“Volunteering, Why Do You Do This?”

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We’re all in this together.

This evening, I found myself sitting around a small coffee table in a one room AirBNB with three other men. Eight months ago, they all lived in the Leros Hotspot, a refugee camp on an island near Turkey. I volunteered there, working with them for nearly 3 months. Now, they have all been granted different versions of legally being allowed to live in Athens.

The one of the three that I know the least took an opportunity to ask me a simple questions while the other two had stepped out for a few moments. He asked me in his Kurdish accent, relatively good at piecing English sentences together, why some young people liked to volunteer. He said he understood why someone would want to give a week or two of their time to volunteering, but he couldn’t comprehend why someone would give two years.

After a little more fishing, it turns out that he was referencing some mormons that he had met in the city who had preyed on him a little bit. He pulled out a small, black-covered copy of The Book of Mormon that had been given to him and as he put it in my hands I was able to make sense of what he had been asking.

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10pm coffee and The Book of Mormon.

The startling thing about all of this though, was that I had no clear answer for him. The confusion in my head translated perfectly out into the open air of the apartment as I literally stuttered and cut myself off three or four times in a row, unable to figure out how to present a cohesive answer. Yes, I was trying to select my words carefully for the man who understands Farsi first and English second, but honestly, I wasn’t sure of how to answer the question myself, even if someone else had been asking it.

This all felt familiar to me; however, so I dug around in my draft folder for this blog and found an entry I had written months ago, but never polished, so I never got around to publishing it, and I think it makes sense to post now, along with this post. It’s a blog entry I had begun to write after I was finished hiking in New Zealand with a friend. This idea of helping people had crossed my mind then too. Why do I like to volunteer? Why is helping humanity “a thing” for me?

Click here for my answer to this giant question or refer to the previous entry on this blog.

 

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But When Are We Going to Help People?

Over a year ago, when my time in Antarctica had concluded, I landed in New Zealand and went for a long walk.

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New Zealand as positioned above Antarctica.

After meandering down from the city of Christchurch on the southern island on the curving roads of the New Zealand countryside, my companion and I spent two days in Bluff, the most southern town in the country. We hiked a trail that took us to the cliff side that overlooked the ocean, facing directly south. We got there just before the sunset and we stood on the edge of that stony outcropping and watched the world turn dark, looking out over the only waters that lay between us and the continent we could no longer refer to as our home.

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My companion and me on the southern tip of New Zealand, looking out toward Antarctica.

Two days later, we began hiking the Te Araroa, a trail that runs the length of both the south and north islands of New Zealand. Our initial plan was to take a little over a month to hike the south island.

When you hike with someone else, you spend a lot of time with them. My companion and I walked on the sides of roads with trucks whizzing by us, scampered up rock covered mountain tops, schlepped our packs through the muddy trails of the woods, and navigated our way through sheep and deer pastures in the middle of the countryside. Together, the two of us covered a lot of ground, both literally and emotionally. It was as if we had both been released from our sentencing of four months in Antarctica and traversing the wilds of New Zealand was the most abrupt and powerful way to bring us back to the real world.

Being in Antarctica meant that I had formed close bonds with all of the people around me. Even if I didn’t have access to everyone in the world, there were still dozens of people I was close to while I existed with them on the continent. I think this intense feeling of absence, brought on by not being around my friends anymore, played a large part in bonding me with my companion while in New Zealand. Together, we covered a wide variety of topics in our discussions around the country. We had ample time together, certainly, and most of the time it was just the two of us. Two people, traversing the country with the same goal in mind: Head North.

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Once in a while we would happen upon a field full of sheep. They were so skittish that we never got the chance to get too close to them.

It sounds like some sort of scenario people would come up with in order to entertain each other: If you had to be isolated in the woods with only one person for an extended period of time, who would it be and what would you talk about?

My companion had indeed been my friend during our four months on the Ice together; however, he wasn’t someone who would have come to mind to answer the above question. Come to think of it, no one really comes to mind. This made it especially interesting to be isolated with him and to have the opportunity to really connect.

It should come as no surprise that, at one point in our time together, we thoroughly covered the topic of the future, and where we both imagined ourselves going. He had his plan and told me all about the jobs he was hoping to pursue, the house he wanted to buy, the girl he wanted to marry, etc.

And I listened. And I hiked. And I found myself waiting for him to say something, but he never did. And so, when he seemed to have reached his conclusion, I asked him:

But when are you going to help people? 

He didn’t have an answer.

Having listened the entire time with a curious ear, I was a little perplexed, but I didn’t say anything more, we just kept hiking. This is how it came to be that I scribbled down in my journal one evening: when are we going to help people? 

It’s been over a year since I floated around in Kiwi country with my friend, and this sentence has periodically jumped into my mind in the time that has passed since. I think what gets me about it is that it makes sense to me. At some point in a lifetime, doesn’t a person want to help other people? This has to be the thinking of everyone I come across, right?

Nope. And that’s okay. This isn’t how everyone’s brain works. It is; however, how my brain works. This took a little bit of time for me to think on before I came to the conclusion that it is okay if you don’t want to help other people. It’s okay to go about your life and treat people with respect and take care of yourself. It’s okay to buy yourself a house and to live extravagantly, so long as you aren’t hurting anyone. It isn’t a requirement to help other people.

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At the beginning of the country-long trail.

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Our first few steps.

I grew up with parents who had professions in the helping fields. A teacher and a social worker. They met while serving homeless youth in New York City, and they made sure that volunteering was something that my siblings and I were, at least, aware of. Due to their hearts, I was more or less destined to live a life where helping other people would land somewhere on the list between buying a home and getting married. It’s just something that needs to be done at some point.

When being interviewed for some of the volunteer programs that I ended up being involved with in my earlier twenties, I used to answer that I liked to volunteer because I was selfish. And that was the truth. One of the best parts of volunteering was the high that I got off of it, simply because it made me feel so good to be doing meaningful work. Maybe some other people benefited from my existence in a certain place at a certain time, but I was too, and I liked that.

At the end of the day, when everything is said and done, I’m not trying to paint myself into some heroic light. It’s not like there is any rule book for this human existence that says we have to do anything. Other than breathing, taking up space, and dying, I’m pretty sure we’re not obligated to do anything. I just know myself enough at this point to recognize that meaningful days are just about all that keeps me going. Fulfillment is my jam.

Having moved through multiple jobs that I’ve loved and multiple jobs that I…haven’t loved, I’ve been able to pinpoint the deciding factor for each one in terms of whether I like them or not: Fulfillment. Either I felt like what I was doing mattered at the end of each shift or I didn’t. And that was that. Nothing else was a deciding factor, not location or climate or even the amount of pay. Fulfillment was it.

So, when are we going to help people? That’s the question, yeah? I find myself asking it frequently, constantly keeping myself on my toes because I want to make sure I’m putting my existence to good use. This summer, I’ve felt kind of bound up in my place of work. Things have been fine, but I’ve been lacking fulfillment (there’s that word again) in the job that I do 35 hours a week. My existence has been enhanced by some of the smaller side projects that I’ve created for myself that have left me linked to the refugee crisis in Greece, but the monster that keeps me employed and drops money into my bank account falls short in the fulfillment category.

And that’s why I’m heading back to Greece, and back onto the refugee trail. I always find myself a little extra motivated to kickstart some excitement in my life after I’ve completed a fulfillment dry spell. So, I’m very grateful for the many lessons I’ve learned along the way, especially while trekking in New Zealand with that sweet cook I met in the kitchen in Antarctica.

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Caught Between Africa and Europe

If I were a fish, I’d be so upset with myself for getting caught in this net that I would have wiggled and shaken and fought like hell to break myself free only to find myself more entangled, left with not an ounce of strength to my name, only able to wait until morning when the fisherwoman would return to see that my lifeless body is of no use and cast me back into the sea.

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I’m sitting at a Burger King in the Lisbon Airport right now, slurping down a coke and staring at some fries. I’ve been denied access to the terminal since my flight technically doesn’t take off until tomorrow. This means I won’t be able to sleep in the lounge my friend suggested I locate and rest in for the evening. It also means there will be little point in venturing out into the city since it’s the middle of the night and I have my pack with me. And so, here I sit. And here I write.

I’m sad right now. I’m allowed to say that on the internet, right? I don’t have to pretend to be happy all of the time and post pictures of all of the flashing things I do and pretend everything is always spick and span?

I’ve just landed in Lisbon, Portugal, essentially the only city that flies directly to Cabo Verde where I’ve just spent the last 11 days visiting an old friend from high school who is posted their as a U.S. diplomat. I’m in a bit of a unique position (in that, I have never been in this kind of place before) where I’m arriving into the European Union, which I would be legally allowed to do no matter what the case was since I hold a U.S. passport, but I also hold a long-stay visa, meaning I’m allowed to exist here for a year. This is the visa I was granted this summer, that I worked hard to get my hands on. But when I landed here a few hours ago, my stomach didn’t feel right. Something wasn’t sitting well with me.

There was something weird happening energetically on the plane I was on for four hours from Africa to Europe. The man sitting to my right was “man spreading” so badly and the announcements in Portuguese kept throwing me off, pushing me further and further down the rabbit whole of anxiousness. I tried to distract myself with the books I had brought with me, but none of them were comforting, with two of them being about the middle east and one of them being about living in a garbage dump in South Africa. As we approached Lisbon, I couldn’t see anything out of the windows since I had an aisle seat, so I had no reference as for when we would be landing once the turbulence started to pick up and the flight attendants all vanished into their seats. I think the metaphorical aspect of turbulence was bothering me, for some reason. But then we landed, and the seat belt sign clicked off and more passengers than I’ve ever seen before managed to scramble into the aisle almost immediately. The man-spreader to my right stood directly over me, his arm a mere two inches from my face as we waited for the plane door to open. He didn’t seem to notice he had majorly invaded my personal space, of which, I couldn’t create anymore, since I was still sitting in my seat. And so that discomfort sunk in for a few minutes before we were eventually let off the plane.

Then, checking into the EU, going through immigration, fetching my bag, and stepping out into the night air of Lisbon, I still felt uneasy. While in Cabo Verde, I was communicating over the internet with one of the refugees I had worked with this past spring. He was having a rough time and I had nothing to suggest to him, no advice to offer. It is so very difficult to relate to his experience. I carried him in my heart onto the airplane, certainly. Borders are tricky things when you’re an asylum seeker. So are visas…and passports…and police papers…and…any part of yourself that can be used against you in the case of racial profiling. For me, flying in from Africa, I stepped up to passport control, feeling off balance, handed over my passport without saying a word, and the man scanned it. He then started at the beginning of the book and peeled through each page one at a time, searching for an empty spot to put a new stamp. He came across what he must have assumed was a blank space, not noticing that the two stamps I had from Mexico last November were faintly marked in the booklet, and he stamped me into the European Union. This means he never even got to the page with the massive blue visa sticker with my face on it that indicates I’m allowed to be here long-term.

And that, my friends, is white privilege. Or, white advantage, if you’re with me.

This situation isn’t shocking to me. I’m not going to pretend like this is something that’s hitting me like a ton of bricks all at once. But, the fact of the matter is, while I worked diligently this summer to secure legal access onto this continent, it wouldn’t have mattered either way if I had or had not. I do think; however, for a person of color, it would have mattered that they do the work, and if they were lucky enough to secure the same visa that I did, they would certainly at least need to present it to the passport control personnel upon arrival.

I unexpectedly had to check my bag when at the airport in Praia. It was free, which meant I didn’t have to worry about dragging it around, but it did mean I had to leave the airport in Lisbon in order to collect it before turning directly around to check back in for my next flight, which leaves for Madrid in ten hours. I stood outside for about an hour for seemingly no reason. It’s raining right now, so I found an awning and just rested my bag up against the wall I was leaning on, taking most of the weight off of my shoulders. Once in a while, a security guard would wander outside to smoke a cigarette near the receptacle to my right, or an airport worker would pass by with a line of luggage carts, pulling them along like they worked in a grocery store parking lot. And the rain fell, and I just stood there and let myself feel my feelings. No explanations needed.

I think traveling is one of the most mindful “places” I ever find myself. Both in airports and on planes, I seem to find myself more “in the moment” than I typically do elsewhere. I find myself more content just listening to the hum of the airplane than reading or watching movies. And in airports, I’m more than happy to stare out the giant windows at the planes shuffling around each other on the tarmac. So, for me, standing just outside of the airport watching the rain was an inviting feeling. It’s kind of hard to believe, though I won’t get to see it, I’m gulping in the Portuguese air, which, unofficially, is the 20th country in the world I’ve now visited.

And yet, here I sit, at a Burger King that appears to be nearing closing time. I’ve got three hours until the clock officially clicks over into “tomorrow”, which means I’ve got to find a place for myself for a while before I can officially check back into the airport. How will this next trip through security and immigration look? Will anyone even glance at my passport since I’m traveling within countries that exist within the same borders? I think I’m shaken a bit by the expansiveness of this whole human existence. I’ve left my friend behind in Africa once again and I’ve got a journey ahead for myself now that I’m not entirely sure about how it will shape up to be, who will be a part of it, what the timeline will look like, what it will entail, etc. That’s a little intimidating to think about. And then, of course, not being able to rest properly tonight will keep me on my toes.

I do have hugs waiting for me at the end of this traveling ordeal when I arrive tomorrow afternoon though. This is something that is keeping me going. Some of my people in the capital city have already contacted me and I hope they’re prepared for me to squeeze them so hard that their heads pop off!

Until then, there’s just something about international security that rattles me now that I’ve worked so closely with refugees. There’s a sadness that lurks between the eyeballs that stare at you through the glass booth and the hurried traveler on the other side. If I get confused in airports (which have signs clearly labeled in English just below the Portuguese!), how are other people suppose to pass through here as cool as a cucumber?

Okay, that’ll have to do it for this rant. Here goes nothing, ten hours in Lisbon, then a 6:30am flight to Madrid where I’ll change planes before boogying onward.

Check your privilege. Count your blessings. Shed some gratitude.

Peace.

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The Year Ahead

With the summer behind me, I now have my sights set entirely on the European continent. Funny enough, I’m writing this post from an African country, but my attention is indeed turning toward Europe. I spent the summer back at the Omega Institute for a third time, completing my second full six-month season, and officially completing the rare task, for myself, of having returned to a place for the first time in my eight years of traveling.

While I did the best I could to stay present to where I was this summer, I couldn’t help but pay mind to where I had come from and where I was going. I worked diligently over the months of June, July, and August to secure myself a visa that would allow me to legally remain in the European Union for a longer period of time than I was able to this past spring. This, plus the art show I was curating, had Greece and the refugee crisis never far from my mind.

The boring details of my visa and what it means to have access to the Schengen Area:

The Schengen Area is a group of European countries with open borders. This means that citizens of these countries can freely pass between nations without being checked at individual borders. Members of the European Union can live in one country and work in another. In the United States, we have essentially the same policy when it comes to states. You can live in Vermont and work in New York and no one bats an eye as you cross from one state to another. We can effectively drive from Washington state to Florida and no one would need to be updated on our whereabouts. This is how the Schengen Area works in Europe, only its an open border policy between different countries.

There are 26 countries that are part of the Schengen Area, most of them are part of the European Union; however, a few others, like Norway and Switzerland, are part of Schengen but not in the EU (there are also a few countries that are in the EU but not in the Schengen Area, but let’s not worry about that right now). For a tourist, the Schengen Area is a bit more inconvenient than it is for residents. Not that people often take extensive vacations that last more than three months, but for those of us who have found ourselves in positions where we’re traveling long-term, this cool agreement between European nations can prove to be annoying. For tourists, the Schengen Area agreement means that you’re only allowed to be in all 26 countries for a total of 90 days. This means, for example, you can’t spend 90 days in Spain and then cross the border into Portugal and spend an additional 90 days there. You get 3 months for the entire Schengen Area.

After spending 90 days in the Schengen Area, you are required to be out of the Schengen Area for a total of 90 days until you are legally allowed to re-enter for another 90 days. There are a few more details to this whole thing, one that I’ve read into extensively at this point since it has closely impacted my life for both the last year and for the year ahead, but I’ll spare you the nonessentials.

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The Schengen Area is made up of the countries highlighted in both shades of blue on this map.

I’ve secured myself a Schengen visa for the next year. The process was stressful but rather simple. I took the train into New York City for an interview at the end of August and by the end of September I received a call from the embassy telling me to come pick up my passport. The voicemail that was left for me that told me my passport was ready for pick up gave no indication about whether I had been granted the visa I applied for or not. This made it especially exciting to arrive at the embassy in-person and see the shiny, new visa in my passport indicating that from 25 October 2018 to 25 October 2019, I’d legally be allowed to exist in the Schengen Area.

For a part of the time ahead of me, I’ll return to Greece where I will again work with refugees on the island of Leros. After beginning 2018 there, my heart has never been far from the cause and the need in that particular part of the world has not shrunk since I departed the island in March. Today, I am very much looking forward to getting back to doing some daily, meaningful work.

At this point, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to keep a steady heartbeat on this blog over the months ahead.

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Tell Me About Kraveta

Since leaving Greece in March, I’ve kept in close contact with four of the refugees I met and worked with while on the island of Leros. These relationships have, at times, felt extremely fruitful and at other times lacking, simply in that they exist over the internet. We exchange text messages mostly, but have the occasional voice calls or video chats to one another, despite how frequently we are interrupted by poor WiFi connections.

I’m proud of the efforts each of the individuals have made with me to stay connected. We’ve worked hard to bridge both the geographical and lifestyle gaps that exist between us. These four young men have kept me connected to Greece, to Syria, to Iraq, to an ongoing crisis in the world, and have made me feel more involved in an area of the planet that needs help than I otherwise would have been while living out the last six months in the comfort of the Hudson Valley in New York State.

Staying closely connected to the global refugee crisis hasn’t just kept me grounded this summer. Having these four people consistently in my life since January has been inspiring, and I greatly value the words we exchange with one another over the internet. We discuss everything from the ins and outs of our daily lives to dishing out full-on explanations about certain differences in our culture. Like, for example, what one wears to a wedding in the U.S. is called something different than what someone would wear in Syria. In Syria, more lavish clothing is called “Kraveta”. There were many points in the summer when I’d be buried deep in the rat race of work and everyday life, that conversations with my friends on this tiny Greek island were the highlight of my day.

This is why it was jarring when, all at once, one of them seemed to vanish into thin air.

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Jay always said that it was difficult for him to take serious pictures, so whenever we took a photo together, we made sure we were as goofy as possible, even to the point where we would ruin otherwise nice photos.

I watched as the application I used to be in touch with Jay indicated the growing amount of time that was passing since he had “last been online”. It didn’t take much investigating to find out what had happened. As is the case with so many asylum seekers living in camps in Greece, some decision about his case was swiftly made by the authorities, and he was scooped up from the camp and put in jail, where he was waiting for his deportation back to Syria.

While he was in jail, I heard nothing from him. The time continued to pass by and it started to feel almost as if I had imagined him. He was a ghost. Gone. I kept thinking back over some of the conversations that had taken place between the two of us over the previous months. What more could I have said to this man who was being held hostage before getting shipped back to the dropping bombs in Syria? Did he at least know that I cared about him?

My cousin’s wedding crossed my mind. It was the reason I had returned home from Europe in the first place back in April, and the first thing I was able to share with the refugees upon my return. I sent them a photo of me in my wedding attire. Jay said I looked “fancy”, which made me wonder if the wedding attire in Syria was drastically different from what I was wearing or if there was some similarity.

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One thing that I noticed, and it’s worth noting that this may have been my incorrect interpretation as a westerner, was that the men from the Middle East treated touching one another as a much more common act than in North America. Piling on top of one another like in this photo was nothing out of the ordinary.

When Jay vanished into the abyss, I was left wondering about more than Kraveta. How did it come to pass that my Syrian friend on the other end of my phone was suddenly gone and now I was left wondering about him? Where was he? What was he doing everyday? When would I get to talk to him again? Would I get to talk to him again? And when would I learn everything I needed to know about the fancy attire that is Kraveta?

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Most People in Life Are Only Visitors

Life is a book. People are chapters.

When I used to think of my life, I used to divide my life up by the years that came and went. Every year was a different chapter. I thought about my existence in terms of the number of trips I had taken around the sun. I changed my thinking about this after realizing that the chapters of my life were nothing like one another. Some years could be summed up in mere sentences, while others would take pages upon pages to reach any sort of decent conclusion. Some portions of my life have been so full, so packed with adventure and connection and meaning and love, that even if they only encompassed a few months or weeks, they hold a very dear place in my heart and deserve to be considered their own “chapter”.

Time isn’t the same thing that it was in my younger adult years. But this really isn’t a post about time, it’s a post about friendship.

Friendship is this magical thing that just sort of happens. Children get a little practice in with the kids in their neighborhoods or at their elementary schools, teenagers navigate what it means to be there for other people and how to balance that with their own importance, and young adults learn the often heartbreaking lesson that people don’t stick around forever.

When I had a tarot card reading recently, the reader pulled a card for every aspect of my life. The card that he ended up pulling for “friendship” was a card with a moon on it, which pictured the moon hanging over a sleeping town in the middle of the night. The reader told me this means that, when it comes to friendship, I don’t have to do anything. My friendships just happen. This made sense to me, as even when I don’t put in very much effort, friendships seem to take root. This is something that I don’t take for granted.

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I think receiving this friendship reading at the beginning of the summer gave me permission to really take a step back and not worry about the relationships I was cultivating for myself this season. The friendships I already had have grown in different directions the past few months, a few new ones have blossomed, and I’ve cherished time to myself.

A revelation that I was coming to about friendship as a whole at the beginning of this summer was the idea that people are only visitors. In the seasons of my life, there have been times when certain people are playing a main role. Then there are times when they play a recurring role, or they just stop by for a quick guest stint. Sometimes they’re entirely absent. This is just how things go. This is just how things go.

Chapter of the Ice

When I lived in Antarctica for four months over the winter of 2016-17, I found myself in a strange position, one where the days felt like weeks and the weeks felt like months. I attribute this to a number of different factors, including my 60-hour work week, the fact that the sun never set (which effectively made the entire experience feel like one long day), and the extreme isolation of the continent, which just creates a really unique way of life.

Now, having left Antarctica behind me, it feels like I lived in a time warp. While I was there, life was infinite, an entire existence happened for me over just a brief period of time. The relationships I formed there felt as though they had been forged in my early childhood years and carried with me throughout my lifetime. It was nothing short of a magical experience, getting to connect on such a deep level with so many people so quickly.

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My job was the stand out reason why I felt so connected to the people around me. If you spend 60 hours a week with anyone, you’re going to either end up hating their guts or becoming best friends with them. Fortunately, I experienced the latter. From 10am to 8pm six days a week, I was with the same people. Our jobs consistently presented us with the same tasks, which gave us the same end goal: Survive the shift, make it to 8:00. It was bonding. Then, having spent so much time together already, we had connected so much more deeply with one another than anyone else on station, so we spent all of our free time together too. And so, all of a sudden, people I knew nothing about in October were all of a sudden the central characters in my life in November and December.

But then the experience ended. And, though I didn’t know it at the time, that was it.

When a summer season (October to February) in Antarctica wraps, everyone gets shipped off of the ice in droves. There are typically just a few flights to and from Antarctica each week, bringing supplies and some personnel, but at the end of the season, the number of flights increases. In the matter of a week, everyone leaves the continent. I was on the last flight out, so by the end of the week, there were only a few hundred people left on the station and each flight that had taken off ahead of me had taken away people that had been central in my life.

When the last flight took off, with me on it, my Antarctic experience was over. We landed in New Zealand, and I hit the ground running, ecstatic to be experiencing the smell of rain, the power of the darkness of night. I saw a number of my friends out at a club my first night back in the “real world”, but by the next morning, we were all going our separate ways and…it was over.

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There were a handful of friends in particular that I spent so much time with in Antarctica that it was jarring to part ways with them. In the case of my roommate, for example, we spent 10 hours a day together for work, and then we would often spend anywhere between 1 and six hours each evening with our friends before heading back to our room where we would spend the entire night together. Obviously, for a portion of the time we were sleeping, but I would estimate that frequently we were together for anywhere between 12 and 18 hours of each day. If you count being asleep, I’m certain there were some days where we were literally together for 22 or 23 hours.

That doesn’t even seem healthy to write, but we were really close friends, so it worked.

To go from ALL to NOTHING so drastically would have caught me completely off guard back in New Zealand, but I was hiking with one of my “ice friends” on the south island, so I was distracted by the constant physical excursion, the smell of trees and rain, the chance to look at new people for the first time in months, etc. We traversed the country for a few weeks. He was good company.

But then the hiking stopped.

And my companion went home.

So I went to Australia and explored Sydney, a city that was far too big for my brain to comprehend. Then I flew back to the United States and saw my family, constant lead characters in the chapters of my life. Then I went to Guyana for three weeks to reconnect with the people I had built that chapter of my life with a year and a half prior.

Life just picked right back up.

By the time the dust settled, all of those main characters of my chapter on the Ice had vanished back into their own stories. And there I was, looking head on at a brand new season, a new chapter, and I needed to recast my entire ensemble. All of those main characters quickly became completely absent or simple guest stars, appearing in a Skype call or a weekend getaway just one or two times. There was the smallest amount of carryover from chapter to chapter, but, for all in tents and purposes, the chapter about Antarctica (and all of its characters) was finished, and a new chapter needed to be written.

The Other Side 

I’m on the lookout more now than ever for the types of people that wander into my life.  Will they be sticking around for a while? Are they only meant to be a part of my story for a page or two? It doesn’t really matter. The significance is certainly not in the length of time that we spend with someone. I’ve learned that over and over again, but specifically from my time on the Ice.

In the end, life is a book and people are chapters. Or, at least, they only belong in some of the chapters. It’s a rare thing for someone to be in all of the chapters of a life. It’s not about how many chapters certain characters are in. Chapters are meant to be a piece of the whole, they aren’t the whole story. They can be reread and remembered as frequently or as infrequently as we’d like. I take solace in that. I smile too, sometimes even out into the open, when I recall just how magical some of the chapters of my life have been, and all of the characters in them.

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What chapter are you on?

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The Day I Broke Up With Normal

Normal had to go, man. I just couldn’t have him in my life anymore. The relationship between the two of us wasn’t going anywhere. He was dragging me down, making me feel unimportant and boring. God, did Normal make me feel boring. He made me feel like there was only one path for my life to go down and he made me feel like it was all mapped out for me from the beginning. Normal was abusive, left my heart feeling caged and a fraction of the monster that it was suppose to grow into being.

So. Normal had to go.

And so I let Normal go. I broke up with him. I broke up with Normal. And…that was the first day of my magical life.

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It’s September 4th, a seemingly insignificant day for many passersby. But for me, today marks the anniversary of the day that I made a serious change in my life. It’s the 8 year anniversary of when I decided to take the plunge, to take a risk, and to become something new, to try something new, to reawaken to what life could be.

On September 4, 2010, I boarded an airplane for Nome, Alaska, a tiny rural town on the edge of the Seward Peninsula, located just below the Arctic Circle and 500 miles off of the road system that connects pieces of Alaska like Anchorage and Fairbanks to the rest of the United States via Canada. It was, and still is, the craziest adventure I’ve ever taken, one that ended up lasting almost two years. Since then, I’ve never let my life settle. I’ve always stayed one step ahead of the game and not allowed myself to fall back into the arms of Normal. That was always a goal of mine: Stay away from Normal, never restart that relationship. Fortunately, this just came naturally after a while and avoiding Normal has become all but routine at this point.

As is written all over this blog, since leaving Alaska, I’ve traveled to 49 states, 18 countries, 7 continents, and lived long-term in Kenya, Hawaii, Guyana, Greece, Yellowstone National Park, Missouri, Illinois, and New York. I’ve done pretty well. I’ve stayed away from Normal.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about no longer being “with” Normal, is the strange and somewhat sympathetic things that people say to me as a result of my magical life. Some people envy how I’ve carved out my 20’s and others seem to pity me. They’ve been so wrapped up with Normal that they don’t understand how I could ever want to stay away from him. But this is just part of the experience. I have learned to honor each experience for what it is. It understand why some people are interested in remaining cuddled up in the arms of Normal and why others want to break free. I understand. I respect both paths.

For me, today is a simple celebration. A moment to recollect myself and think back on the magic of the past eight years. It’s also a time to look forward. There is more magic ahead, or so it seems…

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“The day I broke up with normal was the first day of my magical life.” -Unknown

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