Friday, June 15, 2012

Lessons learned while traveling.

Time for a little blog post. Things have been b-u-s-y. Full time work and school = EEK. Thus, the neglect of the blog.  I think about the people and experiences from the past few months every day. Their laughs, the scenery, little cultural norms that make a place what it is.  I can physically feel my heart warm a little as I reminisce here and there (did that sound cheesy? oops). Throughout the trip, every so often I would jot down a note or two on something that I had learned or had gained a renewed appreciation for.  This list has the potential of being a mile long but I narrowed it down to some of my favs. 

Everyone is fighting.
You know that saying? The one that goes "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle". I've always really enjoyed it.  Most likely because it's something that I need a constant reminder of. I definitely have issues with being impatient, stereotyping, forming quick judgements, etc.  From December through May I felt like I was constantly flooded with stories from others (natives and westerners) of heartbreak and disappointment.  My first recollection of experiencing this was on a flight from Shanghai to Guangzhou, China.  A young girl took the seat next to me, fell asleep quickly, and was invading my personal space within minutes. It was a hot, smelly flight and the fatigue of the girl sitting next to me was the least of my concerns. Was it too much to ask for some personal space? The drink cart eventually came around and the girl was awakened. She eventually asked me a question about the flight and our conversation began.  By the time we had landed and were exiting the aircraft my attitude had completely changed.  The girl explained to me that she was leaving her dream job in Shanghai to return home to her mother who was slowly dying of cancer.  Her father had recently passed away and hadn't left her family with any money for the treatment of her mother. Why did she share this with me? Did my words provide any type of comfort or peace of mind to her? How could I have been so insensitive and annoyed with her? Regardless, I was glad she shared her story.  This was the beginning of a whole myriad of people who, from that moment on, constantly shared their stories of defeat and sorrow. Each time another story was shared I was quietly reminded to be kind.

The human body is capable of adapting to anything (for the most part).
Seeing kids sleep on cement floors, athletes play volleyball barefoot on gravel, and Kenyans haul 50 lb. bags up Mt. Kilimanjaro week after week convinced me that we set mental boundaries for ourselves.  It's amazing to see people do things every day with such ease that would be so impossible for others.

My incredible guide, cook, and porters for Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Everyone deserves a fresh start. When I look back on a year ago and contrast that Brooke with the person I am today, I see improvement.  I think that's the way most of us would feel if we did a quick evaluation of ourselves. After four months of working with different organizations I became well acquainted with countless others who were invested in the same causes that I was.  These were good people who wanted to help others. Inevitably though, I was prefaced on a person before actually meeting them.  "Oh, you haven't met So and So? Um . . . She's interesting.  I mean, maybe you two will get along.  I guess you'll just have to meet her." This kind of thing happened more than once. I think that most people have participated in their fair share of gossip, but the point of all this is to illustrate the importance of letting people start fresh. Giving others the opportunity to earn your trust, friendship, and approval (regardless of what their reputation may be) is something we are all in need of. Especially this girl:


 
Children are God's way of keeping us in line.
Most likely because of their natural ability to understand what's most important.

Spicy is good.
I have never (never, people) been able to tolerate anything too spicy.  A few months back my family and I were talking with my brother who is serving an LDS mission in Mexico and we asked him about the food.  He proceeded to explain that after he passed some sort of barrier and was accustomed to the spicy food he learned to enjoy it and even began to crave it.  I remember hearing his story and thinking to myself, "Lucky him and unlucky me. Enjoying spicy food is something that my little taste buds will never learn to do." FALSE! After countless dishes of spicy curries, chicken, kebabs, etc., I am cured. The wall has been broken and my tolerance has turned to a craving. I love spicy food.


We are here for each other.
One of my favorite quotations ever: "God does notice us, and He watches over us. But it is usually through another person that He meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other." My belief in this concept is now more solidified.


T.P. is a privilege. 
Toilets are a privilege.
Toilets with flushing water are a privilege.
Toilet paper is a privilege.
Disposing of toilet paper in the toilet is the greater privilege.

Privacy is a luxury, not a right.
Here's a scenario for you:  I'm in Pondicherry, India with a group of other volunteers at a French restaurant.  It was my first non-curry meal in weeks and I was stoked!  The server set my plate of grilled chicken and vegetables in front of me.  Just as I picked up my fork and was about to dig into the meal my Indian friend Rajenderin ran over to my plate and beat me to it.  He looked at me with a huge smile, said "Sorry!", cut himself a generous bite, and ran off to his seat at the other table.  WTHeavens! I was 50 percent infuriated and 50 percent humored. Little incidents such as this would occur all the time.  People working on the piping in the bathroom connected to my bedroom would make themselves comfortable on my bed. (Deeeeep breath, Brooke.) Doors were rarely knocked before entering. Women that I barely knew would hold my hand for minutes on end in sweltering heat.  After getting to know Indian culture and taking a step back I attempted to understand the situations a bit better.  Most Indians from rural areas are only accustomed to family style meals.  They live in huts together.  There aren't doors to knock on and there certainly aren't beds for each household member to selfishly shush each other off of.  Holding hands with the same gender is a rough equivalent to happily walking down the street with a good friend. The American teenager's ultimate nightmare of having their door unhinged suddenly humored me as I realized how much privacy I had been raised to believe I was entitled to.  Privacy and personal space is a priveledge, not a right.

Visiting one of our student's one bedroom cement homes.

Everyone's bad with names.
My frequent change of scenery made for frequent changes of friends. I met a lot of people and was expected to know most of their names. Y-i-k-e-s.  A funny thing I slowly learned, even though I am "bad with names", was that the more names I learned, the better I became at remembering them. It's all about name association, people!  Learning a person's name and using it is one of the best and easiest ways to show a person that you care about them- especially while attempting to overcome language barriers.

It can always get worse.
Always.

Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.
Check out one of my friends from Meru who was the coolest kid on the block because she was sporting this 'do. (See photo below.) I don't necessarily foresee this trend reaching Salt Lake City but they sure were fans of it there. Or how about combing coconut oil through your entire head of hair and french braiding it straight down the middle? I actually *didn't* learn that beauty secret at one of Warren Jeff's compounds. So interesting to see how fads and trends vary so drastically depending on where you go.


Language barrier = a blessing
 My mom's a big fan of going off of her instincts. "I get a weird feeling from him." "Something's off there..." "She is very sweet and kind."  These are things my mom has often said about people soon after I have introduced them to each other.  And want to know the best part of it? She's (almost) always right!  Unfortunately not all of us possess those same intuitive gifts as my mother.  It was really great though to have several encounters with people while being limited solely to body language.  At first it's a little bit of everything- frustrating, comical, and pointless.  But the more you stick with it and the more patient you are, reality sets in and it suddenly becomes the easiest and most simple way to read a person. Everyone has a bad day here and there but I think that a great general rule of thumb would suggest that you know a person by the energy they produce. Simple.

One of my best experiences in Meru was spending time in recovery with this lovely patient.
Our communication was [obviously] limited.

Happiness is a choice.
For a lot everyone's life we've had the "money doesn't buy happiness" memo engraved in our minds.  And it's true!  The happiest people I have ever met have arguably the least ideal lives of them all!  After spending 10 solid days at a hotel in Kenya my friend Anna and I decided to leave a tip for our housekeeper who had done an excellent job cleaning the room and working around our messes every day.  What did I receive in response for this tip? A letter.
"Hey pals Brooke and Anna,
Receive my regards am so happy for your kindness and friendship for that short time you have stayed in our hotel.  I thank you for everything and wish you could stay a little bit more.   Mine is just to wish you well and travel safely to your homes.  But don't forget to come back to Kenya.  I am Lydiah and I would like our friendship to continue even after leaving Kenya.  I have enjoyed your stay here.  I have enjoyed cleaning your room.  I love you so much and I will really miss you.  Send my regards to your families back home.
Good Bye Girls!
God Bless you!
I LOVE YOU BIG!!!!
Yours Sincerely, Lydiah"
Happiness is so clearly a decision.

There's no place like home.
Driving up Browns Park Drive and seeing all of your favorite neighbors, getting a concrete at Nielsen's, taking a walk with your family on the boulevard on a Sunday evening, running into people you have been friends with your whole life, knowing that your wallet is safe in your car with the windows rolled down, playing fetch with your dog, enjoying a salt lake city sunset, etc, etc, etc.  There's no place like home.

7 comments:

Kamille said...

i LOVED this. definitely can't wait to put tp down that high pressured toilet.

Shane and McKenzee said...

Loved this post! Especially the letter from your sweet housekeeper. Thanks for reminding me of how much I have to be grateful for.

Erin Blake said...

amen to everything you said. :)

cole linnae said...

i wanna be you.

Ella I went to home and life and the rising star said...

Hello Brooke. I dont know you but i have been following your blog and loving your trip with you! I am 10 years old and Last year my mum decided to take me on a humanitarian trip. We went to Thailand ( my fav cos we av been every year to home and life, holland hoise and land of smiles since i was 8.) , Cambodia, Vietnam and India for a total of 9wks. I had the time of my life cos we
went to orphanages, leprosy colonies and local cultural things. Keep writing great blogs and keep in touch with the world.



Love Ella :)

Kelli Ann Foster said...

Brookie, that was beautiful. I could literally feel every single thing you said. Haha... So cool to experience a little piece of your adventure with you. :) I will never ever forget all of the experiences we shared and everything I learned from you. You are amazing cousin! Love you. :)

A Spinster's Dating Encyclopedia said...

This post is nothing short of perfection.

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