A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to tour the Eastside Access, which is a huge public works project, building tunnels 120 feet below the surface in order to move people in and out of Manhattan. It won't actually be open until 2019. I was able to visit as part of my work, since one end of the tunnel is behind my organization’s building, thus as part of a courtesy of having to deal with blastings and the whole building shaking on occasion, we get a tour on occasion.
Posts from the ‘Reflections’ Category
Dear Life –
I’ve been hesitant to write you because I wasn’t sure how I felt about you. I knew believed you were giving me “gifts” – but they sure didn’t feel like gifts – all that struggle and messiness?! Come on now - what kind of gifts are those?!
But now… now I think I’m getting it. And I think that I’m ready to say thank you.
I spent two months traveling alone in India. This fact is not groundbreaking. No one is writing a book about me. I am not the first to have done this, and nor will I be the last.
But lately, I have been thinking of it a lot due to all the news coming out of India of sexual harassment (here is a good synopsis of some of the reports). But, like a lot of women, my experience in India was overwhelmingly positive.
Over the past 7 months, i have had moments that been hard, moments that have been beautiful, moments that I have wanted to cry, but mostly, I have been amazed by the world. Amazed at how much beauty is out here, amazed at the kindness of strangers, amazed by how much there is to see and do out here....
I am used to being stared at. Being a lone female traveling in Asia solicits stares like you wouldn’t believe. There is no way for me to not stand out. I look different. Or when you are negotiating a busy street in Kathmandu with your friend and you are both carrying big backpacks. You get stared at. Or when you are the only white person, not to mention woman, on a bus in a rural area in India. You get stared at.
I am pretty used to it at this point.
At first it bothered me. Made me feel self-conscious and very aware of my actions. But then I started to smile when they stared. Or I said hello (or whatever the culturally appropriate greeting was). But mostly I started to smile at the stare-ers. And usually, it caught them off guard. But, for the most part, I got a smile back. Sometimes that smile started a conversation, sometimes it got me offers for food, got me a cup of chai, sometimes it got me invites to join their family. But most frequently, I got a smile back.
South America is different. Here, I get stared at, though I don’t think I look all that different (especially when I get asked if I am Argentine or Spanish). Here, I get stared at, though I dress fairly conservatively (especially compared to the teenage girls). Here, I get stared at, and I don’t get a smile in return.
I have been surprised. I do not find the people here (so far in Bolivia and Argentina) to be all that warm and friendly. They do not return smiles, instead, quickly averting their eyes (‘what, me? No, I wasn’t looking at you. no, not me.’). Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, my smiles fall on cold faces.
And it is hard. It is hard to not take it personally. It is hard to still feel open. It is hard to feel compassionate and warmth towards the people here. It is hard to keep smiling.
One of my goals on this journey was to open myself up to the world – to not let fear stop me from new experiences and new people. To build bridges and not walls, something I sometimes struggle with. I have been forced to build bridges along the way – to trust strangers and new friends. To make allies where I can and to smile at strangers. To laugh at myself and believe in the inherent goodness of others.
South America is testing me. It is hard to remain open, to want to build bridges, to keep my guard down (and not build walls) and not cocoon myself. The looks I get sometimes, the unfriendly, cold stares — sometimes I feel myself retreating back in — and I want to fight it, but at the same time, I want to protect myself. Sometimes all I want is to go back to where I look different from everyone else – because at least there I got smiles.
and that is not to say that there were not cold looks in asia and there are people here who smile….
So, perhaps this is my test – to learn to stay open to the world, even if they are not open to me…. to remember that it is about me and how I present myself to the world – not about how others react to me.
Sometimes it is hard not being ‘home’, though the longer I am away, the more I think about what makes up a home. Like other travelers, turtles that we are, we carry everything we need on our backs – moving from place to place, able to make that our home. Whether it is the dirty hostel or the place I have treated myself to in La Paz (clean, quiet AND friendly – whoa!), I am able to make a bed my home city after city.
But sometimes, I miss ‘home’. And maybe it is not home, as in a place, exactly – but it is being there for the important things. Like a friend’s pregnancy, a new baby or a death in the family.
So, today, in my new home (for a few days) of La Paz, I will raise a drink for the father of my mentor who passed away this past week. I have been thoroughly blessed in my life to have a series of amazing, kind, thoughtful and awesome mentors who have helped shape my life – both personally and professionally. My mentor’s father, who I met at least a half dozen times, was also kind, thoughtful, and funny. I always enjoyed meeting up with him.
Being a turtle, carrying my life on my back, allows me to see the world, learn from its people and experience what is our there. which, my mentor helped me be ready for. But, being a turtle, I am far away from the people I love.
I am thinking of you all.
I love making lists. To do lists. Things to buy list. New gear. Places to go. Things to do.
But my favorite kind of lists? Bucket lists. Life lists. The lists of things that I hope to do in my life. They range from the practical (sort of) to the absurd. From building a cob house to trekking in Mongolia. From having a fantastic wedding weekend party with all my friends and family to climbing a 7000 meter peak. Yes, many of them are outdoor related. Many of them include mountains.
Making the list is super fun. It allows me to dream and think about what I really want in life. It helps me narrow the focus (even if the list is as varied as having a garden to learning how to make a good loaf of bread to living in a foreign country for a year). When I read back over the list (and I have been adding and modifying it for years), I see patterns and it helps me to make decisions.
But, you know what is really fun? Checking things off the list! That is amazing.
#7. Trekking in the Himalayas. Check.
#15. Take a year off to travel. Check.
Incidentally, the other day when I told someone about what I was doing this year, he responded ‘living’ the dream, huh?’. Yup, yes I am, I responded, grinning. (and this was coming from a guy who is an athlete for sierra designs and runs his own guiding company).
Being able to actually do what is on my bucket list is a true gift. I know that. I am aware of that and feel blessed and lucky. I AM livin’ the dream. But what happens when you try for your bucket list and fail?
Aconcagua has been on my list for years. Ever since I first started climbing mountains in Oregon 10 years ago, Aconcagua has been on my list. I remember when I took my mountaineering course, hearing tales of Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America, I thought… I want to do that. A large part of this year, the planning and scheduling of it, was based off of climbing Aconcagua. I wanted that summit. Maybe too much.
So, what happens when you try and you fail?
I have had my fair share of frustrations, missed opportunities, disappointments. Jobs, relationships, friends, students, men, plans, etc. The list can go on and on, right? We all have. But it is what we do with those disappointments, how close we hold on to them. How much we regret them. How much we second guess those ‘red-button’ decisions, those decisions that decide the fate of your dreams.
So, no. We did not make it to the summit. Aconcagua does not get to be checked off my bucket list. Today I am sitting with my disappointment, waiting for it to dissipate. Working on letting go and adding it back to the bucket list and letting that be ok.
Trip report is coming. I promise!