Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Waking Up Before You Go-Go:

I may have dated myself with the use of a Wham! reference in the title of this entry, but – as the MHIRT 2015 students prepare for their departures tomorrow - it seemed like a catchy way to introduce the concept of being a conscious traveler.

To be a conscious traveler is to be mindful of the world and its people whom you will encounter during your journeys. Conscious travel* is about making a positive impact on local communities and creating an understanding of one another by being responsible and respectful towards people’s traditions, living conditions, and local heritage. To travel is a privilege which we sometimes forget to see. Being a conscious traveler will help create an understanding of one another, and enrich your lives and the lives of everyone you meet along the way.

So how do you become a conscious traveler? Good question. Here are some tips:

  • Be mindful as you travel; be aware of your existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, etc.
  • Immerse yourself within the local culture; get to know people and how/what they really think
  • Ask permission before taking pictures of people or entering their homes
  • Dress appropriately and modestly
  • Learn as much of the local language as you can
  • Buy local goods and merchandise
  • BEFORE giving any gifts always check with the person (or your mentor) to prevent doing more harm than good. (This one is super important. What may seem like a harmless gift may actually make the recipients a target within their communities. ALWAYS double check)
  • Write down everything you achieved and memorable experiences you have each day, every day.

And here are some tips from previous MHIRT students who have already walked the roads you are preparing to traverse:

  • Dance every chance you have. In the streets, in a dance bar, wherever. Other dancers will be drawn in, and then you have a party! Leave just enough energy to walk home at the end of the night. And bring your own water--it's not free.
  • When learning a new language, speak as if you know what you're doing. It's convincing, but always insist that native speakers correct you, even though they probably won't.
  • If you are debating whether you should buy that (locally made) souvenir as a gift for yourself, your parents, your friends, your MHIRT program directors (*wink*), the answer is YES. You will regret it if you don’t and you may not have another chance.
  • A cup of café, or the unexpected excursion, are seldom to be turned down. Their effects will keep you going when things are slow.
  • Know the bus routes, be on time, and know which bus you're getting on to...but being too early helps no one.
  • Be good to your lab rats, although they may not return the gesture. Digestion waits for no man, or researcher. Also, rats jump well and they have good grips. They are fast, and they like to explore. Keep the lids tightly on.
  • Make time to truly have lunch, or almoçar. It's the perfect break in a busy day. If you can, do it Brazilian-style, even in the US. That is, pile it high with plenty of variety.
  • Plan your next day and make the most of every minute because you will never experience this day again.
  • Ask a friend to be your solo buddy and contact them whenever you feel down to remind you why you are on this trip.
  • Have ‘feel good’ remedies like a favorite song, a souvenir from home, a photograph or just lose yourself in an inspiring book.
  • Make each day an adventure. Even if it means simply taking a bus to a part of town you have no real business in. You will find exciting new sites, and yourself in the process.
  • Promise yourself not to fall into the trap of complacency and not to be arrested by fear.
  • Give new places and people the chance to teach you, to marvel at the things that may seem inconsequential, to allow yourself to be moved, and to influence your world in return.

Finally, as you prepare to embark on this life-changing experience, remember to listen more than you speak, learn more than you teach, observe more than you assume, tolerate more than you judge, experience all that you can, get homesick...then get over it, take lots of pictures (after you ask permission, of course), and – as Aviva so eloquently put it in the previous post - “love love love.”

*Conscious Travel is a concept developed by Anna Pollock, who has 40+ years of experience as a tourism strategist, consultant, and agent of change.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

MHIRT Heifer Retreat 2015 :)

I had no idea what the retreat would be like.  The first night I met wonderful women (Eyerusalem, Itzel, Natalie, and Veronica) staying with me at the hotel in Little Rock. We all got settled in and had dinner together at KFC. We ended up staying there for almost three hours just exchanging stories from our backgrounds and college experiences. I felt so lucky to get to know them better. Friday night I got no sleep. After dinner I was incredibly excited to meet the rest of the team. My mind was racing imagining what the rest of the weekend would be like. My thoughts went back to the stories I read on the MHIRT CBU blog, and I got butterflies in my belly from imagining some of them. 

Saturday we were picked up and I got to know the rest of the team. I sat in the back of the van and immediately felt so comfortable around everyone. We began introducing ourselves and exchanging stories. What sticks out to me the most about my time at the Heifer ranch is our dinner-making experience. Throughout the day I mingled with all the ladies here and there, but while making dinner together I felt a closeness I haven't felt with others in a while.

I learned some valuable lessons. I always thought of myself as a listener, but there were a few times where I didn't listen to my elder (Dr. Fitzgerald) or forgot about the elders because I was so caught up on cooking. This was interesting because I realized that I can easily be unaware. It is something I want to work on moving forward. I was also reminded how much I love the human touch and how it energizes me to be close to others. Itzel put her arms around me and Sushma and Veronica leaned on me at different parts of the night, and it really warmed my heart and soul.

 As the fire dwindled, we all grew a bit tired and went to sleep. Initially I felt fine, but as the night progressed, the cold seeped through the layers of fiber and thread I wore. This night my mind wasn't racing with happy thoughts, but it was racing with thoughts of how I could possibly make it through the night. I wondered what time it was. I thought of all the layers I wore and images of homeless people near my campus came to mind. They don't have nearly as many layers as I did. My thoughts grew negative and I felt frustrated that my body would not get warmer no matter what I did. I felt angry that people had to sleep like this on a daily basis. I thought of how easily it could be to get depressed and hopeless.

Then Ashley whispered to me, "Hey girl, you awake?" I said "Yes!" She, Veronica, and I shared how hard it was. We all encouraged each other, even though the cold did not leave. I had to use the bathroom, and Ashley offered to go with me. Talking to Ashley and Veronica really helped me get through the night. Every single person in this retreat really moved me. We were all strangers not long before, but the love and unity I experienced was deep. It helped me stay positive in the hardest moments of the night. It reminded me that this is what matters in life: to connect with others, exchange stories, listen to others, and love love love.

After arriving home I feel hopeful that despite all of the corruption, wars, and injustice in the world, there are people like the MHIRT Team and the Heifer Team who want to improve conditions in the world and who feel strongly about advancing the human condition and spreading love and peace. Everyone this weekend truly empowered me to keep striving towards realizing my dreams and to not apologize for my existence. I can't help but think of the quote:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." -Marianne Williamson