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Why am I here?

In consulting sessions or on programs with groups abroad, the first question we usually ponder together is “Why are we here?” It’s a question many of us ask when in new scenarios, when humbled by a mountain top, or in those moments of humility so expansive that our eyes begin to weep. I asked this question of myself recently, before formally answering in public. To better understand what my own response would be, I sat on a beautiful terrace as the sun was rising in the East and setting in the West and the following is what seeped out of my pen:

 

Why am I here?

Hope.

That the world will be different

because I’ve seen a different world.

I’ve seen a world in which smiles supersede greed

laughter resonates beyond tears

faith smolders fear

and ubuntu prevails over all.

I’ve seen this world and who am I to keep it for myself?

It has become a duty to share

what I know

who I know

where I know.

To allow others

to see beauty in themselves

exceptional in the mundane

compassion within stories.

I see a utopic world perhaps, but

I choose it.

I choose this version of vision

over peril and violence

over unmistakably ignorant rhetoric.

I choose to share what I’ve always seen

what I am a part of

and so are you.

 

 

 

Insight on Packing.

To pack.

A necessary verb, though one that many of us loathe.  There you are…excited by the imminent adventure ahead.  The journey awaits, as do the people you will meet and the unsolvable mysteries that will greet you upon arrival.  But first…What will you bring?

People always say to me, “You must have this packing thing down by now.”  That is an absolute fallacy.  I wish I did.  I wish I could say that over the almost 20 years I’ve travelled internationally and over a lifespan of traveling domestically via plane, train, car and by foot, that I have a “system,” that preparing for each destination is a cinch because I do it so frequently.  But alas, without question, I find myself awake in the wee hours the night before every departure packing according to a very non-efficient method of “process of elimination”.  Everything that might come with me starts in a pile on the floor.  From there, I tediously determine the value of said item: Definitely.  Definitely not.  Maybe. 

The most difficult? 

The shoes.  The bags.  The jackets.  And the hardest of all:  When traveling to vastly different climates.

Allow me to impart some gentle wisdom around items I now never leave home without:

  • Green powder – Roughage for those destinations that don’t deviate from starch-heavy fare.
  • Hand-held mirror – For contacts and the occasional lipgloss.
  • Lavender oil –  For planes, trains and headaches.
  • Two tennis balls in a sock – For sore muscles, tight shoulders and a ball game at-the-ready.
  • Yoga mat – For creating a space for stretching and inverting anywhere.
  • Extra bags – They’re always handy.
  • Toms/vans/slip-ons – Perfect for taking on and off before entering your tent, someones home, a temple or mosque. (Laces are a hassle.)

As far as the other stuff?  Well, usually you can find what you need wherever you go.  I mean it.  I used a tree branch in Kenya for a toothbrush, bought organic face products from a street vendor in Mumbai, and even managed to find a great pair of super fly high tops in Peru.  Wherever your destination and wherever your origin, do your best to remove stress.  Roll stuff up.  Pack light.  Shift your definition of “clean,” and go for it! The journey is about the people anyway.  Not your stuff.

Travel alone. It’s a party!

Traveling alone to a new destination is like arriving to a party stag…

The crux:

You knock on the door.  This act takes the most effort and commitment and energy.  To your chagrin, the door opens.

You purchase your plane ticket, click the button and feel that rush of excitement, apprehension and pride for choosing to go for it.  You show up.

The decision:

You are certain they are all staring at you.  You want to leave. To call mom.  But for some reason you stay.  You realize you’ll never meet these people for the first time ever again. 

You will never see this place for the first time ever again. You know there is potential and opportunity awaiting you.  You know there is more to learn and discover and apprehend.  You start walking.

The action:

You pour a drink.  You meet others pouring drinks.  You find the snacks.  You meet others masticating empathetically. 

You walk to the nearest cafe, wishing that giant appendage on your back wasn’t bright yellow with the words “North Face” splayed across it zippers.  You sit and try your hand at the few coin phrases you learned on the plane.  

They laugh at you.  With you.

The transition:

You pretend with all of your might that you’re “in”, despite your own expertise in knowing you’re all playing the same game.  You start to acclimate.  The portal you entered through seems to change slowly, like a polaroid appearing more clearly.  You begin to see anew and remember first impressions only happen once and that is all and everything they are.  The initial angst you felt already seems like a foreign land.

When you finally kiss the host adieu, when you click that button again, you realize you’d rather not leave.  You’d rather stay.  To learn. To engage. To change and shift and see it all for the first time.  But you can’t.  Your time has arrived.  

You take a picture.  You press the shutter.  You hold on to what you can, and know, intrinsically, that all of it will not last forever.  But you can be sure your life has changed.  You are a better version of you.

So do it.  Go for it.  You will grow and learn and make mistakes.   And if you want support and suggestions and encouragement, we’re here for you.  Heck, we can even plan your adventure for you and connect you with some of the most wonderful people and places in the world.

You have our permission.  Now go!

From a far to Afar

This is a letter written in Mumbai this summer to Afar Magazine, another company who seems to have the tools and the vision to make meaningful travel possible for those who desire it.  (Response pending.)

Dear Afar magazine,

This is the current scene: A rooftop restaurant post-sunset.  The yellow, red and blue boat hulls in the harbor have that perfect, saturated glow as if to kiss this day adieu.  Incessant horns seem far away now, resonating stories below and hoping to ease their tired voices soon.  Birds squawk.  Heads nod.  This is Mumbai.

I am writing you simply to say, thank you. You embrace all that is this world in a few matte pages filled with colors and words and stories authentically portraying the beauty and the veracity of the variety that abounds on this planet.  You show us the elaborate and engage with the socially conscious.  You encourage travel, not through a window, but through fresh eyes, new perspective and meaningful interactions.

The first thing friends ask me when I return to the US is, “When are you leaving?”  The sincere inquiry enables me to reflect on a life I have stumbled into; one of wonderment and “wanderment” and one whose great fortune cannot be denied. 

In seventeen years of international travel, I have been welcomed into Maasai bomas in Kenya and ventured on Hedzabe bush hunts in Tanzania.  I was embraced by Rwandans, shared tea with the Turkish, ate roti and masala on the floor of Indian homes and stared back at the cui on my plate as I celebrated the earth in Peru.  Nicaragua has become a home for me and Spain will always have a piece of my heart.  My travels have been vast and intimate, adventurous and soulful, alone and surrounded by others, chaotic and tranquil, spontaneous and purposeful.  And one certainty prevails: benevolence exists no matter where I wander.  Around the world, requited smiles shatter walls built with the mortar of language and fear.

I founded a small business, Away2Be.  We facilitate innovative education, and interpersonal and intercultural connection through local and global relationships.  First and foremost, we encourage the connection with self through yoga and reflection.  Secondly, we engage in meaningful conversations with educators, students, local leaders and corporate clients alike about global issues, leadership, interpersonal relationships and effective communication.  We travel abroad and walk with and learn from the people of the world. We believe sustainable, global change depends on the power of these relationships and personal stories are the pathway to peace.

Because our values align and because I so appreciate all you do, I write you this message.  I would love to collaborate and communicate with you further.  I am based in Denver, though probably spent about 8 months away last year!

Let’s continue this work of traveling deeper together! 

Namaste!

Susan Lambert

Owner, Away 2 Be

www.away2be.com

Birds fly as a young traveler walks home in Mumbai, India. Meaningful travel abroad brings us closer to home.

Gateway of India

The Experience of a Lifetime

In December of 2104, three women, Molly, Nancy and Ruthie visited Nicaragua with Away 2 Be.  This is what they had to say about their experience:

It was a dark day on December 1, 2014 when three women (three friends) from Vermont gathered their carefully packed bags and their courage to begin a ten day adventure in the warmth and beauty of Nicaragua. We would meet our trip leader, Susan Lambert, when we landed in Managua International Airport. And, so the adventure of a lifetime began.

The hugs, tears and laughter that were exchanged with Susan upon our landing were followed by loving messages of welcome she had created and left on our pillows.   She gently and skillfully oriented us to our surroundings and prepared us for the days ahead. We were like sponges – willing and anxious to absorb whatever lay ahead.

Our itinerary, full of beauty, wonder and time for reflection, was beginning to unfold. We were immersed in the remarkable geography and history of the country.   For two days, we stayed at a resort bordering a volcanic lagoon and explored the surrounding villages. During the next several days, we toured a family-owned coffee farm, a weavers’ coop, a chocolate factory and a children’s library built in one of the barrios. We shared time with local potters and restaurateurs and spent four days at the Casa Materna MaryAnn Jackman in Matagulpa.   Through Susan’s interpretation skills, we were quickly able to understand the roles of those we met and they learned a little about us as well.

All of our experiences were exhilarating but the time at the Casa Materna absolutely filled our souls. The staff, each and every one, was so genuine in their welcome. Though we did not share a language, we were able to communicate heart to heart very quickly. Eight mothers-to-be were in residence on the day we arrived and by the next afternoon, there were thirteen. The women were, of course, shy but curious about us. During the next four days, we were assimilated into their lives and those of the staff with extraordinary generosity and graciousness.   Our Susan, a long time board member and liaison for the Casa, facilitated those interactions with such grace and joy. We soon felt like we were part of the fabric of this incredible organization and the lives of the women they were serving. We were sharing meals, dabbling in crafts, making tortillas, taking walks, trading family pictures, exchanging gifts, celebrating festivals, laughing and communicating as if we had known each other for months not days.

How did this happen?   How did differences dissolve and get replaced by kinship in such a short time?

So much of the bond we established during our time at the Casa was based on sharing the privilege of motherhood – the anxiety, challenge and wonder of it all spanned our cultural differences. Ruth, Nancy and I took time to think about our own journey as mothers, as we reflected on the experiences we shared with the women at the Casa. During our group yoga exercises filled with laughter and some tears, we learned of each other’s hopes and fears related to family and parenting.

As Susan’s Mom, I reveled in the woman she had become. My heart was bursting as I watched her interactions with her Nicaraguan family and the skill with which she wove Nancy, Ruth and me into this life. She lit up the room with her joy, spirit of adventure, compassion and caring.   She has chosen to be a “giver” to our world, who has already made an enormous difference in the lives she has touched. What a privilege to be her Mother!

The lives of the mothers-to-be at the Casa, are enriched by the love and caring of the staff members who have given their hearts and talents to ensure that the journey of motherhood gets off to a good start for those who come through their doors. They share the most intimate days and hours before new life begins. They laugh, cry, learn and love during the short time that they spend in each other’s company.   Each clearly considers it a privilege to be present to one another during this momentous time.

We left the Casa with tears, hugs and the memories of a lifetime tucked into our hearts. In the kindness that surrounded us during our time there are lessons for our planet. Nancy, Ruth and I experienced the hope and optimism of people who know the importance of treating people as they would like to be treated.   We watched in awe, as one person after another, welcomed us into their lives with open arms and huge smiles, rather than fear and misunderstanding. Imagine an international community where such behaviors were commonplace!

Our best wishes and Happy Mothers Day to our new Nicaraguan friends and soulmates!   Many thanks to all of you for who you are and the work you do that makes this world a much better place.

 

Happy Mother’s Day

People are Gifts

Written by Molly, Nancy and Ruthie, 2014 visitors to Nicaragua

This morning we packed our bags (in order to be able to fully enjoy our day), did yoga, read a poem on transition and our chose our daily angel cards.  (Ruthie-Adventure, Nancy-Beauty, Molly-Harmony, Susan-Intention). After our serene beginning, the wind blew and locked us out of our place.  Not to worry, Socorro came to our rescue (literally)!

The mothers-to-be seemed tired from the previous evening’s events.  What a fun adventure and opportunity we had last night!  We essentially “trick-or-treated” for the first time in our adult lives in order to enjoy “La Purisima”, a celebration on the eve of the feast day of the Immaculate Conception honoring the Virgin Mary.  It was strange to be surrounded by hordes of people singing to the Virgin, holding out bags to be filled with candies and fruits.  We had VIP entrance to the houses since we accompanied 9 pregnant women.  They were shy and reserved, yet excited to spend this special night in Matagalpa while donning their best duds and new jewelry from their own Purisima celebration.

Today, after another lovely breakfast of eggs and gallo pinto at the Casa, we again walked with the mothers.  We noticed an enhanced connection and ease of communication among the women, many of whom have been together for a number of days.  Maria, the first woman we met when we arrived to Matagalpa, who had been on bed rest, is now leading the group op the hill.  Today’s exercises had us all in stitches as we acted out our favorite animal and did stretches accordingly.  There were tears too, as we called loved ones present to our circle.  (You were all present).  Of course, as we shared pieces of our stories, we wondered about the longer life-story of these young women.

We strolled the city, today much quieter than the rest of the week, to find special things for special people.  Our friend, Nohelia joined us again this afternoon for a visit to Molino Norte, a women’s weaving cooperative.  For Ruthie it was a dream come true to try her hand (and use her muscles) weaving with a giant loom.   (We all tried!)  The weavers explained to us the life-changing benefits of the jobs that were created for them in order to make a living out of their art.  Purchases made!

Fifteen minutes up the road, we found ourselves in yet another paradise, Selva Negra, a coffee farm with stunning vistas, a cool breeze and mountains enveloping the grounds.  We dined in the sun with friends, old and young, from near and far, as if our paths had always been intertwined.