of people called the Sherpa (which comes from ‘shar-wa’ meaning ‘east people’). The Sherpa are a small people group that mostly live in the Himalayas, meaning they are especially adept to the high altitude of the mountains and know the region well. Since the earliest Everest expeditions, they served as guides and porters up to the mountain peaks. Many of the Sherpa are proud of their heritage as world class climbers, and the job often pays very well. However, the Sherpa community also faces major problems as a result of growing interest in the mountains.

Few job alternatives exist in the Himalayas, often forcing the Sherpa to continually risk their lives as guides even if they do not want to. This is especially alarming as the job of an Everest Sherpa comes with a higher death rate than even the US Military. The issue has been especially inflamed with widening access to Everest and less experienced climbers demanding a piece of the summit. The Nepalese government often grants permits to unfit climbers for the sake of monetary gain, as one permit costs $11,000. With a government that wants the money, companies that need to business, and consumers willing to pay, the Sherpa are left to take the brunt of the force when inexperienced climbers put their lives in danger at over 20,000 feet of altitude. While some mountaineering organizations work hard to ensure the safety of Sherpa, there still exists an economic problem in the lack of job alternatives.

My Goals
These problems are not unique to the Sherpa, but exist across the globe as a threat to numerous people groups who live in remote areas that are ripe for exploration. My goal is to ultimately create a for-profit business that leads the mountaineering industry not just in sustainable travel, but in bolstering economic development in the communities where exploration happens. “Aid” is a fairly colloquial term today, but in large part that is my plan—use exploration to fund international aid to foster growth abroad that brings in more exploration. It is a beautiful cycle! To be specific, the aid I hope to provide will look like four main categories of service—economy, education, healthcare, and ecology. This structure functions to increase economic growth, enhance human development, and preserve the natural environment.

Over the coming 9 weeks, I will trek to Everest Base Camp through Sherpa villages, work with other mountain communities in conservation, and serve as a medical technician in Kathmandu. These experiences are small, but they serve as an introduction to all of my aid areas—economy, education, healthcare, and ecology. More importantly, exposure to the culture of Nepal will allow me to understand how to effectively work with those in and around the region—especially the Khumbu valley and Everest region. I hope to create a model of “adventure as a service” and use it across the globe. This in mind, my next few weeks will put the possibilities of these dreams in perspective and operate as a catalyst to my service!

Travels to Far
Of all the international travel I have done, this experience has been my best by far. God has been with me every step of the way. Yesterday I said my goodbyes to my girlfriend and my family, then boarded my first flight to Philadelphia.

Hugging my best buddy goodbye! Going to miss my dog Mattie. She is not in her best health so I hope she is still wagging her tail and smiling at the front door when I return home.

The most difficult goodbye—wishing my sweet girlfriend the best as she works as a CNA this summer while I’m away. I will miss her dearly!

Every detail of this travel experience had God working in and through it! It was even a blessing that I was able to snag my specific flight. Originally, the only flight I could find had a short 25 minute layover in Philadelphia. This seemed extremely risky—as with even the slightest delay in Nashville, I could miss my connecting flight from Philly to Qatar and not arrive in time to join my team. That means I would miss the flight from Kathmandu to Lukla and lose out on trekking through the Sherpa villages to Everest Base Camp. My dad and I searched for hours to finally find a flight through both American and Qatar airlines with a generous 2 hour layover. Sure enough, my flight from Nashville was delayed by 40 minutes! Had we not spent our time searching for a better flight, I would be in a crisis right now. Thanks to God’s sovereignty, it all worked out!

Little Gifts Along the Way
One of the first things I was worried about was my luggage being overweight, especially with the gear I was bringing for the mountains. So, before I left they house, I weighed my bag in at 52lbs. I figured it might be possible that they would let me slide a tad over the 50lbs limit, but I came prepared to ditch things if necessary. When I arrived at BNA’s American Airlines check in counter, the desk clerk noticed I was headed to Nepal and asked about my trip. I explained as he weighed my bags. I then told him I may be a little bit over weight and, if so, I’d be willing to pay a fee or leave items behind. He said, “It looks like you’re at 39lbs, so you’re good to go!” What!? Now, I know that my 10 year old scale at home is NOT super accurate, but there is no way it was THAT far off! Then he looked up, winked at me, and said “Enjoy your trip.” Thank the Lord, this man was looking out for me!

A similar experience happened to me once I arrived in Philadelphia. Apparently, Qatar has different definitions of “carry-on” and “personal item” than American. They considered both my technical pack and my small backpack as carry-ons. As a result, one of them had to be checked for $65. Fortunately, I made friends with Yafa, the Qatar desk clerk, and she became my advocate. She said I might be able to get away with carrying both on board, but it all depended on the flight manager—an intimidating man who according to Yafa has good and bad days. A tall, broad shouldered, blonde Swede, this flight manager walked over with a stern look on his face. In an attempt to diffuse the situation, I smiled as big as I could, shook his hand, and introduced myself. When I explained the situation, he said there was no room to budge on the rules—my bag had to be checked. BUT… he allowed me to check it for FREE! Thanks to Yafa’s help and some grace from God, the manager let me slide!

The incredible airport at Doha, Qatar.

The main hub of Doha International. This place is massive!

Making Friends
My flight from Philadelphia to Doha was probably the best international flight I have ever been on. Of course, 12 hours in an airplane is never fun, but Qatar makes it a luxurious experience even if you fly economy. They served dinner and brunch, plus snacks in between and free WiFi. Most of all, I made friends with the flight attendants. They were from all over the world and filled with interesting stories. One in particular stood out. Her name was Puja. From Delhi, India, she has worked for Qatar for 3 years while her husband works back home in the hotel industry. Kind and mild-mannered, she treated me like a king on the flight to Doha. We talked all about her dreams of living in Zurich, Switzerland and having her own travel company one day. We also bonded over missing our loved ones as we travel. She was an absolute delight!

The best flight crew I have ever had! Puja is far right. Thankful for the service of Qatar!

Said and Soni
Meanwhile, my seat companions were as entertaining as ever. Next to me was Said—a 20 year old student from Oman. He is currently a sophomore studying civil engineering at University of South Florida (USF). We connected over our mutual desire to move to Colorado. He asked all about Nashville and the Smoky Mountains while I asked about Oman. He showed me pictures of his trip to Colorado a few weeks back and I showed him my many photos of Nashville and the mountains of Tennessee. We both agreed that we need to visit each other in Nash or Oman someday!

My other pal was PS Soni. He was an older business man from Kolkata (Calcutta), India, that now lives in Doha, Qatar. Chasing his dreams of business success, he works with multiple companies in shipping and manufacturing. He is now taking steps to buy a factory in Galveston, Texas, with the dream of becoming as US citizen and settling in Houston. I told him that America needs more people like him! He advised Said and I to avoid alcohol, drugs, and women. Instead, he said to focus on our personal and professional development—all for the glory of the god we worship (as Said is Muslim and I am a Christ follower).

With Said (foreground) and Soni (background). A great row for the 12 hour flight!

Soni also explained that we must surround ourselves with good people. To find these people, he said we must determine how they see the world themselves. He uses a simple trick—the Insha’llah test. Insha’llah is an Arabic word which means “if God wills it.” He explained that If you ask someone whether or not they think they can accomplish something, there are three possible responses—yes, no, or Insha’llah. You should surround yourself with those who say “Insha’llah.” These are the individuals who will work hard to reach their goals, all the while keeping in mind that God’s will is not always their own. A wise and encouraging man, Soni left Said and I with something called The Serenity Prayer that he learned from his days growing up in a Catholic School in India. It goes as follows:

“God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Closing Thoughts
People like Yafa, Puja, Said, and Soni are the reason I love to travel. They are the reason I have set out on this journey. My goal is to learn the stories of people around the world, operating as a sponge to those around me. Then I want to take the knowledge I gain and use it to help others in their journey. This is my goal with the Sherpa and with the people of Nepal. To listen first, then act. Thanks to the grace of God and to the generosity of Lumos, I will be able to do exactly that—all while learning about the culture of Nepal, economy of the Himalayan communities, and ecology of the mountains. I look forward to seeing what this trip holds and all the things that God has to teach me.

Somos Juntos – We Are Together

 

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

I wasn’t sure what to expect when Christmas break arrived. I’d spent the last two months adjusting to living with new people and having a new work schedule and now I was going to be the only volunteer left in a three-bedroom apartment. The apartment felt eerily quiet. At first, I enjoyed dancing around the apartment without having anyone around, but by the third day I started to feel like a mad-woman. Working with the children and Face-Timing my loved ones just wasn’t enough. The idea of Christmas in Barcelona was the only thing keeping me going at that point.

However, the 20th of December lifted my spirits. It was the last day of work but also the day I would sing Christmas songs with the children. When I arrived, I was elated by the presence of all the children and their families. The school was giving out hot chocolate and pastries. There was music playing and a do-it-yourself (DIY) photo booth. I no longer felt unsure of how my Christmas would feel. I’ve never felt more at peace than with the children and their families. It reassured my purpose in life and my intentions within my career, which is to consciously engage and have direct relationships with the groups and individuals I work with.

That day was magical! When the time came to sing Christmas songs with my children, all the teachers and families gathered around us to listen. I grabbed my ukulele, counted to three, and my little ones sang “Feliz Navidad,” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” It was the sweetest thing I could have ever experienced. I was close to tears as I watched my class smile and sing along. Their eyes were filled with such love as they looked to me to guidance. It has been such an honor to be a part of their lives. They have made me a better person and I love those children more than I can express.

After we finished, the crowd asked me to do a speech. Oh, my lanta. Ha, I was nervous but I got through it. The teachers then proceeded to ask families from different countries to sing a Christmas song in their language. We were a family, enjoying and respecting each other’s’ cultures; from Spanish, Moroccan, Nigerian, to Gujarati and more. It was the beginning of the best Christmas ever.

On the 23rd of December, I traveled to Barcelona to meet my Second cousin and her husband for the first time. Prior to us meeting, we had only spoken through Facebook. The family resemblance was uncanny. It was comforting to see a familiar face and be around a culture more familiar to my own as a Honduran. They gave me the REAL Spain experience. They lived on the outskirts of Barcelona in Vallirana, Cataluña, Spain. This is the ore country side of Spain, where the pueblos (small towns) are located. I felt lucky to be staying with them because it added depth to my experience and knowledge of Spain. It was without a doubt my favorite part of Spain.

During the first two days, we visited the church La Sagrada Familia and drove around Vallirana. Catalan is the language spoken in this area. When I joined them for the Christmas mass, I could barely understand what was being said. It was definitely not the Spanish I had grown up around. Nevertheless, I was beautiful.

On Christmas day, we drove to Barcelona to join my cousin’s husband’s family for dinner in a hotel. The dinner was superb from start to finish and the family was more than welcoming of my presence. They asked me to play Christmas songs with my ukulele and so I did. Their singing captured the entire hotel floor’s attention. Everyone enjoyed themselves greatly. After dinner, a few of us went off to visit Montjuic, a hill surrounded by a national museum, a castle, and a 5-Star Hotel that hosted for the 1992 Summer Olympics. Only the pictures can truly describe the beauty of it all, but even then, it’s something you have to experience.

My cousins and I spent the next day at Mont Tibidabo, which overlooks Spain and is surround by an Amusement park and a telecommunications tower as well as the famous catholic church Sagrat Cor. The view was breathtaking; and just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, my cousins took be to Montserrat the next day.

Montserrat Mountain is both a natural park and monastery, and home of Our Lady of Montserrat, which is also known as “La Virgen Negra” – The Black Virgen Mary. It was the highest I have ever been on a mountain. It was truly heavenly. I was in the clouds. Again, this was an experience that is better illustrated through photos and 100% better in person. Every day here has been a dream.

December 28th completed my Christmas break. At 10:40 a.m., I ran into the arms of my boyfriend Trevor who in July, decided he wanted to spend New Year’s with me in Spain. I’ve been speechless ever since. Traveling is a beautiful experience but it is much better when you’re surround by people you love. I cannot wait to see how the rest of this break plays out.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year filled with love.

-Rachel B.

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The Privileges of My Life

We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.”  -Maya Angelou

Kudos to the individuals who choose to travel by themselves for six months or even a year. I have been counting my blessings and my privileges during these last two weeks. Traveling is an exciting and life changing experience, but not for the reasons that we romanticized in our society. Spain is beautiful country with breath taking sights all around. There is ancient history is all around me and I am taking it all in. I still can’t believe that I’m even here. But I also can’t believe that I’ve been here for 51 days without my family and friends! Technology has been blessing and a curse for sure! I’m to the point where FaceTime is becoming a nuisance.

I’m a proud emotional human who values the importance of physical touch. I love hugs! I’m not mentioning this to sound sweet, but to point out that something as simple as a hug can be taken for granted. As I mentioned earlier, FaceTime has become a nuisance. I see and talk to my loved ones but what I really need is to be with them. I have realized how privileged I am for the simple fact that I get to go back home to the people I love. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how many families are separated by choice or by force. I think about how many of them will never get to see their loved ones again and how this will shape their lives. Most of all, I think about my mother, my aunts and uncles, and my abuela. I think about the sacrifices that were made just so that they could come to the U.S. and live a better life.

See, my mother immigrated from Honduras to the United States at the age of 26. Her older sister, my Tia Rina, was the main reason my mother was able to come to New York. Tia Rina left Honduras first to find work in the U.S.. My abuela followed and then eventually my mother and her other siblings did as well. Now, my mother is a citizen and lives 30 minutes away from her mother and her siblings. Can you imagine that journey? Can you imagine the struggles that came with it? I’ve heard these stories first hand and I still can’t imagine having to go through that.

This story is my reminder of why I am on this journey. Despite the days when I am overwhelmed by feelings of loneliness, I remember how lucky I am. It hurts to go through struggles but that’s a part of life. I know this. I also know how hard my mother and father worked to provide me with an education that could expose me to greater opportunities than what they had access to when they were younger. Just thinking about them makes me tear up because I am so proud. I am proud of them and I am proud of myself.

I hope when present and future travelers read this they pause and reflect on the value of their trip. The mixed feelings and the struggles are inevitable. It’s all part of the journey. I’m coming to see that the purpose in “traveling with a purpose,” is more about self-growth than it is anything else. Unless someone has partaken in this journey, no one can truly understand the difficulties that come with it. It’s probably one of the most humbling experiences as well. Close your eyes and open your heart. The message will be clearer.

Con cariño,

Rachel

P.S. – The children at work continue to fill my heart with so much love. I’ve been teaching them Christmas songs with Lola, my ukulele, for the last two weeks, preparing them to present it to their families on Thursday! To no surprise, music has been extremely therapeutic for the kids. It’s worked magic on their little hearts. It has helped some calm down after a tantrum and has brought others out of their shyness. Lola has a place in their hearts for sure. I can’t wait to join them in singing Christmas songs this Thursday.

P.S. – Here are some more pictures of Valencia! xoxo

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Unraveling My Purpose

In the dream of heaven, you completely surrender to life, knowing that everything is just the way it is. And because you accept everything as it is, you no longer worry about anything. Your life becomes exciting because there’s no more fear. You know that you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing, and that everything that has happened was meant to happen because they have led you to greater awareness. Even the worst thing that can happen to you is meant to happen because it’s going to push you to grow. – Don Miguel Ruiz

Adjusting to Spain has been easy, but I can’t the same say in regard to having no local support system. While I enjoy the presence of my fellow volunteers, it is exhausting to constantly be around individuals with journeys that do not align with mine. I mean, I’m a 23 year-old who is ready for a more serious part of her life, while the other volunteers are 18 years-old and dying to finally have some control over their own lives. This is 100% natural! I’m only mentioning it because I want all future travelers to know that it is okay to feel like the outsider of a group, to realize that who you are may not fit into the group’s agenda. Raising our awareness and respect for others is the best thing we can do for ourselves in these situations. Be social when you can but also honor the moments when your body tells you you’ve had enough for the day. Your mind, body, and soul will thank you. I promise.

On a different note, Spain has been treating me extremely well. From time to time I reflect on the Lumos catch phrase, “Travel with a purpose.” My purpose has unraveled little by little each week, but I’ll wait till the end to share that with you. I will say that my Spanish has improved significantly. I’ve let the children I work with correct my Spanish. For 5-7 year-olds, they are pretty intelligent. Mind you, some of them are from different countries and have to learn Spanish, Valenciana, Castellano, and English! These little sponges are way smarter than I was at their age! After 23 years, I can finally hold a conversation with my Abuela (grandmother) back home and it warms my heart. Common now!

I’m impressed with the way the teachers work with the children. In my experience, I have never seen so many teachers treat their “wild” students with so much love and patience. I love it! I’m so use to watching teachers get frustrated with these types of students. I have the utmost respect for these kinds of teachers because they volunteer the best parts of them. I first heard this idea from a college professor of mine in NY. He said, “I get paid to teach you. It doesn’t matter how I teach you because I still get a pay check. But if I expect you to learn, that means I have to volunteer my best self.” He then went on expressing how fed up he was with teachers who don’t get personal with their students; but I digress.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, these children come from all over the world and they are all from lower income families. Additionally, the teachers in this school all have fair skin, while the students vary from tan, to brown, to black. Now, I am only mentioning this because I have observed the teacher-student relationships. I have yet to see one teacher pick on a student for their race or ethnicity, or looks for that matter. Not one teacher favors one group of students more than the other. This may not be true for all of the schools in Spain, but I recognize the genuine love and respect that these teachers have for each of their students. I’ve watched some of the children struggle with accepting that not everyone looks like them. Little fights break out here and there, but the teachers are always there to set a good example. They always tell the kids, “It doesn’t matter what you look like. I’m no better than anyone here. We are all a team and we have to respect one another and love one another equally.” It’s beautiful, necessary, and powerful because there are plenty of schools in the world that don’t adhere to this belief. Also, this is a crucial developmental stage in a child’s life. I comforted and honored to work in an environment that takes their role seriously. My mind screams, “Family!” every time I think about it.

Oh,  and speaking of family – my soul sister and her fiance came to visit me in Spain! What? Do y’all understand how excited I was to see a familiar face? This is a woman that I look up to. We are about 9 years apart, she is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (the profession I am going into), and she is one of the individuals who sparked my new life journey back in 2015. Needless to say, she is very special to me.

We took tourism to a whole other level. I spent a day and a half with them in Valencia just catching up on life! I then spent another day and a half meeting them in Barcelona, where we saw about 6 amazing sights within 5 hours. Crazy, I know but it was amazing. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything!

*Side note* Spain’s trains are not cheap and the U.S. dollar does not work in our favor here, at least not right now.

Okay, back to it!

I purposely spent a day in a half in Barcelona because I knew I’ll be returning during Christmas time, which is three weeks away.  Again, what? Where is the time going?  Soon I’ll be meeting family that I’ve only ever known through social media. Am I blessed? Yes. Oh, and then my boyfriend is coming to visit for the remainder of the break! When I signed up for this trip I thought I was going to be solo. Thankful is an understatement! It’s a peace of mind to know I have these events to look forward to, especially after the emotional and physical fiasco my body went through prior to the GRE, which I am so glad is over by the way!

I went m.i.a. the day before the test. I did not have the energy to talk to anyone. I was overwhelmed and had knots in my stomach. I can’t express enough my dislike for these types of tests; a test that measures absolutely nothing about who I am and what I am capable of doing. I process things at a slower pace and I need time to grasp concepts. I learn better through writing and discussing the material rather than memorizing it for the sake of getting a good grade. It doesn’t align well with who I am. Nevertheless, I still gave my best on test day, and luckily I don’t get nervous once a test is in front of me. I accept the moment, I breathe, and I do what I can.

When the day of the test arrived, I had to travel three hours on train from Valencia, Spain to Madrid. During that time I had journaled to myself. In that journal entry I wrote:

 ...You did your best. You will do your best. You challenged yourself. You rose to the occasion. Be proud. Smile. Feel love. Be love. Be.

After writing, I let go of all the pressure I had placed on myself. Once I arrived in Madrid, I spent an hour in a coffee shop catching up on some reading. As I drank my delicious mocha coffee and ate my cinnamon bun soaked in Nutella, I came across the passage in the beginning of this blog. I had chills, y’all! I felt at such peace with myself. My world aligned again and I was ready for whatever was to come.

Taking the GRE in a different country was probably the best decision for me. It felt more relaxing to be amongst individuals from different parts of the world. I can’t explain it, it just felt good. At the end of it all, I can honestly say I am content and EXTREMELY thankful for the experience. Oh, I’m also thankful that it’s over! Out of sight and out of mind!

I called everything post-GRE “The journey back to myself.” Between being sick and stressed out about the test, I definitely fell out of touch with myself. I needed to socialize, start working out, and do more sight seeing. This was my new mission. To hold myself accountable, I began writing a list titled, “What do I want to accomplish today?” I would even list something as simple as waking up, which is a great accomplishment for anyone. As someone who is active in the mental health community, I find it extremely beneficial to notice all the “small” things. This type of mindfulness is powerful because things such as waking up can be a difficult task, especially for those like myself who battle depression.  It helps reprogram the brain in more ways than one. For me, it sends a message to my brain that everything I do matters. It reminds me to be impeccable with my words and my actions, especially towards myself. It’s a reminder to never feel less than or shrink at the presence of challenging situations.

So, yeah. All is well my friends. I am learning, growing, and embracing this journey that I am on. I wouldn’t change a thing about this experience.

Talk to you soon,

Rachel

Life Beyond the Vines

P.S. Enjoy the pics! There are some things that don’t need to be put into words.  A picture can say it all.

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Expect the Unexpected

*Leaves the U.S. with a week old cold and no medicine.*

Me: I’m fine. It’s just my body re-adjusting to this Northern weather.

*Arrives in Spain with flat mates who are also sick.*

It’s fine. I’ll just clean, eat really healthy, and drink some tea.

*Has Bronchitis during second week in Spain.*

“I’m so tired. I’m dyinnnggggg. I can’t sleep. Ahhhh!”

*Goes to a doctor in Spain – Begins 3rd week in Spain.*

See, I knew it’d pass. (Meanwhile I’m on steroids and antibiotics and two other prescriptions).

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I am overwhelmed at the pace of life right now. On the 19th of November I’ll be on my way to Madrid to take the GRE. A part of me is anxious because I’ve been extremely sick and unproductive these last two weeks (at least in my eyes). Yet, I’ve given my best along the way and the other half of me is a bit more understanding. Nevertheless, I am still trying to jump into a healthy routine and it’s already my 3rd week here. Trying to reach my normal energy level has been a challenge. I can’t wait to finally feel 100%!

Anyways, let me fill you in on my two-week journey thus far.

As my mini-dialogue expressed, I’ve been sick since the week before I left for Spain. This made my departure from the U.S. quite interesting. My flight from Newark, NJ to Charlotte, NC  was just fine. At this point I could deal with my sniffles. However, traveling grew more painful as the day went on. On my eight-hour flight to Madrid, I was lucky enough to have an entire row to myself. Yes, I sprawled out across four seats during the entire flight. I wish my body would have let me fall asleep on that flight, but instead it kept reminding me of how sick I felt. By the time I reached Madrid the next morning, I was EXHAUSTED. Oh, how I wished I could have been in Valencia already. Instead, I spent seven hours in the Madrid airport. The “best” part of it all was getting lost and having to check back in with customs. Ha! I was a walking zombie. I could not even process what was going on. I remember facetiming my boyfriend and tearing up because I was past the point of exhaustion. I did my best to stretch, read, play music, and keep my mind busy. Unfortunately, my immune system said, “Sorry girl. I’m clocking out,” and it did.

I was beyond grateful to have finally reached Valencia, Spain. Sleep was the number one thing on my mind, but it was not the first thing that I was able to do. Instead, I bonded with my flat-mates and fellow volunteers. They have been such a sweet, fun, and lively group of individuals. A few of them are from Germany, one is from Switzerland, another from Poland, and another is from Washington State. I was surprised to find out that I was the oldest in the group. I expected to volunteer with a variety of ages. Instead, they’re all 18 years-old, straight out of high school, ready to drink and party. Then there’s me, your 23-year-old nanny and college graduate, who’s ready for bed by 11:00 p.m. I suppose our priorities are just a tad different, but that’s okay! I’ve enjoyed working and growing with them these past two weeks.

However, in regard to my health, these past two weeks have been a fiasco. The medicine I picked up from the pharmacy was 100% ineffective. My body was not having it but I still tried to stay active during my first week in Spain. From bicycle rides to the beach, to joining the other volunteers on early afternoon excursions, I pushed through it all. I even joined them on Halloween night.

Side note: the night I learned that Valencia parties until 7:00 a.m. Can you imagine my face when I was told this? My jaw dropped and I shook my head. I was used to my own family parties lasting until 3:00 a.m. in the morning, but 7:00 a.m. Excuse me, what? New York City, you are not the only city that never sleeps. I can’t hang and I’m not ashamed!

I digress. Anyways, my cold escalated and turned into bronchitis. I grew miserable.  My energy and moral was low. I was coughing so much that my sweet elderly neighbor Keke knocked on my door to make sure I was okay. I cried. I was so tired of being sick and I missed having my loved ones around. I’ve also been anxious about the GRE and my college applications. My body needed time to relax and I was not giving it what it needed. It took me until the end of my second week here to finally go to the doctors. Four medications later and I’m slowly getting back to feeling like myself again.

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Now, I’m sure  you’re wondering how the volunteer work has been. It’s been an amazing learning experience. In the two weeks I have been here, I have journaled endlessly about all the things I have learned, the things that I’d like to do, and the things I never knew. For example, I came across a video one day discussing the cons about certain volunteer trips. I was a bit disappointed at myself for not thinking twice about the matter.  This was my response after watching the video:

It’s interesting to watch this now that I’m already on my “Travel with a Purpose,” scholarship. I’m glad that I came across this video because it raised a perspective that went unrecognized in my mind. If I’m being honest yes, I feel a built guilty after watching this video. However, I believe that video has added on and changed how I will spend my time here for that same reason. How can I give back in a way that will actually be helpful to the children I work with? That’s the question I’ll be asking myself everyday. If nothing else, I want to be a role model and help these children use their minds and embrace the process of learning and thinking for themselves. I wish I had the money to help the organizations here, but I can’t change their situation at the moment. But I can give them the tools they need to grow. The next couple of months will be filled with learning. I’m still thrilled to have this opportunity but even more thrilled to learn how to be a better advocate for the children here.Volunteer Tourism

The children I work with range from six to seven years old. Majority of them have come from different parts of the world, some from Africa, Pakistan, and South America. In the time that I’ve spent with them so far, I can tell that these children need structure, consistency, and better examples of of how to interact with different cultures work as a team. However, it’s been a challenge for me to maintain order in the class room while the teacher is gone. The children aren’t difficult to be around. What’s been difficult is  trying to tell them to be quiet and sit down when all they want to do is hug, talk, and smile with me. It’s unfortunate that I’ve been sick for the first two weeks, but I am so grateful to have 3 months with these children. Week by week I’ll be learning more and hopefully adding to their activities and helping open their minds. Next week, I’ll be playing the ukulele for them!

Hopefully my blog post improve from here on out now that I am starting to feel better! Enjoy the photos! (If you click on the images they will automatically rotate themselves.) Technology can be weird sometimes.

I love you all.

Xoxo!

Wish me luck on my last week of reviewing for the GRE. Been studying since May (on and off) will I ever feel ready?

 

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Enkosi S-CAPE!

THE MOTHER CITY

THE MOTHER CITY

It has been about a week since returning home, and I am still at a loss of words for what this experience has done in me.  I have been putting off writing this because I don’t think I have the words yet to convey what I truly feel inside. People keep asking how the trip was, and I suppose I should have formulated a better answer, but all I can muster is “it was incredible!”  I have been thinking a lot about the limits of language and pondering how to express these inexplicable feelings of the purest love, joy, peace and hope I have experienced. My time at S-CAPE taught me, just as Thistle Farms proclaims, that love heals! There is truly no other force greater than the power of love.  I feel incredibly grateful to have witnessed the transformation of women by love. To see others glimpse their worth and begin to walk into their fullness, something I too struggle to do everyday. I am crying as I write this sipping my tea at Thistle Farms because it truly feels like a dream. But this is what heaven on earth looks like, and this is my heart for the whole world, to glimpse and walk into this life of love and service to each other.

My project itself looked a bit different than I anticipated, but I am very thankful for that because it was the things I had not planned on that changed me the most.  The goals I had for my five months at S-CAPE included grant writing, working on sustainable business/entrepreneurship projects with the women, assisting with fundraising, and running workshops.  I did indeed work in all of those areas along with many others.

I submitted a grant we are still waiting to hear back on, and compiled a detailed grant application and all supporting documents that S-CAPE can use in the future.  

My sustainable business project manifested more as an entrepreneurship skills training for the residents.  We received a large donation of old costume jewelry, so we used that along with other avenues to develop our entrepreneurship skills.  We began by talking about budgeting, marketing, how to set up an email and how to keep track of revenue and expenses, which we worked on during my workshop time.  Each of the residents designed their own brand for the jewelry and I printed labels for them to retag the jewelry with. We discussed revenue and expenses, along with loans and how to grow a business. The residents each received 20 sets of earrings, bracelets and necklaces as “seed funding” per say.  They reworked the items, retagging them and fixing any broken pieces. We then went to local markets to sell the jewelry at and to learn about our target market. That was probably the most challenging aspect of the project for several reasons. First of all, culturally it was very different. I did not know that the best time to sell at markets is on the second and last weekend of the month because that is when payday is.  Secondly, finding markets that actually fit our target population was difficult. We tended to sell at flea markets, or cheaper, family oriented markets (because we had a lot of kids jewelry) due to the nature of our product. In my head, I wanted Thistle Farm’s quality products, I wanted to be in all the local stores, at the bougie markets where people with lots of disposable income shop, etc, but at this time that is not feasible.  There are two values I held very closely, the first being that I wanted to women to feel empowered selling their product, thus when we went to market, these women were not victims of human trafficking but business women. Secondly, I wanted this project to be culturally relevant and be in line with the goals of the residents. And because of this, entrepreneurship skills training seemed to be a better fit than trying to create a business in my short time there without someone to hand it over too when I left.  We were also very short staffed so inevitably the neverending list of day to day activities of running the organization and keeping up with the Department of Social Development’s standards so we can retain our recently increased funding would take precedence over this baby social enterprise. All this being said, the final phase of the project is that the women have the option to buy a box of jewelry (and there is A LOT of jewelry in each box) for a low price so that they can continue selling jewelry when they leave the safe house if they enjoyed it.  The women also learned to make lip balm which we sold and used in the goodie bags at our fundraiser. Finally, the women learned to knit and made a plethora of beanies and scarves that they also sold. There certainly is an entrepreneurial spirit in the ladies I worked with. Everytime someone new came to the safe house for a workshop, or they went to church, they would take some of their product to sell. It was really powerful and encouraging to see how empowered and at ease they were when selling.

Lip balm we made for the fundraiser!

Lip balm we made for the fundraiser!

Fundraising wise, I did help the part time fundraising coordinator in the acquisition of vouchers for our big fundraiser.  I helped create a sponsorship inquiry letter in an effort to get corporate sponsors that will donate a certain amount of say, food, each month to help keep our cost low at the safe house.  That is something really amazing about Cape Town, people are so willing to help, all you have to do is ask!

What I treasured the most though in my work is the amount of time I got to spend with the residents.  From long days at the clinic and home affairs, to workshops and outings, to covering house mother shifts and long car rides, some of my sweetest memories have been in the conversations I had with the women who taught me how to hold great love and great suffering, to embody joy, love, hope and peace while simultaneously holding the tensions and pain of the world and my life.  I miss each of them dearly, and I can hear their laughs in my head right now and them imitating my most used line, “what is happening here folks?”

In the sweetest birthday card and words I have ever received (I am not exaggerating), one of the residents wrote that I was like Esther, and God sent me to bring joy into their lives during a very tough and sorrowful season.  I immediately started to weep and told them that I felt the same way about them. Again, there are no words to convey the feeling I have when I think about the past five months. The only way I can describe it is feeling fully alive.  I experienced and felt love in a way that made me simultaneously want to laugh and cry. Like my insides were the sun and my body a stain glass window. My deepest desire is to reflect the love and joy and hope and peace of Christ through this stain glass window of this wonderful human abode.  I break so more light can be let out and heal so that the colors turn into even more magnificent and mystical hues.

And on that note, I feel it appropriate to share that this is not the end of my journey with S-CAPE!!!  It has been made abundantly clear (which I would love to elaborate on in person) that it is where I am supposed to be at this point in my life.  So, Lord willing, I will be returning to the Mother City in January 2019 for a more long term commitment to the work of S-CAPE! And the will of God is a tricky phrase, but I do believe it is the Lord’s will, if by the will of God we mean as, Thomas Merton says “the will of God is not a ‘fate’ to which we submit but a creative act in our life producing something absolutely new . . . something hitherto unforeseen by the laws and established patterns. Our cooperation (seeking first the Kingdom of God) consists not solely in conforming to laws but in opening our wills out to this creative act which must be retrieved in and by us.”  I am VERY excited for what is to come, and the real challenge is trying to be present in this season and figure out what the next few months mean, as my “five year plan” has drastically changed. But I have a great deal of peace, because I trust the direction I am journeying in now is exactly where I am supposed to be.

On one of my last weeks in Cape Town, I got up to walk on the beach for sunrise as had become my morning ritual.  I was feeling a lot of dissonance, doubt, sorrow about leaving and confusion for what the next six months will hold.  I was walking towards where the sun was supposed to be rising, but there was a thick layer of dark clouds so I turned around to walk back down the beach because it appeared I wouldn’t see the sun glide over the mountaintops this dreary morning.  I was walking and looked up at the mountains in front of me, the greatest contemplatives of all creation as O’Donahue says, and I felt this still, small voice say “Behold, I am doing a new thing” and something in me decided to turn around to look back at the sun and it was the most magnificent sight.  Rays of bright light were breaking through the dark clouds and I just had to laugh at the awe and wonder of the inexplicable mystery of God. I don’t know what this new thing is, but I know I walked home that morning with an insurmountable peace about the uncertain future.

Pictures cannot do it justice!! Behold, I am doing a new thing.

Pictures cannot do it justice!! Behold, I am doing a new thing.

I am not sure how to neatly tie together the wild, life altering, better than I ever imagined adventure that the past five months has been.  I am forever indebted to the Lumos committee for receiving this opportunity, indebted to S-CAPE for inviting me back and indebted to the women who loved me so well and taught me so much.  This experience has cultivated a deeper compassion, love and authentic joy in my soul and I am very excited to share more about my time at S-CAPE with everyone here in Nashville. Stay tuned for how you can maybe partner with me and the work with S-CAPE in the future too 😉

Enkosi (thank you in Xhosa) for reading and trekking along with me on this journey.  May we live with a deeper understanding of ubuntu, that I cannot be fully me without you, and wake up to the beauty and gift that is the inescapable network of mutuality connecting all beings everywhere.

Friends from around the world

Friends from around the world

Last sunset :(

Last sunset 🙁

My flatmate, hero, German teacher, co worker and dear friend, Lina.

My flatmate, hero, German teacher, co worker and dear friend, Lina.

The last days

Some quick highlights/updates from my last two weeks!  These will be expanded upon in my reflection post upon returning home L

Both our residents had some big, and positive developments in their cases the past few weeks.  Again, for confidentiality and safety of our residents I cannot share specifics, but we are VERY thankful.

Me and the other volunteer, Lina, took the two residents to Robben island last week.  We had told them that we were going to a surprise outing and when we arrived at the Waterfront and told them what we were doing, we were greeted with the sweetest, most excited reactions.  Neither of the residents have ever been on a boat, let alone Robben Island.  It was a beautiful time seeing their joy and excitement about riding on the ferry, the passion and emotion with which encountered the stories on Robben Island, and the thankfulness they expressed for this experience.

Robben Island

Robben Island

It has RAINED A LOT in Cape Town over the last weeks and it has turned into proper winter.  The days are cold and windy but we are all so thankful to see chilly drops of water falling from the sky, finally!  I have also encountered more rainbows in the last few weeks than I have maybe ever in my life.  Every time it rains, I see rainbow and that is a magnificent thing!

WOW!

WOW!

I finally got a proper African meal, pap and chakalaka (minus the meat) at Mzoli’s,  a famous restaurant in Gugulethu, a local township.  I was met with much surprise when I greeted the people there in Xhosa 😉  They didn’t think this umunglu could speak Xhosa! (given I know only a few words, but some is better than none!!)

Pap and chakalaka...a proper African meal

Pap and chakalaka...a proper African meal

I have seen the sunrise almost every morning, and each day I learn a little something new about myself and the world.

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We have a big fundraiser tomorrow, which is a culmination of many months of planning and effort, so for that I am very excited.

We have had some incredible, divine intervention moments with needs being met, and important connections being made with the right people.  It is a very exciting time for S-CAPE and the way we are growing to serve more women and kids who have been trafficked in South Africa.

I submitted a grant for S-CAPE that I have been working tirelessly on.  Which was a big goal of mine for my Lumos project.

I went back last night and re-read some of my goals, journal entries and reflections I have written over the past five months, and it is amazing to see how much I have grown.  I wrote things I am proud of, I read a LOT of books by people who I admire, I have listened to a lot of podcast, I have had conversations with incredible people who are very different from me in all sorts of ways.  I have become more open minded and compassionate with myself and others.  This season has become more than I ever anticipated it would or could be.

There has been a lot of unrest in Cape Town recently, especially places near Muizenberg.  It is odd how close to home it is, yet how far removed I feel from it.  It is a strange dichotomy and a reminder of how my privilege follows me everywhere, and begs the question of how I can use that privilege as an agent of social change so that the it will be on earth as it is in Heaven.

These last few days a very busy and I hope to expand on all these points, along with other reflections upon returning home and having some time to reflect on what has occurred here.

Bye’s, Belmont in Africa & Birthday’s!

I am down to my last two weeks in Cape Town and I have not come to terms with the fact that I actually have to leave.  I am in sheer denial.

Waited two years to see the view from Table Mountain on a clear day!

Waited two years to see the view from Table Mountain on a clear day!

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“Justice is what love looks like in public” Cornel West

The last week has been filled with many exciting and bittersweet things!  Two of our residents left the safe house, and that is not an easy process for any of us.  One left under less than ideal circumstances, however it was best for the safety and well being of all involved.  The other had decided she wanted to return home, and even though we wish she would have stayed longer to process and work through some things, she left with grace and joy, and we had a proper farewell filled with lots of laughter, tears and faith that her time with us was enough.  One thing that was echoed during her farewell, and the farewell of others, was the love she experienced and how it was unlike anything she had ever known. And that is the heart of S-CAPE and the heart of each of us who work here. Love is not a scarce resource, though society, and many of our circumstances and experiences, would like to tell us otherwise.  On the contrary, love is the essence of all things. It the essence of our being, of God, of the Gospel. Love bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things. Few places and times in my life has love been so tangible as it is as S-CAPE. The other place that sticks out in my mind is Thistle Farms, and I am not surprised. It seems that humble, honest, hopeful communities of imperfect people pursuing wholeness and living life together are the breeding ground for sanctuaries of love and acceptance.  At S-CAPE and Thistle Farms, and I would venture to say places like the Simple Way and L’Arche, there is a spirit of ubuntu that runs deep and wide, that I am not me without you, and until we are all free, none of us are free. I am so thankful to be apart of the S-CAPE family, and lifetime of learning what it means to love in the way of Jesus.  So to all the residents who have said they had never experienced a love like this, well neither had I.

Some other exciting events that occurred this week were that the Belmont in Africa Maymester arrived and I got to tag along with them!!  It is such an out of body experience seeing my University, some friends and one of the most formative professors in my collegiate experience here in Cape Town.  It has been a long time since I have been around so many Americans! It was exciting to get to re-experience some of my favorite places through the excitement of the students on that Maymester. I also got to share with some of the students about what I am doing here and my favorite places in Cape Town and that was very special for me.

 

#BelmontinAfrica round2!! Where is the #hashflag

#BelmontinAfrica round2!! Where is the #hashflag

Finally, it was my birthday!  My second South African birthday!  I turned 22 on May 13 and it was the BEST BIRTHDAY EVER!! My sweet friends know I love surprises, and so they did just that, surprised me with all my favorite things.  The day started at Jeremy’s (the Belmont in Africa tour guide and my adopted South African father/mentor/friend/life changer) church and we had proper African worship. Then my friend picked us up and took me, my friend from Belmont (who was on the study abroad) and my flat mate to Paarl!! It was magical.  We did a chocolate tasting with all fair trade, organic, ethically sourced and produced chocolate (of course), we petted GOATS!!!! And it is truly amazing how much goats smell like goat cheese (or vice versa). Then we went to a lion and chimpanzee sanctuary, two of my favorite animals!!!! And finally we ended up at my favorite market, Root 44 in Stellenbosch and I ate the spiciest curry of my life.  And to end the day, we hiked my favorite mountain, Lion’s Head at sunset. I celebrated with friends from around the world, at my favorite place in the world, it was truly a dream come true.

"It's my birthday!"-Burno Mars" -Madison Barefield

“It’s my birthday!”-Burno Mars” -Madison Barefield

Friends from around the world!

Friends from around the world!

Paarl!!!

Paarl!!!

little bokkie!

little bokkie!

Today I went for a walk on the beach as I do when I need to process, and I was reminded of the necessity of cultivating an attitude of gratitude.  I keep say that I never want the beauty all around me and the joy of my work to become “normal.” I want to always be surprised, thankful, amazed at the miracle that is life.  I want to recognize every ordinary moment as extraordinary, and every encounter as one with the Divine. There is so much beauty and hope in the world, we must just open our eyes to the magic happening around us all the time.  

I still have a lot of work I want to finish over my next two weeks, like submitting a big grant, helping with some last minute fundraising planning before our event and taking the residents on some special outings.  People keep asking me if I am excited to go home, and as much as I miss my family and friends, Cape Town is my home! It is going to be very difficult to transition back to so much comfort, as strange as that sounds.  As Miriam Adeney said, “you will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That’s the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

I screamed when I saw this....chicken feet...apparently is lekker...

I screamed when I saw this....chicken feet...apparently is lekker...

Holiday week!

It is turning into autumn here in Cape Town!  Quite a strange experience to celebrate Easter as the leaves start to change colors, the air gets cooler and the days are a bit shorter.  Although, South Africa doesn’t change their clocks, so sunrise keeps getting later, but sunset gets later as well, how crazy!

My friend from Belmont came to visit me this past week.  We studied abroad here together about two years ago and she too fell in love with this beautiful country.  So I am having a little holiday in the middle of my project which has been so fun and extremely refreshing.  Although I have taken a week off of work, I have continued to learn so much about the diversity and beauty of South Africa.

Our adventure started last Friday, I picked her up from the airport and the next morning we left for a four day stint on the Garden Route, which is perhaps the most incredible drive of my life.  We stopped in Knysna and slept in a treehouse and had a braai with the owners of our Air B&B.  We talked travel experiences, culture, politics, religion, and it was fascinating and thought provoking.  Most of them had been alive, albeit young, yet still remember apartheid, so I am always curious as to what that was like for them, and their opinions of what South Africa is like now.  It was also interesting to hear how some of them felt about our president and government.  And thankfully, many of the conversations ended in “agree to disagree” but were fruitful and enjoyable nonetheless.

Knysna Heads!

Knysna Heads!

The next morning, we drove up to a lookout point over the Knysna Heads, the two mountains that help create the Knysna lagoon, and it was simply the most stunning view!  And when we thought it could not get any more beautiful, we ended up in Robberg hiking one of the most magnificent trails through the mountains and down the sand dunes to a massive beach.  We checked into our Air B&B, got some recommendations from our sweet host and headed to the beach to watch the sunset in Plettenberg Bay.

Robberg

Robberg

Our last stop on the Garden Route was the most adorable and incredible town of Tsitsikamma.  Situated in a forest with the mountains as your backdrop on one side, and the ocean on the other.  We stopped at Bloukrans bridge, the largest bungee jump in the world (but thankfully we both had a mutual agreement that bungee jumping was not on our list of things we wanted to do).  Instead, we opted for ziplining through the canopy.  We had the best guides and the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours is a fair trade tourism company, meaning their workers get paid a fair wage, they give a percentage of their income to forest preservation, education and a social enterprise restaurant that employs women from a local township.  In all, they only keep about 43% of their profit, which was AMAZING and obviously was in sync with my heart for business for good.

Tsitsikamma National Forest

Tsitsikamma National Forest

After ziplining, we headed to Tsitsikamma National Park and hiked to the suspension bridge and watched the sunset, then headed back to our glamping tent at the Tsitsikamma Backpackers Lodge.  We slept in a tent under the stars and froze our faces off, but it was SO. FUN!  The next morning we got up early, drove over to Nature’s Valley (home of the granola bar?), did a short hike up to a viewpoint to see Salt River Beach, then headed over to MONKEYLAND!!!!!!  It is a primate sanctuary that rehabilitates monkeys that were in zoo’s, hurt in the wild, rescued from people’s homes, etc.  We took an hour long meander through the woods and saw so many monkeys and lemurs.  Monkey’s are my favorite animals so it was a dream come true to be so close to these amazing creatures!!!

Finally, our Garden Route stent had come to an end and we opted for the longer, more scenic R62 home.  And it was worth every extra km.  I have never seen anything quite as beautiful.  It seemed like every thirty minutes we were in a new town with a new terrain, in a new temperatures, new mountains.  One hour we were at a viewpoint overlooking lush green mountainsides, the next hour we were at a viewpoint overlooking mountains with red rocks that looked like they belonged in Arizona.  We saw the most magnificent sunset somewhere about three hours outside Cape Town and honestly, all we could do was laugh at how absurdly beautiful South Africa is.  We passed so many farms and little village towns (dorps) and kept asking what do the people do who live there! There is absolutely nothing for miles.  I have realized, however, that most of the food I buy here says grown in South Africa, and after seeing the amount of farms and farm land, I believe it.  I think that is so incredible that South Africa still feeds itself with so much local food, which is pretty much the opposite of America, and it is probably why the produce here taste so good!

Route 62!!!!

Route 62!!!!

After an educational and adventurous four days, we are back in Cape Town.  I got to show Alexa a bit of the work I am doing at the safe house, and she tagged along for one of my workshops with the women.  We are hiking, reminiscing on our favorite spots from study abroad, and making memories in new places.  Tomorrow is Easter and we are going to church and to have lunch with Jeremy (the guide for the Belmont in Africa Maymester) and his family!  Every day just keeps getting better!  It has been an amazing week getting to see some of South Africa that I have never seen before, and meet people from all over the world in new places.  It is crazy how much of an impact people can have on you, even just knowing them for a few hours and it feels like you have been friends your whole life.  Relationship is such a gift, and this week has given me a real taste of ubuntu.

UNREAL!

UNREAL!

Bless the rains down in Africa!

Bless the rains down in Africa!

Cape Town's best kept secret

Cape Town’s best kept secret