“… But what if you fly?”

I am sitting at my terminal in Stockholm, Sweden, ready to catch the second of three planes, and desperate to kill these next five hours. I am dizzy from my sleepless and incredibly short night, and a little nauseous from eating dinner and breakfast within three hours of each other on the last flight. Do I sound grumpy? Maybe I am a little. (I just want a bed and eight hours of sleep!) Despite my foggy thoughts and feelings at the moment, I will try to make them brave and clear.

In the past, I’ve only ever traveled to Spanish speaking countries, places that I do not need to make much effort to fit in or to understand the culture. Somehow I find that the Latin culture will always be instilled in me, thus making it easy for me to connect with other Latinos and feel at ease. However, I now find myself in a Scandinavian country, surrounded by a sea of beautiful, tall, fashionable, blond haired and blue eyed people, speaking languages I wish I could understand. I listen, watch, and smile to myself in admiration of the new way of life that I am finding already…But I am not a part of it (yet?). I’ll admit, asking a waiter if he speaks English before I order a cup of coffee is something very new to me, and as challenging as it may be to adapt, I am finally beginning to get excited over the experiences that lie ahead! As I have mentioned before, I don’t grow without stepping out of my comfort zone, without tearing walls down. I am excited to see the ways in which this Scandinavian journey will change me and make me a better me. Perhaps I will finally learn how to be fashionable, find a career path I want to follow, or even learn how to cook! (I may be dreaming on that one…)

With the world at my fingertips, I continue to stand in awe at the feet of Christ, knowing how much He has blessed me with, and knowing that through the help of my parents He has brought me here. In this loopy state that I am in, it is easier for me to believe that this more of a dream than my reality. But I know that I will wake up tomorrow in Oulu, Finland, knowing that I have to get my butt out of bed and begin everything that requires me to have a successful trip. I hope I don’t screw anything up!

Until next time.

Reflecting… It’s something I do

I wrote this entry on a notebook, in the Miami airport, on my way back home; I was high on inspiration and reflection, and giddy with excitement to come home…

                A lot has changed in a month! A month ago, I didn’t know what it was like to hike a beautiful volcano on a donkey; I did not know what yuca tasted like, nor did I know what it was like to bathe outside with nothing but a bucket filled with cold water, observed by chickens and monitored by my host mom! A month ago, I also did not know that I can make the Amazon and all of its beauty (and discomforts) my home. For the last month, I learned an incredible amount about project management and its execution, the Kitchwa culture, grant writing, guayusa, hiking, budgeting, avoiding tarantulas, and most importantly, I learned a lot about myself. Through the company of two lovely ladies, I experienced life in the rainforest and gained more than I originally anticipated.

                Prior to my arrival in Ecuador, I thought that I would be stepping into an internship where I would perform economic work for an organization in an office (somewhere in the Amazon), Monday through Friday, and go home to a host family that would remind me of my own family back home… Soon enough, I learned that these expectations were as real as me enjoying eating lettuce (very unreal).

                As I’ve mentioned before, I stayed with an indigenous family in the Amazon, a wonderful group of people who taught me more than a familiar city family could have. My host family lives so differently from the life that I’m used to, that I continued to be surprised (and fascinated) by their customs up until the very end of my trip. For instance, the fact that my family did not use a bathroom to bathe, but rather a large bucket, and use a toilette in a small wooden room, was initially surprising to me (and comical as I struggled to maneuver their facilities). However, as I visited other communities in the Napo region for work, I came to realize that having a bucket to bathe and a toilette is actually a luxury for many. When studying the different communities and having to use the restroom on the field, I found myself wishing for the humble toilette room that my host family had, not for my bathroom in The States…How quickly my expectations changed!

                It was through these little expectation changes that I grew this last month. Something I learned this past month is that happiness and comfort are relevant aspects of life; things that aren’t broken do not need fixing- a Western mentality that I’m constantly changing within me. I guess I knew this prior to my trip, but it’s different when one experiences it- your hypothesis about life changes and becomes real. I’ll admit, I never felt as comfortable in my host family’s house as I do in my own house back in New Jersey, but it was my home at the end of the day for a month; it became  the place I craved to be when I was tired.

                 Not to sound like an echo to everyone else in the world, but I also learned to focus on the little things in life that make it worth living and writing about. During my meals with my host family, instead of focusing on the fact that I was eating yuca and rice for the third time that day, I focused on the conversation that molded a lot of my opinions regarding culture, and even politics. I also learned that as an individual, I can rely solely on my faith for comfort when I feel alone(for some periods of time at least).

                In the last month, I’ve learned to see the world a little clearer, less biased. I wish I had the time to write everything that I’ve learned- I dread the day I forget any of it. I hope I carry out what I’ve learned in the way that I live and treat others, as well as appreciate what I have every day.

The Beauty of Guayusa

A few days ago I had the opportunity to interview one of Runa’s leading Kitchwa members named Silverio. I first met him when I attended a guayusa ceremony (at 4am) hosted by himself and his wife. During this ceremony, while … Continue reading

“May your choic…

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” -Nelson Mandela

I can’t believe I’m writing this!

My time in Ecuador is coming to an end, and I remain in awe at the realization of how fast time travels! I know people say this all of the time and perhaps it’s a cliché to say, but I can’t get over it! I am DAYS away from sitting at my best friend’s kitchen table and telling her all about my trip; I am DAYS away from a hot shower and carpeting!!

Before I start to name everything I’m looking forward to, let’s rewind to May 30, 2014, the day I flew into Quito… While on the plane ride from Miami to Quito almost a month ago, I wrote down several goals that I wanted to accomplish during my stay here in Ecuador. One of them was actually to lose the weight I gained during my spring semester in college… ha! I didn’t realize that Ecuadorians, specifically those in the Napo region, LOVE carbs and fried carbs, and sadly so do I! My host family has fed me very little fruit and vegetables, and although their food high in carbs is delicious, I will have to cross out this specific goal from my list and pursue it some other time… Oops. Nevertheless, there is another goal that I considered, one that is much more important, and thankfully I did fulfill it. My goal was to answer the following question for myself: Is the Peace Corps for me?

For the last month, I have been an intern with Runa Foundation, and I can’t imagine having had a better experience. When working with a non-profit organization, work for an intern varies everyday- the work of the day could be physical and laborious, while other days you may be inside an office most of the day. Work may not end when you leave the office either. I have been staying with a host family that is part of the Kitchwa tribe, an indigenous community, and I am constantly observing and learning from them. These observations are then considered and applied to my work with Runa, thus I’m constantly taking mental notes and making an effort to remember most conversations. Although I’ve loved staying with my particular host family and I will miss them dearly when I leave, the constant application of effort has made me feel very tired and even a little lonely during my stay. The physical discomforts is not what has been difficult for me to get accustomed to, but rather, it has been the mental and emotional ones. I miss my own family, I miss being able to shut my door at the end of the day and not feel guilty that there are people waiting for me for further interaction, and I miss hugging the people I love. (The Kitchwa culture is not accustomed to physical affection and show minimal emotions; when I feel appreciative of something, all I can give is a handshake. But I hope my family gets ready for hugs when I leave their home later tonight!) I love traveling, studying new cultures, and getting out of my comfort zone, but a two year (or more) commitment goes beyond that. I have been learning a lot about myself that I didn’t know before, and I couldn’t have done so without this experience.

At this point, you can probably guess that my answer to my question is a no, and you’re right. My decision, however, has been made by more than my own emotional discomforts. Through the mentorship of the staff at Runa, people who are much smarter than me, older, and wiser in every way, I’ve learned that the Peace Corps can actually limit me in terms of my own personal goals during my service, and I’m not sure if I want to pause my life for two years. What is now agonizing is that the more I learn, the more confused I become over my interests and passions! I love economics and charts and numbers, but what about my love for writing? I love politics, but I don’t want to enter that arena; I enjoy working in global development, but can I handle the disappointment that follows? What about global business? I JUST DON’T KNOW. But at least I know that the Peace Corps will not be the next step.

I hope this blog does not discourage anyone from wanting to join the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps is a wonderful organization that changes the world for individuals, and it is constantly moving towards innovation for the greater good.  The inner satisfaction that it provides volunteers with is immense, and I can’t imagine gaining such sense of fulfillment anywhere else. Personally, I’ve simply learned that I want to remain in the United States, build my life there, and figure out what I want to do with my life. I’ve learned that I don’t want to halt such exciting plans that I want to share with my family and friends, nor do I want to miss my family and friends’ life-changing experiences. Although I want to continue to travel for the rest of my life to places such as Ecuador and perhaps work for (or invest) in organizations such as Runa, I want to be present for myself and those I love in The States, where my life and heart belongs.  

The Beauty in Discomfort

Every time I step out of my room in the Amazon, I always take a second to soak up the dichotomy of the imagery in front of me: My vision is many times blurred by the images engraved in my mind from life in the United States and those I see; I thus see two sceneries, not one.  

I have been living with an indigenous family for four days now, and I cannot shake the feeling of how surreal this all feels! Although comforts from back home sometimes feel like far-away dreams, living in the rainforest is also hard for me to believe. Waking up in the morning to the sound of different animals, brushing off all of the insects that took refuge on me for the night, opening my door and noticing how much my American Eagle flannel pajamas do not match my surroundings, is all very new, yet it is quickly becoming normal to me… Showering using the buckets outside in the company of chickens, wearing OFF as if it were my perfume, eating the “kills and picks” of the day, and having very little internet connection is also becoming all I know… WHAT!

Aside from the humor that I gain from watching myself perform simple tasks here, every experience in my mind  continues to be shadowed by what the “normal” thing to do back home would be. Having this perspective is keeping me from fully enjoying everything that makes the Kitchwa culture what it is.

I am currently trying unravel a revelation- if you may- regarding the physical and emotional challenges I am facing. I have the option of moving back into the volunteer house after spending a little bit of more time with my host family, and not stay with the family for the remaining two and a half weeks. The truth is, I feel comfortable in the house of my host family- they feed me, I have my own room, and they care about me. But moving back into the volunteer house would be easier, because it reminds me of life in America- snacks in the kitchen, plumbing, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi… And there’s that word: EASY. I’ve always been one to challenge myself, whether it is in a sport, in class, at a job, or even in an opinion about an important topic. From pushing myself and persevering, I’ve learned so much about what I can do and what my true limits are. I’m not quite sure why I feel like running away from this; it is not me and I know I would be letting myself down if I chose to move back into the volunteer house.

I’ve written before that growth cannot occur without challenges; a new heart cannot be formed without breaking the previous one, and I am not ready to become a hypocrite. Want to hear something completely honest? I haven’t been praying, or doing much self reflection whatsoever, while I have been in Ecuador. Praying has always been something that has helped me overcome obstacles, have faith in myself, and not feel alone. I guess I’m being reluctant to growth and change because I found that I am comfortable somewhere else other than with my host family. But maybe I can change that and make this my new home…? I’m finding that these are all more reasons for me to stay and stop this dual vision of mine.

Comparing life here with American life is actually extremely obscene. The scenery that I see from my window back home is no match for the beauty that I see here; it is not fair to compare restaurants in Princeton, New Jersey with the ones in the Amazon. Perhaps while writing this, I have become that much more ready to start seeing one thing at a time, appreciate what it gives me, and recognize how blessed I am to be here. One of my very good friends mentioned that I go through emotions quickly, and yes that is true, but it is only because I can write about them. Now that I have the answer I was looking for, I have to find the confidence in me to convinced myself to stay here for two more weeks, and love every minute of it.

The Beauty in a New Place

Where to start!?

I am in my tenth day here in Ecuador and I am already having trouble trying to put words to my emotions, to the beauty of this country, and to the people that I’ve met thus far, but I’ll give it a try.

I’ll start with Zoe and Sarah. Well, let’s just say that it didn’t take long for us to become the ultimate and inseparable trio. We are all currently working for the same organization in the Amazon, RUNA, and have been experiencing the beauty, wonders, and challenges of Ecuador together. From extreme cold showers and poor plumbing, to the difficulties of missing what keeps us comfortable and ourselves, we’ve laughed and cried together to keep each other sane while living in the rainforest. Together we’ve hiked into the depths of the Amazon, we’ve gone white water rafting on some of the most famous rivers to do so, and we have learned how to dance “marchata” at the local club. Thankfully, we have been kept together during each of our tasks, and we have even been placed within walking distance of each other while living with our host families.

I have to be honest, the thought of leaving the volunteer house after staying there for a week with Zoe and Sarah, where we had good plumbing, recognizable food, our own space, and the oh-so-miraculous WIFI, and move in to a two-room home with absolutely no plumbing, without a single trace of modern technology, and be surrounded by the Kitchwa people whom are strictly family oriented (what’s mine is yours) terrified me. The uncomfortable weather conditions and the absurd amount of mosquitoes that have marked their territory on my legs had become the least of my problems; I had never felt this nervous in my entire life! To comfort myself, all I wanted was to wrap myself in my favorite blanket, rent a movie from Red Box, eat Chipotle, and have Ben and Jerry’s for dessert. (Red Box, Chipotle, and Ben and Jerry’s feel like they belong in a different world that I am not a part of at the moment; these ideas almost feel like a dream). The Amazon obviously cannot satisfy my “American” wants, thus I had to swallow my fears and pack to leave for my new temporary family.

As soon as I saw my host mom, I felt like an idiot. The honesty and kindness in her stare told me that I was going to be okay. We started by eating lunch together, which was actually delicious. I am still trying to adjust eating with a spoon only, even when cutting my meat, but perhaps I’ll get the hang of it soon enough. My host mom also showed me around her small neighborhood where all of her family lives, she showed me the beautiful river that is a two minute walk from the house,  took me on a tour of the town, and introduced me to the pigs that she cares for until they are ready to eat (I wonder if they  know of bacon…)

The kids of this family are absolutely fantastic. Because the Kitchwa culture does not teach about personal space, a very American concept, the children were absolutely shy with me. As soon as they saw me, they  held my hands, played with my hair, and traced the lines of my tattoo, a scar that even some of my friends haven’t noticed. The intimacy that is present within this community has actually put me at ease, which is extremely surprising considering my biggest before coming was not having my own space. Granted, I do have my room, but the door remains open and people constantly walk in (without knockin, but I’m okay with that!)

A Traveler’s Perspective

The problem with loving your home so much, and the people that make it home, is never wanting to leave. The fear of missing new experiences that will shape the people I care about clouds my head as I plan for my upcoming trips. I’m afraid of returning and no longer relating to my family and friends, no longer understanding inside-jokes, and no longer having the ability to think back to a moment that draws everyone closer. But somehow, the thought of not traveling, even alone, feels unsatisfying, like I’m not fulfilling what some would call my destiny, or fate. Ugh, I feel like a loser either way… After one of my trips abroad, I wrote down a prayer that starts as followed: “Lord, I thank you for the opportunity to be in a new place. Every plane ride and every trip helps me understand You, the world around me, and myself better…” Where is this joy and excitement?

Due to my background, I guess you could say that I am a world traveler. I love seeing new places and learning new things that I cannot learn anywhere else. But when does it stop? Does it ever stop? Will I always be away and miss experiences at home? Will I always travel alone? Perhaps I’m over-thinking the consequences, if there are any, of my up-coming trips, but I don’t think they’re completely unrealistic- are they?

Everyone who cares about me continues to sing the same song: “You will love traveling alone, you are young and will learn so much; it will be amazing!” These people are most likely right, and I will most likely fall in love with every new place that I visit, but life at home doesn’t stop. Maybe it is jealousy I feel of the people that will be here to experience changes and growth with each other. Would I personally grow though? Maybe it takes a little bit more to break my own mold.

What I’m finding is that I want security and promises that everything will remain familiar in my future. However, I should know that without some change, there is no growth. I’m constantly praying for a renewal of heart and to grow into the woman I was created to be, yet I’m refusing His plans for me…? For someone whom people consider smart, I’m behaving very…dumb.

Maybe what I need to do is leave all of my fears in written form and be glad that I have them, for thus I know that I live a good life. I think it’s time to change the tunes in my head and begin singing Because I’m Happy, rather than All By Myself, ha…

I have to realize that going away will only serve to make my life at home even better, and recognize that although the uncertainty about my future drives me crazy at times, it is probably the best thing about my life (right now.) Not knowing where I will be in a few months only allows me to rely on Christ much more than on myself, which knowing me, it is for the best.