We’re stuck inside, travel (and other life) restrictions in full swing. But our minds are still free. And there are so many things we can learn, enjoy, and discover from the wonders of our own internet-filled living rooms. So, where should we begin?
I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel quite a bit over the past ~decade. I actually started this blog hoping to share and process some of those experiences but to be honest, I’m usually too busy enjoying the trip to take the time to sit down and capture it in words! And when I do, it takes me forever because I agonize over making it perfect – as any self-respecting, detail-oriented scientist would. 🙂 Ahhhh…luckily, I’ve suddenly found myself with a lot of time at home on my hands. It still won’t be perfect, but at least it’ll occupy a few minutes of my time. And maybe it’ll be a welcome and positive distraction for you, too.
Instead of debating the perfect opening post, I’m just going with the one that calls me in the moment. Growing up near Washington DC meant that The Cherry Blossom Festival was always such a big deal. If you’ve never witnessed first hand the pink and white beauty reflecting in the Tidal Basin, you should really add it to your bucket list! I can’t remember the last time I went, though, because the number of tourists usually outnumbers even the number of blossoms. That is, if you are lucky enough to catch a peek before rain, snow, wind or any number of other natural “disasters” wipes the blooms off the trees and leaves puddles of pink on the ground. If I lived within walking distance, this would definitely be the year to try since tourism is limited. Anybody from DC reading this? Have you seen them this year? ❤️
In early March of 2015, I went to another cherry blossom festival – the Kawazu Sakurai Matsuri on the Izu Peninsula in Japan. Cherry trees in Kawazu are some of the earliest and slowest blooming in eastern Japan, providing the more than 1 million annual visitors with a wonderful welcome to spring.
Reaching Kawazu is a relatively easy by train and once you are there, you notice not just the beauty but also the street festival atmosphere during this time of year.
Families come to enjoy good weather and partake in shows, games and of course food!
Luckily for me, not everything was made of fish…hahahaha.
If you want to learn more about this festival, here’s a great summary.
This trip was for me, at the time, a welcome break from the bustle of busy Tokyo (and life in general!). Today, it brings back fond memories of a wonderful trip with friends and colleagues. If you find yourself in Japan, make your way to Kawazu and enjoy!
Here’s how it happened, on the 10 minute Uber ride from the hotel to the airport.
Kenneth picked me up and as usual when I take an Uber, we struck up some conversation. Why waste 10 minutes in a foreign country in silence rather than learning something?
We exchanged pleasantries and I told him I had been in South Africa only 2 nights, but had arrived after spending 3 weeks in Mozambique. He was intrigued – because why would you spend 3 weeks in Mozambique? I explained that I was volunteering with All Hands and Hearts building schools in rural areas which were destroyed in the cyclone last year. He asked me why I would take such work. I said I don’t get paid, I quit my “regular” job and now travel and volunteer because I enjoy helping others.
Then the thoughtful pause…
“So, you will never be rich?”
“No. Well, maybe. I don’t know. I feel rich in my heart.”
This prompted an amazing conversation about how we view possessions vs. experiences. How we can define “rich” in so many ways. How society places value on things when that may not actually be the be-all end-all goal. How people are really just people no matter their life circumstances – we have more in common than we realize. He shared words of wisdom passed down from his father. I did too. We enjoyed a special moment.
Yes, it this happened over only 5 minutes and it was with an Uber driver that I will never meet again. But these are the conversations that color our perspective and cause us to reflect, become better people, appreciate things in a way which we might not otherwise. We are not so different. Who’s to say who is born into privilege vs poverty. It’s not what we were given, it’s what we make of it.
So I can ask you – are you rich? Life is too short, don’t miss out on all that it has to offer.
It’s only a few days into 2018 and already I’m in full swing: planning, organizing, scheming and plotting. Haha, so many fun things coming up soon! But before I get caught up in what’s next, I find myself looking back and thinking “WOW”. 2017 brought so many truly special moments. Many of them were centered around my volunteer travels and none of them would have been possible without so many wonderful supporters. Let me say that again to make sure it’s clear. I couldn’t do any of this without YOU! 🙂
In 2017, I was fortunate enough to build homes with Habitat for Humanity Global Village teams in China, Mexico and Cambodia. I worked with over 40 volunteers to help 3 families build safe and secure homes. And along the way, more than 20 donors and supporters helped me to raise over $3000 to further this mission – thank you! Truly amazing numbers. But the numbers tell only part of the story. It’s the special moments on these trips are what really get you.
In each location, the families, teams, building techniques and culture were extremely different. We never knew what to expect until we arrived. And I can honestly say that none of the trips were what I imagined as I was planning for them – they were all much better. 🙂
In China, our team of 8 volunteers worked with Mr. Long as he built a home for his multi-generational family. Soon 13 people will be living safely here all under one roof! You can read more about our trip to China here and see some photos of our work here.
In Mexico, a large team of 18 volunteers worked with Margarita – a widow who lives with her 3 daughters, 2 sons and daughter-in-law. After her husband passed away, Margarita had to take on all of the household duties. Life is challenging but she never complains – in fact, quite the opposite. Margarita shared her smile with us daily and after we left, she said that she was still “dreaming about the work that was done and all the faces of the people that helped.”
The Big Build in Cambodia was a whirlwind of activity (read more here) and at the future homes of Sopheap and Sophary, you could feel the excitement. Our team of 18 volunteers helped raise the walls of their homes and were inspired by their stories and outlook on life.
2018 will take me to many new places including (Vietnam, Jordan and Brazil) and I continue to be grateful for your support. To those of you who have traveled around the world with me, thank you for the investment you’ve made! But you don’t have to join a team to participate. Whether it be a ride to the airport, a gift of tangible items or monetary donations to share with families around the world or even a message of encouragement, your involvement in this mission is paramount to it’s success and I am so thankful to have you on this journey with me. Continue to ask questions, I love to talk about the trips! If you want to be more involved, let me know and I’ll give you a slideshow – we can share the word together! And remember, when you are ready – there’s always room for you on the next trip. 🙂
Just in case you’ve gotten all the way through this post and these words move you…I’m currently fundraising to help families in Brazil, Jordan and Vietnam . Click on the country of your choice to access my fundraising page or let me know if you’d like to send any donations of clothing or other supplies. 🙂 Thanks in advance!
Oh. My. Goodness. How can 6 months have passed since my last post? I’ve had so many amazing and wonderful adventures…I guess I just get caught up in experiencing the moment rather than writing about it. Forgive me – stories to follow, I promise. 🙂
It’s time to make some changes, starting with this unplanned, in the moment post! I can’t think of a more appropriate time …let me explain.
I am currently spending my last night (on this trip!) in Americus, Georgia. Where’s that? Yeah…you’ll need to check the map. 🙂 Americus is a quiet but lovely town in southwestern Georgia. Look!
I arrived over a week ago right ahead of Hurricane Irma (it literally started raining as I unpacked the car…). I have spent the past week at the headquarters of Habitat for Humanity. It’s been fantastic!
During the first few days, I spent time in the office with some great people preparing for the big moment… On Thursday, the event started! This was the first of several sessions where Habitat for Humanity Global Village Volunteer Team leaders are coming together to meet, talk, learn, share and recommit to serving the mission of this organization. We were given an extra special reception at the historic Rylander Theatre downtown:
On that first night, the initial 17 team leaders to attend recertification training got to know each other and learn more about the roots of Habitat. We were treated to a special showing of “Briars in the Cotton Patch” – a movie describing the roots of Habitat set in the Civil Rights era. I had no idea…definitely worth a watch., look for it
Over the next two days, we attended talks that ranged in content but had the overall impact of bringing this group of individuals together as one cohesive unit with a common goal. I feel so privileged to be a part of this crowd! And it is reaffirming in a multitude of ways
So this day seems fitting to kick off a renewed commitment to posting updates, as I am reenergized about the future and my renewed commitment. I can’t wait to be the best I can be, to serve to the best of my ability, and to make the most of every moment that life grants me.
Thanks for joining me on the journey and having faith. Our best is yet to come. ❤️
In February I had the opportunity to lead a team of 9 volunteers on a one week Global Village build with Habitat for Humanity in Yunnan Province, China. What a fantastic experience! Everything about this trip – the location, the culture, the team, the community, the food – was so much more than I expected. I’m excited to introduce you to Mr. Long and his family, who we worked side by side with for 5 days.
Mr. Long belongs to the Miao minority and has lived in Yunnan Province for his entire life. Being the youngest son in the family (he has 4 older sisters and 1 older brother), it is his responsibility to care for his parents as they age. Living in his household are his parents, his wife, and their three children. Soon his wife’s parents will also come to live with the family. The house where they have been living contains just 4 rooms: a kitchen, an attic storage area, a dedicated bedroom and a combo living room/bedroom. The house has been deemed “uninhabitable” by the government due to its age and the fact that it sustained severe damage in an earthquake a few years ago.
Photos of the Long Family’s current home. Clockwise from top left: the outside of the house (2), the attic storage and drying area, the living room/main bedroom, the second bedroom, the living room/main bedroom, the kitchen.
The family was able to build a temporary home, but they could only afford a small, 3-room basic structure. There is no steel reinforcement within the walls and the home is built of hollow bricks, which will collapse easily in the case of another earthquake. For these reasons, the government has also deemed this house unsuitable for permanent residence.
Take a minute to imagine, really picture in your mind, living in such conditions as a family of 9… There is no security or safety for you or your belongings, no privacy, limited conveniences (intermittent electricity, no running water or indoor bathrooms)…and the prospect of another earthquake which could destroy your home is ever present.
Habitat for Humanity China provides help to low/middle income families throughout several provinces. There are government programs to help the poorest of the poor in China, so the families that HFH China helps have stable jobs and can afford to make small payments on their home, but need a little extra help. I chose to take this trip to Yunnan because it offers an excellent cultural immersion. I actually had no idea what I was getting into! In a good way, of course. 🙂
Our team arrived in Kunming and traveled by bus to a small town called Gaoqiao. The guesthouse was basic…including squat toilets…and special rules? 🙂 This would be our home for the next week and we ate well in town, but our work was in an even more rural location.
Each day, we set out by bus for 30 minutes and then on foot for a 45 minute hike to reach Mr Long and his family. The hike was no walk in the park, with an up and down path and overall elevation gain of almost 1000 feet over one mile! The setting was beautiful though so in between gasping for air we all enjoyed the scenery.
When we first arrived, we found our project already started. Mr. Long and his community had already completed the first floor (3 rooms) of the new home!
Our tasks for the next 5 days were to pour a porch on the first level and begin building the walls upstairs. This meant lots of mixing of concrete and mortar, moving materials, and laying bricks! On the first day, we mixed concrete (with an actual mixer – a luxury on a build like this!) and poured the porch floor.
Everyday, Mrs. Long and other members of the community prepared a delicious home cooked meal for us at lunchtime. What a treat! Chopstick skills required. 🙂
For the next 4 days, we sifted sand, carried countless buckets of sifted sand and water upstairs, mixed mortar by hand and laid bricks to build up the walls.
The family worked with us everyday – they were unstoppable and their pride in their new home was obvious. Even before we arrived, the 7-year old daughter in the family could not wait to enjoy her new home! “Though the windows and doors on the first floor weren’t installed, she took a straw mat and quilt to the new house and slept there alone. So happy was she in these days.” says Mr. Long. Decent and safe housing not only means an improvement of living environment, but also means self-confidence and hope.
On the last day, rain prevented us from continuing our work but it could not dampen our spirits. We joined together with the family for a memorable lunch and celebration, wishing each other well in the future and congratulating everyone on the progress. Our celebration started with an indoor BBQ – yet another fabulous meal.
Mr. Long is an active member of his church and a quartet performed several songs for us to kick off the official farewell ceremony!
He also gave a short speech which left not a dry eye in the audience. We all received certificates from Jerry, the staff coordinator of HFH China, and said our goodbyes after a typical Chinese fireworks display!
We made great progress in the week and the Long Family hopes to complete their home and move in before the summer.
Reflecting on our week with this family, I know that we made a huge impact on the lives of the Long family. However, I would argue that they made an even greater impact on mine. Thank you, Long family, for your friendship and hard work. You welcomed us into your community and your family – for that we will be forever grateful. ❤️️