Thursday, September 1, 2016

"Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win."


Ready for a wonderful entry about uplifting things? Ready for an entry full of sunshine and flowers and beach, pillow talk?

Well, excellent! Let’s talk about some poverty!

Wait. Please don’t run. This will be a good entry, I swear. I just wanted to be fair and upfront that this will mainly be about an uncomfortable topic. But it is my duty to talk about this topic more than I have. Most of my entries I post never address the extreme poverty I take in while visiting all these countries. They’re very much “me-centered”, and while this particularly entry won’t be vastly different, the goal is for something more impactful than just showing how a pretty-privileged white dude from the West does his whole Eat, Pray, Love thing. Not talking about the extreme poverty has been my MO.

This is positively unacceptable, and as a social worker, I feel disgraced that I coast over this important topic with breezy conversations about toilets or drinking at bars. Sidenote though, because I do talk about toilets and bars frequently, here is a picture of the strangest urinal I have encountered so far, in a bar, in Kathmandu.



Back to it. Countries like Nepal need representation, they need to be shown how gorgeous they are and how desperate their situation is when it comes to income disparity on a global and local scale. Shelby pointed this out to me first: that Nepal doesn’t have the income disparity as say The United States or Thailand, but instead it seems like everyone is poor, even those of higher castes (like India, although the caste system is no longer legally recognized, many people still acknowledge it) and government officials.

In the past, I have been a coward, using a half-ass excuse that I’m scared to type negatively about some of these countries because of strict government censorship (but, yeah, for the record, this is somewhat true in some of the countries I have visited). But in reality, I’m scared to breech the topic because it’s so dense, so complex, and so hard to write about without sounding too pessimistic and having it turn into one gigantic bummer. Also, it gets a little tricky to talk about it from an outsider’s perspective as the world I see is filtered through my own lens as white, straight, American male of what I think poverty is and isn’t (which, sometimes, again, can be completely wrong because of the density of the word). As I tell my students and people I work with, I have no idea what they're going through because I am not and never will be in their skin. BUT, I can at least be the best damn ally possible to them.

And luckily, to boot, I’m an eternal optimist.

Today I woke up a little later than usual. I got my breakfast from the hostel, then walked through town to go to my favorite coffee shop (typical Seattlite, huh?). The people at this particular shop are, without a doubt, the nicest people I have met in any place so far. They raise their arms and hands and voices and smiles and laughs as though you were the Prodigal Son returning. They even memorize your drink so quickly that by Day Two you’ve become a regular in an alley coffee shop halfway across the world in Asia! Anyways, I jumped on my computer and started looking for a place to book for Jakarta in three day’s time (I’m a liar and I do actually plan things on occasion). While doing so, one of the staff came up to me and started asking me the typical questions: where are you from, how do you like Nepal, and how come your belly is so fat? That last question is made up, but it is a good question – I hit thirty and was, like, where did that come from? That's a story for another time though.

His name was Iswor (pronounced like E-sue) and he was (and is) delightful. We fill a good ten minutes with chatter and I learn that he’s also a full-time student, a single year away from getting his BA in Business. He also wants to be a social worker. This guy has big dreams and I can already tell he’s got a magnetic personality. We exchanged Facebook and decide to grab a bite to eat after his shift.

I come back a few hours later and he’s a social butterfly, sitting down and talking with another foreigner, Kelly, a researcher and student at Oxford (!) documenting, along with an assistant, about child exploitation and people migration patterns of Nepal (at least, I think that’s right, my memory is spotty most of the time and I’m technically polishing up this entry while in Jakarta [edit: and editing it more and posting from a bar in the US]. Kelly, if you’re reading this, correct me!). It’s fascinating stuff and she leads the three of us to a nearby restaurant called Yak.

Kelly has to leave for a meeting, but Iswor and I delve deep into it. He, like others before him, have a lot to say about the current Nepali economy, the government, and living in a post-earthquake nation already on the brink of collapsing (two days before this, there was politcial unrest in the government and and students filled the street and shut down city buses and the like (type in "Nepal protests" into Google and you'll be floored by what comes up). This is not unusual for Nepal unfortunately [fortunately?]).

People like Iswor are exactly why I travel. No guidebooks and no expats telling me what is what. This is a casual conversation between two people from vastly different cultures finding differences and exploring common ground. It’s wondrous, eye-opening, and a little hard to take in.

This has happened to me many times while in poor countries: hospitality you just wouldn’t believe and you wouldn’t expect in western countries (but, I hate generalizing as there have been several Western countries with equally as accommodating and generous souls).

He invites me to come see his apartment which he shares with his sister. His sister, although sick in bed from Typhoid for the last two weeks, cooks me Dal Baht after they learn how much I adore it. Re-read that one more time. This is a family that is barely surviving on their own income, and because the sister has been out of work, they are working on less than half of a very modest income to survive. Yet still they make me – a complete and utter stranger they just met – a meal they most likely can't afford.

This man wasn’t looking to make a quick buck off me. It wasn't some long-con. He was and is a genuine person who believes that money doesn’t equal happiness, and happiness depends on helping, learning, and opening your heart and world to others...no matter how dark and fragile that heart and world are. He invites me because he wants to learn about myself and the US and I want to learn about his world. He also wants to tell a story of his nation that too often gets drowned out by bigger and more prosperous countries.

In a matter of two hours, we have become good friends.

And, dammit, rack up another person I will now miss and wonder and worry about.

But I’m writing this blog for another reason. I’m not writing it just to say, “oh hey, look I have another friend! Isn’t that cool!”

No, I’m summarizing this story because I want you, the reader, to know how beautiful people are when you let the fear go that you learn from the newspapers and TV shows.

But I also want to tell you about this country and why it needs your help.


Nepal is poor. In fact, from many reports (pre-earthquake), it was in the top 30 poorest countries in the world (some argue it’s much lower than that – they have no high-rise buildings, a one-lane airport, no rail system, and inadequate electricity for its almost 30 million population). I mean, this is a country that saw its first plane land in the mid 1940s and is a country that didn’t see a television system until 1985.

They’ve had an extremely rocky past with democracy and monarchies and are still experiencing constant political turmoil (most notably because of corrupt higher-up and messy politics with China/Tibet. If your curious, I’ve been reading this book by a Nepalese defector who now lives in Canada, and it has positively opened my eyes and heart to this country even more. It's called Forget Kathmandu. Give it a read if you’re a fan of history mixed with memoir. It’s a tough read at first, with a shitload of history to wade through, but I promise you the impact is that much stronger for it. I find it sad that it only has one review on Amazon...more proof how forgotten this country can be when someone writes something other than Mt. Everest.

I often think, how can I help? How can any of us help if we’re committed to our own lives, whether it be family, or school, or work back home. Part of the answer is tourism. Tourism is big business for this society (it's the number one source of income), and it can really positively affect local life when tourists and trekkers pour money into local people and food and supplies. The problem is, after the earthquake, tourism has plummeted to dismal numbers. 


And the earthquake. I remember waking up and hearing the news in the states and though I hadn’t been here yet, I got close enough in Dharamsala to understand how devastating a natural disaster can have on a community that can’t afford proper infrastructure on its buildings and roads. I get goosebumps even typing this when I recall Iswor telling me his personal account of the earthquake at the young age of twenty. He struggles to talk about the bodies he had to carry to the doctor (that were already dead or dying). Everyone in the city slept out in the fields for fear their buildings might collapse in on them. It was chilling to hear how he had to go to work the next morning in bloody clothes, stained from sixteen (he counted – how could you not?) bodies he carried out of rubble or the streets. I mean, my God, can you imagine that? I’m sitting in a cafĂ© drinking a San Miguel and the reader is probably equally as comfy. So try to put yourself into this role – in a world where you make, on average, a little over 10,000 rupees a month – equivalent to roughly 100 USD. And even that is considered rich.

Rubble and triumph.

Imagine how fast that drains when a “nice” apartment the size of half a studio apartment can cost upwards of 3,000 Rupees per month. Add in that this kid is paying sometimes 27,000 Rupees a year for school. So his sister and him have close to 5,000 Rupees (50 dollars) a month to survive.

Fifty fucking dollars.
My heart bleeds and I feel so incredibly horrible for the privileges I have back home. But what can I do?

So, I ask this of readers:

Find NGOs that are reputable. Give money or give your time. (Resources and links will be at the end of this entry, with more added over time).

For example, the day before yesterday I went with Kayla, Deryn, and Ola to a local orphanage. We met this Irish couple that were volunteering there for a week before their actual "vacation" started. It was amazing to see. So...think about your next vacation. It’s completely doable (Update: I met up with the Irish couple on my flight to Malaysia. I asked them how the experience was and they were completely torn. They felt good that they helped provide for the children the week they were there. They were happy they could play and interact and bring joy to kids that didn't have parents or make-up for a non-existent welfare system that can't support struggling parents [however broken ours might be in the West, at least we have something!]. But the two of them couldn’t get over how hard it was to leave. They saw the kid’s emotions plummet from their exit. Imagine being the kids, attaching to caring adults, only for them to leave a week later, again and again and again).

But at the end of the day. It's something. And one thing I know for sure, something is almost always better than doing nothing at all.



Or, if you don’t or can’t volunteer, go to Nepal for your vacation. Just make sure your money goes to local businesses and guides. They need tourism, because tourism can make or break a country like this. For any country (and state) to function properly, tourism must be held in high regard. Now, I know that just getting more tourists here spending locally is not a fix to this economy or inefficient government. But, it’s not technically just a simple band-aid (for my British friends, plastics) either. It's a vital piece of the puzzle that YOU at home can do to at least help a little. And again, even a little is something.

The more I spend here in this capital city of “organized chaos” the more I am falling in love with it and the people. It reminds me of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Most travelers I meet dislike PP greatly, but I was there for two weeks and it morphed into a second home for me (or third or fourth or...). When you discover the heart of even the ugliest and busiest cities – the heart being the working class people – you fall in love. You can’t help it. Head over fucking heels in love.

I’ve often railed on this blog and in person about the stark difference between a traveler and a tourist (Here's one example of me talking about that). I’ve often thought that tourism is pointless because you don’t really get the culture or dive deep into all of it. But, maybe I should backtrack because that has been and is incredibly elitist, and quite frankly dumb, and ignorant of me to have thought and said and written this. Tourism, however small or short, must happen for these countries to survive – casual “backpacking” must happen. Tourism, when done away from corporate groups and tours (which pocket most of the money), and done on the local level are what matter. No matter how you travel. And they must continue to matter.

So please, next time your vacation days are coming up, seriously consider about visiting Nepal. There is trekking from as little as one day to months at a time. There are rivers to raft down, jungles to explore, cities to walk, and absolutely cool gifts to buy. But most of all, there are wonderful people here that would love to shake your hand and say “Namaste”.

Tourism website: 

http://www.welcomenepal.com/

Note: I double-dog-dare you to go to this website and not say, “holy shit! This is amazing, I’m buying my ticket immediately!” Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Wikitravel entry on Nepal:

http://wikitravel.org/en/Nepal

Good NGOs:

One of my favorite trekking guides, Mani, from my last blog (Lakpa doesn't have a "website", but I do have his contact information if you want to hire him when trekking):
https://www.tourhq.com/guide/np47282/mani-bhagawat

That’s all I got for now. Much like when I talked about Zimbabwe, I feel the people here are of the same opinion. "Tell people about us." The earthquake happened. It killed so many and destroyed a lot of the country. It sucks and it’s sad and, and, and! But it’s not as desperate as the papers would make you believe. The country is not in ruins. It is operational and still is divine.

In the future, I will most certainly continue to talk about pooping in holes and sleeping on airport floors and getting drunken tattoos (uhhhh), but I’ve made a promise to do more than that. To make this blog mean more than it is.

It is the absolute least I can do.

Thanks.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Lakpa punches a goat (and other Himalayan Adventures in Nepal).

I was fine yesterday.

Today, on this tiny bus, I am (for lack of more concrete terms) collapsing in on myself.

I’ve written before about how my life sometimes feels on fire (in a good way), but this feeling on this bus is something I’ve never had before. I have never, ever been so angry (and hungover) before this moment. Lakpa is passed out in the seat next to me and resting his head on my shoulder. I can’t even look at him. I’m choking back some tears and it feels like my soul is crawling through my body and torching everything it passes.


My insides are crumbling.



There is one thought – just one - going through my head, and it does not include all the beautiful things I have seen in the last two weeks (such as pictured above):

I fucking hate traveling.

And I hate that Lakpa was seated next to me. I wish he wasn’t. He’s a small Nepalese man with a personality that eclipses every physical trait possible. I told him last night, well into my 400 Rupee whiskey, that he is the kind of person that when you meet them, you are already sad for when they leave. More straightforwardly: Lakpa is a shooting star of a life. He’s brilliant and bold and beautiful.

And like almost everyone you meet while traveling, just like a shooting star, they enter and leave your life so painfully quick. You must then learn to let them go. Travel in and of itself is the definition of temporary. And sometimes, whether you like it or not, so are people.

And soon, as in this-short-bus-ride-soon, he will leave my life and I will miss him like I have many shooting stars that have blazed through my sky, however briefly.

That all said, this moment on the bus is more than just him.

I have also just finished trekking with him and an amazing group of people on a trail that spanned about two weeks and over a hundred miles. I hit my breaking point(s) that literally pushed me to my edges. I encountered leeches, frigid cold, altitude sickness, unbearable humidity. I pushed buses along cliff sides where one small mud slip and my life would tumble into a river of class VI, brown oblivion. I met and became friends with absolutely stellar people. I disconnected from the internet and bars and the wildness of urban life.

The experience then was, without a doubt, one of the hardest things I have ever accomplished. I have lots of friends that would have undoubtedly shot through this path and this challenge with relative ease (I have met fellow travelers that say it "was a piece of cake"). The thing is, I am not made for this kind of trekking, or at least, I haven’t fitted myself into someone would could be yet (I have since made a promise to myself that I will do so after this experience). I drink too much, I sit too much, and I was in no way, shape, or form ready for a trek of this magnitude.

But I did it.

And right now, on this tiny bus, I feel not only the weight of what I just experienced - what I accomplished along with my friends and their unwavering support on the trail - but the weight of life from the past two years (because these past two years have been a roller coaster of new situations and people and feelings and decisions). It’s a moment so rare and so profound that the rest of your life spills out at the same time. Does this even make sense? Has this happened to you? A moment where all of life just explodes from within - the totality of your days and existential existence just snatches the air out from your lungs? It’s suffocating and I can’t stop thinking about how insane it is to travel the world over and live this kind of weird life.

So. Recap. I’m hungover and I’m pissed and breaking down (fun!).

With this in mind, the previous days wash over me. (What follows is not a step-by-step recollection of trekking, because a] that’s boring to read and b] that’s boring to write, so I’ll save you the Lord of the Rings treatment and skip all the Hobbit walking and singing with Tom Bombadil nonsense).


Day Fourteen

Today, it is all cheers with: Shelby, my partner in crime from Texas (who pushed me to complete this thing and I'm indebted to her for it); Lakpa, our trusted, lovable, and dad-like guide; Maddie and Nate, two cool college students in Colorado who had basically merged with us since day one when we ran into each other at the same tea house; and finally Maddie and Nate's guide, Mani, who is one of the calmest and humblest people I have met in Nepal thus far.

We go out drinking. We play cards. We pound tables like large makeshifts drums as Lakpa sings us songs in Nepali. The table shakes with the weight of excitement.

We made it and, damn, are we proud.

Day Thirteen

We are on a cliff side in a rain forest. One side is pure rock and avalanches and the other is a river unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Our bus is stuck on a hill in the mud. Everyone piles out and we all join together and grunt and groan and push the bus with all our collective might. To no luck, we all grab stones from the area and make our own road. It’s teamwork that gets the bus over the hill and everyone freaks out and claps and cheers and hoots and hollers when the bus makes it through. In other countries, I could never imagine this team mentality. Here, it cements everyone together on a shared journey. Later, we run into another bus that got stuck and, yep, out all of us go again. Abnormal? No, not at all. The citizens of Nepal are resourceful and I love them for that. This compared to the last few days? Easy.




Day Twelve

I’m freezing cold and my sweat is turning to ice underneath my three layers of clothing. Shelby has been hit with Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) symptoms and is struggling behind. I’m trying my best to breathe at an altitude of close to 5,500 meters (which has roughly half the oxygen than at sea level. For Washington readers, this altitude is higher than Mt. Rainier). I’m still nursing my own AMS-induced killer headache from last night that devastated my sleep. My headache was not too major, but my compulsive fear was – I’d read enough and heard enough stories of comas and death from AMS (well, usually from the more severe/progressed forms of AMS, HAPE and HACE). So I sat in bed, aching and believing I was going to die. But the next morning, Monne told me that as long as the headache wasn't in the back of my head (meaning water had gotten there), I was a-okay. (Sidenote: check this out - type in a random number and you get some pretty fascinating, nerdy facts).

But that was last night and too much worrying stops cool things from happening. Onward! We get to the top and I’ve never felt so high in all my life (many puns intended). We meet up with the very rad East Coasters we met the other night and we bathe in an icy cold collection of selfies and prayer-flag hanging. We minimize talk because it’s brutally icy and I can’t feel my left shoulder and all my fingers (Lakpa is hitting his hands on rocks to bring back circulation, for a rough example of how cold it is).

At the hostel, we drink in celebration. Myself especially. I haven’t had a drink in well over ten days and I’m extremely proud of myself. I have yet to check Facebook. I have yet to have an energy drink. I feel completely and utterly free. So, of course, we all, in Lakpa’s words, “climb the Everest” (which is the name of a famous draft over here). They explode all over the lobby as though the beer bottles are just as excited as us.

A few drinks in and I get the courage to share with Kayla, Ola, and Deryn about something that hit me while on the top with little oxygen (Shelby and the rest are in heated games of Bullshit at a nearby table. Lakpa loves the game, but he is absolutely horrible at it).

On my left wrist, I have the word "truth" written in Hebrew. It's a short reminder of my favorite quote from the Christian bible. Pontius Pilate, against almost all popular opinion, is my favorite character. He, to me, has always been the most human of Christian biblical characters. His quote, "What is truth?" is a question I ask myself daily. I feel that way with a lot of things in life, religion included. Truth is elusive and I don't feel it healthy to choose truth lightly.

But, as I told my three friends, I found an answer on that mountain.

"Faith," I say, "that's the answer."

And I don't mean that in a strict secular or non-secular sense. I mean that the truth of things are: 
-faith in oneself
-faith in your partner
-faith in your religion/spirituality (whatever that may be) 
-faith in nature 
-faith in science 
-faith in anything, really.

For me, doing this improbable journey has given me my truth, one that has always been hard for me to accept. I have faith in so many others but have always lacked sufficient faith in myself and my abilities. But I think I've found my faith in myself. 

And with it, I think I've answered a question (at least partially) that has evaded me for so long. I tell my three friends that it's a cliche thing to think of and to not laugh too hard about how cheesy it all sounds.

None of them laugh and I am beyond glad that they are here at this moment.

Day Ten

Today we climb up to Upper Thorung base camp. We meet a screenwriter, Jordan, who left home because he was going stir-crazy while awaiting to see if his TV series would be picked up by Bad Robot and Netflix. He stayed at the lower base camp because all the guidebooks state that it’s dangerous to sleep any higher without additional acclimation. He may have had the right idea. Before going to bed, I am hit with a headache that could murder. But the next morning, I get a prescription strength Advil from Maddie, take my own Diamox pill (which makes me have to pee every ten minutes, which is absolutely lovely), and feel well enough to make the final push.

Day Nine

Up and up. Sunburns for days. We meet three cool travelers from the East Coast – Kayla, Ola, Deryn - who are extremely rad and we spend as much time as we can talking with them. When you’re in the mountains, you have plenty of free time after hiking. Oodles of it. So we spend our time talking to them about all the cornerstones of life – love, careers, passions, and, of course, how crazy it is that we’re here and hiking toward one of the tallest mountain passes in the world (which, as recently as 2014 took roughly 21 trekker’s lives...).

Day Eight

Acclimation day. With climbing high mountains, I learn, it’s very unsafe to scale too far in one day. The lack of oxygen fucks with you, so most treks require a certain amount of “rest” days for your body to get used to it. But acclimation isn’t just sleeping and waiting for your body to just say, "alright, I'm cool". It requires hiking up to a higher elevation, then coming back down to sleep at the lower elevation for the night. People who climb Everest, for example, spend weeks and weeks following this famous “climb high, sleep low” mantra. We just do it for a day. We play Shithead and Bullshit with candy we bought from a store instead of poker chips. We are all in bed by 7:30ish, per usual, because our bones are sore and the Dahl Baht lulls us all to sleep.

Day Seven

Shelby and I do juice breaks everyday around 10:30, so today, Lakpa asks a random person to enter their house for rest and a juice. It's things like that make me love these countries (can you imagine doing that in the US?). We arrive in the bustling town of Manang. Our group finds a movie theater in the mountain town and out of the piles of illegal movies, we choose to watch Children of Men. It’s strange to be in a movie room in the middle of nowhere, but Nepal never ceases to amaze me.

Day Four

Lakpa punches a goat in the face. I have never seen anything like this in my life. I find out later that Lakpa was attacked by a mountain goat sometime in the past and now he takes no chances with them. The goat takes it like a UFC champion. Both Shelby and I are screaming and laughing at the same time. I mean, have you ever seen a grown man fight a goat? This was perhaps the weirdest thing I have ever seen in life and I have no words to describe it other than: Lakpa hates goats.

Day Three

This is the day I hit a breaking point. The hike from yesterday and today has made me exhausted. My pack is digging into me thanks to over-packing and my legs are already tired. The humidity, which has never, ever been my friend, is soaring and I’m leaking out of every pour. I don’t bring enough water and thirty minutes from our place of rest for the night (six or seven hours into the hike) I feel like my world is shutting down. The three of us are out of water and I feel like I’m inches, steps – one step even – away from a heat stroke. I have never felt this in my life. I actually think I'm dying and my pee is the darkest color of yellow I have ever seen. It scares the shit out of me.  I tell Shelby and Lakpa I can’t do it. Not one more step. I sit down and tell Lakpa he’ll have to get to the next town and bring me water. 


So, like the amazing, spectacular man he is, he runs toward the next town. Shelby stays with me as I moan about how shitty I feel for giving up and, of course, she encourages me like the rockstar that she is. Lakpa returns with two liters of water and it's the best water I have ever tasted in my entire thirty years of life. I make it to the next town, broken, and discouraged with myself. If this is only Day 3, and I’ve hit a serious breaking point, shouldn't I stop now?

But I don’t.

Day Two

Hiking is tough and a slog and just plain brutal at times. I encounter what is arguably the best Coke ever at the top of a mountain, but that’s not as important as another thing that happened today.



Let’s talk about a wonderful little topic: leeches.

I’ve never been much of a fan of bugs and crawly things, but that’s never really stopped me from much in life. Leeches on the other hand, are pretty terrifying. They wiggle like calculated worms over muddy and wet land. They assume the fighting position and then take a leap of faith onto your body (usually the leg...well, pray it’s the leg instead of them deciding to travel upward…) and continue to find a warm spot (leeches look for two things: motion and warmth. Oh, and rational and irrational fear, too). They wiggle through your boot crevices and leech over your sock, burrowing deeper, usually toward the toes.

The best part? You can’t feel them when they somersault over your skin. You can’t feel them when they latch on and insert their tiny needle into you. And you can’t feel them when they begin sucking the blood out of you.

What you do feel, later on, is a deep sense of horror when you find them either still attached, or gone, fallen off after their meal. And then you bleed, oh do you bleed, from a tiny pin hole prick. I mean, it’s like a river for a good hour or more.

Nightmares for days, my friends. Nightmares for days.


You're welcome.

Day One

The bus, like many bus rides here, is startling to Western thought. It’s crowded and busy and, dear God, is it hot. It simmers and melts me like an easy bake oven on overdrive. My right armed is scorched from the sun since I can barely shift in the small seats. Nepalese music videos blast on the video screen. Shelby is just as miserable next to me. We meet Maddie and Nate at our first teahouse and know that we’ll all be instant friends.

One Day Previous

I make a new friend named Alex, a lawyer from Pakistan. He is travelling away from his home country for the first time and it is blowing his mind. He is awash with the lure of travel – the new places, the beautiful new people, and the natural friendships that form from it. He leaves tomorrow and he is genuinely sad about leaving this all behind. He reminds me of me when I first started travelling. Hell, he reminds me of me now, still sad when journeys and adventures inevitably end.

“It’s the cost of travelling,” I say, “and it sucks so very, very much.”

He nods. It’s a lousy feeling, saying goodbye to good moments and good people.

We then agree that it’s still worth every single second.  
And I think I can speak for him on this one that both of us can’t wait to do it again.

So. Here I am, more than two weeks later. I am angry. I am sad. I am happy. I am all teary-eyed. I am a million different emotions swimming inside and out.

I hate traveling. I love traveling. I am a contradiction in every sense of the word. But most of all - staring at the large mountains and tiny villages scrolling by - I love all these emotions equally.

Because through it all I truly, without a shadow of a doubt, feel more blessed and alive than ever.

Lakpa wakes up with a startle. He looks to me. I must look a mess. He simply nods and so do I. No words are exchanged, because none have to be. I think he will miss me, too.

I found my breaking points and I pushed pass them with the help of others. I met gorgeous new people and saw breathtaking new places. I did things I never thought I could do. And isn’t that what life is all about? Continually expanding and growing and learning and loving and challenging yourself…and, yes, continually letting go of people and adventures when the time comes?

I think it is. It’s part of the deal we sign the moment we are born.

I go back to staring out the window.

And I soak in the world as it bleeds on by,


and by,

and bye.

Friday, July 22, 2016

In a city of dust and heat.

Your head is doing cartwheels. It's positively swimming in chaos.

You wonder what the hell you are doing all the way from home. Bangkok made sense because it was like a gigantic reunion of old friends, while making new ones in the process, but Nepal? 

You get off the airplane to a single-lane airport. No fancy Starbucks or restaurants. No big flat screen TVs that flash delays and departures or bars to get smashed at before or after a flight.


You missed India before, but this place, Kathmandu, made of pure noise and madness, reminds you a lot of what you experienced there. The honking of vehicles is back, a nervous sound that is the music of the city in all it's variations. A constant wave of dust sucks up into your lungs. You pray and meditate at every "crosswalk" (there are no crosswalks) and hope that "40% of all vehicle fatalities are pedestrians" is just a calculating error.

You take a taxi to town. Instead of a silk market, they offer hiking tours of every kind. You tell them that you are positively exhausted from spending the night playing Shithead in Bangkok and eight hours of stuffy flights on three hours of sleep with little legroom has worn you down to a nub. The streets are a zoo and the buildings are bright and adorned with prayer flags. The world is flooded with people and carts and life.

The hostel owner greets you in charismatic glee. He is happy you're here. All the people you run into today on your short walk (it gets dark and the city begins to unwind. These people go to bed pretty early, whether if by culture's hand or the fact that electricity is short and a scheduled power-outage is about to occur (this is called load-shedding, much like in countries such as South Africa).

You take a cold shower and remember why you love them so much in a city of dust and heat.

You grab a beer from the corner store to celebrate. Because you've decided to say, "screw it" with your budget and prepare for a two-week (or longer) hike in the Himalayas (the climb to Mt. Everest Base Camp is not advised during the rainy season).

You didn't prepare for this so you must search out equipment and medications for scary things like leeches (my God, you think, leeches are the worst thing you could ever imagine, and apparently they hop onto your feet as you climb, wiggling and burrowing to your toes. You buy a lighter because apparently burning them off works like a charm. They might also steal your soul, but that's just your worst-case scenario hypothesis [that is true]). You begin to look for trekking partners who are willing to hoof the bill, which will be expensive (guides go from $25-50 dollars per day). But it's monsoon season and not a lot of hikers, and none who are as ill-prepared as you.

You are wrong and find a new friend, a teacher from Texas by the name of Shelby who is ready to rock and roll up to one of the highest mountain passes in the world.

You rest.

You wake to lights and sound of a city on fire. You're already sweating from the damp humidity hitting your tongue. You go deeper into it all.


You see the rubble of a natural disaster that shook this country to its core. It's hard to take in the immensity of it all. Already one of the poorest countries in the world, your heart aches. You spend money at local businesses. You meet colorful merchants who love to know where you're from.

You meet two nice dudes, Freddy and Edgar, from The Netherlands and Spain, and walk through windy streets through tourism shops gone amok with fake The North Face products and tea shops and wats. You end up going to a Unesco World Heritage Site, but it lies in horrible ruin from last year's earthquake. You buy underwear in packages that read XXL, but when you try them on later, in the safety of a private room that was strangely cheaper than a dorm, they cut off your circulation and literally blow apart like one of those Youtube videos of watermelons exploding after a million rubberbands are laced around it. You think about your Thai friends from Bangkok who, after not seeing you for a little over a year, say:

Friend: You look bigger.
You: Like fatter?
Friend: Yes. Much fatter. And whiter.
You: Oh.

You vow to do a million crunches before going to bed tonight and decide to tell no one about your underwear. You also decide to get a proper tan to be less ghostly.

You wait to meet Kamari, a living Goddess, but she wakes up late, or something, and you need to go back to the hostel and meet with your hired guide who will make sure you so you don't die on the hike (you still think you might). His name is Lakpa and he will grow to become your favorite person that may or may not change your life a little/a lot.

This is it. You are here and you wonder how it is that life has led you here, pondering about hiking so high (close to 5,500 meters) that altitude sickness can kill you if you don't play your cards right.

In the hostel lobby you wonder just how the hell you can describe any of this with proper words in the right order. How does anyone describe a life and world that is so vastly different? You don't know, but you type anyways. You type because that's what has to happen. You have to get out what's going on in your head - an intoxicating mix of excitement, horror, love, curiosity, and wonder.

Oh, do you wonder.

You wonder why you're here. You wonder who you will be when it's all over. You wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Yes, you wonder. 
But suddenly you're reminded that you don't have to.

Instead, you begin to walk out the door.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When 7-11 Feels Like Home

Throughout this year, the crushing feeling of escaping back out into the world at large - to go on another crazy adventure into the unknown - has always been vivaciously pumping through my veins. And now, sitting in a bar in Seatac Airport, I can’t contain myself. I'm beyond words.

Waitress: “On that beer, would you like the 16oz or 24oz?”
Myself: “Oh, I'm going on an adventure! 24 all the way!”
In case you’re wondering, yes, this is indeed verbatim of what I said. The woman, though I think a little weirded out, smiled. And so did I.

Smiles for fucking days.

I can’t help it. I’m back in my element, back to what I discovered truly just excites the very elections and protons and neutrons in my entire body.

Last time it was a high. This time around, it’s a different sorta buzz than traveling in 2014-15. I’m different, and so is my family. Last time, I left on a sour note. My mom was in the hospital in the worst shape that I had ever seen her and I felt an overwhelming selfishness that I was running away. And run I did, because, well, sometimes, you have to let go. That situation turned out alright though, and t
his time, she’s been on a good streak, and I’ve left with good cheer. My friends and family are excited for me and that gives me strength.

It's my sister's reaction that has been the most surprising. She’s eleven now. And much more curious this time 'round the bend. More questions about safety and what I do when I travel (I told her it was for hookers and coke, so now she thinks I'm here fishing while drinking Coke). She took a lot of pictures with me and posted this on Instagram.




I'm still learning this new laptop I grabbed so I couldn't get the above screenshot to get larger, so this is what it says:

"There's my big brother going off to another adventure! I'm going to miss him so much and I am so thankful that he lived with us for one last year...We did many this [sic] together like laser tag, went to the comic book store, and more. He inspired me...Even though he is only going for a month and a half, I will never forget him! Have fun @nrogen"

Other than the last bit that makes it sound like I'm dying or something, this hit me harder than usual. I mean, I love my sister something fierce. I wrote a whole book basically on how much I love her and how she changed my life, but I never thought about it the other way around. Is that weird? I mean, I never thought, well, does she love me back? Maybe that's a dumb question (it is. And any teacher that tells you that no dumb questions exist, are lying!), but it's wormed its way into my head nonetheless. What hit me even more is the sentence about looking up to someone. Whoa. Hold the phone. She looks up to me? Really?

We had a brother/sister day like last time, but it was vastly different. Last time it was big extravaganza: going to Seattle (which, for my credit as a fucking amazing brother, I let her play the Frozen soundtrack, on REPEAT, in full, and in traffic for two and a half hours), went to the Lego exhibit at the EMP and, and, and...

This time we just went to a comic shop and bought some Korean food at a store next door. That’s all she wanted. We ended up doing a lot more that day, but when it boiled down to it, the day was all, really, really, simple. In fact, we could have just hung at my parents house watching Once Upon a Time (I am not a fan, for the record) all day long and she would have been equally as happy. I think, just because she was with me, she was good.

I’m not used to this. In fact - man, I didn’t want to jump the shark and get all deep and shit the first post, but hey, whatever. So here's the honest thoughts of a traveler who doesn't want to settle:

This is first time that I felt that I was leaving someone behind that I wanted to take with me. That being apart for too long deeply bugs and gnaws away at me.

It makes me question: is it worth it? Being away for this amount of time without the people you really care about?

Home, I’ve written, is where your heart lies, and it settles with people and places. I've accumulated a lot of homes throughout my years and with families and friends in places all over the world. I believe that home is where you make it, and it's the people that make the home. But now, I'm thinking there's even more to it than that. Home is also dependent on time.

I'll dive into this deeper later, but I'm getting the feeling that the places you call home can disappear, even when you have a) the place and b) the right people because you are missing the key ingredient: c) the time isn't the same and the moment(s) have slipped away. When I went traveling around the world, it was life changing and shattering, but no matter how many more times I travel and return, I know it will not be the same. I'm different and so are the people and the places I return to. Everything changes. And a home can either grow or disappear, or, maybe worse, grow indifferent.

Question: Can a person chase and find that home that no longer exists in the now?

Where are you, reader, happiest? Where is/are your home(s)? Think about it. Can you chase "home" if home is dependent on a time-period? Can "home" be a time in your life where everything, everybody, everyplace just “clicked”? Do you have a period of time that you wish you could go back to? Or are memories enough to permanently establish "home" for life?

Lots of questions, but you don’t have to answer them. They are the questions that buzz through me head as I travel and I wanted to share them with you. I think they make your brain twist and twirl in ways you’re not used to.


This is rambling. I’m just rattled and ecstatic and all that jazz. I'll expand on these those words later. For now, I have a plane to catch. To Canada. Then to Taiwan at 2am. Then to Bangkok. I adore travel and airports and the idea of planes and takeoffs and landings. But long - ten plus hour - plane rides? They are the worst. Geeze. Thanks Obama.

I'll arrive in the future and hang out at Starbucks for a while like the hipster I am. So, to be continued...




Now. I’m alive and exhausted. You ever drive or fly somewhere far away and you’re more exhausted than if you had run a marathon? As if the just the act of sitting there is more intensive on the body than some strenuous activity.

And how weird it is to be back to ol' BKK. My home away from home. It felt so routine getting off the airplane. I was used to the slam dunk of humidity drowning out the senses. I was used to the sea of crowds and  bombardment of signs and advertisements. And now everything seems normal. A gaggle of people walking the streets, tuk-tuks hustling and blazing by, almost sideswiping motorcycles. The colors are still as vibrant and everything is still a mix of poor and trashy and elegant and…it’s so alive, with the street vendors and chickens on the sidewalk and temples and monks with blazing orange robes and the list could go on (I've written about Thailand a lot before, so I won't elaborate). I felt good walking into a 7-11 (unlike in the US where everyone and their mother reading this guilt trip you for loving their food [save you Mical, if you’re reading this!]), because if there is one staple mark of Thailand, to me, beyond the sprawling jungles and beautiful beaches and gorgeous women, it's that. The image that has endured itself to my heart has to be the 7-11s. It's the Starbucks on every corner.

I feel a need to defend myself to readers from the US, where 7-11s are looked down upon (mostly because they give out cheap food and are primarily built in poverty-stricken areas where people can't afford healthier food and thus contribute to further health issues of those that can't afford medical care, but that's a different story and social workery rant for anther time). The 7-11s here, I'll be honest, probably have just as bad as food, but I just can't tell by any of the non-English labels. They sell pretty much everything and they are wonderful. I often wonder if they are here because of the large expat population here...

So, gotta go. Got things to do. Places to drink at. Sweat to pour out (Thailand's humidity is just plain evil). Friends (really, family) to see (Dan and Amporn, cannot wait!) and laugh with and play Shithead with (Noi, get ready to lose like a big fat loser). And a ton of little adventures to experience in-between.

So. Recap. Is home more than people and a location? Is it a timeframe as well?

Such a tease, but I don't have the answer for that.
All know is that I have plenty of 7-11s to frequent in the next couple days, and that's an answer enough for me. That and friends/family to see. That's home enough for me.

Until we meet again, friends. I'm off to sleep.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Hearts and Minds




Well, damn Daniel, back at it with the backpacking. 
It's been a while, me writing here, hasn't? In fact, I'll be honest, it's been a while since I've written much of anything really. Since returning of April 2015, I've hit a creative slump with a few bursts of energy here and there. But man, when I was travelling, I was writing up a storm - weekly short stories I sent to my good friend Maria, book chapters, blogs about ants in my pants, you know, the usual. And then, I got back and all that just...stopped.

My life did the opposite of stop though. I came back and started a job where I finally made more than $24,000 a year as a pretty damn good middle school counselor (at least, I sure hope!). It was a successful year, but here I am again, on the verge of traveling to unknown destinations and feeling...well, alive. And ready to write again. So crazy ready. On that note, I'm a bit rusty, so expect the occasional word bumps along the way.

I'm feeling the high I've been longing for a while now. Also
, fair warning, there are going to be a ton of links in this post. Mostly to earlier posts from my last travels through Asia and Africa. It's both as a reminder to readers that are either really bored or have never read my writings and want context to my A.D.D. thoughts. (In the top, under history, you can go through all the past stuff as well). Either way, lots of blue underlines all over the place. Apologies all around, drinks are on me next time. 

For this post, I'm going to use it as a re-introduction to who I am, and why I do this and write about it.

This blog is about many things.

This blog is about escape. 
This blog is about learning. 
This blog is about adventures.
This blog is about eating bugs (silk worms, pictured). 
This blog is about life, both its achingly gorgeous moments and it's soul-smothering dark moments
And, most importantly, I think it's a blog about simply being a complex human being in a wonderful and sad world.

So, a breakdown of how I write these things.

I HATE boring writing. If it bores me to type it, it would bore you to read it. I'm not going to write about it unless it's either:

a) entertaining and will get a good belly laugh going, or
b) something that I find profound or meaningful (hopefully)

I write differently than most blogs you've probably read. I don't write like an English professor. I write how my brain processes things - sometimes it's an absolute mess to follow - but I think it adds authenticity that a lot of writers weed away through the editing/pleasing process for their readers. I have a distinct style and I roll with it (though sometimes I switch it up to stretch my writing muscles) that you may not like. That's okay, I won't be offended (maybe a little). I'm also a mess of contradictions. So, there's that.

I travel in an odd way. I don't plan, I don't bring books or guides and I just go wherever the wind takes me beyond the first planned day in a country. This leads to fun, trouble, and unexpected adventure.

As to the why I travel, that's a bit harder to explain. I've tried to before.

It's different this time, I think. I am not the same person I was last time I traveled. Maybe how I write and what I write about will be different. Maybe I'll talk about architecture more. Or maybe I'll just end up sharing more ironic toilet encounters. It really could be either...I haven't a clue.

How is different this time? Backstory.

When I went on my Bonderman (here's a link to an interview I gave about what that was all about), I had just finished up my Master of Social Work. I had a very good mentor in college who was, undoubtedly, my biggest cheerleader and was genuinely excited to hear my stories when I came back. Actually, excited is too tiny of a word. This was the kind of man that could inspire you to march out the door on any given day and go change the world. His eyes would sparkle - honest to God, just light up like the stars  themselves were powering them - when he talked about the things that drove the fire inside him: religions and social work and living a life for others. He was hungry to hear my stories and for me to live them. He was, to put it another way, overwhelmed with joy to see the person that would return, undoubtedly different and new and changed.

And so, I went. And I had an experience that blew my life away. When I came back, I was so ecstatic to tell him about all that I saw. I wanted to tell him about seeing bodies burn in Varanasi. I wanted to tell him about praying with a monk in Thailand. I wanted to tell him about hanging out with my friend Mikayla (who worked in the Peace Corps) in South African villages with names you had to click you tongue to pronounce. I wanted to bury him in stories.

But life attacked me. A job and bills and family and day-to-day life caught up with me and I was unable to secure a time to meet with him until just about one month ago.

So we met.

And I had come back to a man who had a terrible stroke. I'm not new to friends and family getting hit hard with health problems, but this one most certainly took the breath from me. 

The first realization: the stroke had taken a piece away from the man. 
He was reserved and much too quite. It was a struggle for him to talk. His memory seemed distant, as though already leeched away. 

The second realization: the stars were stolen from his eyes.

I sobbed all the way home and drank myself to sleep.

It was a grim reminder that what we are, as human beings, when everything is boiled down to it's very core is very, very simple. We are our memories. Without them, what are we? Who are we? The quickness and unfairness of life takes no prisoners and in a blink of an eye, sooner or later, the stars in all our eyes will die out.

But wait! I need to take a pause with all this sadness!
Another thing about me and my writing: While I never shy away from the sadness of life - of which there is an ocean of it - I always, always, ALWAYS balance it with the best, and the good, and the gorgeous tidbits of life that can bring light - however long - to a previous darkened sky. There is darkness, but there is always a flashlight.

So, back to it.

The grim reminder was, well, grim. But it reminded me why I do this. Why I keep fighting to remain in motion. The stars might be gone, in a sense, but because they burned so very bright, they left an impression on me that no stroke can ever erase. From neither myself or from him.

My mentor instilled in me an adventure for life. He instilled the stars in me. And my mission - my goal - is to bring that to others. As we can all see from the news at any given time, life can be incredibility broken. But what we don't get enough of is how in this brokenness, there is wonderful beauty in places and people that the media may say there is not. But there is, despite what the tvs or preachers or congressmen or newspapers say. My God is there beauty in things all around the world. And I want to show and share that.

I'm only going to be gone for a little bit this time, no eight month stint, but that's okay. I'll have plenty to write about and this time I won't have a large gap in my entries, as I have mini-trips planned later on this year... 

I hope you will enjoy it. I hope you can soak something in. And I hope through my writing you can come on an adventure with me. If I get a laugh or a "hey, that made me think", then I've done my job as a writer.

So here's the rough plan that I would gladly take input on. I fly in Thailand to visit Mac and Noi, the two friends I met last time around. I've missed them dearly, like I do almost all of the people I've met traveling. Because that's what happens when you're away from all that you know: you attach to what is universal across all lines of life - human relationships

From there? Nepal? Maybe Laos? Then...maybe Vietnam? I've been debating about going either there or Japan. Then again, I might do neither and go meet up with Lizbett, who is also traveling nearby and has written for this blog before (and, spoiler alert, what she wrote was amazing).

Then I come back for Round 2 - Fight! - of School Counselor Nick. And, of course, start planning my next adventure.
Before I go, a very quick aside. My friend Felice wrote to me recently and asked if I travel to escape. It took awhile to come up with an answer. I think that's true to an extent. Complacency is one of my biggest fears in life, so yeah, I do travel to escape (although that brings its own challenges).
But I also travel to do the opposite of escape - I travel to participate. To be apart of life on a bigger, more confusing, more beautiful, more tragic scale.

I travel for my mentor. 

I travel for my dad (who has been and is as encouraging as my mentor). 

I travel for those who are on different adventures in life right now and can't travel for extended periods of time and would like to see through another's eyes.

I travel because I'm escaping into adventure and participating in something more.

I travel because the writer in me is starving.

And, I think more importantly, I travel because the stars in my eyes are burning oh-so-very bright.

So I have about one week to pack and get ready to be back in my second home, Bangkok. Cheers, my friends, and see you soon.

-
P.S.

I HATE self promotion, but I must. Writers need readers and this website isn't free, so if you like what you read, please share it with someone. Or use the little share icons at the end of every post. That would be very, very rad of you. So much thanks!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

nein Deutsch...bitte--JK



There are 3 things you need to know about me before moving on—
1) I care deeply and pay attention to the little things…things that demonstrate thought
2) I would much rather do nothing than knowingly half-ass something (life decisions*this does not apply to trying...if I try, I give it my all...or nothing)
3) I am skeptical…of everything/everyone. I don’t want to be—not to the degree I am and I’m working hard to unlearn some stuff. But if I’m really honest with myself, I'm skeptical.

Recently I took a trip to a small little town outside of Frankfurt Germany with my friend’s family. This trip had a number of first for me—1) First time in Europe, 2) First time to a country where I didn’t know the language, 3) First time I was dependent on others for a number of things, and 4) First time I felt small…utterly small.

I was invited to this trip a year ago, “the dad” is originally from this town—he had left it in his mid 20s to travel and eventually settled down in the States. There was a lot of coordination at play to get 8.5 people there (there was a toddler involved, they’re not fully human-are they?). He managed to pull it off, and I was the only one that wasn’t directly related to the family. This made for some comedic moments during the trip…mostly revolving--“who is she?”…and “what do you mean friends?”

It didn’t hit me until we got to Frankfurt. I didn’t understand any of the airport signs and largely depended on the international language of Pictionary…known everywhere (or at least everywhere that people have half an artistic skill). Here it began—the shuffling of all these people (6.5 at this point) with only one language “expert” on hand. We were bound to meet the parents—both of which had arrived a day earlier. From the get-go I knew this was a family trip, first and foremost. Second to that came the traveling around. I honestly didn’t mind, because I was deeply interested in the cultural experience—and what better way to get that if not by the family that lives there. SIDE BAR: I was really there for the food. No joke...well, half a joke—I made a list of 57 food items I wanted to try by the end of 10 days. I gained 8lbs #NoRegrets.

After we packed into this 9 passenger Mercedes…which by the way—it seems like everything there was a Mercedes. I mean, for F’sake—most delivery trucks and 18-wheelers I saw were Mercedes. I digress, but that awareness in itself made me reflect on a few things which I won’t mention here—but if you ever wanna talk shop—call me. ANYWAYS—I was given strict instructions on how to fight off jet-lag. We had arrived at 9am and I was told to nap for no more than an hour at 3p. We were going to be picked up for coffee and cake after that and then head to dinner…followed by more coffee and cake. SIDEBAR: This coffee and cake thing is no joke—they take it very seriously…I’m in love. Why don’t we do this in the States. What I gathered from my selective interest observation, is that it’s a wonderful and spectacular way for you to prolong a meal/snack and spend more time with people. Imagine the potential if people actually enjoyed spending time with people. GENIUS!
So I'm going to stop for a second right here and just call out a few things. Yes, this is a first world country and when it comes down to it, yes this could be considered a vacation. I’ve been to third world countries, and frankly, my upbringing was more third-world than most would believe…so I’ve come to live in a way that appreciates people, culture, customs, and values more than the geographical location of an experience. I only bring this up because European countries are not seen as beacons of spiritual and cultural awakenings—and that’s really unfair. These awareness-es are based on the individual—whenever the person is ready to receive their life lesson…that’s when it happens. I can go into my sociological rant right now…but that is for another time…or, you can call me.

Fast-forward to breakfast the next day. Forget the fact that I stayed up until 1am drinking with my friend’s mom and her brother-in-law (I love spending time with older folks…and in this case a local)…and that due to the jetlag, I was wide awake by 4am. I went down to the “hotel” for coffee. I ran across the lady that runs the kitchen. She started talking to me—HOLY MOTHER F…I can’t understand her. In my head I was rushing through every word I knew in German, which 98% consisted of food items. The only thing I knew to say was “No German”—not even “I don’t speak German”—just “No German”. I learned a lot by the end of the two weeks…but I’ll never forget that moment when I sat down with my coffee and thought to myself—‘what the hell am I doing here’? Not in a bad way…mostly in “I am in your country and I googled phrases to memorize, but only took screen shots of them thinking I’d look them over but they got lost in the shuffle of all the pictures that autosave when I upload to Instagram”. I felt I was disrespectful and rude and ignorant, and so many other things.
SIDEBAR: I grew up bilingual/bicultural speaking Spanish and knowing Mexican culture pretty intimately. Living up and down the west coast…Spanish is a popular language and being skilled in both English/Spanish and the culture has helped me connect with so many people from all over Latin America and Spain. I can detect accents pretty quickly and pinpoint where people are from. So any encounter I’ve had with an English or Spanish speaking person or country…it’s second nature to me. I don’t think homeland…I just think land. Well, until you start paying attention to the cultural economy of both…but again, different conversation….call me. Regardless, my friend, who learned German in college and speaks it with his parents was really struggling to help me feel included. It was mentally exhausting for him to translate and I noticed it take a physical and emotional toll. I have never been more appreciative of my own skills and abilities around language.

I was determined to soak up as much as I possibly could from all of this. From every person I met, from every place I went. Every breath I take, every move I make, I’ll be…oh wait, I got carried away. Anyway—my night drinking with my friend’s uncle resulted in him finding out how much I love food. We began talking about cheese and he said—“You and I, we go cheese tasting tomorrow morning”. Say wwhhhaaaaattttt? We were scheduled to have breakfast at his place and he offered to take me cheese tasting before we met everyone for breakfast. Sure enough, we did. Cue in #1 and #3 things you need to know about me. Start off with #3—skepticism. He offered, he just offered. He finds out I like cheese and offers to take me cheese tasting…the next morning! Why?! By NOOOO means am I complaining, but I couldn’t shake myself from this feeling that IT WAS JUST TOO DAMN GOOD TO BE TRUE! #1—the little things--he was paying attention to our conversation and felt like doing something nice. That is the purest of any considerations. It’s not asking “what would you like”—it’s having enough consciousness to read a situation and being decisive in either making an offer or doing something. Before I left he also gifted me a bottle of Limoncino (which is apparently different from Limoncello…I still don’t know how). Turns out he was also paying attention to what I was drinking. Or that I may have an undiscovered drinking problem…JK—I don’t…or do I? BUT THAT IS WHAT I MEAN…this person is being extremely generous in their gift of time, but also their gift of attention, having only just met me. We had to get past the “Why aren’t you dating my nephew” (that would by my friend) conversation, but after it was explained that we’re like brother and sister…he treated me like family—and that was incredibly humbling.

So remember that lady from the hotel…the one I kept saying “No German” to as she said…I’m not quite sure. Well it turns out she was speaking a specific dialect of the region. All 8.5 of us would gather at this hotel for breakfast (only 4 of us were actually staying there…but we cut a deal). Every morning she’d set up breakfast…which consist of bread, meat, cheese, and marmalade. She’d offer to cook eggs in the morning…to which I always had some scrambled. I had perfected my breakfast consisting of an open face sandwich with this spread, lox, whatever cheese they had that I’ve never had before, and eggs. On the side I would have a couple of slices of whatever sausage looked good (there was a blood sausage with tongue…it was absolutely delicious). Anyways, I heard “the dad” one morning comment on how hard it is to understand the lady. I asked him why, and he began to explain to me the dialectical customs and how some people are “of the area” and basic German doesn’t always translate. I was dumbstruck. I began thinking of all the many ways in which this mirrors things in the States and how it has been dealt with in the States (not great, but it’s my only ‘well’ informed frame of reference). I started to see Germany as one. Started to think of all these other places I’ve been to and how they are all very different, but there is so much paralleling experiences happening all throughout the world. I recognized that the only difference between all of us is how we handle situations. My mind began racing a million miles per hours…meters per hour. I began having a nerd overload and there wasn’t anyone there to share this with…to debrief all this with. There wasn’t someone that was conscious of this, not to mention being remotely as excited as I was to talk about it all. It was in this moment that I thought of my friend John. John was always my go-to person when these thoughts came to me. He, however, got a one-way ticket to Barcelona in September and planned to travel throughout Europe Eat, Pray, Loving his way through each country that allowed him to enter without a visa…with an eventual plan to return…but no guarantee. I hate and love him for it. But I digress—I really just want to make the point that—it’s hard to find someone that gets you…it doesn’t matter what part of you, just that they get you as you exist in your most authentic way. So whenever that happens—keep that person around, cultivate that thing you both share…if it’s talking about culture, food, family…whatever. Make sure that whenever you find something in another person that makes you feel at peace and excites you at the same time…treat it like the special thing that it is.

Throughout my time there I met friends and family members that all had so many stories to share. I don’t know why I was so surprised, but many people gathered to visit—From all parts of the country. Everything from the schoolhouse days…to family dynamics and history. We walked around the town…I unknowingly upset some people with my ignorant American ways. On many occasions my Americaness was used as a comedic punching bag…which actually created some special bonds with a few people.
On our last night there we decided to go to a restaurant and have a traditional German Christmas dinner. We had about 30 people across four generations around the T shaped table. There was a moment when I thought to myself—this is amazing. Here are these 30 people gathered around a table enjoying a meal and talking. No agenda, nothing to rush to the next day, no multi-tasking. They were the most present collective individuals I’ve ever met. It was a positive environment that radiated from one person to the other. Cheesy to say, but I really teared up a bit. This was so special and it truly spoke to me in a way that resonated with my values. Enter #1 and #2. The little things—I cannot stress how much I appreciate the little things. I feel that the best gifts I have gotten consist of a bit of attention, care, and an ounce of creativity. The little words, the little stories, the hopes and dreams shared…the passion in a person’s voice. The look in a person’s eyes…a smirk…a breath. All these little things make me happy and it makes me happy to see them in others. Which leads to #2—the promise I made myself after this trip was that I was going to be better about letting people know how their little things are special. I notice so much and never say anything about it…but what this trip taught me is that those little things are not appreciated enough and that could be discouraging. I don’t want to see little things disappear.

So I just realized that I mentioned something about feeling small.  Forget the fact that the US is a tiny little fetus in the spectrum of age that flirts with the line of...uuhhhh---I'll stop.  Yes, it's true there is an incredibly rich history in Europe and as someone having been there for the first time and seeing a headstone with the birth year 975...I was a bit star struck.  But I also mean small in the sense that I began to reflect on my own culture and upbringing and the things that were instilled in me...and I began to realize for the 100th time, the vast amount of thoughts that exist in the world...in everyone.  And truth be told, we don't talk about half of them...WHY?!?!?! Why are we not staring into each other's souls every chance we get?!  Why don't we ask hard questions and dig deep into things that are intrinsic and real for each and every one of us.  I got a little glimpse of that during the trip.  Maybe it was the family, maybe it was the cultural custom, but I got a glimpse at how life can be like if you are unafraid...and someone is unafraid with you. I want them to live on to make the exponential impact that I know they can make.

I want to thank the Hermann family and friends on both sides of the country for bringing their authentic selves to the forefront and allowing me to experience not only the German culture and customs…but values that I don’t see living out as often as they’re stated to hold importance.